Daily Archive: 12/26/2011

Dec 26 2011

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Paul Krugman: Springtime for Toxics

Here’s what I wanted for Christmas: something that would make us both healthier and richer. And since I was just making a wish, why not ask that Americans get smarter, too?

Surprise: I got my wish, in the form of new Environmental Protection Agency standards on mercury and air toxics for power plants. These rules are long overdue: we were supposed to start regulating mercury more than 20 years ago. But the rules are finally here, and will deliver huge benefits at only modest cost.

So, naturally, Republicans are furious. But before I get to the politics, let’s talk about what a good thing the E.P.A. just did.

Matt Taibbi: A Christmas Message From America’s Rich

It seems America’s bankers are tired of all the abuse. They’ve decided to speak out.

True, they’re doing it from behind the ropeline, in front of friendly crowds at industry conferences and country clubs, meaning they don’t have to look the rest of America in the eye when they call us all imbeciles and complain that they shouldn’t have to apologize for being so successful.

But while they haven’t yet deigned to talk to protesting America face to face, they are willing to scribble out some complaints on notes and send them downstairs on silver trays. Courtesy of a remarkable story by Max Abelson at Bloomberg, we now get to hear some of those choice comments.

Reed Richardqon: Fact-checking, in the New, Old-Fashioned Way

Just in time for Christmas, PolitiFact delivered a big, fat gift to the Republican Party and its efforts to end Medicare. Sure, this gift was wrapped in a tissue-thin veneer of objectivity and held together by a transparently weak ribbon of a qualifier-it was missing the phrase “as we know it”-but when PolitiFact slapped a brazen “Lie of the Year” bow on top, all pretense pretty much disappeared.

The reaction to such a gross distortion, one that no doubt will be featured in GOP campaign ads throughout the general election next fall, was swift and full-throated:

Here’s the inestimable Pierce on its general “pissantery.”

Here’s Jonathan Cohn with an healthcare policy rebuttal.

Here’s Dave Wiegel talking about how the “lie” actually has its origins in, of all places, the Wall Street Journal.

John Nichols: A Conservative Christmas Carol of Scrooge, Marley, Gingrich and Romney

There is something painfully fitting about the fact that the race for the GOP presidential nomination is hitting its peak during the Christmastide. The open disdain for the least among us, for the toilers in the vineyards, for strangers that has been expressed by Newt “End Child Labor Laws” Gingrich, Mitt “Corporations Are People Too” Romney and their immigrant-bashing, union-hating compatriots has given the 2012 race a distinct 1843 character.

In her exceptional new biography of Charles Dickens, Claire Tomalin explains that the novelist’s tale of that latter year, A Christmas Carol, was “Dickens’ response to the condition of the working class.” And she is right, up to a point. But A Christmas Carol is, as well, Dickens’s response to those who would blame the conditions imposed by economic inequality on children who have not taught themselves how to “rise.”

In seeking to awaken a spirit of charity in his countrymen, Dickens called attention to those who callously dismissed the poor as a burden and the unemployed as a lazy lot best forced to grab at bootstraps and pull themselves upward.

New York Times Editorial: Fairness for Home Care Aides

Evelyn Coke spent 20 years as a home care aide helping the elderly and the sick, but she did not live to see fair labor laws applied to her work.

In a case that went to the Supreme Court in 2007, Ms. Coke, who died in 2009, sued her employer for years of unpaid overtime and lost, 9 to 0. This month, President Obama invoked Ms. Coke’s memory when he announced that the Labor Department had finally proposed changes to the provisions on which the court had based its decision.

At issue in Ms. Coke’s case was a 1975 labor rule that defined home care aides as “companions,” a class of workers that does not qualify for federal minimum wage and overtime protections. Ms. Coke’s lawyer, Craig Becker, argued that the rule was supposed to apply only to occasional domestic workers, like baby sitters, not home care aides – one of the nation’s fastest-growing occupations and one whose duties often include feeding, bathing and dressing clients. But the justices said that only Congress or the Labor Department could change the rule, not the court.

Ilyse Hogur: When GOP Walks, Dems Must Move From Blame to Fight

Congress officially adjourned for the year yesterday when Representative Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) brought down the gavel and declared class dismissed until January 2012. When Democrats protested that the majority had not allowed a vote on the bipartisan Senate deal to avoid raising the payroll tax on 160 million American workers, the GOP cut the microphones and cameras so Americans could not hear their protestations. This remarkable move prompted C-SPAN-responsible for filming the sessions so Americans can keep tabs on their lawmakers-to publicly exonerate themselves, tweeting, “C-SPAN has no control over the U.S. House TV cameras-the Speaker of the House does.”

It’s as if Speaker Boehner thinks that by shutting down the cameras, turning off the lights and going home, the movie is over. Only-to state what’s obvious to anyone who is not in the DC fog-this “movie” is a real-life nightmare for too many Americans. If this were a screenplay, this move would be a perfect way to wrap up the year defined by hyper-partisan gridlock. Cutting the C-SPAN feed that offers at least some transparency to Congress’s machinations puts an exclamation point on the ruthless serial political brinkmanship that now stands in for the business of governing the country.

Dec 26 2011

The Sham Of Foreclosure Relief

The Obama administration under the guise of trying to look like they are helping the 99% with the massive problem of the housing collapse, the banks are still let off the hook for fraud. It is crystal clear that the financial good old boys are being protected by this administration.

Foreclosure Relief? Don’t Hold Your Breath

by Gretchen Morgenson

So many were skeptical when the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency announced yet another program in April. This one was intended to provide reparations to homeowners who’d been hurt financially by foreclosure abuses at banks.

As the details trickle out, the program looks like more of the disappointing same. “This is just the next program that’s getting people’s hopes up,” said Alys Cohen, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center in Washington. “Not only will it not help people, it could easily harm them.”

The program arose out of a regulatory review in late 2010 of loan servicing practices at the nation’s largest banks. The review followed the robo-signing scandal that erupted after consumer lawyers – not regulators, mind you – identified numerous apparent forgeries and other improper foreclosure documents filed with courts by banks and their representatives. [..]

Some of the problems were aired at a Senate subcommittee hearing on Dec. 13. Three Democrats – Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Jack Reed of Rhode Island – expressed doubts about the program to Julie L. Williams, chief counsel at the comptroller’s office. The senators were especially vocal about the potential for conflicts of interest among the consultants hired to conduct the reviews. [..]

Michael Olenick, a specialist in mortgage research, said he spotted a conflicted consultant after one hour of digging. Allonhill, a smallish firm appointed by Aurora Bank, a mortgage servicer, is headed by Sue Allon, whose previous small firm acted as credit risk manager in a 2003 mortgage pool for which Aurora oversaw the loans’ servicing. The prospectus on that deal noted that Murrayhill, Ms. Allon’s former firm, would “monitor and advise the servicers with respect to default management of the mortgage loans.” It also said that Murrayhill would make recommendations to the servicers regarding delinquent loans.

Now, under the comptroller office’s program, Ms. Allon’s firm may be analyzing the treatment of borrowers on whose loans it acted as credit risk manager. “This conflict is so deep and so obvious, how could anybody have missed it?” Mr. Olenick asked.

What is even more troublesome is that, as Yves Smith at naked capitalism emphasizes, homeowners are required to give up rights that may be needed to protect themselves in the future:

This is yet another Obama Administration “pretend we are helping ordinary citizens when we are in fact helping the banks” scheme. The most damning tidbit comes late in the article, that borrowers may (I’d assume will) be asked to sign releases that are far broader than the matters under examination. In other words, to get whatever relief the OCC provides, borrowers may unwittingly give up rights worth far more:

   For example, participants in line to get remuneration may be asked to give up their rights to defend themselves if they get into financial trouble again.

   “This process is not meant to fix the original lending practices, so people need to hang on to their right to challenge the original loan later,” she [Cohen] said.

And after all that, the homeowner could still lose their home. This didn’t surprise Alys Cohen who said, “This is the O.C.C . that we’re talking about, [,,] It has a long record of favoring banks over homeowners.”  

Dec 26 2011

On This Day In History December 26

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 26 is the 360th day of the year (361st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are five days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1776, Gen. George Washington wins first major U.S. victory at Trenton

At approximately 8 a.m. on the morning of December 26, 1776, General George Washington’s Continental Army reaches the outskirts of Trenton, New Jersey, and descends upon the unsuspecting Hessian force guarding the city. Trenton’s 1,400 Hessian defenders were still groggy from the previous evening’s Christmas festivities and had underestimated the Patriot threat after months of decisive British victories throughout New York. The troops of the Continental Army quickly overwhelmed the German defenses, and by 9:30 a.m.Trenton was completely surrounded.

The image of ragged farm-boy Patriots defeating drunken foreign mercenaries has become ingrained in the American imagination. Then as now, Washington’s crossing and the Battle of Trenton were emblematic of the American Patriots’ surprising ability to overcome the tremendous odds they faced in challenging the wealthy and powerful British empire.

The Battle of Trenton took place on December 26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, after General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River north of Trenton, New Jersey. The hazardous crossing in adverse weather made it possible for Washington to lead the main body of the Continental Army against Hessian soldiers garrisoned at Trenton. After a brief battle, nearly the entire Hessian force was captured, with negligible losses to the Americans. The battle significantly boosted the Continental Army’s flagging morale, and inspired re-enlistments.

The Continental Army had previously suffered several defeats in New York and had been forced to retreat through New Jersey to Pennsylvania. Morale in the army was low; to end the year on a positive note, George Washington-Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army-devised a plan to cross the Delaware River on Christmas night and surround the Hessian garrison.

Because the river was icy and the weather severe, the crossing proved dangerous. Two detachments were unable to cross the river, leaving Washington and the 2,400 men under his command alone in the assault. The army marched 9 miles (14 km) south to Trenton. The Hessians had lowered their guard, thinking they were safe from the American army, and did not post a dawn sentry. After having a Christmas feast, they fell asleep. Washington’s forces caught them off guard and, before the Hessians could resist, they were taken prisoner. Almost two thirds of the 1,500-man garrison was captured, and only a few troops escaped across Assunpink Creek.

Despite the battle’s small numbers, the American victory inspired rebels in the colonies. With the success of the revolution in doubt a week earlier, the army had seemed on the verge of collapse. The dramatic victory inspired soldiers to serve longer and attracted new recruits to the ranks.

Dec 26 2011

Marley was dead.

Marley was dead: to begin with.  There is no doubt whatever about that.  The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner.  Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.  Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind!  I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail.  I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade.  But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for.  You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead?  Of course he did. How could it be otherwise?  Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years.  Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend and sole mourner.  And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.

The mention of Marley’s funeral brings me back to the point I started from.  There is no doubt that Marley was dead.  This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.  If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot — say Saint Paul’s Churchyard for instance — literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley’s name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley.  The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley.  Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names: it was all the same to him.

Oh!  But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind- stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!  Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.  The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.  A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin.  He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge.  No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him.  No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.  Foul weather didn’t know where to have him.  The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect.  They often “came down” handsomely, and Scrooge never did.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Scrooge, how are you?  When will you come to see me?”  No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o’clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge.  Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, “No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!”

But what did Scrooge care?  It was the very thing he liked.  To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call “nuts” to Scrooge.

Once upon a time — of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve — old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house.  It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them.  The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already — it had not been light all day: and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air.  The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms.  To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.

The door of Scrooge’s counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters.  Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk’s fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal.  But he couldn’t replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part.  Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed.



This lunatic, in letting Scrooge’s nephew out, had let two other people in.  They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off, in Scrooge’s office.  They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.

“Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe,” said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list.  “Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?”

“Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years,” Scrooge replied.  “He died seven years ago, this very night.”

“We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner,” said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.

It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits.  At the ominous word “liberality,” Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.  Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.  “Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.  “And the Union workhouses?”  demanded Scrooge.  “Are they still in operation?”  “They are.  Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”  “The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.  “Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh!  I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge.  “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth.  We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.  What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge.  “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer.  I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry.  I help to support the establishments I have mentioned — they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”  “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.  Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that.”  “But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.  “It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned.  “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s.  Mine occupies me constantly.  Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

Marley’s Ghost

The First of the Three Spirits

The Second of the Three Spirits

The Last of the Spirits

Why is there never any Rum?  Oh, that’s why.

The End of It

Dec 26 2011

Boxing Day

Another reprint.

Boxing Day.

On the day after Christmas…

  • In feudal times the lord of the manor would give boxes of practical goods such as cloth, grains, and tools to the serfs who lived on his land.
  • Many years ago on the day after Christmas servants would carry boxes to their employers when they arrived for their day’s work. Their employers would then put coins in the boxes as special end-of-year gifts.
  • In churches, it was traditional to open the church’s donation box on Christmas Day and distribute it to the poorer or lower class citizens on the next day.

Take your pick.

In the world of retail Boxing Day is the day everyone brings back all the crap they got for gifts that they didn’t want or is the wrong size or the wrong color or that they shoplifted and now want full retail for instead of the 10% that the local fence will give them.

Now fortunately for me I never had to work the counter during this period of long lines and testy, hung over sales people and managers dealing with irate customers who think that making their sob story more pitiful than the last one will get them any treatment more special than what everyone gets.

  1. Is it all there?
  2. Is it undamaged?
  3. Did you buy it here?

Bingo, have some store credit.  Go nuts.  Have a nice day.

What makes it especially crappy for the clerks is that you don’t normally get a lot of practice with the return procedures because your manager will handle it since it’s easier than training you.  Now you have 20 in a row and the first 7 or 8 are slow until you get the hang of things.

As a customer I have to warn you, this is not a swap meet.  If they didn’t have a blue size 6 on Christmas Eve, they don’t have it now either EVEN IF THE CUSTOMER RIGHT AHEAD OF YOU IN LINE JUST RETURNED A SIZE 6 IN BLUE!

It has to go back to the warehouse for processing and re-packaging.  Really.

So if you braved the surly stares today you have my admiration for your tenacity.  If you waited for the rush to pass my respect for your brilliance.

But don’t wait too long.  It all has to be out of the store before February inventory so it doesn’t have to be counted.

Dec 26 2011

Hessians

A reprint from 2007 but as true today as it ever was.

From Wikipedia’s entry on the American Revolutionary War

Early in 1775, the British Army consisted of about 36,000 men worldwide… Additionally, over the course of the war the British hired about 30,000 soldiers from German princes, these soldiers were called “Hessians” because many of them came from Hesse-Kassel. The troops were mercenaries in the sense of professionals who were hired out by their prince. Germans made up about one-third of the British troop strength in North America.

On December 26th 1776 after being chased by the British army under Lords Howe and Cornwallis augmented by these “Hessians” led by Wilhelm von Knyphausen from Brooklyn Heights to the other side of the Delaware the fate of the Continental Army and thus the United States looked bleak.  The Continental Congress abandoned Philidephia, fleeing to Baltimore.  It was at this time Thomas Paine was inspired to write The Crisis.

The story of Washington’s re-crossing of the Delaware to successfully attack the “Hessian” garrison at Trenton is taught to every school child.

On March 31, 2004 Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah ambushed a convoy containing four American private military contractors from Blackwater USA.

The four armed contractors, Scott Helvenston, Jerko Zovko, Wesley Batalona and Michael Teague, were dragged from their cars, beaten, and set ablaze. Their burned corpses were then dragged through the streets before being hung over a bridge crossing the Euphrates.

Of this incident the next day prominent blogger Markos Moulitsas notoriously said-

Every death should be on the front page (2.70 / 40)

Let the people see what war is like. This isn’t an Xbox game. There are real repercussions to Bush’s folly.

That said, I feel nothing over the death of merceneries. They aren’t in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.

(From Corpses on the Cover by gregonthe28th.  This link directly to the comment doesn’t work for some reason.)

Now I think that this is a reasonable sentiment that any patriotic American with a knowledge of history might share.

Why bring up this old news again, two days from the 231st anniversary of the Battle of Trenton?

Warnings Unheeded On Guards In Iraq

Despite Shootings, Security Companies Expanded Presence

By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post Foreign Service

Monday, December 24, 2007; A01

The U.S. government disregarded numerous warnings over the past two years about the risks of using Blackwater Worldwide and other private security firms in Iraq, expanding their presence even after a series of shooting incidents showed that the firms were operating with little regulation or oversight, according to government officials, private security firms and documents.

Last year, the Pentagon estimated that 20,000 hired guns worked in Iraq; the Government Accountability Office estimated 48,000.

The Defense Department has paid $2.7 billion for private security since 2003, according to USA Spending, a government-funded project that tracks contracting expenditures; the military said it currently employs 17 companies in Iraq under contracts worth $689.7 million. The State Department has paid $2.4 billion for private security in Iraq — including $1 billion to Blackwater — since 2003, USA Spending figures show.

The State Department’s reliance on Blackwater expanded dramatically in 2006, when together with the U.S. firms DynCorp and Triple Canopy it won a new, multiyear contract worth $3.6 billion. Blackwater’s share was $1.2 billion, up from $488 million, and the company more than doubled its staff, from 482 to 1,082. From January 2006 to April 2007, the State Department paid Blackwater at least $601 million in 38 transactions, according to government data.

The company developed a reputation for aggressive street tactics. Even inside the fortified Green Zone, Blackwater guards were known for running vehicles off the road and pointing their weapons at bystanders, according to several security company representatives and U.S. officials.

Based on insurance claims there are only 25 confirmed deaths of Blackwater employees in Iraq, including the four killed in Fallujah.  You might care to contrast that with the 17 Iraqis killed on September 16th alone.  Then there are the 3 Kurdish civilians in Kirkuk on February 7th of 2006.  And the three employees of the state-run media company and the driver for the Interior Ministry.

And then exactly one year ago today, on Christmas Eve 2006, a Blackwater mercenary killed the body guard of Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi while drunk at a Christmas party (the mercenary, not the guard or Vice President Abdul-Mahdi who were both presumably observant Muslims and no more likely to drink alcohol than Mitt Romney to drink tea).

Sort of makes all those embarrassing passes you made at co-workers and the butt Xeroxes at the office party seem kind of trivial, now doesn’t it?

So that makes it even at 25 apiece except I’ve hardly begun to catalog the number of Iraqis killed by trigger happy Blackwater mercenaries.

They say irony is dead and I (and Santayana) say that the problem with history is that people who don’t learn from it are doomed to repeat it.

Dec 26 2011

Pique the Geek 20111225: Pagan Christmas Traditions

Christendom, like other religions before it, assimilated former religions to forge its own traditions.  This is very much the rule rather than the exception when a new religion begins to dominate an older one.  It is easier to get people to come to your point of view if do not change things too much.

There are a number of pagan traditions that were assimilated into the Christmas tradition, and not all of them were done simultaneously.  For example, the Yule log is much  more recent than celebrating Christmas on 25 December (and that date is not universal, by the way).  Let us look as some of our customs that are not Christian at all.