The shortest day, the longest night, for those of us who reside in the Northern climes Winter Solstice is here. The sun reaches is most Southern destiny and touches for but a moment, the Tropic of Capricorn and immediately reverses her course. That moment will occur on December 21 at 12:11 EST.
The Winter Solstice is a special night for those who practice the craft and has a rich history from many cultures. In old Europe, it was known as Yule, from the Norse, Jul, meaning wheel. It is one of the eight holidays, or Sabbats, that are held sacred by Wiccans and Pagans around the world. In Celtic traditions it is the battle between the young Oak King and the Holly King:
the Oak King and the Holly King are seen as dual aspects of the Horned God. Each of these twin aspects rules for half the year, battles for the favor of the Goddess, and then retires to nurse his wounds for the next six months, until it is time for him to reign once more.
Often, these two entities are portrayed in familiar ways – the Holly King frequently appears as a woodsy version of Santa Claus. He dresses in red, wears a sprig of holly in his tangled hair, and is sometimes depicted driving a team of eight stags. The Oak King is portrayed as a fertility god, and occasionally appears as the Green Man or other lord of the forest.
The re-enactment of the battle is popular in some Wiccan rituals.
As we prepare for the longest night, we decorate our homes with red, green and white, holly, ivy, evergreen and pine cones. We honor the solar year with light. We place candles in the windows facing the North, South, East and West to ward off the darkness and celebrate the return of the sun/ With the setting sun, fires are lit in hearths and fire pits and kept burning to keep us warm until Sol returns at dawn.
There is food a plenty, roasts and stews and winter vegetables and sweets, chocolate and peppermint candy, apples and oranges and sweet breads. All these reminding us of the last harvest, the gifts of Gaia, Mother Earth and the hunts by Hern of the Wild Hunt. Of course there will be honeyed and spiced wine and hearty, dark beers, some made by friends who will join the festivities.
What ever your beliefs, or none, may the traditions and celebrations bring you peace and joy. Blessed Be. The Wheel Turns.
“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.
There was, I’m pretty sure, an episode of “The Three Stooges” in which Curly kept banging his head against a wall. When Moe asked him why, he replied, “Because it feels so good when I stop.” [..]
Some background: In 2010, most of the world’s wealthy nations, although still deeply depressed in the wake of the financial crisis, turned to fiscal austerity: slashing spending and, in some cases, raising taxes in an effort to reduce budget deficits that had surged as their economies collapsed. Basic economics said that austerity in an already depressed economy would deepen the depression. But the “austerians,” as many of us began calling them, insisted that spending cuts would lead to economic expansion, because they would improve business confidence.
The result came as close to a controlled experiment as one ever gets in macroeconomics. Three years went by, and the confidence fairy never made an appearance. In Europe, where the austerian ideology took hold most firmly, the nascent economic recovery soon turned into a double-dip recession. In fact, at this point key measures of economic performance in both the euro areaand Britain are lagging behind where they were at this stage of the Great Depression.
A dozen years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it is appalling that official reports about the extent and nature of the rendition, detention and torture that came in their aftermath are still being kept from the American public and even members of Congress charged with overseeing intelligence activities. [..]
The lack of transparency was underlined on Tuesday during a hearing on the nomination of Caroline Krass to be the C.I.A.’s top lawyer. Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, disclosed the existence of an internal study done by the C.I.A. under Mr. Brennan’s predecessor, Leon Panetta, that contradicted the agency’s response to the Senate study. Mr. Udall said he believed it was “consistent with the Intelligence’s Committee’s report.” Mr. Udall said: “This raises fundamental questions about why a review the C.I.A. conducted internally years ago – and never provided to the committee – is so different from the C.I.A.’s formal response to the committee study.”
The committee must insist on the Obama administration’s cooperation in making public all three documents – the Senate Intelligence Committee report, the official C.I.A. response to it, and the internal C.I.A. study.
President Obama’s NSA review is cast as a set of ‘policy recommendations’ as if this is all just a political debate
President Obama’s NSA review panel makes it clear that many of the things NSA has been doing are bad from a policy perspective. But the real question we should be asking is: are they legal?
Early leaks about the review panel suggested it had found all the NSA’s (and other agencies they imply, such as FBI) activities to be legal. That’s based, in part, on this statement:
Significantly, and in stark contrast to the pre-Fisa era, the Review Group found no evidence of illegality or other abuse of authority for the purpose of targeting domestic political activity. This is of central importance, because one of the greatest dangers of government surveillance is the potential to use what is learned to undermine democratic governance. On the other hand, as discussed later in this report, there have been serious and persistent instances of noncompliance in the Intelligence Community’s implementation of its authorities. Even if unintentional, these instances of noncompliance raise serious concerns about the Intelligence Community’s capacity to manage its authorities in an effective and lawful manner.
But notice that statement did not say the panel had found everything to be legal. On the contrary, it applied that judgment only to illegality or abuse “for the purposes of targeting domestic political activity”. That leaves open a whole slew of potential abuse, even illegal activities, targeting Americans for reasons outside of politics.
That’s what the report should have tackled, but it didn’t. Instead, we have tame sounding “policy recommendations” as if this is all just a matter of political disagreement over the budget or farm bill.
On Monday U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA surveillance program was unconstitutional. The gist of his ruling is that collecting data on the telephone calls of every American violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. It should be pretty obvious to most Americans that collecting data in this way is not compatible with the values and laws governing our democracy, but it is still good to have that confirmed by a federal judge.
The ruling itself is interesting, but the question of how any administration, Democratic or Republican believed that surveillance of that kind was, or should be legal, is more significant. Edward Snowden’s name is well known, as he was the one who drew attention to this violation of the rights and privacy of millions of Americans, but the names of the probably thousands of Americans who knew of this policy and said or did nothing are still unknown. Those are the people, not Snowden, whose decisions and conduct have weakened our country.
Just when President Obama was starting to believe that it was safe to go back into the water, the lobby has come out with a new Iran sanctions resolution designed to torpedo negotiations with Iran. And, once that is accomplished, it provides for automatic U.S military backing for Israel if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decides to bomb.
This may be the lobby’s most brazen attempt yet at subverting negotiations and, in Andrew Sullivan’s words, “handing over American foreign policy on a matter as grave as war and peace to a foreign government….” [..]
The bill is almost like an exploding Christmas present. It looks pretty under the tree, all wrapped up nicely, but then in six months it blows down the house. [..]
Although damaging (there is no telling how the Iranian government will react to such an insulting action by Congress while it is in the midst of negotiating with the administration) the resolution is par for the course. If it’s not one donor-backed lobby dictating policy, it’s another.
But then the bill goes off in a truly unprecedented direction. It states that if negotiations fail (it defines failure as leaving Iran with the capacity for any nuclear enrichment at all) and Prime Minister Netanyahu decides to dispatch his bombers, the United States is automatically at war too.
It’s the season to show concern for the less fortunate among us. We should also be concerned about the widening gap between the most fortunate and everyone else.
Although it’s still possible to win the lottery (your chance of winning $636 million in the recent Mega Millions sweepstakes was one in 259 million), the biggest lottery of all is what family we’re born into. Our life chances are now determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of our parents.
That’s not always been the case. The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches — with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone — was once at the core of the American Dream. [..]
But for more than three decades we’ve been going backwards. It’s far more difficult today for a child from a poor family to become a middle-class or wealthy adult. Or even for a middle-class child to become wealthy.
By Greg Miller and Ellen Nakashima, Wasington Post
Published: December 19
From the moment the government’s massive database of citizens’ call records was exposed this year, U.S. officials have clung to two main lines of defense: The secret surveillance program was constitutional and critical to keeping the nation safe.
But six months into the controversy triggered by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the viability of those claims is no longer clear.
In April 1803, the United States purchased from France the 828,000 square miles that had formerly been French Louisiana. The area was divided into two territories: the northern half was Louisiana Territory, the largely unsettled (though home to many Indians) frontier section that was later explored by Lewis and Clark; and the southern Orleans Territory, which was populated by Europeans.
Unlike the sprawling and largely unexplored northern territory (which eventually encompassed a dozen large states), Orleans Territory was a small, densely populated region that was like a little slice of France in the New World. With borders that roughly corresponded to the modern state of Louisiana, Orleans Territory was home to about 50,000 people, a primarily French population that had been living under the direction of a Spanish administration.
The Louisiana Purchase (French: Vente de la Louisiane “Sale of Louisiana”) was the acquisition by the United States of America of 828,800 square miles (2,147,000 km2) of France’s claim to the territory of Louisiana in 1803. The U.S. paid 60 million francs ($11,250,000) plus cancellation of debts worth 18 million francs ($3,750,000), for a total sum of 15 million dollars for the Louisiana territory ($219 million in today’s currency).
The Louisiana Purchase encompassed all or part of 14 current U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The land purchased contained all of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Minnesota that were west of the Mississippi River, most of North Dakota, nearly all of South Dakota, northeastern New Mexico, the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide, and Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans. (The Oklahoma Panhandle and southwestern portions of Kansas and Louisiana were still claimed by Spain at the time of the Purchase.) In addition, the Purchase contained small portions of land that would eventually become part of the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The purchase, which doubled the size of the United States, comprises around 23% of current U.S. territory. The population of European immigrants was estimated to be 92,345 as of the 1810 census.
The purchase was a vital moment in the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. At the time, it faced domestic opposition as being possibly unconstitutional. Although he felt that the U.S. Constitution did not contain any provisions for acquiring territory, Jefferson decided to purchase Louisiana because he felt uneasy about France and Spain having the power to block American trade access to the port of New Orleans.
Napoleon Bonaparte, upon completion of the agreement, stated, “This accession of territory affirms forever the power of the United States, and I have given England a maritime rival who sooner or later will humble her pride.”
Mince pie is a old holiday tradition that can be traced back to 13th century when European crusaders returned from the Middle East with recipes for meats, fruits and spices. Mincing was a way of preserving meats without salting or smoking. The pie has been served at royal tables and, at one time, was banned by the Puritans since it was a symbol of the Pagan Christmas celebration.
Traditional mincemeat pie contains shredded meat and suet along with fruits and spices and cooks for hours. Mostly made with beef, there is a record of a recipe that used whale meat. Today, most cooks buy mince in a jar, like Cross & Blackwell or None-Such, to make pies and small tarts. I use to do that as well, adding chopped apples, walnuts and extra brandy.
Several years ago, I came across recipe for a meatless mince full of apples, dried fruits and lots of spices. It cooks over low heat for about ninety minutes filling the house and the neighborhood with its spicy aroma. This recipe calls for pippin apples but MacIntosh, Granny Smith or any pie variety of apple is a fine substitute. I use a combination. It can be made a week or so ahead of time and kept refrigerated in an airtight container. The recipe will make one pie or about a dozen medium tarts. I like the tarts even though it’s more work making the crusts. For the top crust, I make decorative cutouts with small cookie cutters, shaped like leaves and acorns. I’ve also just made a few cutouts in the top crust and surrounded the pie edge with the dough cutouts.
3 1/2 pounds small pippin apples (about 7), peeled, cored, chopped
1/2 cup chopped pitted prunes
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup unsulfured (light) molasses
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
Combine first 17 ingredients in heavy large saucepan or Dutch oven. Cook over low heat until apples are very tender and mixture is thick, stirring occasionally, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool filling completely. (Can be prepared up to 1 week ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Position rack in lowest third of oven and preheat to 400°F. Roll out 1 pie crust disk on lightly floured surface to 13-inch-diameter round (about 1/8 inch thick). Roll up dough on rolling pin and transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie plate. Gently press into place. Trim edges of crust, leaving 3/4-inch overhang. Fold overhang under crust so that crust is flush with edge of pie pan. Crimp edges with fork to make decorative border. Spoon filling into crustlined pan, gently pressing flat.
Roll out second disk on lightly floured surface to 13-inch round. Cut out about 28 three-inch leaves using cookie cutter. Press leaves lightly with tines of fork to form vein pattern. Brush bottom of 1 leaf with milk. Place leaf atop mince, overlapping crust slightly and pressing to adhere to crust. Continue placing leaves atop pie in concentric circles, overlapping edges slightly until top of pie is covered. Brush crust with milk. Bake until crust is golden brown and mince bubbles, about 40 minutes. Cool completely. Serve pie with rum raisin ice cream if desired.
(To make this recipe vegan substitute light olive oil for the butter.
In Autumn, the appearance in grocery stores of stacks of candied fruit and mountains of nuts in all their wonderful variety is a sure sign of the approach of the holidays. As the days grow short and the nights grow cool preparations for a joyous time of baking begins.
My daughter is the bread baker but Sugarplum Bread is the one I enjoy making, too. This sweet bread studded with candied fruit is not as heavy as fruit cake. It is topped with a white icing glaze and decorated with red and green cherries to look like clusters of berries. It is a treat for breakfast or in the afternoon with tea. I make small ones baked in large muffin tins, decorated and wrapped in colored plastic wrap tied with ribbon as gifts for guests.
The following recipe is a rich dough flavored with nutmeg, candied fruit and peel, and raisins
Candied fruit would have melted in the summer heat and its sweetness would attract ants but it keeps well in the freezer. After the holidays, when the price is reduced for clearance, if you have space in your freezer buy a supply. It assures that you’ll have candied fruit on hand in the months when it can’t be found in the market.
The auction in Paris was set to move briskly, at about two items a minute; the room was hot and crowded, buzzing with reporters.
More than 100 American Indian artifacts were about to go on sale at the Drouot auction house, including 24 pieces, resembling masks, that are held sacred by the Hopi of Arizona. The tribe, United States officials and others had tried unsuccessfully to block the sale in a French court, arguing that the items were religious objects that had been stolen many years ago.
Now the Annenberg Foundation decided to get involved from its offices in Los Angeles. It hoped to buy all of the Hopi artifacts, plus three more sought by the San Carlos Apaches, at the Dec. 9 sale and return them to the tribes. To prevent prices from rising, the foundation kept its plan a secret, even from the Hopis, in part to protect the tribe from potential disappointment. Given the nine-hour time difference, the foundation put together a team that could work well into the night, bidding by phone in the auction in France.
The foundation had never done something like this before – a repatriation effort – and the logistics were tricky, to say the least.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko notified Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of the news in a Nov. 27 letter that was released by Sopko’s office Thursday. In the letter, Sopko complains that he never received an answer to questions he sent in July to Hagel, U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin III and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Commander Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., about the mammoth building, dismissed by many as a “white elephant,” never to be used. [..]
Sopko specifically complains about an investigation into the building by Maj. Gen. James Richardson, deputy commander of support for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan that was finished last month. Sopko said he delayed his own investigation to wait on Richardson’s report. A partial draft of the report was sent to Sopko, but he said it was sloppy, incomplete and actually suggests that taxpayer-funded construction should continue. [..]
Controversy over the building is not new – members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have been publicly critical of the construction, most recently after an initial Army investigation into the building in May determined that the building was unwanted and unnecessary, and could be converted into a gymnasium and movie theatre.
In a remarkable rebuke to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), 10 other Senate committee chairs are circulating a joint letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, urging him to reject an effort by Menendez to tighten sanctions on Iran and warning that his bill could disrupt ongoing nuclear negotiations.
The senators write in their letter that “at this time, as negotiations are ongoing, we believe that new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail.”
Earlier Thursday, a senior White House official had accused Menendez of undermining the negotiations. [..]
Yet Menendez is not alone in his call for tougher sanctions. The proposed Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, introduced in the Senate on Thursday by Menendez and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), is co-sponsored by 12 other Democrats — including Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) — and 12 other Republicans.
The Senate on Thursday evening passed the $607 billion Defense authorization bill that will reform the way the military handles sexual assault cases and loosen the restriction on transferring Guantánamo Bay detainees to foreign countries.
The Senate sent the bill to the president’s desk for the 52nd straight year in a 84-15 vote, after some legislative maneuvering was needed to extend the streak and quickly get a compromise bill through both chambers this month.
Nearly three-quarters of Republicans joined most Democrats in voting for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes $527 billion in base defense spending and $80 billion for the war in Afghanistan.[..]
The final bill included many new reforms to how the military prosecutes sexual assault and treats victims. The bill strips commanders’ ability to overturn guilty verdicts, changes the military’s pre-trial rules for interviewing victims, expands a special victims counsel for sexual assault survivors and makes retaliating against victims a crime.
The bill does not, however, include a controversial proposal from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to take sexual assault cases from the chain of command. Before Thanksgiving, Republicans blocked Reid’s attempt to hold votes on Gillibrand’s amendment and a competing measure from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).
President Obama’s panel of security and civil liberties experts finished their work giving their recommendations to the president last Friday. The report was released to the public Tuesday. Much to the surprise of the war on terror hawks, it slammed the mass surveillance programs vindicating what critics have been saying since Edward Snowden’s revelations.
A presidential advisory panel has recommended sweeping limits on the government’s surveillance programs, including requiring a court to sign off on individual searches of phone records and stripping the National Security Agency of its ability to store that data from Americans. [..]
The recommendations include tightening federal law enforcement’s use of so-called national security letters, which give the government sweeping authority to demand financial and phone records without prior court approval in national security cases. The task force recommended that authorities should be required to obtain a prior “judicial finding” showing “reasonable grounds” that the information sought is relevant to terrorism or other intelligence activities.
In addition, the panel proposed terminating the NSA’s ability to store telephone data and instead require it to be held by the phone companies or a third party. Access to the data would then be permitted only through an order from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The panel called for more independent review of what the NSA collects and the process by which it goes about gathering data.
Amid an international furor over NSA spying on the leaders of allied nations such as Germany, the review group recommended that the president personally approve all sensitive methods used by the intelligence community.
The White House has already made it clear that the recommendations are just that and has already said it will not separate the US Cyber Command from the NSA. So basically, as Charles Pierce pointedly put it, “the White House can tell the committee to pound sand.”
And, even if it doesn’t, there is no reason on god’s earth why anyone should believe that the NSA actually would abide by any agreement going forward. The all-too-human, but curiously error-prone heroes of our intelligence community, imbued as they are with a mission mindset that is perilously close to messianic, can be presumed eventually to breach by unfortunate accident almost any new protocol put in place. (And that’s not even to mingle with the wilder fauna in the jungle.)