Daily Archive: 12/24/2014

Dec 24 2014

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”.

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Jessica Valenti: How to talk to your kids about Santa: relax, lie, have a drink, repeat

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the world, children were getting existential. Keep them innocent a little while longer. Everybody wins

I remember confronting my own father about the existence of Santa when I was a little older than my daughter is now. In response, my father told me to close my eyes and imagine a red ball in my mind: “Is it there? Do you see it?” Yes, I said, and my father replied, “Well, see – it’s real! Just like Santa.”

I don’t remember exactly what I said in response, but I recall the sentiment: What a crock of shit. [..]

Keeping certain truths from our children has become a natural part of raising them – and parents, for the most part, have good intentions going in. There are difficult things about the world that kids are too young to understand or that they’ll find too upsetting, and, when we can, every parent shields their children from pain or trauma. But every year, our kids get older and the line between protection and dishonesty gets thinner and thinner – and lying to them saves us a little hurt now but runs the risk of causing distrust later.

I wonder if the little white lies are more about our discomfort with our children growing up at all – keeping them innocent for just a little while longer is perhaps not just for their sakes, but for our own.

Maybe that’s OK. My daughter will be jaded soon enough and, once her teen years hit, I’m sure she’ll be mad at me about a whole host of things that have nothing to do with magical reindeer and everything to do with “unreasonable” curfews and schoolwork. So for now, I’m forgiving myself for the fibs. They do make life easier, and Layla seems to enjoy them.

So until she asks me when she already knows the answer, as far as I’m concerned Santa is real, the Tooth Fairy leaves money, and Mommy’s end-of-day cocktail is “juice” for grown-ups. Everybody wins.

Rebecca Solnit: Let’s leave behind the age of fossil fuel. Welcome to Year One of the climate revolution

In that little junk shop on a quiet street in San Francisco, I held a relic from one of the great upheavals of the last millennium. It made me think of a remarkable statement the great feminist fantasy writer Ursula K Le Guin had made only a few weeks earlier. In the course of a speech she gave while accepting a book award, she noted:

   We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.

That document I held was written only a few years after the French had gotten over the idea that the divine right of kings was an inescapable reality. The revolutionaries had executed their king for his crimes and were then trying out other forms of government. It’s popular to say that the experiment failed, but that’s too narrow an interpretation. France never again regressed to an absolutist monarchy and its experiments inspired other liberatory movements around the world (while terrifying monarchs and aristocrats everywhere).

Americans are skilled at that combination of complacency and despair that assumes things cannot change and that we, the people, do not have the power to change them. Yet you have to be abysmally ignorant of history, as well as of current events, not to see that our country and our world have always been changing, are in the midst of great and terrible changes, and are occasionally changed through the power of the popular will and idealistic movements. As it happens, the planet’s changing climate now demands that we summon up the energy to leave behind the Age of Fossil Fuel – and maybe with it some portion of the Age of Capitalism as well.

Amy B. Dean: Do Santa’s elves a favor: Support their labor rights

Holiday shoppers can help ensure their gifts are produced under fair conditions

Yuletide lore tells us that the clothing and toys that appear under the Christmas tree are made by cheerful elves in Santa’s workshop. While they are likely to be made far away, of course we know that the gifts don’t come from the North Pole.

Wherever they are stationed, Santa’s real-life helpers deserve safe and fair working conditions. And Christmas shoppers have an opportunity to help.

Over the last two years, anti-sweatshop campaigners have focused on the plight of garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia. In the wake of the horrific collapse of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2012, which killed 1,100 employees of several garment factories, labor advocates have been pushing for safeguards that would avoid similar tragedies. Similarly, after a series of national strikes by garment workers in Cambodia, European manufacturers have pledged to raise wages. Activists are now calling on U.S. brands to do the same.

In the past two decades, labor rights advocates have helped enact reforms to curtail child labor and improve working conditions in the garment industry. However, there is still a long way to go.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Change in Cuba policy is a nod to reality

President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba is a decision to recognize reality. For 50 years, the United States has pursued a policy that has failed. The embargo hurt the Cuban people it claimed to help and bolstered the regime that it intended to undermine. The effort to isolate Cuba has been increasingly isolating the United States both in the hemisphere and across the world. And as the president concluded, “I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.” To believe that would be, as Albert Einstein taught us, the very definition of insanity.

The best evidence that this change was long overdue was provided by the hysterical and incoherent reactions of its opponents. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a potential presidential contender, embraced the initiative, making an indisputable comment about the embargo: “If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn’t seem to be working.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) replied that Paul “has no idea what he’s talking about.” [..]

In April, Obama will attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama along with other presidents, including Cuba’s Raúl Castro. There, we might listen more and bluster less. The end of the embargo – if it is lifted – may mark the beginning of a new good-neighbor policy, not just toward Cuba but toward other countries in the hemisphere. We would all profit from that.

Michelle Chen: Is Your Favorite Chocolate the Product of Child Labor?

A good chunk of that deliciousness on our holiday dessert trays is sourced from lush farmlands of West Africa, where cocoa beans are tenderly grown and processed to meet the scrutiny of international quality controls. The end product is a painstakingly nurtured commodity valued like no other in the world. The same cannot be said of the children working the land.

That’s because the global agriculture industry continues to yield one particularly bitter crop: child labor. The big companies who run the massively profitable chocolate trade have done little to prevent trafficked and forced labor, and even less to address the poverty that pushes poor children into the fields. According to the field research just published by the International Labor Rights Forum, the problems that lead to child labor are more complex than the sad images we occasionally see of gaunt, cutlass-wielding kids in the fields. The global agricultural trade is structured to ensure that the most savage forms of resource extraction are linked into the most sophisticated commodities markets. Under this system, farmers are denied control over their production process and cannot negotiate fair prices or wages in the global marketplace.

The millions of farmers working in this decentralized production system have virtually no financial power over what happens to their crop en route to Western candy stores

Lynn Stuart Parramore: Shame is good, shame is right, and shame works

Society needs to motivate CEO Scrooges to change their ways

Does trumpeting scoundrels’ misdeeds set them straight? [..]

History shows that in cases when the law or public consensus has rendered an act reprehensible, society has contrived an impressive array of shaming devices – the dunce cap, the pillory, ducking chairs to plunge the guilty into rivers and ponds and tarring and feathering. The idea, of course, is to not only punish the culprits but also to deter other potential wrongdoers from following suit.

What would be appropriate for CEOs who pinch the wages of their employees while earning hundreds of times more than the lowest paid among them? A scarlet G for “greed” sewn to their lapels? Don’t laugh: Some judges have been known to get creative with sentencing when the ordinary route of punishment doesn’t seem to work. A Los Angeles Times op-ed noted that a judge in La Habra, California, ordered a slumlord to live in his own rundown building under house arrest for two months, and a Cleveland judge sentenced a man who had bullied a neighbor and her handicapped children to stand on the side of the highway carrying a sign describing his crimes. Perhaps a judge equipped with the latest CEO pay disclosures could sentence some corporate titan found guilty of stealing wages to live on the salary of his lowest-paid employee for a time. There is something rather satisfying about ideas like that.

Shaming may not bring America’s corporate Scrooges immediately around to a Dickensian redemption, but it can play a key role in creating a societal consensus that certain behaviors are indeed disgraceful – and that’s a start. No shame, no blame, you might say.

Dec 24 2014

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 24 2014

The Breakfast Club (Then One Foggy Christmas Eve)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

Apollo Eight astronauts orbit the moon; Ku Klux Klan is founded; Human voice first transmitted via radio; Suez Canal opened.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

Convicted Felons Are Always Given Prominent Platforms In Our Media

Actually, that’s not true. Why is Bernie Kerik on my teevee? Especially when his crimes were, you know, related to his job from which he supposedly can bring his expertise.

I know the answer is “he’s Rudy’s buddy and the media loves Rudy.” But, um, why is Rudy on my teevee? He’s a horrible person.

Atrios

Dec 24 2014

On This Day In History December 24

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 24 is the 358th day of the year (359th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are seven days remaining until the end of the year. This day is commonly known as Christmas Eve.

On this day in 1955, NORAD begins tracking Santa in what will become an annual Christmas Eve tradition.

According to NORAD’s official web page on the NORAD Tracks Santa program, the service began on December 24, 1955. A Sears department store placed an advertisement in a Colorado Springs newspaper. The advertisement told children that they could telephone Santa Claus and included a number for them to call. However, the telephone number printed was incorrect and calls instead came through to Colorado Spring’s Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Center. Colonel Shoup, who was on duty that night, told his staff to give all children that called in a “current location” for Santa Claus. A tradition began which continued when the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) replaced CONAD in 1958.

On Christmas Eve, the NORAD Tracks Santa website videos page is generally updated each hour, when it is midnight in a different time zone. The “Santa Cam” videos show CGI images of Santa Claus flying over famous landmarks. Each video is accompanied by a voice-over, typically done by NORAD personnel, giving a few facts about the city or country depicted. Celebrity voice-overs have also been used over the years. For the London “Santa Cam” video, English television personality and celebrity Jonathan Ross did the voice-over for 2005 to 2007 and the former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr narrated the same video in 2003 and 2004. In 2002, Aaron Carter provided the voice-over for three videos.

The locations and landmarks depicted in some of the “Santa Cam” videos have changed over the years. In 2009, twenty-nine “Santa Cam” videos were posted on the website. In previous years, twenty-four to twenty-six videos had been posted.

NORAD relies on volunteers to make the program possible. Many volunteers are employees at Cheyenne Mountain and Peterson Air Force Base. Each volunteer handles about forty telephone calls per hour, and the team typically handles more than 12,000 e-mails and more than 70,000 telephone calls from more than two hundred countries and territories. Most of these contacts happen during the twenty-five hours from 2 a.m. on December 24 until 3 a.m. MST on December 25.Google Analytics has been in use since December 2007 to analyze traffic at the NORAD Tracks Santa website. As a result of this analysis information, the program can project and scale volunteer staffing, telephone equipment, and computer equipment needs for Christmas Eve.

By December 25, 2009, the NORAD Tracks Santa program had 27,440 twitter followers and the Facebook page had more than 410,700 fans.

Official NORAD Santa Tracker