Publius Speaks

Publius Speaks
Become A Follower

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Year of Action Despite Detractors

Once again, it is time to look back at the year past.   For President Obama, it was a year full of confrontation and accomplishment.  Republicans made sure that much confronted him negatively.  Here are just a few examples:


1)      Top Washington Republicans hammered President Obama for his handling of North Korea’s cyberattacks on Sony Pictures Entertainment, saying he is slow to respond and has underplayed the impact of the hacking by calling it “cybervandalism.”  Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told “Fox News Sunday” that Obama should already be responding to the attacks instead of just vowing to respond.  On Friday, after Sony halted the distribution of its film “The Interview,” Obama acknowledged the attacks were damaging but said only that “we will respond.”  Rogers, R-Mich., said that Obama’s response before “saying aloha” and embarking on his annual winter break in Hawaii was not the answer. “I don’t think that’s enough,” he said. “Unfortunately, he’s laid out (very) little of the playbook.” (FoxNews.com)

2)      Remember that attack on the President and First Lady when an aide to a congressional rep. from Tennessee called attention to his daughters’ “demeanor” at the turkey pardoning?  Elizabeth Lauten, the communications director for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN.) — you might recall Fincher, he was endorsed by family values Queen Sarah Palin in 2010 – attacked Sasha and Malia Obama on Facebook… “because unlike… pristine role models… conservatives do not put up with teenagers rolling their eyes.”  (politicususa.com)  Lauten said specifically:  “At least respect the part you play.  Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the role model department."

3)      GOP lawmakers plan an early attack against an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. While putting legislation on the floor to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline will be the Senate's first order of business, incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed that limiting or stopping that rule is one of his top legislative priorities.  "I couldn't be angrier about it, and whatever we can think of to try to stop it, we're going to do," the Kentucky Republican told the Associated Press earlier this month, adding, "I know it won't be easy with Barack Obama in the White House." (WashingtonExaminer.com)  The attack began with the Omnibus budget bill in which the EPA came under some cuts that will blunt its reach and authority.

4)      Back in the summer, the Republican-led House Rules Committee debated a draft resolution to file a lawsuit against President Obama, wasting taxpayer dollars in what was plainly a political stunt.  “Their complaint was that President Obama did not implement the employer mandate in Obamacare quickly enough -- that same employer mandate Republicans have berated Obama for, the one in the health care reform law they've voted 54 (failed) times to try to repeal or delay or stall -- the law, incidentally, that's working -- House Republicans are now using taxpayer money to sue President Obama for not implementing it quickly enough.” (Sally Kohn on CNN.com)

5)      The President’s Executive Order to cease certain deportations caught Republican ire rather quickly.  Secretary Jeh Johnson faced a firestorm of questions about the president’s action, which will shield more than 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and grant them work permits if they meet certain conditions.  Johnson told members of the House Homeland Security Committee that the executive order wasn't illegal and wasn't an amnesty but would require those affected to come forward and register.  "The reality is that, given our limited resources, these people are not, and have not been for years, prioritized for removal," he said. "It is time we acknowledge that and encourage them to be held accountable. This is simple common sense.”  Republicans on the panel said the president was destroying the trust of Congress and the American people by taking unilateral action to allow the parents of American citizen children to stay in the country and to get work permits.  Johnson, however, blamed House Republicans for not passing an immigration reform bill, as the Senate did in 2013.  “I would like to work with Congress on passing a bill," he said. "The president has said that would be his preference. The problem is we have no partner in Congress.” (VOAnews.com)

6)      Of course, the greatest attack against the President came in the general elections of 2014 where in many races this election season, the favorite Republican talking point against Democratic incumbents was how often they voted with President Barack Obama.  The Republican Party of Virginia said Sen. Mark Warner voted with Obama 97 percent of the time, and PolitiFact rated that True. Republican Scott Brown said New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen voted with Obama 99 percent of the time: Mostly True. In Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton said Sen. Mark Pryor voted with Obama 93 percent of the time: also Mostly True.  Here's more evidence of just how popular it is: conservative political action committee ‘Americans for Prosperity’ released 14 videos attacking 14 Democratic candidates for the House and Senate — all of them identical, adjusted for the candidate's name and specific presidential support voting record.  Of the 16 Senate races with a Democrat incumbent running for another term, we found that at least 10 Republican challengers have wielded the claim against their opponent.  "That someone votes with Obama — that's all someone needs to hear," said Leonard Steinhorn, an expert in political communication at American University and a former speechwriter. "That association between Obama and the candidate is enough to rally the base." (TampaBay.com)

That is just a taste of the negatives that this President has had to endure from hypocritical, lying, immigrant-hating, bigoted and plutocratic radical Republicans who have essentially admitted or demonstrated every one of those carefully chosen epithets.  The “Big Lie” has been their stock-in-trade, using it whenever they can to ‘tar and feather’ this President and his accomplishments.  They have tried to make scandals of incidents that ended up being reported as ‘scandal-less’ by Congressional reports (Ben Ghazi and IRS).  They have stretched the truth (IRS “scandal”) in an attempt to connect the President to incidents that in essence had no connection to his administration.  In fact, in more than one incident, the fault for “failures” or “scandals” can be traced back to Congressional budget-cutting or inaction, or to the previous administration.  But mainly they have excoriated this President for his ability to have written into law a healthcare reform that has already improved healthcare accessibility for over 10 million formerly uninsured or under-insured citizens. 
In the meantime, the President has labored on, in spite of a dysfunctional and belligerent Congress, to accomplish what he can, when he can.  In fact, his accomplishments are in many respects spectacular, for example: the fact that he had a higher success rate legislatively in his first year than did Lyndon Johnson in 1965, who happens to be known for an ability to wield much influence to get legislation passed.  The score is 96.7% to 93%. 

Just since the mid-term elections of 2014, the President has taken several bold actions that cannot be ignored and for which he receives little credit in the media, but none of it has escaped censure from Republicans. 

1)   On November 10th, six days after the midterms, President Obama announced his support for net neutrality, calling on federal regulators to toughen their proposed net-neutrality laws for the Internet which includes the very controversial step of subjecting broadband providers to stricter utility-like regulation.

2)   On November 11th, he reached a monumental, historic climate deal with China aimed at the reduction of greenhouse gases. The Republicans threw a hissy fit, claiming it’s an imposition on our sovereignty.

3)   On November 20th, he issued an historic executive order which protected millions of undocumented workers from the threat of deportation, and protected families from being torn apart. Once again, it was met with hostility from the Right.

4)   On November 26th, he reached a deal and signed off on regulations with the EPA on limiting ozone emissions.

5)   On December 15th, he oversaw Western sanctions imposed on the regime of Vladimir Putin, bringing the Russian economy to its knees.

6)   On December 16th, the Democrats of the lame-duck Senate confirmed almost all of his pending nominees, including Surgeon General nominee Vivek Murthy.  In total, over 90 Obama nominees were confirmed in the Senate over the last 3 days.

7)   And finally, on December 17th, with the help of Canada and Pope Francis, President Obama normalized relations with Cuba, effectively bringing a Marxist-Authoritarian government into the capitalist light. Once again, Republicans were outraged. An embargo that has lasted for 50 years will soon be coming to an end.

8)   Not to mention gas is becoming $2 a gallon, unemployment is falling, and the stock market is steady. President Obama has done a miraculous job of holding the country together, even when he faces a Republican Congress in less than a month (addictinginfo.org)

Republicans have criticized everything that this President has said or done with hardly any exceptions.  That one fact ought to make people a bit weary as well as wary.  Could the all-out negativity possibly mean that Republicans actually believe that what the President is doing or has done might be so appealing to the majority of citizens that they must counter it in any way they can?  Or might it just mean they are racially motivated by fear that this first Black President will amass a record that stands out from the run-of-the-mill Republican presidents?  Or, is this their way of “lynching” an innocent black man who outshines their intellect, their abilities at problem-solving, and their exceedingly poor record of legislative accomplishments? 
Finally, let us trace some of his other accomplishments in the year 2014, beyond those already listed as bold steps taken in recent days.  As he promised in his State of the Union speech in January of 2014, this has been a “year of action” with more than 80 new executive actions to help grow the economy, create jobs, address the threat of climate change, and strengthen the middle class.  The President has rallied leaders from business, nonprofits, education, and the community which has resulted in billions of dollars in pledges to expand opportunity for more Americans across the board.

1)   In January 2014, he announced the creation of a high-tech manufacturing institute aimed at creating well-paying jobs.  Speaking to 2,000 students at North Carolina State University, which is leading a group of universities and companies that established the institute, Mr. Obama said it was the kind of innovation that would reinvigorate the nation’s manufacturing economy.

2)   55 consecutive months of job growth, totaling more than 10 million jobs, which is roughly 10,000,000 more jobs than Bush created in eight years.   http://1.usa.gov/1vBDeyC  This is also the longest stretch of private-sector job growth in US history. http://wapo.st/1w3J8Zy

“If you go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site and plug in the data, you will indeed see 54 straight months of job gains in the private sector, after the dizzying drops in the Great Recession.” (WashingtonPost.com)

3)   Ordered all federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour, leading the way to a national increase. http://wapo.st/1iaU5kd.  The Department of Labor issued a final rule in October, raising the minimum wage for workers on new Federal contracts issued after January 1, 2015 to $10.10 an hour, and indexing it to inflation beginning in 2016.

4)   February 19, 2014 – “President Obama is making another move to flex his policy muscle outside of the gridlock of Congress, this time signing an executive order to streamline the processes required for small and medium-sized businesses to export American goods and services to other countries.  On Air Force One this morning, Obama signed an executive order to complete the International Trade Data System, a digital trade record book, by 2016. What that means is that instead of having to wait days on end for paperwork to be processed by countless government agencies, businesses will be able to file all of the paperwork digitally in one electronic location.” (Entrepeneur.com)

5)   Also in February, President Obama directed the Administration to set new standards to cut fuel use and carbon pollution from medium and heavy-duty vehicles. The standards will be proposed by March 2015 and completed by March 2016.

6)   Led the country to 64 consecutive months of economic expansion, eclipsing Reagan’s record, by far.  http://onforb.es/1sxJ2by. 

7)   Oversaw a reduction in the dollar amount of the federal budget deficit by two-thirds since taking office. http://bit.ly/1xKMmjY.

8)   Reduced the federal budget deficit from 9.8% of GDP in Fiscal Year 2009 under Bush, to 2.9% of GDP in FY 2014.  http://www.cbo.gov/publication/45653

9)   Although established in 2009, a central portal for Americans to find service opportunities still exists in 2014 and continues to be full of community and national service news and opportunities.  http://www.serve.gov

10) In June, the Administration proposed the Clean Power Plan, which will cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent by 2030. Power plants are the largest single source of carbon pollution, accounting for about one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. The Clean Power Plan will set standards for carbon pollution from power plants, just as we have set limits on power plant emissions of arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and soot.

11) In September, the White House announced new private sector commitments and executive actions to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by the equivalent of 700 million metric tons of carbon globally through 2025, which is like taking 15 million cars from the road for 10 years.  HFCs are factory-made gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration and are one of the most harmful greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—up to 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

12) In June, the President signed a Presidential Memorandum allowing all borrowers with direct student loans to cap their monthly payments at 10 percent of their income, and in September,  the Department of Education began the process to change its regulations with a goal of making the “Pay As You Earn” plan available by next December, allowing nearly 5 million additional federal student loan borrowers the opportunity to benefit.

13) In October, the Administration announced the final “gainful employment” rules. These rules will protect hundreds of thousands of students by ensuring that federal money isn’t used to pay for training that leads to unaffordable debts and poor employment prospects.

14) In June 2013, the President launched ConnectED, setting a vision for transforming K-12 teaching and learning by infusing classrooms with technology—starting with an ambitious goal of connecting 99 percent of American students to high-speed broadband and wireless in the classroom within five years.

• In 2014, twelve companies have made major commitments to ConnectED totaling over $2 billion—with hardware, software, content, and wireless commitments already in use by teachers and students in all fifty states.
• In February, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it would be investing $2 billion toward Wi-Fi connectivity over two years, benefitting 20 million students in schools and libraries.
• In November, more than 1,200 superintendents signed a pledge committing their schools to the ConnectED vision of digital learning, reaching 10 million students in 16,000 schools.
• In December, the FCC voted to devote the full measure of resources needed to fund ConnectED’s vision for school connectivity for all, putting the nation on track to meet the President’s goal of connecting 99 percent of students’ classrooms by 2018.
Also in December, the President convened state and local policymakers, mayors, school superintendents, corporate and community leaders, and advocates for the White House Summit on Early Education.

15)   The President has made significant progress toward his proposal for a national network
of innovative manufacturing institutes. Each of these institutes serves as a regional hub,
bridging the gap between applied research and product development by bringing together
companies, universities, and others to co-invest in technology areas that lead to new,
advanced manufacturing capabilities. Today, the President’s network—more than halfway to his original goal of 15 institutes—is already producing results and was recently authorized into law by bipartisan legislation.

• The President met his State of the Union commitment to launch four new manufacturing hubs this year.   Eight institutes are now underway—representing more than $1 billion of public-private investment—bringing us more than halfway to the President’s original goal of 15.
• Building on the President’s proposal, in December, a bipartisan coalition of legislators passed the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act (RAMI) to formally authorize the network of national hubs into law.
 
So many more accomplishments to list, and so little space to do so!  Instead, I offer this link to a Calendar of Executive Actions undertaken in 2014 each listed by the specific date they were acted upon. It’s worth a look at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/yoadec2014.pdf.  Some of what I have listed above is based on material from this site.
For an even further look, and somewhat of an adventure, I refer you to the PCTC Blog (Please Cut the Crap Blog) on which I based some of the material presented above: http://www.pleasecutthecrap.com This Blog’s author takes offense to the suggestion that President Obama has not performed well or that he is not “progressive” enough.  He has therefore undertaken a project that not only lists 276 accomplishments by the President, but a citation or link for each one of them!  It’s an amazing list, and once again shows the deviousness of conservative Republicans who are constantly trying to paint our President as a failure, as lazy, or as incompetent. 

This is a president with an amazing record of accomplishment in the face of a dysfunctional Congress led by men and women who no longer represent the constituencies who elected them, but instead choose to represent a constituency of wealthy supporters who are trying to gain control through those representatives of everything that government does and of everything that it does not do, so they can control the economic wealth of this country to their own ends and for their own aggrandizement. 

The one thing that voters must understand is that this is not a game.  This is a war; a war being waged against the forces of progressive and democratic ideals in order to ensure an unfair advantage to the 1% who are already in control of most of our policies, regulations and procedures.  If you happen to be one of the “Bamboozled,” I refer you to Lawrence Lessig’s book titled “Republic, Lost” for an in-depth look at this thesis.  Lessig writes: “It is critical to everything in this book: changes in government policy…account for the radical change in the distribution of American wealth.  This isn’t the rich getting richer because they’re smarter or working harder.  It is the connected getting richer because their lobbyists are working harder. It is clear that the government bends in the direction that the funders prefer, and against – often, but not always – the people.”
President Obama has tried valiantly to correct some of these Right-wing excesses and abuses of our system.  Unfortunately, not enough potential voters or actual voters have understood the threat that exists, or the in-depth measures he has taken to protect our citizens and our democratic values and principles.  It is far past time to recognize and to praise his many accomplishments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Traditions -- a Fantasy?



Recently, I have taken the reader on a journey back to the genesis of policing (‘Peelers and Bobbies’) and ‘The Kerner Report Re-visited’.  It is my belief that looking at historical origins sometimes provides a perspective that has been misplaced or lost. 
Today, I thought we should take a brief look at Christmas celebrations, mainly to make this point: historically, Christmas was not celebrated as we do it now in our country, and in much of the world.  In fact, it is instructive to remember that the word itself tells us much about what the celebration had at its core in the more distant past:  the Christ Mass.  The name 'Christmas' comes from the Mass of Christ. A Mass service (sometimes called Communion or Eucharist) is where Christians remember that Jesus died as an atonement for human sin and then was resurrected to a new life. The 'Christ-Mass' service was the only one that was allowed to take place after sunset (and before sunrise the next day), so people had it at Midnight! So we get the name Christ-Mass, shortened to Christmas. (Christmas Customs and Traditions at Why Christmas.org).
WhyChristmas.org, Wikipedia, and other sources (such as historymedren.about.com, themiddleages.net, science e20.com, whychristmas.com, history.com, etc.) helped to summarize the nativity celebration and are used extensively in what follows. 

The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336 AD, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (the first Christian Roman Emperor). Just a few years later in 350, Pope Julius I declared December 25th as the official day for celebration of the birth of Jesus.  There being no scientific or historic data to enable the Church to name that day as the actual birth day of the Christ child, it is postulated that the Church chose to do so for several possible reasons:  
(1) the 25th of December corresponded with a nine month interval between the Annunciation (the angel’s announcement to Mary that she would bear the Christ child – celebrated on March 25th);
(2) it also corresponded with the day (or several days) when one or more polytheistic (pagan) rituals or celebrations occurred, some connected to the Roman winter solstice;
(3) in the Chronology of 354 AD (a 4th-century illuminated manuscript, which was produced in 354 AD for a wealthy Roman Christian named Valentinus), there was some evidence of a Christian liturgical celebration of the birth of Jesus in Rome (in the Eastern Church, the birth was already being celebrated on Jan. 6th, the feast of the Epiphany).  Even in the West, the January 6 celebration of the nativity of Jesus seems to have continued until after 380.  Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, was much more popular and festive than Christmas in the early middle ages, and was a time for the bestowal of gifts in the tradition of the three Wise Men -- a custom that survives to this day; and finally,
(4) The Jewish festival of Lights, Hanukkah, starts on the 25th of Kislev (the month in the Jewish calendar that occurs at about the same time as December). Hanukkah celebrates when the Jewish people were able to re-dedicate and worship in their Temple in Jerusalem following many years of not being allowed to practice their religion.  Since Jesus was a Jew, this could be another reason that helped the early Church choose December the 25th for the date of Christmas!
“The celebratory customs associated in various countries with Christmas have a mix of pre-Christian, Christian, and secular themes and origins.  Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift giving, completing an Advent calendar or Advent wreath, Christmas music and caroling, an exchange of Christmas cards, church services, a special meal, and the display of various Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees, Christmas lights, nativity scenes, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly. In addition, several closely related and often interchangeable figures, known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Christkind, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season and have their own body of traditions and lore.
Many popular customs associated with Christmas developed independently of the commemoration of Jesus' birth, with certain elements having origins in pre-Christian festivals that were celebrated around the winter solstice by pagan populations who were later converted to Christianity. These elements, including the Yule log from Norway and gift giving from Saturnalia, became syncretized into Christmas over the centuries. The prevailing atmosphere of Christmas has also continually evolved since the holiday's inception, ranging from a sometimes raucous, drunken, carnival-like state in the Middle Ages, to a much tamer family-oriented and children-centered theme introduced in a 19th-century reformation.  Additionally, the celebration of Christmas was banned on more than one occasion within certain Protestant groups, such as the Puritans, due to concerns that it was too pagan or unbiblical.”
Until the late Middle Ages, the celebration of Christmas Day actually ranked fairly low among the major festivals of the Christian world. Twelfth Night celebrations far surpassed the rather solemn, low key observance of the birth of Christ, while more festive Yule celebrations (originally a pagan observance) persisted into the Christian era.
Beginning with the rise of the cult of the Virgin Mary in the twelfth century, a trend can be discerned away from the importance of local saints and towards emphasis on the major figures of the Church, especially on the Holy Family. The fourteenth and fifteenth century cycle plays, presented in English towns by local guilds on or about Corpus Christi day (a movable feast sometime between May 21 and June 24) were one result of this trend. These plays focused on the life of Christ and sometimes included elaborate staging of the nativity. The first Christmas carols were also connected to the performance of these plays. We don't normally think of Christmas as a midsummer tradition, but this, indeed, was at its roots.
Slowly, the emphasis on the nativity in the cycle plays led to a rise in interest in Christmas itself. Yule became synonymous with Christmas, and customs such the Yule log and decorating with evergreens, despite their non-Christian origins, became associated with this holiday
Other customs developed as part of Christian belief. For example, Mince Pies (so called because they contained shredded or minced meat) were baked in oblong casings to represent Jesus' crib, and it was important to add three spices (cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg) for the three gifts given to the Christ child by the Magi. The pies were not very large, and it was thought lucky to eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas (ending with Epiphany, the 6th of January).
The ever-present threat of hunger was triumphantly overcome with a feast, and all manner of food would be served at Christmas. The most popular main course was goose, but many other meats were also served. Turkey was first brought to Europe from the Americas around 1520 (its earliest known consumption in England is 1541), and because it was inexpensive and quick to fatten, it rose in popularity as a Christmas feast food.
The Christmas pudding of Victorian and modern times evolved from the medieval dish of frumenty -- a spicy, wheat-based dessert. Many other desserts were made as welcome treats for children and adults alike.
The tree was an important symbol to every Pagan culture.  Evergreens, which in ancient Rome were thought to have special powers and were used for decoration, symbolized the promised return of life in the spring and came to symbolize eternal life for Christians. In the middle ages, the Church would decorate trees with apples on Christmas Eve, which they called "Adam and Eve Day." However, the trees remained outdoors. In sixteenth-century Germany, it was the custom for a fir tree decorated with paper flowers to be carried through the streets on Christmas Eve to the town square, where, after a great feast and celebration that included dancing around the tree, it would be ceremonially burned.
Holly, ivy, and mistletoe were all important plants to the Druids. It was believed that good spirits lived in the branches of holly. Christians believed that the berries had been white before they were turned red by Christ's blood when he was made to wear the crown of thorns. Ivy was associated with the Roman god Bacchus and was not allowed by the Church as decoration until later in the middle ages, when a superstition that it could help recognize witches and protect against plague arose.  Christmas may owe its popularity in medieval times to liturgical dramas and mysteries presented in the church. The most popular subject for such dramas and tropes was the Holy Family, particularly the Nativity. As interest in the Nativity grew, so did Christmas as a holiday.
Carols, though very popular in the later middle ages, were at first frowned on by the Church. But, as with most popular entertainment, they eventually evolved to a suitable format, and the Church relented. The Twelve Days of Christmas may have been a game set to music. One person would sing a stanza, and another would add his own lines to the song, repeating the first person's verse. Another version states it was a Catholic "catechism memory song" that helped oppressed Catholics in England during the Reformation remember facts about God and Jesus.
Pantomimes and mumming were another form of popular Christmas entertainment, particularly in England. These casual plays without words usually involved dressing up as a member of the opposite gender and acting out comic stories.  A popular custom was mumming, in which revelers put on masks or the clothes of the opposite sex and, accompanied by minstrels and musicians, traveled from house to house.
In some countries such as Italy and Malta, and many South American countries, the crib is the most important Christmas decoration. The city of Naples, in Italy, has used cribs to decorate houses and Churches since the 1020s! Naples is also the home to the world’s largest nativity crib scene. It's in the 'Museo Nazionale di S. Martino' and has 162 people, 80 animals, angels, and about 450 other smaller objects.  In the past, it was common for live animals including an ox and donkey and other farm animals to be used in the plays. Sometimes they still are, but it is now more common for children to dress up as the animals in costumes or to have animal props.

The first Nativity Play was performed in a cave by Monks in Italy! St. Francis of Assisi and his followers acted in the first play in 1223 to remind the local population that Jesus was born for them, as he was born into a poor family like theirs and not to a rich family.  St. Francis played the part of each character in the story himself using wooden figures in the play. After a couple of years, the play had become so popular that real people played the parts of the characters in the story. Songs were sung by the people taking part and they became what we call Christmas carols today! Now cribs or crèches are used in Churches all over the world and even in some homes.

It's hard to imagine now, but at the beginning of the 19th century Christmas was hardly celebrated. Many businesses did not even consider it a holiday. However by the end of the century it had become the biggest annual celebration and took on the form that we recognize today.  The transformation happened quickly, and came from all sectors of society.

Many attribute the change to Queen Victoria, and her marriage to the German-born Prince Albert who introduced some of the most prominent aspects of Christmas. In 1848 the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree, a tradition that was reminiscent of Prince Albert's childhood in Germany. Soon every home in Britain had a tree bedecked with candles, sweets, fruit, homemade decorations and small gifts.
In 1843 Henry Cole commissioned an artist to design a card for Christmas. The illustration showed a group of people around a dinner table and a Christmas message. At one shilling each, these were pricey for ordinary Victorians and so were not immediately accessible. However the sentiment caught on and many children - Queen Victoria's included – were encouraged to make their own Christmas cards. In that age of industrialization, color printing technology quickly became more advanced, causing the price of card production to drop significantly. Together with the introduction of the halfpenny postage rate, the Christmas card industry took off. By the 1880s the sending of cards had become hugely popular, creating a lucrative industry that produced 11.5 million cards in 1880 alone.
Decorating the home at Christmas also became a more elaborate affair. The medieval tradition of using evergreens continued, however the style and placement of these decorations became more important. The old custom of simply decking walls and windows with sprigs and twigs was not enough.  Uniformity, order and elegance were encouraged. There were even instructions books on how to make elaborate synthetic decorations for those residing in towns.

Gift-giving had moved from Epiphany in January as Christmas became more important to the Victorians. Initially gifts were rather modest following earlier medieval tradition– fruit, nuts, sweets and small handmade trinkets. These were usually hung on the Christmas tree. However, as gift giving became more central to the festival, and the gifts became bigger and store-bought, they moved under the tree.

The Christmas feast has its roots from before the middle ages, but it's during the Victorian period that the dinner we now associate with Christmas began to take shape. Examination of early Victorian recipes shows that mince pies were initially made from meat, a tradition dating back to Tudor times. However, during the 19th century there was a revolution in the composition of this festive dish. Mixes without meat began to gain popularity within some of the higher echelons of society and became the mince pies we know today.
The roast turkey also had its beginnings in Victorian Britain. Previously other forms of roasted meat such as beef and goose were the centerpiece of the Christmas dinner. The turkey was added to this by the more wealthy sections of the community in the 19th century, but its perfect size for a middle class family gathering meant it became the dominant dish by the beginning of the 20th century.
While carols were not new to the Victorians, it was a medieval tradition that they actively revived and popularized as Victorians considered carols to be a delightful form of musical entertainment, and a pleasure well worth cultivating. Old words were put to new tunes and the first significant collection of carols was published in 1833 for all to enjoy.
The Victorians also transformed the idea of Christmas so that it became centered on the family. The preparation and eating of the feast, decorations and gift giving, entertainments and parlor games - all were essential to the celebration of the festival and were shared by the whole family.
While Charles Dickens did not invent the Victorian Christmas, his ‘A Christmas Carol’ is credited with helping to popularize and spread the traditions of the festival. Its themes of family, charity, goodwill, peace and happiness encapsulate the spirit of the Victorian Christmas, and are very much a part of the Christmas we celebrate today.
Of course, it is probably the book written by a theological school professor that stands out the most for Americans.   In 1823 the famous poem 'A Visit from St. Nicholas' or 'T'was the Night before Christmas', was published.  Dr. Clement Clarke Moore claimed that he had written it for his children. The poem describes eight reindeer and gives them their names (check out my Blog from December of last year for his story as it relates to the commercialization of Christmas in this and other nations).

The  second point I want to make with all of this is that Christmas is a totality of a lot of history, an abundance of traditions and celebrations from many lands and customs.  However, Christmas has emerged as a shopping spree, complete with a Black Friday, Cyber Mondays, and various and sundry sales.  There is hardly a Christmas tradition left that hasn’t been commercialized by a retail corporation or some enterprise.  Christmas in these United States has regressed to what used to exist in the medieval fairs connected to Christmas – a bunch of merchants selling their wares.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t have families and individuals who are maintaining some of the original meaning and traditions of Christmas – not at all. 
It simply means that Christmas has been captured and used – as so many of our great traditions and holy days (holidays) have been – by people who believe that profit is above all else.  “Use a holiday to bring in the customers” seems to be their mantra. 
In answer, perhaps those who believe that the meaning of an event like Christmas ought to be respected, admired, protected and promoted in quite a different way, should:
 (1) Cut back on the number and expense of gifts and go back to a simpler form of gift-giving;
(2) Attend the worship service that celebrates the religious meaning of this Day;
(3) Boycott the Black Fridays, the Cyber Mondays and the big retailers that promote them while simultaneously paying their employees less than a living wage and either denying or reducing their pensions;

(4) Shop at small local businesses whenever possible;

(5) Do away with gaudy lights and plastic figurines that give off a message of ostentation, not of sacrifice (huge, overwhelming and complicated light display competitions are an abomination);
(6) It’s time to put St. Nicholas back to his day of Dec. 6th and not patronize him on any other day; Santa and his reindeer are not appropriate symbols of the Christ as much as they are of the celebration and capture by our capitalist system of this Holy Day for the sheer commercialization of it.
(7) Revive some of the traditions and more meaningful practices of the past and enjoy a revitalization of this Holy day.  Try joining a caroling group; or, bake a mince pie; or, participate in a Christmas Pageant or crèche scene. 
(8) Instead of a light display, how about a display of a nativity scene with some lights just for illumination.
(9) Invite someone less fortunate to enjoy your dinner or perhaps to enjoy some delicious left-overs
(10) Why not go a little farther and celebrate Christmas traditions on Dec. 25th and then move gift-giving and sharing to January 6th.  (Just think of the after-Christmas sales of which you can take full advantage even though you are cutting back and patronizing smaller businesses).
Too bad all of these suggestions are little more than fantasy.  They would simply constitute a return to symbolism and activity that might more appropriately represent the message of the Day.  However, we are so mired in commercialism and meaningless traditions (like Santa Claus, Rudolph and the other reindeer) that undertaking even a small change in our habits and made-up modern traditions presents incredible difficulty.  It is hard to go against a rip tide.  We are captured and arrested by forces greater than ourselves and dare not move in another direction, even though such moves are hardly revolutionary (not unlike our political situation). 
So forget I said anything and have a Merry Christmas!

 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Republican Brand–Buyer Beware!

The Republican “brand” has not improved over the last decade or so. It used to be that Republicans were the party of “family values” (whatever that means), of frugality and efficiency, of business, of some historical significance, and of leaders like Eisenhower, Taft, Speaker Martin, Norris,  Javits, Dirksen,  Vandenburgh, Jeffords to name a few.

However, the “brand” of late has lost any luster it may have possessed. It is now a Party of obstruction, destruction, favoritism, elitism, racism, militarism, prevarication and denial. This is hardly a snap judgment. It is based on their own actions and behaviors. This is what Republicans are about right now, and it will be even truer as they begin to exert their majority hold on the House and the Senate. As a matter of fact, they are at it already, even though the new Congress has yet to be sworn in. They have passed a $1.1 trillion dollar budget in the House and Senate, and the President has said he will sign it. The legislation contains full funding for fiscal year 2015 for 11 of the 12 regular annual Appropriations bills, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Homeland Security portion is funded under a temporary Continuing Resolution (CR). This CR maintains DHS funding at the current fiscal year 2014 level, and expires on February 27, 2015.

Here are some of the more onerous provisions that make this a suspect bill, at the very least. Elizabeth Warren has made it clear that it is worse than that.

National Security – The bill will fund Department of Defense programs and projects, a pay raise for our troops, and the advancement of our military operations to the tune of $490 billion. The bill also includes an additional $64 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding to provide resources and training for our troops in the field, to combat the threat presented by ISIL, to train and equip our Iraqi allies, and to reinforce European countries facing Russian aggression.

Bolstering Job Creation and Reining in Bureaucratic Overreach – The bill includes many provisions to rein in regulatory restrictions. Some of these provisions include:

· A provision to prohibit the Export-Import Bank and OPIC from blocking coal and other power-generation projects – supposedly "helping to increase exports of U.S. goods and services"

· A provision prohibiting funds for the Army Corps of Engineers to change the definition of “fill material,” which could have harmful effects on many U.S. industries;

· A restriction on the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from implementing regulations having to do with the livestock and poultry industry;

· Language amending Dodd-Frank swaps requirements supposedly to protect farmers and other commodity producers from having to put down excessive collateral to get a loan, expand their businesses, and hedge their production, but as Senator Warren points out, giving big banks the ability to speculate and gamble on derivatives is what this is about.

· Provisions restricting the application of the Clean Water Act in certain agricultural areas, including farm ponds and irrigation ditches; and

ObamaCare – The bill provides no new funding for ObamaCare, and holds the line on funding for the IRS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – the primary agencies responsible for the implementation of ObamaCare.

Life – The Omnibus maintains all existing pro-life policy and funding provisions that have been carried in Appropriations legislation in previous years. The bill also includes new language allowing states increased access to abstinence education funding, new language directing the HHS Secretary to increase the transparency of abortion coverage within federal exchange health care plans, and new language directing HHS to quickly respond to claims filed by health care providers on conscience clause violations.
Other Policy Provisions – Many other important policy provisions are included in the Omnibus, such as:

· Provisions to protect Second Amendment rights, including a prohibition on funding for the EPA to regulate lead content in ammunition or fishing tackle;

· Bans and limitations on federal agency conferences and awards;

· Provisions to stop the transfer or release of Guantanamo detainees into the U.S.; and

· A prohibition on funding for the IRS to target organizations for regulatory scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs or for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Savings and Oversight of Tax Dollars – The bill includes program cuts and oversight provisions. Some of these items include:

· No funding for high-speed rail;

· A $345.6 million cut and extensive oversight requirements for the Internal Revenue Service;

· A $60 million cut and extensive oversight requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency;

· Oversight and monitoring requirements for nutrition programs;

· No funding for contributions to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO);

· No funding for the Administration’s “Race to the Top” program; and

· No funding for the International Monetary Fund.

The 1,600-page bill also includes a number of provisions intended to gain votes from both parties:

Ÿ increasing the amount an individual person can contribute to a national political party from $32,400 to $324,000

Ÿ blocking the District of Columbia from using its own funds to set up regulatory systems for marijuana legalization

So there you have the proof that budget bills are nothing more than policies and ideology with numbers. The Radical Republicans have struck again. But the story is broader than just one omnibus budget bill. The Republican brand has provided evidence against itself in many ways in the last 6 years, and it is important to gather the pieces together in a brief prospectus to allow our memories to be refreshed once again as to why this Party needs to be defeated and thrown out in 2016. The following is a compendium of just some of the their stripes that are not about to change:

1) OBAMA DESTRUCTION. From the very beginning of Barack Obama's two terms in office, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made it plain that the GOP would obstruct and attack his agenda with all the ferocity they could muster. In fact McConnell summed it up in his now infamous statement: "my number one priority is making sure president Obama’s a one-term president." McConnell did not get his wish, but he and other Republican leaders managed to make the President the issue in 2014, and they did that by launching attacks on him every chance they got. It extended from blocking his appointees to the Executive branch and to the Judiciary, to blocking or attacking major legislation like expanded gun buyer background checks to keeping immigration reform on the back burner to obstructing and damning the Affordable Care Act. But that's not all. The Radical Republicans tried to block just about everything the President proposed in terms of economic recovery: a jobs bill; an infrastructure repair bill, and a raise in the minimum wage.

2) Obstruction of legislation, policy and appointments – see my Post of 7/28/2013

“With prolonged delay as the goal, the variety and intensity of obstructionist procedures substantially increased. Extreme slow-walking, committee hearing defamations, extortion holds, and outright filibusters became the upper chamber's ordinary business. In the 112th Senate, the Republican minority fully embraced appointment obstructionism as a means to accomplish Mitch McConnell's stated priority — defeat Obama's reelection. The most recent obstruction escalation amounts to outright nullification — a partisan assault against republican governance. Scores of critically important federal posts are purposely kept vacant for months and even years; the government is purposely hobbled.

“Confirmation obstruction has resulted in systemic damage to a range of executive, regulatory and judicial operations. The vacancies are too numerous to fully report here. Take for example the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which again loses its quorum at the end of the year when three of five seats become vacant. Last year, in New Process Steel v. National Labor Relations Board, the Supreme Court voided over 400 NLRB rulings made when the agency last lost a quorum. Similarly, opponents of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) — who were unable to defeat the agency's enabling legislation — sabotage its fledgling operations through obstruction. Forty-four Republican Senators preemptively pledged to block appointment of "any" director nominee. Without a director, the CFPB lacks authority to regulate non-bank financial fraud. Additionally, the federal court system has shameful "vacancy emergencies" across the nation due to blocked nominations.

Obama's economic policy nominees have been particularly targeted for confirmation abuse. The Republican members of Congress purposely retard the government's ability to respond to the economic crisis. Perversely, the systemic damage to the national government serves to encourage rather than deter partisan obstructionists. In December 2011, Senate Republicans further escalated the confirmation battle, including by using formal filibusters to deny Caitlin Halligan an up-or-down vote for a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which had been vacant for six years, and formally blocking Richard Cordray from leading the CFPB. Commentators, such as James Fallows, Thomas Mann, Jonathan Cohn and Steve Benen, analyze the escalating confirmation obstruction as ‘new nullification.’ John Calhoun's nineteenth century theory of a dissatisfied minority exercising raw power to invalidate, disrupt or void majority rule is alive and well in the 112th Senate.” (from “Jurist.org” by Vince Williams, Clinical Assistant Professor at Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law and attorney in Washington, DC.)

3) Attempts to destroy Obamacare – see my Posts of 11/19/2013; 10/25/2013; 8/18/2013

House Republicans have launched their 51st attempt to kill the ACA, and President Obama has already promised that he will veto the legislation if it ever gets to his desk. In a statement about the absurdly misnamed SIMPLE Fairness Act, the White House said:

‘The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 4118, the Suspending the Individual Mandate Penalty Equals Fairness Act, because the bill would increase health insurance premiums, decrease tax credits, increase the number of uninsured, and shift costs to businesses, workers, and health care providers. Rather than attempting once again to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which the House has tried to do approximately 50 times, it is time for the Congress to stop fighting old political battles and join the President in an agenda focused on providing greater economic opportunity and security for middle class families and all those working to get into the middle class.’

“The Republican concept of fairness is interesting. They consider increasing the number of uninsured and raising the cost of health insurance fair. They consider taking money out of people’s pockets fair. What Republicans call unfair is the notion that Americans deserve access to healthcare.

The SIMPLE Fairness Act is nothing more than another lamebrain gimmick that is designed to waste taxpayer money while House Republicans pretend that they have the ability to stop the ACA. Republicans understand that support for repealing Obamacare has hit an all-time low, so they are trying to disguise their repeal attempts as fairness. There is no “fairness” in this piece of legislation. This bill is designed to force another show vote because Republicans have it stuck in their heads that if they can get Democrats on the record as supporting the ACA, they are certain to win every election from now until the end of time.” (Jason Easley writing for PoliticusUSA.com)

Of course, there is always that possibility that the SCOTUS will use the power of a 5-4 majority to overturn the use of federal subsidies in certain cases for those who signed up online over state established healthcare sites. OR, there is still the possibility that a Congress controlled by Republicans will choose to repeal it all. In the omnibus bill, they have already forced the issue by denying any increase in funding for the ACA. The fight is far from over.

4) Attacks on national government itself; attempts to destroy power of a central gov.; shut-down of government – see Posts of 5/18/2014;10/6/2013; 9/22/2013; 5/6/2013

Over the course of the past decade we've seen a spike in intense antigovernment attitudes amongst a small segment of the public. The proportion saying they are angry with the federal government has doubled since 2000, increasing to 21% from 10%. And a larger minority of the public has come to view the federal government as a major threat to their personal freedom: 30% feel this way, up from 18% in a 2003 ABC News/Washington Post survey...

Record discontent with Congress and dim views of elected officials generally have poisoned the well for trust in the federal government. Public opinion about elected officials in Washington is relentlessly negative. Antigovernment sentiment appears to be a more significant driver of possible turnout among Republicans and independents than among Democrats.

Just as troubling for Democrats as the electoral dark clouds is the shifting public mood against a progressive role for government in general. The contentious health care debate and the stigmatized though successful stimulus program are apparently contributing factors. Outside of their 61% to 31% support for regulation of financial companies, a 51% to 40% majority of Pew respondents no longer believe it is a good idea for the government to exert more control over the economy. That's a reversal from broad support (54%) for the same proposition in March 2009.

As 1930's Labor Department lawyer Carl Auerbach once put it, "You cannot run on a platform that government is the problem and expect the best people in the country to want to be a part of the problem." No, but Republicans are only too happy to take on the job and make the problem worse. Having killed Americans' trust in government, the Republican Party and its conservative amen corner now seem poised to get away with the murder." (written by Jon Perr on Crooksandliars.org back in 2010, although it sounds like today’s news).

5) Party of the rich: tax breaks, loopholes, coddling of banks and their destructive speculation; $700 billion bailout – see Posts on 4/6/2014; 3/16/2014; 2/22/2014; 7/16/2011

Elizabeth Warren did a superb job on the Senate floor just recently when she assailed the provision in the omnibus bill that would potentially bring back the speculation on derivatives by Wall Street bankers and allow them to get away with it by requiring the government (taxpayers) to bail them out again. She particularly cited Citigroup which had just been involved in actually writing legislation that would protect them. Republicans continue to coddle the banks and financiers and international corporations so that the wealthiest are given special breaks that others of us will never get. At the same time they are also conducting vicious attacks on labor and labor rights – see my Blog of 8/31/2014

6) Allowing lobbyists of rich corporations to write laws and regulations; takeover of the Party by an elite: Koch brothers etc.— see Posts of 10/04/2014; 11/19/2012; 11/10/2010;

7) Charter schools; lack of grants; higher interest on college loans

8) Racial attacks on President Obama as the “other, brute, uncaring, lazy, clown,” etc., plus against others in the administration, and on people of color generally – see Posts of 8/25/2013; 7/22/2013; 7/14/2013

9) Use of scare tactics:

PFAW reminds us that Sen. Joe McCarthy frightened many Americans with charges that the government was infested with communist sympathizers. His current-day acolytes have made charges long considered beyond the pale of political discourse – comparisons of President Obama and other administration officials with tyrannical figures like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Chairman Mao. The same is true of charges that the Obama administration and congressional democratic leaders are communists, socialists, and/or fascists bent on destroying capitalism and the market economy and imposing a socialist dictatorship in America. Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia has compared Obama to Hitler, called Obama and Democratic congressional leaders a “socialistic elite” and warned that they’re planning to create a pretext to declaring martial law. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) warned of 17 socialists in Congress. Rep. Michele Bachmann has called the health care reform bill “the crown jewel of socialism.” The Traditional Values Coalition has warned that “Obamunism must be stopped.”

McCarthy was a master of guilt by association, smearing individuals as enemies of the country based on any association however indirect or tenuous, with a suspect (communist) organization, newspaper or other publication, labor union, or individual. Today’s McCarthyite right abounds with guilt-by-association attacks. In fact Glenn Beck has made a sort of art form out of them.

After right-wing activists engineered a public humiliation of the group ACORN, right-wing leaders have tried to use any relationship with the organization’s decades of organizing on behalf of poor people as a disqualification for public service. Attacks on widely respected judicial nominee David Hamilton treated his one-month job as a canvasser for ACORN thirty years ago when he was 22 years old as if it had constituted a major portion of his career. And this fall, four Republican Members of Congress launched a witch hunt against Muslim interns on Capitol Hill, warning that they may be “spies.”

McCarthy and his subcommittee’s investigator Roy Cohn did not only target people for destruction based on alleged communist sympathies; they also hunted for homosexuals in government service. In a striking parallel, today’s right-wing leaders, dismayed and outraged by growing public support for legal equality for LGBT Americans, have used public debates over marriage equality to attack gay people as enemies of faith, family, and freedom, and they are engaged in ongoing smear campaigns against openly gay Obama administration officials and nominees.

Pennsylvania Rep. Daryl Metcalfe recently demonstrated that he has perfected the new McCarthyism by blasting veterans who disagree with his opposition to climate change legislation as traitors. “As a veteran, I believe that any veteran lending their name, to promote the leftist propaganda of global warming and climate change, in an effort to control more of the wealth created in our economy, through cap and tax type policies, all in the name of national security, is a traitor to the oath he or she took to defend the Constitution of our great nation!”

Character assassination is their stock in trade. Guilt by association is their motto. They have created such a wave of fear and uncertainty that their attacks upon our liberties go almost unchallenged. Many people are growing frightened – and frightened people panic (as they did in the off-year elections of 2014, I might add). It is clear that right-wing operatives, including the well-heeled forces behind “grassroots” uprisings against health care reform, are all about sowing fear – fear about the Obama administration, fear about his “socialist” agenda, fear about the supposed march from liberty to tyranny.”

10) Destruction of programs that particularly target people of color and in poverty: affirmation action, voting rights section, voting restrictions, Head Start, Food Stamps, etc.—see postings of 7/31/2014; 5/18/2014; 4/13 & 19/2014; 2/22/2014; 01/16/2014; 11/03/2013

11) Police forces militarized; Defense budgets burgeoning; private contracts out-of-control (under Bush, some vendors were made permanent – got contracts without going out to bid) – 8/17/2014

12) The Big Lie technique in all areas – see my Posting of 2/8/2014

13) Denial of facts, denial of science, denial of climate change, denial of needs of those in poverty; denial of unequal justice; denial of existence of poverty, inner cities, infrastructure repair, need for jobs – 4/19/2014; 2/3/2013

14) Non-support of president on foreign policy – 2/20/2011; 2/13/2010; 02/08/2010

Of course, there is more to consider, but this will suffice for now. The Republican “brand” is well established. Unfortunately, too few people seem to have understood their full commitment to destruction, obstruction, favoritism, elitism, racism, militarism, prevarication and denial. We have just a short time to wait for more convincing demonstrations of their lack of compassion, direction, principles, and ability to govern. Their recess will be over soon enough, but their regression will go on and on.