Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Last Laugh Of The Year

As we've been saying over the past few days, our annual winter holiday break is finally here, and this is our last full edition for 2013. As usual, there will be brand new Paul Fell Cartoons published over the next week and a half, including the annual Paul Fell Holiday Card, a New Year's cartoon, and the Paul Fell Prediction cartoon before the Gator Bowl.

As the year draws to a close, the end of 2013 looks oddly much like the beginning. Republicans in Congress are still screwing the unemployed, and according to George Zornick, who's filling in over at Greg Sargent's Plum Line, Republicans also look like they're going to cave on the debt ceiling in early 2014, much as they did last February.

Just like at the beginning of the 2013, extremist Republicans are still pointing and laughing at Democrats, saying that Obamacare is falling apart and won't hold up because it goes too far. Not surprisingly though, as Jamelle Bouie pointed out in a CNN poll yesterday, the majority of Americans actually think the Affordable Care Act doesn't go far enough - so the facts also continue to trump the lies from the right.

Over the last thirty years, economic inequality has become one of the biggest problems facing Americans. This year, finally, the American media took serious note of this fact, even as both the Dow and S&P hit record highs. Those record highs from Monday, by the way, are thanks in large part to the fact that Apple will soon be able to sell iPhones to 763 million new customers in China.

While President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry finally began to officially re-open communication between America and Iran this year, a group of corporatist Democrats, beholden to the military industry, now seem insistent on pushing for more sanctions which could blow up the entire peace agreement.

For the 113th Congress, that self-inflicted wound somehow seems fitting, since this Congress has done less than any previous Congress in history - thanks largely to the far-right extremists in the teabag wing of the Republican Party. Even so, the world has continued to move at a blistering pace.

Our annual countdown of important numbers includes nearly 17,000 news, opinion, and commentary stories that our staff members read this year, not including the stack of great books we plowed through. As of today's edition, we've also published 240 issues this year of The Daily Felltoon, and Paul has drawn over 300 new cartoons this year, just for this publication. That doesn't even include the nearly 100 previous editions of Paul's cartoons that were republished or updated.

Moreso than last year, we're looking at 2014 with a positive and even hopeful attitude. After all, Congress did pass a two-year budget - albeit one that sucks, but at least it's a weapon Republicans in Congress can't use to hold the nation hostage next year. After Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went "nuclear" on Republicans, there really isn't a whole lot more low-hanging damage the obstructionists in Congress can do in 2014. What's more, both House and Senate members have to go home and campaign for their jobs next year - and thanks to those same extremist tea-type Republicans, House members have next to nothing to show their constituents.

On a personal note, there look to be some new professional opportunities both for our work here, and for our staff members individually in 2014. We're also expecting a brand new member to join our staff early next year, a new baby for our editor Amy and her family.

In short, our staff members have a positive outlook, and the year ahead looks to be filled with progress and opportunity for all of us. We can't help but look ahead and laugh, and hope.

May 2014 look equally hopeful for you.
Happy holidays from all of us at The Daily Felltoon.

We'll return to our regular publication schedule January 3, 2014.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Mean-ing Of The Season

As we get ready to start our annual holiday break Tuesday afternoon, like many media organizations, we've been trying to look back at the past year.

It's been a record year for Congress, though not in a good way. As Steve Benen pointed out clearly on Friday, the 113th Congress in the first half of its session, passed the least number of bills since the end of World War II. As Benen also noted, the meager few bills they passed weren't good.

In cae you'd forgotten Congress - specifically, the Republicans in Congress, led by their extremist tea party faction - also shut down the federal government this year, while almost blowing up the world's economy by not raising the debt ceiling. Republican action not only didn't achieve their initial stated goal, to stop the implementation of Obamacare, but it also ended up costing the government - meaning taxpayers - $24 billion while hurting the economy.

Meanwhile, bills that Congress has routinely passed during other highly partisan sessions, like the Farm & Food bill, never got approved by both chambers before Senators and Congresspersons high-tailed it out of DC. The long-term unemployment extension bill also never got passed.  That means instead of the bare minimum of assistance, millions of unemployed Americans are getting a lump of BS and and a brush-off from Congress at Christmas that smacks of Ebenezer Scrooge.

As Timothy Egan wrote in the New York Times over the weekend, this misguided treatment of America's poor, mostly by Republicans, has - just like their pointless shutdown, and empty debt ceiling threats - proven only their arrogance, ignorance, hypocrisy, and smallness of spirit.

In short, instead of working together to make America and the world a better place, Congressional Republicans this year have made America a meaner, less productive, less worthwhile place to live and do business. What's worse is that most of those members of Congress have also screwed over veterans, the poor, and anyone they don't agree with, in exchange for their own perceived political benefit.

In truth, most Republicans in Congress - and not a few Democrats - reminded us this year of a young woman who lost her job over the weekend.

Justine Sacco was, up until this weekend, the senior director of communications at corporate media giant IAC. As she boarded a plane to South Africa, she tweeted out a vile disgusting message that would have made any ignorant racist proud. "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" read Sacco's comment. As she travelled the Atlantic, on a flight without wireless internet, she obviously was not working much, enjoying her position of privilege. The internet and Twitter, however, were both working very well, and by the time Sacco landed in South Africa, her tweet had gone viral and she was without a job.

No matter what Ms. Sacco said in her apology, the cruelty and arrogance of her initial action spoke volumes - both about her own attitude of entitlement and about how some Americans see themselves in relation to the rest of the world.

We hope that in 2014, Americans remember those members of Congress in 2013 whose actions mirrored those of Ms. Sacco. Hopefully, Americans will follow the same course of action with those selfish Congressmembers as Ms. Sacco's now-former employer did with her.

Of course, it's unlikely that next Christmas, when the tables are reversed, that we will leave a lump of metaphorical coal in the stockings of those soon-to-be former members of Congress without legitimate job prospects, as they're doing to the unemployed this year.

After all, some of us really do know the meaning of the season - generosity, forgiveness, peace, and joy.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Missing From The List

As Republicans in the Senate prepare to skip town, before all their work is done, and join the millions of Americans already on holiday break, we've also begun preparing for own own holiday break next week. Unlike at many workplaces, however, we're all still putting in full days  - even our editor Amy, who is nearly nine months pregnant.

That kind of tenacious work ethic obviously isn't the norm at every media organization.

We say "obviously" because of what we see every day. We see the hundreds of stories that race around the media daily, and we cultivate them for you in the dozens of links in our daily extended edition. If you think the list of links we give you is extensive, you should see the massive lists of links we collect daily that don't make it into our final edition.

That kind of thorough curation gives our staff a particular ability to look around the media industry and tell when people are focusing on a truly important story - like Medicaid expansion efforts in our home state of Nebraska - or when our media colleagues are blowing up a ridiculous piece of trash as a huge story because they'd rather not actually perform real journalism that day.

You can call us media Grinches if you'd like -  and we're certain Beltway whiners like Chris Cilizza will. That name calling still won't change a simple fact: News doesn't care that journalists, like most Americans at this time of year, would rather give a half-effort at work because their minds are already on vacation.

The perfect example of this kind of massive yet lazy media distraction is the "Duck Dynasty" incident sucking up most the media's attention right now.

In case you'd missed it, an ignorant, Southern redneck member of the "reality show" called "Duck Dynasty" gave an ignorant, bigoted, redneck interview to GQ, that just hit the media this week. A&E, the channel that presents the show, decided to suspend the offending member for the indefinite future. Not surprisingly, the ignorant rednecks that the GOP panders to these days immediately saw the suspension as a personal attack from 'the lib'rul meedia' on their way of life. That, of course, led the pandering hypocrites in the GOP to immediately condemn A&E, and claim that the cable channel was violating the First Amendment right of Republicans' favorite redneck to say whatever he wanted, yet reap no repercussions from his poorly chosen words.

The irony that these same idiots recently pushed MSNBC to ask for the resignation of noted journalist Martin Bashir, after Bashir said something on TV that offended them, continues to escape these people.

The fact that there are also a host of FAR more important stories getting pushed out of the media spotlight by their latest stunt hasn't likely even occurred to the idiots fighting the 'Duck Dynasty' wars.

For example, Obamacare continues to prove its becoming a massive success every day. Democrats around the nation are also going to be making a massive media push over the holiday break to try to get Congress to extend unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed, who Congress screwed over at the end of this year.

There are stories about Iran's temporary peace deal with the West, the massive credit card breach at Target stores, same sex marriage becoming legal in New Mexico, and even the Christmas story of President Obama commuting the draconian drug sentences of eight Americans who'd already served more than enough time.

Most of those stories though, were missing from the lists of many of our lazier colleagues in the media today. Thankfully, as we noted previously, we'll have all of those stories and more in our expanded edition later this afternoon.

After all, some of us in the media are still putting in full work days.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

No Time For Rewards

As almost everyone in the political media predicted - including us - the Senate passed a stinker of a budget bill Wednesday afternoon and promptly sent it to President Obama to be signed.

Outdoing even our prediction on Wednesday and before the President had even signed the bill, both politicians and members of the media were already congratulating each other on cable TV on Wednesday afternoon, for finally accomplishing a budget bill. As we'd stated bluntly early Wednesday morning, and Ezra Klein reiterated Wednesday afternoon, just because Democrats and Republicans were able to come to a deal, that isn't necessarily a good thing.

For millions of retired service members, the budget bill really puts the screws to them - not to mention the millions of Americans who are about to get their long-term unemployment insurance cut off as a "gift" from Congress, since neither side could come to an agreement on that issue.

To make things worse for both the unemployed and the retired service members that the budget bill screws over, since the unemployment rate has fallen to 7% - a good thing - the Fed decided to follow through with their planned tapering off of stimulus funds over the next few months. That action, in the short term, will likely increase interest rates for everyone in America just a bit next year.

In short, this is no time for applause or rewards, at least for Congress, regardless of what some of our colleagues are saying.

Then again, this budget issue isn't the only topic our media colleagues are getting wrong right now.

Look at all the year-end writeups bemoaning President Obama's fifth year in office. Yet as both Steve Benen and Jamelle Bouie pointed out, all the doomsaying about the President's year is incredibly exaggerated and disproportionate - and the claims of disaster certainly don't reflect what's likely to happen in Obama's next three years.

Just look at Obamacare. A few short weeks ago, many pundits and Republican politicians were insisting the new health insurance program was going to fail in spectacular fashion. Yet patients are now pouring onto the exchange in ever-increasing and record numbers, and the Affordable Care Act looks more likely than ever to succeed.

Consider the 2014 Senate race too. What looked to some Republicans like a healthy chance to grab control from the Democrats, now appears to be a pipe dream, at best. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell looks to be in serious political trouble heading into his re-election campaign. What's worse for Republicans, President Obama is going to nominate Senator Max Baucus to become the Ambassador to China, effective almost immediately. That means the Democratic governor of Montana will appoint a replacement for Baucus - likely a Democrat -  who could then run for that same seat as an incumbent, who will have a significant advantage over any Republican challenger.

If it seems to you like the political races and debates that have happened this year didn't turn out in any way like you thought they would, you're not the only one, on either side of the aisle.

That, in short, is our point today.

The year rarely ends the way anyone thought it would at the beginning. That's why politicians run for office and why bills are debated in Congress. That's also why athletes and teams compete like they do.

While many people are taking vacations, or even slacking off at work just a bit, we hope the best our colleagues, both in politics and media, take a lesson from Congress, on what not to do.

This is no time for rewards. Right now is time to prepare for the next round.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Stink Of Washington

While the Senate is still wrapping up business today in Washington, the key vote on the bipartisan budget mess that is the two-year Ryan/Murray deal happened on Tuesday. Sixty-seven Senators voted to advance the measure to its final vote - more than two-thirds of the Senate - meaning the bill is highly likely to pass.

As we wrote and cartooned about last week, and as both Rep Ryan and Sen. Murray have confirmed, the budget bill is legislation that both sides are unhappy with. Even so, like the skunk at the garden party, both Republicans and Democrats will hold up this budget bill next year as a success they captured together.

Truthfully, Republicans got the upper hand - and their desperation to find something in the bill that they dislike proves it.

As Dana Milbank pointed out in the Washington Post, Republicans on Capitol Hill have really been in a bind about the budget bill, having to dig down to a relatively minor percentage-point reduction in the cost of living for military veterans to find something to complain about. Of course, if the Republicans in Congress had been willing to actually find or generate the revenue necessary to tackle that issue seriously, that cost to retired veterans wouldn't have been an issue. Of course, such agreement also wouldn't have allowed Republicans in Congress to posture while they attempt to take the nation hostage again in early 2014.

Still, our Federal government has a budget, for the first time in years, a feat that nominally shows Congress actually works - though as both Greg Sargent and Katrina vanden Heuvel pointed out on Tuesday, that's an incredibly low bar that truly deserves no applause.

We're willing to guarantee that members of both major parties will, at some point in 2014, applaud their own efforts on this budget, as a reason to show how responsible and bipartisan they are. Indeed, as Katrina points out, official Washington - including the President - have already been patting themselves on the back about how good it is that something was able to finally be accomplished.

That the "something" is horribly flawed and "fixes" a problem Congress itself created, while not actually fixing the real problems of millions of Americans, is something you're not likely to hear Congressmembers bring up in this next election year.

Indeed, as Greg Sargent went on to point out, and as Johnathan Chait noted earlier this year, the major problem Congress didn't fix in this budget deal is that a small minority in the House is still holding off majorities in both chambers from accomplishing far more.

In truth, Americans and the things most of us want - a strong economic recovery, smart immigration reform, smart gun safety laws, a more equal tax and economic structure - are already being held hostage, as they have been since Republicans took over the House after the 2010 elections. That Rep. Paul Ryan is threatening to hold the nation even more hostage is a weak threat, with even fewer teeth.

For now, this stinking animal of a budget will likely pass, and - for what it's worth - neither side will be able to applaud or cheerlead against the other side on new budget votes for another two years.

Go Congress.

No, really - go Congress. Before you fools "accomplish" anything else.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Piles of Unnecessary Fluff

As most ethical people in America today who understand modern media know, just because a topic has become something "everyone is talking about" doesn't mean the topic has to have any serious substance or value.

Just look at the recent furor over Megyn Kelly's ridiculous comments about white Santa and white Jesus, or the exaggerated and near apoplectic weather reports from major national sources last weekend, about the blustery but generally meager few inches of snow that fell in the U.S. Northeast - in December.

The old news media trope has always been, "If it bleeds, it leads." If the only goal of a newspaper, website, TV or radio station is to get people's attention, sadly that rule is still often true. That doesn't mean the bleeding news maxim is ethically correct. It also doesn't guarantee the next hackjob media outlet down the street can't start an even bigger and more pointless rhetorical fire - all while missing the very crucial details of a very important story.

Take the NSA leaks exposed through the theft of government secrets by Edward Snowden.

Those leaks are making the news again today, in large part due to the ruling of a Federal judge on Monday, who determined the widespread bulk collection of telephone metadata by the NSA is likely unconstitutional.

That the lawsuit against the Federal government was filed by an extremist right-wing nutjob, with a questionably racist and anti-Obama history shouldn't matter. That the suit involves information leaked by Edward Snowden, a man who broke Federal laws and that the Obama Administration believes should still face Federal charges shouldn't matter.

Yet you can bet for most media organizations hyping the NSA court loss story today, those are two of the main inflammatory angles they're likely to take. Most media organizations will likely ignore the key paragraph in the judge's decision against the NSA citing a key 1979 Supreme Court ruling, explaining why that ruling doesn't apply today.

None of that kind of conduct should be surprising though, when you look at the news media today.

Forget the Megyn Kelly kerfuffle that Jesus and Santa are black. Fox isn't a news organization anyway, for the most part. They're propaganda for the right wing, with the occasional small kernel of honest news thrown in.

The AP and '60 Minutes', however, have a long and mostly honorable history of ethical journalism. Yet the AP's most recent Politics Editor is leaving to flack PR for oil giant BP, saying she'll now "get the opportunity to tell BP's story." Meanwhile, '60 Minutes' - still reeling from the fallout over their Lara Logan/Benghazi disaster - just aired what amounts to a thirty minute puff piece lauding the NSA, right as a Federal judge declares the NSA's domestic telephone spying unconstitutional.

If you think the entire media, from all sides, is filled with incompetent, unethical hacks who can only focus on bad news, we invite you to read the Twitter feed of Boston Globe reporter Billy Baker. Baker, on Monday, composed a fantastic, inspiring, well-written story, 140 characters at a time, about the American Dream, as an update to a story he wrote in the Globe newspaper two years ago.

Ethical, positive journalism like that doesn't usually receive great attention. Yet, as Mr. Baker's story shows,  it is still possible in our over-connected, highly digital world of today to do good, well.

It just means our media has to work harder to reach that point.

It's time our legitimate media organizations put down their rhetorical matches, picked up their journalistic shovels, and began digging in. Right now, the other stuff is piling up - and we're not talking about snow.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Paint By Dumbers

Weekends near the end of the year are rarely slow and boring for most people in the world, and this past weekend was seemingly no different than most.

Some Americans - including President Obama and his family - held a moment of silence for those who died in Newtown, Connecticut, even as some sympathetic thoughts went to the victims of the latest school shooting in Colorado. South Africans buried the man they think of as the modern father of their nation, Nelson Mandela. Meanwhile, violence continued to rage in Syria, while the Great Pyramids of Egypt fell under a blanket of snow for the first time in 112 years. A strong progressive woman also won re-election for President in a landslide in Chile, much like New York City's progressive mayor-elect Bill De Blasio won his election in the U.S. earlier this year.

In other words, the worldwide situation over the weekend was relatively normal, and mostly boring, though still kinda screwed up.

Nowhere is this twisted but normal state more obvious than in Washington, DC. That's where the Senate took an unexpected break this weekend, before wrapping up its work for the year. Unless the Republican extremists in the Senate dump their party - and the rest of the world - into a fiscal hole by voting down the crappy two-year Ryan/Murray budget that the House finally passed at the end of last week, things in Washington, DC should get fairly quiet by about Wednesday of this week.

Of course, the fact that the Tea Partiers could paint themselves, and the entire world, into a disastrous financial corner is still a very real possibility. That's according to Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, who did the Senate math in front of the whole world on CBS' 'Face The Nation' on Sunday morning. Sadly, he's right.

While the Ryan/Murray deal might be ugly - and it does "suck" as Nancy Pelosi noted - many consider it better than another shutdown. Unsurprisingly, an important contingent of GOP members seems to disagree about that.

Senators Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, Mike Crapo, and Marco Rubio - a tea-stained group that has shown some serious influence over Republican colleagues in past votes - have all already said they'll be voting against the deal . Add to their opposition the fact that this budget vote will be less about the actual budget and more about garnering cash for the 2014 election, and we tend to agree with Senator Durbin, that this crappy Ryan budget bill could fail in the Senate.

Of course, that's probably not what you were hearing over the weekend. The political media this weekend was filled with legislators from both the Democratic side and the Republican side already claiming a victory on this budget bill, while bragging and blustering about what they want to do in 2014. Unsurprisingly, on the weekend shows, Democrats said they want to help the long-term unemployed - who got screwed in the Ryan/Murray budget - get unemployment insurance again. Of course, Congressional Democrats also continued to push responsible reinvestment in America. Republicans, as usual, have said they'll start 2014 trying to comfort the comfortable and inflict pain on everyone else with more attempts about Obamacare repeal (which will never happen), "tax reform" (which means cut taxes for the rich, which everyone else will be expected to pay for), and threats of a potential new fight over the debt ceiling.

All of those blatherings were just a group of holiday wish lists. The fact is, if the Republicans in Congress want to accomplish anything this next year before the elections, they're going to have to handle the war going on within their own party before they do anything else.

And right now, the Tea Party is rapidly painting the GOP into a political corner - and into a hole that may drag the rest of us right along with them if another shutdown happens on January 15.

Bet that boring weekend the world just had looks a lot better now than it did a few minutes ago.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Get Them Out Before They Do More Damage

As both the House and Senate begin to wrap up their latest embarrassing display of gutlessness and cowardice, we can't help but be glad to see them get the hell of out of town.

After passing a budget bill that's draconian and regressive, the House slammed through a temporary stopgap Farm Bill. They also jammed through a $632.8 billion defense bill that will keep in place billions of dollars of Pentagon boondoggles.

House Republicans also insisted on stuffing deficit reduction into the budget they rapidly pushed through at the last minute. Unsurprisingly, it didn't seem to matter to Republicans that the federal budget deficit already is continuing to narrow rapidly, even without any further assistance from Congress. The safety of America's kids also didn't seem to matter to Congress, since one year after the horrible carnage at the school in Sandy Hook, Congress has still only passed one gun safety bill.

After that kind of half-assed governing, we don't frankly care how Congress gets out of town. We just want them gone before they do any more legislative damage. If Jeff Bezos over at the Washington Post wants to lend us some drones, we'll happily hook up a few members of Congress to his flying robots - from either side of the aisle - if it'll get them out of our sight any faster.

Sadly, due to a temper tantrum continuing to be thrown by the ever-childish Republicans in the Senate, members of the upper chamber will have to stick around - and actually remain in session - into the wee hours of Sunday morning. Thanks to Senate rules, after 30 hours of Republicans like Ted Cruz pointlessly stamping their little feet in "debate", Senate Democrats will approve a few more presidential nominees over the weekend. Then, finally, the Senators will join their spineless colleagues from the House in the trek home for the holidays, where they'll try and convince the voters that they're doing a swell job representing the voter's interests.

We're fairly certain no matter how those members of Congress travel home, they'll end up getting a meal on the way. After all, lobbyists throw fundraisers just about anywhere these days.

However, as Greg Sargent pointed out Thursday afternoon, about 1.3 million Americans had better enjoy the meals they're having now - because just a few days after Christmas, all those Americans will be losing their long-term unemployment benefits.

We're not talking about Americans who are lazy, and just got thrown off their jobs. As Ed Kilgore pointed out in the Washington Monthly this week, short-term unemployment is now lower than it was in 2007, before the Great Bush Recession. No, we're talking about the long-term unemployed that - as Ed also notes - Congress treated as disposable in the budget bill now before the Senate.

Unfortunately, long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high - and there are still about three Americans searching for every one available job. That's a far cry from when President Obama took over nearly five years ago at the nadir of the Great Recession, when there were seven Americans searching for every single available job. Those statistics, thankfully, are significantly improved. That said,  great numbers on a chart still won't feed the million-plus of our fellow citizens who've been perpetually left without a seat at the jobs table by this do-nothing Congress - and who got left out again in the current horrible budget deal.

'Merry Christmas' and 'Happy Holidays' from your U.S. Congress, everyone.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wishes And Hopes

While it may not seem like it, it's reached that time of the year when everyone's beginning to rush.

While packages and letters are flooding the postal system, some organizations are ringing the bells and looking at their coffers with concern, while others are making last-minute substitutions. Some are even beginning to lose their patience, as they desperately search for that last minute item they desperately need for the 2014 election cycle.

What - Did you think we were talking about holiday shopping?

If you did, we understand your confusion. Our own staff members are also rushing around the office, attempting to get everything ready for the holidays and the new year - including a new addition to our "Staff Children" roster, expected in early 2014.

With all the tasks we're each trying to accomplish, before we take a break for the holidays, the fact that 2014 is an election year occasionally drifts out of our primary field of focus. Not surprisingly, the 2014 election seems to be the only thing politicians in DC and around the country can think of, even now.

Before anyone in Congress gets too far ahead of themselves, they might want to think about the proposed Ryan-Murray Budget, and how easily it could fail.

After all, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has already come out against the bill. Tea Party senators Rand Paul & Mike Crapo have also said they'll vote against the budget deal. More than a few Democrats, most noting the lack of extension for unemployment benefits, have also quietly acknowledged they're holding back support from the budget proposal.

Of course, if the proposed budget bill is voted down, the probablilty that the government will shut down again just a couple of weeks into the new year is high. That's a "gift" no politician really wants to open at the start of an election year.

For what it's worth, neither major party looks fantastic going into the 2014 election race.

The GOP is in open civil war, with the extremists on the far, far right giving hell to those that are just on the far right. Congressional job approval is at another all-time low, even as President Obama's numbers have begun to recover, thanks to the growing success of Obamacare. Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans are also looking more petty than usual, even as the House GOP continues to look ridiculous.

All that confusion and incompetence from Republicans might make you think Democrats have the 2014 elections in the bag. Yet, in a very blue, Democratic-leaning metro area like Omaha, Nebraska, Democrats can't even find - or retain - a single candidate to run against a completely incompetent, long-term back-bencher like Rep. Lee Terry.

If there was one thing we could ask Santa to deliver this holiday season, it would be a large dose of sanity back into our political system in America on all levels, and in all political parties.

Somehow, no matter how magical he is, we don't think even Santa can pull that one off.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Taking Off Again

Even though the the temps are freezing, and the snow is blowing in much of America, if you've begun to notice a certain type of thaw happening, you're not alone. Indeed, as Steve Benen noted yesterday, a remarkable thing has begun to happen in the Senate since Democrats used the so-called 'nuclear option' in late November to warm things up a bit, politically.

Tuesday in the Senate, the nomination of Patricia Millett to become a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court came up for a vote, and with a simple majority, it passed. Likewise, Rep. Mel Watt's nomination to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency came before the Senate, and was also passed by a majority vote.

There was even an announcement by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan that a federal budget deal has finally been reached. The details of the deal that have been released are admittedly a mixed bag. There's no extension of unemployment insurance, which is a major problem for many Democrats. The Sequestration cuts are also being partially removed, which is a major problem for Republicans who supported the cuts. In short, the deal is far from perfect - and it's a long way from passage. There are still quite a few things that could derail the budget from passing, and very few Congressional work days between now and January 15th - the next potential government shutdown date.

Still, in keeping with our thawing theme and the positive vibe of the holiday season, we're trying to be optimistic. After all, private insurance enrollment through Obamacare is now surging in states like New York and Kentucky. Even the monsters of Wall Street may have been tamed a bit, with the enactment of the Volcker Rule.

Even if you consider all of the above good news, we have to admit - we're still not sure the skies will be all that friendly for travelers this holiday season, now that fewer carriers are holding all the cards again.

In case you missed it, on Monday, American Airlines officially emerged from bankruptcy, closing their deal with US Airways to become the world's largest airline. As Steve Perlstein noted in the Washington Post earlier this year, the Department of Justice initially blocked the merger because of the airline monopolies in the United States that have already caused issues of pricing collusion and route limitation.

Still, in late November the DOJ waved the merger through, effectively saying that allowing the merger to continue would be less costly to taxpayers than forcing American Airlines to stay in bankruptcy. The deal even had the blessings of the multiple workers' unions - a rarity in airline mergers.

Experts say there will be changes this next year, though thankfully very few changes should be expected during the holiday season for either American Airlines or US Airways passengers and crew. Ticket prices should even stay relatively stable for now, though no one knows where things will stand when the merger is finished at the end of 2015.

The key factor to note in all of the events we've mentioned today - whether you're focused specifically on the Senate, whether you're watching Congress as a whole, or whether you have your eye to the skies - is that things appear to be moving in both business and politics once again.

All that movement has only begun to happen since the Democrats in the Senate stood up for themselves, and nuked the perpetually frozen ideology of the tea party bullies.

If we're all lucky, maybe both business and politics really can take off again, for the better, in 2014.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Tale Of Two Americas

As the year begins to wind down, and "Best of" and retrospective lists keep popping up - like Time's 'Person of the Year' - there are times we find it hard to get into the holiday spirit.

Sure - the weather outside HAS been frightful, for most of the United States, especially in the DC area the last few days. But it's the tales like that of Dasani, the "Invisible Child" at the focus of a story in the New York Times on Monday, that remind us that - much like England in Charles Dickens' time - America is now a nation in the midst of both the best of times and the worst of times.

In fact, that idea of two Americas is one writer and producer David Simon - creator of the highly successful HBO show 'The Wire' - recently found himself decrying at a conference in Sydney, Australia. Sadly, Simon's perspective on the failures of modern American "capitalism" too accurately reflects a land that someone like Tiny Tim might have been familiar with.

For those living in that America suffering the worst of times, things aren't getting better very fast. While workers who are getting paid "minimum wage" protest for wage amounts they can actually live on, corporate executives and some politicians - who are all wealthier than ever - decry the protestors as troublemakers, and rail against the idea of a living wage as a job killer.

That recent studies show extended unemployment benefits and increased minimum wage levels won't actually destroy jobs, and would in fact help the economy has little to no bearing on the way the party of the rich - the Republican Party - sees the American version of Tiny Tim, little Dasani and her family.

As Paul Krugman pointed out Monday, the Republican answer to the problem of the poor is simple: scream things at the poor like 'Get a job!" Actually helping to create an economy where there are enough jobs that pay living wages for all who want them? Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul believe creating that kind of economy is someone else's job.

In fact, Republican politicians like Sen. Rand Paul are pushing for those going through the worst of times, to get even less than they already do. Sadly, the extremist Republicans aren't the only Scrooges in DC this year.

As Ed Kilgore of Washington Monthly noted on Monday, this year's budget sacrifice by Democrats appears to be the extension of Federal unemployment benefits - meaning that those Americans who've already been struggling to hang on at the bottom edge of the economy might now be cut off, right as the holidays end.

In an America where the stock market is at some of its highest levels ever, where the 400 richest Americans have a higher standard of living than anyone else on the planet, those same 400 richest people are still richer than the bottom 50 percent of Americans combined.

If there is one reason for hope this next year, it is that it is an election year, and - as Greg Sargent noted yesterday, in the 2014 elections, the Dickensian economy so many Americans are living through now may matter more than any other factor in those elections.

If we had any recommendations for the Scrooges in modern America today, we'd suggest they skip ahead in their own storyline to the Ghost of Christmas Future, and learn their lessons now, and not in November of 2014.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Left Out In The Cold

As icy, wintery weather covers most of the U.S., Congress looks to be busy back in DC this week, getting ready to pass its own flurry - one made of last minute amendments and budget bargaining. Unfortunately, it looks as though Senator Rand Paul remains a perfect example of the modern Republican Party's ability to miss the true meaning of the season.

Sen. Paul insisted this weekend at a speech in Detroit - a town decimated by the selfish excesses of Wall Street and sabotaged by the GOP - that unemployment benefits are a "disservice" to workers. That's a convenient, if not cold, position for a member of Congress who would prefer to see unemployment benefits for millions of Americans left out of the proposed Federal budget agreement.

Indeed, Sen. Paul isn't alone among Republicans in Congress, or even among Republicans at the state level, in his zeal to hit poor Americans while they're already down. Nebraska's Republican governor, Dave Heineman, is also looking to act like a bad Santa, whacking the uninsured as a way to welcome in the new year.

Heineman, already attempting to plow the way for right-wing extremists in 2014's political contests, is pushing for yet another income tax cut, and "prison reforms" that would shovel millions in public funds to private prison contractors. All this during Heineman's lame duck year, even while he continues to ignore the massive cost to citizens in his state of refusing the Medicaid expansion.

Heineman's refusal to expand Medicaid for the poorest in his state might come off as just another standard Republican act of cruelty, if other conservative Republican governors like Jan Brewer of Arizona and John Kasich of Ohio hadn't already accepted and implemented the Medicaid expansion part of the ACA.

Thankfully, last week, Nebraska state Senator Jeremy Nordquist decided to stand up to the hypocrite Heineman, by starting a petition to get the Governor to forfeit his own insurance which is subsidized by Nebraskans - at least until the Governor agrees to allow low-income citizens in his state access to their insurance, which would also be subsidized by taxpayers.

After all, shouldn't the Governors of states have to live under the same rules of Obamacare that everyone else has to?

What the state Senator from Nebraska is fighting to close - and the GOP Governor there is fighting against closing - is the Medicaid service gap, created by the right-wingers on the Supreme Court, and Republican Governors like Heineman, who are more concerned with idealogy than reality.

The reality is that hundreds of small hospitals and medical centers, mostly in rural areas across the U.S., have been receiving subsidies for years from the Federal government. Under the old, broken system of health insurance, those hospitals took the payments to help cover their costs, due to the millions of uninsured Americans they collectively serviced.

Under the Affordable Care Act, however, all Americans are supposed to have health insurance, through either private insurers or Medicaid - meaning the Federal government no longer has to pay out those extra subsidies. In states like Nebraska and Georgia that have refused the Medicare expansion funds, without private insurers or Medicaid paying the bills of the uninsured, the small rural hospitals can't afford to stay open. In places like rural Georgia, hospitals are already closing, as Republican obstruction of Medicaid funds has run those small businesses into the ground.

If you're noticing some similarities between urban Detroit, rural America, and Republican policies that enrich their friends while gutting American businesses, then maybe you're not as blinded as GOP politicians like Rand Paul and Dave Heineman wish you were.

Unfortunately, that clarity of vision won't help those ultra-poor uninsured Americans, who will be left out in the cold without Medicaid expansion.

Truth is cold comfort when you're on the outside looking in.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Knowing When - And How - To Act

Nelson Mandela was not a saint.

For those who knew him, including former Washington Post South Africa Bureau Chief Paul Taylor, Nelson Mandela was every bit the positive, quiet, thoughtful, introspective leader that the world knew.

But as Taylor noted Thursday on the occasion of Mr. Mandela's passing, Mr. Mandela, "…was also cunning, iron-willed, bull-headed, contemptuous — and more embittered than he let on." What Nelson Mandela knew, seemingly above all else, was how and when to deploy all his resources, of both kindness and strength, to achieve the political goals he wanted.

We've sometimes thought that the former President of South Africa, and prisoner for 27 years, could have held lessons for the U.S. Congress in how to use the tools of wise governing. After all, if Mandela could guide his own country past the end of apartheid without serious violence, while uniting two highly divergent groups of people? He might have actually been able to get Republicans in Congress to get off their butts and DO something.

No matter what you may have thought of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, there is no arguing that he was truly one of the most gifted world leaders ever. Even the satirical newspaper, The Onion, acknowledged this with their headline late Thursday, 'Nelson Mandela Becomes First Politician In History To Be Missed.'

For all of the amazing moments in his life, the one thing that has always stuck with us about Mr. Mandela was his insistence that hatred - of his captors, of his political enemies, even of those who'd rather have seen him dead - was simply an ineffective tool for most situations in life.

Nelson's quotes about leadership reflected that. Even if just a few of our favorites are pulled together, they cut right to the core of what it means to be a great leader:
"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." 
"Great anger and violence can never build a nation." 
"A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it's lowest ones."
That last quote is one that we wish Congressional Republicans would keep in mind, as they run away from the mess they made of the Affordable Care Act, while ignoring the needs of millions of unemployed Americans in their budget discussions.

Still - we shouldn't scream, yell, and bang our fists on tables about the obstructionist Republicans. As Mandela also was quoted as saying, "Long speeches, the shaking of fists, the banging of tables and strongly worded resolutions out of touch with the objective conditions do not bring about mass action and can do a great deal of harm to the organization and the struggle we serve."

Having the wisdom to know when and how to act made Nelson Mandela a true leader for the ages.

We can only hope that today's leaders, both here and abroad - and the leaders of the future - will take some of that wisdom to heart.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Naked Inequality

From time to time, when uncomfortable topics come up in professional or personal discussions, Americans often have a tendency to shy away. Many folks will simply clam up or try to change the subject, while others will try to mock the subject, effectively shaming others into changing the topic of conversation.

As Greg Sargent noted of President Obama's historic speech on Wednesday, in the midst of a massive number of unprecedented political moves against him and his policies, this President has chosen to make yet another ambitious move - to push forward against the rising tide of economic inequality in the U.S. today.

Not surprisingly, and as both Greg and Ed Kilgore of Washington Monthly pointed out, many of our colleagues in the media - especially those on the right - will simply write off President Obama's comments and intentions for action as another distraction from whatever easy, empty political firestorm they'd rather cover.

As the President made abundantly clear on Wednesday, however, economic inequality in America is "the defining challenge of our time."

The President addressed several key parts of that challenge, including stagnant incomes for lower- and middle-class Americans, and stagnant or even diminished economic mobility. The same "trickle-down ideology" that Pope Francis recently blasted as a proven failure, was also cited by President Obama as a key force that has caused America to stop investing in our infrastructure, weakened the power of American workers, and has crippled much of our educational system over the last thirty years.

As President Obama nearly always does, he didn't simply state the problems at hand and note his opposition to them. He came prepared with several solutions that he boldly laid out, including a substantial increase to the minimum wage, a position that over three-quarters of Americans already agree with the President on.

That shouldn't be surprising. Not only has the minimum wage in America not kept pace with inflation, but the median average wage for U.S. workers also recently fell to the lowest level in fifteen years. Sadly, none of the thousands of fast food workers slated to protest in over 100 cities across America on Thursday would likely be surprised by these statistics.

What the President also made clear on Wednesday was that the wealthiest Americans have broken the social contract better known by most people worldwide as 'The American Dream.' That violation, due to the naked ambition and greed of Americans like those lining the criminal canyons of Wall Street, has nearly wiped out the premise that so many Americans console themselves with, whether in hardship or prosperity.

That premise is this: It is no longer a given that Americans can become anything they want anymore regardless of the economic class into which they were born - a fact the President noted on Wednesday is far out of sync with the vision of America's founding fathers.

As economists from Paul Krugman to Joe Stiglitz have pointed out, Americans must make a choice when it comes to the issue of economic inequality. As uncomfortable as that subject is, President Obama chose to tackle it head-on in Wednesday's address, noting that Americans cannot simply remain clothed in ignorance if we expect to be the kind of 'nation of opportunity' many still claim that we are.

As President Obama clearly reminded us all on Wednesday, it's time Americans made it that way once again.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sadly, No Surprises

Throughout history, only the most craven and ethically bankrupt individuals have been known to regularly rob the bodies of the dead for any remaining valuables, even while the body is still warm. In our modern culture, most Americans would consider that kind of theft disgusting, and a sad relic of the past.

With the smack of a gavel, and an hour-long ruling, a Judge in Detroit ruled on Tuesday that the days of modern-day body snatchers are, in fact, alive and well - so long as the one doing the stealing is a massive Wall Street bank.

The macabre act we're talking about is the ruling, by a Federal judge, that the now-battered city of Detroit is, in fact, eligible to enter bankruptcy proceedings. The judge also ruled that the Constitution of the state of Michigan, which expressly protects the pension funds of retired public sector workers, was effectively nullified by the desire of banks to steal the hard-earned retirement funds of Detroit's former police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other former public-sector workers.

For any American who's ever put their retirement money in a private pension fund, this action should send chills down their spine, in the same way that robbing the dead body of a still-warm human would.

Of course, if you understand this is just the latest chapter in a long history of Wall Street pillaging Detroit, you're likely as unsurprised as we are.

As a study by the think tank Demos proved just last month, for all the hate and scorn the political right would like to heap on Detroit and it's unions, the reason that town has become such a bombed out shell of its former glory is simple: the greed of Wall Street banks.

As the study - and many others like it - confirmed, Detroit's disastrous current economic state stems from its history as a one-industry town. As David Sirota noted in Salon recently, the recession and free-trade-related deindustrialization decimated the city’s manufacturing job base and drove the population out of the city. When the jobs and citizens left, the tax base of Detroit went with it, leaving the decaying shell of a once-great industrial city.

The financial wizards of Wall Street didn't think the Motor City was going to be worthless until it was completely dead. Schemes crafted by some of Wall Street's most ethically bankrupt organizations were created to effectively steal anything else of value from the city - including one of the most incredible collections of publicly owned art in the world, at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Up until Tuesday, hard-working retirees from Detroit didn't think that the money they'd saved in their pension funds - money they get in lieu of Social Security - had anything much in common with the amazing works of Diego Rivera, or or the works of Picasso and Rubens.

Now, thanks to the ruling of one ethically-challenged Federal judge, it's not just Rodin's Thinker that needs to re-think his safety. Retirees across the nation may now have good reason to worry about their pension savings being robbed by some of Wall Street's lowest, yet most profitable. Already in Illinois, the state legislature has agreed to a "fix" for their pension crisis that effectively steals millions in benefits that retired workers already paid for, and gives that money to banks and other creditors.

What's going on in Illinois shouldn't really surprise anyone, sadly.

If Wall Street is willing to basically pick over the corpse of a city like Detroit, why wouldn't they go after the still-living in Illinois, or anywhere else in America?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Trickle Down Is All Washed Up

Today, due to several outside activities, our staff is a bit short-handed. Thankfully, Shannyn Moore - a nationally known radio and TV commentator, a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News and The Huffington Post, and a personal friend of the staff - has graciously allowed us to reprint her most recent column about Pope Francis and his apostolic exhortation. That document is effectively the Pope's platform for his papacy, and makes some very bold and clear statements.

As both Ms. Moore and John Nichols of 'The Nation' both noted, the Pope - and for Catholics, through the Pope, God - has taken a side in the fight against economic inequality. That side isn't with the Wall Street or trickle-down Republicans, which seems to be confusing and frustrating many on the political right in America.

Thankfully, Shannyn makes clear for our readers today exactly who the Pope is siding with - and why the era of trickle-down economics is washed up for the millions of faithful Catholics worldwide.
– – – – –
Though not Catholic, I went to a Jesuit University and had one of the most spiritual experiences of my life in Rome. I watched the smoke from the Sistine Chapel signal the selection of a new pope.

I like the new guy, Pope Francis. He's not perfect, and neither is the institution, but this guy's a rebel. I think Jesus -- you know, the guy who chased the investment bankers out of the temple -- would like him too.

This pope doesn't prance around in red Prada shoes like the previous quitter pope. He has instructed clergy to sell their newer cars, give the money to the poor and drive beaters like his 1984 Renault. He told them to think of starving children instead of fancier cars.

He has washed the feet of prisoners in a remarkable display of humility. "Who am I to judge?" was his response to a question about homosexuals. He wants to focus on issues of poverty and economic justice rather than the church's recent "obsession" with gays, abortion and birth control.

He told the head of Vatican charities to get rid of his desk -- he wouldn't need it because he would be out among the people finding their needs. Germany's "Bishop of Bling" was fired and his mansion, with its $40 million in renovations, was turned into a soup kitchen.

This week the Vatican published a document that is basically the pope's platform. He's the spiritual leader of a worldwide population of Catholics three times larger than the U.S., so chances are he's got quite an audience.

In his "manifesto," Pope Francis took on greed and consumption. He flogged unfettered capitalism as the new "tyranny." The lure of consumerism is there to serve the financial system that rules us, he said. (See 2008.)

He wrote, "The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose." (Apparently he's familiar with Wal-Mart.)

"The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person!"

Oh, the humanity!

"Trickle down" economics is nothing more than a gimmick to fool the naive. It works for the tricklers, not the tricklees. (See the last 30 years.)

This pope isn't falling for it. He said politicians should guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education and health care." Holy moly! The man wants "entitlements" -- or what some of us call "human rights."

Dignified work? A living wage? He's a crazy radical!

My mother said he sounds like Mother Teresa. I think he sounds like Jesus.

Sarah Palin is all "taken aback." The things this pope talks about seem "liberal" to her. Wait 'til someone tells her what Jesus was really about. Healing the sick (without talking nonsense about death panels), feeding the hungry (without teaching them to fish first), telling people to sell their possessions and give the money to the poor (redistribution of wealth, for God's sake!), and praising the peacemakers (you know, those of us who don't think bombing is the first stage of diplomacy).

If she ever reads the book, (you know, the one in all the hotel rooms), she's going to freak out.

Rush Limbaugh did. In all his befuddled (or is it drug-addled) wisdom, he said, "Somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him. This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope."

Apparently someone got to him a long time ago. Back in Argentina, he was known for distributing bread at night to the poor, and sitting and talking to homeless people.

Maybe it was a gang that got to Pope Frances. Yeah, that's it. The Gospel Gang of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Maybe there was a typo and Limbaugh meant Mark-ist instead of Marxist.

While Sarah is busy cashing in on the "War on Christmas," Pope Francis gets what's really happening. The war on Christmas is being waged by thoughtless consumption and corporate greed.

The last thing the Pope needs is my blessing but my prayers are with him.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Truth About Gratitude

As December begins, and most of America attempts to crawl back to work and out of our collective national tryptophan-induced comas, we think it's important for you to catch up on a few things that happened over the last few days.

Yes, the annual Black Friday stampedes and sales occurred - with many of them starting on Thursday - though that extra day didn't appear to help retailers as much as they thought it would. The Republican National Committee declared racism dead over the holiday break, in a completely boneheaded move on Twitter. Meanwhile, the GOP's position on the hungry appeared to remain, "Let them eat cake."

Hanukkah began, and the Pope also delivered his first apostolic exhortation - effectively his platform for his papacy - a positive and amazing statement on world economics that truly decouples the idea that Wall Street is on the side of God. A train also derailed in New York City during the holiday break, Auburn derailed Alabama's national championship hopes, Nebraska's head football coach Bo Pelini kept his job, and - contrary to all the hate, lies, and detrimental counter-measures Republicans and conservatives have engaged in for years - Obamacare did not derail over the break. In fact, the national Affordable Care website has significantly improved - just as the Obama Administration promised it would.

In short, some Americans obviously came out of the long Thanksgiving weekend filled with continued gratitude and gratefulness, while others are still the ungrateful, angry, fact-free little monsters they've always been.

Welcome to the holiday season, 2013 edition.

We're more than certain you're going to hear about many of these stories today, and you may have even caught a few slanted, sloppy versions of them over the weekend. Whatever claims you heard from that one uncle or auntie we all have, the facts on most of these stories are no different than they were five days ago.

For example, Republicans in Congress and those on the right are still screaming about all the problems with Affordable Care Act. Yet they still don't want to take any responsibility for all the problems they've caused in the rollout of the program - and they still have no concrete alternative plan. Meanwhile, the Obama administration did indeed meet its own goals on improving the system by November 30. Sure, there are many more things to do to improve our national health insurance system - it's just doubtful you’ll find anyone on the political right trying to do anything to improve that system.

Likewise in Nebraska's football program, there are still those grousing that head coach Bo Pelini should be fired, even in the wake of an obvious statement of support from Nebraska's new Athletic Director, Shawn Eichorst. These anti-Pelini armchair football 'geniuses' have no legitimate idea of who the program would replace Pelini with, and no understanding of the massive economic damage such a hasty action would cause to the school they claim to love. They also seem to have forgotten the petition once passed around Nebraska to fire legendary football coach Bob Devaney, or the years when similar discussions swirled around legendary football coach Tom Osborne.

In other words, whatever expressions of gratitude some Americans whispered over the weekend, their monsterous actions in the three days since prove that - in their hearts - their facade of gratefulness disappeared as rapidly as this year's latkes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie.

We hope that as this month of holiday festivities begin, you remember that being grateful - not just for what you have, but also that things aren't worse - isn't merely a once-a-year action.

Being grateful is a way of life.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Very Special Thanksgiving

Before we close up the offices for a few days and enjoy our Thanksgiving holiday, we wanted to take a moment with you, our readers, for a personal message. Of course, as it often happens, there are stories - some very crazy - that threaten to derail our intentions.

For example, the crazy idea that corporations - entities that only exist on paper - can have religious beliefs is now going before the Supreme Court. As Greg Sargent pointed out on Tuesday, that battle before the Court will also be a fight over the rights of Americans to have access to contraception - an even nuttier idea. That isn't the only crazy bit of news today, though.

Late on Tuesday, the Obama administration - specifically through the Treasury Department and IRS - released long-demanded rules clarifying the nature of 501(C)(4) groups. The effect of the new guidelines may be to force organizations that are truly political in nature to change their designation, and disclose their donors - or it may shut off the unethical flow of money from some of those kinds of groups altogether.

There is also crazy gun news. Nearly a year after the horrible events in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and in the wake of a public report on the school massacre, the notion that more guns in schools will make our kids safer looks to be staging a comeback - this time, as a proposal before the Nebraska Legislature's 2014 session.

The fact that Thanksgiving and the start of Hanukkah are also on the same day this year has also been a topic of discussion among our friends and colleagues. 'Thanksgivukkah', as many are calling it, even has it's own food recipes - a crazy idea for a holiday that won't happen again for another 70,000 years.

Still, amongst all the craziness of the holiday preparation - including the ugly storm striking half the nation - we realize Americans in general, and our staff in particular, have a lot to be thankful for.

For all the screaming and hollering the right-wing media has been pumping out for the last two months, the Healthcare.gov website now appears to be working about as well as the Obama administration had hoped - smooth and effective for most Americans. That nearly 70% of America still hasn't been negatively affected by the problems surrounding the website is a great reason for thanks, as are all the stories of success that are finally beginning to drown out the negativity.

One of those success stories is personal, to us. In part, because of the coverage of the ACA, our editor Amy and her family may not feel quite as pinched when they welcome their second child into the world in 2014.

We're also thankful the economy continues to improve, and that it's likely The Fed will soon have its first ever female chairperson. Along those lines - even though not all of our staff members are Catholic - we're even thankful that the current Pope has come out in favor of sane, positive economic policies, instead of the trickle-down, austerity based economic ideas that are proven failures over the last thirty years.

On a more personal note, we're thankful that you enjoy what we do for you here. We're glad you share Paul's cartoons daily, that you read our commentaries, and that you pass our news links along to your friends and family.

In short, on this long Thanksgiving weekend, we're thankful for a great number of things - for our friends and family members, our media colleagues, and especially you, our readers.

Travel safely, stay warm.

Happy Thanksgiving.