December 31, 2005

Farewell, 2005

Tonight we bid farewell to 2005, and I for one can't honestly say that I'll be sad to see it go. OK, OK, that feeling of utter despair I felt in January at the thought of four more years under the reign of George the Younger has been replaced by a glimmer of hope that the President's ineptitude and hubris may finally have caught up with him, and that the events of the past twelve months might just bring about his Administration's early departure.

But it's still just a glimmer.

Nevertheless, I won't belabor the litany of mistakes, corruption, hypocrisy, cronyism, and overall mismanagement that accurately characterizes the Bush White House and most of Congress. To do so would only cast a pall over what should be a day of celebration and (when that glittering ball drops at the stroke of twelve) an optimistic feeling of starting anew. And if you simply must relive that list of government missteps, just scroll down a bit further on this page.

So, instead, I think I'll keep within the spirit of the New Year, and offer a short collection of resolutions (as if you didn't have enough already!) that we all should make in calendar 2006 - for the reclamation of the American soul, if nothing else:
GET INVOLVED. No, I'm not suggesting that you drop your lucrative career and run for City Council. But resolve to write a short note to your elected representatives every month. Your Governor. The White House. Your Senator. A pesky Congressman from another state.

Let the government know that you're paying attention. Demand to be heard about education, about health care, about women's reproductive rights, about the environment, about the economy. After all, the American democracy is ours to guide and defend. So use it - or lose it.

STAY INFORMED. There's no tactful way to say it - we're becoming a nation of blissful dunces, a society that in the last 10 years has "made no improvement in (its) ability to read newspapers or books, or comprehend basic forms." [WaPo 12/25] So read, America. Read newspapers, read commentary, read magazines, read books, read something. Don't base your entire world view on a few moments of perfunctory attention paid to Sean Hannity or Jon Stewart.

Pick up one of Doris Kearns Goodwin's incredible tomes, or 1776 by David McCullough. I'll always believe that education is the key to the world's ills - and being informed might even teach you the correct pronunciation of "nuclear" to boot.

VALUE CIVILITY. Or, as the great philosophers Bill and Ted once summarized so brilliantly, "Be excellent to each other." Pledge to drop one derogatory attack-word from your vocabulary this year, and help to elevate the level of political discourse from that of a Junior High School playground brawl.

For my liberal compatriots, might I suggest losing the word "fascist" when describing our ideological opponents. As stubborn and misguided as we believe our Right-leaning fellow citizens to be, this ain't 1938 Berlin! And to my Conservative friends, I offer the term "traitor" for ritual sacrifice. When that term is incorrectly applied to Liberals who are fighting for your rights too, it really hurts - and it reminds us what fascists you can be when you want to!

STOP USING THE PHRASE "WAR ON TERROR". C'mon, get real. There is no "war", except in a metaphorical sense similar to our supposed "War on Drugs". And don't get me wrong. The events of 9/11 were a horrific act that occurred just a few blocks from my New York office, and claimed the lives of two close friends. So I know there's a serious need to respond to international terrorism. And I mourn and respect the very real sacrifices made by the families of our troops that have been killed or wounded overseas.

But by collectively acquiescing to the Administration's claim that we are engaged in an open-ended (and undeclared, by Congress at least) "war", we've enabled this Administration's insidious plan to manipulate us through a constant campaign of fear-mongering, to invade a nation unprovoked, to excuse torture and babarity, and to exploit the "We're at war, damn you" gambit to steal our civil rights from under our compliant noses. So wake up, America - and stop with the rote repetition of White House talking points.

BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS. We've seen the results of an overly insulated world view, played out by the Bush Administration over the last five years. So free your mind in 2006, and let some other opinions in. Travel, and expose yourself to a new culture. If you're on the Left, spend an hour watching O'Reilly. If you're leaning Right, pick up the New York Times once a week. Learn some basic phrases in a foreign language. Go to a museum, a symphony - and a rock concert. Celebrate the marvelous diversity that is life on this planet.
Have a safe, healthy, wonderful New Year's Eve, whatever revelry you have planned for later. Hold your loved ones close, and wish a stranger well. Hope for peace, tolerance, and equality. And try to remember, even after that second bottle of bubbly, that there's demonstrable logic behind the ideas of designated drivers and protected sex!

Happy New Year, everyone.

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December 30, 2005

Chilling message

A short article (see NOTE below) in today's Washington Post reports that:
The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a domestic surveillance program authorized by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks...

The probe is the latest in a series of controversial investigations into leaks of classified information during the Bush administration, including the disclosure of a CIA agent's identity that has resulted in criminal charges against former vice presidential adviser I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

The Justice Department has also opened a probe into whether classified information was illegally disclosed to The Washington Post, which reported on a network of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
There are two things that trouble me about this piece.

The first is a sin of omission, in the guise of objective reporting by WaPo staff writer Dan Eggen. It seems to me that the way in which Mr. Eggen describes the domestic spying probe as simply "the latest in a series of controversial investigations into leaks of classified information," intentionally glosses over the fundamental differences between Mr. Bush's illegal surveillance program and the politically retaliatory Plame outing. Offhandedly mentioning the revelation of CIA "black sites" with the same lack of explanatory detail only compounds the misleading tone of the report.

These cases are not similar at all, at least not in the way that Eggen's careful wording would imply. They are apples and oranges. One concerns the exposure, for purposes of vicious partisan revenge, of an undercover agent working legally to prevent the distribution of WMD's to America's enemies. The other two issues involve the revelation of illegal and unethical activities being carried out by our government, activities which violate the Constitution and Geneva Conventions, and have yielded no discernible information beneficial to the protection of the nation. For the Post to leave these differences unmentioned is to omit the meat of the story.

Which brings me to the second, more disturbing aspect of the topic. Given the obvious dissimilarities I've mentioned, I'm bothered that the Justice Department would initiate investigations focused on the whistleblowers, and not on the domestic and international crimes over which those whistles were blown in the first place. Of course, my incredulity is admittedly rhetorical, since it is well known that the Justice Department itself played a significant role in green-lighting those illegal activities to begin with.

But the real story, in my opinion, is the chilling message these new investigations send to those who would dare to reveal evidence of the Bush Administration's continued contempt for the rule of law and basic human rights. The course of action taken by the Justice Department is a clear warning to anyone opposed to the illegal activities of this White House that acts of true patriotism will not be tolerated. It is nothing short of a dictatorial attempt to suppress the truth.

And that's something at which this Administration has proved quite adept.

[NOTE: Interestingly, the 3:00 PM version of the linked article on which I originally commented was updated during the course of the day, with changes reflecting many of the concerns I raised in the post. In fact, what appears to be the final revision (which is slated for Saturday's Page One) now ends with the following:
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has argued that a special prosecutor should be appointed to determine whether Bush violated federal wiretapping laws, called the leak probe an unwarranted attack on whistle-blowers.

"Attorney General Gonzales is cracking down on critics of his friend and boss," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero.
Hear, hear, Mr. Romero - my point exactly.]

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Random sampling

Think Progress exposes "The Moussaoui Myth" cited recently in defense of the President's illegal domestic surveillance program.
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Blogger James Raven of The Psychotic Patriot decries America's disappearing literacy in a post pointedly titled "If You Read, the Terrorists Win".
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In "Heck of a Job, Bushie", The New York Times' Paul Krugman takes a critical look at the President's past year.
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Rosa Brooks of the Los Angeles Times comments on the impeachable highlights of Mr. Bush's reign, and wonders, "Is Clinton's history in Bush's future?"
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From the blog Common Sense, Ken Grandlund writes about "The Politics of Fear" in what used to be a nation of hopes and dreams.
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You've gotta love this: Reuters reports that "[a] Texas golf course, a Nevada tanning salon and an Illinois candy shop... may have improperly received U.S. subsidized loans intended for firms hurt by the September 11 attacks."
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And radio host Cenk Uygur notes "How Republicans Are Like Michael Jackson Fans" in today's Huffington Post.


(NOTE: For those of you who are not yet subscribers to the NYT's "Times Select", Mr. Krugman's article is reprinted in the comments section below. Click "add your opinion" to access the full editorial.

Click here for details on purchasing "Times Select", and obtaining a 14-day free trial.)

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December 29, 2005

Good grief

A new Harris Poll released today revealed the following, stunning statistics:
Forty-one percent (41%) of U.S. adults believe that Saddam Hussein had "strong links to Al Qaeda."

Twenty-two percent (22%) of adults believe that Saddam Hussein "helped plan and support the hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11."

Twenty-six percent (26%) of adults believe that Iraq "had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded."

Twenty-four percent (24%) of all adults believe that "several of the hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11 were Iraqis."
Despite the slightly optimistic news that these percentages "have declined sharply since the questions were asked in February 2005," the results are still absolutely shocking. They indicate that America has become a nation of willful dunces, blissfully content in their sheep-like ignorance to remain misinformed by the President, his Administration, and a contemptibly complicit MSM which has obviously been unsuccessful in dispelling the lies reflected by those statistics.

Good grief, America. This amazing level of stupidity is embarrassing and inexcusable. It's incomprehensible that these percentages could exist in an era where we are literally surrounded by information that clearly refutes each of those topics polled. I can't even find the words to describe such widespread idiocy.

Guess it really is time to begin seriously examining those Canadian real estate listings...

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What's in the box

A headline in today's Washington Post reads, Bush Team Rethinks Its Plan for Recovery: New Approach Could Save Second Term. The article that follows details proposed Republican PR strategies designed to help the President's poll numbers rise during the year ahead, based on analysis of the failed White House marketing campaigns tried in the past.

It occurs to me that there's something horribly wrong with this news, specifically the continued fascination with political packaging and presentation in place of a focus on policy and results. I'm sick to death of examinations of the effectiveness of the Republican advertising approach, and discussions which essentially equate political "success" with the ability to influence Zogby approval ratings.

As a veteran Ad man myself, I'm well aware that, with colorful wrapping, a catchy commercial, clever media buys, and manipulative in-store positioning, the American people can be convinced to purchase shit in a box. But that doesn't change the fact that what's in the box is still shit, no matter how wonderful or brilliant or effective the window dressing that accompanies it. Can anyone say "Pet Rock"?

And unlike a harmless, needless, mediocre product that a gullible public is fooled into purchasing, the misguided and sometimes dangerous policies of our elected officials have real consequences. Maybe it's just me, but I find the endless examination of marketing "game plans", "the horse race", "PR strategies", and "political positioning" to be an insidious obfuscation of what should be our primary focus - the substance behind the stylish rhetoric.

I don't want to read that Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter) are busying themselves with ideas on how to build a better commercial campaign. What we should expect and demand of our elected officials is that they utilize their energies to address, enhance, revise, and improve the policies themselves. If our elected "leaders" are concentrating only on how to better market their demonstrably inferior product, instead of working on ways to improve that product, then this is something to be condemned by the press, not blithely reported as a natural aspect of the political "process".

Shouldn't we be concerned that Mr. Bush do something more than just look Presidential? Shouldn't we be offended that so much of the MSM's political analysis directed at the Commander in Chief (or any politician, for that matter) seems content to focus not on his actual performance, but instead on how well he's maintaining the appearance of performance? When a Page 1 story in the Washington Post treats GOP advertising strategies as actual news, the paper is complicit in this Administration's campaign of distraction, helping to dumb down the populace and convince us that the style is just as important as the substance.

We already know how ruthlessly efficient the Republican marketing machine has been, and continues to be. Evidence that its effectiveness is due in large part to misrepresentation of facts, playing on primal fears, slander, and bald-faced fibbing, is well publicized and widespread. So treating an upcoming shift in the tone of its advertising with some sort of newsworthy legitimacy, without criticizing the failures of the product being advertised, is a tremendous disservice to an increasingly attention deficient citizenry.

Enough already. If the MSM must report on the nuances of political sales campaigns, then let these items be given the lack of prominence they deserve. I don't care any more about how ingeniously the product is going to be packaged and marketed. What's important is that shit that's still in the box itself.

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December 28, 2005

Gaining momentum

It seems that more and more intelligent Americans are finally waking up to the fact that the duplicity, calumny, and downright dangerous conduct of the Bush Administration has reached a critical mass far more menacing and reprehensible than that of Bill Clinton's tawdry little affair, a trivial misstep that "warranted" his impeachment by the House seven years ago. The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel noted yesterday:
As 'Editor & Publisher' recently reported, the idea of impeaching Bush has entered the mainstream media's circulatory system--with each day producing more op-eds and articles on the subject. Joining the chorus on Christmas Eve, conservative business magazine 'Barron's' published a lengthy editorial excoriating the president for committing a potentially impeachable offense. "If we don't discuss the program and lack of authority of it," wrote 'Barron's' editorial page editor Thomas Donlan, "we are meeting the enemy--in the mirror."
On a similar note, Sydney Schanberg of The Village Voice writes:
The lies - after all, that's what they really are - have become so numerous that reasonable people are beginning to hear echoes of the Nixon presidency and impeachment. Think about all those rosy "trust me" speeches Bush has been delivering... We've been lied to before. But this presidency has lifted these arts to new and scary heights.
Still more articles this week are echoing the call for impeachment, from Ruth Coniff to Kathy Gill to Gerald Rellick to...

Well, you get the idea.

I still tend to believe that simple impeachment of the President, while absolutely deserved and overdue, would nevertheless leave far too many of his PNAC cronies still in power, and that a push for Executive Recall would address the problem more thoroughly. However, the current momentum toward holding Mr. Bush accountable for his "high crimes and misdemeanors" is an encouraging sign. Perhaps the country is on the verge of regaining its common sense, which has gone missing for five long years.

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Bi-partisan condemnation

What's this?! More signs of bi-partisan agreement on the illegality of Mr. Bush's super secret spy program? As noted by Think Progress last night, "there are many very conservative people who vigorously oppose the program." Why, even the conservative-leaning financial weekly Barron's went so far as to mention the "I-word", stating:
Willful disregard of a law is potentially an impeachable offense. It is at least as impeachable as having a sexual escapade under the Oval Office desk and lying about it later. The members of the House Judiciary Committee who staged the impeachment of President Clinton ought to be as outraged at this situation. They ought to investigate it, consider it carefully and report either a bill that would change the wiretap laws to suit the president or a bill of impeachment.
Enough said.

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Tangled web

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
--Sir Walter Scott

An article in today's New York Times spotlights an interesting legal issue regarding Mr. Bush's authorization of secret wiretaps, without obtaining subsequent warrants and approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The Times writes:
Defense lawyers in some of the country's biggest terrorism cases say they plan to bring legal challenges to determine whether the National Security Agency used illegal wiretaps against several dozen Muslim men tied to Al Qaeda.

The lawyers said in interviews that they wanted to learn... whether the government withheld critical information or misled judges and defense lawyers about how and why the men were singled out.

The expected legal challenges, in cases from Florida, Ohio, Oregon and Virginia, add another dimension to the growing controversy over the agency's domestic surveillance program and could jeopardize some of the Bush administration's most important courtroom victories in terror cases, legal analysts say.
So, let me see if I have this straight: To begin with, Sheriff Bush and his deputies appear to have actually had some success in rounding up a few bandits and bringing them to trial. I guess in all fairness I should have been more aware of "the country's biggest terrorism cases" and "important courtroom victories", but I've grown so accustomed to the incompetence of the Bushies that I just wasn't paying close enough attention.

But now, that handful of valid court cases may themselves be jeopardized by the very methods used by the Administration to "protect" the nation from terrorist attack. And regardless of whether or not those illegal methods were fueled by hubris, ineptitude, malice, or (gasp) genuinely good intentions, they could provide the technicality that sinks those few successes actually achieved in Mr. Bush's otherwise ineffective "war on terror."

To put it simply, in the name of "saving lives" the President may be responsible for setting potential killers free.

I'm sorry, but any idiot who's even glanced at a television police drama, from Dragnet to Hill Street Blues to Law and Order, knows the importance of following legal procedure if your goal is a successful prosecution. The thought that covert and illegal actions by the President, Vice President, and Attorney General might now threaten to invalidate bona fide court cases, is, in a word, unacceptable. Mr. Bush's latest faux pas is just one more egregious misstep from an Administration that continues to believe it is above the law, and in so doing, is undermining the efforts of those who are legitimately trying to enforce that law and keep America safe.

I would think that even Conservatives would be outraged at this latest legal consequence of the White House's recklessness. It's one thing to try and defend illegal domestic surveillance as a necessary evil that's producing actionable results. But it's another thing entirely when those covert practices themselves threaten to undercut the dispensing of justice, for a technical reason that any 10-year-old would know to avoid. Seems kind of hard to defend that, even from the Right side of the aisle.

The Times article concludes:
Justice Department prosecutors... said they were concerned that the agency's wiretaps without warrants could create problems for the department in terrorism prosecutions both past and future.

"If I'm a defense attorney," one prosecutor said, "the first thing I'm going to say in court is, 'This was an illegal wiretap.' "
Incompetent. Illegal. Counterproductive. Secretive. Dishonest. The list of negative adjectives that can be applied to the Bush Administration for this and past misdeeds stretches on and on and on. How much longer can America afford to leave this bunch in control? It's time to clear the monstrous web of deceit and corruption woven by the Bushies out of our house for good.

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December 27, 2005

Liberal interpretations

The Nation's David Corn offers up this observation on the Administration's self-serving, expansive interpretation of the law, its double standard concerning judicial activism, and the obvious fact that "[t]he Bushies--with Dick Cheney beating the drum--are mounting the most extensive power-grab seen in decades." It simply astonishes me that so many Conservatives and Bush-apologists, whose essential rights are just as threatened by the attitudes and actions of this White House, can, in good conscience, support the current Administration. What is it you don't get by now?!

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Chemical imbalance

Speaking of keeping America safe, today's New York Times criticizes the fact that, more than four years after 9/11, our nation's chemical plants are still nakedly vulnerable to attack. The Times notes:
If terrorists attacked a chemical plant, the death toll could be enormous. A single breached chlorine tank could, according to the Department of Homeland Security, lead to 17,500 deaths, 10,000 severe injuries and 100,000 hospitalizations. Many chemical plants have shockingly little security to defend against such attacks.

After 9/11, there were immediate calls for the government to impose new security requirements on these plants. But the chemical industry, which contributes heavily to political campaigns, has used its influence in Washington to block these efforts.
It is inexcusable that a President who relentlessly contends that he is doing everything in his power to protect American citizens, has done nothing to address the WMD's already existing throughout the nation. Instead, he dedicates his efforts to defending torture, illegal eavesdropping, and an unnecessary war thousands of miles away, while shamelessly capitulating to special interest groups and big money donors.

Feeling safer now, America?

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Where's the beef?

This morning, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post takes a Devil's advocate approach to try and understand the President's repetitive claim that operating above the law is necessary for the "protection" of the American people. Mr. Robinson writes:
[C]an this administration's usurpation of power somehow be justified?

Every time I work it through, the answer I come up with is no. The president has no right to ignore the rule of law as if it were a mere nuisance.
I keep wondering if there is any evidence that the domestic spying policies of the Bush Administration have actually yielded positive results, and if so, why those triumphs have not been trotted out immediately as proof of the effectiveness of said practice. I mean, if Mr. Bush's double super secret surveillance program has thwarted terrorist plans and/or operations, why not tell us about it? Why not cite some specific examples? Wouldn't that immediately put this entire debate to rest?

Instead, the response from the White House to its critics is "trust me", or that ol' chestnut, "we haven't had a terrorist attack in four years." Well, yeah, but by that standard, Bill Clinton was the greatest anti-terror President of all time, wasn't he? After all, on Bubba's watch it was a full eight years between the '93 bombing of the World Trade Center and the end of his term in office in January '01.

So I can only conclude that the very lack of specific, beneficial examples resulting from Mr. Bush's extra-legal policy reveals a basic lie at the heart of his rationale. This is virtually identical to the lie at the core of other Administration practices over the past four years, little things like indefinite detainment, extraordinary rendition, prisoner torture, none of which have resulted in demonstrable successes, or even a single conviction in our courts.

Am I just missing the big picture here?

Until this Administration offers some verifiable evidence that its dictatorial actions are indeed making America safer, I guess I'll just have to cling to my skepticism and outrage. I need more than "trust me" as a reason to abandon the Constitution and America's historical adherence to basic civil rights, especially from a group that has more than demonstrated its lack of credibility on just about every issue imaginable.

In the words of that classic fast-food ad, "Where's the beef?"

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December 26, 2005

Lazy

OK, I'll admit it. I'm feeling (and acting) extremely lazy today, especially concerning the ills of the world. I mean, just look at the time - and even at this hour, I'm essentially alone with my thoughts in a house vibrating perceptibly with exhausted and contented snoring...

And when you're a father of six, that's a lot of snoring!

Humblest apologies to regular readers, but, apparently, I need to languish just a bit longer in the afterglow of Sunday's gift and eating orgy, and the sated, loving expressions frozen on my children's faces the entire day. It was a welcome and much-needed break from what seems like an endless year filled with government malfeasance, global instability, and business disappointments. I'm not quite ready yet to abandon this warm, fuzzy, comfortable mental place, and jump back into the fray I know will still be there tomorrow.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a handful of news items, articles, and editorials that caught my eye this morning. And, lest I be remiss in my Holiday manners, Happy Hanukkah and a Festive Kwanzaa to those beginning their celebrations today. I hope your holidays are as filled with joy, warmth, and peace as were mine.
The New York Times on "Winners and Losers in Iraq." Three cheers for "democracy" Baghdad-style.

Newsweek's Eleanor Clift on the "Big Lies" of calendar 2005. A bit incomplete, but it's more than enough.

A call to action from Elizabeth de la Vega, courtesy of The Nation magazine. Make a noise, America!

From Media Matters, the "Top 12 media myths and falsehoods on the Bush administration's spying scandal." Important information and links.

And the Washington Post compiles a list of underreported stories it categorizes as "News Of The Weird." Hey, why not go out on a light note?
Well, better get back to the couch now, and keep recharging those mental batteries. 'Til tomorrow...

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December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

After months of covert planning, days of meticulous wrapping, and precious few hours of sleep, it was all over in less than 30 minutes. In a yearly ritual of unbridled avarice, played out to the sounds of paper shredding and delighted squealing, another Christmas morning has come and gone.

I hope that you, too, awoke this morning to find presents under the tree, and stockings stuffed to overflowing by your own special Santa. Merry Christmas to all!

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Three commentaries

Not that I want to cast a shadow over that early-morning high of opening the perfect gift, but... well, check out these three Christmas morning commentaries for yourself:
History professor Penne Restad writes about the ever changing face of Christmas in today's Washington Post. The author observes, "For all of us, this year's Christmas culture war raised key questions about the holiday. What is Christmas? Who owns it? Do we need it? What will happen to Christmas as we know it?"
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The New York Times' Frank Rich takes a sarcastic look at This Year In God, and "the dishonesty and cynicism perpetrated in the name of religion in America over the past 12 months."
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And this short article from the Bradenton Herald Today finds fault with the shrill voices of the religious right, and the fact that "[t]oo often their political actions conflict with the basic teachings of the faith they defend: war instead of peace, the rich over the poor, intolerance in place of love."
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(NOTE: For those of you who are not yet subscribers to the NYT's "Times Select", Mr. Rich's article is reprinted in the comments section below. Click "add your opinion" to access the full editorial.

Click here for details on purchasing "Times Select", and obtaining a 14-day free trial.)

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