Oops, got distracted by Christmas from posting the traditional Christmas links, but that's okay, they're good up to the Epiphany:
* Mark Evanier's wonderful Mel Tormé story, and here's the man himself in duet with Judy Garland.
* Joshua Held's Christmas card, with a little help from Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters.
* Brian Brink's tour-de-force performance of "The Carol of the Bells"
* "Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime."
* Ron Tiner's one-page cartoon version of A Christmas Carol
"Six companies are about to merge into the biggest farm-business oligopoly in history: Top executives from Bayer, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical, and Syngenta today (Sept. 20) testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, making a case for why federal regulators should approve the mega-mergers, which stand to fundamentally reorganize global agriculture. (Executives from the sixth company involved in the consolidation, China National Chemical Corp., declined an invitation to appear at the hearing.) [...] The consolidation of these six highly competitive companies into three juggernauts has left many farmers and consumers uneasy. Consumers advocates say they worry the mergers will usher in a 'new era of sterile crops soaked in dangerous pesticides.' Farmers worry that less competition in the marketplace will give the merged companies an ability to increase prices of seeds and chemicals—something that would be particularly harmful during a time when US farm incomes are dropping."
"Schumer Revealed as Key Industry Ally in Defeat of Effort to Curb Surprise Billing: It was one of a series of lobbying victories by the healthcare industry in 2019 bolstered by top Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer worked behind the scenes through December in the Senate to defeat a bipartisan initiative to curb surprise medical billing, according to a new report Friday which details the lobbying victories won by the for-profit healthcare industry in 2019."
"Why the Media Is Ignoring the Afghanistan Papers: The documents are a bombshell. So why do so few news outlets care? This week, The Washington Post published the Afghanistan Papers, an extensive review of thousands of pages of internal government documents relating to the war in Afghanistan. Like the Pentagon Papers, which showcased the lies underpinning the Vietnam War, the Post's investigation shows that U.S. officials, across three presidential administrations, intentionally and systematically misled the American public for 18 years and counting. As Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1974, told CNN earlier this week, the Pentagon and Afghanistan Papers revealed the same dynamic: 'The presidents and the generals had a pretty realistic view of what they were up against, which they did not want to admit to the American people.'"
"Andrew Yang Has The Most Conservative Health Care Plan In The Democratic Primary: Entrepreneur Andrew Yang has had unexpected staying power in the Democratic presidential primary thanks in part to the enthusiasm for his plan to provide every American with a basic income of $1,000 a month. But the boldness of his signature idea only serves to underscore the unambitiousness of the health care plan he released earlier this month. In fact, Yang's health plan, which he bills as an iteration of the left's preferred 'Medicare for All' policy, is more conservative than proposals introduced by the candidates typically identified as moderate. [...] Under Yang's plan, people employed by businesses that do not provide insurance, or who are self-employed, would continue to purchase coverage on the exchanges created by former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. The decision not to focus on expanding coverage distinguishes Yang dramatically from his competitors. And in the foreword to his plan, he explains that that is a deliberate choice, since enacting single-payer health care is 'not a realistic strategy.'"
"Accusing Bernie Sanders of antisemitism? That's a new low: The allegations should be called for what they are: politiking in service of politicians who will put more Jews in danger. [...] For Lowe and others on the right that have jumped on this bandwagon, though, details don't really matter. Sanders, an avowed democratic socialist, simply belongs to an opposing political camp with opposing values. Like the attacks against Corbyn abroad and Ilhan Omar at home, those now being lobbed at Sanders aren't about defeating antisemitism so much as using it as a narrative device to undermine a worldview that offends them. Sanders's solidarity with Palestinians suffering under occupation is not an affront to Jews but to the right's propaganda that looking out for their best interest means a blanket, unquestioning support for whatever the Israeli government happens to be doing, which at the moment includes maintaining a brutal apartheid state."
"National Democrats Have Endorsed Three Former Republicans In Key Senate Races: SENATE DEMOCRATS' CAMPAIGN arm has endorsed three former Republicans, adding to a list of races in which the party has continued a futile strategy of backing moderates over candidates with more progressive platforms. [...] IN OTHER SENATE races, national Democrats are backing conservative Democratic candidates over viable progressives. In Kentucky, for example, the party has coalesced around Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, a centrist who lost a winnable 2018 House race and stands little chance of unseating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. State Rep. Charles Booker is running to her left. In North Carolina, the DSCC has endorsed commercial litigation attorney, former state senator, and military veteran Cal Cunningham to replace Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, who is one of the least popular senators in the country. The committee has backed Cunningham even though state Sen. Erica Smith, a progressive, has led both Cunningham and Tillis in polling — as recently as November. Cunningham has far outraised Smith, with $1.7 million — including $200,000 of his own money — to her $133,000, including $4,500 of her own money. Cunningham has had significant fundraising help from donors linked to Schumer. " We are mere minutes from the day when saying, "Bernie's not a Democrat" will be synonymous with saying, "Bernie's never been a Republican."
Is there a sea-change in Politico? "Democratic insiders: Bernie could win the nomination [...] A series of TV segments around last week's Democratic debate illustrate the shift in how Sanders is being perceived. 'We never talk about Bernie Sanders. He is actually doing pretty well in this polling,' former senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said on CNN after the event. 'He's actually picked up. And the fact is Bernie Sanders is as consistent as consistent can be.' The same day on MSNBC, national political correspondent Steve Kornacki said, 'Democratic voters like him, and if he starts winning, there could be a bandwagon effect.' GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who conducted a California focus group that found most participants thought Sanders had won the debate, said on CNBC, 'I think you're going to see continued movement. Sanders has been gaining in California over the past two months.' [...] Faiz Shakir, Sanders' campaign manager, said political insiders and pundits are rethinking his chances 'not out of the goodness of their heart,' but because 'it is harder and harder to ignore him when he's rising in every average that you see.' And he welcomes a conversation about Sanders' electability, he said. 'We want that,' he said. 'I'd love to be able to argue why he stands a better chance to beat Donald Trump than Joe Biden.'"
"Why Are Cops Around the World Using This Outlandish Mind-Reading Tool? The creator of Scientific Content Analysis, or SCAN, says the tool can identify deception. Law enforcement has used his method for decades, even though there's no reliable science behind it. Even the CIA and FBI have bought in. [...] The review devoted just one paragraph to SCAN. Its synopsis was short but withering. SCAN 'is widely employed in spite of a lack of supporting research,' the review said. Studies commonly cited in support of SCAN were scientifically flawed, the review said. 'When all 12 SCAN criteria were used in a laboratory study, SCAN did not distinguish truth-tellers from liars above the level of chance,' the review said. The synopsis also specifically challenged two of those 12 criteria, noting: 'Both gaps in memory and spontaneous corrections have been shown to be indicators of truth, contrary to what is claimed by SCAN.' In a footnote, the review identified three specific agencies that use SCAN: the FBI, CIA and U.S. Army military intelligence, which falls under the Department of Defense. Those were the very agencies responsible for this report, concluding there's no reliable science behind SCAN."
"Government Entitled To Edward Snowden's Book Money, Judge Rules The National Security Agency leaker violated secrecy contracts by discussing his classified work without approval, a federal judge said. The government is entitled to any money that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden makes from his book and paid speeches because he discussed his top-secret work without permission, a federal judge ruled. Snowden signed contracts while working for the NSA about handling classified information that detailed the government's sweeping surveillance programs, and his book and speeches are violations that permit the government to claim his profits, U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady wrote in an opinion released Tuesday in Virginia. 'The contracts at issue here are unambiguous and clear,' the judge wrote."
Intercepted, "We Tortured Some Folks: The Report's Daniel Jones On The Ongoing Fight To Hold The CIA Accountable: MONDAY MARKED THE five-year anniversary of the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's executive summary on the CIA's torture program. The former top Senate Intelligence Committee investigator, Daniel Jones, and his team combed through 6.3 million pages of CIA records. Jones discusses the yearslong battle with the Bush and Obama administrations to make public the findings of this still-classified 7,000-page report. In this bonus episode, Jones expands on the torture report findings."
"What It Looks Like When a Hospital We Investigated Erases $11.9 Million in Medical Debt: MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When Danielle Robinson got a letter in the mail from Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare in October, she braced herself. She'd missed a court-ordered payment to the hospital after she was laid off from her job in September. In 2018, the massive nonprofit health care system sued her for just over $11,500 in unpaid hospital bills, plus $3,800 in attorney's fees. In April, a Shelby County General Sessions Court judge ordered her to pay $150 per month toward the debt. If she was lucky, the envelope contained only a warning. If she wasn't, it was another attempt to garnish her paycheck, even though she wasn't even getting one. Nervously, she opened the letter. 'As of August 1, 2019,' it said, 'your total amount due is $0 for docket ROBINSON, and we have notified the court that this account has been paid in full.' 'I had to read it a couple of times just to make sure,' Robinson said. 'I couldn't believe it. I went crying around the house.'"
RIP: "Baba Ram Dass, Proponent of LSD Turned New Age Guru, Dies at 88: Born Richard Alpert, he first gained notice as a colleague of Timothy Leary and later became even better known as the author of Be Here Now."
Pareene in The New Republic, "A Decade of Liberal Delusion and Failure: It was the death of hope by a thousand tiny technocratic "nudges." As 2009 ended, the editors of this magazine at the time took their measure of the first year of Barack Obama's presidency and declared it, with some reservations, a modest success. 'All of this might not exactly place him in the pantheon next to Franklin Roosevelt,' they said of his major domestic achievements (the stimulus package, primarily, as the Affordable Care Act had not yet been signed). 'But it's not a bad start, given all the constraints of the political system (and global order) in which he works.' That was the broad consensus of American liberals at the time, ranging from nearly the most progressive to nearly the most neoliberal. Over the ensuing years, that consensus would crack and eventually shatter under the weight of one disappointment after another. The story of American politics over the past decade is that of a political party on the cusp of enduring power and world-historical social reform, and how these once imaginable outcomes were methodically squandered. [...] It's hard to remember now how wise everyone made it sound that the president and his team intentionally avoided doing things they worried would be too popular, but there would not be another New Deal."
"There is hard data that shows that a centrist Democrat would be a losing candidate: Economist Thomas Piketty wrote a paper about this in 2018, though the Democrats paid no attention. The Republican Party has earned a reputation as the anti-science, anti-fact party — understandably, perhaps, given the GOP's policy of ignoring the evidence for global climate change and insisting on the efficacy of supply-side economics, despite all the research to the contrary. Yet ironically, it is now the Democratic Party that is wantonly ignoring mounds of social science data that suggests that promoting centrist candidates is a bad, losing strategy when it comes to winning elections. As the Democratic establishment and its pundit class starts to line up behind the centrist nominees for president — like Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg — the party's head-in-the-sand attitude is especially troubling.."
"'Authenticity,' 'Culturally Relevant': Why Bernie Sanders Is Resonating With Latinos [...] Recent polls by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and Latino Decisions all show Sanders as the top Democratic presidential candidate choice among Latino Democrats. He has a particular strength with young Latinos. The story of how a man who represents one of the whitest states in the country — Vermont — came to resonate with the largest nonwhite eligible voting block in the country is multifaceted."
"Pete Buttigieg's Campaign Says This Wikipedia User Is Not Pete. So Who Is It?: Tracking down the editor who tracks every move the South Bend mayor makes. [...] Luckily for Buttigieg, there is at least one person carefully looking out for his needs on Wikipedia—someone who has followed his political career from its very beginning, and whose interests and connections track his own with eerie sympathy. This Wikipedia user was there to post the site's first mention of Pete Buttigieg's political career in 2010, and to write the very first iteration of Pete Buttigieg's Wikipedia page. They go by the username 'Streeling.' Streeling is an old Irish word that means 'wandering,' the sort of word that might be familiar to the son of a scholar who studied James Joyce. Joyce uses the noun streel, meaning 'a disreputable woman,' in Ulysses, which Pete Buttigieg has cited as the book that influenced him the most." I can't help think this is either someone who has had a crush on Buttigieg since high school or one of Buttigieg's parents. It's like a a parental scrapbook of their kids.
"Future Audi Interiors Will Be A Button-Less, Screen-Filled Dystopia [...] Even if you generally know where you need to press on a touchscreen, you'll still need to look down more often than not to confirm. You can't just feel around for the right button. What happens if the touchscreen glitches or gets stuck? Will you be trapped and unable to turn off the air conditioning? You'll freeze! We've all experienced menus we can't back out of before. Does that mean we'll all have to get used to the hard-resetting (turning off then turning back on) of our cars, too?"
"Canadian Healthcare - Debunking the Myths" - Wendell Potter busting the myths he himself once spread on behalf of the health insurance industry.
"Louisa May Alcott's Forgotten Thrillers Are Revolutionary Examples Of Early Feminism: [...] Generations of scholars have examined Alcott's personal life (Civil War nurse, 'spinster,' possibly a lesbian), discussed ad nauseum her family's radical political activism (her father was not only a transcendentalist and an abolitionist, but believed in absolute equality of all races); and marveled at her childhood milieu, surrounded by people like Emerson and Thoreau and her mother's friends, Lucretia Mott and the Grimke sisters, as well as meeting Frederick Douglass and his wife. But far less attention is paid to her sensationalist 'blood and thunder tales'—pulpy thrillers she wrote early in her career, often using the pseudonym A.M. Barnard. This was the work Alcott was passionate about before the financial needs of her family forced her into writing what she called 'moral pap for the young.'"