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Assessing the President

Tell us how you think President Barack Obama has handled the economic crisis so far. What's he done right? And what's he gotten wrong?

Assessing the President Mandel Ngan, AFP / Getty Images

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Miller whines about Murkowski's lame duck voting record by Jed Lewison Thu Dec 23, 2010 at 08:46:03 AM PST

Somebody needs to tell Joe Miller that the election is over. It's not just his pathetic legal challenge -- it's that his campaign is still on the warpath, attacking Murkowski for voting for the DREAM Act, for DADT repeal, and for START during the lame duck. Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto:

“In supposedly voting ‘for Alaska,’ Lisa Murkowski must make the case why the Bush tax cuts shouldn't be permanent, why we're rewarding people for breaking our immigration laws, why DADT was not working, and why the Senate should not take further time to review START Treaty,” DeSoto said.

It's time for Joe to give it up already. Alaskans had the chance to put him in the Senate and they said no. And it's time for conservative extremists to come to grips with the fact that if they couldn't put a DeMint-Palin disciple over the top in Alaska, they're never going to be anything more than a bunch of loud voices on Fox News.

Scrooge was a Republican. Until he got a heart.

Steak, roasted potatoes, green beans and pie were on the Christmas dinner menu for President Obama and his family Saturday at their oceanfront holiday home in Hawaii. On Christmas Eve, Mrs. Obama helped kids track Santa Claus' travel around the world with the assistance of NORAD radar.

The Obama Family Christmas in Hawai
For years, the Obama family has traveled to Hawaii, Obama's native state, to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. The Obamas' are staying in a rented a house in Oahu about 12 miles from Honolulu. In years past, Obama would also use the trip to visit his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham and his half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng and reconnect with school friends. Dunham died just before polls opened in the 2008 presidential election.

Chicago pal Eric Whitaker and his family are vacationing with the Obama's in Hawaii -- they were together last year -- and another Chicago friend, Marty Nesbitt and his family will be joining them. On Friday, Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha hung out at the Pyramid Rock Beach on a military base. On Thursday, the president played golf.

Mrs. Obama Tracking Santa

Since 1955, the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Command in Colorado Springs, Col. has tracked the progress of Santa Claus as his eight (or nine, some years) reindeer fly around the world. The tracking started by accident; a newspaper Christmas ad misprint featured NORAD's number, prompting a youngster to call asking about Santa. NORAD has played along ever since.

For 40 minutes on Friday afternoon Hawaii time -- already dusk in parts of the U.S. -- Michelle Obama took calls coming into NORAD's Santa tracking line. The first lady talked to kids and traced the big man's whereabouts: when she started on the call Santa and his sleigh were in South Africa. And he was flying mighty fast because by the time she finished, he had flown over several African nations and was already moving above Italy, Slovakia and Austria.

Several times, Mrs. Obama, mindful of her healthy eating agenda, urged youngsters to not only put out cookies for Santa's reindeer, but veggies too. Talking to an eight-year-old girl, Juliana, Mrs. Obama said that her daughter Sasha, 9, is "bouncing off the walls. I know you are, too."

One caller, Sean, told Mrs. Obama he got an e-mail from Santa.

"You got an e-mail from Santa? Well, he's really moving up. He's pretty high-tech now," Mrs. Obama replied. "... The important thing to remember is that he doesn't come to your house until you're fast asleep, no matter where he is in the country. So you've got to make sure you get a good night's sleep. Leave out your cookies and some vegetables for the reindeer and you should be good to go."

In one exchange, a child named Austin asked Mrs Obama if being first lady was a hard job.

"You know, it is not as hard as being the president. My job is fun because I get to do stuff like this. I get to come to NORAD and look at the radar and help them track Santa. I get to work with kids like you guys and help make sure they're staying healthy. So it's a fun job. Thanks for asking," she replied.

Austin had another question. "Is it hard to have all that security around you?"

Said Mrs. Obama, "No, because the security -- the Secret Service, they're really professional and they're really nice guys. So they're fun. They're good with the girls... they do their jobs, but they're really nice guys. It's almost like they're family after a while. So it's not that hard having them around. And they're there to keep us safe, right? You can't be mad at that, right?"

Mrs. Obama asked Austin, "What else do you want to know?" And he said, "Is it hard to like be married to the president?"

Answered Mrs. Obama, "No, he's a pretty good guy. I mean, it's a tough job and sometimes you want to do everything you can to help him, but it's pretty easy being married to him. He's kind of funny -- fun to hang out with."

After that, Mrs. Obama gave Austin a Santa whereabouts report.

"All right. Hold on, let me look at the radar. Okay, it looks like -- all right, they've got a lock on a glowing object and they can confirm that it is in fact Santa's sleigh. It's over Africa right now -- Algeria, Africa. And they can see from here that it's pretty full of toys. Pretty full. So hopefully you've been good this year. But Santa is not going to come to your house until you go to sleep."

President Obama and Michelle Obama at the White HouseThe Obamas' Christmas Message

In a rare joint appearance in a Saturday video address taped at the White House, the Obamas urged support for the nation's military families. Helping soldiers families is one of Mrs.Obama's key agenda items.

"As first lady, I've had the honor to meet members of our military and their families on bases and in communities all across the country. I've gotten to know husbands and wives doing the parenting of two while their spouse is on another deployment... children trying their best in school but always wondering when mom or dad is coming home... patriots putting their lives on hold to help with a loved one's recovery... or carry on the memory of a fallen hero," she said. "When our men and women in uniform answer the call to serve, their families serve, too. And they're proud and glad to do it. But as long as that service keeps the rest of us safe, their sacrifice should also be our own. Even heroes can use a hand, especially during the holidays."

The president added, "So we're encouraging Americans to ask what you can do to support our troops and their families in this holiday season. For some ideas on how to get started, just visit Serve.gov."

Malthus to Hatch: The limits of "Christian charity" by Joan McCarter Sat Dec 25, 2010 at 06:30:05 PM PST

A regular Christmas tradition in my family is finding just the right book as a gift; the right book meaning it will be as interesting to the recipient as the giver. So following this tradition, I was finishing up my gift to my brother the other night, Bill Bryson's At Home: A Short History of Private Life and came across a passage on poverty and the plight of the poor, and particularly children, in England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

No one better represented the harsh side of beliefs than the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), whose Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvements of Society was published anonymously in 1798 and became immediately and resoundingly influential. Malthus blamed the poor for their own hardships and opposed the idea of relief for the masses on the grounds that it simply increased their tendency to idleness. "Even when they have an opportunity of saving," he wrote, "they seldom exercise it for all that is beyond their present necessities goes, generally speaking, to the ale-house. The poor-laws of England may therefore be said to diminish both the power and the will to save among the common people, and thus to weaken one of the strongest incentives to sobriety and industry, and consequently to happiness." He was particularly troubled by the Irish, and believed, as he wrote to a friend in 1817, that "a great part of the population should be swept from the soil." This was not a man with a lot of Christian charity in his heart.

How little things change.

Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) had said in March that Unemployment Benefits insurance "doesn't create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay [unemployed] people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work."


Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said in May that extended Unemployment Benefits undermine economic recovery because they "basically keep an economy that encourages people to, rather than go out and look for work, to stay on unemployment."


At a June hearing on long-term unemployment, Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.) said, "Even when businesses are willing to hire, nearly two years of unemployment benefits are too much of an allure for some," and: "The evidence is mounting that so-called stimulus policies rammed through Congress are doing more harm than good."

And the real topper:

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): "You know, we should not be giving cash to people who basically are just going to blow it on drugs."

There's not a lot of Christian charity in the hearts of modern-day conservatives, either, apparently. Next step, poor houses.

President Obama and the First Lady wish Americans a Merry Christmas by Susan Gardner Sat Dec 25, 2010 at 06:30:03 AM PST

Yes, imagine that. A Merry Christmas! Clearly, our president is not doing his fair share in the fabled War on Christmas. If only he'd muttered a begrudging "Happy Holidays," the celebration of bitter wingnuts would have decked the proverbial halls with boughs of conspiracy holly.

Not only that, Barack and Michelle Obama discuss love, peace and redemption. Then they salute the military and their families, and urge Americans to volunteer to serve one another and find volunteer opportunities at serve.gov.
Why, it's almost as if the two of them believe there actually may be more to the holiday season than ginning up the culture wars and buying obscene amounts of useless crap.
The full transcript can be found beneath the fold and on the White House website.

In fact, Obama’s approval was at 49 yesterday in Gallup’s tracker, with Congress at 13. No wonder conservatives are upset that they’re not feeling the momentum. The public never wanted what they’re selling, they just wanted jobs. And those approval numbers and this fact are worth remembering as we move to next year’s battles: Barack Obama, and not Mitch McConnell or John Boehner, is the most popular politician in D.C.

Tonight's Rescue Rangers are Louisiana 1976, Purple Priestess, dadanation, rexymeteorite, vcmvo2 and grog.

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<div align="justify">

Christmas Eve, 1862

by Thomas Nast appeared in an 1862 issue of Harper's Weekly. The Union soldier holds his musket while looking at a photo of his family as the soldiers behind him stand guard. His wife is on the left, kneeling in prayer. Note in the upper left you can see Santa getting ready to head down the chimney while on the right he's delivering presents to soldiers in the field. Below, the Civil War rages and in between, the graves of fallen soldiers. This illustration has just as much relevance today in homes around our country as it did when first published 148 years ago.</div>

The Rescue Rangers hope that our service men and women in harm's way have a Christmas Eve that's safe and filled with much goodwill under trying circumstances.  As a country, we've placed a large burden on your shoulders, one that we hope will be briefly borne and that you come home safe, sound and soon.  Permamently

2010 may be biggest holiday retail season ever by Jed Lewison Fri Dec 24, 2010 at 06:00:05 PM PST

AP reports retailers are preparing for a mad dash to the finish tonight as last-minute shoppers close out the 2010 holiday retail season:

A strong Christmas Eve would round out a surprisingly successful holiday season for retailers. The National Retail Federation predicts that holiday sales will reach $451.5 billion this year, up 3.3 percent over last year. That would be the biggest year-over-year increase since 2006, and the largest total since sales hit a record $452.8 billion in 2007. A strong finish could even give 2010 the crown.

According to the National Retail Federation, retail excluding auto, gas, and restaurant sales was up 7% in November 2010 compared to November 2009.

The big question is whether these improved numbers are sustainable. Without growth in personal income levels, the additional spending is coming from a reduced savings rate. The risk is that in the next month or two, people will hunker down more than usual to make up for the depleted savings. If that happens, then the holiday season surge will look more like a blip.

So despite the strong seasonal numbers, the question remains whether the we'll see a durable economic rebound. On that front, The New York Times reports that economic forecasts from analysts and academics are show growing optimism for economic recovery next year.

Eighteen months after the recession officially ended, the government’s latest measures to bolster the economy have led many forecasters and policy makers to express new optimism that the recovery will gain substantial momentum in 2011.

Economists in universities and on Wall Street have raised their growth projections for next year. Retail sales, industrial production and factory orders are on the upswing, and new claims for unemployment benefits are trending downward.

Despite persistently high unemployment, consumer confidence is improving. Large corporations are reporting healthy profits, and the Dow Jones industrial average reached a two-year high this week.

The Federal Reserve, which has kept short-term interest rates near zero since the end of 2008, has made clear it is sticking by its controversial decision to try to hold down mortgage and other long-term interest rates by buying government securities.

President Obama’s $858 billion tax-cut compromise with Congressional Republicans is putting more cash in the hands of consumers through a temporary payroll-tax cut and an extension of unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed.

As with the holiday spending numbers, there's an important caveat: if Republicans prevail in next year's budget battles, we'll end up undoing all the stimulative benefits of the tax cut deal. House Republicans are making the case for a twenty percent reduction in spending starting next year -- a draconian fiscal policy shift like that would undoubtedly crush any hopes for economic recovery.

Whatever happens, one thing is pretty clear: the debate over whether to continue trying to grow the economy or whether to embark on the GOP's austerity plan will define the political agenda of the first few months of 2011.

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