Archive

December 27th

Tell it on the mountain

    The narrative of Jesus' birth in Luke's Gospel has retained its power beyond the realm of believers because it renders one of the most peaceful moments in all of scripture: a gathering of angels and shepherds celebrating the "good news" and "great joy" of the birth of a baby "wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

    Although my favorite Christmas song will always be "Go Tell It on the Mountain," it is "Silent Night" that may be truest to the spirit of Luke's account. There are no rumors of war, no clashing armies, only a bright and blessed calm.

    This will not be the first or the last Christmas when the world mocks the day's promise, and when religion finds itself a source of violence, hatred and, among many not inclined toward either, a dangerous mutual incomprehension.

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Obama's no dead duck

    One advantage of being part of the White House press corps is getting invited to one of the many White House Christmas parties. For reporters, that includes the additional advantage of standing in line to get your photo taken with the president and first lady.

    You don't get much time with the commander in chief: maybe 10 seconds before it's: "Smile. Click. You're outta here. Next!" So everybody plans ahead of time just what they want to say to the most powerful person on the planet in the brief time allotted them.

    In December 2014, just before he began his final and, for many presidents, fateful two years in office, I greeted him with: "Mr. President, don't let anybody tell you you're a lame duck." To which he immediately replied: "I'm not acting like one, am I?" Indeed, not. He wasn't then, and he isn't now.

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Dear Santa, some kids just want what's needed this Christmas

    The Christmas list.

    There's the request for the Nerf Rhino-Fire Blaster, a twin-barreled, anti-aircraft gun right out of John Connor's post-apocalyptic arsenal guaranteed to lodge foam darts into places you'll only discover next April.

    Or the desire for those little Monster High dollies of the night - sexed-up strumpets from Hooker High?

    But pull away from the kids you know and take a look at what's on the Christmas lists that end up in mailboxes all over town, addressed to the North Pole.

    The chief elf-in-charge of these letters is Sherry Johnson-Battle, and she's letting us look through some of the 500 letters that came from kids in the nation's capital this year.

    More than half of them were adopted by companies or fellow elves to make sure wishes were filled.

    Yes, they want Xboxes, iPhones and televisions. They provide very specific information for the make, model and color of the $100 sneakers they will outgrow in two weeks.

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Congress backs Obama, saying Iran should pay victims

    A Supreme Court case on compensating victims of terrorism gives House Republicans and the Obama administration a chance to agree about Iran for the first time in a long time.

    With bipartisan support, the House is weighing in on a pending case in which Tehran is trying to avoid paying the American victims of terror attacks linked to the Iranian government, including the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut and the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.

    At issue is whether Iran's central bank, Bank Markazi, will be forced to pay damages to over 1,300 American plaintiffs. Some are victims of attacks the U.S. government has linked to the Iranian government. Others are surviving family members of such victims.

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Two of a kind: Trump and 'Pootie-poot'

    We should not be too surprised by the unlikely bromance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. After all, the audacious billionaire and Russian autocrat have a lot in common.

    Both have outsized egos that would humble a rap star.

    They pal around with the super-rich, even as they successfully promote themselves as populist heroes of the working class.

    They both criticize the media that criticize them, yet neither is a stranger to the arts of media manipulation or, in Putin's case, intimidation.

    All of which may have given Putin a special awareness of Trump's biggest vulnerability: If you want to win Trump's heart, stroke his ego.

    Maybe that's why when Putin was asked in a Moscow news conference for his thoughts on a possible Trump presidency, Putin said that Trump was "brilliant," according to some translations, and "very talented, no doubt about that."

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The Donald Trump Days of Christmas

    Happy holidays! I say this with some trepidation, because Donald Trump has vowed that when he is president, “We’re all going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” That was a while ago, during his war on the Starbucks coffee cup design. So very much water has run under the Trumpian bridge since then.

    But I’m still trying to figure out exactly how a universal “Merry Christmas” mission would be accomplished. Would there be a “holiday” gag order? Seasonal salutation checks at the border?

    This is supposed to be a down period for presidential campaigning, since most of the population is focused on celebrating you-know-what with friends and families. But Trump has given us such a not-normal year that people will be drinking eggnog by the fire and discussing the proper use of the word “schlonged.”

    The happiest holiday parties should be with Team Clinton, which clearly believes that going to war with Trump is good for her cause and that having Trump as the Republican nominee would be even better.

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Parties diverge on foreign policy in age of renewed terrorism

    As the holiday season brings a brief break in presidential politics, the final party debates of 2015 have left the voters to ponder how differently the Republican and Democratic candidates' propose to meet the terrorist threat facing the nation.

    On the Republican stage, with the exception of isolationist Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the White House aspirants insisted that President Obama has failed to recognize the scope of the peril posed by the Islamic State and that he lacks the personal fortitude and resolve to defeat, not merely contain, it. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas went so far in the debate as to reiterate his desire to carpet bomb territory held by the militant group.

    The three debating Democrats -- Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland -- while also speaking of the urgency of the task, generally defended the president of their party, though with caveats.

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For my Muslim husband, my mom's halal Christmas is the perfect antidote to Trump

    Holidays, year after year, can blend together. But this holiday season is unlike any other in my life. That's because in previous years there was no Donald Trump leaving a lump of coal in my stocking, reminding me just how unwelcome my multi-faith family would be in his version of America.

    My husband, who emigrated from Iran 12 years ago, is Muslim. In addition to the usual challenges, over time, of assimilating -- and the challenges, more recently, of absorbing presidential campaign rhetoric that underscores just how many people won't accept him -- he tends to be particularly self-conscious when he's invited to a meal where there are no halal, or at least vegetarian, options.

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Fool Me Twice, New York Times

    In my experience, you can fool a golden retriever exactly twice with the old hidden ball trick. Our late dog Big Red was as exuberant an animal as ever lived. I used to say that if he wasn't wet, cold, and hungry, Red was happy.

    Then I had to rescue him from the Arkansas River during a sleet storm. He'd plunged in to chase ducks but couldn't clamber back up the steep, slippery bank on his own. Coated in mud with icicles hanging from his coat, Red remained optimistic. See, after his walk came supper. His eyes shone like a puppy's all the way home.

    Anyway, that dog would fetch his beloved tennis ball until your arm ached from throwing it. Prank him with a fake toss and he'd charge off and search eagerly before returning with a quizzical look. A second fake drew less assiduous searching. After that, he kept his eyes riveted on your hand. No fooling him anymore.

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December 26th

Doctors have a right to try to dissuade gun owners

    Should the First Amendment protect what doctors can say to their patients in the privacy of the examining room? Weighing state prohibitions on gay conversion therapy, liberals have tended to think the state should be able to regulate medical treatment without worrying about free speech.

    Now the shoe's on the other foot: Florida's ban on physicians asking patients about gun ownership puts liberals in the position of wanting to protect the doctor-patient relationship. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld the Florida "docs vs. Glocks" law this week on the ground that the state's interest in protecting gun ownership outweighs physicians' free-speech interests -- a result sure to trouble liberals.

    This decision is problematic in its application of free- speech law, as First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh points out. But what's really wrong is our whole framework in using free speech to analyze communication between a medical professional and a patient.

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