Year-End Lists

The Best Columns of the Year

The Daily Beast

From the Boston Marathon bombings to a tribute to Margaret Thatcher and a searing reaction to the Trayvon Martin verdict, a crowdsourced collection of our 2013 favorites.
I’m a fan of the American art form once known as the newspaper column. That’s why I co-edited two Deadline Artists anthologies with my friends Errol Louis and Jesse Angelo—to honor and archive the best of the past.

But the digital era is disrupting not just the newspaper business but the form itself. On the positive side of the ledger, as the barriers to entry have been reduced, more opinions are available than ever before. On the negative side, the sheer tonnage of opinions can overwhelm and cause a degree of amnesia. The emphasis on the quick opinion undercuts ambitions of artistry, and great individual columns can be lost in the wall of sound.

Perhaps that’s why I think it’s still worthwhile to crowdsource a still highly subjective list of the best columns of the year. Here is the list, in no particular order, that emerged from 2013, with special assistance from the members of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. I added a few of my favorites from The Beast at the end. Enjoy.

“Far from the Madding Crowd”

Kevin Cullen, The Boston Globe

The Boston Marathon bombings were the defining domestic horror of 2013. But nothing brings out the best in a metro columnist like the opportunity and obligation to help his hometown heal. That’s what The Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen did throughout the final weeks of April, especially with this dispatch, which offered a dose of perspective and a tribute to the cop killed before the Tsarnaev brothers’ capture.

“Margaret Thatcher and Her Vigorous Virtues”

George Will, The Washington Post

George Will’s ubiquitous TV appearances make it easy to forget that he is a master craftsman, particularly when he is paying tribute to those few folks he actually admires. In this farewell to Margaret Thatcher, Will deploys his talents to honor an ideological soul mate who turned the tide of history across the Atlantic.

“The Virtue of Moderation”

Pete Wehner, Commentary

Moderation used to be a conservative virtue, as Pete Wehner reminded his party faithful in the wake of the 2012 election and President Obama’s inauguration. Wehner has written powerfully on the subject, armed with a sense of historic perspective and a driving sense of decency.

“The Whole System Failed Trayvon”

Charles Blow, The New York Times

The Trayvon Martin case captivated the nation, or at least cable TV, in 2013, highlighting our still polarized takes on questions of justice and race. Charles Blow’s eloquent outrage after the verdict, in his column “The Whole System Failed Trayvon Martin,” perfectly captures the debate and why it matters for us all.

“The de-Newspaperization of America”

Will Bunch, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Sometimes a column manages to bridge economics and an elegy. This look at layoffs at the Cleveland Plain Dealer manages to capture the anxiety of an entire industry.

“The Man Who Got Gay Marriage Passed”

Mary Schmich, The Chicago Tribune

Mary Schmich won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2013, and her hitting streak continued throughout the calendar year. In this column, she pays tribute to Illinois state legislator Greg Harris, who doggedly fought for same-sex marriage in the Land of Lincoln.

“The Kurtz Republicans”

Ross Douthat, The New York Times

From prodigy to established pundit, Ross Douthat has distinguished himself as one of the more thoughtful observers of politics, faith, and culture. As conservatives search for a path out of the wilderness, his reasoned voice has become more vital than ever, as in this column, published on the brink of the government shutdown.

“Washington Doesn’t Deserve Shanahan or Snyder”

Thomas Boswell, The Washington Post

Sports columns. Humor columns. Perennial reader favorites that rarely rise to the level of something like literary journalism. But Tom Boswell makes it all look easy, gliding between the seasons with appreciation and acerbic wit. This diatribe against the pitiful Washington Redskins summed it all up for their fans.

“Inequality Isn’t The Defining Challenge of Our Times”

Ezra Klein, The Washington Post

Progressive populism may be a rising political tide on the left, but Ezra Klein took a brave contrarian stand against his usual comrades when he wrote this column casting a critical look on feel good bumper sticker policies. He caught some hell for it, but it presaged future debates and may prove prophetic.

“Long-Ago Death Still Haunts a Family’s Christmas”

Sandy Banks, Los Angeles Times

Christmas columns can be saccharine stuff, but this instant classic by Sandy Banks is a heartfelt meditation on love and loss that never touches cliché. Instead, it reminds us all to appreciate what we are always in danger of taking for granted until it is too late—family.

And finally, in a separate list, because I’m both proud and biased, just a few of my favorite columns from The Daily Beast in 2013.

“Why House Stenographer Dianne Reidy Snapped”

by Michael Daly

While the country briefly gawked at the spectacle of the House stenographer striding up to the podium and screaming biblical admonitions, Mike Daly was getting the backstory, talking to her husband about how she got to the breaking point. For an extra dose of vintage Daly, read his blistering take on Adam Lanza.

“Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Political Parties”

by David Frum

With seemingly effortless ease, David Frum diagnosed the problems afflicting the Republican Party as it lurched toward the entirely predictable disaster of the government shutdown.

“Don’t Sanitize Nelson Mandela—He’s Honored Now, but Was Hated Then”

by Peter Beinart

When Nelson Mandela died, the tributes righteously rolled out, but Peter Beinart was one of the first to remind us that Mandela had not always been lionized in the United States. That whitewashing of history does both him—and our political debates—a deep disservice.

U.S. Politics · Year-End Lists

Raw Story’s top 10 villains of 2013

The Raw Story

Ted Cruz speaks to CBN

There are literally too many villains in the news. Here at The Raw Story, we reported so many awful things our elected officials and opinion shapers said or did this year — whether they’re imprudent, malicious or just ridiculous — that there were too many villains to fit into a Top 10 list (sorry Sarah Palin, Rep. Louie Gohmert, Erik Rush, Rick Santorum, Gordon Klingenschmitt and Ken Blackwell; you all missed the cut). But we managed to combine a couple of entries to cram all the bad guys into one conventional list of 2013′s biggest villains.

Jim Wheeler via Wheeler4Nevada

Dishonorable mention: Jim Wheeler, Nevada Republican state assemblyman: He told a gathering of Storey County Republicans that, if his constituents demanded, he would vote to reinstate slavery. The comments were reported in October, although he’d made them more than a year earlier, in August 2012. While the timing may technically disqualify him from our list, Wheeler’s comments merit a dishonorable mention.

Redeeming qualities: Listens to his constituents. Would only vote to bring back slavery at gunpoint, and while holding his nose. Is that not better than doing so enthusiastically? Oh. Right. Yeah, slavery is an issue that’s definitely worth laying down your life to fight against.


Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) says creditors 'would thanks us' if U.S. went into default [CNN]

10. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL): It’s been a busy year for the first-term Tea Party lawmaker. He backed legislation to investigate the circumstances of President Barack Obama’s birth – including chasing down conspiracy theories about his actual birth mother being a wanted terrorist – in hopes of invalidating all the laws he’s signed. Yoho called the health care reform law “racist” because it imposed a tax on tanning bed use and said federal workers who were furloughed during the government shutdown shouldn’t be paid – even though he voted to reinstate their back pay. Yoho also invited families in his district to attend a course on buying a gun and using it safely on the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. It’s true that YOLO, and let’s hope Yoho only serves once.

Redeeming qualities: As a former veterinarian, presumably likes animals. Voted to reinstate back pay for furloughed federal workers, even if he insulted them. His name invites use of the #yoho tag, which is fun.

Rand Paul speaks to ABC News

9. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY): “Aqua Buddha” has a problem with sourcing. He got caughtplagiarizing his speeches and books from Wikipedia and other sources, and his butt-hurt threats to just “footnote everything” and duel Rachel Maddow were arguably worse than the original sin. And Paul’s board certification for his eyeball chiropractic opthalmology practice turned out to be just as legit as the “slumbering wombat” hairstyle he wears (i.e., it’s fake, and self-applied). But even more problematic for the 2016 presidential hopeful, his foreign policy isincomprehensible and has been caught palling around with racists, just like his dad.

Redeeming qualities: Grandstanding March filibuster drew attention to a real issue – the proposed domestic use of drone strikes – even if he was eventually joined on the Senate floor by the “wacko bird” caucus, proving that even a cuckoo clock is right twice a day.

Racial discrimination charges against Paula Deen dismissed [ABC News]

8. Paula Deen: It’s not surprising that a 66-year-old white woman who grew up in the pre-segregation South would hold some racist views or make racist comments. It’s not right, of course, but it’s not surprising and can even be forgivable. But her explanation that she was only joking, and that her jokes are usually targeted at group stereotypes, was pretty bad. Fantasizing about aslave-themed wedding for her brother, complete with identically dressed black servants to evoke “the Shirley Temple days” is even worse. Especially in 2007, as she admitted in a deposition for a sexual and racial harassment lawsuit filed by former employees against Deen and her brother. The suit was later settled, and Deen was dropped by the Food Network and many companies she endorsed due to the uproar over her admitted remarks and botched apology.

Redeeming qualities: Her cookware is actually pretty decent, even if her recipes are grotesque caricatures of down-home southern cooking.

Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Representative Darrell Issa (AFP)

7. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA): Look, no one is supposed to like the House Oversight Committee Chairman. As the congressional watchdog with subpoena power, you’re supposed to be the bad guy – but that doesn’t mean you should also be bad at your job. In his dogged pursuit of a scandal that can be used to impeach Obama, the California Republican has wasted scads of taxpayer money and revealed sensitive information not meant for release. Government transparency is good and proper, but this is just sloppy and vindictive work. “Derp Throat’s” indiscretions have been sofrequent and egregious that his fellow committee members have complained they aren’t trusted with the sensitive materials they need to do their jobs. Issa claimed his office forgot about a court order when releasing sealed documents on the “Fast and Furious” gun sales investigation, and he shared security information on the government health care exchange website the White House said could serve as a blueprint for hackers. Issa also recommended that a health official“watch more Fox News” to learn about the Affordable Care Act, which is laugh-out-loud stupid.

Redeeming qualities: Accused car thief and suspected arsonist with a shadowy business past. Those aren’t good things?

Ethan Couch

6. (tie) Judges G. Todd Baugh (Montana) and Jean Boyd (Texas): Baugh drew broad and richly condemnation for his decision to sentence former teacher Stacey Rambold to just one month in prison for raping a 14-year-old student. But his justification was arguably worse, claiming the teenage girl – who later took her own life — was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as her teacher. Boyd also made international news for herdecision to sentence 16-year-old Ethan Couch to 10 years on probation, but no jail time for killing four pedestrians and badly injuring two friends in a drunken driving crash. The teen’s attorney argued that the teen suffered from “affluenza” due to his wealthy, indulgent parents, and his wealth and privilege prevented him from knowing the difference between right and wrong.

Redeeming qualities: Baugh apologized and later tried to annul the sentence, but the state’s Supreme Court ruled he didn’t have the authority to do so. The judge concedes he should be censured, if not removed from the bench for his remarks about the teenage rape victim. Boyd’s sentence, which may allow the teen to stay in an upscale alcohol treatment facility at his father’s expense, will keep Couch under court supervision for 10 years, while a jail term may have allowed him to be released after just two years.

Steubenville protest 010512 by roniweb via Flickr CC

5. Steubenville, Ohio: The sexual assault and subsequent cover-up last year of an unconscious 16-year-old girl laid bare a rape culture so deeply rooted in the football-mad small town that the prosecutions still haven’t stopped, even with the convictions of two teens on rape charges. Photos of the drugged girl being carried from party to party, sexually assaulted, mocked and abused were circulated on social media by other teens who witnessed the attacks, but police said they were unable to find any witnesses until the hacktivist group Anonymous shared the incriminating posts. Residents accused the girl of making up the attack, despite photographic evidence to the contrary, to bring down the town’s highly successful football program and rebuked the media for publicizing the case. After football players Ma’lik Richmond and Trenton Mays were found guilty in March and sentenced to at least a year in juvenile prison, two teenage girls were charged with threatening the victim. A grand jury just last month indicted the school superintendent, a volunteer assistant football coach and two school employees accused of helping to cover up the crime. Even the judge who presided over the rapists’ trial excused the teens actions, noting that the verdict served as a lesson of the dangers of social media, and not a cautionary tale against committing or condoning sexual violence.

Redeeming qualities: Of course, even in a town as small as Steubenville, there are good people and bad people. But unfortunately, the attitudes and actions that have landed the town on our list are not limited to Steubenville. For example, CNN’s Candy Crowley grieved after the convictionthat “those two boys’ lives are ruined.” Elsewhere, a woman who accused a Florida State football star of raping her said police cautioned her against pursuing charges “because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable” in the football-obsessed college town. (Prosecutors later decided not to charge the player, Jameis Winston, who won the Heisman Trophy the following week.) And in a remarkably similar case from Missouri, a special prosecutordecided to re-open a rape investigation after a teenage girl went public to discuss her alleged sexual assault by two football players and subsequent harassment, which also attracted involvement by Anonymous. Rape culture is real, and it’s everywhere.

George Zimmerman laughs in court (Fox News / screen grab)

4. George Zimmerman: History will recall George Zimmerman, if he leaves any discernible mark at all, as an angry, underemployed vigilante who shot an unarmed black kid to death after provoking a confrontation, losing the subsequent fight and then claiming self-defense to initially avoid charges. A jury found there wasn’t enough evidence this summer to convict him of second-degree murder or manslaughter, and that should have been the last we heard from Sean Hannity’s id. But Zimmerman periodically turns up in the news for driving too fast, usually carrying a gun, and beating up or threatening his estranged wife or girlfriend. Zimmerman beat the rap on both domestic violence cases for the pretty much the same reasons abusers always so. But before recanting her accusations, his girlfriend painted a disturbing picture of a desperate, suicidal man unable to handle the pressure of living under media scrutiny but who is so desperate to stay in the spotlight that he’ll commit crimes to keep his name in the news. He recently sold a painting on eBay for more than $100,000 and started a sanctimonious, self-aggrandizing Twitter account. This story won’t end well.

Redeeming qualities: Ha. Ha ha ha. Ha.

Rafael Cruz speaks at town hall event in Delaware (C-SPAN)

3. (tie) Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and oil baron Rafael Cruz: Many conservatives don’t trust Obama because they fear he’s a foreign-born Manchurian candidate primed for political success by a nefarious outsider father who wishes to reshape the United States in his own image. So it’s weird that they seem to like Ted Cruz so much, because he was born in Canada and pushed into right-wing politics as a child by his Cuban-born, supervillain-voiced father, Rafael Cruz, who tells anyone who’ll listen that his son was anointed by God as a “political savior.” (And conservatives made fun of Barbara Walters for her Obama-as-messiah metaphor!) The younger Cruz still retains the “boy pastor” style of speaking he honed as a teenager in the Amway-backed Free Enterprise Education Center, even when he seems to be reading from a random conservative’s Facebook wall (“Duck Dynasty,” Ashton Kutcher, “Star Wars,” Dr. Seuss) during his pointless faux-libuster that helped kick off the even more pointless government shutdown he helped force.

Redeeming qualities: The way his eyebrows sweep plaintively upward when he’s feigning sincerity, as if to say, “Aw, look: He thinks he’s people.”

Koch brothers

2. The Koch brothers: It’s a conspiracy, man. The banal white faces of dark money are basically the root of pretty much all corporatist evil in this country. Billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch are behind efforts to keep minimum wages lowrestrict reproductive rights and pressure lawmakers into shutting down the federal government in a failed effort to defund Obamacare. Then, to deprive the health care reform law of the young, healthy recipients needed to offset older, riskier investments, they sponsored a campus tourto convince college students it’s cool to go without health insurance. Speaking of colleges, the pair has made large donations to colleges in hopes of buying influence over professor hiring, and they’ve been able to buy economic studies that turn out the results they want.

Redeeming qualities: The Koch brothers have donated a nearly incomprehensible amount of money to medical research, the arts and various museums. So that’s nice.

Wayne LaPierre speaks to Fox News

1. Wayne LaPierre: This ghoulish stain exploited the gruesome massacre of 20 first-graders and their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary while lobbing back the same accusation at anyone who dared wonder whether restricting access to guns may have prevented the slaughter. LaPierre waited in hiding for a week for the initial shock from the tragedy to wear off before calling for more guns in schools, and he continued pushing for more guns everywhere with each new, painfully routine mass shooting occurred throughout the year. He claims to represent gun owners, but instead stokes their darkest fears to benefit the gun manufacturers he actually represents. “The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters,” LaPierre said one week after the Newtown, Connecticut, killings. And he should know, assuming he’s not too ashamed to walk past a mirror.

Redeeming qualities: Hasn’t shot anyone, to my knowledge. It’s long past due that we restricted access to ruthlessly efficient killing tools, but nothing will really change until we stop associating guns and violence with manhood. Teach your kids that guns are for cowards.

Pope Francis

Home Depot founder worries Pope Francis neither loves or understands rich Americans

Pope Francis on the papal flight back to Italy from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, on July 28, 2013. (AFP)

The Raw Story

In an interview on CNBC on Monday, Home Depot founder and devout Catholic Ken Langone said that the Pope’s statements about capitalism have left many potential “capitalist benefactors” wary of donating to the Church or its fundraising projects.

According to Langone, an anonymous, “potential seven-figure donor” for the Church’s restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral is concerned that the Pope’s criticism of capitalism are “exclusionary,” especially his statements about the “culture of prosperity” leading to the wealthy being “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.”

Langone said he’s raised this issue with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who yesterday praised Pope Francis for “shattering the caricature of the Church.”

“I’ve told the Cardinal,” Langone said, “‘Your Eminence, this is one more hurdle I hope we don’t have to deal with. You want to be careful about generalities. Rich people in one country don’t act the same as rich people in another country.’”

Cardinal Dolan told CNBC that he had, in fact, spoken to Langone, and had told him that “that would be a misunderstanding of the Holy Father’s message. The pope loves poor people. He also loves rich people.”

He then thanked Langone for bringing this anonymous donor’s concerns to him, and insisted that “[w]e’ve got to correct — to make sure this gentleman understands the Holy Father’s message properly.”

Langone further said that, in the future, he hopes Pope Francis will “celebrate a positive point of view rather than focusing on the negative.” He does worry, though, because of “the vast difference between the Pope’s experience in Argentina and how we are in America. There is no nation on earth that is so forthcoming, so giving.”

Dolan assured Langone that he had communicated to the new Pope the “legendary generosity of the Catholic Church in the United States.”

Watch the segment from CNBC here…



Wing-Nut Rhetoric

Fox News analyst suggests extra-constitutional measures to protect Constitution from Obama

Major Gen. Paul E. Vallely (Ret)

The hatred for this president is unprecedented.   Barack Obama taught Constitutional Law, he’s an attorney for heaven’s sake.

The wing-nut hysteria over the President is rather hilarious.  They refuse to recognize his bona fides and instead make him out to be the most ignorant foreign-born usurper ever to occupy the White House.

I’ve said it before:  history will not look kindly on those fools who accuse the President of the most outrageous and false offenses…

The Raw Story

A retired general and Fox News analyst has prescribed a regimen of extra-constitutional measures to protect the Constitution from President Barack Obama.

“We need to get off our derrieres, march at the state capitol, march in Washington (and) make citizens arrests,” said conservative activist and retired Major Gen. Paul E. Vallely.

He said the president and his allies in Congress were “conducting treason,” “violating our Constitution and violating our laws,” and he’s demanded that Obama resign or face a vote of no confidence.

“Clearly America has lost confidence and no longer trusts those in power at a most critical time in our history,” Vallely said last week in an online radio interview. “It is true that not all who ply the halls of power fit under that broad brush, but most of them are guilty of many egregious acts and we say it is time to hold a vote of no confidence. It’s time for a ‘recall.’”

Perhaps realizing that the constitution doesn’t outline such a process, which is a common feature in parliamentary democracies, Vallely suggested that Congress pass legislation that would allow conservative activists to undo the results of the last presidential election.

“When you have a president and his team who don’t care about the Constitution, they will do anything they can to win,” he said.

Vallely ruled out impeachment, which is outlined in the Constitution, as a possible remedy.

“Harry Reid still controls the Senate, so like in Clinton’s day, forget about a finding of guilty,” he wrote. “Incidentally, if Obama was found guilty and removed from office, Joe Biden would step in, Valerie Jarrett still wields all the power, and likely we get more of the same.”

Vallely suggested that Obama’s misdeeds – which he identified as a handful of broken campaign promises, Benghazi and the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court – were so egregious that conservatives wouldn’t be breaking any laws by violating the Constitution to remove him from office.

“What else is our nation to do now that the ‘rule-of-law’ has effectively been thrown out the window by the Obama administration?” Vallely said. “How are we to trust our government anymore, now that lying and fraud are acceptable practices?”

But he stopped just short of endorsing violence to overthrow the Obama administration.

“That brings us to the other word no one wants to utter, revolution. In our opinion, this is the least palatable option,” Vallely said. “Others talk about the military taking over as we saw in Egypt; again, we do not support this route.”

But he did suggest that a new George Washington could be drawn from the ranks of retired military personnel, which, of course, include Vallely.

“It’s fallen upon senior, retired military to take stands against the overreach and tyranny of a corrupt government,” Vallely said. “I think for people, they respect what the military has gone through. Senior military guys are very well educated, they’ve gone to the right schools, gone to combat for the most part, have had to manage enormous budgets, were involved in major financial decisions and are heavily steeped in foreign policy and national security. No other group, no CEO that has that kind of background. Obviously our politicians don’t have that background. They have legislation experience, not leadership experience.”

Vallely said action was necessary, because even next year’s midterm congressional elections can’t solve the problem posed by the continued presence of Obama in the White House.

“Obama will just continue to subvert the Constitution he took an oath to faithfully protect,” Vallely warned. “His track record shows us that no matter what the make-up of Congress is, he will twist his way around it with a pen and secure even more power reminiscent of a dictator.”

“When that does not work, he will manipulate the courts and law enforcement will be run by fiat, choosing winners and losers,” he said.

Video at the bottom of the article.

Homeless in America

Homeless Couple Gets A Home On Christmas Eve, Thanks To Innovative ‘Occupy’ Group

Tiny house – CREDIT: NBC 15 WMTV

For one homeless couple the Occupy Madison (Wisconsin) group performed a small but awesome miracle…

Think Progress

For many couples, the thought of living together in a 96-square-foot house sounds awful. But for Chris Derrick and Betty Ybarra, it’s a Christmas miracle.

That’s because Derrick and Ybarra  have spent the better part of a year braving Madison, Wisconsin’s often-harsh climate without a roof over their head.

They’ll spend this Christmas in their own home, thanks to more than 50 volunteers with Occupy Madison, a local Wisconsin version of the original Occupy Wall Street group in New York. The group, including Derrick and Ybarra, spent the past year on an innovative and audacious plan to fight inequality in the state’s capital: build tiny homes for the homeless.

In a city where an average home for sale costs nearly $300,000, many low-income individuals simply can’t afford somewhere to live.

Indeed, in January of this year, a citywide count found 831 homeless people living in Madison, a 47 percent increase in the past 3 years. And it’s not just adults; 110 families with children were identified as well.

The “Tiny House Project” began the same month. The plan was for volunteers to build micro-homes that still include living necessities like a bed, insulation, and a toilet. The homes are heated via propane and include a pole-mounted solar panel to power the house’s light. The total cost: $3,000, paid for by private donations.

Rather than building the homes on a particular lot of land — and thus adding another expense — the houses are mounted on trailers which can be legally parked on the street, as long as they’re moved every 48 hours. Parking on the street may not even be necessary after Occupy organizers successfully convinced the Madison Common Council recently to change the city’s zoning laws so the homes could be parked on private property with permission.

As Occupy Madison continues to build more tiny houses, it hopes to eventually buy a plot of land and create a tiny village with as many as 30 homes.

“It’s not just a shelter, it’s a commitment to a lifestyle,” Brenda Konkel, who heads a tenants’ rights non-profit in Madison, said during the zoning meeting, according to The Capital Times. “It’s a co-op mixed with Habitat for Humanity mixed with eco-village as the long-term goal.”

On Tuesday, Christmas Eve, Ybarra and Derrick moved into their new home. Ybarra said the moment was “exciting,” telling NBC 15 that she’d never owned her own home before, much less one she helped build. Occupy Madison posted this video to mark the occasion.

Though a common critique of the Occupy movement was that its goals were nebulous and unspecific, it has effected a significant amount of change on a local level. This includes savingmany people’s homes from foreclosure and buying up (and then forgiving) $15 million of consumer debt for pennies on the dollar.


Science · Year-End Lists

The biggest scientific breakthroughs of 2013

NASA's Kepler telescope found plenty of planets with "Goldilocks zone" conditions.
NASA’s Kepler telescope found plenty of planets with “Goldilocks zone” conditions. (AP Photo/NASA/JPL CALTECH)

I love all things scientific so I wanted to share this informative “year-end” list of scientific breakthroughs with my TFC friends…

The Week

From cloning to potential alien life

A galaxy teeming with Earths
Astronomers calculated that there are 11 billion possibly habitable planets in our galaxy, greatly upping the odds that we’re not alone in the universe. Researchers used four years of data from NASA’s orbiting Kepler telescope to compute how many planets lie in their solar systems’ “Goldilocks zone,” where surface temperatures support liquid water. They found that one in five sun-like stars harbors a roughly Earth-size planet in the habitable zone, and the nearest may be only 12 light-years away — possibly close enough for communication. Given the sheer number of candidate planets, says astronomer Geoffrey Marcy, “surely some of them have all the necessary attributes of life.”

The world’s longest canyon
Geologists located the Earth’s longest canyon beneath a 2-mile-thick plate of ice in Greenland. The huge gash in the island’s bedrock, discovered by ice-penetrating radar, is twice as long and twice as wide as the Grand Canyon, though only about half as deep. “It’s not every decade, it’s not every five decades that you discover something quite as substantial and extensive as a feature like this,” said geographer Jonathan Bamber of the University of Bristol in the U.K.

New organs through cloning
Cloning was used for the first time to create human embryonic stem cells, advancing the prospect of growing new organs from a patient’s own tissue. Scientists inserted a skin cell from an 8-month-old baby into an unfertilized human egg that had had its own DNA removed. The cells fused and began to reproduce, yielding embryonic stem cells genetically identical to the baby’s. These were then extracted and transformed into “various cell lines and tissues, including beating human heart cells,” says lead researcher Shoukhrat Mitalipov. The method could someday yield genetically matched replacement livers, kidneys, hearts, and other body parts for the seriously ill.

A skull recasts prehistory
An almost intact 1.8 million–year-old skull found in the republic of Georgia offered stunning evidence that early human evolution may have been simpler than previously thought. The oldest complete skull of an adult early Homo ever uncovered, it has a combination of attributes — a long face, large teeth, and tiny braincase — long considered earmarks of different hominids. Had the parts been found separately “at different sites in Africa, they might have been attributed to different species,” says University of Zurich paleoanthropologist Christoph Zollikofer. Instead, the skull suggests that specimens previously identified as Homo ergasterHomo rudolfensis, and Homo habilis are all part of a single Homo species that spread through Africa before migrating to Eurasia.

Drastic climate change
An analysis of isotopes in marine fossils from around the world yielded the most complete record of Earth’s temperatures yet — and showed that the planet is heating up at a rate unprecedented in the past 11,300 years. Scientists say that if it weren’t for greenhouse gas emissions, a cooling trend that began 5,000 years ago after a shift in the planet’s orbit and angle would likely be continuing, advancing Earth toward another ice age. Instead, global warming at its current pace will heat the planet between 2 and 12 degrees further by 2100, challenging many species’ ability to adapt. “The climate changes to come,” says NASA climate researcher Gavin Schmidt, “are going to be larger than anything that human civilization has seen in its entire existence.”

Blog Roundup

Monday Blog Roundup – 12-30-2013

Most embarrassing tweets of 2013

ObamaCare enrollment tops 1 million

Why We’ll Never Stop Arguing About Benghazi

Dolan: Pope Francis Has ‘Shattered The Caricature Of The Church’ (VIDEO)

S.E. Cupp Tells Liberals Not To Get Excited About Pope’s Economic Message

Scott Brown: Unemployment benefits are ‘welfare’ that should be phased out slowly

Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson: Girls should carry a Bible and marry ‘when they are 15’

Russia Trolley Attack: Bomb Blast Kills 14 In Same Town As Deadly Train Station Explosion

ABC’s Jonathan Karl Literally Can’t Believe What Ted Cruz is Telling Him About Being Above Politics

Virginia Gun Owners Not Pleased With ‘No Guns Permitted’ Sign Outside Toby Keith’s New Restaurant

Affordable Care Act · GOP Extremism

Republicans In Collapse as Obamacare Enrollment Skyrockets In December



The Republican plan of running against Obamacare is in free fall today as HHS announced that 975,000 people signed up for health insurance in December alone.

According to the announcement from the Department of Health and Human Services,

As we continue our open enrollment campaign, we experienced a welcome surge in enrollment as millions of Americans seek access to affordable health care coverage through new Health Insurance Marketplaces nationwide. More than 1.1 million people enrolled in a qualified health plan via the Federally-facilitated Marketplace from October 1 to December 24, with more than 975,000 of those enrolling this month alone. Our enrollment nearly doubled in the days before the January 1 coverage deadline compared to the first few weeks of the month. December enrollment so far is over 7 times that of October and November. In part, this was because we met our marks on improving the site supported 83,000 concurrent users on December 23rd alone.

The entire Republican strategy has been to discourage people from enrolling in the ACA Judging by these numbers, they have completely failed. Republicans are basing their entire 2014 and 2016 strategies on running against Obamacare. Their plan is backfiring, and they are setting themselves up for an epic backlash.

Millions of Americans have now signed up for access to affordable healthcare. Republicans, especially Republican Senate candidates, are going to be in a position of having to tell voters in 2014 that their plan is to take away their healthcare. This is why as more people enroll, it won’t be surprising if more Democrats follow the lead of Sen. Mary Landrieu and embrace the ACA as a part of their campaign.

The Republican tactic of campaigning only on opposition to the ACA was running on fumes in 2012. It was a narrowminded and shortsighted strategy that was born out of the fact that the GOP has done zilch for the American people and has no accomplishments to run on. Obamacare was all they had, and now that is vanishing too.

The success of the ACA will have a profound impact on elections around the country. In Kentucky, Mitch McConnell is defying the success of the exchange in his own state by refusing to talk about anything but repealing Obamacare. McConnell is already tied with Democratic challenger Alison Grimes, and his Obamacare or bust strategy may very well cost him his Senate seat this November.

President Obama trusted his instincts. The president has never wavered. He knows that people want access to affordable healthcare and he is being proven correct every day. Millions of people are signing up, and the Republican Party is being reduced to rubble as the final beam that was propping up their teetering house cracks under the weight of the ACA’s success.

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz ‘taking steps’ to renounce Canadian citizenship

Ted Cruz speaks to reporters (MSNBC)

This won’t help him win the necessary Republican primaries during the 2016 election season…

The Raw Story

Senator Ted Cruz has said that he is taking steps to renounce his mysterious Canadian citizenship – in a move he insists does not in any way indicate a run for the White House in 2016.

The junior senator from Texas, who made a name for himself as a driving force behind efforts to bring down the Affordable Care Act by way of a government shutdown, was surprised to learn earlier this year – after some digging by one of his home state newspapers – that he reportedly enjoys dual citizenship.

In an interview with the same organ, the Dallas Morning News, published on Sunday, Cruz announced he was hiring lawyers to help extricate him from his apparently unhelpful surplus nationality.

Cruz was born in the oil-rich region around Calgary, Alberta, to an American mother and a Cuban father. His mother’s nationality automatically made him an American citizen, regardless of the location of his birth or the citizenship of his father, who later became a naturalised American citizen. But his arrival into the world on Canadian soil also would have endowed him automatically with the nationality of that country, in accordance with Canadian law.

Cruz, 43, has always presented himself as purely American and was unaware of possibly holding dual citizenship until the Dallas Morning News presented the notion to him last August – a concept Cruz does not dispute “at this point”.

“I have retained counsel that is preparing the paperwork to renounce the citizenship,” he told the newspaper on Sunday.

According to the newspaper, Cruz and his parents were startled when it was revealed that he was a citizen of both countries. Cruz said he had been led to believe by his mother that it would have taken an affirmative act of claiming his Canadian citizenship, which the family had never done, to make it so.

Regardless of how many passports Cruz is entitled to hold, the simple fact that he qualifies as a “natural born American” because of his mother’s nationality is enough to equip him legally to become president of the United States. Cruz previously released his birth certificate to the Dallas Morning News, in an effort to hush speculation that he was not a genuine American and therefore would be ineligible to be president.

The rightwing “birther” movement still disputes that President Barack Obama is a natural-born American, despite the public presentation of his full birth certificate from his native state of Hawaii.

In the interview published on Sunday, Cruz shrugged off any suggestions that his move was the beginnings of a run for the White House in 2016. “My political perspective is focused on representing the state of Texas,” he said.

The topic of the senator’s nationality – and possibly his lofty political ambitions – reportedly came up last month, when he met with the larger-than-life real estate mogul Donald Trump, one of the most vocal skeptics regarding Obama’s nationality. Cruz admitted that his Canadian-ness was discussed, “though not in any significant respect”.

Cruz has begun making appearances in states that hold the early primaries and caucuses in the selection process for presidential candidates, as well as making moves to raise money for what could be a high-profile campaign.

Following his interview he released a further statement. “The Dallas Morning News says that I may technically have dual citizenship,” it said. “Assuming that is true I will renounce any Canadian citizenship. Nothing against Canada, but I’m an American by birth and as a US senator I believe I should be only an American.” © Guardian News and Media 2013

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: December 29, 2013

The now-functional has allowed at least 1 million Americans to sign up for coverage.
The now-functional has allowed at least 1 million Americans to sign up for coverage. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Week

Obamacare enrollment surpasses 1 million, a bomb kills 13 at a Russian train station, and more

1. Obamacare enrollment surpasses 1 million
A December surge propelled Obamacare sign-ups through the rehabilitated past the 1 million mark, the Obama administration said Sunday, reflecting new signs of life for the problem-plagued federal insurance exchange. Of the more than 1.1 million people now enrolled, nearly 1 million signed up in December, with the majority coming in the week before a pre-Christmas deadline for coverage to start in January. [TIME]

2. Suspected terrorist bomb kills 13 at Russia train station
A Sunday afternoon explosion at the main railroad station in Volgograd, a city about 550 miles south of Moscow, has killed at least 13 people, raising the concerns of a wave of terrorism ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Dozens of others were wounded by the bomb, meaning the death toll may still rise. If proved to be a terrorist act, as officials initially suspected, it would be the second in Volgograd in barely two months. [New York Times]

3. New Benghazi report refocuses blame
The deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last year was not orchestrated by al Qaeda but rather by a local militia leader who was outraged by a video lampooning Islam, according to a new report. An investigation by The New York Times, published Saturday, supports the initial version of events provided by the Obama administration immediately after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack. The paper described the prime suspect in the attack, Ahmed Abu Khattala, as an “erratic extremist” and militia leader with no known ties to Al Qaeda. [NY Daily News]

4. Lebanese rockets strike Israel
Rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel Sunday, causing no injuries but sparking an Israeli reprisal shelling in a rare flare-up between the two countries. The Israel-Lebanon border has remained mostly quiet since a monthlong war in the summer of 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. [USA Today]

5. New York prepares for de Blasio’s inauguration
A panel on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday debated whether New York’s mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has fellow Democrat Anthony Weiner to thank for his victory. “I believe you could argue we have Bill de Blasio as the mayor because of Anthony Weiner,” said conservative commentator S.E. Cupp. “He really sucked a lot of oxygen out of Christine Quinn’s race and allowed Bill de Blasio to come up.” Former president Bill Clinton will swear in de Blasio at his Jan. 1 inauguration at City Hall. [Politico]


6. Separate avalanches kill two in Wyoming
A skier and a snowmobiler died less than two hours apart this week in separate snow avalanches in western Wyoming, according to a National Forest official. The skier, Michael Kazanjy, was buried under four feet of snow on Thursday in back-country near Jackson, Wyoming. The snowmobiler, Rex J. Anderson, died in an avalanche less than two hours later near the Idaho border. Snow conditions were not especially hazardous on Thursday when the deaths occurred. [Reuters]

7. Florida’s population expected to overtake New York’s
As the U.S. Census Bureau prepares to release its latest population estimates on Monday, many expect Florida to overtake New York as the nation’s third-most populous state. Stan Smith, population program director at the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR), told CNN that if this has not already occurred, it will likely happen at some point in 2014 or 2015. In last year’s census, New York’s population was just under 19.6 million, only about 250,000 higher than Florida’s. [CNN]

8. Ice ship stranded in Antarctica awaits second rescue mission
Reports from the Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian-flagged ship that has been stranded in Antarctica since Christmas Eve, have suggested the ice is cracking around them. A Chinese icebreaker attempted to reach the icebound ship carrying 74 passengers on Friday but failed, and a more powerful ship is due to arrive later tonight for a second attempt to break through the ice. The Akademik Shokalskiy had been retracing Sir Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic expedition and conducting scientific research when sea ice closed in. [ABC News]

9. Mysterious “fireball” proven to be meteor
What was assumed by some to be a giant fireball streaking across Midwestern skies Dec. 26 is most likely a meteor entering and burning up in our atmosphere. Moments after CCTV cameras and people in states including Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas saw the fiery sight, the American Meteor Society received hundreds of reports. [NBC News]

10. Kennedy Center Honors airs tonight
The 36th annual Kennedy Center Honors will air tonight at 9 on CBS. Opera diva Martina Arroyo, virtuoso jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, Oscar-winning actress-singer-dancer Shirley MacLaine, and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Billy Joel and Carlos Santana are this year’s honorees. [Boston Globe]