Wednesday, October 15, 2014

All Hat, no Cattle

Have you ever had the experience of hearing somebody claim to be the exact opposite of what they are?

It can be jarring, but that's hardly surprising from Andy Tobin, the speaker of the Arizona legislature. Tobin has been wearing a new hat lately to try and convince voters in CD-1 that he fits into rural Arizona despite the fact that he doesn't actually live in the district and spends most of his time in Phoenix.  So I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to hear Andy Tobin tout his 'bipartisanship' in a debate this week with Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick. He even had a statistic, claiming that 90% of what was passed by his legislature was 'bipartisan.'

In fact, if you were to lift the brim up and take a peek under Andy's new hat you will find a baldly partisan speaker.    Democrats have routinely been shut out of negotiations, denied the opportunity to offer amendments either in committee or on the floor,  and even been cut off to prevent them from speaking on legislation.

As for the 90% number, it is little secret that most bills passed by any legislative body are non-controversial, and will be passed unanimously or nearly unanimously.  Typical of this type of bill might (just for example) be HB 2307 clarifying the rules for driving golf carts.  It passed the House (and Senate) unanimously, as did numerous technical clarifications, memorials and resolutions (after all, who would vote against HR 2008, designating the first Friday in September as ovarian cancer awareness day?) 

Counting these sorts of bills helps mask the truly partisan nature of the Tobin legislature.  All of the important bills (such as HB 2305 last year, the voter suppression bill, or SB 1062 which would have allowed discrimination on the grounds of 'religious freedom' or the past few years' budgets which slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from education) you would find that all of them were written and sponsored by only Republicans and passed with only Republican votes. Which is exactly the way Andy Tobin wanted it.  As Speaker he had the right to hold a bill or get everyone on board but he put those bills on the floor anyway for a strict party-line vote. He does have that right since his party controls the legislature and he controls his party, but don't call him 'bipartisan' because he is NOT bipartisan. Not at all.

If you want 'bipartisan' where it counts, then look at the congresswoman he is trying to replace, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick.  As most people know or should know, Kirkpatrick has put aside differences with Republican congressman Paul Gosar (the man who defeated her in 2010) and worked on moving a mine project forward that promises to deliver thousands of jobs.  Recently, in a Congress that is so warped by partisanship and divided control of the government that it has literally set a record for getting very little done (no Congress back to the founding of the Republic has passed into law fewer bills) it was Ann Kirkpatrick who became the first member of the Arizona delegation to do the ridiculously hard work of writing a bill that both parties could sign onto and shepherd it through the house and the Senate so that it eventually could be signed by the President. The bill improves service at the Veterans' Administration.  In the past, that might not have been that hard to pass but this year, with everything as a political football, it shows Rep. Kirkpatrick's doggedness and determination to do the work to get something done instead of political posturing. More recently, Rep. Kirkpatrick issued a press release  opposing publically the EPA's new proposed regulations on coal burning power plants.  And while Rep. Kirkpatrick has continued to support the Affordable Care Act, she has been among the first to suggest that it can and should be improved.

Further, some may recall that Republicans made commercials saying that Kirkpatrick voted '88% of the time' with Nancy Pelosi.  This is the other side of the coin we referred to above in regard to Andy Tobin's claim that his legislature is '90% bipartisan.'  Congress too, passes a lot of non-controversial bills over stuff like naming post offices or remembering somebody's service (I wonder if  a vote to adjourn is counted in their 88% statistic?)  But on the bills that Ann Kirkpatrick has differed on, they are substantive bills, but bills that matter to the district (for example she opposed bank bailouts and cap-and-trade legislation because this is a district where energy production is a lot more important to the local economy than Wall Street.)

And therein is the difference. Does anyone expect that Andy Tobin will reach across the aisle on VOTES THAT REALLY MATTER?  I don't.  Ann Kirkpatrick however does have the courage to do so when it will benefit her constituents.

Friday, June 27, 2014

100 years ago today

One hundred years ago today, we lived in a different world.

Colonialism was in full swing. European powers justified it with notions of 'bringing civilization to the savages.'  If a revolt did occur, the colonial powers would brutally but efficiently put it down. The United States had a few small colonies too, spoils of the Spanish-American war, but with 'gunboat diplomacy' the U.S. could claim that Latin American countries were 'independent republics,' while making sure their leaders would run the country to U.S. specifications.

It was an age of optimism.  Just within recent memory, amazing new inventions had changed life forever, or had the potential to do so in the very near future: the telegraph and then the telephone, that allowed instantaneous communication (at least within a continent, though the first transatlantic telegraph cable had been in operation since 1858, allowing messages to be transmitted between North America and Europe within a matter of minutes);  the radio, allowing everything from vital information to entertainment to be instantly transmitted to the masses.  Between the radio and the phonograph, boredom seemed a thing of the past as endless entertainment was but a click of the 'on' switch away. Other recent inventions were still the exclusive domain of the wealthy but might not remain so for long as entrepreneurs looked for ways to make them more affordable: the home telephone, the horseless carriage (automobile) or for the really exciting new invention, the aeroplane.  Advances in science and medicine (especially the discovery of germs and sanitation-- remember that the water closet, or flush toilet, was another invention that was becoming widely available) were improving the health and lifespan of people by leaps and bounds. As for household goods, everything from clothes to tablewares to furniture, what had been handmade for thousands of years was now being spun out by the whir of machines in thousands of \factories (as for the undiluted soot that they belched out and made it necessary to turn on streetlights at noon in places like Pittsburgh, that too was considered a sign of 'progress.')

It was an age of monarchy.  There had been no serious wars in Europe since the days of Bismarck, and most nations were led by kings, kaisers, czars and with a royal lineage that in most cases was intermixed (which many people gave credit for the lack of warfare, thinking that somehow the fact that the fact that Kaiser Wilhelm was the grandson of the recently departed Queen Victoria meant that Germany would never fight England.)  For perhaps the last time in history, monarchs in Europe not only led their nations, but exercised real (though except perhaps for the Czar, not absolute) power over them.

It was an age when the world was explored (so globes, if still drawn without the benefit of aerial photography, were still very accurate) but still held vast stretches of unexplored wilderness; when telescopes were learning much more about neighboring planets but they still held their mystery; so Jules Verne's or Edgar Rice Burroughs' fantasy science fiction still could have been real, because we didn't know otherwise.

One can certainly point fingers at the racism, sexism and self-indulgence of the 'gilded age' which was drawing to a twilight that no one imagined it could be, but in many ways it was a wonderful time to dream, an illusion of a better world completely oblivious of the yawning chasms about to open in the world or of the horror it was about to fall into....

One hundred years ago tomorrow, as the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne was visiting Serbia, a bomb went off. It missed the Archduke in his car, but killed and wounded others who were behind him in the procession.  Later on, the Archduke (a member of the nobility and therefore attempting to be noble) insisted on visiting the hospital where the bombing victims had been taken.  He and his wife Sofia in their car passed in front of another would be assassin, a young Serb nationalist named Gavrilo Princip.  Unlike the assassin with the bomb, Princip did not miss. He fired two shots, one into the Archduke and one into his wife, and they both killed their target.  And the sun set on the world of the gilded age.

Friday, May 30, 2014

An Epiphany I had About Early American Government and the Welfare they Gave to the Poor.

While away from a computer for several days, I did have an epiphany, one of those things that ties a lot of things together.

The Tea Party keeps waxing nostalgic about the America of small government that in one form or another lasted from the founding days of the Republic into the early twentieth century.

They like to point out that the Government at this time did not provide welfare, and people who had no job and no food had to somehow 'make it on their own.'

Only that's not quite right. They gave them welfare, in a different form. Via the Northwest Ordinance of 1789 and later the Homestead Act of 1862, they would (after clearing the Native Americans off the land and mostly stuffing them onto small tracts of undesireable land or packing them off to Oklahoma) offer them land (160 acres, in plots all tracted out into ranges and townships) on which they could establish a farm and feed themselves and their family. Eventually, they even opened up Oklahoma, which had been set aside for the Native Americans who they had driven off their land elsewhere, but even that ended by 1907, when Oklahoma became a state.  But for the first century and a quarter of the time that the nation was in existence, the phrase 'go west, young man' was a part of the lexicon, and the government had land in abundance to give away as 'government welfare' to anyone who would move there and work it  (though they did so very reluctantly, it should be noted, for African Americans, for whom the promise of 'forty acres and a mule' never materialized and forced most of them to work as sharecroppers, especially in the South, but that's a different discussion.)

Now I also can anticipate what some Tea Party supporters will say. They won't disagree with me (since history records that this is exactly what happened) but will instead pull out the 'Cliven Bundy' card and complain about how much land the government still owns, especially in the West (after all, the Northwest Ordinance gave out parcels of land in what is now the eastern third of the U.S. and the Homestead Act more or less focused in the same way on what is now the middle third, but no similar act was every passed, at least on a significant scale, for the West.)  And it is true that even today the majority of the land in the West is owned by the Federal Government (though anyone who argues that the Federal Government somehow doesn't legally own it is wrong, since the Federal Government paid for most of it for $20 million (the combined purchase price of the Mexican Cession and Gadsden Purchase) and obtained the rest by an international treaty with Britain over the Oregon territory in 1845.)

But, they will argue, if in fact the Federal Government owns the land, why not just give it away in a similar manner to what was done before?

First, it's because a lot of it is not land you could farm on. The places you could farm on, have virtually all been transferred to private ownership already, but most of the rest doesn't make good farm land.  Around here, and around a lot of the rest of the southwest, it is too hot, too dry and the land too unsustainable to be able to farm, except perhaps in small areas that have consistent water like river valleys.  We are already outstripping our water supply, and it's hard to see how thousands more farmers would (if we had them) do anything beyond drain the scarce resource faster.  In fact, as the jet stream moves northward, we have already seen reports that precipitation in the Colorado River basin could decrease by 15-20% annually.  Yeah, I know, some skeptics of government welfare probably don't believe that either, but the science is sound and denying that a hungry lion is coming towards you won't prevent it from eating you when it gets there.  But even without it, we are losing the water battle in the southwest, and most of the land the federal government does own is either marginally useful as grazing land (which they already allow ranchers to graze on it for $1.35/cow per month, a fraction of what private grazing rights run)  or it is part of a national park, national forest or national monument. Cattle ranches (and I know several ranchers) will always be an activity that at least in the west requires thousands of acres, so even making people on welfare into cattle ranchers would result in a relatively small number of them being given this land, because ranches in general are so large and the cowhands who work on it now, would still be working on it then.

 Keep in mind regarding national parks, forests and monuments, that we do allow some kinds of economic activity in these areas (such as logging in national forests) but these are areas that are preserved for all of us to share. Do you really want the government to throw open Yellowstone  or Yosemite to people who would come in and just turn it into a bunch of farms?

But beyond that, even if they did do that, DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE that the people that they would want to get the land would be a bunch of welfare recipients from New York or Chicago?  Of course not. They expect it to be some kind of  'patriotic Americans' (probably meaning them) though in reality it would likely be a bunch of multinational corporations.   And frankly, compared to the value of the kind of land needed to farm or ranch on, the value of public assistance is much less.

So in conclusion, the people who argue that the small, federalist government in the days of the founding fathers didn't give welfare to people who needed to feed themselves is false. They did understand the need to do so and that it was the duty of the government to help provide for people, they just used a different kind of currency.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Duck, Dodge and Weave

I’ve been following the recent controversy over Cliven Bundy, and there is one politician in particular who has completely unimpressed me, and it’s hardly the first time:  Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin.

Speaker Tobin just two weeks ago issued a strong statement of support for Bundy, a deadbeat rancher who has not paid grazing fees for twenty years, in his standoff with the BLM.   He left no doubt that he supported Bundy,  in the process working hard to appeal to the militia extremists who advocate armed resistance to the federal government.

But the past two days, Bundy’s racist comments have drawn a lot of criticism, and across the political spectrum.  As has been widely reported, Bundy, who apparently has been enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame so much that he’s attempted to drag it out with daily news conferences since the standoff ended, finally revealed himself during one of them when he said that blacks (who he referred to by the obsolete and offensive name, ‘negroes’) should be ‘picking cotton’ and were better off as slaves because then they had a ‘family life’  (well if you consider being selectively bred with whoever the slaveowner decided, or having yourself or members of your family sold out from under you ‘family life,’ I guess. ) And Bundy, when asked to clarify his remarks, instead doubled down on them, when he repeated essentially the same quotes  as what he thinks about when he drives by houses with open doors in Las Vegas.  Since he said the same thing twice, it is clearly no minor slip of the tongue, but rather it is who he is.

So what did Speaker Tobin do? Did he condemn Bundy’s remarks or try to distance himself from them?

No, he did not.   In fact, he has said nothing. CONSIDER, that even right wing flamethrowers Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity condemned Bundy’s remarks over the past couple of days on their shows!  It speaks volumes about Tobin’s lack of either judgment or decency when he has to be schooled by Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity about why what Bundy said is offensive and wrong!

So is this the only time Tobin has exhibited poor judgement and then instead of condemning what ought to be condemned, just clammed up and tried to fade into the background (despite being one of the most powerful politicians in the state) and hope nobody will notice his silence?

Sadly, no.  Recently Andy Tobin brought SB 1062 to the floor of the House for a vote, and  supported it.  SB 1062 you may recall, was the divisive bill that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against anyone they saw fit to discriminate against by claiming a ‘religious exemption’ to both state and federal anti-discrimination laws. In practice, this law would have allowed businesses to discriminate in particular against gay couples.   Again, Andy Tobin didn’t see why this was a bad thing. First, he brought it to the floor of the house.   Then he voted for the bill.

Of course SB 1062 immediately engendered a torrent of criticism, not only from those targeted by the bill, but by many others and in particular the business community.   Businesses in Arizona remembered very well the damage to the economy and reputation of the state from SB 1070 several years ago and did not want a repeat (especially with the obvious economic target and a threat by the NFL to move the Super Bowl next year out of Arizona.) Three members of the legislature admitted that they had made a mistake in supporting the bill and urged Governor Brewer to veto it, which she did.

Andy Tobin, however? Nowhere to be found. He said nothing about SB 1062 when it became controversial, either supporting his own vote, or joining the members who said their votes had been a mistake.  He was quiet as a mouse.

This willingness to take the most extreme positions and then say nothing when others who have taken them get into trouble would be bad enough in a Speaker (a position that exerts leadership.)   But now Tobin wants to go to Washington.  No, he is not running for Congress in his district. Tobin is a resident of CD-4, but he has decided to run in a district he does not live in, CD-1.  Of course carpetbagging is nothing new to Republicans in the district; For years rural Arizona was represented by Rick Renzi, a Virginia resident who bought (but  only stayed in during infrequent campaign trips) a home in Flagstaff. Renzi was later convicted of a number of felonies and sentenced to three years in prison, but it hasn’t stopped the GOP from nominating Phoenix resident who owned land in Munds Park Sydney Hay and Tucson resident who moved to Marana Jonathan Paton in previous years. I guess they think to represent rural northeastern Arizona you don’t  actually have to live in rural northeastern Arizona.

This relates to the Bundy situation as well, I might add. I know a number of cattle ranchers. They certainly do have their issues at times with the federal  government, but all of them pay the grazing fee. Mr. Bundy is nothing but a deadbeat who does not pay his taxes, and most ranchers do appreciate that. But apparently living in the more urban enclave of Prescott, Tobin doesn’t realize this. He might if he lived in the real CD-1.

It gets worse though.  As a candidate for Congress, Tobin was asked about the Paul Ryan budget that a lot of Republicans in Congress are on record as supporting.  The budget makes big changes and ultimately big cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security,  trying in particular to replace Medicare with a privatized system of partially subsidized health care, where the government would help seniors pay part of the cost of private insurance from an exchange. 

Yeah, I know.  If you follow GOP Congressional logic, private exchanges with partial government subsidies are better  than Medicare.  But, private exchanges with partial government subsidies (the heart of the Affordable Care Act) are worse than having no insurance.  So put those together and you have to wonder how long it will be before they just say that having no insurance is better than Medicare.

So as a potential member of Congress, Tobin was asked about the Ryan budget.  You can listen to his response here:  Andy Tobin not answering the question. 

I suppose you might argue that he’s a politician and politicians are always cagey.  But that is not so. Ann Kirkpatrick, the congresswoman Tobin seeks to replace, has been quite clear that she opposes the Ryan budget. Further, she also took on a President of her own party when she said she would oppose any cuts to the Medicare Advantage program,  which helps seniors who need or want it to purchase higher quality medical insurance than just what they would get directly from Medicare.   Based on his failures so far to take a position when things get tough, are you optimistic that Andy Tobin would have the backbone to confront his own President or house leadership if his own President or house leadership was wrong?   That’s why we need Ann back—she’s not afraid to make the tough call and reach across the aisle sometimes if she sees it’s in the best interest of CD-1.

Maybe the most telling example of why Andy Tobin is unfit to lead the district is found in  the budget he helped negotiate .  It does two things that harm rural counties a lot. The first is to include a tax cut that takes money away from counties.  We know that counties are already understaffed.  As I alluded to in my blog post about serving on a Grand Jury,  some of the court cases we got were years old. Hard to see how laying off more people will make that kind of backlog anything besides worse.   The second is to CUT funds from rural highways and divert them to urban districts.   So much for somebody who seeks to represent you. He apparently doesn’t know how bad some of the highways here can get, or doesn’t care. Do you really want a CONGRESSMAN who shows a similar disregard for the needs of a district he doesn’t live in? 

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Nationalization of Elections

The idea of a representative democracy is that in contrast to a President who elected nationally, there will be Senators elected from the various states, and representing the interests of their states, and representatives who will likewise be elected from only a part of a state, and represent and look out for the interests of that part of their state.

Throughout the history of the Republic, this has worked pretty well. Critics may argue that at times it has led to the funding of projects of limited value (such as a highway interchange that will serve a town of a few hundred people or a research project on a topic of dubious importance but directs funding to a particular college where the research will be carried out,) but in fact this has always been as conventional wisdom had it, an important part of government. Standard wisdom in an earlier day was that "Political hacks used to say pork was the political grease that lubricated legislative deals."

This meant that it was possible to get enough votes for key legislation by including yes, some pet projects (though one man's 'pet project' may be another man's lifeline to the outside world; hardly any of the infamous 'pork' legislation did not in fact provide at least some benefit even if it was to a relatively small part of America; there are frankly a lot of towns that could be benefited by a new post office, a road paving or some other investment in infrastructure.

What we see today, instead of members of Congress who are able to effectively represent their district and in the process get the necessary funding for improvements, are members of Congress who may not even be beholden to their districts at all. Big money has (especially since Citizens United) moved into the political arena in a major way, to where even members who raise millions of dollars on their own, may have it matched by groups that have one or two anonymous donors. In 2010, these groups were almost entirely working on behalf of the GOP, but by now there are a few working on behalf of Democratic candidates as well.

Ironically, most of the members of Congress that these groups target are those in the middle. By now there are very few northeastern Republicans left (none at all from New England states in the House of Representatives) and only a couple of southern Democrats who come from districts that are not majority African-American. In particular, the northeastern Republicans have been replaced by Democrats who are almost all very liberal (so among the least likely Democrats to vote against the party line) and the southern Democrats have been replaced by very conservative Republicans who are similarly likely to march in lockstep. Since it was northeastern Republicans and Southern Democrats who traditionally were those most likely to vote for compromise or provide the key votes in moving legislation forward that might be of a bipartisan nature, what this means is that Congress is very polarized. To exacerbate this, most of the money is spent in 'swing districts' that are more likely to elect moderates to Congress. To cite one example, the district I live in changed partisan hands in 2008, 2010 and 2012. That makes it among the swingiest district in the country, and not surprisingly we see a great deal of political ad spending (almost all negative.) Members elected in a district like this, who might not be all that ideological otherwise, are pushed to toe their own party line because the attack ads will come regardless so in accordance with the old saying that 'if you will call me the devil whether I am or not, then I might as well be the devil' often they find the best path to re-election is to fire up their base (since the other side will turn out against them anyway) so therefore they are more likely to swing to that side.

In the short term this favors Republicans, if only because Republicans controlled redistricting so well after the 2010 election that they were able to draw a map that elected a Republican majority in 2012 even though Democrats got more votes FOR CONGRESS in 2012. In 2020, it will be a Presidential election year though so it is unlikely that Republicans will be able to maintain the kind of control over legislatures that they had after 2010, so their control of the House, if unlikely to be broken before then, may well be broken after 2020. In the long term however, the change is likely to simply harm communities across most of America. That is because the people who donate to the large Super-PACs are mainly national donors (even if we don't know all of what who donated, we do know that they are people with a national, rather than a local, agenda.) Since pork is also now banned, there is virtually nothing that a member of Congress can do that will win more votes in their district than making sure they are in the good graces of the Super-PACs who are running ads in their districts. As they will be attacked by the other side's PAC's, their main goal will be to give their own financial backers what they are asking for. In such a scenario, individual voters are less and less important, and that is the real tragedy of what we have come to.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

New Year's predictions-- 2014

JANUARY: Congress will convene to discuss an extension of unemployment benefits. Republicans who have been trashing President Obama’s economic record and saying the economy hasn’t been recovering fast enough, will suddenly turn on a dime faster than the Communist party in the days of Stalin, suddenly arguing that the economy is recovering so fast that we don’t need to extend them anymore because there are enough jobs available for everyone. At least until the vote is taken, at which point they will finish a complete 360 and go back to trashing the President on the economy (“Who, me? I didn’t say that!”)

Also in January: Edward Snowden will stir up another controversy when it is revealed that the NSA has been spying on singer Katy Perry. It will turn out, however, that some cheapskate in the intelligence division just wanted to listen to her songs without paying for the download.

FEBRUARY: The Seattle Seahawks will beat the Denver Broncos in a snowy Super Bowl. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll will sustain a concussion when players will try to give him the traditional Gatorade shower, but in a cold Giants stadium the Gatorade in the bucket will have frozen solid. (KLONK!! oops.)

MARCH: Another government shutdown looming, John Boehner will tell the House Sergeant at Arms to lock the doors if he sees Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) coming to speak to house members.

Also in March: The Tenth Circuit Court in Denver confirms a lower court ruling that Utah’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, leading to a cascade of states allowing same-sex couples to wed. Opponents of marital equality will quote the Bible verse about how the penalty for homosexuality is death by stoning, but will be so out of touch with young people with more liberal attitudes that the young people think ‘death by stoning’ means a whole lot of marijuana.

APRIL: We will finally learn why Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson keeps shooting himself in the foot, when it is revealed that he hides a fifth of Jack Daniels deep inside that beard and takes it out for a quick swallow when nobody’s looking.

MAY: Surprise drug testing will be implemented at the Kentucky Derby. Owners will breathe a sigh of relief when they find out it is for the jockeys, not the horses.

JUNE: Kanye West will get married to Kim Kardashian. The smiling couple will be photographed with their child, North West, as Kanye gives Kim instead of a diamond, a platinum ring with his image stamped on it.

JULY: Kanye West and Kim Kardashian will announce their impending divorce. It will turn out that the ring was really made out of pewter. By this time though, she will announce she is pregnant with their second child, Wild West.

Also in July: It will be revealed that Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-not the sharpest tool in the shed) was once hospitalized with Naegleria fowleri, the notorious brain-eating amoeba. Fortunately, Gohmert survived the encounter and even got elected to Congress, as a true half-wit.

AUGUST: There will be renewed interest in Mars, as NASA announces proof of life on the red planet after a Mars rover stumbles across a mysterious abandoned dome. Nothing about the design of the building will look familiar to anyone on the earth, except for the Dallas Cowboys logo on the back wall.

SEPTEMBER:The band One Direction will announce a break-up. Their fans bid the price of Hari-kiri kits on the internet up to $10,000 apiece.

OCTOBER: A three dimensional printer will bring about a huge breakthrough in the field of 'bioprinting,' and will print from a model a fully functional inner ear which will be transplanted to a patient who was formerly deaf. Unfortunately, the breakthrough will occur at the height of the campaign season and after a few days of listening to radio and television, the patient will ask the team of surgeons to take it out again.

NOVEMBER: It being late in the year to make headlines, the North Korean regime will launch a man into space. However they will be embarrassed when the astronaut realizes he is beyond the reach of Kim Jong Un’s security police, and intentionally brings the lander down in a corn field in Nebraska instead of the intended landing site in North Korea.

DECEMBER: In his Christmas message, Pope Francis will continue to question income inequality and talk about the need to help the poor, the sick, the destitute and the elderly. A pastor at a Dallas megachurch will ask his congregation to pray for the Pope to convert and become a Christian.

Also in December: Santa Claus will be inundated with the same unexpected increase in volume that affected FedEx and UPS this year, and will still be hustling around delivering presents on Christmas day and on December 26.
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