December 24th, 2008
05:36 PM ET

Time to reboot America

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Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times

I had a bad day last Friday, but it was an all-too-typical day for America.

It actually started well, on Kau Sai Chau, an island off Hong Kong, where I stood on a rocky hilltop overlooking the South China Sea and talked to my wife back in Maryland, static-free, using a friend’s Chinese cellphone. A few hours later, I took off from Hong Kong’s ultramodern airport after riding out there from downtown on a sleek high-speed train — with wireless connectivity that was so good I was able to surf the Web the whole way on my laptop.

Landing at Kennedy Airport from Hong Kong was, as I’ve argued before, like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones. The ugly, low-ceilinged arrival hall was cramped, and using a luggage cart cost $3. (Couldn’t we at least supply foreign visitors with a free luggage cart, like other major airports in the world?) As I looked around at this dingy room, it reminded of somewhere I had been before. Then I remembered: It was the luggage hall in the old Hong Kong Kai Tak Airport. It closed in 1998.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Economy • Raw Politics • Thomas Friedman
December 24th, 2008
12:00 PM ET

The greatest love story ever sold

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2005/WORLD/europe/05/10/berlin.holocaust/story.berlin3.afp.jpg caption="The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany."]
Gabriel Sherman
The New Republic

On February 3, Berkley Books, the mass-market division of the Penguin Group, is slated to publish a Holocaust memoir titled Angel at the Fence: The True Story of a Love That Survived. The author, Herman Rosenblat, who is a retired television repairman now living in Miami, recounts his experience as a teenage boy during the Holocaust at Schlieben, a sub-division of the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp. In the winter of 1945, Herman meets a nine-year-old girl–herself a Jew masquerading as a Christian at a nearby farm–when she shows up one day outside the camp and tosses him an apple over the barbed-wire fence. For the next seven months, the girl at the fence delivers Herman food each day, until he is suddenly transferred to another camp. Fast forward to Coney Island, 1957: Herman, now in his 20s and settled in New York, reluctantly agrees to a blind date with a young Polish immigrant named Roma Radzicki. They speak of their time during the war. Roma mentions a boy she had helped to survive in a camp. She said she fed him apples. A flash of recognition. Months later, Herman marries Roma, his angel at the fence.


Filed under: Gabriel Sherman
December 24th, 2008
11:47 AM ET

Top eight historically incorrect Christmas songs

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Ted Olsen
The Christian History Blog

I love Christmas music. Not as much as the blogosphere’s Ernie (Not Bert), Andy Cirzan, or some of the Christmas music nuts I’ve met. But still, 10,000 Christmas songs on my hard drive probably qualifies me as a fanatic.

There are ample songs that grate (if you think the Chipmunks are bad, try the Chippers, Woody the Chipmunk, or any of the Chipmunk ripoff albums that came after “Christmas Don’t Be Late” hit it big in 1958). But there are other songs that are just plain wrong—and many of them are among the most popular of the season. Here, for your interrupting pleasure during your family singing, your Christmas Eve neighborhood caroling, or similar opportunities, are the best songs to cluck at.

8. I Saw Three Ships

An easy one just to start the list. Bethlehem is landlocked, so it is historically improbable that our savior Christ and his lady came sailing in on Christmas day in the morning. But that’s not all that’s problematic about the song. Where’s Joseph? If it’s just Jesus and Mary, why do they need three ships? Surely Mary didn’t just arrive in Bethlehem the morning of the birth…


Filed under: Ted Olsen
December 24th, 2008
11:38 AM ET

We are too heavy to take off!?

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Kay Jones
AC360° Coordinating Editorial Producer

Travel on Christmas Eve has, for me, never really been a problem. I've had great luck in years past with flights being on time, pleasant people on the flight, and no crying babies (big bonus). Enter the 2008 holiday season, and it all went downhill.

LaGuardia airport was as crowded as I've ever seen it in the Delta/Northwest terminal. As a frequent flier, I fly out of this terminal a lot. I have only waited a maximun of 10 minutes to get through security there. Today, it was 25 minutes. Still not bad compared to most airports, but there are only 2 airlines operating out of this terminal.

After boarding the flight and being disappointed with my lack of a complimentary upgrade, we pushed back from the gate on time. Whoo hoo! A week with the family, here I come!

Wait. Why are we just sitting on the tarmac? There are other planes taking off. What's the deal?

About 10 minutes later, cue the captain, "We are too heavy to take off." Then he goes on to explain how it has something to do with the rain. I think it has something to do with the people checking 3 and 4 bags. Oh, the full flight with 4 babies, 5 dogs and no empty seats probably didn't help either.

So here I am, an hour and 15 minutes after pushing back from the gate, breathing in some awful cologne as the dude in front of me is snoring. Will I make it to Memphis today? Let's hope.

Ahh, there's the captain! Eek. Another 5 minutes of waiting. I hope they comp me some skymiles for this!

Happy Holidays!!

Filed under: Kay Jones
December 24th, 2008
10:34 AM ET

Financial Dispatch: Economic Stats Mostly Bleak

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Gene Bloch
Managing Editor
CNN New York

There is no sugar coating it, today’s economic news is mostly bleak. The number of people filing jobless claims for the first time jumped 30-thousand last week to 586-thousand, a new 26-year high. Any number above 400-thousand is a sign of a troubled economy. As jobs weaken, incomes decline. Personal income in November fell 2-tenths of one percent, and spending was down 6-tenths of one percent, the fifth straight monthly decline. Durable goods orders fell 1% in November, not quite as bad as expected.

One bright spot: mortgage rates. The average 30-year fixed rate as tracked by the Mortgage Bankers Association fell to 5.04% last week, the lowest level since 2003, when the rate bottomed out at 4.99%. Lower rates triggered a surge in applications and refinancing. They’re at low levels but we’ll take it.

A short trading today on Wall Street today this Christmas Eve. The action ends at 1p, there is no trading tomorrow of course, and a full day is set for Friday.


Filed under: Bailout Turmoil • Economy • Gene Bloch
December 24th, 2008
08:59 AM ET

2008: Rod, Eliot, Yuck

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/POLITICS/12/19/blagojevich.speaks/art.blagojevich.wgn.jpg caption="Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich spoke to reporters at a news conference Friday but did not take questions."]
George Will

Never a stickler for rhetorical ruffles and flourishes, the president simply said: "This sucker could go down." He was referring to the economy, which took the president's party down with it. In the second quarter, General Motors lost $181,000 a minute. Would you buy a used car company? Didn't think so. But in 2009, you probably will, if you are a taxpayer.

By 2010, you will be able to buy the plug-in electric Chevrolet Volt. Although it is designed to reduce America's dependency on foreign oil, a GM spokesman said: "There is a fear that if we position this as a 'pro-American' car, it will upset some of the environmentally conscious crowd." Heaven forfend.

If 2008 were not divisible by four, this would have been The Year of Gen. David Petraeus. During the presidential contest between an African-American from Chicago and a plumber from Toledo, eros reared its beguiling head, so: Coming soon to a Cineplex near you, "Republicans in Love," a romantic comedy about conservatives who advocate extravagant presidential powers and who this autumn favored putting the governor of a national park (the federal government owns 63 percent of Alaska) in close proximity to those powers.


Filed under: George Will • Raw Politics
December 24th, 2008
08:12 AM ET

Warren could be Obama's Booker T. Washington

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/POLITICS/12/18/obama.warren/art.obama.warren.gi.jpg caption="President-elect Barack Obama has chosen pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration."]
DeWayne Wickham
USA Today

If you're looking for an explanation of President-elect Barack Obama's decision to invite conservative evangelical preacher Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration that goes beyond the desire for a kumbaya moment, I've got one: Obama wants to make Warren his Booker T. Washington.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Washington was one of this nation's most influential black leaders. His willingness to try to find common ground with whites who viewed — and treated — blacks as an inferior race made Washington someone presidents reached out to.

Theodore Roosevelt, especially, turned to Washington for advice on "the Negro problem." Taking counsel from "the great accommodationist," as Washington was called, was an act of steam control by the Republican president at a time when the racial divide was undeniably this nation's most explosive problem.

"In all things purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress," Washington said in an 1895 speech that established him as a black leader who was willing to temper the demands of blacks for racial equality.


Filed under: Barack Obama • DeWayne Wickham • Raw Politics