Friday Reads: The Day After Thanksgiving

10c Henri Matisse (1869-1954)   Still Life with Sleeping Woman 1940

The day after Thanksgiving might very well be the slowest news day of the year unless you want to read about people fighting tooth and nail over “bargains” bargains at Walmart and other huge chain stores. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to dig up a few stories of possible interest.

Professor Jaeha Lee of at North Dakota State University and her colleagues actually published a study on the phenomenon of bad behavior by “Black Friday” shoppers. From The Conversation, Retail rage: why Black Friday leads shoppers to behave badly.

The manic nature of Black Friday has often led shoppers to engage in fistfights and other misbehavior in their desperation to snatch up the last ultra-discounted television, computer or pair of pants. What is it about the day after Thanksgiving, historically one of the busiest shopping days of the year and traditionally the start of the holiday season, that inspires consumers to misbehave?

The unique characteristics of Black Friday sales promotions and the frantic retail environment they create, coupled with the shoppers’ own physical and emotional states combine to loosen the emotional constraints. Retailers heavily promote their most desirable items at deeply discounted prices in order to encourage more foot traffic. Demand for those precious few items naturally exceeds supply, and that imbalance can lead to aggressive consumer behavior.

But another key ingredient results from the very timing of the sales, which may begin at midnight or early in the morning and require eager customers to camp outside a store all night: sleep deprivation. That means many Black Friday shoppers’ cognitive levels are not functioning at top form, resulting in impaired decision-making and heightened negative mood states, thus facilitating misbehavior.

Researchers found that most Black Friday customers are well behaved, and a “proactive” strategy would be to make store rules clear to shoppers and “monitor” their behavior even before get into the store; and remove rude and aggressive shoppers before they can start trouble. Read more at the link if you’re interested. My personal solution to “retail rage” is to stay out of stores as much as possible until after the new year, and do most of my shopping on line.

Matisse - Woman reading at a yellow table

Of course Ferguson is still very much in the headlines.

From Reuters, via Huffington Post, Ferguson Protesters Target Black Friday Sales.

(Reuters) – Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri began targeting Black Friday sales at major retailers overnight in a new tactic to vent their anger at a grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teen.

Kicking off their latest strategy inside a Walmart in another nearby suburb of St. Louis, about 75 demonstrators protested peacefully, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot!”, bemusing bargain-hunters pushing their brimming shopping carts.

They dispersed peacefully when ordered by a small group of police, moving on to a Target store where they staged a similar demonstration. More protests were planned for Friday.

Before heading in convoy to Walmart late on Thursday, a group of some 100 demonstrators ate Thanksgiving dinner, sang, prayed and discussed their new strategy in the basement of a St. Louis church.

“We are bruised but not broken,” said Cathy Daniels, a woman known to the activists as “Momma Cat” who prepared the food. “We are regrouping. We are not going to take this lying down.”

It’s really impressive to me how organized the long-time Ferguson protesters have become.

reclining

PBS Newshour has compiled a useful chart that breaks down the differences and similarities among grand jury witnesses to the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. The results of the analysis:

– More than 50 percent of the witness statements said that Michael Brown held his hands up when Darren Wilson shot him. (16 out of 29 such statements)

– Only five witness statements said that Brown reached toward his waist during the confrontation leading up to Wilson shooting him to death.

– More than half of the witness statements said that Brown was running away from Wilson when the police officer opened fire on the 18-year-old, while fewer than one-fifth of such statements indicated that was not the case.

– There was an even split among witness statements that said whether or not Wilson fired upon Brown when the 18-year-old had already collapsed onto the ground.

– Only six witness statements said that Brown was kneeling when Wilson opened fire on him. More than half of the witness statements did not mention whether or not Brown was kneeling.

Check out the full chart at the link.

From the Guardian US, How Michael Brown’s family could still file a lawsuit against Darren Wilson.

If they do decide to go that route, the family’s first option would be to file suit against Wilson or the Ferguson police department or both for wrongful death in a state court. If they did that, the case would most likely be heard in nearby Clayton, Missouri, in the same courthouse where the grand jury that declined to indict Wilson sat.

The other option is to sue in federal court, for what is known as a “1983” violation (named for its place in federal law, Title 42 Section 1983 of the US code, not the year), which means a deprivation of civil rights. This would be filed in the US district court for the eastern district of Missouri, in St Louis.

While in federal court for the 1983 violation, they could at the same time assert the state law case of wrongful death. Importantly, a 1983 suit also contains a variety of provisions for shifting the burden of legal fees; if the plaintiff wins a 1983 case, the defendant has to pay all the lawyers’ fees and expenses, on top of any damages awarded.

“My guess is the family will go to federal court, both because of the fee-shifting rule and also because of a potentially better jury pool,” said Ben Trachtenberg, a professor of law at the University of Missouri. The state court jury pool would draw from St Louis County, which might be seen as more predisposed to support Wilson, while the federal jury would come from a wider geographical area.

matisse-henri-1869-1954 Reading woman in violet dress, 1898

At The New Republic, Brian Beutler tries to make the best of the outcome of the midterm elections, Six Reasons I’m Thankful for a Republican Congress. I can say that I agree with him, but I could be wrong. Here’s the introduction to the piece:+

I generally don’t go in for sentimental holiday rituals like announcing New Year’s resolutions or giving children candy on Halloween. But in the interest of promoting counterintuitive thinking about American politics and juicing this website’s holiday traffic, I’m making an exception this Thanksgiving. So here goes:

Today, I am thankful that Republicans won the midterm elections and will soon control the U.S. Senate.

I’m not arguing that a fully Republican Congress will produce better policy than a divided Congress, or that Democrats should feel relieved to have lost the midterms so badly. All I’m suggesting is that a Republican Senate is the best outcome for me, personally, and for the growth interests of my employer. And also, maybein the longer termfor the country’s fragile, wheezing political system.

Read his reasons at the link.

According to the AP (via the WaPo), some Southern Democrats want their party to get back to “basics.”

ATLANTA — Southern Democrats are joining others in the party who say that a return to advocating to lift people out of economic hardship and emphasizing spending on education and public works will re-energize black voters and attract whites as well.

“It’s time to draw a line in the sand and not surrender our brand,” Rickey Cole, the party chairman in Mississippi, said. He believes candidates have distanced themselves from the past half-century of Democratic principles.

“We don’t need a New Coke formula,” Cole said. “The problem is we’ve been out there trying to peddle Tab and RC Cola.”

Cole and other Southern Democrats acknowledge divisions with prominent populists such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Yet they see merit in pushing stronger voting rights laws, tighter bank regulation, labor-friendly policies such as a higher minimum wage and other familiar party themes.

reader-on-a-black-background-1939

Finally, a great British mystery novelist, PD James, died yesterday at age 93. I’ve read a number of her books. From BBC News:

Her agent said she died “peacefully at her home in Oxford” on Thursday morning.

The author’s books, many featuring sleuth Adam Dalgliesh, sold millions of books around the world, with various adaptations for television and film.

Her best known novels include The Children of Men, The Murder Room and Pride and Prejudice spin-off Death Comes to Pemberley.

The author told the BBC last year she was working on another detective story and it was “important to write one more”.

“With old age, it becomes very difficult. It takes longer for the inspiration to come, but the thing about being a writer is that you need to write,” she said.

There’s much more about James at the link. I absolutely loved her first novel, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman.–so much so that I’ve read it at least three times. It’s about Cordelia Gray, a woman who successfully runs a detective agency.

Here’s tribute to PD James by her close friend and fellow mystery novelist Ruth Rendell from the Guardian, PD James: ‘Any of the events in Phyllis’s books might have happened’.

She did not write sensation novels, she wrote books about real things, things that could have happened. She didn’t write at all like Agatha Christie. Christie had the most magnificent plots and great stories, but I don’t think anyone would say that she wrote believable stuff, people didn’t want that from her.

But any of the events in Phyllis’s books might have happened – and I think people liked that because they’d never had it in crime fiction before. Dorothy Sayers was a marvellous crime writer, whom both Phyllis and I admired very much, but she hadn’t got the same reality, and she also had that peculiar snobbishness that made her have her detective the son of a duke. Phyllis would have nothing of that.

Both of us thought more about the characters than the crime. Her plots were good, of course, but she took particular care in the creation of character. Place also mattered a lot to her: if you knew the Essex coast you’d want to read some of her books because of her wonderful descriptions.

She always took enormous pains to be accurate and research her work with the greatest attention. She made few mistakes, but on one memorable occasion she did have a male character get on a motorbike and reverse it (I think you can do that now, but this was 30 or 40 years ago), and of course she got a lot of letters about it. But she had a great sense of humour and thought it was very funny.

If one of her books had police work in it, the police work would be true, it would be very real. Her detective Dalgliesh – named him after a female teacher at her school, she just liked the name – is the most intelligent police officer in fiction that I’ve ever come across. He’s sensitive, intelligent, rather awe-inspiring and slightly frightening, but he is a real person, you can get really involved in him.

Both of these women were involved in British politics.

We never talked about crime – because it was what we both wrote about – and we never talked about politics. Phyllis joined the House of Lords several years before me. We were both utterly opposed to each other politically: she was a Tory and very much a committed Conservative, whereas I’m a socialist, I’m Labour and always have been. Once we were in for a vote and crossed paths going to the two division lobbies, she to the “content” lobby and I to the “not content” – and we kissed in the chamber, which caused some concern and amazement.

James lived a long and productive life and her writing gave pleasure and intellectual stimulation to millions of readers around the world. RIP Phyllis.

That’s all the news I’ve got this morning. What stories are you following, if any? I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday. I hope to see some of you in the comment thread, although I know it’s a busy day for lots of people.

Take care, Sky Dancers! I’m thankful for all of you.


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I had another week full of weird things to do.  I completely forgot my driver’s license expired last month on my birthday and had to rush out to get it renewed.  I really don’t keep track of my age at all any more so I forgot the entire divisible-by-four thing.  I also have been rushing around doing odds and ends that have just been driving me nuts.  It just seems life is just one complex set of paperwork to fill out for someone or another these days.  This week I had to prove all kinds of things to all kinds of people.  I guess no one takes you at face value any more.  We’ve turned into a nation where you have to show every one your papers.  It made the week a combination of something Kafkaesque and Stalinesque.   I simultaneously wanted to laugh, cry, and slap people multiple times this week.

There’s an interesting article at The Atlantic on how the economic recovery is affecting women differently from men. The article is called “The Recession was Sexist (So is the Recovery)” and it’s worth a read. It’s written by Jordan Weissmann.

Since November 2010, 70% of new jobs have gone to men. At first blush that sounds reasonable. If men lost more jobs, they should also recoup more. The problem crops up when you look at the number of job gains as a fraction of losses. Men have regained about a third of the jobs they shed in the recession. Women have only regained about one in five.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a gender gap. And it’s not clear whether it will narrow. In November, female job gains actually outpaced males, 65,000 to 55,000. But going forward, women are going to have to contend with one of the most nastiest forces in job market: government budgets.
As the graphic to the left shows, women far outnumber men on state and local government payrolls, especially in public schools. Early in the recession, those employers were propped up by stimulus money. No longer. We live in an age of belt tightening, and government employees are being shown the door by the thousands. Last month, state and municipal payrolls shrank by 16,000 workers. There’s no sign of the trend letting up.

If you want to see the graphs that go with the discussion, you should check the article out. The trend is really noticeable.

There’s also continued filibusters from Mitch McConnell of anything that could remotely help the unemployed, families hurt by recession, and anything that looks like it might have gone near the President. I can’t believe all this belligerence is a winning strategy for them, but only time will tell. As much as I’ve had problems with Obama, McConnell’s got me so hopping mad and the clown set running for the Republican nomination have me more distressed. I’ve never seen a bunch of more mean-spirited, ignorant, hateful, religious fanatics in my life. In this situation, Obama is definitely the lesser of evils. This is an election that will bring the definition of evil to a new nadir. There’s not a woman- or child-friendly politician to be had any where.

The filibuster — a stall tactic that requires time-consuming motions and 60 votes to overcome — can be used on virtually all Senate business, including on whether to even bring up bills for debate.

Democrats say Republican tactics this week will come back to haunt them. On Thursday, Republicans are well-positioned to filibuster the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For weeks, the GOP has demanded several changes to the bureau to roll back its powers.

Democrats say it’s “the first time in history” that a nominee will be blocked because of the concerns over the agency that the person was selected by the president to head — rather than the qualifications of the nominee.

“I said to some of my Republican colleagues, ‘Do you want this to happen when someday there’ll be a Republican president?’” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “It’s clearly a terrible precedent.”

en. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said he didn’t think any minority should adopt such tactics that he called “highly dangerous for the country.”

Republicans are highly dubious of the claims, saying there’s nothing unusual over holding up nominees until legitimate concerns over policy are addressed.

“This is the first time in history that I’m aware of that an agency of this kind has been created,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), a member of the Senate Banking Committee.

The tit-for-tat has been going on since Tuesday when Republicans sustained a filibuster by a 54-45 vote on the Halligan nomination to the D.C. appellate court, accusing President Barack Obama of nominating an “activist judge” hostile to gun rights.

But Democrats said she was a well-qualified nominee with an exemplary résumé, and that the standard set by the so-called Gang of 14 senators in 2005 to only filibuster judicial nominees in “extraordinary circumstances” had been effectively nullifed.

Ruemmler, the White House counsel, said she could “rattle off a litany of folks who would be on any Republican shortlist” that would be rejected under the new standard, like attorney Paul Clement who is representing Republicans in the House in defending the Defense of Marriage Act. But she said it would be “ridiculous” if Democrats did that over such an ideological dispute.

The White House points to 20 judicial nominees awaiting Senate action, several of whom would fill posts considered “emergency” vacancies, and officials complain that the chamber is moving at a much slower pace now than it was when Bush was in office.

Iran has been showing film of a captured US drone. There’s been confirmation now that the film is authentic and so is the drone. This confirms some of the rumors floating around earlier this week.

Iran’s Press TV said that the Iranian army’s “electronic warfare unit” brought down the drone on 4 December as it was flying over the city of Kashmar.

Brig General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace unit, told Iranian media that the drone “fell into the trap” of the unit “who then managed to land it with minimum damage”.

He said Iran was “well aware of what priceless technological information” could be gleaned from the aircraft.

Nato said at the weekend that an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week when its operators lost control of it.

Pentagon officials have said they are concerned about Iran possibly acquiring information about the technology.


I still haven’t gotten used to seeing armadillos all around the place since I moved down here. Looks like Kentucky is going to have to get used to them too as they are moving north and east.
The move started in the 1980s and has been increasing since then. Like many local critters, they appear to be moving north with climates getting warmer.

“The first road-killed armadillo I encountered in Kentucky was in 2003, and the first live one I saw was in 2006,” said John MacGregor, a herpetologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

MacGregor said in recent years there have been several confirmed sightings by staff biologists in eastern and south central Kentucky.

Steve Bonney, northeastern region wildlife coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, encountered a road-killed armadillo in Rowan County in 2009 on the way to work. “I routinely record road kills. When I saw what I thought was an armadillo, my radar went off,” said Bonney. “It kind of shocked me.”

When Bonney arrived at work, he immediately drove back to the site of the road kill on Ky. 801 in Farmers, Kentucky to photograph and pick up the armadillo.

Of the 20 known species of armadillos, the nine-banded armadillo is the most widely distributed. It is the only armadillo species to have ventured north of Mexico. Today, the nine-banded armadillo is established as far east as South Carolina and as far west as southern Nebraska. Loughry said range expansion “has been consistent over the years, and is the continuation of a long-term trend.”

But what biologists can’t agree on is why range expansion is occurring so fast. Factors that may be fueling this expansion include: climate change, the armadillo’s general adaptability, its high reproductive rate and little desire on the part of humans to hunt or eat armadillos.

The two most likely things to cause armadillo mortality are getting run over by vehicles on roads or being eaten by coyotes.

If any of them amble up to a neighborhood near you, here’s some cajun recipes for those of you brave enough to try them.

Here’s an interesting interview with Bruce Judson on the Societal Dangers of income inequality. Judson is a professor of management that specializes in entrepreneurship at Yale School of Managment.  He has a new e-book coming out on making capitalism work for the 99%. BC is Bryce Covert of ND 2.0.

BC: What does inequality mean for the middle class, which is the foundation of our country’s economy?

BJ: Early America lacked the class barriers then prevalent in Europe: Everyone mixed with each other. This led the more fortunate to have empathy and a visceral understanding for the problems of the less fortunate. As economic inequality has increased, we see far less mixing among people at different income levels. Now everyone has less of a sense that they are part of one large community and that we have a responsibility to each other.

Political theorists, going back to Aristotle, have all concluded that a vibrant middle class is essential for a vibrant democracy. The members of the middle class hope to move up, so they want mobility to remain a desirable option, but they also fear moving down, so they are more likely to support a social safety net. In essence, the middle is the group that ensures stability as a barrier to legislative extremes that unduly reward the wealthy or harm the poor.

Unfortunately, inequality that chips away at the middle class can lead to violence. There was violence that occurred in the Depression, with riots in the Midwest. People also started to take the law into their own hands. In penny auctions, after your farm was foreclosed on, you showed up at the courthouse with all of your friends — farmers who had their rifles with them — and took over the bidding and bought back your farm for penny. As income inequality increases, the dispossessed may start to feel they have been treated unfairly and things can get ugly.

BC: Your work also predicted revolution. What’s your current take?

BJ: The book did not predict revolution. The book said that if we allow income inequality to continue growing unchecked, then we would face a high risk of political instability or revolution. We discussed earlier how the book detailed a series of stages, or a narrative, for how growing economic inequality can lead to social upheaval. Unfortunately the narrative I detailed seems to be happening.

My best estimate is we have now passed through 60 percent of the narrative. A lot needs to happen before the risk of political instability becomes a reality. I am hopeful that with inequality now on the national agenda, we will see the reforms needed.

So, there’s a lot of juicy stuff in that interview including Judson’s take on the Occupy movement.

BC: Does the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement make you more or less hopeful for the nation’s future?

BJ: It absolutely makes me hopeful that we will start to see some meaningful reforms. The Occupy movement is casting a bright and unforgiving light on some of the unacceptable practices in our society that, sadly, have become commonplace.

I believe the Occupy movement is not going away. The reason it grew so quickly is that it was the flashpoint for the country’s anger and widespread feelings of unfairness. It’s almost inevitable that in some way it will expand to include people who feel they’ve been unfairly foreclosed on, the record numbers of Americans experiencing long-term unemployment, and many of the unemployed in general who feel they’ve been cheated out of the opportunity to work – mainstream America.

The danger is that if the Occupy movement does not succeed, and nothing takes its place, we will move further along the narrative I described.

So, that’s my offerings this morning. I have a few more paper chases to do today before I settle in for the weekend. I’m thinking I’ll end this week with a nice long soak in the tub, some read wine, and the new Vanity Fair with the Gaga in red pic on the cover. I’m going to read about the romance between Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip and look at all those really old photos. I’d say that out to put reality out of my mind for awhile. Okay, I’m going to read the Stiglitz article first (Fix the Economy? What Obama and the GOP won’t tell you). Then, I’m going to read Christopher Hitchens on Nietzsche, then I’ll do the Queen’s young romance. So, okay, I”ll give you one taste.

Hitchens describes chemotherapy.  This is something I know well.  I also know what it’s like to kiss death and know that it hovers over your bed waiting for you to move closer to its embrace.

I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true. Almost like the threatened loss of my voice, which is currently being alleviated by some temporary injections into my vocal folds, I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking.

These are progressive weaknesses that in a more “normal” life might have taken decades to catch up with me. But, as with the normal life, one finds that every passing day represents more and more relentlessly subtracted from less and less. In other words, the process both etiolates you and moves you nearer toward death. How could it be otherwise? Just as I was beginning to reflect along these lines, I came across an article on the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. We now know, from dearly bought experience, much more about this malady than we used to. Apparently, one of the symptoms by which it is made known is that a tough veteran will say, seeking to make light of his experience, that “what didn’t kill me made me stronger.” This is one of the manifestations that “denial” takes.

I am attracted to the German etymology of the word “stark,” and its relative used by Nietzsche, stärker, which means “stronger.” In Yiddish, to call someone a shtarker is to credit him with being a militant, a tough guy, a hard worker. So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.


Friday Reads

Get Ready for a LONG weekend!!

Good Morning!!

I’m going to start off with some economics news for a change.  This one is from The Economist. It’s a thread that lists the answers to a question asked of a group of economists: What do you expect to be the most significant economic  developments in 2011?

I liked Mark Thoma’s contribution so here’s a bite.

I EXPECT one of the most significant developments of 2011 to be one I’d rather not see: deficit reduction.

Recovery from recessions brought about by financial panics is notoriously slow, and I don’t expect this recovery to be an exception to that general rule, though I’d be happy to be wrong about this.

Thus, rather than cutting the deficit, we need to take steps to increase the speed of the recovery or, at the very least, avoid doing things that will slow it down.

If Congress had credibility, there would be no need to worry about the trade-off between helping the economy escape the recession and reducing the deficit. Congress could do what is needed to help the economy now, and promise—credibly with specific plans—to reduce the deficit once the economy has recovered. That would give us the best of both worlds.

But, unfortunately, that’s not the Congress we have, credibility is not its strong suit, and legislators seem determined to demonstrate their intent with actions now rather than a commitment to take this up when the economy is stronger. This will place additional drag on an already slow recovery, and perhaps even send the economy back into recession.

So let’s hope we can at least realise the promise of gridlock and maintain the status quo until the economy is on better footing.

Yup, but that’s not what I expect given there’s hints that the State of the Union address will contain a presidential embrace of the cat food commission report and social security reductions.  Let’s hope that’s just a bad rumor.

There’s an interesting analysis about Mitch McConnell up on Politico that I’m not sure about.  It seems to imply that his ability to keep his Senate cronies in line may be fading. Will the NO Coalition fall apart?  The analysis provides some examples  from the lame duck session and then hints to one or two newcomers that could be  thorns in McConnell’s side.  One is Rand Paul who rides in on a tea party nag with some really wacky libertarian saddle baggage.

But the two lame-duck votes suggest that the GOP’s six-seat pick-up in November may, paradoxically, complicate matters for the man who had come to embody Republican resistance in the age of the Obama. And while nobody in the White House thinks McConnell has lost his grip, they see an opportunity to increase their leverage as McConnell finds himself squeezed between an incoming class of emboldened conservatives with a tea party tinge – and the eight to twelve Republicans who showed their independence on “don’t ask, don’t tell” and START.

After two years of nonstop Democratic infighting, the White House is clearly enjoying the possibility of a GOP family feud — and are closely watching how the old-school McConnell meshes with new-breed Republicans like Utah’s Mike Lee, a strict constitutionalist who won’t vote for anything James Madison would have rejected, and tea party idol Rand Paul, a fellow Kentuckian whose election McConnell initially opposed.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Wednesday suggested that McConnell “miscalculated” in the lame-duck by failing to “put aside partisan political interests” on START.

I admit to finding the Republican outrage on Ronald Reagan’s START Treaty a bit staged.  Plus, the entire nightmare of having a group of Senators grandstand against dying 9-11 responders was unbelievable.  Shep Smith of Fox even protested deep into the Republican belly so there had to be some indigestion there. Guess we’ll see when the Senate newbies hit town.

Another issue floating around the senate dream machine is finding some way to deal with  filibuster reform.  WaPo’s The Plum Line added this bit to the conversation.

There’s ongoing news for filibuster reform.  Harry Reid is in active discussions with his caucus about moving forward with reform in the new year, and is currently devising a plan to do just that, a senior Senate Democratic leadership aide tells me.

At a caucus meeting this week attended only by Senators and no staff, Reid and fellow Dems devoted a significant chunk of time to a discussion about specific ideas on how to proceed, the aide says.

Word of Reid’s machinations comes after the National Journal reported yesterday that all the returning Democratic Senators have indicated support for efforts at reform, and are urging Reid to press forward at the start of the new year.

Though Reid has said in the past that he’s generally supportive of reform, it has been unclear whether he would support active measures to make it happen. But the senior Dem leadership aide says Reid is already working on specific steps forward.

Evidently there is a staff shuffle coming up at the White House shortly. This isn’t a surprise since there have been some recent departures–Summers, Rahm, Romer–and already announced departures like Axelrod.

A reshaping of the economic team, beginning by naming a new director of the National Economic Council, is among the most urgent priorities of the new year. Gene Sperling, a counselor to the Treasury secretary who held the position in the Clinton administration, is among the final contenders to succeed Lawrence H. Summers in the job, along with Roger C. Altman, a Wall Street investment banker who also served in the Clinton administration.

When Republicans assume control of the House on Jan. 5, ending four years of a full Democratic majority in Congress, the president’s approach to policy and politics is poised to change on several fronts.

The White House is hiring more lawyers to handle oversight investigations from the new Congress, even as the president sets up a re-election headquarters in Chicago and considers ways to streamline operations inside the West Wing.

“You’re not going to see wholesale changes, but there will be significant changes. I think that’s desirable,” said David Axelrod, a senior adviser who is leaving the White House next month. “This is a bubble. It’s been an intense couple of years, and there’s an advantage to bringing in folks who have a fresh set of senses — smell, touch and feel — about what’s going on out there.”

Investment bankers, old Clinton people … doesn’t sound like much of a change to me.

I had linked down thread the other day to a hospital in Arizona that has been punished for saving a woman’s life by giving her an abortion.  The Bishop in question also excommunicated the Nun in charge.  Nicholas Kristoff wrote an impassioned op-ed at the time.

Sister Margaret was a senior administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. A 27-year-old mother of four arrived late last year, in her third month of pregnancy. According to local news reports and accounts from the hospital and some of its staff members, the mother suffered from a serious complication called pulmonary hypertension. That created a high probability that the strain of continuing pregnancy would kill her.

“In this tragic case, the treatment necessary to save the mother’s life required the termination of an 11-week pregnancy,” the hospital said in a statement. “This decision was made after consultation with the patient, her family, her physicians, and in consultation with the Ethics Committee.”

Sister Margaret was a member of that committee. She declined to discuss the episode with me, but the bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, ruled that Sister Margaret was “automatically excommunicated” because she assented to an abortion.

“The mother’s life cannot be preferred over the child’s,” the bishop’s communication office elaborated in a statement.

The abortion procedure occurred awhile ago but the incident has led to a recent ACLU request to the Federal Government for help. The Hospital was just stripped of its Catholic status.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday asked federal health officials to ensure that Catholic hospitals provide emergency reproductive care to pregnant women, saying the refusal by religiously affiliated hospitals to provide abortion and other services was becoming an increasing problem.

In a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the ACLU cited the case of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, which was stripped of its Catholic status Tuesday because doctors performed an abortion on a woman who had developed a life-threatening complication.

“We continue to applaud St. Joseph’s for doing what is right by standing up for women’s health and complying with federal law,” five ACLU attorneys wrote in a letter to Donald Berwick, the CMS administrator, and his deputy, Marilyn Tavenner.

“But this confrontation never should have happened in the first place, because no hospital – religious or otherwise – should be prohibited from saving women’s lives and from following federal law.”

I can only tell you that my last pregnancy was very high risk and there was no chance I was going to go to term.  There was also no chance I would be able to delivery vaginally.  I actually had a friend who had lost a baby under the same circumstances not too long before that.  They could not rush her from North Platte to Omaha fast enough to save her pregnancy.  I developed complication after complication at the onset.  I can tell you that my insurance company at the time–Mutual of Omaha–basically wanted to force me to a Catholic hospital.  I sent my husband to the people in charge of those decisions to flash his AVP ID and tell them to let me go to the Methodist one with its neonic and neonate on board and delivery rooms up the hall from the entrance to Children’s Hospital.  Fortunately, we got the job done, we got the exception from Mutual of Omaha, and I carried youngest daughter far enough to term so that she was born very alive and healthy.  I continued to have health problems; including the discovery of inoperable cancer throughout my reproductive organs.

Under no circumstances would I ever recommend to any woman with a functional uterus that they consider themselves safe at some religious hospitals unless the Federal Government steps in and enforces the law.  St Joseph’s has basically disassociated from the church and continues its history of excellent care, but I wonder how many small town hospitals could afford to do the same.  This situation bears watching and we may have to make some calls and write some letters as it develops.

Stay tuned.

As we enter the final week of 2010, I just want to say how much I appreciate the community of intelligent and insightful people that frequent Sky Dancing every day.  Two months ago, I would’ve never envisioned this place being any thing more than my file cabinet.  Today, we are a thriving community with a  wonderful group of up and down page writers and sages. It has been a very rough year for me and having a place like this to relax with kindred spirits means so much to me.  I look forward to reading what every one says every day.  We’re growing leaps and bounds and are part of a bigger conversation as well.  We’re trying to tackle and discuss tough issues in a place where strong opinions are  cherished and met with civil discussion.  I think you’ll be excited by some of the topics that are on deck and will be published soon. Grayslady will have her first official post up shortly. She’s been here behind the scenes for a bit but we get to read her on the front page and not just at her own wonderful blog. She and Sima have partnered on a topic that is  an extremely important issue and  I can’t want to get my eyes  the results!  I know it’s important and fortunately they’re experts who can explain the why to me!  Of course, Bostonboomer and Wonk are busy with things and Zaladonis and mablue2 are here to delight us with their special blends of humor and opinions.   (I frankly think Zaladonis has a book in him.) Oh, and did you know that we owe the morning news format to mablue2?  Minx is busily working on something big too. She just told me about a file she downloaded to study and it’s huge!   You’ll want to make a visit to check it out!

It’s always been about the community to me.  Thank you for that greatest gifts any one could ever ask for!!!   That would be your friendship, your time, and your tales!  You’re my father and mother Christmases!!  Whatever you celebrate–if you celebrate–this season, please have a good and safe one!!!

As we say around my household, FELIZ NAUGHTY DOGS!!!  Merry Cat Mess!!!!!  (It’s a long story and I’ve approached mablue2’s word count wall.)

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?