Secretary of the Navy Ray E. Mabus, center, boards a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft after speaking with U.S. Marines and Sailors at Forward Operating Base Jaker in Afghanistan Dec. 17, 2010. Senior leaders made a day trip to Sangin and Marjah to speak with Marines and Sailors in support of the International Security Assistance Force. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Lindsay L. Sayres/Released)

Housekeeping Note

We're going to take another crack at painting my underground lair study on Monday, and that means I have to unplug everything, including my cable modem and thus my internet connection. At least, that's what I think I'll have to do. If I get desperate, I may find some local WiFi spot and do a bit of blogging, but probably not. Most likely, I'll be offline all day Monday and maybe a bit longer. However, I'll be back Tuesday evening at the latest. See you then.

My post earlier today about the decline of organized labor and the rise of rights-based activism within the post-60s liberal community provokes an obvious question: was this a good thing?

Obviously it was good for African-Americans and women and gays and others who benefited from it. But it wasn't so good for the economic fortunes of the working and middle classes. And that was almost certainly the tradeoff we made. In the 70s and beyond, probably 80% of the money and emotional energy that sustained the Democratic Party came from environmental and rights activists. But within the Republican Party, money and energy were about evenly divided between social conservatives and the business community. What happened after that was unsurprising: on social issues, where 80% of the liberal party was fighting 50% of the conservative party, liberals made a lot of progress. On economic issues, where 20% of the liberal party was fighting 50% of the conservative party, liberals steadily lost ground. And when Democrats decided to become more "business friendly" in the late 80s, we lost even more ground. That's how things played out, and under the circumstances that's pretty much exactly how you'd expect them to play out.

But if you could travel back in time and change things, would you? Would you prefer that organized labor had retained its traditional power broker role in the Democratic Party and fought the rise of corporate power and middle class wage stagnation more effectively, even if it meant that progress on social issues had been quite a bit slower than it was? Would you?

At the time this was all unfolding, I don't think anyone consciously realized the choice that was being made. But even now, when that choice is clearer in hindsight, I don't know if it was the right one. Comments?

Paul Krugman writes about the rising global price of commodities:

Oil is back above $90 a barrel. Copper and cotton have hit record highs. Wheat and corn prices are way up. Over all, world commodity prices have risen by a quarter in the past six months.

....Today, as in 2007-2008, the primary driving force behind rising commodity prices isn’t demand from the United States. It’s demand from China and other emerging economies. As more and more people in formerly poor nations are entering the global middle class, they’re beginning to drive cars and eat meat, placing growing pressure on world oil and food supplies.

And those supplies aren’t keeping pace. Conventional oil production has been flat for four years; in that sense, at least, peak oil has arrived. True, alternative sources, like oil from Canada’s tar sands, have continued to grow. But these alternative sources come at relatively high cost, both monetary and environmental.

Oil plays a role in the world economy that's far more important than any other commodity, so when I'm in a mood to worry I worry about oil prices. I don't know if we've hit peak oil, but we have reached the point at which the growth of supply has reached the point where it can barely keep up with growing demand in a normal economy. (More here about that.) This means that whenever the economy is growing at a decent pace (and driving up demand for oil with it), the price of oil will inevitably rise sharply and slow down the global economy (at best) or throw us into another recession (at worst). In other words, oil has become a permanent limit to world economic growth.

Or maybe not. Like I said, it's just something to worry about when I'm in a worrying mood. Feel free to ignore this if you have other things to worry about.

Neal Gabler thinks modern Democrats are a bunch of milksops:

In the days of FDR, the Democratic Party, despite its factions and disagreements, coalesced around one overriding tenet: muscular government action, especially in behalf of the powerless....Belief in the efficacy of government was a prerequisite to gaining the nomination. Democratic aspirants didn't lurch rightward or pray for common ground. They stood and fell on principle. But that was then. The fact is that nowadays you don't get the Democratic presidential nomination unless you are willing to soft-pedal activist liberalism.

OK, but why have Democrats become such wimps?

Sometime in the 1970s, the Democratic Party became basically an "interests" party. It stopped pressing government action as an overriding binding principle and began instead to appeal to individual interest groups: African Americans, Hispanics, women, labor, gays, youth and even Blue Dogs. Anyone who hopes to make headway in the nominating process has to find a way to appeal to many if not all of them. Still, most of these are situated at the left of the political spectrum. Prospective nominees must also appeal to elected Democrats, party officials and, perhaps most of all, those realists who, remembering McGovern's quixotic anti-Vietnam debacle, want desperately to win and believe that only a centrist can do so. This compels aspirants both to placate and temporize.

But this is only half the story. If power in the Democratic party fragmented and then flowed to individual interest groups dedicated to social issues in the 70s, it must have flowed away from a big, well-organized interest group devoted to government action as a way of comprehensively helping the poor and the working class. I wonder which interest group this could be?

As Christmas is celebrated in Incarceration Nation, it’s worth remembering certain things about the two figures who dominate this holiday.

As more than 3,000 Americans sit on death row, we revere the birth of a godly man who was arrested, “tried,” sentenced, and put to death by the state. The Passion is the story of an execution, and the Stations of the Cross trace the path of a Dead Man Walking.

Less well known is the fact that Saint Nicholas, the early Christian saint who inspired Santa Claus, was once a prisoner, like one in every 100 Americans today. Though he was beloved for his kindness and generosity, Nicholas acquired sainthood not by giving alms, but in part by performing a miracle that more or less amounted to a prison break.

As we described in one of our earliest posts on Solitary Watch, Nicholas was the 4th-century Greek Bishop of Myra (in present-day Turkey). Under the Roman emperor Diocletian, who persecuted Christians, Nicholas spent some five years in prison–and according to some accounts, in solitary confinement.

Under Constantine, the first Christian emperor, Nicholas fared better until the Council of Nicaea, in 325 A.D. There, after having a serious theological argument with another powerful bishop, Nicholas became so enraged that he walked across the room and slapped the man.  

Painting of the blog communications hub did not go as smoothly as hoped. In fact, it didn't happen, for reasons too complicated to spell out. So it'll happen on Monday and Tuesday instead, and there's a pretty good chance I'll be disconnected from the outside world both days. Then again, maybe not! Who knows. In the meantime, the economy is looking up (even I'm getting slightly more optimistic), so whether you celebrate Christmas, the war on Christmas, or some other holiday, I hope you have a nice one. And with that, here's our traditional holiday catblogging. Enjoy!

Ah, Christmas in Washington. 'Tis the season for holiday cheer, good tidings—and political attacks wrapped up in cringeworthy yuletide metaphors. Cultural conservatives have long accused liberals of waging a "war on Christmas," and both parties have been blamed for grinchy behavior this year. Below, ten ways the holiday has been used for political ends:

1) Though revived by the rise of Christian fundamentalists, the purported "war on Christmas" goes way back in American history. Industrialist Henry Ford, a notorious anti-Semite, blamed Jews for stifling Christmas carolers and school-based religious demonstrations, notes Time magazine. "The whole record of the Jewish opposition to Christmas...shows the venom and directness of [their] attack," Ford writes in 1921.

2) A few decades later, Communists were blamed for destroying the holiday. Notes Time Henry Ford in 1919: WikmediaHenry Ford in 1919: Wikmediahere, quoting a pamphlet from the John Birch Society: "One of the techniques now being applied by the Reds to weaken the pillar of religion in our country is the drive to take Christ out of Christmas." The title of the 1959 pamphlet: "There Goes Christmas?!"

3) The controversy over public nativity scenes came to a head in 1989, when the Supreme Court ruled in County of Allegheny vs. American Civil Liberties Union that it was illegal for governments to endorse Christianity—though governments could "celebrate the season" through joint displays of Christmas trees and menorahs. The compromise hardly settled the matter, however: Every year, local governments wrestle with disputes over whether Baby Jesus has been overshadowed by menorahs and the trappings of secular Christmas.

4) In 2005, Bill O'Reilly helped revived the "war on Christmas" meme, going after retailers like Toys 'R Us who had failed to use the word "Christmas" in their advertising. "Surely they understand the anger that is going to be engendered among millions of Americans who feel their holiday is being denigrated and disrespected," O'Reilly said. "I think it's all part of the secular progressive agenda to get Christianity and spirituality out of the public square."

Setting up the Capitio Christmas Tree.: Xinhua/Zumapress.comSetting up the Capitol Christmas Tree. Xinhua/

5) That year, Reverend Jerry Falwell also led a crusade against governments that labeled Christmas trees as "holiday trees." "'We want to make sure that Christmas is safe, but we know that it is not,'' Mat Staver, president of the Liberty Counsel, a Falwell-backed conservative legal group, told the Baltimore Sun. ''When people seek to rename what otherwise is a secular symbol simply because of the name 'Christmas,' that shows the depths of political correctness run amok." Then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) bent to the pressure by ordering that the Capitol Holiday Tree be rechristened the Capitol Christmas Tree.

6) President George W. Bush also experienced a fierce backlash from some conservative Christians for sending out holiday cards that wish 1.4 million friends and supporters a happy "holiday season"—a generic greeting that some activists interpreted as a war on the religious holiday. "This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture," William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, told the Washington Post. Bush "claims to be a born-again, evangelical Christian. But he sure doesn't act like one," added Joseph Farah, editor of the conservative website WorldNetDaily. "I threw out my White House card as soon as I got it."

7) Liberals have tried to turn the tables in the Christmas wars, arguing that their conservative opponents are the ones who are truly obstructing the Christmas spirit through needlessly punitive public policies. In 2005, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) used the holiday as a political bludgeon in a legislative fight over the mininum wage: "Democrats believe that Congress should act on the true meaning of Christmas—hope, generosity, and goodwill toward others," said the Maryland Democrat. "Unfortunately, our Republican friends seem to have forgotten the meaning of Christmas."

The 2005 Bush holiday card.The 2005 Bush holiday card.

8) More recently, Republican lawmakers have invoked Christmas to slam Democrats for extending the current lame duck session. Attacking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's ambitious plans for the lame duck, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) declared: "It is impossible to do all of the things that the majority leader laid out without doing—frankly, without disrespecting the institution and without disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians and the families of all of the Senate, not just the senators themselves but all of the staff." Sen. Jim DeMint similarly blasted the Democratic effort to push through the START treaty and omnibus spending bill before Christmas as "sacrilegious." DeMint registered his objections by threatening to read entire bills aloud on the floor—eating up what valuable floor time was left—and his threat successfully got the omnibus bill pulled off the floor.

9) Democrats hit back by accusing Republicans of taking Christmas away from the middle-class during the bruising tax-cut debate, as Politico notes. "Our Republican colleagues are playing Santa for the millionaires and Scrooge for the middle class," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). "For those who make over $1 million, they want to give them a big, fat check averaging $104,000 with a bow on it. For our children, they want to give them a big, fat $4 trillion bill to be paid back with interest for generations to come. I guess that's their version of 'Happy Holidays, America.'"

10) These days, Christmas may mostly be an excuse for Washington lawmakers to bring a stockingful of puns and groan-inducing metaphors into the public discourse. Introducing a debt-reducting bill last week, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) tweeted: "We ought to deck the halls of Congress with some fiscal restraint."

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Salvador Guiterrez, a platoon sergeant with the 211th Armored Cavalry Regiment, prepares an opposing force surrogate vehicle (OSV) to receive a battery charge from another OSV at sunrise at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Calif., Dec. 5, 2010. The center is designed to train Soldiers for deployment. (DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Renae L. Saylock, U.S. Air Force)

David Corn and Lynn Sweet joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Obama's recent string of legislative victories and whether or not he can keep the ball rolling in 2011.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.