Sick as I get of the treacle that passes for heartwarming holiday stories this time of year, stories like this one make me see them in a new light. While we trim trees and open presents, 53 toddlers are growing up in a Mexico City prison with their incarcerated moms.

From the New York Times:

MEXICO CITY — Beyond the high concrete walls and menacing guard towers of the Santa Martha Acatitla prison, past the barbed wire, past the iron gates, past the armed guards in black commando garb, sits a nursery school with brightly painted walls, piles of toys and a jungle gym.
Fifty-three children under the age of 6 live inside the prison with their mothers, who are serving sentences for crimes from drug dealing to kidnapping to homicide. Mothers dressed in prison blue, many with tattoos, carry babies on their hips around the exercise yard. Others lead toddlers and kindergartners by the hand, play with them in the dust or bounce them on their knees on prison benches.
Karina Rendón, a 23-year-old serving time for drug dealing, said her 2-year-old daughter thought of the 144-square-foot cell she shared with two other mothers and their children as home. "She doesn't know it is a prison," she said, smiling sadly. "She thinks it's her house."

As John Edwards ends his Iowa campaign in a virtual tie with Obama and Clinton he is also showing some gains in New Hampshire. In an American Research Group poll conducted between December 27-29, Edwards inched up from 15 to 21 percent in mid December. Meanwhile, Clinton fell from 38 to 31 percent, and Obama rose from 24 to 27 percent.

The question remains whether Edwards, who has long concentrated on Iowa, can break through the entrenched Obama and Clinton operations here on election day.

That may depend on the reception here to his intensifying anti-corporate populist style campaign. In New Hampshire the overriding general issues always have been focused around taxes and fiscal responsibility. Government, especially Washington beltway politics, is viewed here with suspicion and in recent years has lost credibility. As in other parts of the nation, there is an anti-immigrant tide. These concerns could work against Edwards's message, with its emphasis on income redistribution and government involvement in daily life — which may mean new spending. And his health care plans call for more spending, not less. His promise to end disparity between poor and rich with implicit redistribution of income goes against New Hampshire's love of the free market. He has shied clear of immigration.

In addition, people remain unclear about whether to believe Edwards. Last week he dropped into Nashua, the populous area in the southern part of the state, for a door to door campaign, knocking on doors, dispensing coffee and doughnuts. He got a warm reception. Reporters asked him about lobbyists, and Edwards promised they would never get into his White House. "When I am President of the United States, no corporate lobbyist … will work in my White House," he said in a recent speech. He says he won't take money from them. But recently a private donation of $495,000 was made to the Alliance for a New America, a 527 — a political advocacy group that raises money and campaigns independently of the candidate — that supports Edwards. Edwards says he has "absolutely no control" over this contribution.

As for the influence of lobbyists, Edwards's supporters include Scott Tyre, who serves on candidate's national finance committee. Tyre is the president of the Association of Wisconsin Lobbyists and owner of Capital Navigators, a lobby firm. He has personally donated $6,600 to the campaign. Whether these sorts of contradictions will harm his campaign remains to be seen.

Oh, the many ways in which women around the world suffer. And prevail.

Atop everything else, the women, and in particular the widows, of Kosovo have to deal with the horrific fall out from beauty ideals there even as they seek to resume something resembling a normal life. You'd have thought it was only dark women (black and Hispanic) who lighten their skin. You'd be wrong.

From Women's Enews (hat tip to Salon's Broadsheet for hipping me to the site):

Victoria Schultz returned to Kosovo after six years and was amazed at how life had improved for two war widows. Now they have a good pension, houses of their own and new teeth with which to smile. Remarriage, however, seems out of the question.
SKENDERAI, Kosovo (WOMENSENEWS)--The two women had new teeth!
I couldn't believe the white sparkle of their welcoming smiles when I returned to Kosovo last month for the first time since 2001 and went to see Shehrije and Fatime Kastrati at their farmstead in a resource-poor rural area.
Six years earlier, at the end of my two-and-a-half-year stay in Kosovo, I had despaired for these two women. Only in their 30s, all they had left of their teeth were a few darkened fangs. A local doctor familiar with Kosovo's folkways told me that many young girls whitened their skin with a zinc-based cream that made their teeth fall out at an early age.
Still, even with the efforts of humanitarian doctors and the relief groups that help these lone women, and their children survive with their menfolk gone, they have almost no chance of remarrying. A widow with children is about as marriageable there as one of their cows. But at least some are getting their smiles back. All they need now is a reason to 'cheese'.

To follow up on my post from yesterday re: Kristol's hiring at the NYT, here's a post from Glenn Greenwald's old site listing all the different times Kristol has been flat wrong about something. A sampling:

"There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America ... that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular." [April 4, 2003]
Just four weeks after the Iraqi election of January 30, 2005, it seems increasingly likely that that date will turn out to have been a genuine turning point. The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, ended an era. September 11, 2001, ended an interregnum. In the new era in which we now live, 1/30/05 could be a key moment--perhaps the key moment so far--in vindicating the Bush Doctrine as the right response to 9/11. And now there is the prospect of further and accelerating progress. [March 7, 2005]
Last week the Bush Administration's second-term bear market bottomed out. [November 7, 2005]

If pundits were judged on how often the they are correct or incorrect, Bill Kristol would be the worst pundit in the country. He'd be out of a job. But he's not. Somehow, there are other criteria used in judging pundits—criteria clung too so strongly that no degree of wrongness can invalidate them.

Here's the NY Times ten years ago, on January 8, 1998, on the alleged extraordinary corruption of Benazir Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, named today as the caretaker co-chair of the Pakistan People's Party until their 19-year-old son Bilawal is old enough to take over.

A decade after she led this impoverished nation from military rule to democracy, Benazir Bhutto is at the heart of a widening corruption inquiry that Pakistani investigators say has traced more than $100 million to foreign bank accounts and properties controlled by Ms. Bhutto's family.
Starting from a cache of Bhutto family documents bought for $1 million from a shadowy intermediary, the investigators have detailed a pattern of secret payments by foreign companies that sought favors during Ms. Bhutto's two terms as Prime Minister.

Want proof negative advertising works? From MSNBC's First Read:

After nearly two weeks of Romney airing TV ads in the this state criticizing his records on immigration and crime, Huckabee's standing in Iowa has slipped, according to the latest MSNBC/McClatchy/Mason-Dixon poll. In the survey, Romney now leads Huckabee, 27%-23%... Three weeks ago — before Romney began his contrast ads — the poll had Huckabee comfortably leading Romney, 32%-20%.
One of the reasons for Huck's decline: His lead over Romney among self-identified born-again Christians has dropped from 42%-8% to 34%-27%. And among weekly churchgoers, it has decreased from 38%-15% to 28%-27%.

Mitt's anti-Huckabee ads are after the jump.

Andrew Sullivan posted this hilarious clip from a Brit named Catherine Tate, somebody or other. Never heard of her. Don't watch telly, you know, cuz I'm so cerebral. It cracked me up, aside from her comedic skills, because it reminded me of one of those 'signifigant emotional event' deals I had as a young adult.

I was originally trained as a Korean linguist during my GI days (USAF, of course.). In the beginning of our year long language training, we had a Mrs. Ahn, who was amazing but so serious. Koreans, like most Asians, take education beyond seriously. She was sweet but for six months, six hours a day that woman never sat down and never stopped moving around the classroom to interact with us and try physically to implant her love for her language into our thick skulls. That's how hard core, albeit maternal and loving, she was. If you're out there Mrs. Ahn, you da bomb. That poor woman, trying not to laugh, or die of shock, when we'd use the levels of politeness she'd just taught us to happily address her as if she were either a child or a shoeshine boy when a teacher is all but a god in Asia. Or when we'd try to wheedle the names of body parts out of her (she never broke) or free style sentences like "There's a land mine in my pocket."

This Sunday morning, the Iowa presidential race hits the television talk shows. Most of the leading candidates of both parties are appearing on one of the Sunday gabfests. Fred Thompson chose Fox News Sunday. In comparing himself with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, who both lead him in the iowa polls, Thompson repeatedly cited his foreign policy experience, noting that he had served on the intelligence committee during his eight years in the U.S. Senate.

But there was one problem with this sales pitch: Thompson mispronounced the name of Pakistan's leader. He called Pervez Musharraf "MOO-SHA-rav." The right way to say his name, according the Voice of America's Pronounciation Guide, is "moo-SHURR-RUHF." If Thompson is hoping for a late surge on the basis of his purported experience in national security matters, he ought to be more careful when drawling about current foreign policy crises.

bill_kristol.jpg Uber hawk Bill Kristol has just been signed up by the New York Times as an op-ed columnist, according to the Huffington Post. Here's a collection of some of Kristol's greatest neocon hits (also here, but suffice to say, the man's approach to foreign policy is that no problem can't be solved with an air strike or two).

The hire bugs me for three reasons. First, it highlights the fact that there simply isn't any price to be paid in punditocracy for being WRONG. Kristol was as wrong as anyone could be on Iraq, and continued to insist the war was going well long after anyone with a connection to reality (even the Bush Administration!) had stopped claiming success.

Second, it demonstrates how extreme conservatism has a place in the mainstream press, but extreme liberalism doesn't. The man advocates military strikes on Iran, Syria, and Burma (of all places!). That's extreme by even today's conservative standards. Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert don't balance that out. But will Dennis Kucinich end up on the Times' op-ed page? Of course not.

Third, if the Times wanted a conservative voice, it could have hired someone who has something interesting to say about the struggles conservatism currently faces in this country. Instead it hired someone whose approach is to repeat the most ridiculous and discredited pablum of the right, so as to help legitimize the illegitimate. And Kristol's willingness to say the indefensible is obviously a career move. Every time two people share a "Did you see what Kristol wrote??" moment, the man's star burns a little brighter.

In short, Kristol is intellectually dishonest and almost comically extreme. He is a caricature. He contributes nothing but increased polarization to the national debate. And now his writing will sit in the most hallowed space in journalism.

Another example why Congressman Ron Paul, a former obstetrician who is known as Dr. No for his penchant to vote against nearly every government spending bill to cross his desk, is a curious breed of libertarian. News of his take on evolution comes via the libertarian magazine Reason, which has proclaimed: "Say it ain't so Dr. No!"

In reality, Paul is just being himself, and Reason's surprise has more to do with the gulf between self-proclaimed Cosmopolitan Libertarians (typically secular Reason subscribers) and the more religious Paleolibertarians (acolytes of Lew Rockwell, Paul's former chief of staff). To make sense of this all, check out our recent feature on the Paul campaign, and our breakdown of libertarian factions.

Ultimately, it makes little difference whether Paul is a Creationist. As a libertarian he's opposed to any government funding for scientific or religious endeavors. And that partly explains why the Ron Paul coalition is so elastic.