It's the season of peace and good will, but President Obama may have tested the limits of both with some comments at his end-of-year news conference.
Asked if he would negotiate with congressional Republicans about the debt ceiling, Obama said he wouldn't negotiate over raising the limit, though he was willing to talk with Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican and House Budget Committee chairman, about other issues, like tax reform.
But Obama was dismissive of Republicans who have signaled that they expect him to give something in return, like federal spending, for a debt-ceiling increase: "I've got to assume folks aren't crazy enough to start that thing all over again," he said Friday.
It generally isn't helpful for a president to describe political opponents as crazy and expect much good to come from it. But that's what Obama appeared to do.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich put the president's comment in the same league as the one likening congressional Republicans to the Jonestown cult, made by John Podesta (before he was recently named a senior Obama counselor). Podesta has since apologized.
Republicans who want to tie a desirable (from their point of view) legislative outcome to the debt ceiling don't consider it crazy. Their position is that numerous precedents exist for their position. Fact checkers agree with them. "We're going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit fight," Ryan recently told Fox News.
Obama also may not have done himself any favors by seemingly questioning the motives of members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, who have called for tougher sanctions on Iran.
The president's position is that previous sanctions are what brought Iran to the talks meant to stop that nation's move toward the capability to build nuclear weapons, and that even the threat of new sanctions could derail negotiations.
"And so I'm not surprised that there's been some talk from some members of Congress about new sanctions," Obama said. "I think the politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good when you're running for office or if you're in office."
Some of Obama's strongest Senate supporters — Democrats Charles Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey — have led the push for additional sanctions against Iran.
Having their efforts reduced to pure politics by the president most assuredly wasn't the kind of holiday gift they were looking for.
John Hinckley Jr., the man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981, has been granted more time outside the mental hospital where he's been confined for almost three decades.
U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman ordered that Hinckley be allowed to visit his mother's home in Williamsburg, Va., for up to 17 days at a time, tacking a week on to the 10-day visits that were already permitted away from St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity after he shot Reagan and three others on March 30, 1981.
The Associated Press says:
"Hinckley must make at least eight successful 17-day visits away from the hospital before any requests to increase his time in Williamsburg beyond that will even be considered.
"In court hearings before the ruling, Hinckley's lawyer, Barry Levine, had asked for his visits to be expanded to 17 and 24 days, arguing that there is no evidence Hinckley is a danger to himself or others. Attorneys for the U.S. government, however, argued that Hinckley is 'capable of great violence' and told the judge that granting expanded privileges was 'premature and ill conceived.'"
"Friedman wrote that Hinckley's depression and psychotic disorder are in full remission and that he had not displayed violent behavior in more than 29 years."
The Washington Post reports:
"Friedman's order also allows Hinckley to drive alone to specific destinations — which Levine said will help him integrate in Williamsburg — though it requires he carry a GPS enabled cell phone during unsupervised activities. Friedman wrote that court and mental health officials would evaluate Hinckley's progress after eight 17-day visits."
Before Guatemalan actor and singer Oscar Isaac auditioned with the Coen Brothers for the title role in their new film, Inside Llewyn Davis, his friends told him that he would love the brothers — and that he wouldn't get the part or ever hear back from them. They were right about him loving the filmmakers, but not so much when it came to Isaac getting a call.
While Isaac's character is based on the 1960s folksinger Dave Van Ronk, he makes the role his own — and his live performances are especially impressive. Here, he visits the WXPN studio to talk with host David Dye about working with the Coens, and with the film's music guru, T-Bone Burnett.
British actress Carey Mulligan plays a tough-skinned woman by the name of Jean Berkey in the new Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis. In the movie, she sings alongside Justin Timberlake in the duo Jim and Jean, but has issues with the film's title character.
On Friday's episode of World Cafe, Mulligan talks with host David Dye about how playing the part was liberating, and how the challenge to sing live proved to be an enjoyable experience.
Back in 2005, we talked with Elijah Wald about his biography of folksinger Dave Van Ronk, The Mayor of MacDougal Street. Wald was Van Ronk's guitar student and finished the book after the influential musician died in 2002.
Wald's book — a first-person account of the Greenwich Village folk-music scene in the late '50s and early '60s — inspired the upcoming film Inside Llewyn Davis. Much of the lead character's repertoire and story comes from Van Ronk. In this archived interview, Wald discusses this pivotal time and what Van Ronk represents.