Monday, September 1, 2014

Robert Reich's Labor Day Message: 6 Ways To Boost Labor

Robert Reich states, "Labor Day used to be a time to celebrate the rising wages, better working conditions and improved benefits that most working people in America enjoyed for years. No longer. Although jobs are coming back, most of them pay lower wages than the jobs we lost in the great recession. So while we're celebrating our nation's legacy of giving workers a fair share this Labor Day, let's also commit ourselves to mobilizing and organizing for better jobs and better wages. What's needed in particular: six things." Watch as Reich cites "6 Ways To Boost Labor," starting with raising the minimum wage:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

"Italian Futurism 1909-1944" At The Guggenheim Museum

Only once before have I reviewed an art exhibit that was closing within a day or two; that is now the case with "Italian Futurism 1909-1914: Reconstructing The Universe" at the Guggenheim Museum. If you're in NYC through Monday and wish to see a show that is both intellectually and aesthetically stimulating, this is one to consider. While Futurism did not make the same impact as other 20th-century art movements such as Cubism, Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism, there's much here in a variety of media that makes this survey worthwhile. The Futurists exalted speed, industrialization, mechanization, youth, urbanism, air flight and war, which they viewed as the answers to a moribund nation. They produced manifestos proclaiming their ideology and viewed their movement as one that would influence life in its totality, hence the show's subtitle, "Reconstructing The Universe." The Futurists' misogyny and war-mongering before WWI and the Fascism of many of its proponents were indeed unfortunate. These trends probably helped lead to Futurism's end in 1944 with the death of its leader, poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who wrote "The Futurist Manifesto" (1909). Futurist ideas may have been dubious, but the movement did produce some powerful works, such as "The City Rises" (1910) by Umberto Boccioni, shown above, which exemplifies these artists' glorification of industry and dynamism.

"Italian Futurism 1909-1944: Reconstructing The Universe" runs through September 1 at the Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, at 88th Street, NYC, 212-423-3575,

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Bird And Diz Live

In celebration of the birthday yesterday of Charlie "Bird" Parker, let's watch him perform "Hot House" on alto sax in 1951 joined by Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet. Accompanying these two bebop giants are Dick Hyman, piano; Sandy Block, bass, and Charlie Smith, drums.

"Here And Elsewhere," Contemporary Arab Art At The New Museum

The New Museum's exhibit "Here And Elsewhere" is a survey of the work over 40 contemporary Arab artists. This expansive show takes up all five floors of the museum with works in varied media that reflect the complexity, diversity and turmoil of the Middle East. Above, "Qalandia 2087" by Wafa Hourani presents a fanciful, ironic installation of a Palestinian refugee camp with miniature sports cars, an airport and colorful TV aerials. Hrair Sarkissian's photos depict public squares in Damascus, Syria, where criminals were hung prior to the current civil war. Jamal Penjweny's "Saddam Is Here" photo series presents Iraqis holding up masks of Saddam Hussein, suggesting the lasting influence of the former dictator. In Lamia Joreige’s “Objects of War” videos, interviewees speak of the conflicts that have engulfed Lebanon for years. Videos by Bouchra Khalili show hands tracing lines from the Middle East to Europe on maps as undocumented immigrants speak of their complicated quests to find new livelihoods and escape the instability back home. The artists present a provocative, multi-layered, human perspective on the Middle East that makes a more profound impression than the pundits and headlines to which we're constantly exposed.

"Here And Elsewhere" continues through September 28 at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, NYC, 212-219-1222,

"The Guermantes Way" By Marcel Proust

The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust. Translated by Mark Treharne. 619 pp. Penguin Classics. $20.00 (paperback)

The Guermantes Way is the third part of "In Search of Lost Time," Marcel Proust's seven-volume novel (readers can also refer to my comments on the first and second volumes). In this volume, the unnamed narrator is now a young man who emerges into the fashionable salons of Paris and moves from adulation of the aristocracy to disillusionment.

The central focus is the narrator's relationship to Madame Oriane de Guermantes. At first, the narrator associates the name "Guermantes" with a glamorous, inaccessible realm. He becomes infatuated with Madame de Guermantes and arranges his morning walks so that he runs into her. He watches her grand, fashionably late entrance into her cousin's theater box. There are, in fact, a number of scenes associated with the theater, a realm that is analogous to the theatrical, ritualized salon of Madame de Guermantes and her adulterous husband Basin.

Madame de Guermantes prides herself on her wit and her supposed independence from convention. Yet her wit is often cruel and her judgments harsh, and none of her salon regulars would dare contradict her. Further, her independence is a cover for relentless social climbing and concern for appearance. The final, devastating scene depicts the Guermantes' relative indifference toward their friend Charles Swann, an important character in the first volume, who is quite ill and doesn't have long to live. The couple are too busy rushing off in their carriage to their next social engagement to give Swann much sympathy.

In The Guermantes Way, Proust  continues his bildungsroman, the education of a youth, with a scathing portrait of the aristocracy as seen through the eyes of his formerly star-struck narrator.

Written in memory of my mother, Dorothy Tone (1923-2006), who first spoke to me about Proust. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

NY Times Refuses To Endorse Cuomo In NY Primary

While acknowledging Gov. Andrew Cuomo's progressive stances on gay marriage, gun control and minimum wage, The New York Times refused to endorse him in the New York Democratic primary, Sept. 9, due to his blocking an independent commission on campaign finance corruption, which looked into issues involving him and his supporters. The Times also cited Cuomo's cutting funds to education while insisting on tax cuts for the wealthy. The paper did not endorse Cuomo's opponent, Zephyr Teachout, professor at Fordham Law School and an expert on political corruption, due to her limited political experience. The Times, however, stated that "those who want to register their disappointment with Mr. Cuomo’s record on changing the culture of Albany may well decide that the best way to do that is to vote for Ms. Teachout":

The most important failures...were in ethics reform. New York still has no comprehensive campaign finance system and has one of the highest donation limits in the country. Mr. Cuomo proposed a better system, but, when legislators balked, he threw up his hands and claimed there was nothing he could do. Where was the energy and determination he showed on marriage rights and guns?

Corporations and special interests can still give unlimited amounts to party “housekeeping” accounts. The rank partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts, which he promised to end, remains in place for a decade because he chose not to make reforming it a priority.

The worst moment of all came when Mr. Cuomo blocked the progress of the independent commission he set up to investigate corruption after the panel began to look into issues that may have reflected badly on him and his political supporters. As The Times reported in July, Mr. Cuomo’s closest aides pushed back every time the commission began looking at the governor’s own questionable practices, including a committee set up to support his agenda, which became Albany’s biggest lobbying spender and did not disclose its donors. Now a United States attorney is pursuing the questions the commission raised, including the ones the governor wanted dropped.

Mr. Cuomo says the purpose of the commission was the leverage it gave him to push an ethics law through the Legislature and that he disbanded the panel when the law, agreed to in March, achieved roughly nine of 10 goals. But the missing goal — a strong public finance system that cut off unlimited donations — was always, by far, the most important method of reducing corruption, a much bigger reform than the strengthened bribery laws he settled for.

Ms. Teachout brings a refreshing seriousness to the job of cleaning up state government, making a strong case for the urgency of rescuing politics from unchecked corporate power. The centerpiece of her platform is a campaign finance system modeled on the matching funds program that has proved successful in New York City.

She would limit contributions to candidates to $2,600, compared with the current $60,000, and would keep corporations from giving five-figure donations, a loophole that Mr. Cuomo has exploited to raise millions of dollars. These proposals are as thoughtful as one would expect from a leading expert on combating public corruption, particularly given her work promoting transparency as national director of the Sunlight Foundation in 2006 and 2007.

Melissa Harris-Perry: The Deaths Of Unarmed Black Men In America

MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry cites the many black unarmed black men killed by police over the past 10 years, leading up to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. She states, “In the past decade alone, these men and hundreds of others have lost their lives to police. From 2006 to 2012, a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week in this country." She then recalls the Dred Scott Decision, 1857, in which an enslaved black man sued for his freedom only to be told that he had "no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” The implications are clear in this powerful commentary. Watch:

Mike Papantonio: The Corporate Death Grip On America

Mike Papantonio of Ring of Fire speaks of a civil case he handled as an attorney against Bayer, which sold HIV-tainted medicine to hemophiliacs, thousands of whom died of AIDS. As evidence mounted, Bayer sold a safer version in 1984, but continued selling the old medicine in Asia and Latin America for over a year. Papantonio states, "rogue corporations have the best of all worlds." They claim "corporate personhood," with the equal protection and due process it entails. When, however, their conduct is questioned, they claim that they made a "corporate-wide decision" and no single person can be held accountable. Such injustices are upheld by the current, corporation-oriented Supreme Court. Watch:

Papantonio: In the 1980’s, Bayer Corporation produced a medicine that was supposed to improve the lives of hemophiliacs. Bayer didn’t tell those hemophiliacs that their product was infected with HIV. Entire families of hemophiliacs died with AIDS as the virus spread within households.

When Bayer was ordered to stop selling their drug in America, they dumped their AIDS laden product in Asia and killed Asian families. No one with Bayer management was arrested. No one who made those psychopathic quality decisions went to prison. They claimed the protection of their status as a “corporation.”

That “corporate” status gave management the ability to kill people for profit and not go to prison. I handled the civil case against Bayer and saw first hand that this was a rogue operation not typical of most corporations. But how do you put that rogue in prison? Who do you arrest?

Today, rogue corporations have the best of all worlds. They take advantage of the constitutional protections that were originally written for living, breathing, humans. They argue that the U.S. Supreme Court mandated 130 years ago that we must treat a “corporation” exactly like we treat a “person.” They argue that the 14th Amendment was written to protect their “corporate person status” with equal protection and due process.

But when the conduct of that “corporate person” is so vile that they make decisions to kill people to increase profit, we hear the argument that it was a “corporate wide decision.” We hear that there was no single person to hold accountable. They tell us that many people were involved in the acts and we can’t throw their corporation in prison.

Paul Ryan Refuses Dialogue With Dreamers He Voted To Deport

At a book signing in Florida, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) refused to explain his vote against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) bill to several young Dreamers who tried to speak to him about the issue. Ryan's book is entitled "The Way Forward," yet it's difficult to see how we'll move forward on immigration while shutting down dialogue. One young undocumented immigrant asked, "A couple weeks ago you voted for defunding DACA. It would put me and my sister up for deportation. We just had a question — do you want to deport me and my sister?” After telling them to "Read the book," Ryan had store security hustle away each questioner, as seen in the following video. Ray Jose, an organizer for United We Dream, concludes, “I ask you again, Congressman Ryan, are you going to take away our Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and deport us, deport Dreamers like myself? And if so, and that’s your way forward, know that Dreamers before me fought for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Dreamers like myself will defend it.” Watch:

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Grateful Dead At Fillmore East, 1970

I'm convinced that one can find a record online of any concert one has attended. So it was that I found an archive of clips from a memorable concert I attended as a teen, the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East, September 18, 1970, midnight to 6:00 a.m. It's questionable whether I would agree to the same schedule that I did as an intrepid youth. Anyway, I searched for the concert on YouTube and while I couldn't find it, I did find almost an hour's worth of footage and music above from the Dead at the Fillmore, February 14, 1970, which was close enough in time to the show I saw. The performance demonstrates the Dead's versatility, from the ultimate "acid jam" Dark Star to the funky "Hard To Handle," sung by Ron "Pig Pen" McKernan, to the acoustic "I've Been All Around This World" to three more songs from the band's repertoire, "Me And My Uncle," "Not Fade Away" and "Mason's Children." The cosmic images are reminiscent of the Joshua Light Show's psychedelic liquid light shows that formed a backdrop during the performances of the Dead and other groups. So what happened to Bill Graham's fabled rock palace in NYC's East Village? It's now an Emigrant Savings Bank.