Monday, January 26, 2015

"American Sniper": Whitewashing the War in Iraq

Divorced from historic context, "American Sniper," directed by Clint Eastwood, is an intense, gritty movie about modern urban warfare, based on the memoir of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the Navy SEAL sharpshooter with 160 confirmed kills. It also empathetically depicts the effects of PTSD on a veteran and his family. The problem with the movie is that it does indeed attempt to divorce itself from history. The rationales for the war in Iraq have by now been thoroughly discredited. Yet "American Sniper" presents a false view of the war that continues to be peddled by Dick Cheney.

Kyle joins the military following the al-Qaeda bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. We view his and his wife Taya's (Sienna Miller) outraged reactions to 9/11. Right afterwards, Kyle is in Iraq; by framing the two locales so close together, the director conflates a connection between 9/11 and the war in Iraq. In Iraq, Kyle is fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group whose emergence in the country actually came as a result of the U.S. invasion. Kyle's views of the conflict and the Iraqi people are simplistic. He tells a fellow SEAL that the U.S. is fighting so that the Iraqi militants won't invade San Diego and repeatedly tells Taya that he's fighting to keep her safe. The Iraqis themselves, whose complex sectarian divisions were uncovered as a result of the American invasion and occupation, are repeatedly referred to simply as "savages." When Kyle and his wife attend the funeral of a fellow SEAL, a family member reads a letter written by the deceased that reflects doubt about the war. According to Kyle, that doubt is what killed him. While he may have a point that doubt could lead to a loss of morale and resolve, the letter doesn't prompt him to reconsider the rationale of the war. His lack of doubt reflects the perspective of "American Sniper," whose omissions and simplifications ultimately result in a whitewash of the war in Iraq.

In 2015, Republicans Still Don't Believe in Equal Pay for Women

During President Obama's State of the Union speech, the Republicans made their lack of enthusiasm for certain economic proposals quite clear. House Speaker John Boehner and his GOP colleagues sat still as Obama called for equal pay for women, overtime pay and a minimum wage raise. It's particularly notable that the GOP doesn't believe in ensuring that women receive equal pay for equal work, despite the fact that Obama reminded them, "It's 2015. It's time." That won't convince a party clinging to standards set decades ago. Watch:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday Night at The Liberal Curmudgeon: Nick Waterhouse Live

With an image reminiscent of Buddy Holly, Nick Waterhouse presents a mix of the rhythm and blues, jazz and soul of early rock. Above, he performed "High Tiding" at KEXP, Seattle, on March 11, 2014. The song is on "Holly," which was the album of the year on the St. James Infirmary music show, hosted by my good friend Michael Mand.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Robert Reich Explains Romney's Bain Capital Profits in 8 Easy Steps

Mitt Romney, who famously disparaged 47 percent of the country as freeloaders, is now posing as a populist concerned about income inequality while considering a third consecutive presidential run. Robert Reich comments, "Mitt Romney promised Friday that if he runs for president he’ll change the strategy that led to his 2012 loss to President Obama, and focus on income inequality, the 'scourge of poverty,' and 'opportunity for all people.' Hmmm. Watch the attached video and let me know how seriously to take Romney's change of heart":

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Libertarian Renounces Citizenship, Upset That He Can't Get U.S. Visa

Schadenfreude, anyone? Roger Ver, a libertarian entrepreneur who renounced his American citizenship and launched a website that helps the wealthy live virtually tax-free in the Caribbean, is complaining that the U.S. government has denied him a visa:

Ver complains that the decision has forced him to miss speaking appointments at conferences and that the US embassy in Barbados refused to even consider the evidence for his application.

The official reasoning behind Ver's rejection is that he doesn't have sufficient "ties" to his country of residency in the Caribbean and has not demonstrated he has "the ties that will compel [him] to return to your home country after your travel to the United States," according to a picture he tweeted of a letter that appears to be from the embassy.

In short, US officials are worried that Ver might choose to stay in his native country illegally.

Ver can't appeal the decision, but he is able to apply all over again, according to Coindesk. He has an American criminal record that could count against him, however — he has previously been jailed for 10 months for selling illegal firecrackers to farmers.

The fiercely libertarian entrepreneur has also appealed for others to follow his lead on citizenship, in June launching a website that helps wealthy people pay their way to citizenship on his new island home of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies.

He surrendered his American citizenship a month after moving to the islands, in February 2014.

Image: Flickr/Official Leweb Photos

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

New Yorkers Disapprove of Cops Turning Their Backs on de Blasio

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly praised police officers, yet he has also supported the rights of protesters against police violence and stated, following the Eric Garner decision, that he warned his biracial son, Dante, to "take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him." His honest, balanced statement about relations between the black community and the police was too much for many members of the NYPD who, in a show of profound disrespect, turned their backs on the mayor at the funeral of murdered officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. A public opinion poll shows that a majority of New Yorkers disapprove of this action:

A new public opinion poll shows that an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers—nearly 80 percent—believe police union leader Patrick Lynch was "too extreme" in saying that the mayor's office had blood on its hands for supporting the Mike Brown and Eric Garner protests. The poll comes amid persisting tensions between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD officers, and union leaders, which came to a head after two cops were shot and killed in Brooklyn on December 20. The Quinnipiac University poll, published Thursday, showed that 69 percent of New Yorkers disapproved of police officers turning their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio as an act of protest during the funerals of recently slain officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

The poll also revealed stark racial divides in New Yorkers' opinions on the mayor's handling of relations between the police and the community: 62 percent of black respondents approved, while 63 percent of white respondents disapproved. They were similarly divided on who they believed was at fault for the ongoing tensions between de Blasio and the NYPD: 69 percent of black voters blamed police; 61 percent of white voters blamed the mayor.

Photo: John Minchillo/AP

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Obama Delivers a Zinger to Hecklers at SOTU Speech

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama spoke of an improving economy and his agenda to boost the middle class. His new-found confidence was epitomized, however, when he went off script from his prepared remarks. Some derisively applauded when he said, "I have no more campaigns to run." Obama quickly responded with a zinger: “I know because I won both of them.” His ad-lib earned a standing ovation among supporters. Watch:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Obama Seeks To Raise Taxes On the Wealthy

Following recent moves on immigration, Cuba, tuition-free community college and possibly vetoing the Keystone Pipeline, President Obama is taking his next step in his determination to, as he told Senate Democrats, "play offense." In his State of the Union address, Obama plans to call on Congress to raise taxes on the wealthy to finance tax cuts for the middle class:

President Obama will use his State of the Union address to call on Congress to raise taxes and fees on the wealthiest taxpayers and the largest financial firms to finance an array of tax cuts for the middle class, pressing to reshape the tax code to help working families, administration officials said on Saturday.

The proposal faces long odds in the Republican-controlled Congress, led by lawmakers who have long opposed raising taxes and who argue that doing so would hamper economic growth at a time the country cannot afford it. And it was quickly dismissed by leading Republicans as a nonstarter.

...The president’s plan would raise $320 billion over the next decade, while adding new provisions cutting taxes by $175 billion over the same period. The revenue generated would also cover an initiative Mr. Obama announced this month, offering some students two years of tuition-free community college, which the White House has said would cost $60 billion over 10 years.

The centerpiece of the plan, described by administration officials on the condition of anonymity ahead of the president’s speech, would eliminate what Mr. Obama’s advisers call the “trust-fund loophole,” a provision governing inherited assets that shields hundreds of billions of dollars from taxation each year. The plan would also increase the top capital-gains tax rate, to 28 percent from 23.8 percent, for couples with incomes above $500,000 annually.

Those changes and a new fee on banks with assets over $50 billion would be used to finance a set of tax breaks for middle-income earners, including a $500 credit for families in which both spouses work; increased child care and education credits; and incentives to save for retirement.

AP Photo

Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Big Eyes," Directed by Tim Burton

Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) was supposedly the creator of paintings of big-eyed, waif-like children popular in the 1960s. As shown in "Big Eyes," his wife Margaret (Amy Adams) actually did the work while Walter, a flamboyant, sociopathic huckster, took the credit since no one would like "lady art." As a single mother who met Walter in 1958, the vulnerable Margaret was charmed by Walter, a real estate agent who pretended to be an artist in the bohemian North Beach section of San Francisco. With his salesmanship, Walter popularized Margaret's paintings, claiming them as his, and had them printed on postcards and posters while she churned them out in an attic. Critics such as John Canaday of the New York Times wrote scathing reviews of Margaret's work, and rightfully so; it was indeed sentimental kitsch. Regardless, it meant something to the artist, who grew increasingly demoralized by the art fraud the Keanes were perpetrating on the public and by her husband's abusive behavior. Margaret escaped with her daughter to Hawaii, where she emerged victorious in the 1986 trial Keane vs. Keane. While some might question how Margaret put up with her situation for years, "Big Eyes" renders her situation believable in the context of the 1950s repression of women–and her liberation believable in the context of the feminist movement in succeeding decades.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Saturday Night at The Liberal Curmudgeon: Link Wray Live

Link Wray, influential guitarist known as the inventor of the power chord, performed "Rawhide" on the Dick Clark Show, March 21, 1959. Many in the teen audience didn't seem to know what to make of Wray's raw instrumental, but later rock guitarists did, including Pete Townshend, who said, "He is the king; if it hadn't been for Link Wray and 'Rumble,' I would have never picked up a guitar."