Thursday, September 18, 2014

Group Supports Columbia University Rape Victim's Protest

Last week, we took a look at the protest/performance art piece of Emma Sulkowicz, a visual arts major at Columbia University who is carrying a mattress around campus as long as her alleged rapist still attends the school. One of her rules for her piece, "Carry That Weight," is that she is not allowed to ask for help, but she is allowed to accept it. Some of her classmates started a group, "Carry the Weight Together," to show their support. The founder of the group, Allie Rickard, stated that the aim is to “help Emma carry the weight of the physical mattress, give her and other survivors of sexual assault in our community a powerful symbol of our support and solidarity, and show the administration that we stand united in demanding better policies designed to guarantee our safety and wellbeing on campus.” Watch the group "Carry the Weight Together":

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

John Cassidy: "The Meaning Of Andrew Cuomo's Embarrassment"

Zephyr Teachout (left), a little-known, underfunded professor at Fordham University Law School, took more than a third of the primary vote in her Democratic challenge to Andrew Cuomo. The New York governor cut funds to education, upheld tax cuts for the wealthy and blocked an independent commission on campaign finance corruption. Due to these stances, the New York Times refused to endorse Cuomo. John Cassidy writes in The New Yorker that Teachout is part of a movement in the Democratic Party that resists the "pro-corporate policies of the Clinton years" and favors more progressive policies and candidates:

The strong showing by Teachout and Wu was a victory for progressive voters who warmed to their message about tackling rising inequality, political corruption, and corporate abuses. It was also a rejection of Cuomo’s economic philosophy, which led him to introduce a series of tax cuts for the rich, at the same time that he cut the state budgets for education and social services. I’d be willing to wager that most Democrats who voted against Cuomo objected more to his policies than to his personality.

Teachout and Wu’s insurgent campaigns gave voice to this sentiment. Eschewing the etiquette of internal party discourse, Teachout accused Cuomo of governing as a Republican, acting as a shill for the big banks and other campaign contributors, and being part of a “corrupt old boys’ club” in Albany. Making full use of social media and appearances in more traditional media, she demonstrated that, even in this day and age, a candidate with a real message doesn’t necessarily need the support of the party apparatus, or the financial backing of big donors, to have an impact.

...The Democratic Party establishment survived. But Teachout and Wu both achieved more than seemed possible a couple of months ago. By thoroughly embarrassing Cuomo, New York Democrats didn’t merely deliver a blow to whatever national aspirations he may have. They signalled to other Democrats, Hillary Clinton included, that the political center of gravity has shifted, and that a significant segment of Democratic voters won’t suffer gladly a return to the timid, pro-corporate policies of the Clinton years, which Cuomo represents.

That’s why what happened on Tuesday wasn’t just a New York story: it has national implications. The progressive movement that emerged from the financial crisis, giving birth to Occupy Wall Street and the de Blasio campaign, may still be inchoate and splintered. But it can’t be ignored.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Elizabeth Warren Slams Eric Cantor And "Revolving Door" To Wall Street

I recently wrote that one shouldn't worry about Eric Cantor, who resigned as Republican House leader shortly after losing the Virginia Republican primary to an even more right-wing candidate. Cantor, who stood for the interests of Wall Street, has received his payoff by taking a position as vice-chairman of the investment firm Moelis & Co., where he'll receive a base salary of $400,000. Speaking to Katie Couric, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) criticized the corruption epitomized by Cantor: “This is wrong. People work in Washington and, man, they hit that revolving door with a speed that would blind you and head straight out into the industry, not because they bring great expertise or insight, but because they’re selling access back in to their former colleagues, who are still writing policy, who are still making laws. It worries me about what happens if people in government are looking for that next job [and saying], ‘Yeah, I’m working now, not as much money as I could be making, but when I leave here that’s where I’m headed.’” Watch:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Carl Sagan: A Pale Blue Dot

The late astronomer Carl Sagan, in his book "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space," reflected on the 1990 photo of the Earth taken from the Voyager 1 space probe. The planet appears as a tiny dot in the vastness of the universe, "a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark." In the following video, Sagan speaks of this dot as the place where "every human being who ever was, lived out their lives." He puts our pretensions and hatreds in perspective: "Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light." From an ethical standpoint, Sagan states that this "demonstration of the folly of human conceits...underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." Watch:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Calexico Live

Calexico covered "Alone Again Or" on the German show Rockpalast in 2006. The song was composed by Arthur Lee, the leader of Love, whose rendition was shown here in January.

McConnell Reveals Obstructionist Agenda At Koch Brothers Meeting

At a Koch brothers-hosted meeting, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised his wealthy donors that if the Republicans take over the Senate, they will obstruct all bills meant to help anyone other than the one percent: "“So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board. All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.” McConnell also said that a GOP-controlled Congress also won't allow measures on minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance and college affordability to pass. Watch:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

DNA Evidence Clears Death Row Inmate

The ultimate argument against the death penalty is the inevitability–not just possibility–that the innocent will be put to death for the crime of another. Henry Lee McCollum, 50 (left), has spent 30 years on death row; he and another man, Leon Brown, 46, who was serving a life sentence, were recently declared innocent and freed following DNA evidence linking a 1983 rape and murder in North Carolina to another man. The state's Republicans and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cited the case as a justification for capital punishment. The facts argue the opposite:

Thirty years after their convictions in the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in rural North Carolina, based on confessions that they quickly repudiated and said were coerced, two mentally disabled half brothers were declared innocent and ordered released Tuesday by a judge here.

The case against the men, always weak, fell apart after DNA evidence implicated another man whose possible involvement had been somehow overlooked by the authorities even though he lived only a block from where the victim’s body was found, and he had admitted to committing a similar rape and murder around the same time.

The startling shift in fortunes for the men, Henry Lee McCollum, 50, who has spent three decades on death row, and Leon Brown, 46, who was serving a life sentence, provided one of the most dramatic examples yet of the potential harm from false, coerced confessions and of the power of DNA tests to exonerate the innocent.

...For death penalty supporters, the horrifying facts of the girl’s rape and murder only emphasized the justice of applying the ultimate penalty. As recently as 2010, the North Carolina Republican Party put Mr. McCollum’s booking photograph on campaign fliers that accused a Democratic candidate of being soft on crime, according to The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C.

In 1994, when the United States Supreme Court turned down a request to review the case, Justice Antonin Scalia described Mr. McCollum’s crime as so heinous that it would be hard to argue against lethal injection. But Justice Harry A. Blackmun, in a dissent, noted that Mr. McCollum had the mental age of a 9-year-old and that “this factor alone persuades me that the death penalty in this case is unconstitutional.”

The exoneration based on DNA evidence was another example of the way tainted convictions have unraveled in recent years because of new technology and legal defense efforts like those of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, a nonprofit legal group in North Carolina that took up the case.

Image: Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

University Student Carries Mattress Until Alleged Rapist Is Expelled

Emma Sulkowicz, a visual arts major at Columbia University, is taking a stand against the fact that the student she accuses of raping her in August 2012, Jean-Paul Nungesser, is still on campus. Sulkowicz is carrying a mattress around the campus as a reminder. She states, “The thing about beds is, we keep them in our bedroom, which is this intimate space, our private space, where we can retreat if we don’t want to deal with anyone at that moment. The past year or so of my life has been marked with telling people what happened in that most intimate, private space and bringing it out into the light.”  She has joined others in filing a federal Title XI lawsuit stating that the university applied pressure on them not to report attacks and that disciplinary hearings are conducted by untrained personnel. Sulkowicz met with two other women allegedly assaulted by the same attacker, who was found “not responsible.” Sulkowicz's protest is also her senior thesis, a performance art piece she calls “Mattress Performance” or “Carry That Weight.” She intends to continue until her alleged rapist is expelled. “I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there everywhere since then,” she told the campus newspaper. Watch Emma Sulkowicz's interview with the Columbia Spectator:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fundamentalist Family Disowns Gay Son

A few months ago, I wrote about the Ali Forney Center, a shelter for LGBT youth in NYC. I thought about the Center in regard to Daniel Ashley Pierce, 20, of Georgia, who was subject to verbal and physical abuse and finally disowned by his family after he revealed that he is gay. Thanks to the generosity of donors who responded online to his plight, he does not need a shelter. Regardless, he should not have had to put up with the behavior of his fundamentalist family, who peddled nonsense about homosexuality being a "choice" and, in response to Daniel's citing his studies in biology and psychology, stated, “You go by all the scientific stuff you want to; I’m going by the word of God.” Daniel recorded the confrontation on his cell phone; his family said that they wanted it removed from YouTube, where it remains. Watch, but be warned that this video is upsetting:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Thom Hartmann: Most Libertarians Don't Know What "Libertarian" Means

Thom Hartmann argues that most of those who call themselves libertarians don't know what "libertarian" actually means. He examines the 1980 Libertarian Party platform of David Koch, who ran as the party's vice presidential candidate, and exposes the extremist vision of libertarianism, one that is contrary to many who profess belief in it. In that regard, Hartmann states, "libertarianism is a scam." Watch: