Sunday, November 23, 2014

"What Should We Think About Death?" by Stephen Fry

Last month, we listened to Stephen Fry, English comedian, actor, writer and activist, provide the humanist perspective to finding happiness and discovering the truth. In the following animated video, Fry expresses his doubts about an afterlife and encourages us to accept death as a natural part of life and make the most of the one life we know we have. Watch:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday Night at The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Jimmy Ruffin

Motown singer Jimmy Ruffin, who had a string of hits in the 1960s, passed away on Monday at age 78. Above, Ruffin performed his most enduring song, "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," on the British music show "Later...With Jools Holland," October 2009.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Mitch McConnell Suddenly Believes In Science

Prior to the midterm elections, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) dismissed questions about climate change by stating, "I'm not a scientist." It's unclear how pleading ignorance reassures us of his policy judgment on this critical issue. When it comes, though, to the Keystone XL Pipeline, the project to carry corrosive tar sands from Canada through the U.S., McConnell suddenly believes in science:

In remarks on the Senate floor, hours before a vote on a bill that fast-tracks construction of the pipeline, McConnell pointed to the “science” supporting the legislation.

“Those who took a serious look at the science and the potential benefits reached the conclusion long ago,” he said Tuesday. “They understand that the whole drama over Keystone has been as protracted as it is unnecessary. We hope to turn the page on all of that today."

The same thing can be said of Republican obstinacy on climate change: It's been protracted and unnecessary. Too bad Congress is nowhere near turning that particular page.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Republican Immigration Foe Has No Alternative Plan

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), adamantly opposed to immigration reform, must be apoplectic following President Obama's speech tonight. So what is his alternative plan? Interviewed on Bloomberg's "With All Due Respect," Huelskamp danced around host Mark Halperin's repeated questions about what he would do about millions of undocumented immigrants. When it was clear that Huelskamp had no solution, co-host John Heilemann concluded, "Don't ever say we didn't give you a chance to put forward a positive idea about what your policy is to actually deal with the problem. We gave you a bunch of chances, but you decided not to go for it." Huelskamp reflects his fellow House Republicans, who refused to act after the Senate passed an immigration reform bill. Whether the issue is immigration or health care, the Republicans rail against reform but offer no alternative. Watch Huelskamp refuse to "go for it":

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two GOP Presidents Extended Amnesty For Immigrants

Republicans are criticizing President Obama for his imminent plan to take unilateral action on immigration and, as always, considering ways to obstruct him. They seem to forget that House Republicans under Speaker John Boehner did nothing after the Senate passed immigration legislation. They also forget that two Republican Presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, extended amnesty to protect immigrants. Somehow, though, it's different when Obama does it:

President Barack Obama's anticipated order that would shield millions of immigrants now living illegally in the U.S. from deportation is not without precedent.

Two of the last three Republican presidents — Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — did the same thing in extending amnesty to family members who were not covered by the last major overhaul of immigration law in 1986.

There was no political explosion then comparable to the one Republicans are threatening now.

A tea party-influenced GOP is poised to erupt if and when Obama follows through on his promise. He wants to extend protection from deportation to millions of immigrant parents and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and expand his 2-year-old program that shields immigrants brought illegally to this country as children.

"The audacity of this president to think he can completely destroy the rule of law with the stroke of a pen is unfathomable to me," said GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, an outspoken opponent of relaxing U.S. immigration law. "It is unconstitutional, it is cynical, and it violates the will of the American people."

Such strong feelings are common among congressional Republicans. GOP leaders warn that an executive order from Obama would "poison the well" and severely damage Republicans' willingness to work with the president during his final two years in office.

Some Republicans have even raised the possibility of impeachment.

Nearly three decades ago, there was barely a peep when Reagan and Bush used their authority to extend amnesty to the spouses and minor children of immigrants covered by the 1986 law.

..."It's clear that it's fully within [Obama's] legal authority to issue these orders," said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas. He said Republicans "didn't raise any objections in the past when Republican presidents issued similar orders. This is pure political theater."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gallup: Newly Insured Like Their Obamacare

Gallup reports that a strong majority of Americans like the health insurance coverage they have received through the new government exchanges brought about by the Affordable Care Act:

Over seven in 10 Americans who bought new health insurance policies through the government exchanges earlier this year rate the quality of their healthcare and their healthcare coverage as "excellent" or "good." These positive evaluations are generally similar to the reviews that all insured Americans give to their health insurance.

Among those who bought new health insurance policies through the exchanges, the majority are about as satisfied with their coverage and healthcare as are other Americans -- suggesting that the end result of the exchange enrollment process is a generally positive one for those who take advantage of it. Americans who still lack health insurance will have the opportunity to buy coverage when the national insurance marketplace exchanges open again on Nov. 15.

...In addition to newly insured Americans rating their coverage and the quality of their healthcare positively, they are more satisfied than the average insured American with the cost of their health coverage. Three in four of the newly insured say they are satisfied with this aspect of their healthcare experience, compared with 61% among the general population of those with insurance. To some degree, this could reflect the fact that many who get insurance through the exchanges receive government subsidies to help reduce the overall cost of their health insurance.

Newly insured Americans' positive attitudes toward their health coverage are manifested in their coverage intentions going forward. Among those who bought a new policy through a government exchange this year, 68% say they will renew their current policy, while 7% say they plan to get a different policy through a state or federal exchange. Meanwhile, 15% say they will get a different policy from another source, and 2% say they will drop their health insurance altogether.

Fox's Ebola Panic Ends Right After Elections

Isn't it an amazing coincidence that, right after the midterm elections, we no longer heard the constant media drumbeat of panic over Ebola–which was linked at times to the panic over ISIS? This coverage, particularly in the case of one network–Fox, naturally–has severely tapered off. It was based on a cynical, failed attempt to boost ratings–and to fear monger for the Republicans and blame Obama for the crises. Watch this compilation of pre-election coverage:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Sodom and Gomorrah" by Marcel Proust

Sodom and Gomorrah by Marcel Proust. Translated by John Sturrock. 557 pp. Penguin Classics. $25.00 (paperback)

"Sodom and Gomorrah" is the fourth volume of Marcel Proust's magnum opus "In Search of Lost Time" (see my commentary on the first, second and third volumes). In the third book, "The Guermantes Way," Proust paints a scathing portrait of the aristocracy with his depiction of Madame Oriane de Guermantes and her salon. In "Sodom and Gomorrah," he continues this theme with Mme. Verdurin, who demands complete loyalty from the regulars in her "little clan." The unnamed narrator, who is living in a hotel at the seaside resort of Balbec, becomes part of this group, taking the train every Wednesday to the parties at a country home that the Verdurins rent from the Cambremers; in this case, the renters and the rentees share a mutual disdain for each other based on snobbery.

The title, "Sodom and Gomorrah," is based on the homosexual theme in the book. Proust, a closeted gay man, doesn't necessarily portray gays, whom he called "inverts," in a complimentary way. One of the members of the Verdurin clique is Baron de Charlus, a verbose, pedantic, histrionic man given to manipulating his petulant young lover, the violinist Charlie Morel. In another development, the unnamed narrator of the novel becomes more involved with Albertine, one of a group of girls he met at Balbec in the second volume. Though he seems to be growing tired of her, he jealously suspects that she will become involved with Mlle. Vinteuil, a lesbian from the narrator's hometown, Combray. This jealousy motivates him to move back to Paris, take Albertine with him and declare to his mother, despite her objections, that he will marry the young woman. In the first book, much of the infatuation of Charles Swann with the courtesan Odette de Crecy was also based on jealousy and suspicion, apparently major motivators in the love relationships in "In Search of Lost Time."

Written in memory of my mother, Dorothy Tone (1923-2006), who introduced me to art and literature, including the work of Marcel Proust.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Phil Lesh and Friends

"Mason's Children" by Phil Lesh & Friends from The Capitol Theatre on Vimeo.

Phil Lesh and Friends played "Mason's Children" at the Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY, on October 31, 2014. The seemingly mythological song, written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, was part of the Grateful Dead's early repertoire, around the time of a memorable show I attended as a teen at the Fillmore East in 1970. Lesh, who was the group's bassist, now includes it in his concerts, complete with a spacey jam quite pleasant to these ancient ears.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bernie Sanders: GOP Works Against Majority, Democrats Need To Stand Up

Speaking to Bill Maher, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) laid out the Republican agenda: cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid while giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations. In contrast, the American people want a jobs program that rebuilds our infrastructure, the expansion of Social Security, and an affordable college education. If the Democrats “[spoke] to the issues facing the vast majority of the American people and had the guts to stand up to the billionaire class that has so much wealth and power, I think the American people would be supportive of that kind of agenda,” Sanders stated. The problem is that big money makes the most campaign contributions, and most candidates are afraid to defy the wealthy in terms of taxation and shipping jobs overseas. Watch (Sanders' comments start at 5:44):