Sunday, January 31, 2010

J.D. Salinger: An Appreciation

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”-The Catcher in the Rye

That run-on sentence from "The Catcher in the Rye" (1951) is one of the most engaging openings to a novel I've ever read. J.D. Salinger, who passed away at 91 this past week, had an outstanding ear for the way people actually spoke. But the book meant more than pitch-perfect dialogue. Many who read it when young identified with Holden Caulfield's alienation from the phonies and hucksters who populate the world.

This theme of resistance to the adult world continued with "Franny and Zooey" (1961), which pivoted around Franny's being "sick of ego." Franny and her brother Zooey belonged to the Glass family, which included eight children from the Upper West Side of Manhattan who at one point starred on a quiz show, "It's a Wise Child." The oldest child was Seymour, whose suicide is depicted in "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" (in the collection "Nine Stories," 1953)–though I was never sure why this supposedly saintly, wise brother shot himself in the head. The Glass family saga continued with two novellas in one volume, "Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters" and "Seymour: An Introduction" (1963).

Salinger clearly loved the Glass children, who were precocious and spiritually searching. Devoted readers wanted to join the family, while some critics felt they were too pure for the world most have to inhabit. Salinger himself wanted no part of worldliness, withdrawing from his native New York City to seclusion in Cornish, New Hampshire, in 1953. In "Catcher," Holden states that when he reads a book he likes, he wishes that he could call up the author any time–something Salinger clearly could not abide. Holden also had the desire to retreat to "a little cabin somewhere with the dough I made"–something Salinger did, refusing to publish anymore since he viewed it as an invasion of his privacy. The last story he published was in the June 19, 1965, edition of The New Yorker, entitled, "Hapworth 16, 1924," in the form of Seymour's letter from summer camp. Salinger's alter-ego, Buddy Glass, introduces the letter.

Will the literary mystery be revealed regarding whether Salinger left a treasure trove of writing that will be posthumously published? If so, what about the literary worth of those works? In "Seymour: An Introduction," the writing was impenetrable, perhaps a symptom of Salinger's very withdrawal. Regardless, Salinger left four enduring books, one of which will especially continue to engage readers from the very opening sentence no matter where or when it's read–the very definition of a classic.

Supplemental materials:

• "Of Teen Angst and an Author's Alienation," a literary appraisal by Michiko Kakutani
• "J.D. Salinger," on Salinger's reclusiveness, by Verlyn Klinkenborg
• An insightful discussion on PBS's "News Hour" between host Jim Lehrer; Nicholas Delbanco, University of Michigan; and Robert Thompson, Syracuse University:

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, 1947

Dizzy Gillespie leads his big band in 1947 with a song about a musician who was out of sync with the bebop jazz of the day. The problem? "He beeped when he should have bopped." The performance features vocals and a trumpet solo by consummate showman Gillespie and a vibes solo by Milt Jackson, who later joined the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obama Speaks Directly To Supreme Court And Political Leadership

Despite my opposition to the spending freeze that Obama announced at his State of the Union address, I thought that the president gave a strong speech. Certain passages stood out:

Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved.

After eight years of George Bush, who presided over domestic and foreign disasters yet couldn't admit to mistakes, it's refreshing to have a president with the maturity, confidence and honesty to acknowledge that he's not always right.

This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.

Not allowing gays to serve is absurd and discriminatory. There was no adverse impact when the military in Israel, Canada and Great Britain ended the ban.

...last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations –- to spend without limit in our elections. I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.

The Supreme Court's conservative judicial activism resulted in a rejection of corporate campaign spending limits. Obama pointed out the dangers to our democracy, including the influence of foreign corporate ownership.

I thought I'd get some applause on that one.

Obama was referring to the Republicans' lack of applause when he mentioned a series of tax cuts made during his first year. The GOP is always touting tax cuts, yet these were made by a Democratic president. In addition, the Republicans would not applaud when Obama proposed a fee on the biggest banks to pay back taxpayers who rescued them.

To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town -- a supermajority -- then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership.

Excellent, on-target advice for both parties.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Remembering Howard Zinn, Progressive Activist And Historian

Howard Zinn, Boston University historian and civil rights and peace activist whose book "A People's History of the United States" (1980) was written from the perspective of those who struggled for their rights, died on Wednesday at 87. Zinn wrote in a clear style that took account of laborers, women, African Americans, Native Americans and others whom he felt were overlooked in favor of the powerful. From

For Dr. Zinn, activism was a natural extension of the revisionist brand of history he taught. "A People’s History of the United States" (1980), his best-known book, had for its heroes not the Founding Fathers -- many of them slaveholders and deeply attached to the status quo, as Dr. Zinn was quick to point out -- but rather the farmers of Shays' Rebellion and union organizers of the 1930s.

Zinn, who served as a bombardier during World War II, coupled his writing with his activism:

Dr. Zinn...served on the executive committee of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the most aggressive civil rights organization of the time, and participated in numerous demonstrations.

Dr. Zinn became an associate professor of political science at BU in 1964 and was named full professor in 1966.

The focus of his activism became the Vietnam War. Dr. Zinn spoke at many rallies and teach-ins and drew national attention when he and the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, another leading antiwar activist, went to Hanoi in 1968 to receive three prisoners released by the North Vietnamese.

...On his last day at BU, Dr. Zinn ended class 30 minutes early so he could join a picket line and urged the 500 students attending his lecture to come along. A hundred did.

I heard Zinn speak once, and he emphasized that the struggle against injustice will continue regardless of who is in power–and that positive change comes from the bottom up. This activism and optimism animated Zinn's life and writings. If you haven't read "A People's History of the United States," I recommend that you do so immediately. To read articles by Zinn from the AlterNet archive, click here.

Reich, Krugman Criticize Obama's Spending Freeze

President Obama will propose a spending freeze on domestic programs during his State of the Union speech Wednesday night. Unaffected will be the Pentagon, foreign aid, the Veterans Administration, homeland security and the most costly domestic programs, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The administration said that the $447 billion to be cut amounts to just one-eighth of the deficit.

Former Secretary of State Robert Reich and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman criticized the freeze as ineffective and a reversal of priorities. Reich outlined his objections to Larry King:

...This is something that a lot of people have difficulty understanding, because you don't want bigger deficits in the long term. But in the short-term government has to spend more to get the economy moving, to get jobs, so people can actually work and generate a larger economy and therefore get the outside budget, the long-term budget down.

On his blog, Reich advocated a second stimulus:

It should mainly focus on bailing out state and local governments that are now cutting services and raising taxes, and squeezing the middle class. This would be the best way to reinvigorate the economy quickly.

Krugman criticized the proposals from both economic and political perspectives:

It’s bad economics, depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment.

...It’s bad long-run fiscal policy, shifting attention away from the essential need to reform health care and focusing on small change instead.

And it’s a betrayal of everything Obama’s supporters thought they were working for. Just like that, Obama has embraced and validated the Republican world-view — and more specifically, he has embraced the policy ideas of the man he defeated in 2008. A correspondent writes, “I feel like an idiot for supporting this guy.”

Personally, I wouldn't go as far as Krugman's correspondent, though I do agree that Obama's proposal embraces the Republican outlook–even though the GOP is mocking it already. Speaking of "the man he defeated," during the presidential debates, Obama criticized McCain's spending freeze proposals as "unfair burden sharing" and "using a hatchet where you need a scalpel":

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Photos Capture Over Half A Century Of Rock History

"Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present" at the Brooklyn Museum explores the relation between the images and the music from several vantage points, each with its own fascination. There's the development of rock, seen in this early photo of Jimi Hendrix in a tuxedo playing backup guitar to Wilson Picket (click on any photo below to enlarge):

This photo of a Ramones concert captures the energy shared between a band and its fans:

The crucial role of photography to a group's image is evident in this photo of The Velvet Underground, with its proto-punk, edgy appeal:

This photo of Amy Winehouse captures the sexual current associated with the music:

There are also iconic photos, as in this image of John Lennon in his adopted city:

Another famous shot shows an enigmatic Bob Dylan from the "Blonde On Blonde" album cover:

The show includes more than 175 images by 105 photographers. It continues until January 31 at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, 718-638-5000,

Supreme Court Establishes The Corporate States Of America

Crooks and Liars displayed this photo reflecting "the 2011 Senate of the Corporate States of America." Following the Supreme Court's rejection of corporate campaign spending limits, we might as well start referring to the senator from Halliburton or GM or Walmart or AIG or any other mega corporation that now has the power to flood campaigns with billions and coerce politicians to do their bidding.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Bob Marley Live In London, 1977

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, Bob Marley was recognized as "...reggae’s foremost practitioner and emissary, embodying its spirit and spreading its gospel to all corners of the globe." A prolific songwriter whose music reflected his Rastafarian beliefs, the deprivations of the Jamaican ghetto and the demand for social change, Marley was also a dynamic performer, evident in this rendition of "Lively Up Yourself" at the Rainbow Theatre in London, June 1977.

2010 Gets Off To A Nightmarish Start For Progressives

I recently noted that the past decade drew poor reviews. Is the dawn of 2010 a time for renewal and optimism? If one is of the liberal, Democratic persuasion, this year and decade has gotten off to a disastrous start in the very first month. At the risk of inspiring schadenfreude in conservative readers, consider what has happened:

1. Scott Brown won the senatorial election in Massachusetts. Armed with the undemocratic filibuster, Republicans can block health care reform. What was on the brink of passage is now on life support. Since this legislation was Obama's chief domestic priority, its potential failure can only weaken his presidency. In addition, Brown's victory is already energizing Republicans heading into midterm elections.

2. The Supreme Court's ruling rejecting corporate campaign spending limits sets the stage for the unprecedented corruption of our democracy. As Jonathan Alter states, "If Exxon wants to spend $1 million (a bar tab for Big Oil) defeating an environmentalist running for city council, it can now do so." This is particularly disastrous for Democrats, as noted by The Washington Post: "[The ruling] is seen as particularly helpful for Republicans because of their party's traditional bonds with industry groups and its strong opposition to financial regulations proposed by the Obama administration."

3. Though not as critical as the two events cited above, Air America Radio, a progressive media outlet that countered Limbaugh and his ilk, will cease broadcasting. Air America presented a platform to talented voices on the left who continue to broadcast: Rachel Maddow, Thom Hartmann and Randi Rhodes.

True progressives are too patriotic to give up in despair. One must, however, acknowledge that we're in for a wild and challenging ride as the new year begins. If you're a liberal Democrat, you may be advised to hold on to your hat–and, at times, to clutch your stomach.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Supreme Court Conservative Judicial Activism Threatens U.S. Democracy

The Supreme Court has rejected any corporate campaign spending limit, an outrageous act of conservative judicial activism that threatens to undermine American democracy:

Overruling two important precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.

While conservatives have often spoken of "liberal judicial activism," this ruling sweeps aside precedent:

The ruling, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205, overruled two precedents: Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a 1990 decision that upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates, and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, a 2003 decision that upheld the part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 that restricted campaign spending by corporations and unions.

In an editorial, The Court's Blow to Democracy, The New York Times comments that corporations will now have unprecedented influence on both elections and the elected:

...corporations have been unleashed from the longstanding ban against their spending directly on political campaigns and will be free to spend as much money as they want to elect and defeat candidates. If a member of Congress tries to stand up to a wealthy special interest, its lobbyists can credibly threaten: We’ll spend whatever it takes to defeat you.

The "logic" is the twisted legal view of corporations as "persons":

Most wrongheaded of all is its insistence that corporations are just like people and entitled to the same First Amendment rights. It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money. They are given special privileges, including different tax rates, to do just that. It was a fundamental misreading of the Constitution to say that these artificial legal constructs have the same right to spend money on politics as ordinary Americans have to speak out in support of a candidate.

With corporations now able to pour billions into their candidates and positions, what do the contributions of individuals–real "persons"–mean? Following this legal enshrining of political corruption, we will recognize politicians as representatives of corporations, as in "the senator from Exxon." Now the real judicial activists have been unmasked. They are from the conservative side of the spectrum and their ruling strikes a terrifying blow against democracy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Massachusetts Betrays Kennedy Legacy

The victory of Republican Scott Brown over Martha Coakely, Massachusetts attorney general, in the Massachusetts senatorial race has its bitter ironies. This race was necessitated by the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, whose passion for universal health care was described by The Nation:

Senator Edward Kennedy was a fighting liberal, a lion to the very end--often among timid cubs. His final fight was for quality, affordable healthcare for all. As recently as July, Kennedy called it "the cause of my life" and argued eloquently that "quality care shouldn't depend on your financial resources, or the type of job you have, or the medical condition you face."

To compound the irony, Massachusetts returned Kennedy to office nine times over 46 years. One would think that the voters overwhelmingly supported his policies. Now this supposedly blue, progressive state has, through electing Brown, deprived the Democrats of a filibuster-proof majority. The Republicans can now count on that undemocratic tactic to block health care reform.

True, Coakley coasted on a presumed victory while Brown ran an energetic campaign. Also true, almost everyone in Massachusetts already has health coverage. Still, Democrats hoped that the majority of voters would respond to the threat to national health care reform that Brown represents. In addition, Brown's other stances would seem to be anathema to an overwhelmingly Democratic state:

That seat, held for nearly half a century by Mr. Kennedy, the liberal lion of the Senate, will now be held for the next two years by a Republican who has said he supports waterboarding as an interrogation technique for terrorism suspects; opposes a federal cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions; and opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants unless they leave the country.

The options that the Democrats are considering now, including speeding up legislation before Brown takes his seat, are politically perilous. The implications for the Obama agenda remain to be seen, now that the president's number one domestic priority has been disrupted if not derailed. Those who support health care for all Americans now have one more reason to mourn the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Scott Brown Voted Against Assistance To 9/11 Recovery Workers

Does former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, who campaigned for Republican Scott Brown's senatorial campaign in Massachusetts (left), know that Brown voted against relief for 9/11 recovery workers? From The Plum Line:

One month after the September 11th attacks, Scott Brown was one of only three Massachusetts State Representatives to vote against a bill to provide financial assistance to Red Cross workers who had volunteered with 9/11 recovery efforts, we’ve learned.

...On October 17th, 2001, Brown
voted against a bill that would authorize “leaves of absence for certain Red Cross employees participating in Red Cross emergencies.” The bill gave 15 days of paid leave each year to state workers called up by the Red Cross to respond to disasters. At the time, state workers called for such emergencies were required to use sick and vacation days.

The bill was initially filed before 9/11, and after the attacks, it was made retroactive to 9/11, covering the time spent by state workers who’d assisted with 9/11 recovery work for the Red Cross. Brown’s vote against the measure came a little more than a month after the attack.

If he prevails against Democrat Martha Coakley, Brown could derail health care reform through enabling a Republican filibuster. That, like his vote described above, would be another shameful mark on his record. This time, the state of Massachusetts would share in the shame.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Scott Brown Suggested Obama Was Born Out Of Wedlock

Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston (D-MA), Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agree: the stakes are huge in the Massachusetts Senate race between Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley, state attorney general. If Brown prevails, it would imperil President Obama's agenda, particularly health care reform, since the Democrats would lose their 60-seat filibuster-proof majority. The president put his prestige on the line to campaign in Massachusetts for Coakley on Sunday.

Since Brown has the chance to disrupt Obama's priorities, let's look at his insinuations during the 2008 Republican convention regarding the president's background:

Brown: And quite frankly, Barack's mom had him when she was 18 years old.
Interviewer: And married.
Brown: Well, I don't know about that. But more importantly, the fact that she had him at 18 years old...

Paul Krugman states, "Brown is clearly aligning himself with the Limbaugh wing of the GOP, in which slurs along these lines are standard fare." Steve Benen carries the point forward, noting that since the interviewer raised the point of the Alaska governor's family, Brown decided to attack Obama's parents–a strategy straight from the right wing fringe's playbook:

The context is important here -- around the time of the interview, unhinged right-wing activists were pushing the line that Obama's parents weren't married, a claim that became central to the bizarre Birther conspiracy theory. Brown wasn't just attacking the future president and his parents during the interview; he was also lending credence to fringe right-wing stupidity.

Is it really possible that Massachusetts could elect this individual?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Satan Writes To Pat Robertson

Following Pat Robertson's recent demented comments that the earthquake in Haiti was caused by a deal Haitians made with the devil, Satan himself published an open letter to the televangelist:

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I’m all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I’m no welcher.

The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth — glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake.

Haven’t you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there’d be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox — that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it — I’m just saying: Not how I roll.

You’re doing great work, Pat, and I don’t want to clip your wings — just, come on, you’re making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That’s working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.



The letter, written by Lily Coyle of Minneapolis, appeared in the Star Tribune.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Cowboy Junkies Live In Ireland

Known for its mix of rock, blues, folk and country, Canadian alternative band Cowboy Junkies was formed in 1985 by three siblings, Margo Timmins, vocals; Michael Timmins, songwriter and guitarist, and Peter Timmins, drummer, along with Alan Anton, bassist. In this performance of "Misguided Angel" in Dingle, Ireland, Margo soulfully delivers the lyrics about a woman whose lover who does not meet with family approval.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rotten Rush Discourages Contributions To Haitian Emergency Efforts

Should we be surprised? Rush Limbaugh used the devastation in Haiti to launch a callous attack on President Obama and on emergency relief efforts. Listen:

Limbaugh: “This will play right into Obama’s hands — humanitarian, compassionate. They’ll use this to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community — the both the light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country. It’s made to order for them.”

So Limbaugh cynically accuses Obama of cynicism. What does race have to do with it? If an earthquake erupted in Italy during the Bush administration, would Limbaugh accuse "W" of using it to burnish his credibility with the "white community"?

Exposing the rot that festers at his core, Limbaugh also discouraged his listeners from donating to this dire emergency, stating, "We've already donated to Haiti. It's called the U.S. income tax." (Readers are encouraged to ignore Limbaugh and donate to one of the emergency relief providers listed below.)

In response, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated, "In times of great crisis, there are always people that say really stupid things. I don't know how anybody could sit where he does, having enjoyed the success that he has, and not feel some measure of sorrow for what has happened in Haiti. I think to use the power of your pulpit to try to convince those not to help their brothers and sisters is sad."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Help Emergency Services In Haiti

The Washington Post has compiled a list of groups that are accepting donations to provide emergency services following the devastating earthquake in Haiti:

Oxfam has an emergency team in the capital, Port-au-Prince, responding with public health, water, and sanitation services. You can donate online through its Haiti Earthquake Response Fund or by calling 1-800-77-OXFAM.
Partners In Health is taking contributions for relief efforts in Haiti, including medical supplies. The organization has had a presence in Haiti for more than 20 years, working to address the health care needs of the country's poor.
You can donate to The Salvation Army's efforts in Haiti by calling 800-SAL-ARMY (725-2769) or visiting their Web site and designating that your donation is for the Haiti earthquake.
The UN World Food Programme is accepting donations. Head of the WFP Josette Sheeran said the agency is deploying its resources in Haiti, including 86 metric tons of food. You can donate here.
National Nurses United has issued a call for nurse volunteers to provide assistance to those affected by the earthquake in Haiti.
The State Department has set up a hotline for Americans to inquire after family in Haiti: 888-407-4747.

There are several ways to donate via mobile device:

• Text the word "Yele" to 501501 to donate $5 on behalf of the Yele Haiti Foundation, founded by Haitian musician Wyclef Jean.
• Text the word "Haiti" to 85944 to donate $5 on behalf of the Rescue Union Mission and MedCorp International.
• Text the word "Haiti" to 25383 to donate $5 on behalf of the Internal Rescue Committee.
• Text the word "Haiti" to 864833 to donate $5 to United Way Worldwide's disaster fund.
• Text the word "Haiti" to 90999 to donate $10 on behalf of the American Red Cross.
• Text the word "Haiti" to 45678 (in Canada only) on behalf of the Salvation Army in Canada.

The list also includes other groups conducting specific relief efforts. To find out more, click here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pat Robertson: Haitian Earthquake Caused By "A Pact To The Devil"

After 9/11, Pat Robertson said, "I totally concur" when Jerry Falwell blamed the catastrophe on "...the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians...the ACLU, People For the American Way..."

After Hurricane Katrina, Robertson linked the disaster to legalized abortion and said that Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. can "be thankful that a tragedy has brought him some good" since "the focus of America is going to be on these [hurricane] victims."

Now, with the possibility of thousands of casualties following the earthquake in Haiti, listen to Robertson's characteristic response:

Robertson: It may be a blessing in disguise. There may be a massive rebuilding of that country. ...Christy, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, Napoleon III or whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said we will serve you if you get us free from the French. True story. So the devil said okay it's a deal, so the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since then they have been cursed by one thing after another.

So just as John Roberts should be thankful for Katrina, the hurricane in Haiti may be "a blessing in disguise" because the buildings may be spruced up. Tell that to Jeudy Francia, a Haitian woman who pleaded, "“Please save my baby! There is no one, nothing, no medicines, no explanations for why my daughter is going to die.”

Note that in the midst of what purports to be a history lesson, Robertson refers to "Napoleon III or whatever." It was Napoleon Bonaparte. In any event, Robertson's explanation for the hurricane's origins combines blaming the victims with sheer nonsense. Today's disaster is caused by Haitians who revolted against their colonialist European masters and made a deal with the devil? How is it that thousands listen to this buffoon?

Judge Suggests Roeder's Anti-Abortion Beliefs Might Lessen Charges

The trial of Scott Roeder (left), charged with killing Dr. George Tiller, who provided late-term abortions, has been delayed as lawyers disagree over the extent to which his legal team should be allowed to use opposition to abortion as a defense:

Prosecutors in the case against Scott Roeder, an abortion opponent charged with shooting Dr. George R. Tiller at his Wichita church last May, asked a judge to bar Mr. Roeder’s public defenders from portraying the crime as voluntary manslaughter as opposed to first-degree murder.

Mr. Roeder, of Kansas City, Mo., has acknowledged in legal documents to having carried out the shooting, but he has pressed to be allowed to show that he believed he was saving unborn children in the process.

The judge made intimations that are simply astounding:

Late last week, Judge Warren Wilbert of Sedgwick County District Court in Wichita suggested he might consider allowing evidence that could support a theory of voluntary manslaughter, which can be defined, under state law, as “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.”

Voluntary manslaughter carries a much shorter sentence than life imprisonment, a fact that is not lost on pro-choice groups:

Advocates of abortion rights said that even allowing the argument to be presented in court was appalling and dangerous. In a statement, Katherine Spillar, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said allowing such a defense would “embolden anti-abortion extremists and could result in ‘open season’ on doctors across the country.”

If this defense is allowed, can it also be applied to those who carry out mass terrorism? Suppose a terrorist had an "unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified" a bombing? Don't all terrorists, in fact, have that belief? Why should Roeder be permitted a defense which would ordinarily–and rightly–provoke outrage?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Southern Republican Leadership Conference Speakers Reflect Lack Of Diversity

Yes, there's an Indian American, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. There's also a woman, Sarah Palin, the new Fox News contributor. Nevertheless, does the lineup above of speakers at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference reflect America in 2010? Is this the "big tent" of the GOP?

Think Progress comments on the Republican party's lack of diversity: When [Michael] Steele became RNC chairman last year, there were only five African-American committee members — including Steele himself. There are no black Republican members of Congress; the three Cuban-Americans, one Vietnamese-American, and one Hispanic American represent the caucus’ entire minority membership.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Liberty Counsel Asks, "Have You Prayed For A Liberal Today?"

Liberty Counsel has introduced an "Adopt a Liberal Prayer In Action Program" whose aim is "Helping Restore Poor Leaders To Right Thinking." "Right," of course, translates into "right wing."

As seen in their logo, the Counsel asks, "Have you prayed for a liberal today?" The site invites supporters to "pray for God's intervention in many liberal's lives" and lists some "misguided leaders" who have strayed from God's path: Michael Bloomberg, Hillary Clinton, Barney Frank, John Holdren, Reverend Barry Lynn, Janet Napolitano, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Olympia Snowe, Alan Colmes, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.

In addition to being "pro-homosexual," Congressman Barney Frank is an "openly homosexual member of Congress." Alan Colmes, talk show host and "self-avowed liberal," requested that the Counsel add him so that he would not "feel 'left out.' "

There's a suggestion that supporters pray for "The Unknown Liberal," defined as "additional liberals the Lord may bring to mind who desperately need your prayers." I suggest that Liberty Counsel supporters choose me as one of the "unknown," everyday liberals since I support a woman's right to choose, gun control, marriage equality, hate crimes legislation, stem cell research, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and the separation of church and state.

I'm in need of emergency divine intervention. I'd advise the Liberty Counsel to adopt me and start praying for me immediately.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Ralph Towner Performs "Nardis"

Classically trained guitarist Ralph Towner moved toward jazz and world music through his work with the Paul Winter Consort and Oregon. In this performance of the Miles Davis composition "Nardis," Towner demonstrates his virtuoso improvisatory skills.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Matthews' Tough Question: What Has The GOP Done For The U.S. In 20 Years?

Chris Matthews repeatedly asked top Republican strategist Todd Harris what his party has done for the country for the past 20 years. Harris was tongue-tied. Watch:

Matthews: I've asked you to name one thing [the Republican party] has done for this country in the last 15-20 years...and you're having a hard time giving me an answer.

Harris: I'm not having a hard time giving you an answer. When I decide to write a book about the history of the last 20 years of the Republican party, I'll be happy to talk to you about that. My job is to win elections in 2010, and I'm going to keep my eye on the ball.

Matthews: YouTube is watching. You're the Republican consultant. One of the best in the country. Tell me what the Republican party has done for this country in the last 10 to 20 years.

Harris: [Silence]

Matthews: "Thank you. ...We'll have you back with the answer."

Did Matthews ask a tough question? Wasn't it a question that a top Republican strategist should have been able to answer? Actually, Harris answered the question with his silence.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Glenn Beck: "African-American Is A Bogus, PC, Made-Up Term"

Fox host Glenn Beck, who once called President Obama a "racist," has once again offered his insights on racial matters. He and his co-host were discussing the census and the fact that three of the boxes one could check for race are "Black," "African-American" and "Negro." Beck objected to the term "African-American." Listen:

Glenn Beck: African-American is a bogus, PC, made-up term. I mean, that's not a race. Your ancestry is from Africa and now you live in America. OK, so you were brought over -- either your family was brought over through the slave trade or you were born here and your family emigrated here or whatever but that is not a race.

So African-Americans should define themselves according to the standards of Glenn Beck.

Think Progress reminds us that Beck has said he doesn't have “a lot of African-American friends, and I think part of it is because I’m afraid that I would be in an open conversation, and I would say something that somebody would take wrong, and then it would be a nightmare.”

Not too difficult to imagine.

Monday, January 4, 2010

American Evangelicals Activate Anti-Gay Drive In Uganda

As a result of three American evangelicals' anti-gay lectures in Uganda, gays have been threatened with execution, life imprisonment, beatings and rape. It's apparently a short path from nonsensical speeches about a "gay agenda" to threats and violence:

Last March, three American evangelical Christians, whose teachings about “curing” homosexuals have been widely discredited in the United States, arrived here in Uganda’s capital to give a series of talks.

...For three days, according to participants and audio recordings, thousands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers and national politicians, listened raptly to the Americans, who were presented as experts on homosexuality. The visitors discussed how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and how “the gay movement is an evil institution” whose goal is “to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.”

Now the three Americans are finding themselves on the defensive, saying they had no intention of helping stoke the kind of anger that could lead to what came next: a bill to impose a death sentence for homosexual behavior.

Under international pressure, the Ugandan government is considering a "compromise": life in prison. Now the three evangelicals, Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schimierer, profess to be horrified. They should have considered the effects of their inflammatory rhetoric. Here's what their "spiritual mission" set in motion:

Human rights advocates in Uganda say the visit by the three Americans helped set in motion what could be a very dangerous cycle. Gay Ugandans already describe a world of beatings, blackmail, death threats like “Die Sodomite!” scrawled on their homes, constant harassment and even so-called correctional rape.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009 Highlights In Wingnuttery

In the cartoon series "This Modern World," Tom Tomorrow sharply lampoons conservative hysteria. During 2009, the wingnuts' fear-mongering went into overdrive following the election of Barack Obama. Here's the right-wing collective nervous breakdown month by month (click on the cartoons to make them larger):

Brit Hume: Tiger Woods Should Turn From Buddhism To Christianity

Fox News pundit Brit Hume offered Tiger Woods theological advice: the scandal-beset golfer must turn to Christianity, which is superior to Buddhism in terms of personal redemption. Watch:

Hume: "The extent to which he can recover seems to me depends on his faith. He is said to be a Buddhist. I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. My message to Tiger would, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world."

Woods discussed his spiritual practice in a March 2008 Reuters article:

"I practice meditation -- that is something that I do, that my mum taught me over the years. We also have a thing we do every year, where we go to temple together," he said.

"In the Buddhist religion you have to work for it yourself, internally, in order to achieve anything in life and set up the next life. It is all about what you do and you get out of it what you put into it."

Friday, January 1, 2010

Past Decade Draws Poor Reviews

The reviews are coming in about the past decade, and they're not good. Rebecca Mead of The New Yorker summarizes the disasters of the past 10 years:

The events of and reaction to September 11th seem to be the decade’s defining catastrophe, although it could be argued that it was in the voting booths of Florida, with their flawed and faulty machines, that the crucial historical turn took place.

...the decade saw the unimaginable unfolding: the depravities of Abu Ghraib, and, even more shocking, their apparent lack of impact on voters in the 2004 Presidential election; the horrors of Hurricane Katrina and the flight of twenty-five thousand of the country’s poorest people to the only slightly less hostile environs of the Superdome; the grotesque inflation and catastrophic popping of a housing bubble, exposing an economy built not even on sand but on fairy dust; the astonishing near-collapse of the world financial system, and the discovery that the assumed ironclad laws of the marketplace were only about as reliable as superstition. And, after all this, the still more remarkable: the election of a certified intellectual as President, not to mention an African-American one.

Paul Krugman calls the decade "The Big Zero" and elaborates on the period's economic illusions and the political culture's unwillingness to honestly assess them:

What was truly impressive about the decade past, however, was our unwillingness, as a nation, to learn from our mistakes.

Even as the dot-com bubble deflated, credulous bankers and investors began inflating a new bubble in housing. Even after famous, admired companies like Enron and WorldCom were revealed to have been Potemkin corporations with facades built out of creative accounting, analysts and investors believed banks’ claims about their own financial strength and bought into the hype about investments they didn’t understand. Even after triggering a global economic collapse, and having to be rescued at taxpayers’ expense, bankers wasted no time going right back to the culture of giant bonuses and excessive leverage.

Then there are the politicians. Even now, it’s hard to get Democrats, President Obama included, to deliver a full-throated critique of the practices that got us into the mess we’re in. And as for the Republicans: now that their policies of tax cuts and deregulation have led us into an economic quagmire, their prescription for recovery is — tax cuts and deregulation.

E.J. Dionne speaks of a "reckless, squandered decade" at home and abroad:

I'm afraid that the past 10 years will be seen as a time when the United States badly lost its way by using our military power carelessly, misunderstanding the real challenges to our long-term security and pursuing domestic policies that constrained our options for the future while needlessly threatening our prosperity.

Above, political cartoonist Joel Pett sums up "a decade of fear"–while fearing that its effects will continue. But after all of these calamities, the next decade can only be better, right?

Conservative Political Action Conference Muzzles Gay Group

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), to be held in February, lists as one of its co-sponsors the conservative gay rights group GOProud. According to the right-wing WorldNetDaily, social conservatives object to the group's co-sponsorship:

A campaign is being assembled to demand that the American Conservative Union, whose annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington draws the biggest names of the movement, reject a sponsorship from a homosexual activist group.

"CPAC's tenuous' Big Tent' could collapse altogether as social conservatives led by Liberty Counsel's Matt Barber threaten to launch a boycott of the conference … unless CPAC drops a homosexual activist group, GOProud, as a co-sponsor," says Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.

..."Urge Keene to drop GOProud as a CPAC co-sponsor because GOProud supports the same radical homosexualist agenda as other GLBT organizations – which is corrupting children and tearing apart America’s moral fiber," [LaBarbera] wrote.

In response, David Keene, chief of the American Conservative Union (above), stated that the group can co-sponsor the event but must be muzzled:

In his e-mail response, Keene admitted GOProud "has signed on as a CPAC co-sponsor, but will have no speakers and we told them that, in fact, since opposition to gay marriage, etc. are consensus positions (if not unanimous) among conservatives, these topics are not open to debate."

So the representatives of one of CPAC's co-sponsors are not allowed to speak and certain topics are not to be debated. How big a tent is the conservative movement?

Remembering David Levine, The Greatest Caricaturist Of Our Time

David Levine (left), who passed away at 83 on December 29, 2009, was the true heir of 19th century illustrators Honore Daumier and Thomas Nast. His drawings of the rich, powerful and famous, with their cross-hatched lines and prominent noses on large heads, while rarely flattering, were never vicious and always insightful. His subjects encompassed politicians, intellectuals, artists and athletes, yet when working in watercolors, he portrayed garment workers or Coney Island bathers from his native Brooklyn.

Levine contributed over 38,000 illustrations to The New York Review of Books. Among his most famous is a takeoff on President Lyndon B. Johnson's revealing his scar from a gall bladder operation, drawn in the shape of the nation's wound at that time, Vietnam:

Levine received tributes from fellow illustrators and cartoonists Art Spiegelman and his friend Jules Feiffer, who stated, "In the second half of the 20th century, he was the most important political cartoonist. ...He revived the art.” Steve Brodner, a powerful political cartoonist in his own right, wrote a moving tribute to Levine on his blog.

To view over 2,500 Levine illustrations from 1963 to the present in The New York Review of Books David Levine Gallery, click here. The New York Times has also produced a slide show, "The Work of David Levine." In the following video, this greatest of caricaturists talks about the inspirations behind his illustrations: