Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"A Single Man" Film Review: A Day Of Grief And Clarity

Based on the Christopher Isherwood novel, "A Single Man" depicts a gay man named George (Colin Firth), an English professor living in California who has lost the will to live following the death by car accident of his younger lover (Matthew Goode).

The story is set in a single day during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and in his classroom George speaks of the power of fear. During that period, fear explained why George had to be careful about expressing the grief that consumes him. Flashbacks depict his idyllic relationship with his lover, while nightmares express the shock of his loss. Whether he can still connect with another person is tested in encounters with a young wanderer from Spain who affects a James Dean image (Jon Kortajarena); a former lover from his native London and boozing partner, Charley (Julianne Moore), who regrets the fact that George is not a straight man, and Kenny, a student (Nicholas Hoult), who pursues him.

Nominated for best actor, Colin Firth turns in a performance combining tremendous subtlety and expressiveness. George struggles between his suicidal impulses and the moments of clarity that, however fleeting, give life meaning and beauty. Ultimately, though, we're reminded that the resolution of inner conflicts is not always within our control.

Wingnut Fever: 24% Of Republicans Think Obama Is The Anti-Christ

Think that the most extreme views of President Obama are confined to tea partiers, militia members and hosts of right-wing talk radio and Fox News? Think again. Wingnut fever is a contagion among Republicans. Here are the findings of a recent Harris Poll:

Majorities of Republicans believe that President Obama:

Is a socialist (67%)
Wants to take away Americans' right to own guns (61%)
Is a Muslim (57%)
Wants to turn over the sovereignty of the United States to a one world government (51%); and
Has done many things that are unconstitutional (55%).

Also large numbers of Republicans also believe that President Obama:

Resents America's heritage (47%)
Does what Wall Street and the bankers tell him to do (40%)
Was not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president (45%)
Is the "domestic enemy that the U.S. Constitution speaks of" (45%)
Is a racist (42%)
Want to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers (41%)
Is doing many of the things that Hitler did (38%).
Even more remarkable perhaps, fully 24% of Republicans believe that "he may be the Anti-Christ" and 22% believe "he wants the terrorists to win."

The book "Wingnuts" by John Avlon examines these beliefs; regarding this poll, the author said, "These new numbers are shocking but not surprising – they detail the extent to which Wingnuts are hijacking our politics. This poll should be a wake-up call to all Americans about the real costs of using fear and hate to pump up hyper-partisanship. We are playing with dynamite by demonizing our president and dividing our country in the process. Americans need to remember the perspective that Wingnuts always forget – patriotism is more important than partisanship."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Week Of Violent Rhetoric, Threats And Vandalism Follow Health Care Bill

The right wing's collective nervous breakdown over the passage of health care reform included racial slurs, direct calls or excuses for violence, and acts of vandalism. Highlights include:

• Three black lawmakers, including Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), were called racial slurs as they approached the capitol for the vote last Sunday. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) was subjected to anti-gay remarks.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) excused the slurs as an understandable response to the Democrats' "crazy totalitarian tactics."
• Glass windows and doors were shattered at Democratic Party offices and the district offices of House Democrats from Arizona to Kansas to New York. At least 10 Democratic lawmakers reported threats. Former militia leader Mike Vanderboegh advocated the action on his blog. The FBI investigated a severed gas line at the home of Rep. Tom Perriello's (D-VA) brother; a local tea party group listed the address online.
• Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich mitigated his own condemnation of violence by stating, "...the Democratic leadership has to take some moral responsibility for having behaved with such arrogance..."
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) accused Democrats of "dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon" and stated that a bullet was shot through his campaign office. Richmond police later determined that the incident was "an act of random gunfire."
Sarah Palin told her followers through Twitter that they should "reload" and "aim" for Democrats. She directed activists to her SarahPac website featuring a map of the country with rifle scope cross-hairs over Democratic congressional districts.
• From the right-wing media: Huckabee called for members of Congress to be "tarred and feathered"; Savage said, "We're going to have a revolution in this country"; Stossel said he has "Barney Frank in effigy hanging above his sofa"; Erickson asked when it will be time for people to "march down to their state legislator's house, pull him outside and beat him to a bloody pulp?"
Think Progress has compiled a video of Republican lawmakers who used violent rhetoric, including Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), Rep. Wally Herger (R-CA), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and Rep. Steve King (R-IA):

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Rockabilly Singer Dale Hawkins

Dale Hawkins, who passed away on February 18, was a pioneering rockabilly songwriter, guitarist and singer. His 1957 hit "Susie Q" was named one of the 500 songs that "shaped rock and roll" by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was covered by many bands; Creedence Clearwater Revival's rendition was a hit in 1968. Hawkins is shown here at the New Orleans House of Blues in 2009, singing the end of "Who Do You Love," followed by "Susie Q." On lead guitar is James Burton, who played the powerful solo on the original recording.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Frum: Health Care Bill Is Republicans' Waterloo

David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush and former fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has shaken up the right with his assessment of the health care bill. Instead of President Obama meeting his Waterloo, as Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) predicted, it was the Republicans who were defeated. In his article "Waterloo," Frum called the legislation the "most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s" and stated that the Republicans' refusal to compromise meant that they exerted no influence on the final package:

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

In addition, the campaign to repeal the bill will fail:

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

How did this happen? The Republicans followed the party's base, who were under the influence of the right-wing media:

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

Speaking to ABC News, Frum stated, "Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we're discovering that we work for Fox." Watch:

It appears that at least some conservatives don't want to hear Frum's criticisms. On Thursday, he was forced out of the American Enterprise Institute.

McCain Warns Dems: No More Cooperation

During a radio interview, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) delivered some shocking news for Democrats following the passing of health care reform:

There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year. They have poisoned the well in what they've done and how they've done it.

So the high level of cooperation that Republicans have shown for the stimulus package, health care and other administration priorities suddenly comes to a screeching halt? This pouting and whining comes from the presidential candidate whose slogan was "Country First"?

Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), issued a blunt assessment of McCain's "threat" that the Party of No will suddenly act like...the Party of No:

For someone who campaigned on ‘Country First’ and claims to take great pride in bipartisanship, it’s absolutely bizarre for Senator McCain to tell the American people he is going to take his ball and go home until the next election. He must be living in some parallel universe because the fact is, with very few exceptions, we’ve gotten very little cooperation from Senate Republicans in recent years.

At a time when our economy is suffering and we’re fighting two wars, the American people need Senator McCain and his fellow Republicans to start working with us to confront the challenges facing our country—not reiterating their constant opposition to helping working families when they need it most.

Obama's "Yes We Can" Vs. Boehner's "Hell No, You Can't"

The Emmy winning video collage "Yes We Can" by Black Eye Peas member was inspired by a speech that Barack Obama delivered following the 2008 New Hampshire Primary. In a brilliant new video mash-up, Obama's "Yes We Can" slogan is contrasted with House Republican leader John Boehner's shout, "Hell no, you can't," during the health care debate on Sunday. Following the Obama's ushering in of historic reform, Boehner spoke for the entire Party of No. Watch:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Can Netanyahu Move Away From His Right-Wing Coalition?

Israel's relations with the United States have been tense ever since the Israeli Interior Ministry called for 1,600 housing units for settlement in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians see as their future capital. The announcement came during the visit of Vice President Biden, a strong supporter of Israel. The New York Times reports on America's and Britain's questions about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his right-wing coalition:

Mr. Netanyahu finds himself at odds with the United States and Britain partly because of the coalition he is having to manage at home. He has personally moved even farther to the right, while driving a political alliance with even more conservative elements. But some analysts say that Mr. Netanyahu has more leeway than it appears, that he could build a more centrist coalition if he chose to.

Meanwhile, both Britain and the United States have become increasingly frustrated with these Israeli political currents, with officials in both countries expressing doubts about whether such a conservative alliance could ever move forward on a peace plan.

Writing in The New Yorker, David Remnick wonders whether Netanyahu is capable of shaking off his past ideology–and whether he realizes the consequences of not doing so:

The essential question for Israel is not whether it has the friendship of the White House—it does—but whether Netanyahu remains the arrogant rejectionist that he was in the nineteen-nineties, the loyal son of a radical believer in Greater Israel, forever settling scores with the old Labor élites and making minimal concessions to ward off criticism from Washington and retain the affections of his far-right coalition partners. Is he capable of engaging with the moderate and constructive West Bank leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, and making history? Does there exist a Netanyahu 2.0, a Nixon Goes to China figure who will act with an awareness that demographic realities—the growth not only of the Palestinian population in the territories but also of the Arab and right-wing Jewish populations in Israel proper—make the status quo untenable as well as unjust?

Without the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian state, comprised of a land area equivalent to all of the West Bank and Gaza (allowing for land swaps), and with East Jerusalem as its capital, it is impossible to imagine a Jewish and democratic future for Israel. There is nothing the Israeli leadership could do to make the current fantasy of an indifferent American leadership become a reality faster than to get lost in the stubborn fantasy of sustaining the status quo.

49 Years Of Republican Fear-Mongering Over Health Reform

In 1961, Ronald Reagan warned that Medicare brought with it the imminent threat of socialism and dictatorship. Sound familiar? Listen:

During the health care debate on Sunday, Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) told us that we are bringing back the ghosts of communism:

The only thing that has been brought back, 49 years later, is Republican fear-mongering about providing affordable health care for greater numbers of Americans.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Obama's Legacy Assured

This is why we elected him. If President Obama does nothing else during his time in office, the passage of health care reform will stand as a major, lasting achievement. Within the first year of his presidency, Obama has realized the decades-long, primary domestic goal of the Democratic Party: to make health care more affordable and available for the American people. This bill stands with civil rights legislation, Social Security and Medicare as a landmark advance that will affect every American for the better. Rare is the president who makes such a difference.

Special mention must be made of the determination and perseverance of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who refused to give up after the victory of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, rebuffed Rahm Emanuel's idea of limited reform, exchanged assurances with the president that they would stand together and rounded up the votes.

After seeming at times detached from the battle and vague about his vision, Obama rallied the party when it mattered, especially in the face of total Republican obstruction, and courageously put his entire political capital on the line. He came back from the brink and proved completely worthy of his campaign slogan "Yes We Can."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Rep. Weiner Dismisses Fox News Excitement Over Tea Party Protests

This is not the first time that "fair and balanced" Fox News has provided eager coverage for tea party protests. This time, host Megyn Kelly drew attention to the repeated "Fox News Alerts" covering "fired up" demonstrators against health reform and to the "interesting contrast" between their booing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and cheering Republican leaders. Kelly interviewed Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who dismissed her questions about "a couple of protesters" inside the chamber and pointed out, “The important story today is whether or not we are going to be able to get 216 votes to save the taxpayers a lot of money and provide insurance for people that don’t have it.” Watch (h/t Think Progress):

Jon Stewart Parodies Glenn Beck

Jon Stewart as Glenn Beck skewered the latter's nonsensical history lessons, in which social justice leads to totalitarianism and Maoists are taking over the White House–"connections" that are frantically diagrammed on a blackboard. Watch:

Robinson: Democrats Finally Learn To Take A Stand

Eugene Robinson (left) has outlined two of the most important lessons Democrats can take away from the health care debate: have the courage to take a stand and stop the futile search for bipartisanship. He expresses justified amazement at how long it took to learn these obvious truths:

If health-care reform finally staggers across the finish line, it will be because President Obama and congressional Democrats recognized -- at long last -- the truth that has been staring them in the face for more than a year: They'll be better off politically if they just try their best to do the right thing.

No matter what the Democrats attempt or how they go about it, Republicans are going to complain, obstruct and attack. That's the inescapable lesson from this whole exercise, and it's hard to fathom why it took so long to sink in...

As if to prove my point, some Republicans are already talking about trying to repeal the reform bill even though it hasn't been passed.

We're getting neither single-payer health care nor a public option. Basically, we're reforming and regulating privatized health care. If the bill is approved on Sunday, United Health Care and Blue Cross will still be in business on Monday. You wouldn't know all this from the Republicans' wild rhetoric:

...the Republicans portray even this fairly modest set of fixes -- cautious, incremental, fiscally responsible -- as socialism run rampant. They portray the health-reform package as a government "takeover," although the idea of any kind of limited, restricted, tightly constrained little government-run health plan has long been abandoned. They portray Democrats as a bunch of wild-eyed leftists for a bill that Richard Nixon would have signed.

The Democrats are finally discovering something important:

The poll numbers started to turn around when Democratic leaders took a stand. Having the courage of one's convictions: What a concept.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Obama At His Best: Rallying For Health Care Reform

Obama spoke at George Mason University in Virginia on March 19. As he has done for more than a week, the president made an impassioned final plea for health care reform. Watch:

The stakes are huge in terms of Obama's presidency and legacy:

Regardless of the political fallout, historians say health-care reform will take its place in the same category as the enactment of Social Security in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, and only a rung or two below passage of the major civil rights bills of the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to the bill's providing coverage for more than 32 million uninsured Americans, people would no longer be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions. The "doughnut hole" for Medicare prescriptions would eventually be eliminated, and young people could stay on their parents' insurance plan through age 26.

"I think this will be seen as a really major reform initiative," said presidential historian Robert Dallek. "How it plays out remains to be seen. But if Social Security and Medicare and civil rights are any preludes to this initiative, then I think it will become a fixed part of the national political/social/economic culture."

Now it's up to the Democrats. I hope that on Sunday we will witness a transformative, historic accomplishment.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Lou Reed On The Dirty Boulevard

Lou Reed's songs about the dark side of urban life have an underlying moral outrage. In this 1998 performance, Reed, backed by a characteristically tight band, portrays a youngster's struggles on the "Dirty Boulevard" and his desperate dreams of flight.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

NJ Gov. Christie's Budget: Republican-Style "Shared Sacrifice"

Governor Christopher J. Christie of New Jersey (R), announcing sharp budget cuts in terms of state workers, education, health care and more, has stated, "the watchwords of this budget are shared sacrifice and fairness." Take a look at how he proposes to implement these ideals:

The battle to ensue is likely to shape up around the so-called millionaire’s tax, a one-year income-tax surcharge on people making more than $400,000 that Mr. Christie vowed not to renew. (Democrats allowed it to lapse in December.) If that surcharge were renewed, it would bring in close to $1 billion.

The state doesn't need the $1 billion to be accrued from millionaires. There are other sources of income:

...trimming the state’s earned-income tax credit to 20 percent of the federal benefit, from 25 percent.

Jon Shure, an expert on state finances at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning group in Washington, said he believed this would be the first time a state had reduced its earned-income tax credit.

“That’s the kind of decision that could be avoided by going for more on the revenue side,” he said. “You’re spreading the pain to the lowest-income working people in the state.”

More examples of how Christie is spreading the most pain to those who have the least:

[Christie proposes] imposing new $310 deductibles and doubling some drug co-payments for participants in a state prescription-drug plan for the elderly and disabled, cutting state-financed school breakfasts and rental assistance and trimming the state’s earned-income tax credit to 20 percent of the federal benefit, from 25 percent.

...He also wants to reduce by attrition the so-called senior freeze that caps property taxes for the elderly, by not admitting new homeowners into the program.

Christie's budget epitomizes the Republican concept of "shared sacrifice and fairness." Millionaires are treated gingerly. Those whose low income qualifies them for the earned-income tax credit, the elderly, the disabled, poor children–they're the ones called upon to sacrifice.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Senator McConnell Leads Republican Obstructionism

The futility of bipartisanship was made clear in the New York Times' profile of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell's strategy of obstructionism was in place well before President Obama tried reaching across the aisle:

Before the health care fight, before the economic stimulus package, before President Obama even took office, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, had a strategy for his party: use his extensive knowledge of Senate procedure to slow things down, take advantage of the difficulties Democrats would have in governing and deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation.

Republicans embraced it. Democrats denounced it as rank obstructionism. Either way, it has led the two parties, as much as any other factor, to where they are right now. Republicans are monolithically against the health care legislation, leaving the president and his party executing parliamentary back flips to get it passed, conservatives revived, liberals wondering what happened.

McConnell himself emphasizes staying "together" as a "team" in order to say no to the Democrats on issue after issue:

“It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out,” Mr. McConnell said about the health legislation in an interview, suggesting that even minimal Republican support could sway the public. “It’s either bipartisan or it isn’t.”

Mr. McConnell said the unity was essential in dealing with Democrats on “things like the budget, national security and then ultimately, obviously, health care.”

... In meeting after meeting in the Capitol, Mr. McConnell...urged his colleagues to keep playing “team ball.”

After Democrats realized that they had no Republican support and decided upon reconciliation to pass health care reform, they were criticized by Republicans–even though the latter have used reconciliation plenty of times. In any event, bipartisanship with the Party of No is, as Paul Krugman recently wrote, "a foolish dream."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Frank Rich Counters Right-Wing Revisionism

Now that the Texas Board of Education has approved a social studies curriculum straight out of the right-wing spin machine, one can only anticipate the "history" students will learn about the failed Bush presidency. Frank Rich (left), in "The New Rove-Cheney Assault on Reality," reminds us that "the revisionist floodgates" are already opened.

Dana Perino, Bush's press secretary, and Rudy Giuliani said that we had no terrorist attack during the previous administration. Karl Rove, in his memoir "Courage and Consequence," portrays his former boss as an "apostle of containment" in foreign affairs. Dick Cheney's daughter Liz, founder, with neocon William Kristol, of "Keep America Safe," holds Bush "blameless for the post-9/11 resurgence of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Iran." For attacking Justice Department attorneys who defended Guantanamo detainees, Liz Cheney has been criticized by both liberals and conservatives.

As this crowd calls President Obama "soft on terror," it's worth remembering which administration's foreign policy disasters still affect us today. Rich provides this much needed historical account:

Obama may well make — or is already making — his own mistakes. And he will bear responsibility for them. But they must be seen in the context of the larger narrative that the revisionists are now working so hard to obscure. The most devastating terrorist attack on American soil did happen during Bush’s term, after the White House repeatedly ignored what the former C.I.A. director, George Tenet, called the “blinking red” alarms before 9/11. It was the Bush defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who lost bin Laden in Tora Bora, not the Obama Justice Department appointees vilified by Keep America Safe. It was Bush and Cheney, with the aid of Rove’s propaganda campaign, who promoted sketchy and often suspect intelligence about Saddam’s imminent “mushroom clouds.” The ensuing Iraq war allowed those who did attack us on 9/11 to regroup in Afghanistan and beyond — and emboldened Iran, an adversary with an actual nuclear program.

...If we are really to keep America safe, it’s essential we remember exactly which American politicians empowered Iran, Al Qaeda and the Taliban from 2001 to 2008, and why. History will be repeated not only if we forget it, but also if we let it be rewritten by those whose ideological zealotry and boneheaded decisions have made America less safe to this day.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Jefferson On The Outs In Texas Right-Wing Curriculum

Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase "separation between church and state." He has therefore been cut from a list of writers who inspired revolutions in the late 18th and 19th century. The Texas Board of Education, which approved a right-wing social studies curriculum, revised his standing in history. Hispanics are on the outs, too:

Efforts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures as role models for the state’s large Hispanic population were consistently defeated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting late Thursday night, saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”

“They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians,” she said. “They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world.”

Civil rights legislation, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and McCarthyism are also being rewritten: amendment [stated that] students should study “the unintended consequences” of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation. amendment [was approved] stressing that Germans and Italians as well as Japanese were interned in the United States during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.

Other changes seem aimed at tamping down criticism of the right. Conservatives passed one amendment, for instance, requiring that the history of McCarthyism include “how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.”

How about an amendment on religious freedom?

Mavis B. Knight, a Democrat from Dallas, introduced an amendment requiring that students study the reasons “the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others.”

It was defeated on a party-line vote.

So with which historians, sociologists and economists did the conservative bloc consult?

There are seven members of the conservative bloc on the board, but they are often joined by one of the other three Republicans on crucial votes. There were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted at the meetings, though some members of the conservative bloc held themselves out as experts on certain topics.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Do Israelis And Palestinians Want Peace?

This has been a particularly disheartening week in terms of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Speaking in Jerusalem, Vice President Joseph Biden guaranteed America's support for Israel's security, only to hear an announcement from the country's Interior Ministry calling for 1,600 housing units for settlement in Arab East Jerusalem. Both Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the move.

Thomas Friedman (left), in "Driving Drunk In Jerusalem," warned Israel that its settlements policy in East Jerusalem and the West Bank continues to undermine prospects for peace:

...Israel needs a wake-up call. Continuing to build settlements in the West Bank, and even housing in disputed East Jerusalem, is sheer madness. Yasir Arafat accepted that Jewish suburbs there would be under Israeli sovereignty in any peace deal that would also make Arab parts of East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital. Israel’s planned housing expansion now raises questions about whether Israel will ever be willing to concede a Palestinian capital in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem — a big problem.

Israel has already bitten off plenty of the West Bank. If it wants to remain a Jewish democracy, its only priority now should be striking a deal with the Palestinians that would allow it to swap those settlement blocs in the West Bank occupied by Jews for an equal amount of land from Israel for the Palestinians and then reap the benefits — economic and security — of ending the conflict.

Also disheartening was the dedication by Palestinians of a public square in El Bireh, West Bank, to the memory of Dalal Mughrabi. Why was she paid this tribute?

The woman being honored, Dalal Mughrabi, was the 19-year-old leader of a Palestinian squad that sailed from Lebanon and landed on a beach between Haifa and Tel Aviv. They killed an American photojournalist, hijacked a bus and commandeered another, embarking on a bloody rampage that left 38 Israeli civilians dead, 13 of them children, according to official Israeli figures. Ms. Mughrabi and several other attackers were killed.

Mughrabi was part of the deadliest terrorist attack in Israeli history. In addition, the Palestinians honoring Mughrabi weren't from Hamas, but from the youth division of Fatah, the group supposedly dedicated to a two-state solution with Israel.

Ultimately, the United States can't want an end to the conflict more than the Israelis and Palestinians do.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Grateful Dead Cover Dylan

The Grateful Dead were one of the best interpreters of the music of Bob Dylan. Here three band members perform a soulful rendition of "She Belongs To Me." This 1992 recording included Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia, vocals and acoustic guitar, and Phil Lesh, bass. Weir and Garcia's trading off verses and Garcia's guitar solo are particularly enjoyable.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Obama's Engagement: It's About Time

Take a look at this photo. When was the last time we saw President Obama so engaged? His recent appearances on behalf of health care are reminiscent of the election campaign:

In a high-octane appearance that harked back to his “yes we can” campaign days, Mr. Obama jettisoned the professorial demeanor that has cloaked many of his public pronouncements on the issue, instead making an emotional pitch for public support as he tries to push the legislation through a final series of votes in Congress in the next several weeks.

With the fate of his signature initiative on the line, and Republicans eager to portray Democrats as out of step with the country and incapable of governing, Mr. Obama seemed to relish the opportunity to cut loose and make his case on his terms, as he often has at pivotal moments.

And, with his back to the wall, the president appeared intent on reassuring his party that he was as confident as ever in his powers to explain, persuade and capture the politics of the moment.

...Boiling down his proposal to a few sentences, Mr. Obama asked, “How many people would like a proposal that holds insurance companies more accountable? How many people would like to give Americans the same insurance choices that members of Congress get? And how many would like a proposal that brings down costs for everyone? That’s our proposal.”

Now that it's do-or-die with health care, President Obama is asking the right questions, speaking with passion and naming names. But why did he wait until his back was against the wall? Why did he often seem so disengaged during the health care debate? Why didn't he fight harder for the public option or come out swinging against the outrages of the health care industry?

Many of us who like this president and want him to succeed–this writer included–hope that this is only the beginning of more passion and fight. Let him carry these qualities into other battles, including financial reform and consumer protection.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Religious Right Speaker Prays For Control Of Media

Right Wing Watch has been reporting on the Generals International's "Convergence 2010: A Cry To Awaken A Nation" conference in Dallas. Here Janet Porter of the religious right group Faith 2 Action asks God to deliver control of the media:

Porter: I am asking God to take power and influence in the media of this country and of this globe from the unrighteous and give it to the righteous people... I want to own these networks, to make CBS the Christian Broadcasting System...

Porter asks for an essential step to establishing a theocracy: constant religious indoctrination over the airwaves.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Liz Cheney Criticized For Smearing Attorneys

Liz Cheney is drawing fire for her attack on Justice Department attorneys who have represented Guantanamo detainees. Her group "Keep America Safe" brands the attorneys the "Gitmo 9." In doing so, it has attacked our legal system, a point recognized by the New York Times in "Are You or Have You Ever Been a Lawyer?" The Times also recognized the media outlet that propagates views such as Cheney's:

These voices — often heard on Fox News — are going after Justice Department lawyers who represented Guantánamo detainees when they were in private practice. It is not nearly enough to say that these lawyers did nothing wrong. In fact, they upheld the highest standards of their profession and advanced the cause of democratic justice. The Justice Department is right to stand up to this ugly bullying.

...In order to attack the government lawyers, Ms. Cheney and other critics have to twist the role of lawyers in the justice system. In representing Guantánamo detainees, they were in no way advocating for terrorism. They were ensuring that deeply disliked individuals were able to make their case in court, even ones charged with heinous acts — and that the Constitution was defended.

...If lawyers who take on controversial causes are demonized with impunity, it will be difficult for unpopular people to get legal representation — and constitutional rights that protect all Americans will be weakened. That is a high price to pay for scoring cheap political points.

While Cheney has been taken to task by liberals such as Glenn Greenwald on Salon, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post and Michael Keegan, president of People for the American Way, she's also been criticized by conservatives including Peter D. Keisler, Bush administration attorney general, who stated, “There is a longstanding and very honorable tradition of lawyers representing unpopular or controversial clients. The fact that someone has acted within that tradition, as many lawyers, civilian and military, have done with respect to people who are accused of terrorism – that should never be a basis for suggesting that they are unfit in any way to serve in the Department of Justice.”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Michael Moore On Campaign Finance Reform

Michael Moore spoke to Mother Jones about his disappointment with the president and about the Tea Party phenomenon as part of a tradition in which the powerful manipulate the legitimate anger of the have-nots toward right-wing ends. He also talked about his favorite films 0f 2009. What resonated most with me was his statement on the necessity of campaign finance reform:

Moore: We need to start a movement of people who are going to run for office [who are dedicated to] changing our campaign funding system to where our elections are funded by the public and not by those who have the most money. Once we fix that one piece, so much will fall into place where then those in office, like those in office in France or England or Germany or Canada or whatever, they will become afraid of the voters and they will be doing what the voters tell them to do.

Moore's challenge is particularly critical since the Supreme Court rejected corporate campaign spending limits, an outrageous act of conservative judicial activism.

Krugman: The Parties Live In Different Universes

Paul Krugman took Senator Jim Bunning's (R-KY) failed blockade of unemployment benefits, which interrupted payments to around 100,000 workers, as testimony to the different intellectual and moral universes Democrats and Republicans live in:

...What Democrats believe is what textbook economics says: that when the economy is deeply depressed, extending unemployment benefits not only helps those in need, it also reduces unemployment. That’s because the economy’s problem right now is lack of sufficient demand, and cash-strapped unemployed workers are likely to spend their benefits...

In contrast, Republicans like Senator Jon Kyl (AZ) believe that a one-month extension of unemployment benefits will be a "disincentive for them to seek new work":

In Mr. Kyl’s view, then, what we really need to worry about right now — with more than five unemployed workers for every job opening, and long-term unemployment at its highest level since the Great Depression — is whether we’re reducing the incentive of the unemployed to find jobs. To me, that’s a bizarre point of view — but then, I don’t live in Mr. Kyl’s universe.

The difference is also clear in the health care debate:

During the debate over unemployment benefits, Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat of Oregon, made a plea for action on behalf of those in need. In response, Mr. Bunning blurted out an expletive. That was undignified — but not that different, in substance, from the position of leading Republicans.

It's clear, in addition, in the priority Democrats give to extending benefits to the jobless and the Republicans to repealing estate taxes for a minuscule portion of the wealthiest:

Now, the House has already passed a bill that, by exempting the assets of couples up to $7 million, would leave 99.75 percent of estates tax-free. But that doesn’t seem to be enough for Mr. Kyl; he’s willing to hold up desperately needed aid to the unemployed on behalf of the remaining 0.25 percent. That’s a very clear statement of priorities.

Finally, the implications are clear in terms of the possibility of bipartisanship:

...bipartisanship is now a foolish dream. How can the parties agree on policy when they have utterly different visions of how the economy works, when one party feels for the unemployed, while the other weeps over affluent victims of the “death tax”?

Or, to apply a New York expression to the topic of bipartisanship: fuhgetaboutit.

Art History Bar

Guy walks into a bar and receives a frightening introduction to art history:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Hold Your Horses! Surveys Art History

The French-American band Hold Your Horses! has produced a most entertaining video especially for those of you who know your art history. Their track "70 Million" is performed against renditions of paintings by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Magritte, Van Gogh, Chagall, Warhol and more.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Republican National Committee Document Mocks Donors, Pushes Fears

Ben Smith of Politico has revealed that a Republican National Committee confidential document mocks the party's donors and plays on their fears:

The Republican National Committee plans to raise money this election cycle through an aggressive campaign capitalizing on “fear” of President Barack Obama and a promise to "save the country from trending toward socialism."

The strategy was detailed in a confidential party fundraising presentation, obtained by POLITICO, which also outlines how “ego-driven” wealthy donors can be tapped with offers of access and “tchochkes.”

...In neat PowerPoint pages, it lifts the curtain on the often-cynical terms of political marketing, displaying an air of disdain for the party’s donors that is usually confined to the barroom conversations of political operatives.

The document refers to the administration and its allies with ridiculous images:

One page, headed “The Evil Empire,” pictures Obama as the Joker from Batman, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leaders Harry Reid are depicted as Cruella DeVille and Scooby Doo, respectively.

RNC chair Michael Steele tried to distance himself from the document; a spokesman said, "...the chairman disagrees with the language and finds the use of such imagery to be unacceptable."

The document outlines how to handle two groups of donors:

The small donors who are the targets of direct marketing are described under the heading “Visceral Giving.” Their motivations are listed as “fear;” “Extreme negative feelings toward existing Administration;” and “Reactionary.”

Major donors, by contrast, are treated in a column headed “Calculated Giving.”

Their motivations include: “Peer to Peer Pressure”; “access”; and “Ego-Driven.”

Here's "The Evil Empire" slide:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stewart: Fox's "News" Is No Different From Its Opinion Shows

Jon Stewart again exposed the Fox network's lie that its news division is separate from its opinion shows. Recalling Fox's statement to the New York Times that its "news hours" are from 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. and 6:00-8:00 p.m. (the hours when it claims it is "objective"), Stewart examined Megan Kelly's "America Live." Think her "news show in the middle of the day" is any different from Fox's opinion shows on the topic of health care? Watch as Stewart plays the clips:

Republican Senator Gregg Defended Reconciliation In 2005

Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) opposes the Democrats' plan to use reconciliation to pass health care legislation. He stated, "“The purpose of the Senate on something this complex and this comprehensive is to be a place where you have debate and you have amendments. And if you have a decent bill you shouldn’t fear them.”

Gregg has apparently changed his mind on reconciliation since 2005, when he wanted to use it to allow drilling in the Arctic wildlife refuge and to reduce Medicaid spending. Why was the process necessary? Gregg explained, “You can’t get 60 votes because the party on the other side of the aisle simply refuses to do anything constructive in this area.” Sound familiar?

On March 16, 2005, Gregg proclaimed the following about reconciliation: "All this rule of the Senate does is allow a majority of the Senate to take a position and pass a piece of legislation. Is there something wrong with majority rules? I don't think so." Exactly! Watch:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Maddow Exposes Republican Hypocrisy Over Reconciliation

Rachel Maddow has been doing an excellent job repeatedly exposing Republican hypocrisy over reconciliation, which the Democrats plan to use to pass health reform. What the GOP now calls "the nuclear option" has been used by them many times; they used it to pass the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) pointed out that the Republicans have resorted to it 13 out of 18 times since 1980. Further, if reconciliation is a "nuclear option," there is a precedent for using it to pass such health programs as COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Watch as Maddow points out these facts and more:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

2010 Whitney Biennial: Focus On Disorientation

The 2010 Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art (NYC) followed the tradition of showcasing the work of young, up-and-coming American artists. The exhibit made evident the continued trend in mixed media environments, with certain wings resembling an artistic video arcade.

The other hallmark is an emphasis on the ominous and disorienting. Josephine Meckseper's video of Minneapolis's Mall of America casts the mall as a vast, forbidding, endless temple of materialism, set to a discomforting soundtrack. James Casebere depicted another common feature of the American landscape, the suburban housing development, as an alien locale, with strangely lit photos of homes that he constructed as models.

Curtis Mann's distortions of photos taken during the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah were meant to cast the media's representation of war in doubt. On the other hand, Nina Berman's photos of former Marine Sergeant Ty Ziegel, severely disfigured as the result of a suicide bombing in Iraq, portray the real cost of war–and cause one to reflect on the price of a war prosecuted for dubious rationales by those who avoided military action in their youth.

In the video "Patron" by Marianne Vitale, the artist stared straight ahead and obsessively and loudly demanded that the viewers take certain absurd actions, seemingly parodying both authoritarianism and artistic movements. One exception to the focus on disorientation and provocation was the work of Suzan Frecon, whose large, abstract, contemplative shapes recall the minimalist paintings of Ellsworth Kelly.

The 2010 Whitney Biennial is on view through May 30. For further information, call (212) 570-3600 or visit In the following video, curator Francesco Bonami discusses the exhibition: