Sunday, February 27, 2011

David Cay Johnston: Wisconsin Public Workers Contribute 100% To Pension

Investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Cay Johnston (left) exposed the lies of Gov. Scott Walker and the sloppiness of journalists regarding Wisconsin public service workers' pensions. Contrary to the myth that their pensions are costing taxpayers, the workers themselves contribute 100 percent in deferred compensation:

Gov. Scott Walker says he wants state workers covered by collective bargaining agreements to "contribute more" to their pension and health insurance plans.

Accepting Gov. Walker' s assertions as fact, and failing to check, created the impression that somehow the workers are getting something extra, a gift from taxpayers. They are not.

Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin' s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.

How can that be? Because the "contributions" consist of money that employees chose to take as deferred wages – as pensions when they retire – rather than take immediately in cash. The same is true with the health care plan. If this were not so a serious crime would be taking place, the gift of public funds rather than payment for services.

Thus, state workers are not being asked to simply "contribute more" to Wisconsin' s retirement system (or as the argument goes, "pay their fair share" of retirement costs as do employees in Wisconsin's private sector who still have pensions and health insurance). They are being asked to accept a cut in their salaries so that the state of Wisconsin can use the money to fill the hole left by tax cuts and reduced audits of corporations in Wisconsin.

...The collective bargaining agreements for prosecutors, cops and scientists are all on-line

Reporters should sit down, get a cup of coffee and read them. And then they could take what they learn, and what the state website says about fringe benefits, to Gov. Walker and challenge his assumptions.

Defense Secretary Gates Warns Against Wars Like Iraq And Afghanistan

In a speech at West Point, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned against wars such as those that took place in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he also stated are less likely to be conducted in the future. One hopes that the country has learned not to lose lives and treasure over "wars of choice" with dubious rationales, including "regime change" and "spreading democracy" through "shock and awe" bombing and military occupations:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates bluntly told an audience of West Point cadets on Friday that it would be unwise for the United States to ever fight another war like Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the chances of carrying out a change of government in that fashion again were slim.

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

...“The odds of repeating another Afghanistan or Iraq — invading, pacifying, and administering a large third-world country — may be low,” Mr. Gates said, but the Army and the rest of the government must focus on capabilities that can “prevent festering problems from growing into full-blown crises which require costly — and controversial — large-scale American military intervention.”

Mr. Gates was brought into the Bush cabinet in late 2006 to repair the war effort in Iraq that was begun under his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and then was kept in office by President Obama. He did not directly criticize the Bush administration’s decisions to go to war. Even so, his never-again formulation was unusually pointed, especially at a time of upheaval across the Arab world and beyond. Mr. Gates has said that he would leave office this year, and the speech at West Point could be heard as his farewell to the Army.

Israeli Video Mocking Qaddafi Goes Viral Across Arab World

A video mocking Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, created by Israeli journalist, musician and Internet buff Noy Alooshe, has become a YouTube hit across the Arab world. Alooshe based it on Qaddafi’s speech in which he pledged to hunt the opposition “inch by inch, house by house, home by home, alleyway by alleyway.” Set to the music of “Hey Baby” by American rappers Pitbull and T-Pain, Alooshe’s song is titled “Zenga-Zenga” after Qaddafi’s use of the Arabic word for alleyway, zanqa. The following original version features a scantily-clad dancing woman; Alooshe, who promoted his video online to young Arab revolutionaries, also created a version without the dancer following requests that he provide one that viewers can show to their parents. Watch:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Scarborough: Beck Is "Out Of Control"

It's one thing to read an article in The Liberal Curmudgeon stating that Glenn Beck is out of control; it's something else entirely when conservative commentators make the same observation. After playing clips of Beck ranting against the usual world conspiratorial alliance of radicals, Islamists, communists, socialists and unions, Joe Scarborough states, ""I've been telling conservatives for about two years, this guy is bad for the movement. This guy is losing it before our eyes. He's bad for the conservative movement. He's bad for the Republican Party. He's bad for Fox News...even guys over at Fox News have to start thinking, 'This can't last. He's out of control.' " Scarborough then cites a blog post from fellow conservative Peter Wehner that states, "Glenn Beck has become the most disturbing personality on cable television." "Morning Joe" concludes, "[Beck] throws bombs out all the time. It's the conspiracy theories that are the most dangerous because that gets people acting out." Watch:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: "I'm Sticking To The Union"

The camera is a bit too shaky, but the spirit of this rendition of Woody Guthrie's "I'm Sticking to the Union" is especially moving at this time. Performing at Madison Square Garden in honor of Pete Seeger's 90th birthday (2009) are (front, left to right) Mike Merenda, banjo; Billy Bragg, vocals; Dar Williams, guitar and vocals, and Ruthie Merenda, violin and vocals. Watch their gesture of solidarity at the end as they hold up their union cards. This post is dedicated to the thousands of public service workers and the Democratic senators in Wisconsin. In their just struggle against Gov. Scott Walker, they fight for the survival of the American labor movement and the right of all workers to have a say in their working conditions.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Obama Administration Stops Defending The Indefensible

The very name of the law, "The Defense of Marriage Act," is nonsensical. Why would my wife and I need "defending" if a gay couple down the hall got married? Would we be under attack? Then there's the constitutional issue of equal justice under the law. Why do my wife and I enjoy federal benefits that same-sex couples don't, including Social Security survivors' benefits, family and medical leave, filing joint tax returns? This law legalizes such unfair treatment and even allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages that are legal in other states. Stating that the Obama administration will stop defending the act, Attorney General Eric Holder (above) cited its unjustifiable basis in discrimination and its unconstitutionality:

The Justice Department had defended the act in court until now. But Holder said Obama concluded the law fails to meet a rigorous standard under which courts view with suspicion any laws targeting minority groups, such as gays, who have suffered a history of discrimination — a stricter standard of scrutiny than the department has applied in the past.

Looking back to Congress' debate on the legislation, Holder said it was clear that there were "numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships — precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the (Constitution's) Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against." [Quotation from Holder's letter to Congress]

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wisconsin Protest Quotes Of The Week

“We believe in hospitality and tourism and being friendly. I also believe in unions.” - Gov. Patrick J. Quinn (left) of Illinois, on Democratic senators from Wisconsin who are staying in his state to block the passage of Gov. Scott Walker's union-busting bill

“The Democrats were tremendous to walk out, and they’ve got my vote. I can put my daughter through college all because of the union. I’m going to support what got us here.” - Rick Royer, 51, heavy equipment operator

Libyan Signs Denounce Qaddafi To The World

During the Egyptian demonstrations against Mubarak, protesters held a sign that was a takeoff on Obama's famous campaign poster and "Yes We Can" slogan. Now Libyan demonstrators are carrying their own version of the Obama poster, in which Qaddafi appears over the word "Hopeless"–a play on Obama's "Hope and Change" slogan:

These posters, featuring an American-based image and a slogan in English, are one more example of  the protesters' sophisticated use of the media to transmit their message internationally. Also noteworthy in this regard is the use of the colloquial expression "Game Over" in protest signs in Tunisia, Egypt and, currently, Libya:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Koch Brothers, Oil Magnates, Behind Gov. Walker's War On Unions

Last August, Jane Mayer wrote in The New Yorker (article here; my excerpt here) about Charles and David Koch (left), billionaire oil magnates who fund the "Americans for Prosperity," a supposedly grass-roots (i.e. "astroturf") group that campaigns for right-wing policies benefiting the wealthy. The Koch brothers and their group are backing Gov. Scott Walker's campaign to eliminate Wisconsin public service unions of collective bargaining rights:

State records also show that Koch Industries, their energy and consumer products conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., was one of the biggest contributors to the election campaign of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican who has championed the proposed [public sector union] cuts.

Even before the new governor was sworn in last month, executives from the Koch-backed group [Americans for Prosperity] had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown...

...the most aggressive expansion of the Koch brothers’ effort to influence public policy has come through the Americans for Prosperity, which runs both a charitable foundation and a grass-roots-activists group. ...David Koch is chairman of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

...The organization has taken up a range of topics, including combating the health care law, environmental regulations and spending by state and federal governments. The effort to impose limits on public labor unions has been a particular focus in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all states with Republican governors...

To Bob Edgar, a former House Democrat who is now president of Common Cause, a liberal group that has been critical of what it sees as the rising influence of corporate interests in American politics, the Koch brothers are using their money to create a fa├žade of grass-roots support for their favorite causes.

“This is a dangerous moment in America history,” Mr. Edgar said. “It is not that these folks don’t have a right to participate in politics. But they are moving democracy into the control of more wealthy corporate hands.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Paul Krugman: Gov. Walker's Power Play For The Wealthy

Paul Krugman comments that Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin aims to eliminate any political challenge to corporate wealth. Stripping public employee unions of the right to collective bargaining would render them powerless–and clear the electoral field of an entity that supports campaigns on behalf of middle and working class interests. What Walker is doing has nothing to do with balancing his state's budget; indeed, he drove up the deficit and the unions are ready to compromise. It's all about moving toward an America that serves only the needs of the rich. From "Wisconsin Power Play":

...In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.

There’s a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.

So will the attack on unions succeed? I don’t know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn’t.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Questions On Libya For Beck And Limbaugh

Now that Libyan dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi (left) is using warplanes to bomb protestors, as well as helicopters and mercenaries to open fire on them (Human Rights Watch puts the current death toll at 233), here are two questions for Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh:

1. Following your depictions of the protests in Egypt, are those taking place in Libya also part of an Islamist-leftist plot to sow worldwide destruction?

2. Do you regret the fact that former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak either didn't or couldn't use warplanes, helicopters and mercenaries in an attempt to crush the protests?

Chris Hayes, Naomi Klein: Why Wisconsin Matters

Chris Hayes of The Nation and journalist and author Naomi Klein discuss the Wisconsin protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to end collective bargaining. Hayes speaks about the attempt to decimate public labor unions, following that of private-sector unions; the goal of destroying teachers unions as part of the weakening of public education, and way in which the demonstrations in Wisconsin are part of an American tradition of grass-roots mobilization and dissent. Klein views Walker's agenda as another example of her thesis in “The Shock Doctrine” (reviewed here) in which unpopular right-wing policies are rammed through during crises–a process that includes the constricting of democracy, currently through outlawing collective bargaining. Klein compares the resistance in Wisconsin to protests against the conservative policies of British Prime Minister David Cameron. Watch:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rep. Jackie Speier Offers Personal Response To Attack On Planned Parenthood

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) responded to the suggestion of Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) that women cavalierly undergo abortions. Smith spoke in support of the amendment spearheaded by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) to strip Planned Parenthood of all federal funding due to the fact that it provides abortions–even though it does not use federal funds for the procedure. Speier courageously spoke about the circumstances that prompted her own abortion and criticized Pence's amendment. Watch:

Rep. Speier: "I had really planned to speak about something else, but the gentleman from New Jersey just put my stomach in knots, because I'm one of those women he spoke about just now. I had a procedure at 17 weeks pregnant with a child that had moved from the vagina into the cervix. And that procedure that you just talked about was a procedure that I endured. I lost a baby. But for you to stand on this floor and to suggest, as you have, that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous. To think that we are here tonight debating this issue when the American people, if they are listening, are scratching their heads and wondering, 'What does this have to do with me getting a job? What does this have to do with reducing the deficit?' And the answer is, nothing at all. There is a vendetta against Planned Parenthood, and it was played out in this room tonight. Planned Parenthood has a right to operate. Planned Parenthood has a right to provide services for family planning. Planned parenthood has a right to offer abortions. Last time you checked, abortions were legal in this country."

To sign an open letter to Congress and support Planned Parenthood, click here.

Ezra Klein: Gov. Walker Created Deficit, Uses It To Bust Unions

Ezra Klein (left) explains that Gov. Scott Walker created the very deficit that he now wants public employees to pay for. More importantly, Walker is using it for a longtime Republican ideological end: to destroy public-employee unions. Doing so removes an entity that funds Democratic campaigns. From "Unions Aren't To Blame For Wisconsin's Budget":

The governor called a special session of the legislature and signed two business tax breaks and a conservative health-care policy experiment that lowers overall tax revenues (among other things). The new legislation was not offset, and it helped turn a surplus into a deficit... As Brian Beutler writes, "public workers are being asked to pick up the tab for this agenda."

But even that's not the full story here. Public employees aren't being asked to make a one-time payment into the state's coffers. Rather, Walker is proposing to sharply curtail their right to bargain collectively. A cyclical downturn that isn't their fault, plus an unexpected reversal in Wisconsin's budget picture that wasn't their doing, is being used to permanently end their ability to sit across the table from their employer and negotiate what their health insurance should look like.

That's how you keep a crisis from going to waste: You take a complicated problem that requires the apparent need for bold action and use it to achieve a longtime ideological objective. In this case, permanently weakening public-employee unions, a group much-loathed by Republicans in general and by the Republican legislators who have to battle them in elections in particular. And note that not all public-employee unions are covered by Walker's proposal: the more conservative public-safety unions -- notably police and firefighters, many of whom endorsed Walker -- are exempt.

If you read Walker's State of the State address, you can watch him hide the ball on what he's doing. "Our upcoming budget is built on the premise that we must right size our government," he said. "That means reforming public employee benefits -- as well as reforming entitlement programs and reforming the state’s relationship with local governments." Not a word on his actual proposal, which is to end collective bargaining for benefits.

Wisconsin Gov. Walker Aims To Destroy Public Workers Unions

Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Protest from Matt Wisniewski on Vimeo.

Kudos to the 14 Wisconsin Democratic senators who went into hiding rather than complete a quorum enabling Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans to pass legislation eviscerating public workers' collective bargaining rights. Walker's aims have nothing to do with reaching a fiscal compromise with the unions and everything to do with destroying them. Unions, along with corporations, are among the beneficiaries of the Supreme Court's misguided Citizens United decision rejecting political spending limits. Once unions are dealt a death blow, only corporations will be left to spend millions–on Republican campaigns. Other states are looking at Wisconsin as the test case for union busting:

Governor Walker, in an interview, said he hoped that by “pushing the envelope” and setting an aggressive example, Wisconsin might inspire more states to curb the power of unions. “In that regard, I hope I’m inspiration just as much as others are an inspiration to me,” he said.

...As Gerald W. McEntee, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the main union of state employees, put it: “Workers’ rights — including the fundamental right to organize and bargain for better pay, benefits and working conditions — are under attack in states from Maine to Ohio, from Wisconsin to Florida.”

Governor Walker’s plan would limit collective bargaining for most state and local government employees to wages, barring them from negotiating on issues like benefits and work conditions. It would also require workers to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, cap wage increases based on the Consumer Price Index and limit contracts to one year. And it would take on the power of unions by requiring them to take annual votes to maintain certification, and by permitting workers to stop paying union dues...

“If they succeed in Wisconsin, the birthplace of A.F.S.C.M.E., they will be emboldened to attack workers’ rights in every state,” Mr. McEntee said. “Instead of trying to work with public employees at the bargaining table, they’ve decided to throw away the table.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Lou Reed Saves Lives With Rock And Roll

Lou Reed performs "Rock and Roll" in 1983 at the still-missed Bottom Line club in Greenwich Village. He's accompanied by a dynamic band composed of Robert Quine, guitar; Fernando Saunders, bass, and Fred Maher, drums. Reed sings for everyone whose "life was saved by rock and roll." In conversation after the show, Reed states that he hit a note that caused him to levitate.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Boehner On Federal Job Losses: "So Be It"

Speaker of the House John Boehner professes concern about jobs. He and his fellow Republicans, after all, labeled their attempt to repeal health care reform the "Repeal the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." But he's awfully cavalier about job losses for federal workers. They and their families don't count–and he's ready to tell us why, regardless of the accuracy of his points:

...During his weekly news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Boehner claimed that Mr. Obama had added 200,000 federal workers since he took office (a figure that has been disputed), and shrugged at the idea that Republican efforts to slash government spending would put many of them out of work.

“If some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it,” Mr. Boehner said. “We’re broke. It’s time for us to get serious about how we’re spending the nation’s money.”

...Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, took to the floor of the House to denounce Mr. Boehner’s comment. “Democrats do not subscribe to Speaker Boehner’s verdict that if jobs are lost in this continuing resolution, so be it,” she said. “Maybe so be it for him, but not so be it for the people who are losing their jobs.”

...Politifact, a Web site that tracks the accuracy of claims by politicians, said on Tuesday that Mr. Boehner’s statement that the federal workforce had grown by 200,000 people was false. In fact, the site said, the size of federal employment has grown by about half that much.

Chris Matthews took note of Boehner's arrogance and false statistics:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ahmadinejad's Regime: Cheers For Egyptians, Beatings For Iranians

The Iranian regime under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is filled with cheers for the Egyptian people's struggle for democracy; when it comes to the Iranian people demanding their rights, however, it's time to send out the thugs. From a Times editorial, Hope and Protests:

Iran’s autocrats have shown once again that they know absolutely no shame. Last week, they crowed about the ouster of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and rushed to claim solidarity with the protestors in Tahrir Square.

On Monday, when thousands of Iranian protestors courageously took to the streets of Tehran, the government sent out its riot police to threaten and beat anyone who dared to demand an end to the mullah’s rule. The judiciary announced that 1,500 people were jailed, and a member of Parliament said two people were killed. Journalists were barred from covering the protests, so no one really knows how many more may have died.

The government has placed two of the main opposition leaders, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest. On Tuesday, 222 of 290 Iranian lawmakers called for their execution. Unfortunately, no one can dismiss that as empty rhetoric. A group of Iranian intellectuals living abroad recently charged that Tehran executed more than 500 dissidents in 2010 and another 83 just since the start of this year.

We don’t know what will happen next.

We are cheered by the news that the Iranian people are still willing to stand up and truly frightened by the government’s capacity for brutality.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bernard Avishai: Olmert And Abbas Provided A "Template For Peace"

In an article in this past Sunday Times Magazine, Bernard Avishai (left) writes about how close former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas came to realizing the two-state solution, the only viable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their talks were overtaken by Olmert's resignation on corruption charges, the election of Netanyahu and the Gaza war; Avishai, however, sees them as a template for the present. The two former negotiators warn that the opportunity must not be lost:

...the Israeli-Palestinian talks in 2007 and 2008 provide an invaluable template for a new, Obama-led push for peace. As unlikely as it might sound, now is the time. Obama’s hand in Israel has been strengthened by events in Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan. At the same time, the U.S. is paying a growing price for the current impasse between Israel and Palestine and the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands, for which Americans receive much of the blame...

...The issues that were supposed to be intractable — demilitarization of the Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees — proved susceptible to creative thinking. Even on borders, Olmert and Abbas were able to agree on fundamentals: a desire to disrupt as few lives as possible and to maximize the contiguity (and therefore the economic possibility) of Palestinian cities. “We didn’t waste a minute during our months of negotiation,” Abbas said.

...[Abbas] told me he expects America to act to bring about a plan by this fall. That is what the Obama administration once promised, that it would work to secure a deal on a Palestinian state by September 2011. “If nothing happens, I will take a very, very painful decision,” Abbas said. “Don’t ask me about it.” He grew wistful. “We have to live with each other. We have to talk with each other. We have to know each other. Many have criticized me since the 1970s, but until now I am committed to peace. But not forever. I don’t mean I will return back to violence — never! In my life, I will never do it. But I cannot stay in my office forever doing nothing.”

...“There is a danger that the events in Egypt will mislead some to lose hope in peace,” Olmert told me pointedly in an e-mail. “I think the opposite, that there can be another way to challenge the events near us. This is the time to move forward, fast, take my peace initiative with the Palestinians and make a deal. This will be my advice to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Don’t wait. Move, lead and make history. This is the time. There will not be a better one.”

Former Fox Staff Member: "Stuff Is Just Made Up"

A former Fox News employee told Media Matters that the organization is the propaganda arm of the Republican party under the guise of a news network. According to the source, one has to propagate the right-wing party line; Fox cultivates a defensive corporate culture; Fox actively campaigns for Republicans:

Asked what most viewers and observers of Fox News would be surprised to learn about the controversial cable channel, a former insider...was quick with a response: “I don’t think people would believe it’s as concocted as it is; that stuff is just made up.”

Indeed, a former Fox News employee who recently agreed to talk with Media Matters confirmed...that Fox News is run as a purely partisan operation, virtually every news story is actively spun by the staff, its primary goal is to prop up Republicans and knock down Democrats, and that staffers at Fox News routinely operate without the slightest regard for fairness or fact checking.

"...anything—anything--that was a news story you had to understand what the spin should be on it. If it was a big enough story it was explained to you in the morning [editorial] meeting. If it wasn’t explained, it was up to you to know the conservative take on it...

"...You always have to seem to be under siege. You always have to seem like your values are under attack. The brain trust just knew instinctively which stories to do, like the War on Christmas.”

...It’s clear that Fox News has become a misleading, partisan outlet. But here’s what the source stresses: Fox News is designed to mislead its viewers and designed to engage in a purely political enterprise.

In 2010, all sorts of evidence tumbled out to confirm that fact, like the recently leaked emails from inside Fox News, in which a top editor instructed his newsroom staffers (not just the opinion show hosts) to slant the news when reporting on key stories such as climate change and health care reform.

Meanwhile, Media Matters revealed that during the 2009-2010 election cycle, dozens of Fox News personalities endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or organizations in more than 600 instances. And in terms of free TV airtime that Fox News handed over to GOP hopefuls, Media Matters calculated the channel essentially donated $55 million worth of airtime to Republican presidential hopefuls last year who also collect Fox News paychecks.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Limbaugh, Beck: Egyptian Revolt Not Spontaneous

The backing of right wingers for Hosni Mubarak is a curious phenomenon. Didn’t conservatives support George Bush’s supposed push for democracy in Iraq? Or does democracy only come about through a superpower's “shock and awe” bombing campaign and prolonged occupation? Is a grass roots campaign for democracy involving non-violent civil disobedience invalid? In addition, doesn’t such protest repudiate the terrorist tactics of Al-Qaeda? Regardless, Rush Limbaugh denounced the protesters as leftist rabble engaging in “classic community organizing”:

Limbaugh: "And, folks, they are all leftists. They’re feminists. They’re avowed socialists, leftists, communists, environmentalists. I don’t believe this is coincidence that Tunisia then this thing springs up. I don’t believe that this is just spontaneity.”

Glenn Beck continues his fear-mongering, stating like Limbaugh that the Egyptian revolt is “not spontaneous”; instead, it's all a plot by destructive conspirators:

Beck: “The most important aspect to understand is this is not spontaneous and it will cascade throughout the Middle East. I hope to God that it does not but I bet it touches Europe and then the world. It will not have a singular ideology but it will mean revolution, destruction, and change and it will be led by young people. Because anyone over 30 knows that chaos never leads to anything good.”

"SNL": Mubarak Thanks America

Fred Armisen playing Hosni Mubarak on “Saturday Night Live” commented on Swiss banks freezing the former dictator's assets amid calls for an accounting of his family’s billions. At the end, the Mubarak character told host Seth Meyes that he wanted to thank the American people. Watch:

Fred Armisen as Hosni Mubarak: “America, thank you. You propped up my regime for over 30 years. I could never have done it without all of your money and support and tear gas. You know what they say, Seth, behind every horrible dictator is an enabling superpower. America, you are the wind beneath my wings.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Chet Baker Performs "My Funny Valentine"

Throughout his career, Chet Baker was associated with the Rodgers and Hart classic song "My Funny Valentine"; this performance, both sensitive and swinging, demonstrates why. Baker on vocals and trumpet is joined by Harold Danko, piano; Hein van der Geyn, bass, and John Engles, drums, in Tokyo, June 14, 1987.

Mubarak Takes A Hint

Apparently even an authoritarian, out-of-touch ruler, faced day after day with crowds like this in Tahrir Square, Cairo, is capable of letting reality slowly seep in and taking the only feasible action left: resigning. The way forward is filled with challenges, but now is the time to congratulate the people of Egypt for their non-violent protest and for taking what one hopes will be the first step toward democracy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mubarak Can't Take A Hint

It’s difficult to imagine exactly what Hosni Mubarak hoped to accomplish with Thursday’s speech in which he stated that he will remain as president of Egypt. After thousands of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square were told by two generals that all their demands would be met, they reacted with fury and disbelief when they learned that their chief demand was refused. One recalls that Mubarak has stated that he can’t step down for fear of sowing chaos; he also said on Thursday, “It’s not about me.” Both statements show how deluded he has become. With Thursday's provocative, defiant speech, this supposed bulwark of stability has probably unleashed more chaos than ever. David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times assesses the effects of Mubarak’s refusal upon the many clamoring for him to step down:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fox News: The Sexism And Sleaze Network

Media Matters has compiled a report on the sexism and sleaze that are endemic to Fox News, along with the numerous sexual harassment and discrimination suits brought against its parent company, News Corp. The following video shows various Fox hosts making insulting comments about women, including assessments about who's "hot"; it also demonstrates Fox's penchant for images of scantily clad women. Examples are taken from a broad range of programs, from "Fox & Friends" to business, daytime and prime time shows. Apparently Fox thinks it's fine, for example, to have Brian Kilmeade ask co-host Gretchen Carlson, "Didn't men give you the kitchen?" and refer to women as "babes, chicks" and "skirts." Watch:

Republicans Pursue Economic Restrictions On Abortion Rights

The Republicans are proposing economic restrictions that are more severe than ever in order to impose a de facto abortion ban. Most appallingly, they have sought to redefine rape in order to restrict access further:

One bill, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” would eliminate tax breaks for private employers who provide health coverage if their plans offer abortion services, and would forbid women who use a flexible spending plan to use pre-tax dollars for abortions. Those restrictions would go well beyond current law prohibiting the use of federal money for abortion services.

The bill...has drawn fire over language that undercuts a longstanding exemption on the ban on using federal money for abortions in the case of rape or incest; the measure narrows the definition of rape to “forcible rape”... Democratic lawmakers and others repeatedly hammered on the term, saying it suggested that victims of statutory rape and other crimes could not get abortions paid for with federal money.

...Another bill...addresses the health care overhaul head-on by prohibiting Americans who receive insurance through state exchanges from purchasing abortion coverage, even with their own money...

The bill would also permit hospitals to refuse abortions to women, even in emergency situations, if such care would offend the conscience of the health care providers.

“Both bills are designed to drive coverage for abortion out of health insurance plans, period,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Characteristic of the Republican agenda, these restrictions will hurt poor women the most. If put into effect, some women may be able to travel wherever abortion services are offered. Some may be able to afford out-of-pocket services. The poorest will end up in back alleys with coat hangers.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Utah Schoolchildren May Soon Learn About Their State Gun

Utah schoolchildren may soon be learning about a deadly official state symbol. The Browning M1911 is moving toward legislative approval as the state gun. The Utah House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the measure; approval is also expected in the Senate:

"This firearm was created by John Moses Browning, who was a son of Utah pioneers," said Republican Rep. Carl Wimmer of Herriman, Utah, during debate on the House floor. "This firearm really has defended liberty and freedom around the country and around the world. And I think this is a very appropriate designation to capture a portion of the state history."

One need not be a pacifist to object to Wimmer's position. One could state that firearms have been used to defend the country, but that war is ultimately tragic and that we should work to rid ourselves of violent conflicts. We'll never do that, though, through the glorification of firearms. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss recognizes that the gun culture so prevalent in this country often carries horrific consequences:

"It seems insensitive to me at this time when many people are mourning the deaths of six people in Tucson and the serious wounding of Gabrielle Giffords, a friend of mine," Moss told the Utah House. "Many people have a negative experience with guns because guns do kill people [when they're] in the hands of those who use them wrongly."

Moss also described shootings that took the lives of two cousins: a soldier two weeks away from discharge at Fort Hood, Texas; and a teenager gazing at the stars with a friend when a thrill-seeker shot them both.

...Moss said she had a difficult time imagining schoolchildren drawing and coloring the Utah state symbols — the delicate sego lily, the majestic Rocky Mountain elk and the tasty sugar beet — and then turning to a lethal .45-caliber handgun.

A state gun could help indoctrinate such schoolchildren into the state's gun culture:

Last year, Utah issued more than 67,000 concealed-weapons permits, with more than 51,000 going to people who don't even live in the state, according to the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune": Public Commitment, Private Demons

Of all of the singer-songwriters who took part in the 1960s folk music revival centered in New York’s Greenwich Village, Phil Ochs was the most committed to progressive causes. While Bob Dylan was certainly known for his protest anthems, he resented being anointed a generational spokesman and moved toward the personal and the surreal. For the greater part of his career, as depicted in the documentary “Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune,” Ochs maintained his public commitment.

In addition to writing such protest classics as “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” and “Ballad of Medgar Evers,” Ochs was always ready to lend his talents to the next civil rights or antiwar rally. To watch the film is to revisit the epochal events of the 1960s, from Ochs' involvement with the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention to his pain at the assassination of President Kennedy. In addition, such iconic figures as Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Peter Yarrow, Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman, among others, discuss Ochs’ impact on music and politics.

Ochs’ inner demons rendered his life’s story ultimately tragic. His father was hospitalized for depression, and there is an implication that Ochs’ bipolar disorder was at least partly genetic. His condition was aggravated by his alcoholism, his frustration with the pace of political change, disappointments with his career, feelings of being at loose ends when the war in Vietnam finally ended, and his mugging in Tanzania, which damaged his vocal chords. He committed suicide in 1975 at 35. “Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune” is a fascinating documentary of social and musical history and of a haunted, brilliant troubadour committed to saving the world but unable to save himself.

“Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune” is playing throughout the country until May 15.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Egyptian Protestors To Mubarak: "No You Can't"

As the West, including the U.S., backs a gradual transition in Egypt, protesters continue to demand the immediate removal of President Hosni Mubarak, who has presided over 30 years of repression and stagnation. The sign above, a takeoff on President Obama's famous campaign poster and "Yes We Can" slogan, epitomizes the stance of anti-government forces in Tahrir Square, Cairo, and other centers of revolt throughout Egypt.

Iowa Teen Zach Wahls Makes A Powerful Appeal For Marriage Equality

In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court found a state law limiting marriage to a man and a woman to be unconstitutional. The court is exactly where this issue should be decided, and, in this case, it affirmed the principle of equal protection under the law. Moving backwards, an Iowa House committee recently approved a proposal enabling voters to decide whether the state constitution should limit marriage to heterosexual couples.  It is appalling that the civil rights of a minority should be subject to the vote of a majority, with the possible result being codified discrimination. Before the House Committee, 19-year-old Zach Wahls, son of two mothers, made an eloquent, powerful appeal for marriage equality:

Zach Walls: "If I was your son, Mr. Chairman, I believe I'd make you very proud. I'm not really so different from any of your children. My family really isn't so different from yours. After all, your family doesn't derive its sense of worth from being told by the state, 'You're married; congratulations.' No. The sense of family comes from the commitment we make to each other... So what you're voting here isn't to change us... You are voting for the first time in the history of our state to codify discrimination into our constitution..."

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: The Decemberists Consider The Hazards Of Love

Indie folk-rock band The Decemberists perform "The Hazards of Love" at Rock the Garden 2009, Minneapolis. The song is characteristic of the group's ballads; in this case, the lyrics tell the story of a woman riding on horseback who comes upon a wounded fawn and tries to help the creature. The fawn transforms into a man, and they fall in love immediately and consummate their passion on the forest floor, the thistles providing a cushion.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Glenn Beck: Islamist/Marxist Axis Plots To Set World On Fire

According to Glenn Beck, the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have little to do with leaderless, broad-based revolts against repressive, autocratic leaderships. In his rapid-fire domino theory, they're part of a “global movement” coordinated by Islamists and Marxists to set the world on fire. The fact that it all started in a small country like Tunisia also has, in Beck's view, insidious historical overtones. While there are indeed potential dangers posed by the current insurrections, Beck believes he knows how it will all “play out” based on simplistic premises and wild speculation. Watch:

BECK: I believe that I can make a case in the end that there are three powers that you will see really emerge. One, a Muslim caliphate that controls the Mideast and parts of Europe. Two, China, that will control Asia, the southern half of Africa, part of the Middle East, Australia, maybe New Zealand, and God only knows what else. And Russia, which will control all of the old former Soviet Union bloc, plus maybe the Netherlands. I'm not really sure. But their strong arm is coming. That leaves us and South America. What happens to us? (h/t Media Matters)

So a revolt that started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt may eventually lead to China controlling New Zealand and Russia controlling the Netherlands–all coordinated by a Muslim-Communist axis. Did the young man who set himself ablaze and inspired the Tunisian revolt know all this in advance?

Fox News Can't Locate Egypt

Fox News displayed the map above showing Egypt in the wrong location. Since, according to a recent poll, Fox is the most trusted name in news, it's essential that the network accurately show where important Middle Eastern countries like Egypt and Iraq are. Such accuracy is especially urgent since studies show that Fox viewers are already particularly misinformed. I therefore present the following map for Fox producers as a public service:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bush's Daughter Makes Video Backing Gay Marriage

As president, George W. Bush backed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. That makes the video made by his daughter Barbara Bush all the more praiseworthy and significant. She endorsed gay marriage as part of the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality series produced by the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group. Barbara Bush joins other daughters of prominent Republicans, including Meghan McCain and Mary Cheney, in backing marriage equality. Watch:

Barbara Bush: “I'm Barbara Bush, and I'm a New Yorker for marriage equality. New York is about fairness and equality. And everyone should have the right to marry the person that they love. Join us.”

Waseem Wagdi, Egyptian Protester At The Egyptian Embassy, London

President Hosni Mubarak will be driven from power in Egypt. Everything else about the Egyptian uprising is difficult to predict, including the country’s new leadership, the Egyptian economy, the Obama administration’s position, and the effects on Israel and the Palestinians, both anxious about Egypt for their own reasons. Putting aside these future quandaries, the Egyptian people are throwing off a regime that has long stood for domestic repression and stagnation. Waseem Wagdi, an Egyptian living in London, made a passionate statement about his country's yearning for freedom during a protest this past Saturday at the Egyptian Embassy in London: