Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two Beat Books: A Literary Movement’s Legacy

The Beats: A Graphic History, text by Harvey Pekar et al., art by Ed Piskor et al. 199 pp. Hill and Wang. $14.95 (paperback)
Beats At Naropa, Edited by Anne Waldman and Laura Wright. 227 pp. Coffee House Press. $15.95 (paperback)

The Beat Generation was distinctive as a countercultural movement whose most lasting legacy is the literature it produced. Two books offer an assessment of the literary lights of this group, primarily active in the 1950s.

The Beats: A Graphic History is an illustrated narrative of the lives and work of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, plus other Beat writers. While the medium of this book is limited in terms of scholarly depth, it does provide an entertaining overview of the movement, along with valuable insights: “The Beats revolutionized American culture and consciousness, reviving the oral tradition, taking poetry out of the academy and into the streets. The Beats challenged the sexual and political values of the 1950s, opening the doors to writers who were female, gay and lesbian, and from ethnic minorities.” Regarding female writers, the Beats were not immune to the male chauvinism of the time; one of the most moving chapters, “Beatnik Chicks,” describes how female artists often sacrificed their art and lives for the males. Other issues considered include the obscenity trial for Ginsberg’s “Howl” (see my review of the related film), the San Francisco Literary Renaissance, artists associated with the Beats and the phenomenon of jazz and poetry.

Beats at Naropa is a diverse and explorative anthology based on the audio archives of The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. Individual presentations and panel discussions focus on Ginsberg’s famous 1955 reading of “Howl” at the Six Gallery in San Francisco, Women and the Beat movement, Kerouac’s spiritual search, and a poets' colloquium in which W.S. Merwin and Ginsberg, among others, discuss the excitement of sharing oneself and having others recognize themselves through writing. Steven Taylor provides an illuminating final chapter on the importance of oral and literary traditions in terms of preserving cultural memory and the Beats’ role in the twentieth-century’s mixture of high and low culture.

Reviews written in memory of Hal Goldman (1954-2010), Beat scholar and dear friend.
Strange now to think of you, gone...while I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village. – Allen Ginsberg, Kaddish

Rep. Trent Franks: Marriage Equality Threatens Nation’s Survival

In August, Rep. Sally Kern (R-OK) said that gays pose a more serious threat to the country than terrorists. Now fanning the flames of hysteria regarding the gay "national threat" is Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ). On Friday, Franks was interviewed on the radio show of Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. He spoke about about marriage as a “special exception,” or right, of straight couples–and stated that marriage equality will destroy the family unit and, ultimately, the nation. (Franks also called in March for impeaching President Obama if the administration didn’t defend the Defense of Marriage Act.) Listen:

Franks: We understand that when we’re granting the rights of marriage, that that’s a special right Tony, that’s something we have suggested is clearly the best possible way to see children raised through the best possible environment to launch the next generation, we believe that with all of our hearts as a society, I think most people understand that. So we’ve set aside this special area of the law that says we’re going to respect traditional marriage of a man and a woman because that is the launching pad of the next generation. Let’s face it; we have made a special exception in the law that gives special consideration and recognition to that.

And when people would come along and blur that distinction and say ‘well that should apply in every way’ it not only is a complete undermining of the principles of family and marriage and the hope of future generations but it completely begins to see our society break down to the extent that that foundational unit of the family that is the hope of survival of this country is diminished to the extent that it literally is a threat to the nation’s survival in the long run. (h/t: Right Wing Watch)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

TP Video: GOP Hypocrisy And “The Politics of Division”

Following its video depicting the Republicans' hypocritical stance on Occupy Wall Street, Think Progress now shows GOP double talk regarding "the politics of division." While accusing others of pitting “Americans against Americans,” the Republicans have been doing just that, epitomized by Herman Cain's statement, "The objective of the liberals is to destroy this country." Watch:

Foreclosure Law Firm Throws Party Mocking The Evicted

NY Times columnist Joe Nocera reported about the law firm of Steven J. Baum, located near Buffalo and known as a “foreclosure mill.” Baum represents Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo in their attempts to foreclose on and evict homeowners. On Friday, the firm held its annual Halloween party; this year, they dressed in costumes that mocked the desperate targets of the firm’s foreclosure proceedings. Nocera received photos of the party from an ex-employee who said that they demonstrate “an appalling lack of compassion” on the part of the firm, which “does not try to help people get mortgage modifications; the pressure, always, is to foreclose.” The firm is under investigation by the NY Attorney General and recently paid $2 million to settle a U.S. Department of Justice investigation. Nocera comments:

Let me describe a few of the photos. In one, two Baum employees are dressed like homeless people. One is holding a bottle of liquor. The other has a sign around her neck that reads: “3rd party squatter. I lost my home and I was never served.” My source said that “I was never served” is meant to mock “the typical excuse” of the homeowner trying to evade a foreclosure proceeding.

Some of the photos:

Poll: Majority Wants Wealth Distributed More Evenly

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reports that after-tax and market income have shifted toward the wealthy and federal taxes became less redistributive over the past 30 years. Growing income inequality is registering among Americans; according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, a majority feels that economic policies should take a more progressive direction. Despite what one hears on Fox News, much of the public feels that Occupy Wall Street is onto something:

Almost half of the public thinks the sentiment at the root of the Occupy movement generally reflects the views of most Americans.

With nearly all Americans remaining fearful that the economy is stagnating or deteriorating further, two-thirds of the public said that wealth should be distributed more evenly in the country. Seven in 10 Americans think the policies of Congressional Republicans favor the rich. Two-thirds object to tax cuts for corporations and a similar number prefer increasing income taxes on millionaires.

On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office released a new study concluding that income distribution had become much more uneven in the last three decades, a report that could figure prominently in the battle over how to revive the economy and rein in the federal debt.

...With the nation’s unemployment rate at 9.1 percent, income inequality remains a palpable issue for Americans. Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats, two-thirds of independents and just over one-third of all Republicans say that the distribution of wealth in the country should be more equitable, even as a majority of Republicans said they think it is fair.

...“I don’t want to blanket the whole government that way, but it’s getting scary,” said Jo Waters, 87, a Democrat and a retired hospital administrator from Pleasanton, Calif., speaking in a follow-up telephone interview. “Everything is for the wealthy. This used to be a lovely country, but everything is sliding.”

...In February, a CBS News poll found that 27 percent of the public said the views of the Tea Party movement reflected the sentiment of most Americans. In the current poll, 46 percent of the public said the same of the Occupy Wall Street movement. “They do reflect the discontent of most Americans,” said Sheila Shriver, 69, a retired special education teacher and independent voter from Columbus, Ohio. “People are unhappy with the way the country seems to be moving, especially when it comes to lack of jobs. Washington hasn’t even been concerned about that.”

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Charles Mingus Performs "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"

Charles Mingus and his band performed "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" at the Montreux Jazz Festival, 1975. Mingus composed this jazz standard in 1959 as an elegy to saxophonist Lester Young. Soloing are Don Pullen, piano; Gerry Mulligan, baritone sax; Benny Bailey, trumpet, and Mingus, bass.

Friday, October 28, 2011

CBO: Top 1 Percent Income Skyrockets In 30 Years

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office laid out the facts proving that the gap between the one percent and the rest of us is no rhetorical flourish, but an economic reality. It is any wonder that the streets of our cities are filled with Occupy Wall Street protestors railing against the historic of level of income inequality?  From the CBO summary:

After-tax income for the highest-income households grew more than it did for any other group. (After-tax income is income after federal taxes have been deducted and government transfers—which are payments to people through such programs as Social Security and Unemployment Insurance—have been added.)
CBO finds that, between 1979 and 2007, income grew by:
 • 275 percent for the top 1 percent of households,
• 65 percent for the next 19 percent,
• Just under 40 percent for the next 60 percent, and
• 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent.
The share of income going to higher-income households rose, while the share going to lower-income households fell.
• The top fifth of the population saw a 10-percentage-point increase in their share of after-tax income.
• Most of that growth went to the top 1 percent of the population.
• All other groups saw their shares decline by 2 to 3 percentage points.

Shifts in the distribution of market income underlie most of the changes in the distribution of after-tax income. (Market income—or income before taxes and transfers—includes labor income, business income, capital income, capital gains, and income from other sources such as pensions.)
• Each source of market income was less evenly distributed in 2007 than in 1979.

• More concentrated sources of income (such as business income and capital gains) grew faster than less concentrated sources (such as labor income).

Government transfers and federal taxes both help to even out the income distribution. Transfers boost income the most for lower-income households, while taxes claim a larger share of income as people's income rises.
In 2007, federal taxes and transfers reduced the dispersion of income by 20 percent, but that equalizing effect was larger in 1979.
• The share of transfer payments to the lowest-income households declined.
• The overall average federal tax rate fell.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pat Robertson: Republican Base Too Extreme

This past year, Pat Robertson has warned that God will destroy America because of gay marriage and that the left supports abortion to make straight women equal to lesbians. So if even Robertson now warns that the Republican base is pushing its candidates into positions too extreme to win elections, isn't it time for the party to consider its direction? Watch:

Robertson: I believe it was Lyndon Johnson that said, ‘Don’t these people realize if they push me over to an extreme position I’ll lose the election? And I’m the one who will be supporting what they want but they’re going to make it so I can’t win.’ Those people in the Republican primary have got to lay off of this stuff. They’re forcing their leaders, the frontrunners, into positions that will mean they lose the general election. Now whether this did it to Cain I don’t know, but nevertheless, you appeal to the narrow base and they’ll applaud the daylights out of what you’re saying and then you hit the general election and they say ‘no way’ and then the Democrat, whoever it is, is going to just play these statements to the hilt. They’ve got to stop this! It’s just so counterproductive! Well, if they want to lose, this is the game for losers. (h/t: Right Wing Watch)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Condoleezza Rice: Iraq Invasion Inspired Arab Spring

The late, legendary journalist Daniel Schorr stated in September 2003, "It is more than six months since the invasion of Iraq, and it remains a war in search of a rationale." Even now, as the war winds down following President Obama's fulfillment of his pledge to bring the troops home, that search apparently continues. An article in the NY Times describes the latest rationale from former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in her upcoming memoir "No Higher Honor":

For the most part...Ms. Rice defends the most controversial decisions of the Bush era, including the invasion of Iraq. The wave of popular uprisings known as the Arab Spring this year, she writes, has vindicated Mr. Bush’s focus on spreading freedom and democracy.

We are to believe that the invasion of Iraq, met with near universal condemnation in the Muslim world, inspired the Arab Spring that toppled dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. This view, also held by Dick Cheney, disregards the actual events. Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor, set himself on fire in despair over his lack of opportunity and mistreatment by the police.  His act started the Tunisian rebellion, which spread to the other countries and continues in Syria. The rebels were not inspired by a Western invasion of an Arab country involving false premises of WMD, "shock and awe" bombings, occupation and "regime change" from abroad. Instead, they took part in indigenous, spontaneous revolts. As Tunisians voted on Sunday, one activist spoke of his national pride without reference to the "inspiration" of the war in Iraq, as Condoleezza Rice would have it:

“Tunisians showed the world how to make a peaceful revolution without icons, without ideology, and now we are going to show the world how we can build a real democracy,” said Moncef Marzouki, founder of a liberal political party and a former dissident exile, as he waited for hours in a long line outside a polling place in the coastal town of Sousse. “This will have a real impact in places like Libya and Egypt and Syria, after the fall of its regime,” he added. “The whole Arab world is watching.”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Why Occupy Wall Street? Here's Why...

Elizabeth Warren, Democratic challenger to Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), provides introductory comments in the following powerful video on factors that gave rise to Occupy Wall Street. Warren first speaks about the regulations that gave us 50 years of relative financial stability: Glass-Steagall, FDIC Insurance and SEC regulations. She then recounts the crises that should have warned us that the deregulation initiated by Reagan was a huge mistake. The video continues with excerpts from hearings exposing the dangers of speculative financial activity, plus comments on the Supreme Court's lifting of limits on corporate campaign contributions. After all of these inequities, a new movement took to the streets across the nation. Watch:

Santorum Ready To "Die" To Stop Same-Sex Marriages

During one of the Republican presidential candidates debates, Rick Santorum spoke against the right of gays to serve in the military and stood by as a gay soldier serving in Iraq, communicating via video, was booed. Santorum again revealed the depth of his intolerance by stating in a recent interview that he would be willing to “die” to prevent marriage equality. He also opened a new front in his quest to interfere with private lives by speaking against contraception. Watch:

Santorum: The battle we're engaged in right now is same sex marriage; ultimately that is the very foundation of our country, the family, what the family structure is going to look like. I'll die on that hill... We'll repeal Obamacare and get rid any idea that you have to have abortion coverage or contraceptive coverage. One of the things that I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the sexual liberty idea and many in the Christian faith have said, you know contraception is OK. It's not OK because it's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They're supposed to be within marriage. They are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal but also procreative, and that's the perfect way a sexual union should happen. When we take any part of that out, we diminish the act. If we take one part out, it's not for the purposes of procreation, it's not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women. So, why can't you take other parts of that out? And then all of the sudden it becomes deconstructed to the point where it's simply pleasure, and that's certainly a part of it, and it's an important part, don't get me wrong. But there is a lot of things we do for pleasure and this is special and it needs to be seen as special. I know most presidents don't talk about those things, and maybe people don't want us to talk about those things. But I think it's important that you are who you are. (h/t: Crooks and Liars)

Esther Lenett, 93, Puts Cantor And Corporate Cronies On Notice

This past summer, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor put us on notice that the promises of Medicare and Social Security, paid through our tax dollars, won't be kept. Esther Lenett, 93, now puts Cantor and his corporate cronies on notice. She delivers the facts about Social Security and calls for the end of tax cuts for billionaires and corporate loopholes–and for Congress to keep the promise of Social Security. Listen to Esther, my hero of the week:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Romney's Core Principle: To Get Elected

A main reason Republicans have been in "flavor-of-the-month" mode regarding presidential candidates is that they just can't warm up to front runner Mitt Romney. Many regard him as not a "true conservative," the theme of a Perry ad, and a flip-flopper. The conservative blogosphere reveals the disquiet. A headline in the National Review asks, "Romney Developing New Flip Flop Response?" Townhall carried an article mentioning Romney's "changing his positions on abortion and gay rights and equivocating on other issues, including immigration and gun control." Redstate featured a commentary, "Romney Never Met a Flip He Couldn't Flop." The de facto head of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, stated, "Romney is not a conservative," due to "Romneycare" and "indications" that Romney believes in "man-made global warming."

Granted, The New York Review of Books is the ideological opposite of the outlets mentioned above; still, Christopher Benfey discovered a familiar perception of Romney in Massachusetts:

When I ask locals about their impressions of Mitt, I get a recurring response: Nixonian. “The overriding passion of his life seems to be to become president,” a conservative economics professor tells me. “I can’t think of a single issue over which Romney would risk reelection in order to stick to a principle.”

The impression of Romney as driven by expediency, not principle, was confirmed when Perry accused him of hypocritically hiring illegal immigrants to work on his lawn. In a statement that may come back to haunt him, Romney responded, "I'm running for office, for pete's sake, I can't have illegals!" Watch:

Obama Fulfills Promise To End Iraq War As GOP Wants Endless Engagement

President Obama fulfilled a campaign promise by announcing that the troops will come home from Iraq by the end of the year. Lawrence O’Donnell recounts the terrible costs of the war, based on false premises of WMD: for Americans, 4,482 lives, 32,213 wounded, 1,146 amputees; for Iraqis, over 100,000 casualties. The Republicans are filled with misgivings at the announcement. Herman Cain wouldn’t have told the enemy about the withdrawal; presumably 39,000 troops could withdraw in secret, with the Iraqi government also kept in the dark and given no time to prepare. Mitt Romney decries Obama’s “astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition,” without specifying how he would do so, if ever. Rick Perry echoes this point. John McCain criticizes this “strategic victory for our enemies." When would the Republicans think is the right time to withdraw and under what circumstances? None of the statements clarify that–and none mention the cost of continuing operations, for all of the GOP's talk about cutting the deficit. Rachel Maddow joins O'Donnell to point out that the Republicans didn’t complain when George Bush negotiated this very withdrawal timeline with the Iraqi government. Watch:

Ryan To Student: Forget Pell Grants, Work Three Jobs To Pay For College

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), like the rest of his party, wants to eliminatPell Grants, which help lower- and middle-class students pay university tuition. GOP budget proposals will eliminate grants to one million students or 10 percent. At a Wisconsin town hall meeting, Ryan told a student, Matthew Lowe, that he should work three jobs to pay off college rather than use the grants. Watch:

Lowe: I come from a very middle-class family and under President Obama, I get $5,500 per year to pay for school, which doesn’t come close to covering all of the funding, but it helps ease the burden. Under your plan, you cut it by 15 percent. I was just curious why you would cut a grant that goes directly to the middle- and lower-class people that need it the most.

Ryan: ‘Cause Pell Grants have become unsustainable. It’s all borrowed money…Look, I worked three jobs to pay off my student loans after college. I didn’t get grants, I got loans, and we need to have a system of viable student loans to be able to do this. The second concern I have is, in the health care bill — people don’t know this — for budgetary gimmickry reasons, the administration and Congress at the time, took over the student loan industry. So they had the federal government, the Department of Education, basically confiscate the private student loan industry. (h/t: Think Progress)

"Confiscate the private student loan program"? Of course, Ryan distorts any federal attempt to regulate crushing student debt:

The federal government is taking steps that could make the debt burden more manageable. A provision in the 2010 health-care reform law pushed private lenders out of the business of issuing federally guaranteed loans. The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law puts the new Consumer Financial Protection Board in charge of collecting better data and regulating private student lenders. The new agency also is planning to launch an online tool — a "student debt assistant" — to help debtors learn more about their options.

For all of his concern about budgets, Ryan sees no fiscal problem in reducing the top tax rate from 35 to 25 percent–a transfer in wealth that would be brought about through his plan to destroy Medicare. And for all of Ryan's concern about entitlements, Social Security helped him pay for college, a point he does not mention above:

After his father’s passing, young Paul Ryan started collecting social security benefits until the age of 18 years old. He took this benefit and saved it for his college education. Representative Paul Ryan is one example of the millions of people whose lives have depended on our social contract with the American people. Without this benefit, his mother would have had to make even tougher decisions and Representative Paul Ryan may not have been able to pay for his college education. This social contract lifted him and his entire family out of a tough situation.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Weezer On An “Island In The Sun”

Weezer performed “Island in the Sun” in Germany in 2005. The lyrics describe a holiday involving a couple who will “never feel bad anymore”–a state of endless perfection that “…makes me feel so fine I can’t control my brain.” In this romantic fantasy, the “island in the sun” is ultimately the imagination.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Obama Vindicated In Libya, But It Won't Help Re-election Bid

Mitt Romney recently said that Obama stood for the "eloquently justified surrender of world leadership." This despite the deaths of Osama bin LadenAnwar al-Awlaki and now, Muammar Qaddafi on the president's watch. Naturally, the Republicans are giving him no credit for the death of the Libyan dictator. In part it's because Obama limited military engagement and let NATO allies lead in Libya. The Republicans indeed consider this approach a "surrender," enamored as they are with Bush-style, swaggering cowboy diplomacy. Ultimately, though, they just can't give the president credit for anything. If he were a Republican, then the response would be different, as Andrew Sullivan notes:

To rid the world of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and Moammar Qaddafi within six months: if Obama were a Republican, he'd be on Mount Rushmore by now.

The administration is telling GOP critics that its approach to Libya was correct and will use it to portray Obama as an effective world leader. True, Obama's recent actions abroad will nullify Republican arguments that he stands for surrender. But the death of Qaddafi, like that of bin Laden, will ultimately not help the president in his re-election bid. First, the election is still a year away. More importantly, the faltering economy, including a stubborn 9.1 percent unemployment rate, remains the election issue for a majority of Americans.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza (left) points out this reality:

[A May Washington Post-Pew Research Center survey] showed virtually no positive movement for Obama when it came to his handling of the economy — the central issue on the minds of most voters — and even the broader political benefits to Obama from bin Laden’s death quickly wore off. In the latest Post-ABC poll his job approval rating stood at just 42 percent.

“If Obama only got a brief, small bump from bin Laden’s death, Gaddafi’s death isn’t going to matter at all by the time we hand out candy this October, much less next October,” said Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster whose firm is working for the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. “The election is much more about Americans losing their jobs than about Gaddafi losing his head.”

A look at most recent national polling backs up Bolger’s point that Americans are almost exclusively focused on the economy.

In the October Post-ABC News national poll, 51 percent of respondents said the economy was the most important issue facing the country while just one percent named “foreign policy”.

...History, too, suggests that at times of domestic economic peril, foreign policy victories tend to play a minor role in campaigns.

Following the conclusion of the first Gulf War in 1991, President George H.W. Bush was regarded as unbeatable. But, the economy soured, Bill Clinton emerged and the phrase “it’s the economy, stupid” forever won a place in the political lexicon.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pat Buchanan: As Whites Become "Endangered Species," America Declines

How is it that Pat Buchanan is accepted as just another pundit, given his history of bigoted comments? Fox's Sean Hannity interviewed Buchanan about his new book, "Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?" While stating that minorities aren't "bad for the country"–not exactly a ringing endorsement of diversity–Buchanan connects the coming decline of the white population, an "endangered species," with the decline of America. He seems to assume that immigrants in California will not assimilate like previous groups, but will form a permanent underclass. Further, they will set a pattern for the rest of the country as bankrupt, crime-ridden and non-English-speaking. Buchanan prescribes a "moratorium on immigration," clearly implying that minorities and immigrants are indeed bad for the country.  Finally, he advances the view that minorities will lead to America's decline because they tend to vote Democratic. Watch:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Herman Cain Blames Unemployed, GOP Crowd Cheers

Again I ask, does something ugly have to happen at every Republican presidential debate? We've seen the cheering of the 234 executions under Rick Perry; the assent to the notion that an uninsured individual should be left to die; the booing of a gay soldier serving in Iraq. In the latest episode, Herman Cain was asked if he stands by his statement that if one is unemployed, "Don't blame Wall Street. Don't blame the big banks. If you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself." Watch Cain stand by this statement, to the delight of the crowd:

Cain: I still stand by my statement. They might be frustrated with Wall Street and the bankers, but they're directing their anger at the wrong place. Wall Street didn't put in failed economic policies. Wall Street didn't spend a trillion dollars that didn't do any good. Wall Street isn't going around the country trying to sell another $450 billion. They ought to be over in front of the White House taking out their frustration. (h/t: Huffington Post)

Cain stands by a statement that, with an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent, does not take into account economic circumstances beyond many people's control. In addition, Wall Street's embrace of deregulation directly led to the financial meltdown–a deregulation that it wants to continue. Finally, Wall Street's bailout didn't cost billions, it cost trillions. No one was jailed in the financial community for their chicanery–instead, after being bailed out by the middle class, the financial community enjoyed $20.8 billion in bonuses in 2010.

Herman Cain and the GOP crowd, however, feel that anger at Wall Street is misplaced. The unemployed are to blame.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Marine Vet. Shamar Thomas Confronts NYPD At Times Sq. Protest

Following police clashes with Occupy protesters in Times Square, Sergeant Shamar Thomas, a New Yorker who served with the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion USMC in Iraq, told members of the NYPD that there’s no honor in hurting unarmed U.S. citizens whom he and his family fought to protect. Thomas’s mother also served in Iraq and his father in Afghanistan. Watch:

Thomas wrote the following on his YouTube channel:

I took an Oath that I live by. I am NOT anti-NYPD. I am anti-Police Brutality. I am no longer under contract with the USMC so I do NOT have to follow military uniform regulations. I DON'T affiliate myself with ANY GROUPS or POLITICAL ORG. I affiliate myself with the AMERICAN PEOPLE that's it. I REFUSE to affiliate with anything that SEPERATES. There is an obvious problem in the country and PEACEFUL PEOPLE should be allowed to PROTEST without Brutality. I was involved in a RIOT in Rutbah, Iraq 2004 and we did NOT treat the Iraqi citizens like they are treating the unarmed civilians in our OWN Country. No one was brutalized because our mission was to "WIN the hearts and minds", why should I expect anything less in my OWN Country.

In an interview with Keith Olbermann, Thomas compared his experience handling riots in Iraq with the situation in Times Square:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bruce Bartlett On Cain's "9-9-9" Plan: Poor Pay More, Rich Get Tax Cut

Bruce Bartlett (left), former Reagan senior policy analyst, analyzed Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” tax plan (9 percent tax on business, personal income and national sales tax). Surprise, surprise: under the Republican presidential candidate’s proposal, the poor pay more and the wealthy get a tax cut. With capital gains taxes abolished and a 9 percent sales tax on private purchases, Cain's plan would be a dream come true for those who yearn for a regressive tax structure. From "Inside the Cain Tax Plan":

...everyone would now pay a 9 percent sales tax on all purchases. No mention is made of any exemptions from this tax, so we may assume that it will apply to food, medical care, rent, home and auto purchases and a wide variety of other expenditures now exempt from state sales taxes. This would increase their cost of living by 9 percent while, at the same time, the poor would pay income taxes.

...Phase 1 would represent a huge tax cut for the wealthy at a time when federal revenues are at a historical low as a share of the gross domestic product and the economy’s fundamental problem is a lack of aggregate demand.

Thus the Cain plan would increase the budget deficit without doing anything to stimulate demand, because rich people can already spend as much as they want and are unlikely to spend more even if their taxes are abolished.

The poor and the middle class might increase their spending if they could keep more of their earnings, but they will unquestionably pay more under Phase 2 of the Cain plan. With no tax on capital gains, the rich would pay almost nothing, while elimination of all deductions and credits, as well as imposition of a national sales tax, must necessarily raise taxes on everyone else, especially those not now paying income taxes.

At a minimum, the Cain plan is a distributional monstrosity. The poor would pay more while the rich would have their taxes cut, with no guarantee that economic growth will increase and good reason to believe that the budget deficit will increase.

Bartlett also discussed Cain's plan in an interview with Lawrence O'Donnell.

CNN's Kosik: Protesters Are There For Bongos And Weed

While conservatives point to CNN as a bastion of the so-called "liberal media," the label seems rather strange judging from the pronouncements of reporter Alison Kosik. Media Matters points out the "insights" from this business correspondent. Here's her tweet on the purpose of the Occupy Wall Street movement:

Asked about the demands of the protesters, Kosik responded:

Kosik, however, didn't dismiss the problems of Wall Street traders; in their case, she said,"the traders that I talked to, they want protesters to understand they're getting hit hard in this economy as well." Watch:

Facing criticism about her journalistic objectivity, Kosik took down the tweet about the bongos and weed. CNN issued a statement: "Alison regrets the tweet and took it down." As of Sunday, the Oct. 1 tweet about whining is still up.

Murdoch Heckled At Forum: “Equality In Education, Not Privatization”

It did my heart well to catch the following video of Rupert Murdoch heckled at an education forum in San Francisco on Friday. Activists accused the owner of News Corp., corporate parent of Fox, of seeking to divert public funds from the educational system and privatize and profit from it. One called out, "Equality in education, not privatization!" The forum was sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, chaired by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), that supports school vouchers, charter schools, performance pay for teachers and digital learning. Regarding the latter, News Corp. acquired Wireless Generation, which provides software to K-12 schools. After News Corp.’s phone hacking scandal, New York rejected a $27 million contract with the company. Watch:

TP: Republicans Move From Disdain To “Understanding” Protestors

Think Progress has produced a video showing how Mitt Romney, Eric Cantor, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain have moved from denigration of the Occupy movement to “understanding their motivation.” They've changed their tunes–sometimes within the same day–as polls reflect support for the movement. In addition, Republicans profess to care about the 99 percent, despite GOP economic policies favoring the wealthy. Watch:

Tennessee Guns In Bars Sponsor Arrested Driving Drunk With Gun

Rep. Curry Todd of Tennessee (R), lead sponsor of a state law allowing handgun holders to bring guns into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, has been charged with handgun possession while driving drunk. The photo at left shows Todd in his booking photo last Tuesday. Todd has also likened pregnant illegal immigrants to reproducing rats. From the AP:

Rep. Curry Todd, a Collierville Republican, was pulled over in Nashville late Tuesday, according to court documents. Police said he failed a roadside sobriety test and refused to take a Breathalyzer test. A loaded .38-caliber gun was found in a holster stuffed between the driver's seat and center console.

A police affidavit said Todd was unsteady on his feet, "almost falling down at times." Officers concluded that Todd was "obviously very impaired and not in any condition to be carrying a loaded handgun."

...Todd sponsored a 2009 bill to let people with handgun carry permits take their weapons into businesses that serve alcohol, provided they don't drink. Although police and prosecutors spoke out against it, the measure passed and easily survived a veto from former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen.

...During the debate over the bill in 2009, Todd assured lawmakers that gun permit holders would be careful about not violating the ban on drinking in bars or restaurants while carrying a gun.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Keb’ Mo’ Performs “It Hurts Me Too”

Singer, songwriter and bluesman Keb’ Mo’ demonstrates his slide guitar and harmonica virtuosity in this performance of the blues standardIt Hurts Me Too.” The concert took place in June 2001 at the Piazza Blues Festival, Switzerland.

Friday, October 14, 2011

NYT On “The Republican Threat To Voting"

Following the Brennan Center for Justice’s recent study, which I cited, stating that the Republicans are suppressing voting rights, the New York Times decried such efforts in an editorial. Amazingly, those whom the Republicans are suppressing just happen to be those pesky groups that tend to vote Democratic. How else does it make sense that in Texas, student ID cards are an unacceptable form of identification for voting, but licenses to carry concealed weapons are fine? Does it have anything to do with calculations that gun owners are more likely to vote GOP than university students? Why, by the way, is there a need for a photo ID to vote when fraud is so rare? From “The Republican Threat To Voting”:

Less than a year before the 2012 presidential voting begins, Republican legislatures and governors across the country are rewriting voting laws to make it much harder for the young, the poor and African-Americans — groups that typically vote Democratic — to cast a ballot.

Spreading fear of a nonexistent flood of voter fraud, they are demanding that citizens be required to show a government-issued identification before they are allowed to vote. Republicans have been pushing these changes for years, but now more than two-thirds of the states have adopted or are considering such laws. The Advancement Project, an advocacy group of civil rights lawyers, correctly describes the push as “the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century.”

Anyone who has stood on the long lines at a motor vehicle office knows that it isn’t easy to get such documents. For working people, it could mean giving up a day’s wages.

A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that 11 percent of citizens, 21 million people, do not have a current photo ID. That fraction increases to 15 percent of low-income voting-age citizens, 18 percent of young eligible voters and 25 percent of black eligible voters. Those demographic groups tend to vote Democratic, and Republicans are imposing requirements that they know many will be unable to meet.

...Eight states already had photo ID laws. Now more than 30 other states are joining the bandwagon of disenfranchisement, as Republicans outdo each other to propose bills with new voting barriers. The Wisconsin bill refuses to recognize college photo ID cards, even if they are issued by a state university, thus cutting off many students at the University of Wisconsin and other campuses. The Texas bill, so vital that Gov. Rick Perry declared it emergency legislation, would also reject student IDs, but would allow anyone with a handgun license to vote.

A Florida bill would curtail early voting periods, which have proved popular and brought in new voters, and would limit address changes at the polls. “I’m going to call this bill for what it is, good-old-fashioned voter suppression,” Ben Wilcox of the League of Women Voters told The Florida Times-Union.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Stanley Hoffman: Private Financing Of Elections, Filibuster Cause Paralysis

The obscene amounts of money that it now takes to get elected, made all the worse by the Supreme Court’s removal of all corporate spending limits, is the number one reason for the corruption of our political system. The alternative, public financing of elections, has seemingly disappeared. Conservatives uphold private financing as “free speech,” despite the fact that currently those with the most money are able to purchase the most "speech” and influence. That’s how the Koch brothers are able to buy off politicians, who do their bidding and boost their right-wing agenda. When we hear about massive "campaign contributions," we think of it as business as usual–not as the bribery and corruption it is.

Prof. Stanley Hoffman (above), of Harvard's Center for European Studies, pointed to the private financing of elections as one of the three obstacles preventing the country from making progress. He also cites the 60-vote requirement for overcoming a filibuster–surely a recipe for paralysis–and the requirement of states to balance their budgets, which doesn’t allow them to adequately invest when necessary. From “A Cure for a Sick Country?”:

What has created or affected all the conditions of paralysis...has been, first of all, a number of practices that are not in the Constitution, such as the frequent need for a supermajority in the Senate to overcome the threat of filibuster. Secondly, we have a distorted system of private financing of elections that submits the candidates for legislative office to the subtle and seductive tyrannies of private money, a system recently boosted by a 5–4 decision of the Supreme Court. Thirdly, rigid constraints on the individual states, almost all of which are required to balance their budgets, hamper their actions in bad times and put a major burden on the autonomy they are so proud of.

These institutional obstacles assume the preponderance of the wealthy in the political system. Parliamentary systems with public financing for elections can often function as a counterweight to the privileges of fortune; and such public financing can also counter the ability of entrenched minorities in Congress to delay and block reformist schemes conceived by the executive. One of the temptations this state of affairs fosters in presidents is that of finding in patriotic wars a way of overcoming the obstacles the institutional machinery erects.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Barry Scheck: Perry Attempted To Cover Up Execution Investigation

During one Republican presidential debate, the audience applauded Rick Perry’s record of executing 234 death row inmates. Perry stated that he didn’t struggle with the possible innocence of any of the executed; however, questions about one Texan executed on his watch, Cameron Todd Willingham, continue. Willingham’s flawed trial was explored in an outstanding article by David Grann in The New Yorker, which offers strong evidence that Texas under Perry executed an innocent man.

Barry Scheck, co-founder and director of The Innocence Project, spoke to Tom Hartmann about Willingham. Sheck relates that Willingham’s conviction on charges of burning down his home and killing his children was indeed based on unreliable evidence. Leading arson analyst Dr. Gerald Hurst brought such findings to Gov. Perry, who paid them little attention and upheld Willingham's execution. Perry then tried to cover up a post-conviction forensic science commission by substituting three participants with his own appointees. Regardless, the commission also concluded that the evidence was unreliable. Scheck's interview followed the execution of Troy Davis, despite serious doubts about the latter's guilt. Both cases point to the bottom line regarding the death penalty: maintaining it renders the execution of the innocent a constant possibility–or an inevitability. Listen:

CNN on Oct. 2009 provided more details on Perry's cover up, including his possible political motivations. Watch:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Paul Krugman: Plutocrats Panic At Protests

I recently noted the hysteria of Eric Cantor and Glenn Beck regarding Occupy Wall Street. Paul Krugman offers more examples of absurd responses: Mitt Romney employed the tired GOP rhetoric of "class warfare"; Herman Cain called the demonstrators "anti-American"; Rand Paul is afraid that they'll start looting iPads. For Krugman, these reactions stem from the fact that the super-wealthy and the politicians and pundits who serve them can't stand it when today's economic inequities, including the causes of our dire circumstances, are pointed out. From "Panic of the Plutocrats":

What’s going on here? The answer, surely, is that Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.

Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees — basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families.

This special treatment can’t bear close scrutiny — and therefore, as they see it, there must be no close scrutiny. Anyone who points out the obvious, no matter how calmly and moderately, must be demonized and driven from the stage. In fact, the more reasonable and moderate a critic sounds, the more urgently he or she must be demonized, hence the frantic sliming of Elizabeth Warren.

So who’s really being un-American here? Not the protesters, who are simply trying to get their voices heard. No, the real extremists here are America’s oligarchs, who want to suppress any criticism of the sources of their wealth.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Robert Reich Rallies Progressive Conference

Two conferences took place over the past two weeks, the Values Voters Summit and the Take Back the American Dream Conference. The former's schedule included obstructing gay marriage and defunding Planned Parenthood; the latter's agenda included gay marriage as a winning issue and supporting public education, Social Security and the Medicare. As far as “values” go, it’s clear to me which event represented liberty and justice for all. Those American values were upheld by Robert Reich, who spoke about resisting the forces whose advantages come at the expense of the majority:

Reich: This terrible jobs and wage depression–and it is a depression–continues for most Americans. There is a small group that doesn’t want to do anything about it, that rejects any common sense solutions, that just says “no”: the “nabobs of negativism.” But Americans are not going to stand for it. We are going to say to those with power and privilege, “No more bullying.”

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Glenn Beck: “Violent Left” Is Coming “To Destroy”

Once again, Glenn Beck is peddling his violent international conspiracy theories. Any pretext will do, as long as it’s a group with which he disagrees. This time, it’s the Occupy Wall Street protesters, referred to as “the violent left,” which is “coming to our streets, all of our streets, to smash, to tear down, to kill, to bankrupt, to destroy." Of course, it's not just those protesters, since "hate is growing on a planetary scale" and the destruction will be "global." The solution against the destroyers? To "turn our world upside down." Watch as Beck, with characteristic self-pity and defensiveness, speaks to the so-called Values Voter Summit:

Perhaps Beck would wish to see these violent leftist protesters. Among them are some WWII veterans:

These two senior citizens are also ready to cause mayhem:

Eric Cantor “Concerned” About Occupy Wall Street “Mobs”

Speaking at the so-called Values Voters Summit, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called Occupy Wall Street protesters “mobs,” stating, “If you read the newspapers today, I for one am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and other cities across the country. And believe it or not, some in this town have actually condoned the pitting of Americans against Americans."

Of course, Cantor never expressed alarm at disruptive and divisive behavior on the part of the Tea Party. Cantor knows that the Koch-backed Tea Party's efforts ultimately benefit those for whom he works and pit the interests of the wealthiest Americans against the rest of us.

Grayson Educates O’Rourke On Impetus Behind Demonstrations

I’ll say it again: I still miss Alan Grayson, former Democratic representative from central Florida and a genuine fighting progressive. Speaking on the Bill Maher show, Grayson explains the impetus behind Occupy Wall Street, including the financial industry's wrecking the economy without punishment and the catering to banks and corporations by politicians participating in our corrupt electoral system. As he verbally knocks out conservative writer P.J. O’Rourke, who responds with lame jokes stereotyping the protesters, Grayson recounts the dire financial circumstances affecting so many. Watch:

Naomi Klein: Protest Takes Place "At The Scene Of The Crime”

Interviewed at the Occupy Wall Street protest, Naomi Klein discussed people's sense of the financial crisis as the “new normal” and spoke about the bailout that benefitted the financial industry without conditions and was paid for by ordinary citizens (reference is made to Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine,” reviewed here). Klein also challenges the “discourse of scarcity” mandating that we can’t afford health care and education; instead, we actually have a distribution of wealth crisis, along with a push toward further deregulation for the sake of the supposed "job creators." Klein concludes with comments about the repression of the demonstrators. Watch:

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Remembering Bert Jansch (1943-2011)

Bert Jansch, who passed away on Wednesday at 67, combined traditional British folk, jazz, blues and classical to become one of the most influential guitarists since the 1960s. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin was “obsessed” with his playing; Paul Simon “followed [him] around” London; Neil Young likened him to an acoustic Jimi Hendrix. Here Jansch plays “Light Flight” (with Jacqui McShee on vocals) as a member of the folk rock group The Pentangle, active in the late 1960s and early 1970s:

In a solo performance, Jansch plays the folk standard “Blackwaterside,” which inspired Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin to record “Black Mountain Side”:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Protester Slams Fox In Unaired Interview

A Fox reporter interviewed Occupy Wall Street protester Jesse LaGreca, who blogs as MinistryOfTruth at Daily Kos. In a video supplied by the New York Observer, LaGreca criticized Fox's role in representing the interests of the wealthiest one percent of the country. Watch:

LaGreca: …Unfortunately it’s fun to talk to the propaganda machine and the media especially conservative media networks such as yourself, because we find that we can't get conversations for the department of Justice’s ongoing investigation of News Corporation, for which you are an employee. But we can certainly ask questions like you know, why are the poor engaging in class warfare? After 30 years of having our living standards decrease while the wealthiest 1% have had it better than ever, I think it’s time for some maybe, I don’t know, participation in our democracy that isn’t funded by news cameras and gentlemen such as yourself.

Fox: But, uh, yeah well, let me give you this challenge Jesse.

LaGreca:  Sure.

Fox: We’re here giving you an opportunity on the record […] to put any
 message you want out there, to give you fair coverage and I’m not 
going to in any way...

LaGreca:  That’s awesome!

Fox:…give you advice about it. So, there is an exception in the case, because you wouldn’t be able to get your message out there without us.

LaGreca:  No, surely, I mean, take for instance when Glenn Beck was doing his protest and he called the President, uh, a person who hates white people and white culture. That was a low moment in Americans’ history and you guys kinda had a big part in it. So, I’m glad to see you coming around and kind of paying attention to what the other 99 percent of Americans are paying attention to, as opposed to the far-right fringe, who who would just love to destroy the middle class entirely... (h/t: Crooks and Liars)

Despite the fact that the Fox reporter stated that he was giving La Greca “fair coverage,” the station did not air the interview. Commentators from the “Fair and Balanced” network, however, are constantly mocking the protesters.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

I join millions in sorrow at the death of Steve Jobs, visionary, innovator, technological genius. As someone who has never used anything other than Apple products at work and home, I know how much he has affected my life. I’m far from unique in that.

Jobs’ technological feats are legendary: the Macintosh computer, iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad, all known for their ease of use and elegant design. During his time away from Apple, Jobs revolutionized computer-animated film though Pixar.

At his commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, Jobs emphasized the values that guided his life: always learn, do what you love, follow your inner voice and calling. Most of all, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” Watch:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Noam Chomsky On Occupy Wall Street: “It’s About Time For Some Protest”

In an interview with RT, Noam Chomsky speaks in support of Occupy Wall Street. Chomsky states that the demonstrations are prompted by culpable fiscal policies regarding taxation, corporate governance and deregulation. He also refers to the country's ever-widening income gap, which he compares to that of a Third World country, and the corruption of our electoral system. Watch:

Study: Republicans Restrict Voting With New State Laws

Among President Obama’s winning coalition in 2008 were African Americans and young adults. The Republicans have taken heed and are restricting the voting rights of these constituencies, among others, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice detailing new state voting laws. The Republicans argue that they are guarding against voter fraud, yet there is no proof that such a problem is widespread. Indeed, more citizens will be disenfranchised by these laws than would have ever committed fraud. Other laws the Republicans are passing don't even pretend to be connected to voter fraud:

Since Republicans won control of many statehouses last November, more than a dozen states have passed laws requiring voters to show photo identification at polls, cutting back early voting periods or imposing new restrictions on voter registration drives.

...The center...concluded that [the laws] “could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.”

Republicans, who have passed almost all of the new election laws, say they are necessary to prevent voter fraud, and question why photo identification should be routinely required at airports but not at polling sites. Democrats counter that the new laws are a solution in search of a problem, since voter fraud is rare. They worry that the laws will discourage, or even block, eligible voters — especially poor voters, young voters and African-American voters, who tend to vote for Democrats.

...Under the Texas law, licenses to carry concealed handguns would be an acceptable form of identification to vote, but not student ID cards.

The Brennan Center estimates that 11 percent of potential voters do not have state-issued photo identification. By that measure, it finds that the new laws would affect 3.2 million voters in the states where the change is scheduled to take effect before the 2012 elections.

...In Florida, a new law imposing restrictions on voter registration drives has led the state’s League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan group that had registered voters for 72 years, to call a moratorium on new registration drives in the state, citing the penalties that groups can face under the law.

Image: Tom Toles, Washington Post

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bill Maher: “Promiscuous” GOP Base Wouldn’t Even Nominate Jesus

Bill Maher advises today’s “promiscuous” Republicans to stop falling in love with one presidential candidate after another. He reviews several faltering candidates before considering Chris Christie, who may be too liberal for today’s GOP–a point made by Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain. Maher concludes that even Jesus wouldn’t be suitable to today’s Republican base. Watch: