Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Neil Young And Crazy Horse, Live 1976

Neil Young’s garage band/grunge/hard rock side has always been expressed in his collaborations with the band Crazy Horse. In this 1976 performance of “Like A Hurricane” at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, the band jams with its characteristic rawness and passion.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bob Schieffer On Trump’s “Ugly Strain Of Racism”

President Obama released his long-form birth certificate on Wednesday after Hawaii released his birth certificate years ago. Donald Trump, instead of admitting that he was wrong and apologizing, expressed pride in distracting the country with his poison. That poison was also disseminated by Republican leaders. Sarah Palin first said, "more power" to Trump, then criticized the president for releasing the certificate. She Tweeted that the media should not “let the WH distract you with the birth crt.” House Speaker John Boehner said that he took Obama “at his word” and stated, “The people have the right to think what they want to think.” Trump is now asking how the president, whom he “heard…was a terrible student,” got into Columbia and Harvard. The “terrible student” graduated from Harvard Law magna cum laude and served as editor of the Law Review.

The issue is ultimately not the birth certificate or academic credentials. It’s about the delegitimization of Barack Obama and the lingering shock that a black man is the president. In the birther view, Obama is “other,” not “one of us,” not an American citizen. Trump, in addition to his disgraceful birther campaign, is now calling into question how this same black man can legitimately get into Ivy League universities. Trump, however, denies that he is a racist; in his own words, he has “a great relationship with the blacks.”

CBS news anchor Bob Schieffer called out Trump on his racism:

SCHIEFFER: [Trump] said, ‘We need to look at his grades and see if he was a good enough student to get into Harvard Law School.' That's just code for saying he got into law school because he's black. This is an ugly strain of racism that's running through this whole thing. We can hope that kind of comes to an end too, but we'll have to see.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rep. Webster Faces Hostile Town Hall, Part Of National Backlash Against Republican Agenda

Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) faced an Orlando audience critical of his support for the plan formulated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) ending Medicare and Medicaid, as well as his backing tax cuts for the wealthy and the repeal of health care reform. The audience was outraged by Webster’s statement that seniors are not harmed by the Ryan plan. One woman with a pre-existing condition asked how she will afford insurance through Ryan’s voucher program, which will not keep pace with medical insurance costs. On another point, Webster resorted to the Republican argument that raising taxes on the wealthy will harm job creation, a connection shown to have no validity over the past decade. Another woman spoke about those on Medicaid who work yet can’t afford medical costs. Watch:

Unfortunately, Central Florida voted out the progressive Alan Grayson in favor of Webster. Naturally, Webster received support from Charles and David Koch, oil magnates and backers of right-wing causes. Webster’s reception above is similar to that encountered by Rep. Paul Ryan himself and, according to Think Progress, Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), Charlie Bass (R-NH), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Robert Dold (R-IL), and Sean Duffy (R-WI). Perhaps the country is waking up to the fact that the Republican health and economic agenda is harmful to the vast majority of Americans.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Remembering Phoebe Snow

Phoebe Snow, singer-songwriter whose versatility encompassed folk, blues, jazz and other musical forms, passed away today at 60. Snow slowed down her career in order to care for her daughter Valerie, who suffered from hydrocephalus and died at 31 in 2007. She considered her care for Valerie as her greatest accomplishment. Phoebe Snow is shown above in 1989 performing her signature song, “Poetry Man,” delivering her vocals with a soulfulness and range uniquely her own.

Pat Robertson: Left Supports Abortion To Make Straight Women Equal To Lesbians

Speaking to "700 Club" co-host Terry Meeuwsen, Pat Robertson, known for his insights and original perspectives, told us why the "death-loving" left backs abortion: to “level the playing field” and make straight women more like lesbians. Does this mean that lesbians never have children? Listen as Robertson gives us his “psychological stuff”:

MEEUWSEN: There are lots of government-funded agencies in this country. Why do you think the President picked that one above all else to say, ‘not one penny’?

ROBERTSON: Well it’s the left; it’s this culture of death. The far-left is livid about killing babies. They want to do this, they want to destroy. You go back, and I don’t want to play all this psychological stuff but nevertheless, if a woman is a lesbian, what advantage does she have over a married woman? Or what deficiency does she have?

MEEUWSEN: Well, she can’t have children.

ROBERTSON: That’s exactly right. And so if these married women don’t have children, if they abort their babies, then that kind of puts them on a level playing field. And you say, nobody’s there to express that? Isn’t that shocking? Well, think about it a little bit, ladies and gentlemen. (h/t: Right Wing Watch)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ads Blast Ryan Plan's Effect On Seniors

The following are two hard-hitting ads on Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) plan to gut Medicare. The first, by the Americans United for Change, comments on the fact that Ryan, who looks like a nice young man, will drive up the health care expenses of seniors while giving more tax breaks to the wealthy:

The second, by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, imagines the lengths to which seniors will have to go to afford medical care under the Ryan plan:

Stewart Warns Romney: Craziness A Requirement For GOP Presidential Hopefuls

With Rick Santorum blaming Social Security shortfalls on abortion, Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN) calling modest health reform “the crown jewel of socialism” and birther Donald Trump claiming the mantle as the most foolish individual in America, Jon Stewart finds that craziness is the current requirement for Republican presidential candidates. Mitt Romney, whose Massachusetts health care law is considered unforgivable within his party, may not meet this standard. Watch:

Breaking The Deficit Down

MoveOn produced an ad that challenges Republican claims regarding the main causes of the deficit. No, the major problems aren’t education, veterans, the EPA, Planned Parenthood, PBS or any other so-called “luxury.” The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, two wars and financial deregulation have a lot more to do with it. With Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan wanting to cut taxes even further for millionaires and billionaires, the calls for the rest of us to “sacrifice” will only increase. Maybe it’s time for those who have been doing quite well to sacrifice. Watch:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

CBO: Ryan Plan Would Double Seniors' Health Care Expenses

Examine this chart based on the findings of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Compare how much more a 65-year-old would have to spend in 2022 under the plan of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) than under the current Medicare system:

What accounts for this disparity? Ryan would give seniors vouchers that will not keep pace with rising medical costs. He’d then turn them loose, including those with serious conditions, on the private market. If they’re not able to cover their costs, too bad. From a New York Times editorial:

The Ryan proposal would give those turning age 65 in 2022 “premium support” payments to help them buy private policies. There is little doubt that the Republican proposal would sharply reduce federal spending on Medicare by capping what the government would pay at very low levels. But it could cause great hardship by shifting a lot of the burden to beneficiaries. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2022 new enrollees would have to pay at least $6,400 more out of pocket to buy coverage comparable to traditional Medicare.

Huge numbers of Medicare beneficiaries live on modest incomes and are already struggling to pay medical bills that Medicare does not fully cover. We should not force them into private health plans that would charge them a lot more or provide much skimpier benefits.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Alan Simpson “Not Sticking With Homophobic, Anti-Women” Fellow Republicans

Former Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) bluntly criticized fellow Republicans who embrace intrusive, judgmental and hypocritical stances on social issues, including abortion and gay rights. Speaking to Chris Matthews, Simpson referred in particular to comments about gays made in 2003 by former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, now considering a presidential run. Watch:

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SIMPSON: Who the hell is for abortion? I don't know anybody running around with a sign that says, have an abortion, they're wonderful. They're hideous. But they're a deeply intimate and personal decision, and I don't think men legislators should even vote on the issue. Then you've got homosexuality, you've got 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' We have homophobes in our party. That's disgusting to me. We're all human beings. We're all God's children. ... [Former Pennsylvania senator Rick] Santorum has said some cruel things, cruel, cruel things about homosexuals. Ask him about it. See if he attributes the cruelness of his remarks years ago. Foul. That's the kind of guys that are going to be on my ticket, you know, makes you sort out hard what Reagan said, you know, 'stick with your folks.' But I'm not sticking with people who are homophobic, anti-women, you know, moral values while you're diddling your secretary while you're giving a speech on moral values. Come on. Get off of it. (h/t: Huffington Post)

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Trane’s “Afro Blue”

Composed and recorded by Mongo Santamaria in 1959 (with lyrics later added by Oscar Brown Jr.), “Afro Blue” received its most powerful treatment in the hands of John Coltrane, soprano sax, joined by the virtuosi lineup of McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass, and Elvin Jones, drums. "Trane" and Tyner deliver hypnotic solos in this 1963 performance.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Rep. Ryan Booed For Defending Tax Cuts For The Wealthy

Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal is aimed at abolishing Medicare and Medicaid and reducing the top tax rate from 35% to 25%–amounting to a huge transfer of wealth to the wealthy. Speaking at a town hall meeting in southern Wisconsin, Ryan was booed after a constituent who described himself as a “lifelong conservative” noted the nation’s growing income gap and wondered why he was “fighting not to let the tax breaks for the wealthy expire.” Watch:

CONSTITUENT: The middle class is disappearing right now. During this time of prosperity, the top 1 percent was taking about 10 percent of the total annual income, but yet today we are fighting to not let the tax breaks for the wealthy expire? And we’re fighting to not raise the Social Security cap from $87,000? I think we’re wrong.

RYAN: A couple things. I don’t disagree with the premise of what you’re saying. The question is what’s the best way to do this. Is it to redistribute… (Crosstalk)

CONSTITUENT: You have to lower spending. But it’s a matter of there’s nothing wrong with taxing the top because it does not trickle down.

RYAN: We do tax the top. (Audience boos). Let’s remember, most of our jobs come from successful small businesses. Two-thirds of our jobs do. You got to remember, businesses pay taxes individually. So when you raise their tax rates to 44.8 percent, which is what the president is proposing, I would just fundamentally disagree. That is going to hurt job creation. (h/t: Think Progress)

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy will affect less than three percent of small businesses. It should also be noted that raising taxes on the wealthy enjoys strong public support.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Report Details Our “Koch-Fueled Congress”

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks discusses the growing influence of Charles and David Koch, billionaire oil magnates who inherited their wealth and use it to support right-wing causes aimed at harming the environment, attacking health care reform, busting unions and destroying Medicare and Medicaid. Referring to a report from the Center for American Progress (see also Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article, "Covert Operations"), Uygur states that David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential candidate in 1980–to the right of Ronald Reagan. Instead of becoming elected officials, the Kochs then decided to buy them. They’ve given millions to right-wing think tanks and politicians, to the point that we now have a “Koch-fueled Congress.” The Kochs benefited from the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which rejected all corporate campaign spending limits. They plan to spend $88 million in the 2012 elections. Uygur is joined by Tony Carrk of the Center For American Progress, who elaborates on the Kochs’ financial influence on the Tea Party and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Watch this eye-opening report:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

South Carolina Republicans Rally Around "The America We Know"

The interviews shown below of South Carolina Republicans took place at a rally hosted by Governor Nikki Haley (R) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) this past Monday. Apparently the attendees haven’t moved past the right-wing talking points proclaimed at Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally. Among their assertions: Obama is a follower of Islam, which isn’t really a religion; Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should be eliminated; Glenn Beck and Fox provide valuable information; too much is spent on education, and terrorists like Democrats. Actually, there is one new talking point: admiration for Donald Trump, who has been spewing birther nonsense and bloviating about a presidential run in order to boost his TV ratings. Are these the people Sarah Palin meant when she spoke about the “real America”?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gov. Walker Admits That His Union-Busting Bill Saves No Money

Appearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) admitted that his bill stripping public unions of collective bargaining rights saves his state no money. Rep. Dennis Kucinich repeatedly wanted to know the relation between Walker’s legislation and the committee’s topic, state and municipal debt. Amazingly, Walker tried to pose as a defender of workers’ rights despite the massive and numerous demonstrations by workers and their supporters against him:

KUCINICH: How much money does it save, Gov. Walker? Just answer the question.

WALKER: It doesn’t save any.

KUCINICH: That’s the point. It obviously had no effect whatsoever on the state budget. 

Kucinich then stated that Walker was motivated by politics, not economics. As Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald explained, by destroying unions, the Republicans weaken the only remaining major entity contributing to Democratic campaigns.

Democratic Representative Speechless At House Republican Priorities

The Republicans took over the House promising that they’ll focus on jobs, jobs, jobs–yet they haven’t passed one jobs bill in 100 days. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) asks what they’ve been up to–and the answer leaves him literally speechless. Yet he still delivers a powerful speech. Watch:

Republican Representative Admits That Ryan Voucher Plan Ends Medicare

In dialogue with Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) stated that the proposals of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) end Medicare by “transforming” it into a voucher plan. He follows House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in making that acknowledgment, despite the denials of House Speaker John Boehner:

WEINER: I’m going to say something now that is factually true and that Mr. Kingston cannot deny: Under Ryan’s plan, which apparently Mr. Kingston supports, we end Medicare as a guaranteed program for seniors. That’s the simple fact. If you don’t like it, Mr. Kingston, vote “no.”

KINGSTON: Anthony, you know that the Ryan plan transforms it to put market forces in there, and I know you don’t like the free market.

WEINER: What does ‘transform it’ mean?

KINGSTON: What it does is it takes it to a voucher so that seniors can get out, and by the way we’re talking about people under 55 years old, Medicare as we know it will not exist because it is a path to go broke…

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, by 2030 a voucher would cover only one-third of a private insurance policy equivalent to Medicare. No doubt there will be many seniors who will be deprived of medical care and less enthusiastic than Kingston about the Ryan plan.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Obama On Ryan's Plan: Not Serious, Not Courageous

In his budgetary speech this past week, President Obama stated what needed to be said about Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) proposals:

There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don’t think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.

Joe Scarborough criticized Obama for "insulting" Ryan by referring to his proposal as "un-American":

Scarborough misses the point. Obama was not getting personal with Ryan; he was stating that deficit reduction and tax cuts for wealthy are contradictory, and that balancing the budget on the backs of the vulnerable is not compatible with his vision of America. Ryan would cut spending by $5.8 trillion–and then offset that by $4.2 trillion in tax cuts. The top tax rate would be reduced from 35% to 25%. How would Ryan make up for the lost revenue? Through his faith in discredited supply-side, trickle-down economics. Obama is right: Ryan's plan is not serious and not courageous. Instead, as Paul Krugman put it, it is ludicrous and cruel.

Rachel Maddow: “This Is Not Just Cutting, This Is A Transfer Of Wealth”

Rachel Maddow explains the conservative strategy in the current debate about the deficit. Working people, the elderly and the poor are the ones being asked to sacrifice. Meanwhile, the wealthy enjoy their Bush-era tax cuts and major corporations pay no taxes, instead of contributing money that could cut the deficit in half. Under the rhetoric of cutting spending is a huge transfer of wealth to the wealthy. The more that tax cuts are given to the wealthy and to corporations, the more the deficit grows–and the more the middle and lower classes are asked to "sacrifice" due to the economic "emergency." Devilishly ingenious, isn’t it?

MADDOW: While the stock market is recovering and the CEOs are making 'bank,' it is regular people who work for a living, the ones who cash paychecks, who are being told, It’s time to sacrifice.’ Politicians at the state and federal level keep saying, ‘We’re broke, we have to have some shared sacrifice.’ But when they say shared sacrifice what they mean is cutting teacher pay by amounts that really matter. They mean laying off half the school district staff in Philadelphia while the state works to shovel a huge, new, bigger hole in the state’s deficit in order to give hundreds of billions of dollars to corporations. They mean raising taxes on working class families and the elderly in Michigan in order to finance hundreds of millions of dollars to give away to business. They mean cutting programs that help poor people heat their homes–that is an Obama administration proposal, by the way. They mean declaring a financial emergency, making the deficit way worse with a bunch of corporate giveaways and then cutting money from programs for the disabled like they’re doing in Florida. This economic strategy is costing the nation a bundle. All we hear about is cuts, right? It’s one thing to talk about cutting spending. The thing that is being lost in translation is that this is not just cutting, this is a transfer of wealth, of wealth that might be otherwise able to close a budget deficit, and instead, it is being shoveled out the door to corporate interests and to people who are already doing great right now in the economy. The national deficit that Republicans keep warning us about, the serious moral threat they say it poses, that deficit would be cut in half if we let the Republican Bush-era tax cuts for the richest people in the country expire. The other big thing we can do to fix this nation’s budget is to start making corporations pay their share. Senator Bernie Sanders, the master of populist, righteous outrage, posted a list this week of what he called the 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders. … Those are the 'haves,' who are also now the 'get mores.' Who should pay for that and why?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Stephen Colbert On The GlennPocalypse

The GlennPocalypse is upon us! Now that Glenn Beck's show is ending at Fox, Stephen Colbert tells us how to survive in the post–Glenn world. That includes buying Colbert’s Emergency Beckpack:

Those who are nostalgic about Beck can revisit some of his most cherished moments.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: John McLaughlin Pays Tribute To Trane

John McLaughlin is one of the greatest jazz guitarists in the world and an outstanding interpreter of the music of John Coltrane. Coltrane transformed the show tune “My Favorite Things,” and McLaughlin provides his own lyrical and swinging spin on that transformation in this two-part video. He’s joined by two formidable musicians in their own right, Joey De Francesco, organ, and Dennis Chambers, drums. Along these lines, I recommend McLaughlin’s tribute album to Coltrane, “After The Rain.” This is the third consecutive year I’ve posted a performance of “My Favorite Things,” which I suppose is a record. Coltrane’s performance is here, and David Liebman’s is here.

“A Freewheelin’ Time”: Dylan’s Muse, But Not His Guitar String

A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties by Suze Rotolo. 371 pp. Broadway. $14.95 (paperback)

Suze Rotolo, who recently passed away (my tribute here), became Bob Dylan’s girlfriend shortly after he arrived in New York in the early 1960s–and she also became his muse. Daughter of communist Italian immigrants, Rotolo raised Dylan’s awareness of social issues, inspiring his protest songs as well as his most poignant love ballads. She and Dylan were pictured on Jones Street in Greenwich Village on the cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan" album (1963).

Rotolo depicts a time when it was possible to live cheaply in the Village as a theater set designer, which she was–or a yet undiscovered folk singer. The earlier sections of the book encompass a more innocent period, as the couple lived together took in the Village's folk clubs, experimental theaters, bookstores, foreign films and art galleries. Dylan’s growing fame, however, broke them apart. Rotolo refuses the role of the musician’s “chick” or “a string on Bob Dylan’s guitar.” When she came back from a period in Italy, Villagers  accused her of not being there for him. Folk music itself was “a boy’s club.” Indeed, the sexism in bohemian circles was as prevalent as in the wider society, a point also made in Joyce Johnson’s “Minor Characters,” a memoir of the Beat writers. According to Rotolo, Dylan also didn’t handle fame him graciously; she eventually perceives him as “tight and hostile," holding court as “the reigning king.” Dylan’s relationship with Joan Baez, though alluded to only briefly, was doubtless another factor in their breakup.

While her relationship with Dylan is central to the book, this is ultimately Rotolo’s story. As such, it doesn’t stop as her relationship with Dylan declines. She recounts her trip to Cuba in defiance of the U.S. travel ban, as well as iconic events of the time: the assassination of President Kennedy, the growth of the counterculture, the Vietnam war protests. She regretfully concludes that Greenwich Village is now too expensive to remain a center of bohemia. What endures, though, is the Village as a “state of mind,” a “calling” for the “creative spirit.” However we refer to it, that era and place, in all its artistic and political fervor, is preserved in Suze Rotolo’s illuminating memoir.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Report Details Koch Brothers’ Use Of Billions For Right-Wing Agenda

Charles and David Koch are the billionaire oil magnates who inherited their wealth and use it to support right-wing causes, including climate change denial, opposition to health care reform and union busting. Interest in the Kochs started with Jane Mayer’s must-read New Yorker article, "Covert Operations" (8/30/10). The Center for American Progress recently released a report, “The Koch Brothers: What You Need to Know About the Financiers of the Radical Right” (to read it, click on “report” in article) that details the ways in which the Kochs use their combined $44 billion to support policies that benefit their corporate interests, including:

• Grassroots organizing for big business. The Koch brothers use their considerable wealth to bankroll the right wing, including the Tea Party. This serves the purpose of furthering not only their right-wing ideology but also their bottom line. Koch Industries has a lot to gain from gutting government oversight and electing candidates who oppose government regulation, especially in the oil-and-gas industry.

• $85 million to 85 think tanks. Identification of at least $85 million the Koch brothers have given to at least 85 right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups over the past decade and a half.

• State organizing. The Koch brothers are active at the state level, spending $5.2 million on candidates and ballot measures in 34 states since 2003. They donated directly to 13 governors that won election last year.

• Over 70% of the GOP Freshman. The Kochs donated directly to 62 of the 87 members of the House GOP freshman class.

• 2012. The Kochs are not going away. In fact, they have already pledged to raise $88 million for the 2012 election and have started scheduling events for potential Republican presidential candidates.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Slashing Of The Social Safety Net Illustrated

In December, we had the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy at a cost of $800 billion–cuts insisted upon by so-called “deficit hawks.” The deal struck this week by Democrats and Republicans cut programs for the middle and lower classes, continuing a trend. The plan of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) dismantles Medicare and Medicaid while cutting the top tax rate from 35% to 25%. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor warns that these programs, along with Social Security, are on their way out. Two cartoons, respectively by Chan Lowe and Ben Sargent, capture the transfer of more wealth to the rich, the move toward regressive taxation and the slashing of the social safety net:

Ryan Plan Slashes Medicare, Medicaid While Cutting Taxes For The Wealthy

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has put forward a plan to cut $4 trillion over 10 years through privatizing Medicare, ending Medicaid and capping discretionary spending–all without cutting taxes. In fact, it would reduce the top tax rate from 35% to 25%. The Ryan plan, then, has all the hallmarks of Republican economic schemes: cut programs for the middle and lower classes and shift the savings to the wealthy. After his introduction, Lawrence O’Donnell speaks to Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities about the inequities of the Ryan plan:

GREENSTEIN: [The Ryan plan] is by far the most radical and extreme budget plan I’ve ever seen. It dramatically cuts health care funding for low and moderate income people through Medicaid and Medicare. It effectively would lead over time to rationing of health care by income yet at the same time it does that, it makes permanent all of the Bush tax cuts for people at the very top of the income scale. That’s an average tax cut of $125,000 a year for people who make over $1 million a year. Over a decade, people that are millionaires get a million dollars in tax cuts while low-income children, seniors and people with sever disabilities lose basic health care. It’s extraordinary.

…Does the Ryan plan get a dollar for deficit reduction from closing egregious tax breaks for oil companies or corporations that ship jobs overseas or Wall Street traders who manipulate the rules to pay taxes at lower rates than you or I do? …They just slash Medicare and Medicaid. …People on Medicare who have modest incomes and elderly widows at $15,000 to $20,000 a year and poor children on Medicaid, they would be out of luck.

Monday, April 11, 2011

CEO Salaries Boom, Workers’ Pay Flat In 2010

The heads of the nation's top companies are recovering very well from the recession, especially in comparison with their employees:

At a time most employees can barely remember their last substantial raise, median CEO pay jumped 27% in 2010 as the executives’ compensation started working its way back to prerecession levels, a USA TODAY analysis of data from GovernanceMetrics International found. Workers in private industry, meanwhile, saw their compensation grow just 2.1% in the 12 months ended December 2010, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Two years of scaling back amid tough economic times proved temporary as three-quarters of CEOs got raises in 2010 — and, in many cases, the increases were substantial.

You know who’s to blame for this growing income gap between CEOs and private industry workers? Why, it’s those damn public-sector teachers, nurses and snow plow drivers!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rep. Cantor: Social Security And Medicare Won't Be There For Those 54 And Younger

Occasionally, the Republicans reveal their longtime agenda to rip apart what remains of the social safety net. Talking to Chris Wallace, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said that Social Security and Medicare will not be there for those 54 and younger. Regarding Medicaid, Cantor spoke of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan to give states “flexibility” and recipients more “personal choice”–while allocating less money. Watch:

CANTOR: What we [House Republicans] have said is this: We'll protect today's seniors and those nearing retirement, but for the rest of us, all of us, who are 54 and younger, I know the programs are not going to be there for me when I retire.

Cantor also told NPR, We're going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be.

Cenk Uygur: “Republican Ideas For Fixing The Deficit Are A Joke”

Cenk Uygur exposes the Republicans’ false claims to being “deficit hawks.” He points out their refusal to cut $46.2 billion in oil subsidies over 10 years and the $800 billion they fought for to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The Republicans pay for part of these expenses through cuts that hurt the middle and lower classes. Dylan Ratigan joins in to explain that Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) deficit-cutting plan is another joke (also read Krugman). Watch:

What Does Planned Parenthood Do?

Following Sen. Jon Kyl's (R-AZ) assertion, politely called a “misstatement" by Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, that abortions are “well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does," Richards stated that "no federal funds pay for abortion either at Planned Parenthood or any hospital in America, and 97% of Planned Parenthood services are basic preventive care.” She expressed incredulity at the Republicans’ recent threat to shut down the government over funding such care:

Planned Parenthood, which accounts for .0083% of the federal budget, provides a chart showing what it does; abortion services account for just 3% of its activities. Planned Parenthood's defunding would harm poor people who need cancer and STD screenings and contraception:

Lawrence O’Donnell comments on Sen. Kyl’s “misstatement” and provides powerful testimony about one unemployed woman’s critical need for Planned Parenthood's services–and the dire consequences of defunding:

Visit Planned Parenthood to find out more about this valuable health care provider currently under assault.

Beck's And Tea Partiers' Brains Diagrammed

The following diagrammed brains are presented to help us understand today's conservatives. First, Glenn Beck, whose show on Fox is ending. Beck has long been known for his deranged behavior and outlandish conspiracy theories. Here's the brain that conceives of such antics (h/t: Mother Jones, art: Steve Brodner, script: Dave Gilson):

Next, mind of a Tea Party supporter. The diagram below gives us insight into a movement determined to march America backwards–and to fight for the priorities of billionaires like the Koch brothers, who are glad to fund their activities (h/t Huffington Post, writer and artist: Trish Wend):

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Muddy Waters Live

Muddy Waters performs “Blow Wind Blow” in Dortmund, Germany (1976), with one of his great bands: Muddy on guitar and vocals; Jerry Portnoy, harmonica; Bob Margolin and Luther Johnson, guitars; Calvin Jones, bass; Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, drums, and Pinetop Perkins, piano (see my tribute to Pinetop following his recent passing). Muddy and Howlin’ Wolf were the most prominent among those who brought the blues from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago, where they pioneered the electric style. The song above is also on the outstanding “Fathers and Sons” album (1969), in which Muddy is backed up in the studio and live by a new generation of blues musicians. Those interested in Muddy’s life should read the illuminating “Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters” by Robert Gordon and watch the film “Cadillac Records" (see my review), a celebration of the Chicago blues.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Why is Glenn Beck’s Fox News Show Ending?

Media Matters presents a collage of some–by no means all–of Glenn Beck's most lunatic moments in an attempt to answer the question, Why is Glenn Beck’s Fox News show ending? Listening to his paranoid rants and viewing his antics, one could rephrase the question: Why did Glenn Beck’s Fox News show last so long? Watch and wonder:

BECK: You are watching the beginning and the birth of the new world order. If you want to call me crazy, go to hell. Call me crazy all you want.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rachel Maddow: Republicans Aim to Destroy Unions For Funding Democrats

Union bashing by Republican governors has spread from Wisconsin to Ohio to Maine to Oklahoma to Florida. Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio and the Republican legislature have enacted an anti-union bill even tougher than Wisconsin’s. Rachel Maddow notes that recall efforts are taking place in Wisconsin and Ohio, both of whose governors are now divisive figures. Why, then, are Republicans bashing unions? Maddow points to the larger picture: they are determined to destroy the only remaining major entity funding Democrats, the unions. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Wisconsin already admitted as much; watch as Maddow elaborates:

MADDOW: If you make unions disappear, particularly if you make public sector unions disappear, then the corporate interests that give big money to Republicans in elections, they have no competition, so Democrats can’t ever win. Last year, out of the top 10 outside spending groups in that election, seven of those groups made their donations to the right. Only three of the ten made their donations to the left, and all three donating to the left were unions. If the unions are gone, Republicans run the table. Democrats cannot compete when it comes to big money in elections without the unions. Therefore the unions must die. It’s not just that Republicans hate union rights, but look at the effect. They want to cripple the Democratic Party’s ability to compete.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Schakowsky Rips Ryan's Plans To Dismantle Medicare And Medicaid

Speaking with Chris Matthews about Rep. Paul D. Ryan’s (R-WI) plans to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) first asks the essential question about all Republican schemes that call on the vulnerable to sacrifice for the wealthy. Schakowsky then questions Ryan’s program in terms of its feasibility and morality. Watch:

REP. SCHAKOWSKY: Why is he picking on old people at the same time as he’s not doing anything about tax cuts for the wealthiest, about tax breaks for oil companies and companies that are outsourcing our jobs?

…The median income for people over 65 years old in our country, it’s $19,000 a year. That is is with everything. Those are the people, and frail elderly, you’re going to send out in the market to choose among all of the health insurance companies, and then some measly amount of money is going to be sent to them, and if they don’t have enough coverage, then too bad for them? And the thing that really frosts me is that Paul Ryan says this is a moral issue. I agree with him that it’s a moral issue. Do nothing about the wealthiest and take it out on the backs of people who make a median income of $19,000 a year. It’s unconscionable and silly.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fox’s Brit Hume Dumbfounded By Revelation That G.E. Paid No Taxes

Regular readers of this blog know, as I recently posted, that General Electric, America’s largest corporation, had an extremely profitable 2010, yet paid not a penny in taxes. Fox’s Brit Hume is evidently not a reader of “The Liberal Curmudgeon,” since he was unaware of this. On Fox News Sunday, Hume was spouting right-wing economics: cutting taxes–implicitly for the wealthy and corporations–leads to increased tax revenue. Juan Williams pointed out G.E.’s case, a blatant contradiction of Hume’s point. Watch Hume caught in the headlights, speechless, before being rescued by Chris Wallace's quip:

WILLIAMS: Remember that there's been an extension of the Bush tax cuts, and you’re going on as if, you know what, we don’t know how in America how to help our own deficit problem. We do! We just have to tax people.

HUME: Juan, Juan. What we need is not higher tax rates. What we need is higher revenues. And how do you get higher revenues? You get higher revenues from an expanding economy. That’s where the big money comes from.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, and G.E. paying no taxes? That’s good for America? Come on, you know that’s not right.


WALLACE: I just want to say, I pay all my taxes! (h/t: Think Progress)

“Of Gods And Men”: Piety Stretched To The Limit

“Of Gods and Men,” a profound and moving meditation on faith and violent conflict by French director Xavier Beauvois, is set during the Algerian civil war of the 1990s. At the time, the Front Islamique du Salut won initial elections, followed by a military coup that nullified the results. The conflict resulted in atrocities and massacres by radical Islamists and the Algerian military.

The film is based on a true account of French Cistercian Trappist monks who try to maintain their way of life in the face of the growing threat to it. The slaughter of Croatian workers is the first gruesome sign of the militants’ determination to rid the country of all they deem to be outsiders. Despite an ominous visit by the militants to the monks’ abbey, as well as debates among the monks as to whether they should leave, they decide to stay. The monks continue to provide medical services to the community, sell their honey, till their fields, pray and chant, and live respectfully among the rural Muslim population. There are villagers who appreciate them as a buffer from terror–a buffer that doesn’t last. On the other hand, a government official who urges them to leave sees them as a vestige of the French colonialism that ruled Algeria and left enduring conflict in its wake (see my review of “A Savage War of Peace,” an outstanding study of the Algerian-French war).

To the more secular minded, the religious motivations of both the militants and the monks are baffling. Of course, many wonder how those who are supposedly committed to religious precepts can engage in gruesome acts against other human beings–and the conclusion is usually reached that they are twisting such precepts to their own purposes. On the other hand, the head monk, Christian, prays for the soul of a terrorist who employed torture–a degree of compassion beyond the abilities of many, including an Algerian soldier angered by it. Christian even forgives in advance those who threaten the lives of the monks. His ultimate fate and that of his fellow monks leave one in awe of their piety while questioning its extent.

Monday, April 4, 2011

What's The Worst Thing The Koch Brothers Have Done?

Brave New Foundation has announced a developing video series, "The Koch Brothers Exposed," on the right-wing activism of Charles and David Koch, oil magnates and inheritors of vast wealth. In the following video, the foundation asks, "What's the worst thing the Koch brothers have done?" The "five greatest hits on America" include oil spills; anti-worker, anti-health care and anti-immigration activities; and furthering foreclosures. Watch:

You can vote on the worst of the five or provide your own comment on another destructive Koch activity. To learn more, read Jane Mayer's outstanding August 2010 article in the New Yorker, "Covert Operations."

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Conservative States Raise Higher Share Of Taxes From The Poor

Based on Katherine Newman's book, "Taxing the Poor," Ezra Klein comments on how Southern states raise taxes in the most regressive fashion: through sales taxes that fall most heavily on the poor. Klein refers to a chart in the book that shows how state and local taxes vary by region:

Klein comments:

As you can see, the South relies much more heavily on sales taxes and much less heavily on income taxes than the Northeast does. Sales taxes, of course, are regressive, while income taxes are progressive...

Being anti-tax doesn’t mean your state doesn’t need revenue. Instead, what it often means is that the composition of how you get that revenue ends up being more regressive. You tax goods more than incomes, slap higher user fees on the sorts of public services (buses, parks, libraries) that the poor use more than the rich, and generally try to raise money in ways your wealthier, more politically powerful constituents don’t notice.

Jonathan Chaitt broadens the thesis by looking at the nexus between taxation and political party throughout the country:

...Republican states tend to raise a far higher share of their taxes from the poor, and less from the rich, than Democratic states.

The South is the most reliant upon regressive sales taxes, followed by the West, followed by the Midwest, followed by the Northeast. The reverse is true of the property tax, which is progressive.

The basic picture here is that, at every level of government, the conservative movement fights for the most regressive possible distribution of the tax burden...

...When conservatives discuss the distribution of the tax burden, they tend to focus on the federal level (and even then they usually ignore the more regressive federal taxes.) But, of course, in our federal system, we divide the functions of government between the national, state, and local levels. Given that the latter two tend to charge higher rates to the poor -- especially in conservative states -- some level of progressivity at the national level is needed merely to keep the overall tax level flat.

The regressivity of state taxation is not unrelated to the need for progressive taxation at the national level. And it's not something that just happens, either. It's a vital element of conservative policy, one which conservatives will go to great lengths to defend in the rare instances when it's challenged.

Report Details Shift Of Tax Burden From The Wealthiest To The Middle Class

Wealth For the Common Good, which advocates for a more progressive tax code, has released a report, “Shifting Responsibility: How 50 Years of Tax Cuts Benefited the Wealthiest Americans.” A chart shows the steady decline in the federal tax rate–for the richest 400, as opposed to the rest of us:

The report details how the tax burden has shifted from the wealthy to the middle class, with further negative consequences for the middle and lower classes. It also undercuts conservative rhetoric about tax relief for the middle class and reducing the deficit:

Tax cuts for the wealthy between 2001-2008 cost the U.S. Treasury $700 billion, with all of these billions added directly to the national debt. Retaining these tax cuts will cost $826 billion over the next decade.

...state and local taxes remain decidedly regressive. This offsets, to a significant extent, our residual federal tax progressivity. Taxpayers in America’s middle fifth paid 9.4 percent of their 2007 incomes in total state and local taxes. Top 1 percent taxpayers that year saw only 5.2 percent of their incomes go to state and local taxes.

...Middle-class Americans entered the 21st century paying a higher share of their incomes in federal taxes than they paid midway through the 20th century. Wealthy Americans entered the new century paying less. Far less. Over the last half-century, America’s wealthiest taxpayers have seen their tax outlays, as a share of income, drop enormously, by as much as two-thirds for the highest-income grouping that the IRS tracks.

...despite all the “tax cut” political rhetoric and action of recent years, middle-class Americans have seen no tax savings. Wealthy Americans most certainly have.

...This great tax shift is exacting a high price. We see that price in America’s staggeringly unequal distribution of income.

...We also see the high price that tax cuts for the wealthy exact whenever a “we-must-live-within-our-means” elected leader claims we have no alternative to cutting the programs that benefit low- and middle-income American families.

And our children and grandchildren will see even more of that high price tomorrow, when they will be asked to pay back, with interest, the trillions our federal government has been borrowing to offset our loss of tax revenue from wealthy taxpayers.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

South Dakota Women Seeking Abortions Legally Subject To Anti-Choice Counseling

Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) of South Dakota and his Republican-dominated Legislature have passed a law requiring that women seeking abortions must first be counseled at places like the Alpha Center (above). Does this enforced counseling encourage women to make the decision that’s personally best for them? How long must women wait to have an abortion? For which women does the law make exceptions? Are the counselors medical professionals? Here's what “small government conservatives” have in mind for this most private of women’s healthcare decisions:

The sign out front advertises free pregnancy tests, information about abortion and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. But it is not an abortion clinic — it is home to the Alpha Center, an organization in Sioux Falls, S.D., dedicated to encouraging women to bring their babies to term.

A law signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Tuesday makes the state the first to require women who are seeking abortions to first attend a consultation at such “pregnancy help centers,” to learn what assistance is available “to help the mother keep and care for her child.”

The legislation, which passed easily in a state Legislature where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 3 to 1, also establishes the nation’s longest waiting period — three days — after an initial visit with an abortion provider before the procedure can be done. It makes exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest.

Many states require counseling from doctors or other clinic staff members before an abortion to cover topics like health risks. What makes the new South Dakota law different is that the mandated counseling will come from people whose central qualification is that they are opposed to abortion.

...Peggy Gibson, a Democratic state representative who voted against the measure, said the law amounted to “government intrusion into people’s medical decisions.”

“South Dakota women should not need to submit to an in-person lecture from an unqualified, noncertified, faith-based counselor or volunteer at an anti-choice crisis pregnancy center,” Ms. Gibson said.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Steve Forbert Goes Down To Laurel

Folk rock singer-songwriter Steve Forbert, backed up by The Soundbenders, performs “Goin’ Down To Laurel” in his hometown of Meridian, Mississippi, 2007.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mike Brant Emerges As GOP Frontrunner Due To Disdain For Government And Refusal To Serve

The more Mike Brant of Kentucky expresses his disinterest in politics, the more excited growing numbers of Republicans become about his running for president in 2012. Brandt’s straight talk about the uselessness of government and his unwillingness to serve are firing up the conservative base. Watch:

Man Becomes GOP Frontrunner After Showing No Interest In Government

Remembering George Tooker, Painter Of Anxiety And Alienation

George Tooker (1920-2011), who died last Sunday, expressed more powerfully than any other American painter two prominent themes in 20th-century arts: anxiety and alienation. Much of his work could be seen as the visual equivalent of the novels of Franz Kafka, in their depiction of disconsolate citizens confronting faceless bureaucracies. “Government Bureau” (1956) above was painted after Tooker's frustrating experience trying to renovate a house in Brooklyn. The isolation and fear in "The Subway" (1950) are heightened by the claustrophobic sense of being trapped in an underground maze:

Tooker, who refused to discuss the meaning of his work, did not see himself as a painter of fantasies or dreams, but of aspects of everyday life that make a powerful impression: "I am after reality–painting impressed on the mind so hard that it recurs as a dream, but I am not after dreams as such, or fantasy."

Further images of the work of this remarkable artist are available through a slide show.