Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Talking Heads' "Once In A Lifetime"



Talking Heads perform "Once In A Lifetime" in Jonathan Demme's "Stop Making Sense" (1984), one of the greatest rock concert films. The lyrics, which include, "You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house. You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful wife," express the alienation with a funky backbeat that is the hallmark of this outstanding New Wave band and David Byrne's songs. The sense of strangeness is heightened by Byrne's agitated motions and oversized suit.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tom Tomorrow: "2011: Year In Review, Part II"

Tom Tomorrow's annual survey of right-wing lunacy continues. You can also view Part I. Much of this material was covered during the year at The Liberal Curmudgeon. As we look toward the wingnut antics of 2012, I wish my readers a happy new year.

Remembering Helen Frankenthaler, Abstract Painter (1928-2011)


Inspired by Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler (left) took abstract expressionism in a new direction. Where Pollock and Willem de Kooning emphasized raw emotion through gestural “action painting,” Frankenthaler, who passed away on Tuesday, reveled in the sheer beauty of color, inspiring other artists in what emerged as color field painting. Frankenthaler diluted her paints and poured them directly onto unprimed canvas, manipulating them with mops and sponges as they soaked into the surface. The result was broad fields of luminous color, often evocative of the natural world, including "Nature Abhors A Vacuum" (1973) above. For more on this innovative painter who left us with many works of breathtaking beauty, read the New York Times obituary; read and listen to two NPR profiles, one following her passing and one from 1988; listen to NPR on the color field artists, and view a video profile.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gays Apologize To GOP Senator For Ruining Her Marriage

Former Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch (left) is among the Republicans who co-authored a Defense of Marriage bill declaring that only marriages between men and women are valid in the state. After the bill failed, Koch recognized that the institution of marriage had lost its sanctity and committed adultery with a staffer. Following criticism from her party, Koch recently apologized and resigned. John Medeiros of Minneapolis then issued "An Open Apology to Amy Koch on Behalf of All Gay and Lesbian Minnesotans." An excerpt from the letter:

On behalf of all gays and lesbians living in Minnesota, I would like to wholeheartedly apologize for our community's successful efforts to threaten your traditional marriage. We are ashamed of ourselves for causing you to have what the media refers to as an "illicit affair" with your staffer, and we also extend our deepest apologies to him and to his wife. These recent events have made it quite clear that our gay and lesbian tactics have gone too far, affecting even the most respectful of our society.

We apologize that our selfish requests to marry those we love have cheapened and degraded traditional marriage so much that we caused you to stray from your own holy union for something more cheap and tawdry. And we are doubly remorseful in knowing that many will see this as a form of sexual harassment of a subordinate.

Republicans Wish The One Percent A Merry Christmas

The Republicans' Christmas card to David and Charles Koch, Grover Norquist and the rest of the one percent reminds these recipients of the many benefits they receive from the GOP at the expense of the 99 percent. (The card refers to the Republicans' threat to block the payroll tax cut extension; they have since caved on the issue. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, however, still remain.)

Ron Paul Took Credit In '95 For Controversial Newsletters

Ron Paul’s 1990’s newsletters are receiving increased attention as his campaign surges. The publications include racist, homophobic and other other vile content. Further, a direct mail piece advertising the newsletters warned about a "race war" and a "federal-homosexual cover-up on AIDS." Paul has denied writing or reading the articles–but in a 1995 interview, he took credit for the newsletter, stating, "I...do an investment newsletter, it's called the 'Ron Paul Survival Report.' ...It's...expressing concern about surviving in this age of big government..." Watch:

Gingrich Likens Failure To Get On Virginia Ballot To Pearl Harbor

Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman did not meet 10,000-signature requirement to get on the Virginia ballot. One of them likened his failure to a disastrous national event. Which candidate? Gingrich, the "historian." Which event? Pearl Harbor. All of which backs up Paul Krugman’s observation that Gingrich is “a stupid man’s idea of what a smart person should sound like.”

“Newt and I agreed that the analogy is December 1941,” campaign director Michael Krull said in a message posted to Facebook. “We have experienced an unexpected set-back, but we will re-group and re-focus with increased determination, commitment and positive action. Throughout the next months there will be ups and downs; there will be successes and failures; there will be easy victories and difficult days - but in the end we will stand victorious.”

Monday, December 26, 2011

Republicans Resist Funding Extreme Weather Research

During the past year, we’ve experienced a record number of extreme weather events–and scientists want to know if there's a connection to global warming. But they're hampered in their research–and not just because of budgetary constraints. The Republicans don’t want to know if man-made climate change has anything to do with these weather patterns. They're afraid the research won't supply the results they want–and so the war on science continues:

...it is unusual, if not unprecedented, for so many extremes to occur in such a short span. The calamities in 2011 included wildfires that scorched millions of acres, extreme flooding in the Upper Midwest and the Mississippi River Valley and heat waves that shattered records in many parts of the country. Abroad, massive floods inundated Australia, the Philippines and large parts of Southeast Asia.

...This year, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried to push through a reorganization that would have provided better climate forecasts to businesses, citizens and local governments, Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked it. The idea had originated in the Bush administration, was strongly endorsed by an outside review panel and would have cost no extra money. But the House Republicans, many of whom reject the overwhelming scientific consensus about the causes of global warming, labeled the plan an attempt by the Obama administration to start a “propaganda” arm on climate.


Image: Tom Toles, The Washington Post

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tom Tomorrow: "2011: Year In Review, Part I"

Every year, I share political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow's survey of right-wing lunacy. Here's Part I:



Saturday, December 24, 2011

“David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy” At The Whitney Museum


Sculptor David Smith is strongly associated with the abstract expressionists, as he used welded metal to suggest the gestures and slashes of the New York School painters. “David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy” at the Whitney Museum demonstrates that he also employed geometric forms from the start. The show unnecessarily starts with Smith’s geometric work from the 1960s and moves backwards; it would have provided greater context had it started with the precursors rather than the culminating sculptures (including, above, "Cubi XXI," 1964, and "Cubi I," 1963, both stainless steel). Such precursors include 1950s work reminiscent of African totems (see "The Hero," 1951-1952), which influenced many artists at the time. Still, the exhibit broadens our conception of this major 20th century American sculptor.

David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy” continues through January 8, 2012, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 954 Madison Ave. at 75th St., NYC. (Listen to an audio guide of the exhibit.)

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: The Swell Season Performs “Buzzin’ Fly”



The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who starred in the 2007 film “Once,” perform Tim Buckley’s “Buzzin’ Fly” (original version and lyrics) in Seattle, October 2009. Toward the end, Hansard quotes from “Grace," a song by Tim's son Jeff Buckley, as a tribute; both Tim and Jeff passed away at a young age.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

GOP Caves On Payroll Tax Cut Extension

So what have we learned from the payroll tax cut extension, which the House Republicans rejected yesterday and agreed to today? That it is possible for Democrats to stick together, seize the narrative and explain that the Republicans do not have the best interests of the majority in mind–and for the Republicans to give in. How about that. Not a bad end-of-year lesson. Can the Democrats apply this victory, however temporary, to other issues as they head into 2012?

Under the deal, the employee’s share of the Social Security payroll tax will stay at the current level, 4.2 percent of wages, through Feb. 29. In the absence of Congressional action, it would revert to the usual 6.2 percent next month. The government will also continue paying unemployment insurance benefits under current policy through February. Without Congressional action, many of the long-term unemployed would begin losing benefits next month.

In addition, under the agreement, Medicare will continue paying doctors at current rates for two months, averting a 27 percent cut that would otherwise occur on Jan. 1.

...In the end, the agreement seemed a clear victory for Mr. Obama and the Democrats — at least for now. They managed to change the narrative from one about Mr. Obama making a concession and agreeing to a provision in the bill to speed the approval process for an oil pipeline to one about stonewalling House Republicans, who have spent much of the year holding the upper hand of divided government.

Democrats have been quick to exploit the issue. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this week unleashed automated phone calls, some of which were recorded by the Democratic strategist James Carville, in the districts of 20 targeted House Republicans.

The onslaught will continue. “This is a defining moment,” said the head of the committee, Representative Steve Israel, Democrat of New York. “This by itself doesn’t necessarily alter the political landscape, but the chronic chaos and repeated extremism will help us win back the House.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

House Republicans Reject Payroll Tax Cut Extension


The Republicans are the party of tax cuts–if they benefit the one percent. With the House Republicans’ rejection of a payroll tax cut extension, about which they have never been enthusiastic, will middle and lower class Americans still vote for the GOP–and against their interests? Can the Republicans make it any clearer that they work against the 99 percent? This latest move, as President Obama states, also affects unemployment benefits and Medicare:

By turning down a bill that was overwhelmingly supported by both parties in the Senate as well as the White House, the conservative House majority that has spent the year inciting combative legislative showdowns is now staring over the brink, standing fast against legislation with significant financial consequences for nearly every American household.

...Not a single Democrat joined the House Republicans in rejecting the Senate bill on Tuesday — a rare occurrence. An hour after that vote, Mr. Obama swept unannounced into his press secretary’s daily briefing with White House reporters. He called the Senate measure — which would maintain a two-month extension of a payroll tax holiday for 160 million workers, continue unemployment benefits for millions more and maintain Medicare reimbursement fees for doctors — “the only viable way to prevent a tax hike, on Jan. 1. The only one.”

Millions of Americans, and the overall economy, would suffer without such action, he said. “The clock is ticking; time is running out,” Mr. Obama said. “And if the House Republicans refuse to vote for the Senate bill, or even allow it to come up for a vote, taxes will go up in 11 days.”


Image: Chan Lowe, Sun Sentinel

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Gay Vietnam Vet Criticizes Romney On Marriage Equality

Mitt Romney told Bob Garon, a gay Vietnam veteran, that he would not support same-sex marriage as president and instead would support its repeal in New Hampshire. After Romney left, Garon told reporters, “He’s not getting my vote. He told me that I’m not entitled to Constitutional rights. I think a man and a woman and a man and a man should be treated equal. What the hell’s the difference?” Garon then stated that he fought for his country and he and his partner are entitled to the same rights as straight couples. The episode reminds us how gay marriage decisively affects real couples–and how out of touch every single Republican candidate is on this issue of fundamental human rights. Watch:

Gingrich Would Impeach And Arrest "Radical" Judges, Ignore Rulings

Is Newt Gingrich the most dangerous Republican presidential candidate of all? If elected, he pledges to conduct an all-out assault on our judicial system:

Newt Gingrich says as president he would ignore Supreme Court decisions that conflicted with his powers as commander in chief, and he would press for impeaching judges or even abolishing certain courts if he disagreed with their rulings.

"I'm fed up with elitist judges" who seek to impose their "radically un-American" views, Gingrich said Saturday in a conference call with reporters.

In recent weeks, the Republican presidential contender has been telling conservative audiences he is determined to expose the myth of "judicial supremacy" and restrain judges to a more limited role in American government. "The courts have become grotesquely dictatorial and far too powerful," he said in Thursday's Iowa debate.

Gingrich's views have even alarmed some fellow conservatives. Bush administration attorney general Michael Mukasey said that Gingrich's ideas are "dangerous, ridiculous, totally irresponsible, outrageous, off-the-wall and would reduce the entire judicial system to a spectacle." He was joined in his criticism by Bush attorney general Alberto Gonzalez. Conservative columnist George Will criticized Gingrich for his "rhetorical flamboyance."

None of this criticism has fazed Gingrich, who said today that judges should explain "radical" decisions before Congress–and if they refused to do so, they should be arrested. Watch him as he spoke to Bob Schieffer on "Face The Nation":



Schieffer: One of the things you say is that if you don’t like what a court has done, that Congress should subpoena the judge and bring him before Congress and hold a Congressional hearing… how would you enforce that? Would you send the Capitol Police down to arrest him?

Gingrich: Sure. If you had to. Or you’d instruct the Justice Department to send a U.S. Marshal.

Fischer: God Sent Hitchens To Hell Out Of Love

Right-wing religious fundamentalist Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association stated on his radio show that Christopher Hitchens, iconoclastic writer, public intellectual and atheist who passed away Thursday, can be assumed to be in hell. Further, Hitchens was sent there by a loving God who recognized that he does not want to be in heaven: “If Christopher Hitchens is in fact in hell, he’s there because God loves him... It would not be a loving thing to compel someone like Christopher Hitchens to spend the rest of eternity in a place that he hated.” So Hitchens, according to this view, is to suffer eternal torment out of love. This type of "logic" is characteristic of Fischer–and I have no doubt that Hitchens would have been highly amused by it. Watch:

Walker Raises Half Of Funds Outside State, Including From Swift Boater

As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) prepares his battle against the recall effort, he has raised three times more money than his opponents have, half from outside the state. Among such contributors are Bob Perry of Houston, chief financial backer of the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” which spread falsehoods about John Kerry’s wartime service in Vietnam. In contrast to Walker’s donations, the vast majority of donations to recall the union-busting governor have come from within the state. The recall movement has almost gathered almost all the signatures it needs to force another election. From the Wisconsin State Journal:

According to campaign finance documents released Thursday, Walker raised $5.1 million since July 2011. Much of that has come during the past month, a period in which the governor has been able to take advantage of a state law that allows him to raise unlimited funds. He has received more than 18,000 donations since Nov. 1.

...Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and the recall organization, United Wisconsin, have raised about $1.48 million: nearly $1.2 million by the party and about $300,000 by United Wisconsin. United Wisconsin said 88 percent of its donations came from in-state.

...But a breakdown of Walker's numbers show that almost half of his money is coming from out of state, $2.4 million of the total. In fact, in just two states — Texas and Illinois — Walker raised more than half as much money as his opponents raised in total.

..."In all our years of analysis, we have never seen a politician try to win a Wisconsin race with so much non-Wisconsin money," said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now executive director.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Limbaugh: Children On Meal Programs “Serfs Dependent On The State”

Poor kids are apparently the latest target for the right wing. First, Newt Gingrich stated that they don’t work unless it’s illegal, and he suggested that impoverished minors mop floors instead of putting all their energies toward studying. Now, incensed by Missouri’s receiving a $2 million federal grant to feed poor youngsters in the summer, Rush Limbaugh criticized school meal programs for turning children into “wanton waifs and serfs dependent on the state.” School lunches spoil the needy brats, according to Limbaugh: “…if you feed the children three square meals a day during the school year, how can you expect them to feed themselves during the summer? “ Listen:



The number of students receiving subsidized lunches rose 17 percent last year, as millions of families, many once middle class, have lost jobs or homes during the economic crisis.

Tribute To Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

Polemicist, public intellectual and iconoclast, Christopher Hitchens passed away on Thursday at 62. This outspoken contrarian attacked both Henry Kissinger and Mother Teresa, and was an outspoken atheist and a man with a background on the left who supported the war in Iraq. Since he fit no mold, no one could agree with all of Hitchens’ positions. One must acknowledge, though, his brilliance as a debater, writer and scholar, and his astounding erudition regarding literature, philosophy, politics and history. In the following two-part BBC interview with Jeremy Paxman on November 29, 2010, Hitchens speaks courageously about his cancer and impending death and assesses his career:





For more on Christopher Hitchens, read the New York Times obituary and a moving tribute, "Christopher Hitchens, Consummate Writer, Brilliant Friend," by writer Ian McEwan.

Lois Of “Family Guy” Should Have Joined The GOP Debates

After all of the simplistic responses and demagoguery peddled at the Republican presidential candidates debates, along with the mindless responses of the GOP audiences, it seems that Lois of “Family Guy” would have fit right in. The fact that she's a cartoon character would also have enabled her to stand as a credible Republican candidate. Additionally, Lois's show is on Fox, which would have guaranteed her interviews. Watch and see how quickly she catches on–and see if you agree that Lois could be the next un-Romney:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Booker T.’s “Green Onions”



Booker T. Jones performs his 1962 blues instrumental hit “Green Onions,” which he recorded at 17 on a Hammond organ with his MG's (“Memphis Group”). Rolling Stone listed it as 183rd in its "500 Greatest Songs" list. When asked why he named the song "Green Onions," Booker T. responded,"Because that is the nastiest thing I can think of and it's something you throw away."

Wisconsinites Gather 500,000+ Recall Walker Signatures

Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, joined by United Wisconsin, announced that Wisconsinites have gathered over half-a million signatures to recall Governor Scott Walker. The effort is now over 90% of the way toward the number required to force the union-busting governor into an election, with one month left before the deadline to turn in the signatures. Watch:



Mike Tate: Exactly one month ago, the people of Wisconsin urged us to launch a grass roots campaign to save Wisconsin from Scott Walker’s extreme agenda that has enriched his friends and powerful corporate special interests at the expense of working middle class families. In just one month, more than 25,000 Wisconsinites have volunteered in our 42 field offices to circulate petitions…more than 27,000 small-dollar donors have contributed an average of $27 to counter Scott Walker's ability to raise unlimited corporate cash from the Koch brothers. And in just one month, more than 37,000 people have downloaded recall Walker petitions... In just 30 days, in less than half the time granted, you have done something truly amazing. Your strength and determination has helped us collect more than 507,000 signatures to recall Scott Walker and we are well on our way to beating our internal goal of collecting more than 720,000.

To donate to this worthy cause, visit wisdems.org.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gingrich Pledges Not To Cheat On Third Wife

Newt Gingrich has signed a pledge from Iowa social conservative group The Family Leader promising to restrict the marriage rights of gays and the abortion rights of women and repeal health care reform. There’s also a personal matter: As president, Gingrich pledges not to commit adultery. How nice. So he’s finally settling down with his third wife, Callista, with whom he committed adultery while leading a campaign to impeach Bill Clinton for adultery. Of course, it was his passion for America that led Gingrich to commit adultery.

Anyway, it seems to me that if social conservatives want a family man as president, they’ve already got one in the White House–one who is still on his first wife. Gingrich wrote a lengthy letter to the group confirming his pledge. Some excerpts:

To Bob Vander Plaats and the Executive Board of The FAMILY LEADER:

I appreciate the opportunity to affirm my strong support of the mission of the FAMILY LEADER by solemnly vowing to defend and strengthen the family through the following actions I would take as President of the United States.

Defending Marriage. As President, I will vigorously enforce the Defense of Marriage Act... I will support sending a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the states for ratification. ...I also pledge to uphold the institution of marriage through personal fidelity to my spouse and respect for the marital bonds of others.

Defending the Unborn. I believe that life begins at conception. On day one of my administration, I will sign an executive order reinstating Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City policy that prevents taxpayer dollars from being used to fund abortions overseas. I will also work with Congress to repeal Obamacare, defund Planned Parenthood...

Sincerely,

Newt Gingrich

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Bob Dylan In America": The Roots Of An Icon

Bob Dylan In America by Sean Wilentz. 397 pp. Anchor Books. $16.95 (paperback)

There have been legions of straightforward biographies of Bob Dylan–and this isn’t one of them. Instead, Sean Wilentz provides a cultural history of Dylan as an artist in the American grain. He starts not with the oft-cited example of Woody Guthrie, but with Aaron Copland, whose music gained renown throughout the country when Dylan was a boy. Copland’s incorporations of folk music and tributes to the common man influenced the Greenwich Village folk revival (recalled in Suze Rotolo's "A Freewheelin' Time"; see my review) in which Dylan played a major role. Dylan’s readings of the Beat poets, with their spiritual and alienated sensibility, prompted him to turn away from political concerns and write from within, emphasizing the personal and the surreal, to the dismay of the folkies (epitomized by his “going electric” at the Newport Folk Festival, 1965). This period resulted in the masterpieces “Bringing It All Back Home” (1965), “Highway 61 Revisited” (1965) and “Blonde On Blonde” (1966).

After a long spell from 1984-1991 in which Dylan seemed to have lost the creative wellsprings of his art, he initiated his own revival by going back to the roots in the acoustic blues albums “Good As I Been To You” (1992) and “World Gone Wrong” (1993). The result has been a string of acclaimed works that incorporate American blues, country and folk, including “Time Out of Mind” (1997), “Love and Theft” (2001), “Modern Times” (2006) and “Together Through Life” (2009).

Wilentz considers Dylan’s “appropriation” of the work of other musicians, convincingly making the case that "plagiarism" is an unfair charge. While copying others like all major artists do, Dylan has also transformed each musical influence: “For more than half a century, Bob Dylan had been absorbing, transmuting, and renewing and improving American art forms…” Sean Wilentz has provided us with a thoroughly illuminating account of the American sources of Dylan’s music–and the ways in which Dylan has influenced those sources and become an American icon.

Newt Gingrich's Top Three Flip-Flops

Newt Gingrich's rise in the polls means that he's the latest Republican presidential candidate to assume the "un-Romney" mantle. Does that mean that he's not a flip-flopper like Romney? Not at all. Think Progress has produced the first of its video reports on Gingrich's "serial flip-flopping." Watch Gingrich flip-flop on the individual health care mandate, climate change and Obama's intervention in Libya:

Fred Karger Mocks Perry’s Anti-Gay Ad

Fred Karger, Republican presidential candidate and the first openly gay candidate of a major American political party, mocked Rick Perry’s anti-gay ad, entitled "Strong." (By the way, the music in Perry's ad comes from gay composer Aaron Copland.) Karger refers to Perry’s historically “disliked” ad (as of this writing, on YouTube it has 18,479 “likes” and 615,499 “dislikes”). Watch the ad, entitled "Rick Perry Ashamed":



Karger: I’m Rick Perry and I admit that I’m ashamed of making that ad about gays in the military and all. I guess I was just desperate because I am so low in the polls. Now my video is the most disliked video in YouTube history. I guess hate weakens America. And I want America to be strong. Rick Perry might not approve of this message, but I do. I’m Fred Karger.

GOP Audience Applauds Child Labor

My repeated question, “Does something ugly have to happen at every Republican debate?” has been settled. Now the question is, “Which ugly thing happened at the Republican debate?” The GOP audience has already applauded letting the uninsured die, blaming the unemployed, the death penalty and waterboarding–and they booed a gay soldier serving in Iraq. The latest applause came yesterday when the debate turned to New Gingrich’s idea of firing janitors–especially since they're "unionized"–and replacing them with child laborers. During the debate, Gingrich argued that poor kids should work like their middle class counterparts. (Gingrich has also recently stated that poor kids don’t work "unless it’s illegal.") Do middle class kids, including those as young as 9, scrub school bathroom floors, or do they save their energies in school for their studies? Gingrich's comments come in the following at 3:48:



Gingrich: If you take one half of the New York janitors, who are unionized and paid more than the teachers. An entry-level janitor gets paid twice as much as an entry-level teacher. You take half those janitors, you could give lots of poor kids a work experience in the cafeteria, in the school library, in the front office, in a lot of different things. I’ll stand by the idea young people ought to learn how to work. Middle class kids do it routinely.

One Percenter Romney Offers Perry $10,000 Bet

During Saturday's Republican debate, multi-millionaire Mitt Romney offered Rick Perry a $10,000 bet as part of his denial that he backed an individual health care mandate in his book “No Apologies.” Romney's casual wager will go over well with the 99 percent, right? Watch:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Occupiers Roll Out Red Carpet Of Protest For Chamber Of Commerce

The Chamber of Commerce, the largest corporate lobbying group in the country and a leading backer of right-wing causes, held a holiday party at their Washington, DC, offices this past Thursday. They were greeted by Occupy DC protesters asking Chamber members to step on activists lying under a red carpet painted with “99%”–political theater symbolizing the one percent's trampling on the majority. Watch:

Remembering Blues Guitar Master Hubert Sumlin



An inspiration to Jimmy Page, Robbie Robertson, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix, legendary blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin passed away this week at 80. Richards and Mick Jagger are paying for Sumlin’s funeral. The longtime guitarist for Howlin’ Wolf, Sumlin was renowned for his emotional, slashing solos on many blues classics. He is listed as 43rd on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists list. Above, Sumlin and vocalist David Johansen perform Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.” To hear a tribute to Hubert Sumlin, listen to the second half of the December 9 St. James Infirmary music show, hosted by my friend Dr. Michael Mand.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Ray LaMontagne’s “Jolene”



With a voice like a raspy whisper, the soulful Ray LaMontagne sings "Jolene," whose lyrics depict a man who’s down and out yet clinging to memories of love represented by a photo: “I found myself face down in the ditch, with booze in my hair and blood on my lips. A picture of you, holding a picture of me in the pocket of my blue jeans.”

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Perry Appeals To Bigotry With Anti-Gay Ad

Rick Perry has outdone his prior displays of ignorance with his mislabeled campaign ad, “Strong.” How is prejudice a show of strength? Perry starts off stating that he’s not ashamed to be a Christian–as if anyone is telling him to be ashamed. Then he launches into a false analogy between gays serving in the military and school prayer. Of course, one issue has nothing to do with the other; Perry is just issuing a cheap shot in an attempt to appeal to bigots. Finally, he nonsensically refers to “Obama’s war on religion” and “liberal attacks on our religious heritage.” With this ad, Perry shows once again how completely unsuitable he is to unite and lead this country. Watch:



Perry: I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian, but you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As President, I'll end Obama's war on religion. And I'll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again. I'm Rick Perry and I approve this message.

As of this writing, this ad has 5,171 "likes" and 244,247 "dislikes." I invite you to visit the YouTube site and register your disapproval.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Obama: Trickle Down Economics "Never Worked"

President Obama spoke today in Osawatomie, Kansas, channeling Teddy Roosevelt, who presented his “New Nationalism” speech there 101 years ago advocating a progressive agenda. Obama attacked the linchpin of conservative economics, the misguided “trickle down” theory stating that deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy will ultimately benefit everyone. The president said that this theory “never worked”; we know for sure that it hasn't worked over the past 10 years. The idea that we can’t cut taxes on the wealthy because they’re “job creators” has been thoroughly discredited. The Bush tax cuts continue–so where are the jobs? Indeed, the legacy of the Bush tax cuts is no job creation and stunted growth. Listen:



President Obama: Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there is a certain crowd in Washington who for the last few decades have said let's respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes – especially for the wealthy – our economy will grow stronger. Sure, they say, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everybody else. And, they argue, even if prosperity doesn’t trickle down, well, that’s the price of liberty.

That's a simple theory and we have to admit it's one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. That's in America's DNA. And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. But here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It has never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible post-war booms of the 50s and 60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade.


For a fuller look at Obama’s speech, I recommend Robert Reich’s "The Most Important Economic Speech of His Presidency."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Rick Ungar: Health Reform Provision Will Lead To Universal Care

Columnist Rick Ungar (left) writes that the "bomb" in President Obama's health care reform has gone off. Specifically, he refers to the requirement that health insurance companies spend 80%-85% of collected money on medical care. Ungar states that this provision will cut off much of the insurers' profits and lead to universal health care. I hope he's right–but is he overly optimistic? From "The Bomb Buried In Obamacare Explodes Today-Hallelujah!":

...the provision of the law, called the medical loss ratio,...requires health insurance companies to spend 80% of the consumers’ premium dollars they collect—85% for large group insurers—on actual medical care rather than overhead, marketing expenses and profit. Failure on the part of insurers to meet this requirement will result in the insurers having to send their customers a rebate check representing the amount in which they underspend on actual medical care.

This is the true ‘bomb’ contained in Obamacare and the one item that will have more impact on the future of how medical care is paid for in this country than anything we’ve seen in quite some time. Indeed, it is this aspect of the law that represents the true ‘death panel’ found in Obamacare—but not one that is going to lead to the death of American consumers. Rather, the medical loss ratio will, ultimately, lead to the death of large parts of the private, for-profit health insurance industry.

Why? Because there is absolutely no way for-profit health insurers are going to be able to learn how to get by and still make a profit while being forced to spend at least 80 percent of their receipts providing their customers with the coverage for which they paid. If they could, we likely would never have seen the extraordinary efforts made by these companies to avoid paying benefits to their customers at the very moment they need it the most.

...So, can private health insurance companies manage to make a profit when they actually have to spend premium receipts taking care of their customers’ health needs as promised?

Not a chance-and they know it. Indeed, we are already seeing the parent companies who own these insurance operations fleeing into other types of investments. They know what we should all know – we are now on an inescapable path to a single-payer system for most Americans and thank goodness for it.

Ron Paul Declines Trump Debate: "Beneath The Office Of The Presidency"

Donald Trump, in alliance with the right-wing website Newsmax, will moderate a Republican primary debate in Iowa on December 7, an event referred to in one tweet as "Clown to host circus." Following Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul is refusing to participate, stating that Trump is an inappropriate host:

“The selection of a reality television personality to host a presidential debate that voters nationwide will be watching is beneath the office of the Presidency and flies in the face of that office’s history and dignity,” campaign chairman Jesse Benton said.

“Mr. Trump’s participation as moderator will distract from questions and answers concerning important issues such as the national economy, crushing federal government debt, the role of the federal government, foreign policy, and the like. To be sure, Mr. Trump’s participation will contribute to an unwanted circus-like atmosphere,” Benton continued.

“Mr. Trump’s selection is also wildly inappropriate because of his record of toying with the serious decision of whether to compete for our nation’s highest office, a decision he appeared to make frivolously..."

The ever-petulant Trump responded:

“Few people take Ron Paul seriously and many of his views and presentation make him a clown-like candidate… I am glad he and Jon Huntsman, who has inconsequential poll numbers or a chance of winning, will not be attending the debate and wasting the time of the viewers who are trying very hard to make a very important decision.”

GOP Leaders Norquist, Boehner Not Enthusiastic For Payroll Tax Cut

While the Republicans always fight for tax cuts for the wealthy, they're not as enthusiastic about extending the payroll tax cut that would benefit lower and middle class families. The reason Senate Republicans blocked it on Thursday is clear:

The Democratic plan would have assessed a 3.25% tax on income over $1 million to pay proposal's cost. Taxpayers with an income of $50,000 would have benefited by $1,500 a year.

Two prominent Republicans have signaled their indifference or hostility to the measure. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, who has convinced most Republicans to sign his pledge never to raise taxes, is firmly against ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Yet he told Republicans that opposing the extension of the payroll tax cut is not the same as supporting a tax increase. National Journal's Billy House tweeted the following:


House Speaker John Boehner referred to the payroll tax cut as "chickenshit," something he would only agree to in exchange for Republican priorities:

GOP leadership told its membership at a closed-door meeting Friday morning it would couple with the expiring tax provisions an easing of environmental regulations on boilers, selling broadband spectrum and paving the way for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. [...]

Speaker John Boehner referred to the package he’s putting forward as turning “chicken-sh — into chicken salad,” according to people attending the meeting in the Capitol basement Friday morning.

Translated, he’s going to pass President Barack Obama’s preferred tax cut, but he wants some skin from Democrats for it.

Entrepreneur Nick Hanauer: The Rich Not "Job Creators," Raise Their Taxes

Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer demolishes the falsehood that we shouldn't raise taxes on the rich due to their being "job creators." Of course, the continuance of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy has coincided with high unemployment rates. Hanauer focuses on the fact that businesses don't "create jobs"; they fill jobs in response to consumer demand. It is that demand that results in jobs and fuels the economy. Shoveling more cash at the wealthy is misguided and wasteful, he argues; raising taxes on the wealthy will benefit the true job creators, the middle class, and ultimately the rich themselves:

...I’ve never been a “job creator.” I can start a business based on a great idea, and initially hire dozens or hundreds of people. But if no one can afford to buy what I have to sell, my business will soon fail and all those jobs will evaporate.

That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is the feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion a virtuous cycle that allows companies to survive and thrive and business owners to hire. An ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than I ever have been or ever will be.

...That’s why our current policies are so upside down. When the American middle class defends a tax system in which the lion’s share of benefits accrues to the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.

... It is mathematically impossible to invest enough in our economy and our country to sustain the middle class (our customers) without taxing the top 1 percent at reasonable levels again. Shifting the burden from the 99 percent to the 1 percent is the surest and best way to get our consumer-based economy rolling again.

...We’ve had it backward for the last 30 years. Rich businesspeople like me don’t create jobs. Middle-class consumers do, and when they thrive, U.S. businesses grow and profit. That’s why taxing the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is a great deal for both the middle class and the rich.

So let’s give a break to the true job creators. Let’s tax the rich like we once did and use that money to spur growth by putting purchasing power back in the hands of the middle class. And let’s remember that capitalists without customers are out of business.

Gov. Walker To Charge A Protest Fee

Gov. Scott Walker's (R-WI) latest policy is to make demonstrators composed of "four or more people" pay for expressing their First Amendment rights. Whether this is legal is questionable. Do groups that can't afford to pay forfeit their right to express their grievances? Does this fee also include the price of pepper spray directed at protesters? From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Gov. Scott Walker's administration could hold demonstrators at the Capitol liable for the cost of extra police or cleanup and repairs after protests, under a new policy unveiled Thursday.

The rules, which several legal experts said raised serious free speech concerns, seemed likely to add to the controversy that has simmered all year over demonstrations in the state's seat of government.

The policy, which also requires permits for events at the statehouse and other state buildings, took effect Thursday and will be phased in by Dec. 16. Walker administration officials contend the policy simply clarifies existing rules.

State law already says public officials may issue permits for the use of state facilities, and applicants "shall be liable to the state . . . for any expense arising out of any such use and for such sum as the managing authority may charge for such use."

But Edward Fallone, an associate professor at Marquette University Law School, said the possibility of charging demonstrators for police costs might be problematic because some groups might not be able to afford to pay.

"I'm a little skeptical about charging people to express their First Amendment opinion," he said. "You can't really put a price tag on the First Amendment."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

From Seattle To Zucotti Park: Portrait Of An Occupier

I recommend “All The Angry People” by George Packer in the current New Yorker. This poignant article focuses on Ray Kachel, an unemployed computer tech contractor who took a bus from Seattle to join the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. According to his Twitter feed, he’s currently homeless in the city. The article also speaks to the economic dislocation and outrage that gave rise to the movement–and the way it has changed the national dialogue:

Before Occupy Wall Street, the economic upheavals of the past few years produced no organized movement of the have-nots. For some Americans, Obama’s legislative initiatives—the stimulus, health-care reform, financial regulation, credit-card reform—offered the best hope for easing the country’s hardship. The Tea Party, a populist movement of the right with heavy support from wealthy individuals and corporations, captured the media’s interest, dominated the political discourse, and explained the country’s woes in terms that ignored the role of the one per cent. But the Obama Administration failed to harness public anger or turn the economy around, and the Tea Party wore out its welcome after the 2010 elections. When Occupy Wall Street lit a match, the wood was bone-dry. Suddenly, there was a dramatic, public way to talk about problems—money in politics, income inequality, corporate greed—that frustrated Americans but seemed intractable.

...As long as Occupy Wall Street speaks the language of inequality and powerlessness...it will resonate with millions of Americans. The most important facts about our society, widely known but seldom mentioned, are now the first order of conversation. Dylan Byers, of Politico, recently reported that the use of the phrase “income inequality” in the media has more than quintupled since the beginning of the occupation. In this sense, Occupy Wall Street has already done its work. The point is what was happening on the Broadway sidewalk. No one should expect this protean flame to transform itself into a formal political organization with a savvy strategy for enacting reforms and winning elections. That’s someone else’s job.

Bachmann: Gays “Can Marry A Woman If They’re A Man”

At an Iowa campaign appearance, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann presented absurd answers as to why gays can’t get married. She said that we all have “the same rights,” but "there shouldn’t be any special rights...based on people’s preferences.” Straight couples, then, have the “right” to get married, but for gays, marriage is an illegitimate “special right” based on “preference.” And how is heterosexuality not a preference? Bachmann also states that gays have the same “right” to marry a member of the opposite sex. Why can’t they marry a member of the same sex? Because “that’s not the law of the land”–as if there are not a number of enlightened states that recognize gay marriage rights. Watch as Bachmann talks to Jane Schmidt, president of the Waverly High School Gay-Straight Alliance:



Jane Schmidt: One of my main concerns is government support for the LGBT community. So my question is what would you do to protect GSAs in high school and support the LGBT community.
Bachmann: Well, No. 1, all of us as Americans have the same rights. The same civil rights. And so that’s really what government’s role is, to protect our civil rights. There shouldn’t be any special rights or special set of criteria based upon people’s preferences. We all have the same civil rights.
Jane Schmidt: Then, why can’t same-sex couples get married?
Bachmann: They can get married, but they abide by the same law as everyone else. They can marry a man if they’re a woman. Or they can marry a woman if they’re a man.
Jane Schmidt: Why can’t a man marry a man?
Bachmann: Because that’s not the law of the land.
Jane Schmidt: So heterosexual couples have a privilege.
Bachmann: No, they have the same opportunity under the law. There is no right to same-sex marriage.
Jane Schmidt: So you won’t support the LGBT community?
Bachmann: No, I said that there are no special rights for people based upon your sex practices. There’s no special rights based upon what you do in your sex life. You’re an American citizen first and foremost and that’s it.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Suzanne Vega's "Marlene On The Wall"



Singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega performs “Marlene On The Wall,” which she has stated refers to a poster she had on her wall of actress Marlene Dietrich. The lyrics state, “Marlene watches on the wall/Her mocking smile says it all.” Marlene witnesses the narrator give in to her passion while involved in an unhealthy relationship. Regardless, she is fighting to change her destiny. Characteristic of Vega, the song tells a story in which deep emotions are conveyed in a cool, understated style.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Strategist Frank Luntz Tells GOP How To Spin Occupy Movement

GOP pollster and strategist Frank Luntz (left) told the Republican Governor's Association in Florida this week, "I'm so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I'm frightened to death. They're having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism." Of course, instead of addressing the inequities that have given rise to the Occupy movement, he focused on how to spin it to the Republicans' advantage. Luntz's recommendations include:

Don't say "capitalism." "I'm trying to get that word removed and we're replacing it with either 'economic freedom' or 'free market,' " Luntz said. "The public . . . still prefers capitalism to socialism, but they think capitalism is immoral. And if we're seen as defenders of quote, Wall Street, end quote, we've got a problem."

• Don't say that the government "taxes the rich." Instead, tell them that the government "takes from the rich." "If you talk about raising taxes on the rich," the public responds favorably, Luntz cautioned. But "if you talk about government taking the money from hardworking Americans, the public says no. Taxing, the public will say yes."

• Republicans should forget about winning the battle over the "middle class." Call them "hardworking taxpayers." "...We can say we defend the 'middle class' and the public will say, I'm not sure about that. But defending 'hardworking taxpayers' and Republicans have the advantage."

• Don't say "government spending." Call it "waste."
"It's not about 'government spending.' It's about 'waste.' That's what makes people angry."


• The three most important words you can say to an Occupier: 'I get it.' "First off, here are three words for you all: 'I get it.' . . . 'I get that you're angry. I get that you've seen inequality. I get that you want to fix the system." Then, he instructed, offer Republican solutions to the problem.

• Always blame Washington. Tell them, "You shouldn't be occupying Wall Street, you should be occupying Washington. You should occupy the White House because it's the policies over the past few years that have created this problem."

• Don't say "bonus"! Luntz advised that if they give their employees an income boost during the holiday season, they should never refer to it as a "bonus." "If you give out a bonus at a time of financial hardship, you're going to make people angry. It's 'pay for performance.' "