Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Christie Rejects Fox Host's Idea Of Hurricane Photo-Op With Romney

Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) has repeatedly praised President Obama's response to Hurricane Sandy. Leave it to Fox News to suggest that Christie give equal time to Mitt Romney (who proposed–followed by his obligatory flip-flopping–that FEMA be privatized) by doing a photo-op with the latter at "storm-related events." Christie, to his credit, told Fox host Steve Doocy (2:09) that he has no interest in posing with Romney in front of disaster sites, then praised Obama again (5:24). Watch:

DOOCY: Over the last couple of months, you have appeared throughout the country, Governor, on behalf of Mitt Romney... We hear that perhaps Mr. Romney may do some storm-related events. Is there any possibility that Gov. Romney may go to New Jersey to tour some of the damage with you?

CHRISTIE: I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested. I’ve got a job to do here in New Jersey that’s much bigger than presidential politics and I could [sic] care less about any of that stuff. I have a job to do. I’ve got 2.4 million people out of power, I’ve got devastation on the shore, I’ve got floods in the northern part of my state. If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Gingrich On Mourdock's Rape Comments: "Get Over It"

Speaking to George Stephanopoulos, Newt Gingrich came to Richard Mourdock's defense regarding the latter's comments that pregnancy from rape is "something that God intended to happen." Gingrich indicated that Mourdock expressed mainstream Catholic and fundamentalist beliefs–and said that "people like Stephanie Cutter," Obama's deputy campaign manager, should "get over it." Watch:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, Mr. Speaker, you heard Stephanie Cutter bring up this issue of Richard Mourdock, the Republican Senate candidate in Indiana, saying that Governor Romney is wrong not to stand up for him and say that his comments were wrong and to take down his ad endorsing him. Your response?

GINGRICH: My response is, if you listen to what Mourdock actually said, he said what virtually every Catholic and every fundamentalist in the country believes, life begins at conception...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Speaker, what Mr. Mourdock said exactly was that this life after rape, as horrible as it may be, is something that God intended to happen. Do you agree with that?

GINGRICH: And he also immediately issued a clarification saying that he was referring to the act of conception and he condemned rape. Romney has condemned rape. One part of this is nonsense. Every candidate I know, every decent American I know condemns rape. Okay so, why can’t people like Stephanie Cutter get over it? We all condemn rape…

Romney Called Federal Disaster Spending "Immoral," Advocated Privatization

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) praised President Obama for his responsiveness to Hurricane Sandy and sought to expedite federal assistance to his state. Christie spoke after Obama's conference call with governors whose states are in Sandy's line. What Christie did not say is that he wishes disaster relief were privatized instead of coordinated by the federal government. Though Mitt Romney–naturally–is now flip-flopping on the issue, let's remember his call, following tornadoes and floods, for the privatization of FEMA. Watch Romney during the primary debates argue that federal spending on disaster relief is "immoral" and advocate that such services be transformed into a for-profit industry:

ROMNEY: Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better. [...] We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.

Stiglitz Debunks Romney's Economic Myths

Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, writes in "Some Are More Unequal Than Others" that "America's inequality is greater than other advanced countries' "–and that the Romney campaign defends or dismisses such inequality through economic myths. Stiglitz debunks each one:

America is a land of opportunity. While rags-to-riches stories still grip our imagination, the fact of the matter is that the life chances of a young American are more dependent on the income and wealth of his parents than in any of the other advanced countries...

Trickle-down economics works (a k a “a rising tide lifts all boats”). This idea suggests that further enriching the wealthy will make us all better off. America’s recent economic history shows the patent falsehood of this notion. The top has done very well. But median American incomes are lower than they were a decade and a half ago...

The rich are the “job creators,” so giving them more money leads to more and better jobs. ...Romney’s own private sector history gives it the lie. As we all know from the discussion of Bain Capital and other equity firms, many made their money not by creating jobs in America but by “restructuring,” “downsizing” and moving jobs abroad... Many, if not most of the crucial innovations in recent decades, from medicine to the Internet, have been based in large measure on government-financed research and development...

The cost of reducing inequality is so great that, as much as idealists would like to do so, we would be killing the goose that lays the golden egg. In fact, the engine of our economic growth is the middle class. Inequality weakens aggregate demand, because those at the middle and bottom have to spend all or almost all of what that they get, while those at the top don’t...

Markets are self-regulating and efficient, and any governmental interference with markets is a mistake. The 2008 crisis should have cured everyone of this fallacy... ...we grew much faster, and more stably, in the decades after World War II than in the period after 1980, when we started stripping away the regulations. And in the former period we grew together, in contrast to the latter, when we grew apart.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tina Fey Losing Her Mind Over GOP Rape Remarks

Speaking at the Center for Reproductive Rights Inaugural Gala in New York City, Tina Fey responded to ignorant and offensive comments on rape by Republicans Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin by warning,"If I have to listen to one more gray-faced man with a $2 haircut explain to me what rape is, I’m going to lose my mind!” Watch:

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson On GOP: "My Party Is Full Of Racists"

Retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, responded to John Sununu's statement that Powell's endorsement of Obama was due to race. Wilkerson, a Republican, told Ed Schultz that his party is "full of racists" who want the president out due to "the color of his skin." Watch:

WILKERSON: My party, unfortunately, is the bastion of those people -- not all of them, but most of them -- who are still basing their decisions on race. Let me just be candid: My party is full of racists, and the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander-in-chief and president, and everything to do with the color of his skin, and that's despicable.

Certainly the entire birther phenomenon, based on the portrait of Obama as "other," has racism at its core.

Leslie Gore To Romney And GOP: "You Don't Own Me"

Leslie Gore's "You Don't Own Me," recorded in 1964, was one of the first contemporary feminist popular songs. In the video below, she declares her approval of the message in which women sing along to the song with visual references to Romney's backwards stances on Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act. Gore concludes the video by urging women to protect their bodies through voting. Watch:

Review: "Essays" By Wallace Shawn

Essays by Wallace Shawn. 167 pp. Haymarket Books

Playwright and actor Wallace Shawn's "Essays" is divided into two sections, "Reality" and "Dream-World." "Reality" centers around the theme of his play "The Fever," a searing meditation on privilege and injustice that I saw five years ago. Shawn is consumed by the inequities that many in the West benefit from and take for granted. He refers to "the unobtrusives" as "...all those people whom we don't know and don't think about much but who serve us and make the things we need and whose lives we actually dominate..." Shawn is speaking of those who are subject to economic exploitation and whose countries are subject to attack. He applies the status quo to his own life; considering an African miner, he writes, "...each April at tax time I pay my government...to try to keep the world more or less as it is, so that next year it will not suddenly be me who is working a seventy-hour week in some god-forsaken pit..." The media, in turn, brings us a clinical account of reality; prior to the war in Iraq, he found it "...psychotically remote from the reality of what will happen if war actually occurs. We are talking about raining death down on human beings..."

Despite the fact that Shawn titled his section on aesthetics "Dream-World," he indicates a similar preference toward facing reality in the arts. In an interview with poet Mark Strand, he speaks of an aversion to symbolism, in which poetry becomes a game of code words. In his essay "Writing About Sex," Shawn compares the world presented by the New York Times, in which "problems...can be solved by wise rulers," with "the contemplation of nudity or sex" that could "bring up the alarming idea...that human passions might rise up and topple the world we know."

The Times' review of "The Fever" objected to the fact that, in reference to the world's injustices, Shawn doesn't "posit any rational ideas about how they could be eased." Some may have the same objection to this collection, but it is misplaced. Awareness is the first step to finding alternatives. In causing us to think, for example, about the low-wage labor abroad that manufactures our products or the wars waged in our name and through our taxes, Shawn has performed a valuable service as a moral provocateur.

Watch Wallace Shawn read from and discuss his "Essays" on "Democracy Now":

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: T-Bone Walker

Waiting for Hurricane Sandy to hit NYC on Monday put me in mind of T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday." Recorded in 1947 and covered by countless artists, the song is one of the recordings named to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, according to a fine account by NPR. Above, T-Bone Walker, one of the most innovative and influential blues guitarists, plays his masterpiece.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ad Highlights Romney's Support For Mourdock

Indiana Republican senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock has joined Rep. Todd Akin, Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum in making offensive and dismissive comments about rape. In a debate, Mourdock said, "...even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen." Mitt Romney said that he "disagrees" with Mourdock, but still supports him. Romney appears in an ad on Mourdock's behalf, one that continues to run in Indiana. It would be awkward for Romney to completely disavow the candidate, of course, since Ryan agrees with Mourdock that abortion should be legal only to save the life of the mother. Watch the following American Bridge PAC ad, which highlights Romney's support for the extremist Mourdock:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Romnesia Goes Global

The final presidential debate showed that Mitt Romney's "Romnesia," his inability to remember his political positions, extends to issues around the world. Month after month, Romney criticized Obama for his timeline on leaving Afghanistan, stating that it gives away our intentions to the Taliban. Last night, he agreed that American troops should be home by 2014. Romney previously said that killing Bin Laden "was not worth moving heaven and earth" and that the president's warning to Pakistan that he might use force against terrorists there was "ill considered." Last night, Romney agreed with killing Bin Laden. Romney previously said that he'd never engage in bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program. Last night, he said he'd do that.

Romney said last night that Obama projected weakness abroad. How killing Bin Laden and using drones, which Romney also said he agreed with, figure into such "weakness" remains vague. So did Romney clarify how he'd handle foreign affairs differently? Of course not. Instead, we had another "etch-a-sketch" Romney performance. Romney didn't want to come across as a neocon hawk–despite the fact that he has stocked his foreign policy advisers with Bush-era neocons, something about which Colin Powell expressed concern. Just as we saw "moderate Mitt" in domestic affairs in the first debate, this time we saw him in foreign affairs.

Obama correctly stated that Romney has no consistent policies regarding world events: "“Governor, the problem is that on a whole range of issues, whether it’s the Middle East, whether it’s Afghanistan, whether it’s Iraq, whether it’s now Iran, you’ve been all over the map.” Indeed, Romney has a global case of Romnesia.

Image: Steve Sack, Star Tribune

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rep. Todd Akin Compares Sen. Claire McCaskill To A Dog

Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) seems incapable of not making offensive comments about women. First he said that "legitimate rape" victims rarely get pregnant. Then he said that his opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), debated him in an aggressive manner that was not "ladylike." At a Saturday evening fundraiser, Akin compared McCaskill to a "dog" whose purpose is to "fetch" government programs. Listen:

AKIN: She goes to Washington, D.C., and it’s a little bit like one of those dogs, you know, ‘fetch.' She goes to Washington, D.C., and gets all of these taxes and red tape and bureaucracy and executive orders and agencies and brings all of this stuff and dumps it on us in Missouri. It seems to me that she’s got it just backwards. What we should be doing is taking the common sense we see in Missouri and taking that to Washington, D.C., and blessing them with some solutions instead of more problems.

Woman Calls Obama A Communist, Can't Say Why

Here's an example of the pinheaded perspective on President Obama that many have embraced for the past four years. Chris Matthews interviewed members of the crowd gathered before the vice presidential debate, including a woman grateful that the Affordable Care Act will help her family. Matthews then spoke to another woman who insisted that Obama's a communist. When he asked her what she means and what a communist is, she responded, "All you have to do is study it out. Just study it out and you'll see. You haven't done your homework, buddy. He's a Communist, and those of us who are not voting for him know it. I know what I mean. ...Just 'cause he was born here doesn't mean he thinks like us." Watch:

Frank Rich & Fran Lebowitz Consider The State of The Union

Writers and commentators Frank Rich and Fran Lebowitz concluded a multi-city tour last night at Town Hall in New York City. The two longtime friends sat in comfortable chairs on stage and considered the nation’s politics and culture before the presidential elections. In their repartee, the contemplative Rich seems to be the straight man to the acerbic Lebowitz, perhaps the wittiest individual in America.

Both considered the fact that President Obama, a moderate Democrat, has been vilified as a Marxist, jihadist and foreigner–and they identified racism as the core of this outlandish vitriol. Rich feels that Obama has missed an opportunity to set out a more extensive second-term vision; on the other hand, he considers Romney a fraud who, far from offering a vision, contradicts himself and panders incessantly. Lebowitz knocked the notion that Romney’s business experience, in which his sole goal was profit, qualifies him to be president. In that regard, a hedge-fund manager, stated Lebowitz, is Romney's idea of a small business person deserving a tax break. She also warned the audience that you can’t wait for others to realize that you’re right and your opponent is wrong–not “in the era of Kim Kardashian and Honey Boo Boo.” The evening left me wishing for more insightful and tart observations from this duo after the upcoming close election.

Rep. Joe Walsh: Abortion Never Saves A Mother's Life

In August, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) claimed that "legitimate rape" victims rarely get pregnant. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), a Tea Party favorite, is apparently another Republican "expert" on the female reproductive system. Following a debate with Democratic opponent Tammy Duckworth, Walsh made the false claim that exceptions to abortion bans to save the life of the mother are not necessary since "with modern technology and science, you can't find one instance" of a woman dying while giving birth:

Walsh said he was against abortion “without exception,” including rape, incest and in cases in which the life or health of the mother was in jeopardy.

Asked by reporters after the debate if he was saying that it’s never medically necessary to conduct an abortion to save the life of a mother, Walsh responded, “Absolutely.”

“With modern technology and science, you can't find one instance,” he said. “... There is no such exception as life of the mother, and as far as health of the mother, same thing.”

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Romney's "Binders Full Of Women" Claims Debunked

During the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney again failed to provide a clear stance regarding the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Instead, he stated that he was determined as governor of Massachusetts to fill his cabinet with women. Romney stated that he received "binders full of women" and that he placed "more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America." As always with Romney, though, his claims are suspect:

Jesse Mermell, a Democratic local official in Brookline, Massachusetts, who was executive director of the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus from 2004 to 2008, took exception to Romney's statement that he initiated the search for qualified women for his cabinet.

A program her group oversaw provided Romney's transition team in 2002 with resumes of qualified women, Mermell told a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

"Mitt Romney did not request those," Mermell said, explaining that the program called MassGAP approached Romney and his Democratic opponent before the election to get their commitment for hiring women to state positions in proportion to the female population. "Then after the election, our group approached the Romney transition team with the resumes, or the so-called binders full of women."

She also cited a study that showed Romney initially hired 14 women among 33 appointments to his cabinet -- 42% of the total -- but by the end of his four-year term, the number of women in his administration was 25%, lower than the previous or subsequent governors.

"At the time Romney paid lip service to the public about hiring more women in senior positions, and treated it like a quota," Mermell said. "But like with so many other things that are Mitt Romney, the facts did not match the rhetoric."

Obama: Romney Has “Romnesia”

Speaking at a Virginia rally, President Obama diagnosed a new malady, “Romnesia,” the inability to remember one’s political positions. He listed the symptoms as found in his opponent, including forgetting what he said about equal pay for women, contraceptive care, women’s right to choose, tax cuts and the coal industry. The president assured Romney, though, that “Obamacare covers pre-existing conditions." Watch:

Johansson, Longoria & Washington On Women And Romney

Scarlett Johansson, Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington talk about women and Mitt Romney in this MoveOn.org ad. They focus on Romney's desire to end funding for Planned Parenthood and overturn Roe v. Wade, along with the Republican effort to re-define rape and impose invasive ultrasounds, both of which running mate Paul Ryan supported. Watch:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey rocked the T in the Park Festival, Kinross-shire, Scotland, 2004, with her song "Good Fortune," depicting a romance in New York's Chinatown and nearby Little Italy.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fox Host Blames The Questions After Romney's Debate Loss

You knew that Mitt Romney lost Tuesday's debate when Fox host Megyn Kelly immediately started blaming the questions. Most significant is her reference to "equal pay for women" and "abortion, contraception," as "obvious pandering to women." The fact that Romney inconveniently has a poor record on women's issues does not mean that asking about them is "pandering." The Romney campaign waffled on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which President Obama signed. Romney pledged to "get rid of Planned Parenthood." He also said, "Of course I support the Blunt Amendment," which allows employers to not provide contraceptive coverage. Watch Kelly vent about audience members who didn't lob softball questions at her candidate:

KELLY: And the questions! 11 questions asked in all, and some of which will certainly be discussed tomorrow. Topics that we haven’t heard at all in this presidential campaign — equal pay for women, in fact there were a lot of women’s issues discussed…abortion, contraception, women’s pay as I mentioned. Some might argue it was obvious pandering to women because the female vote is so important in this election. Apart from equal pay for women, we heard a discussion about assault weapons ban, a question to Mitt Romney about how are you different from President Bush, and then a question to President Obama, what have you done to earn my vote? The one question on foreign policy by my count was about Libya, and seemed to cover ground that we already knew the answer to: it was who denied the request for increased security. Well, we heard great testimony about that last week, there were State department officials who answered that question. So there will be some questions about those selections, Bret.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Obama Strikes Back

After a lackluster performance that demoralized his base two weeks ago, President Obama came back with a strong showing and bested his opponent. He made all the points that his supporters wanted him to make. He didn't let the suddenly "moderate" Mitt get away with his pose that he will not cut taxes on the wealthy. He reminded us that Romney said that it's "fair" that he pays a 14% tax on capital gains. He pointed out that Romney remains vague about tax loopholes. He stated that Romney's tax plan numbers don't add up. He pointed out that Romney plans to eliminate Planned Parenthood. Obama cited his own signing of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, while the Romney campaign waffled on it. On immigration, the president referred to his support for the Dream Act in the face of Republican obstructionism.

There were two points where Obama particularly nailed it. He heatedly expressed his offense at Romney's accusation that he played politics regarding the attack in Benghazi. Kudos to moderator Candy Crowley for fact-checking Romney on the spot regarding Romney's false assertion that Obama didn't refer to it as a terrorist attack the next day. After she said, "He did call it an act of terror," every Obama supporter must have cheered Obama's request, the best line of the night: "Can you say that a little louder, Candy?" Following Romney's closing remarks about being president to 100% of the people, Obama reminded him about his 47% comment–and about the people who compose the 47%.

The race will remain close until Election Day. President Obama, though, struck back tonight and gave his prospects and his base a tremendous boost.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Moody's Chief Economist: Romney's Tax Plan Doesn't Add Up

Interviewed on CNN's "Starting Point," Moody's chief economist Mark Zandi said that Romney's plan to lower taxes across the board by 20 percent and make it revenue neutral by closing loopholes for the wealthy has one problem: "the arithmetic doesn't work." That's the same charge we heard from Obama and Biden in the debates. Now listen to a former McCain campaign adviser make the same point:

ZANDI: Yeah, I think the Tax Policy Center study is the definitive study. They’re non-partisan, they’re very good. They say given the numbers that they’ve been provided by the Romney campaign, no, it will not add up. Now, the Romney campaign could adjust their plan. They could say okay I’m not going to lower tax rates as much as I’m saying right now and they could make the arithmetic work. But under the current plan, with the current numbers, no it doesn’t. I’ll say one other thing, though. I think it is important that we do focus on the so-called tax expenditures in the tax code. Those are the deductions, and credits, and loopholes in the code. We need to reduce those, because if we do we’re going to make the tax system fairer, easier to understand and ultimately lead to stronger growth. So that’s the right place to focus. But, no, the arithmetic doesn’t work as it is right now.

The Romney campaign has consistently refused to name the tax loopholes it would close. A Brookings Institution report found that the Romney plan would raise taxes on middle class families by over $2,000.

Bernie Sanders: GOP Deficit Hawk Hypocrites Must Be Resisted

In the message below, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) focuses on the hypocrisy of Republicans who pose as “deficit hawks.” Bush and the GOP took the Clinton surplus and squandered it with two unfunded wars, wasteful tax breaks for the wealthy and an unfunded prescription drug plan. Sanders reminds us, as Joe Biden did recently, that “deficit hawk” leader Paul Ryan voted for all of it. The minute Obama was elected, the GOP became overly concerned with the deficit and decided to cut programs working families need. It doesn’t occur to them to raise taxes on the rich and cut corporate loopholes and defense spending. Listen to Sanders’ characteristically incisive analysis:

Jim Hightower: Romney Revives Cheney’s Energy Plan

Did you support Dick Cheney’s secret drafting of energy policy with oil industry executives in 2001? If so, Jim Hightower tells you that Romney’s your man, with his adoption of positions that his big oil contributors love. Fracking, the Keystone XL pipeline and oil subsidies are in; preserving national lands and fostering alternative energy are out. This Hamm-handed plan was helped along by Continental Resources oil billionaire Harold Hamm, who chairs Romney’s energy advisory committee and was among industry leaders who showered Romney with over $10 million in August. No wonder Hightower says that Romney “out-Cheneys Cheney.” Listen:

(h/t: Best of the Left podcast)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Romney Victory Would Devastate Progressive Causes

A recent editorial in The Nation, "Re-Elect the President," makes clear the dire consequences of a Romney presidency. Liberals may have divergent opinions on President Obama's record and agenda; that debate will completely evaporate should Romney prevail. Far from promoting progressive causes, we will be entirely consumed with defending against a right-wing onslaught:

A victory for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in November would validate the reactionary extremists who have captured the Republican Party. It would represent the triumph of social Darwinism, the religious right, corporate power and the big money donors who thrive in a new Gilded Age of inequality. It would strike a devastating blow to progressive values and movements, locking us in rear-guard actions on a range of issues—from the rights of women, minorities, immigrants and LGBT people to the preservation of social insurance programs and a progressive tax structure. Inside the Democratic Party, Obama’s defeat would embolden the Blue Dogs and New Dems, who have greased the party’s slide to the right. Whatever disappointments we have with Obama’s first term—and there are many—progressives have a profound interest in the popular rejection of the Romney/Ryan ticket.

Not to ruin your weekend, but another warning from The Nation on Romney appeared here in July.

Mitt Romney Debates Himself

Mitt Romney is the most hollow of politicians, a serial panderer whose only operating principle is to say anything to get elected. Daily Kos has produced a video showing Romney debating and disagreeing with himself on stimulus, regulation, housing, taxes, teachers, health care, and bipartisanship. Watch Romney's perpetual stream of flip-flopping:

Barney Frank: "Mitt Gets Worse" On LGBT Rights

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has joined the "Mitt Gets Worse" project that provides testimony about Mitt Romney's efforts to diminish the rights and freedoms of LGBT Americans. Frank recounts Romney's pledge, made when he was running for senator of Massachusetts, that he would be better on LGBT rights than Ted Kennedy–a pledge that, based on his record, turned out to be one more example of his lies and pandering. Frank also warns that a Romney presidency would bring the appointment of reactionary Supreme Court justices and other actions resulting in an indefinite setback of LGBT rights. Watch:

Review: "This Must Be The Place: The Adventures of Talking Heads in the 20th Century"

This Must Be The Place: The Adventures of Talking Heads in the 20th Century by David Bowman. 406 pp. Harper Collins

Talking Heads had its inception at the Rhode Island School of Design. The original three members, David Byrne, guitarist, singer and lyricist; Chris Frantz, drums; and Tina Weymouth, bass, set Byrne's strange lyrics to minimalist New Wave rock. The trio moved to New York's Lower East Side and added guitarist and keyboard player Jerry Harrison. In their first big gig, they opened for the Ramones at CBGB, located on the Bowery; the now defunct club was the center of a thriving downtown New Wave and punk music scene.

Byrne expanded the band into a larger ensemble incorporating the complex polyrhythms of "world music," specifically its African influences. This incarnation was featured in "Stop Making Sense" (1984), one of the greatest rock films. While the larger band added a new dimension to Talking Heads, it also began a process by which the three other members of the band felt overshadowed by Byrne. Byrne himself became increasingly involved in his own projects, including the movie "True Stories" and musical collaborations with avant-garde musical figures. After the concert film, Byrne lost interest in touring, despite the wishes of his band mates. These tensions, especially between Byrne and Weymouth, led to Talking Heads' demise in 1991.

The author, the late David Bowman, writes, "Talking Heads was a story of Manhattan." The band's urban orientation was evident in such songs as "Cities" and "Life During Wartime." Talking Heads was part of the downtown musical and cultural scene in general. Artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat and composer Philip Glass are among those who appear in the narrative.

I wish that Bowman had devoted more time to Byrne's lyrics, which expressed a sense of alienation and anxiety to funky rhythms, epitomized by such songs as "Once in a Lifetime" and "Psycho Killer." Still, the author has left us with a lively portrait of the music and milieu of one of the most innovative bands in rock history.

Talking Heads and David Byrne have appeared in this blog's "Saturday Night" music series here and here.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Sarah Jarosz

Multi-acoustic instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz covered Bob Dylan's "Ring Them Bells" with the Transatlantic Sessions House Band, an ensemble last shown here backing Eric Bibb.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Biden Delivers

The pressure was on Joe Biden to deliver a strong performance tonight after President Obama’s lackluster showing last week. That's exactly what he did.

Biden allowed no malarkey, a term he used to refer to several of Ryan's comments. He effectively questioned more wasteful tax cuts for the wealthy. He asserted that Romney’s tax plans are vague and his math doesn’t add up. He defended a woman’s right to choose and warned that Romney would appoint Supreme Court justices that could finally overturn Roe v. Wade. He attacked Ryan’s plans to turn Medicare into a voucher program. He twice mentioned Romney’s 47 percent comment, something Obama failed to do once. He reminded Ryan that he took advantage of Obama’s stimulus package for his state. He effectively argued for a firm deadline to leave Afghanistan.

Now the baton goes back to President Obama. He knows that he had a disappointing debate. Obama has to tout his administration’s achievements and tell the country why Romney will set this country on a backwards path. It’s up to the president to show the conviction and passion that his vice president displayed tonight.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

MittFormer: The Amazing Romney Action Figure!

MittFormer has the amazing ability to transform himself at will–no matter the constituency or issue! This amazing action figure possesses “The power to change at super speeds… The ability to say whatever he needs!” Watch and see why “Kids are flip-flopping over him”:

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fox Peddles Conspiracy Theories Following Unemployment Drop

On Friday, President Obama and the country received the positive news that the unemployment rate fell from 8.1 to 7.8 percent, the lowest level since January 2009. Fox immediately started peddling conspiracy theories about the "fishy" and "convenient" jobs numbers. Meanwhile, veteran economics journalists dismissed Fox's allegations. Watch the "Fair and Balanced" network snap into action:

Gingrich On Romney’s Tax Plan Inconsistency: “He Changed”

On Meet The Press today, Obama adviser Robert Gibbs asked Newt Gingrich about Mitt Romney’s tax plan inconsistency. Romney said at the primary debates that all Americans, including the wealthy, would get a 20% tax cut. During the first presidential debate, Romney stated that he “will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans.” Gingrich, who previously said that Romney had a problem with being dishonest, now said of the latter, “I think it's clear he changed”–and called the change “good politics.” Indeed, it’s one more change by the Etch-A-Sketch candidate. Watch:

Conan O'Brien Shows Romney Gunning For Big Bird

Conan O'Brien presented a spoof based on Mitt Romney's call during the first presidential debate to cut the funding of PBS and its employee, Big Bird. Watch this scene reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's "North By Northwest":

Read Rick Steves' essay in The Economist supporting the funding of PBS and NPR. You can also visit 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting.

GOP Rep. Calls Evolution, Big Bang “Lies Straight From The Pit Of Hell”

Republican Representative Paul Broun of Georgia stated in a speech that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell” meant to dissuade people that they need a savior. He expressed his belief that the Earth is 9,000 years old and was created in six days. In addition, he said that the Bible directs him as to how to vote in Congress. Broun is a medical doctor who is running unopposed by Democrats in November. He is on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Watch:

BROUN: God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.

Obama: Women Should Make Their Health Care Decisions

Left unaddressed in the first presidential debate was the issue of women’s health care. Speaking in Fairfax, Virginia, on Friday, President Obama clearly differentiated his stance from Mitt Romney’s–and stood by the principle that women should make their own health care decisions. Watch:

OBAMA: Governor Romney said he would get rid of Planned Parenthood funding. Apparently, this, along with Big Bird, is a driving the deficits. And he would have supported an extreme measure in Massachusetts that would have outlawed some forms of contraception. He joined the far-right of his party to support a bill that would allow employers to deny contraceptive coverage to their employees. I mean think about that. Your boss telling you what’s best for your health and safety. Let me tell you something, Virginia, I don’t think your boss should control the care you get. I don’t think insurance companies should control the care you get. I definitely don’t think politicians on Capitol Hill should control the care you get. We’ve seen some of their attitudes. We’ve read about those. I think there’s one person who gets to make decisions about your health care. That’s you.

Romney's Disappointing Governorship

During the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney touted his successful record as governor of Massachusetts and his ability to work with Democrats. Michael Wines writes in The New York Times that both claims are subject to challenge:

He came into office with a mandate to shake things up. ...As four years drew to a close, [Romney's] legacy was blotted by anemic job growth, sagging political popularity and — except for a landmark health care overhaul bill — a record of accomplishment that disappointed many.

...Bipartisanship was in short supply; Statehouse Democrats complained he variously ignored, insulted or opposed them, with intermittent charm offensives. He vetoed scores of legislative initiatives and excised budget line items a remarkable 844 times, according to the nonpartisan research group Factcheck.org. Lawmakers reciprocated by quickly overriding the vast bulk of them.

The big-ticket items that Mr. Romney proposed when he entered office in January 2003 went largely unrealized, and some that were achieved turned out to have a comparatively minor impact. A wholesale restructuring of state government was dead on arrival in the legislature; an ambitious overhaul of the state university system was stillborn; a consolidation of transportation fiefs never took place.

Mr. Romney lobbied successfully to block changes in the state’s much-admired charter school program, but his own education reforms went mostly unrealized. His promise to lure new business and create jobs in a state that had been staggered by the collapse of the 2000 dot-com boom never quite bore fruit; unemployment dropped less than a percentage point during his four years, but for most of that time, much of the decline was attributed to the fact that any new jobs were being absorbed by a shrinking work force.

Why Obama Now

“Simpsons” and “Family Guy” animator Lucas Gray produced the video “Why Obama Now,” based on President Obama’s speech at the Associated Press Luncheon on April 3. The video illustrates Obama’s incisive critique of trickle-down economics, the failed policy espoused by Mitt Romney. He reviews recent history in which tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation benefited only those at the top. Despite this, Paul Ryan’s budget, which Romney embraced, advocates more of the same. Obama concludes with a call to consider our obligations to our fellow citizens. Watch:

View the sources for Obama's speech.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Tim Hardin

The late Tim Hardin performed "If I Were A Carpenter," among his classic compositions that were covered by many artists. This video is from a folk music special on PBS, the network that enriches our nation's cultural life without the need to follow the dictates of commercial sponsors. In The Economist, Rick Steves wrote an excellent defense for funding public broadcasting, worth reading in view of Mitt Romney's threat to put Big Bird on the chopping block.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Obama Off His Game In First Debate

I was nervous before the first presidential debate. For weeks we’ve had good polls for President Obama and a series of stumbles from Mitt Romney. This first debate was Romney’s last chance to give his campaign any hope–and Obama’s chance to put this election away. Unfortunately, Romney accomplished his goal and Obama did not.

Obama’s best point was about Romney’s vagueness. Romney wants to repeal “Obamacare,” but has no plan to replace it. He’s ready to cut taxes on the wealthy and spend more on our bloated military budget–while supposedly lowering the deficit and not harming the middle class. He wants to introduce Paul Ryan’s vouchercare while supposedly “strengthening” Medicare. He wants to replace Dodd-Frank, yet he has no plan for financial regulation. In each case, Romney continued the lack of specificity that characterizes his campaign.

Obama, though, only corrected Romney once regarding the lie that he’s cutting Medicare. Each time, though, that Obama made a point about Romney’s poor math regarding taxes, Romney countered. In addition, Romney ran all over moderator Jim Lehrer, insisting on the last word and repeatedly going over his time limit.

Presidential debates have become media events in which style matters as much, if not more, than substance. That’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality. Romney constantly looked–even smirked–at Obama when the latter was talking. Obama usually looked down while Romney spoke, occasionally shaking his head. Romney came across as hungry and aggressive, a man on the ropes fighting back. Obama was professorial. Yes, I know–he wanted to be more presidential and he’s a more composed personality. Regardless, Obama's going to have to come out swinging more in the next two debates and inject more passion. How about reminding Romney about the 47 percent? Bain Capital? The 14% capital gains tax rate Romney paid and feels is "fair"? The issues are there, the stakes are high. Obama needs to step up his game.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Voter Suppression In PA This November: Undone!

Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai must be fuming. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson barred state officials from enforcing new voter ID laws during the presidential election. According to Simpson, state officials didn't supply enough photo IDs to voters needing them–and qualified voters might be disenfranchised. One could almost imagine Turzai thinking, "Doesn't the judge realize that's what these laws are for?" Turzai, after all, admitted as much in June, when he said, "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done!” Let's revisit Turzai's words and celebrate the fact that the nefarious scheme of which he spoke has been thwarted, at least for this November:

Meet Richard Hayes. He Picks Up Mitt Romney's Trash.

We recently viewed an ad that set Mitt Romney's words to images of those representing the 47 percent that he disparaged. Now let's view an AFSCME ad that presents the perspective of Richard Hayes, San Diego sanitation worker who picks up the trash from Romney's $12 million oceanfront villa in La Jolla, California. Hayes sees himself as one of the "invisible people": those who provide essential yet unrecognized services that make Romney's life comfortable. Watch:

RICHARD HAYES: My name is Richard Hayes, and I pick up Mitt Romney's trash. We'll call it the invisible people. He doesn't realize that the service we provide -- if it wasn't for us, it would be a big health issue, us not picking up trash.

Residents do come out and shake our hands. Sometimes they give us hugs and thank us for the job we're doing, hand us water and Gatorades. Tell us we're doing a good job and keep up the good work. Picking up 15, 16 tons by hand, that takes a toll on your body. When I'm 55, 60 years old, I know my body's gonna be break down [sic]. Mitt Romney doesn't care about that.

"Liberal Arts": Student Affair Department

In "Liberal Arts," Jesse Fisher (played by Josh Radnor, who also wrote and directed the film), a 35-year-old, jaded New York City university admissions counselor, returns to the leafy precincts of Kenyon College in Ohio to attend the retirement party of a favorite professor, Peter Hoberg (Richard Jenkins). The professor introduces Jesse to Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a 19-year-old drama major. The two next meet at a party, go out for coffee and argue about literature. Jesse goes back to New York with a classical music disc that Zibby made for him, which enables him to see the city anew. He returns to Kenyon to visit Zibby, whose youthfulness and energy reawaken Jesse's associations with his halcyon campus years; Jesse is attracted to Zibby because he's unlike the immature guys she meets on campus. This is a narrative that might, if handled clumsily, descend into triteness. The turn that Jesse's visit takes, however, gives the film an ultimately thoughtful and realistic perspective on life's transitions. Subplots involve Professor Hoberg's conflicted feelings about retirement; a hotel tryst with Judith (Allison Janney), an embittered poetry professor; and an encounter with a depressed student–all suggesting that one's alma mater isn't necessarily as paradisiacal as one's memories render them.