Monday, December 31, 2012

Tom Tomorrow: "2012: Year Full Of Crazy," Part II

Tom Tomorrow's annual survey of right-wing lunacy continues. You can also view Part I. Before we experience more wingnut antics in 2013, I wish all of my readers a happy new year.

TPM: The GOP's Five Greatest 2012 Disappointments

Mitt Romney was "shell shocked" by his loss in November. Perhaps he should have taken heed of Sen. Lindsey Graham's remarkably candid words around the time of the Republican National Convention: “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” Indeed, if the GOP continues to fail to appeal to an increasingly diverse and progressive America, it will be in for more shell shocks. Talking Points Memo notes that 2012 has been "a bad year for the Republican Party" and outlines the party's five greatest disappointments:

1. Payroll Tax Cut Defeat–...Obama demanded a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut; House GOP leaders made a public showing of their resistance, insisting on offsets but resisting ideological compromise until the bitter end. Obama stood firm, as did House Republicans — until Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly called on them to give up the game...

2. Nominating A Presidential Candidate They Disliked-...After a series of embarrassing moments from the other candidates involving moon colonies, anti-porn crusades and the like, Republicans finally decided they had nowhere to go but Romney, crowing him their nominee on May 30. Conservatives never really warmed up to the former Massachusetts governor, and many lamented the selection. But, they consoled themselves, at least he had what it took to throw Barack Obama out of office.

3. Obamacare Upheld–On June 28, the Supreme Court broke Republicans’ hearts when it refused to strike down Obama’s signature legislative achievement. ...Even more depressing: the deciding vote in the 5-4 ruling came from one-time conservative hero, Chief Justice John Roberts, whose vote the right had mostly taken for granted...

4. Obama Reelected–On Nov. 6, Barack Obama was re-elected in a swift and brutal victory, sending shock waves through conservatives who were convinced they had the election in the bag. Mitt Romney was among those convinced he’d win, his campaign aides said, until well into election night...

5. Taxes Are Going Up–...The path toward acceptance has been ugly and painful, and the dilemma on their defining issue unenviable. If Republicans strike a deficit-reduction deal with Obama, they’ll devastate and demoralize their base. If they scuttle a deal, they’ll face the wrath of a public that intends to blame them for driving the country off the proverbial fiscal cliff...

Sen. Graham: Hike Social Security Age Or No Debt Ceiling Deal

Sen. Lindsey Graham is among the GOP senators again threatening to not raise the debt ceiling in February, something they never had a problem doing whenever a Republican was president. This refusal would cause the country to default on debts incurred and threaten its solvency. Graham's price for raising the debt ceiling? You'll have to work more years before you receive Social Security benefits. Watch Graham engage in extortion on Fox News Sunday:

GRAHAM: I’m not going to raise the debt ceiling unless we get serious about keeping the country from becoming Greece, saving Social Security and Medicare [sic]. So here’s what I would like: meaningful entitlement reform — not to turn Social Security into private accounts, not to take a voucher approach to Medicare — but, adjust the age for Social Security, CPI changes and means testing and look beyond the ten-year window. I cannot in good conscience raise the debt ceiling without addressing the long term debt problems of this country and I will not.

"Silver Linings Playbook," Directed By David O. Russell

In "Silver Linings Playbook," directed by David O. Russell, the bipolar Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) returns from eight months in a mental institution to the home of his parents Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro). Dolores assures Pat Sr., "It's all under control," but that's not quite true. Pat is inconsistent about taking his medication, and therefore still at the mercy of violent mood swings. At the same time, he's determined to see the "silver lining" in everything and to re-establish his relationship with his ex-wife Nikki. He meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a blunt yet vulnerable widow, at a dinner at a friend's home. Pat's struggles to find a direction are epitomized by the ties of the past represented by Nikki and his current relationship with Tiffany. The film strikes the right balance between poignancy and humor in its depiction of struggling, sympathetic characters.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Frida Ghitis: America On The Cusp Of Social Change

In a commentary that all progressives will welcome, columnist and author Frida Ghitis (left) writes that after a prolonged reactionary period, America is undergoing major, positive changes regarding gun control, progressive taxation, gay marriage and marijuana legalization:

The United States is reassessing matters that many thought had been settled. It wasn't very long ago that the views from the most conservative elements of the political establishment dominated the social agenda.

...Today, a majority of Americans -- 57% -- favor stricter gun control, jumping sharply from 39% just a few months ago. That's bad news for the most conservative elements in society, who think the government should stand back from almost every aspect of our lives.

But the truly radical transformation has come in the area of gay rights. For the first time, Gallup Polls show a majority of Americans support full marriage equality for gay couples. That's an astonishing change. But it's not as astonishing as the wholesale acceptance of gay people that has suffused American society in the last few years.

...Attitudes are changing in other ways that seemed unthinkable not long ago. Who would have thought Americans would favor legalizing drugs? Two-thirds of voters under age 30 support legalizing pot, bringing the overall total to 51%, and giving a boost to referendum campaigns on the issue.

The wisdom of lowering taxes also dominated for many years, but no more. Three-quarters of Americans agree it makes sense to make the tax system more progressive, raising the burden on the wealthy. What exactly "wealthy" means is still unclear. And, as in all the other areas of change, the battle to transform those majority views into law will be hard-fought.

With just a few days before the start of 2013, the issues facing America are serious, the disagreements are intense, and the range of views is wide. And yet, the country is facing its choices with nervous anticipation. Something is happening in America.

"Art Around The Bowery, 1969-1989" At The New Museum

I usually don't review art exhibits that are closing the very next day, but I just found out about, and viewed, "Come Closer: Art Around the Bowery, 1969-1989" at the New Museum. If you happen to be in downtown Manhattan on Sunday, you might want to take in the art, artifacts and ephemera of a formerly gritty area now rapidly undergoing gentrification (indeed, the New Museum itself is located on the Bowery and is part of the area's transformation, along with the nearby Whole Foods). The paintings, fliers, performance art videos, photos of artists and punk rockers, and magazines shown here were all part of a period that emphasized experimentation and mixed media. There's even a door (above) taken from the apartment of artist Keith Haring (the subject of an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum reviewed here) with the illustrations and graffiti of other artists, and photos of a huge, circular garden with a yin-yang symbol, since bulldozed, an act reflective of the Bowery's metamorphosis.

“Come Closer: Art Around the Bowery, 1969-1989” continues through Dec. 30 at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, at Prince Street, Lower East Side; (212) 219-1222,

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Jones And Gilbert

Multi-instrumentalists John Paul Jones, mandolin, and Paul Gilbert, guitar, perform a soulful "Going To California," a song associated with Jones' former band, Led Zeppelin. Dedicated to someone dear to me who is traveling to California this week.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sales Soar For Bulletproof Backpacks, Assault Weapons Since CT Massacre

In a tragic commentary on the level of gun violence in America, sales are soaring for armored backpacks for children and assault weapons since the Connecticut school massacre. The backpacks, however, won't stop bullets fired from assault weapons:

The reaction to the deadly Connecticut school shooting can be seen at gun stores and self-defense retailers across the nation, with anxious parents buying armored backpacks for children and firearms enthusiasts stocking up on semi-automatic rifles in anticipation of tighter gun control measures.

While a spike in gun sales is common after a mass shooting, the latest rampage has generated record sales in some states, particularly of assault weapons.

...There was also an unusual increase in sales for armored backpacks designed to shield children caught in shootings, according to three companies that make them.

The armor inserts fit into the back panel of a child’s backpack, and sell for up to $400, depending on the retailer. The armor is designed to stop bullets from handguns, not assault weapons like the one used in the shooting at the Newtown, Conn., school.

Manufacturers and some parents say that while they don’t guarantee children won’t be killed, they could be useful shields.

Some experts, however, say sending children to school in armored backpacks is not a healthy response to fear about mass shootings. Anne Marie Albano, psychiatry director at Columbia University’s Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, said parents should convey calmness, not anxiety.

‘‘This is not serving to keep children safe,’’ she said. ‘‘This is serving to increase their fear and their suspicion of their peers.’’

Image: Think Progress

Robert Reich: Call GOP's Bluff And Go Over Fiscal Cliff

President Obama is returning to Washington for one last attempt to deal with the fiscal cliff. During prior negotiations with Speaker Boehner, the Republicans rejected the latter's "Plan B" in which taxes would rise on those earning an annual $1 million. Anti-tax conservatives continue to oppose any deal that cuts taxes on the wealthy. Robert Reich argues that even if House Republicans in 2013 continue to block a deal, Obama and the Democrats should call their bluff and go over the cliff:

...What if we go over the cliff and House Republicans continue to hold out against any tax increases on the rich while demanding major cuts in Medicare and Social Security?

The path of least resistance is for Obama and the Democrats to offer to keep everything as is, through 2013 – extend all the Bush tax cuts and continue all current spending (lifting the debt limit along the way) – unless or until a “grand bargain” on the budget is agreed to before the end of next year.

...The real problem with this gambit is it doesn’t change the game. Even down the road, Boehner’s hands will still be tied and the fanatics will remain in charge — which will give Republicans the stronger position in negotiations leading to a “grand bargain.” Compromise would have to be almost entirely on the Democrats’ side.

That’s why I’d recommend going over the cliff and forcing the Republicans’ hand. It’s a risky strategy but it would at least expose the Republican tactic and put public pressure squarely on rank-and-file Republicans, where it belongs.

The fanatics in the GOP have to be held accountable or they’ll continue to hold the nation hostage to their extremism. Even if it takes until the 2014 midterms to loosen their hold, the cost is worth it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

David Sirota: If Most Mass Shooters Weren't White, "Conversation Would Be Uglier"

In a recent article, Salon writer David Sirota wrote that the reason we're having nuanced discussions about gun violence in America instead of calls for demographic profiling is because white men have been responsible for most mass shootings. The right-wing media has attacked Sirota for these views. Speaking to CNN's Don Lemon, Sirota asserted that if the majority of shooters were Arabs or African-Americans, "the conversation would be...much uglier." Watch:

SIROTA: I think we should ask the question why is America 30 percent white guys, and 70 percent of the shootings in the last many decades have been at the hands of white guys ... I do think it's interesting to note that had 70 percent of mass shooters been let's say Arabs or African-American men, I think the conversation would be ... much uglier... I think that it's good that we're having a nuanced conversation about all sorts of things -- mental illness, gun control -- but I hope that the next time something bad happens ... that if it's not a white guy, that we remember that we shouldn't ascribe to entire groups the bad actions of individuals. Because we're not doing that right now, and I'm not saying that we should, but I think we should remember that the reason we're not is because it's a form of white privilege.

David Koch Campaigns Against Relief For Sandy Victims

After failing to buy the presidential election for Mitt Romney, billionaire oil magnate David Koch and his Americans for Prosperity (AFP) are taking aim at relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. One AFP head said that the victims should "suck it up":

Hurricane Sandy was the second most costly in American history, leaving 100 lives lost, over $50 billion in devastation and tens of thousands of damaged or destroyed homes. Legislative efforts to help those who survived Hurricane Sandy’s wrath will reach a major stumbling block.

Earlier this week, AFP, which is chaired by Koch and believed to be financed by several other plutocrats from the New York City region, released a letter warning members of Congress not to vote for the proposed federal aid package for victims of the storm that swept New Jersey, New York City and much of the surrounding area in October. An announcement on the group’s website says that the vote next week for the Sandy aid package will be a “key vote”—meaning senators who support sending money for reconstruction could face an avalanche of attack ads in their next election. Already, opposition to the bill is growing, although it passed one procedural hurdle last night.

...Koch’s top deputy in New Jersey, a surly gentleman named Steve Lonegan, who heads the local AFP state chapter, called the aid package a “disgrace.” “This is not a federal government responsibility,” Lonegan told reporters. “We need to suck it up and be responsible for taking care of ourselves.”

Email your senator in support of disaster relief funding.

NRA's LaPierre Doesn't "Buy" Argument About High-Capacity Magazines

Interviewed by David Gregory on Meet the Press, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre rejected common sense in denying that high-capacity magazines allow mass murderers to kill more people without reloading. Watch:

GREGORY: This is a matter of logic, Mr. LaPierre, because anybody watching this is going to say ‘Hey, wait a minute. I just heard Mr. LaPierre say that the standard is we should try anything that might reduce the violence.' And you’re telling me that it’s not a matter of common sense that if you don’t have an ability to shoot off 30 rounds without reloading, that just possibly you could reduce the loss of life? Would Adam Lanza have been able to shoot as many kids if he didn’t have as much ammunition?

LAPIERRE: I don’t buy your argument for a minute.

Mosque Arsonist States He Was "Riled Up" Watching Fox

Randolph Linn of Indiana pleaded guilty to setting fire to the prayer room of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, Ohio. Under the plea deal, he will be jailed for 20 years instead of 40. He told Judge Jack Zouhary that he was drinking heavily and became "riled up" watching Fox News. Linn also told the judge, "Most Muslims are terrorists and don't believe in Jesus Christ." When the judge asked Linn if he knew any Muslims, he reportedly said, "No, I only know what I hear on Fox News and what I hear on radio." Watch:

Tom Tomorrow: "2012: Year Full Of Crazy," Part I

Every year, I share political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow's review of the past 12 months of right-wing lunacy. Here's Part I:

"Lincoln": The Monumental Tasks Of A Great President

"Lincoln," directed by Steven Spielberg with dialogue by Tony Kushner, presents an engaging portrait of a great president and the monumental tasks he faced. It fell to Abraham Lincoln to prosecute both the brutal Civil War and to push Congress to adopt the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. While pro-slavery forces argued that the South was willing to make peace if slavery remained intact, Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) realized that slavery would remain a divisive, immoral institution if continued. To achieve ratification, he commanded his aides to use all means necessary, from moral appeals to pressure to political bribery. Further, his proponents appealed to legal, not racial, equality in order to pass the controversial amendment. This strategy offended the fervent abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, but he pragmatically adopted it. In Daniel Day-Lewis's masterful portrait, Lincoln is a source of folksy wisdom, and he is also troubled by his relationship with his unstable wife, Mary (Sally Field), and the death of his first son from illness. Through it all, he had a steely determination to reunite the country and end the disgrace of slavery. Lincoln was the president America needed at a decisive turning point, as made evident in this moving film.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

O'Donnell: NRA's LaPierre Equips Mass Murderers

Lawrence O'Donnell launched a blistering condemnation of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre in response to the latter's widely criticized press conference, following the Sandy Hook massacre, calling for armed police officers in every American school. He pointed out that the proposal is both unrealistic and ineffective, and stated that LaPierre also focused on violent video games and movies while discounting the lethal dangers of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. O'Donnell summed up LaPierre's legacy: "No country in the world has better equipped mass murderers than the United States of America, and that is thanks to the lifetime work of Wayne LaPierre." Watch:

O'DONNELL: Wayne LaPierre is the lobbyist who made it possible for the mass murderer in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater to be able to shoot and kill and wound so many people without reloading even once. The law Senator Diane Feinstein pushed through in 1984 made large-capacity ammunition delivery systems illegal; Wayne LaPierre made them legal again 10 years later. …No country in the world has better equipped mass murderers than the United States of America, and that is thanks to the lifetime work of Wayne LaPierre. Every day since 1977, Wayne LaPierre has made sure that madmen in America can fire any gun they want and any bullet they want at any children they want, at any teachers, at police officers, at the president. The solution Wayne Lapierre suggested today to stop school shootings has already been tried in many places across America, including Columbine High School… When the moment came, the deputy could do nothing to stop the mass murderers. There was a good guy with a gun in the parking lot in Tucson when the madman there opened fire on Gabby Giffords and the men and women and children in that parking lot…

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Joe Strummer

Joe Strummer, guitarist, songwriter and leader of the English political punk rock group The Clash, left us too soon at the age of 50 ten years ago today. Above, Strummer performed the apocalyptic "London Calling" with his post-Clash band, The Mescaleros, in Cologne, Germany, 1991. For more on Strummer's enduring influence, listen to NPR's report, "Joe Strummer's Life After Death," broadcast this past Thursday, and read the BBC's "Remembering Joe Strummer 10 Years On."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

GOP Rep. Burton: "Republicans Are In An Untenable Position"

Due to lack of support, House Republicans failed to vote on Speaker John Boehner's Plan B tax bill, which would have ended the Bush tax cuts for household incomes above $1 million. It seems that even that high a threshold is unacceptable to the GOP. Speaking to reporters, Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), who backed Boehner's plan, said that if the country goes over the fiscal cliff, President Obama will be in a strong position to blame Republicans and cut taxes for everyone who earns under $250,000:

"Let's say that we don't do anything," said Burton, gaming it out in conversation with reporters off the House floor. "He lets us go over the fiscal cliff. They're going to blame Republicans. And then the president's going to be the savior."

Obama, reasoned Burton, will be able to use the bully pulpit, including his State of the Union address, to force Republicans into accepting a deal that's worse than they could get now.

"If we go over the fiscal cliff, the president just comes back and says, 'OK, we're going to give tax cuts to everybody under $250,000.' Who's going to vote against that? Everybody'll vote for that. Everybody. Because it will be just a fait accompli. You won't be voting on whether you're going to do away with a tax cut, you're going to be reimposing tax cuts for everybody under $250,000. So the Republicans are in an untenable situation."

If the economy takes a hit before the State of the Union, he added, Obama could hammer them in that speech. "The president just says, 'Well, those guys, those Republicans are just killing everything. They're gonna make taxes go up on 98 percent of people,' and then he comes back in three or four weeks when he gives his State of the Union message and says, 'I'm going to reimpose those tax cuts,' and then if the economy goes to hell, everyone's going to say, 'It's those Republicans.'"

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Adam Gopnik: Pro-Gun Forces Complicit In Murdering Children

New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik, in "Newtown and the Madness of Guns," writes that horrific gun rampages followed by dishonest defenses of permissive gun laws have become regular features of American life. Until we break that cycle like other countries by tightening gun regulations, we will continue to suffer from these massacres–and pro-gun lobbyists and lawmakers will knowingly continue to have the blood of murdered children on their hands:

...And now it has happened again, bang, like clockwork, one might say: Twenty dead children—babies, really—in a kindergarten in a prosperous town in Connecticut. And a mother screaming. And twenty families told that their grade-schooler had died. After the Aurora killings, I did a few debates with advocates for the child-killing lobby—sorry, the gun lobby—and, without exception and with a mad vehemence, they told the same old lies: it doesn’t happen here more often than elsewhere (yes, it does); more people are protected by guns than killed by them (no, they aren’t—that’s a flat-out fabrication); guns don’t kill people, people do; and all the other perverted lies that people who can only be called knowing accessories to murder continue to repeat, people who are in their own way every bit as twisted and crazy as the killers whom they defend. (That they are often the same people who pretend outrage at the loss of a single embryo only makes the craziness still crazier.)

So let’s state the plain facts one more time, so that they can’t be mistaken: Gun massacres have happened many times in many countries, and in every other country, gun laws have been tightened to reflect the tragedy and the tragic knowledge of its citizens afterward. In every other country, gun massacres have subsequently become rare. In America alone, gun massacres, most often of children, happen with hideous regularity, and they happen with hideous regularity because guns are hideously and regularly available.

The people who fight and lobby and legislate to make guns regularly available are complicit in the murder of those children. They have made a clear moral choice: that the comfort and emotional reassurance they take from the possession of guns, placed in the balance even against the routine murder of innocent children, is of supreme value. Whatever satisfaction gun owners take from their guns—we know for certain that there is no prudential value in them—is more important than children’s lives. Give them credit: life is making moral choices, and that’s a moral choice, clearly made.

 All of that is a truth, plain and simple, and recognized throughout the world. At some point, this truth may become so bloody obvious that we will know it, too. Meanwhile, congratulate yourself on living in the child-gun-massacre capital of the known universe.

New Yorkers Counter Hate Preacher Terry Jones With The Beatles

A video, filmed on September 10, 2011, and recently released by The New York Times, shows Koran-burning pastor Terry Jones wearing an "Everything I Ever Needed To Know About Islam I Learned On 9/11" T-shirt and spewing hatred in Times Square. A man in the crowd starting singing The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" and was soon joined by the rest of the crowd, as love drowned out hate. Watch:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

NRA Defeated CT Bill To Ban Magazines With 10+ Bullets

In 2011, Connecticut was moving to ban magazines that contain over 10 bullets. The NRA applied massive pressure and shut the effort down. Last Friday, Adam Lanza used 30-round magazines to slaughter children and faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut:

Magazines that fed bullets into the primary firearm used to kill 26 children and adults at a Connecticut school would have been banned under state legislation that the National Rifle Association and gunmakers successfully fought.

The shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Adam Lanza, 20, used a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle with magazines containing 30 rounds as his main weapon, said Connecticut State Police Lieutenant Paul Vance at a news conference yesterday.

A proposal in March 2011 would have made it a felony to possess magazines with more than 10 bullets and required owners to surrender them to law enforcement or remove them from the state. Opponents sent more than 30,000 e-mails and letters to state lawmakers as part of a campaign organized by the NRA and other gun advocates, said Robert Crook, head of the Hartford- based Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, which opposed the legislation.

“The legislators got swamped by NRA emails,” said Betty Gallo, who lobbied on behalf of the legislation for Southport- based Connecticut Against Gun Violence. “They were scared of the NRA and the political backlash.”

Proponents abandoned the legislation, which drew opposition from gunmakers including Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR) In addition to the e-mails and letters, more than 300 pro-gun activists, including many NRA members, attended a committee hearing to oppose it, said Gallo, a Hartford-based lobbyist for more than 35 years.

Rachel Maddow: Blue States Turn Red Under GOP Gerrymandering

Republicans in Michigan control the governorship and both legislative houses, and they’re busy targeting abortion, unions and Shariah law. Yet voters in the state decisively supported President Obama over Mitt Romney, and more voters supported Democrats than Republicans in State House and Congressional elections. How, then, did the state end up with Republicans in control? Rachel Maddow explains that state Republicans have raised gerrymandering to an art form–and similar situations prevail in Wisconsin, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Republicans in these states are now considering gerrymandering to turn presidential elections their way. Watch:

Monday, December 17, 2012

Joe Scarborough: The Sandy Hook Massacre "Changed Everything"

In a powerful and eloquent commentary, Joe Scarborough said that he was a conservative Republican who received the NRA's highest ratings as a four-term congressman, yet the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre "changed everything." He declared that "the ideologies of my past career were no longer relevant" and called on Congress to "put children before deadly dogmas." Watch:

SCARBOROUGH: I knew that day that the ideologies of my past career were no longer relevant to the future that I want, that I demand for my children. Friday changed everything. It must change everything. We all must begin anew and demand that Washington's old way of doing business is no longer acceptable. Entertainment moguls don't have an absolute right to glorify murder while spreading mayhem in young minds across America. And our Bill of Rights does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military-style, high-caliber, semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high-capacity magazines to whoever the hell they want.

It is time for Congress to put children before deadly dogmas. It's time for politicians to start focusing more on protecting our schoolyards than putting together their next fundraiser. It's time for Washington to stop trying to win endless wars overseas when we're losing the war at home ... For the sake of my four children and yours, I choose life and I choose change.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bloomberg: Obama Must Send A Gun Control Bill To Congress

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, released a statement disputing rhetoric that "it's too soon to talk about gun laws." Bloomberg stated that following the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, President Obama must do more than offer condolences and call for meaningful action; he must also take action by sending a gun control bill to Congress:

“With all the carnage from gun violence in our country, it’s still almost impossible to believe that a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen. It has come to that. Not even kindergartners learning their A,B,Cs are safe. We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek. And now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns. Today, many of them were five-year olds. President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response. My deepest sympathies are with the families of all those affected, and my determination to stop this madness is stronger than ever.”

Fischer, Huckabee: CT Massacre Due To Removing God From Schools

According to prominent religious right figures Bryan Fisher and Mike Huckabee, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre occurred because of the removal of God from public schools. On his radio show, Fischer explained, "I think God would say to us, 'Hey, I'll be glad to protect your children, but you've go to invite me back into your world first. I'm not going to go where I'm not wanted. I am a gentleman.' " Watch:

Speaking on Fox News, Huckabee dismissed gun control and similarly called for bringing God back to public schools in order to stop the violence:

End The Gun Madness

Not long ago, I was sitting in the subway with my daughter when an unruly passenger entered. Before he was thrown off by the conductor, he announced, "If I had a gun, I'd kill every one of you." I believed him.

Proponents of concealed weapons contend that if everyone were armed, we'd all be safer since we'd be able to fire back. I dread to think of a shootout in a packed subway car. To those who contend that "an armed society is a polite society," such an expression is obscene in view of the unspeakable Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, along with all the other gun massacres that have become a horrendous regular feature of American life.

The loosening of laws throughout the country allowing the carrying of guns in schools, libraries, state parks, hospitals, restaurants, bars, arenas and public transportation is part of the NRA's dismantling of all sensible gun control. Even most gun owners back some restrictions that the NRA opposes; most favor universal background checks, restrictions on concealed weapons and banning people on terrorist watch lists from obtaining guns. How about restricting the amount of weapons or the frequency of purchase? Why are magazines that hold 30 rounds legal? How can we justify the lapse of the ban on assault weapons? (By the way, I refuse to engage in any more absurd discussions with gun enthusiasts whose delicate sensibilities are offended by the term "assault weapon.") How is it that "Stand Your Ground" laws haven't been repealed? Why don't we have strong national laws to trace guns and uncover rogue dealers? How can we accept a gun show background check loophole?

The prevalence of gun massacres and our permissive gun laws are no coincidence. Also related to the permissiveness is our corrupt political system. The NRA is able to pay off politicians to do their bidding, public safety be damned.

In March, Rachel Maddow asked what it takes for us to enact sensible national gun control. Don't the deaths of 20 young schoolchildren shot multiple times at close range and 7 brave women attempting to protect them prompt the entire nation to end the gun madness?

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar, sitar master and composer who introduced classical Indian music to the West, passed away on Tuesday. He was a major influence on George Harrison and on Western classical and jazz musicians. Shankar is shown above performing at the 1971 Madison Square Garden concert, organized by Harrison, to benefit the victims of war-torn Bangladesh. He also mesmerized the crowd with his performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Shankar was the father of sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar and singer-songwriter Norah Jones. Listen to the tribute to Ravi Shankar on the music show St. James Infirmary, hosted by my good friend Dr. Michael Mand.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

GOP Fiscal Cliff "Offer": Make Tax Cuts For Top 2% Permanent

Apparently the Republicans can't come to terms with the fact that they decisively lost the election to a president who has made clear his opposition to extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest. How else can one explain House Speaker John Boehner's "offer" in fiscal cliff negotiations to make the Bush tax cuts for the top two percent permanent? CNN's Dana Bash reported on the "tense" phone exchange Tuesday night between the President and the Speaker. Watch:

BASH: I talked to a Democratic source who said that a counter offer that House Republicans sent back to the White House late yesterday included a call for a permanent extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the top 2 percent. Now you know that we’ve been talking constantly about the fact that the biggest divide between the two when it comes to taxes is that tax break for the wealthiest. And so this Democratic source, who I talked to familiar with the proposal, said this was a sign to the White House that the Republicans are either unwilling or not capable of offering something that can pass the House and the Senate and, more importantly, that the president can sign, because he has said he does not want to — he wants to raise tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gingrich: Republicans "Incapable Of Competing" With Hillary Clinton In 2016

Speaking to David Gregory of "Meet the Press," Newt Gingrich said that if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016, today's Republicans are "incapable of competing." Watch:

GINGRICH: If their competitor in 2016 is going to be Hillary Clinton, supported by Bill Clinton and presumably a still relatively popular President Barack Obama, trying to win that will be truly the Super Bowl, and the Republican Party of today is incapable of competing at that level.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

GOP Consultant: Voter ID And Long Lines "Help Our Side"

Pennsylvania Republican State Representative Mike Turzai and former Florida GOP officials Jim Greer and Charlie Crist have made statements pointing out that changes to voting laws and procedures have nothing to do with "voter fraud" and everything to do with voter suppression. On Monday, Republican consultant Scott Tranter cheerfully commented during a Pew Center panel discussion that voter ID and long lines "help our side." Watch:

TRANTER: A lot of us are campaign officials — or campaign professionals — and we want to do everything we can to help our side. Sometimes we think that’s voter ID, sometimes we think that’s longer lines — whatever it may be.

Obama: Michigan GOP Offers "The Right To Work For Less Money"

Speaking at a Daimler Detroit Diesel plant on Monday, President Obama criticized the push by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and the Republican legislature to enact "right-to-work" laws. Obama told the cheering crowd, "What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money." Watch:

OBAMA: We should do everything we can to keep creating good middle-class jobs that help folks rebuild security for their families... What we shouldn't be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions. These so-called right to work laws, they don't have to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics. What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money... We don't want a race to the bottom. We want a race to the top. America's not going to compete based on low skill, low wage, no workers' rights.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Detroit Free Press: Gov. Snyder Has Betrayed Voters

Rick Snyder (left) of Michigan is the latest Republican governor to mount an assault on organized labor, as he rushes his GOP-led legislature to a vote on so-called "right to work" laws that could take place Tuesday. Such bills have consistently harmed workers' wages, pensions and health coverage across the country. The Detroit Free Press, which has endorsed and generally supported Snyder as a supposedly pragmatic leader, excoriated him in an editorial, "A failure of leadership: Snyder's about-face on right-to-work betrays voters":

...That trust has now been betrayed -- for us, and for the hundreds of thousand of independents who voted for Snyder with the conviction that they were electing someone more independent, and more visionary, than partisan apparatchiks like Wisconsin's Scott Walker or Florida's Rick Scott.

...The real motive of Michigan's right-to-work champions, as former GOP legislator Bill Ballenger ruefully observed, is "pure greed" -- the determination to emasculate, once and for all, the Democratic Party's most reliable source of financial and organizational support.

...The argument that right-to-work status makes states more competitive or prosperous is refuted by a mountain of evidence that shows right-to-work states trailing their union-friendly counterparts in key metrics like per capita wealth, poverty rates and health insurance coverage.

...Snyder has long acknowledged that steamrolling right-to-work legislation through the Legislature would have enduring negative consequences for productive collaboration between workers and employees. His decision to embrace such legislation now destroys, in an eye blink, the trusting relationship he and his business allies have struggled to establish.

It also yokes a governor who once aspired to be seen as a new kind of Republican with the most ideological, backward-looking elements of that party -- the very people whose exclusionary vision of the country's future was rejected by voters in last month's election.

George Will: "The Opposition To Gay Marriage Is Dying"

Speaking on ABC's "This Week" about the Supreme Court's agreement to hear two cases regarding gay marriage, conservative columnist George Will said, "Quite literally, the opposition to gay marriage is dying. It's old people." Watch:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

O'Reilly: Pro-Choice And Gay Rights Activists Leading The "War On Christmas"

It's December, which means that Fox News is once again fabricating the "war on Christmas." Seeking to provide a rationale for utter nonsense, Bill O'Reilly and Bernard McGuirk, executive producer for Imus in the Morning, agreed that the "war" is being conducted by pro-choice and gay rights activists who seek to bring down Christianity to advance their agendas. Watch the two uncover this nefarious conspiracy:

MCGUIRK: The war on Christmas is very, very real, and if you ask me, in addition to some grouchy misanthropic heathen atheists it has to do — at the root of it — with two things — abortion and the gay rights agenda, because Christianity is against those things. It’s subtle but that’s why it’s so pronounced in recent years.

O’REILLY: Hundred percent agree. I absolutely agree 100 percent that the diminishment of Christianity is the target and Christmas is the vehicle because the secularists know the opposition to their agenda (legalized drugs is in that as well) comes primarily from the Judeo-Christian traditionalist people.

Maureen Dowd: Republicans Will Be A Lost Tribe

Maureen Dowd predicts that those who study lost civilizations will conclude that the Republicans' decline was due to the fact that it represented "arrogant, uptight, entitled, bossy, retrogressive white guys" who refused "to adapt to a world where poor people and sick people and black people and brown people and female people and gay people count." Dowd considers the bewildered questions Republicans must be asking following the loss of Mitt Romney, whose campaign was "animated by the idea that indolent, grasping serfs must be kept down, even if it meant creating barriers to letting them vote"–and she envisions the party's ultimate destruction in 2016:

Someday, [the Republicans] will be the subject of a National Geographic special, or a Mel Gibson movie, where archaeologists piece together who the lost tribe was, where it came from, and what happened to it. The experts will sift through the ruins of the Reagan Presidential Library, Dick Cheney’s shotgun casings, Orca poll monitoring hieroglyphics, remnants of triumphal rants by Dick Morris on Fox News, faded photos of Clint Eastwood and an empty chair, and scraps of ancient tape in which a tall, stiff man, his name long forgotten, gnashes his teeth about the 47 percent of moochers and the “gifts” they got.

...Who would ever have thought blacks would get out and support the first black president? Who would ever have thought women would shy away from the party of transvaginal probes? Who would ever have thought gays would work against a party that treated them as immoral and subhuman? Who would have ever thought young people would desert a party that ignored science and hectored on social issues? Who would ever have thought Latinos would scorn a party that expected them to finish up their chores and self-deport?

...Gun sales have burgeoned since the president’s re-election, with Black Friday weapons purchases setting records as the dead-enders rush to arm themselves.

But history will no doubt record that withering Republicans were finally wiped from the earth in 2016 when the relentless (and rested) Conquistadora Hillary marched in, General Bill on a horse behind her, and finished them off.

John Cassidy: "Austerity Economics Doesn't Work"

John Cassidy (left) writes in The New Yorker that austerity economics in the United Kingdom has failed. He reached this conclusion following a report by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne that government budget slashing has neither successfully cut the deficit nor generated economic growth. This example is important for America since the Republicans advocate the same policies that have led Britain into double-dip recession. Further, the United States, which pursued economic stimulus, albeit modestly, under President Obama, is faring better than its ally. For these reasons, Cassidy states, "It's Official: Austerity Economics Doesn't Work":

...At every stage of the experiment, critics (myself included) have warned that Osborne’s austerity policies would prove self-defeating. Any decent economics textbook will tell you that, other things being equal, cutting government spending causes the economy’s overall output to fall, tax revenues to decrease, and spending on benefits to increase. Almost invariably, the end result is slower growth (or a recession) and high budget deficits. Osborne, relying on arguments about restoring the confidence of investors and businessmen that his forebears at the U.K. Treasury used during the early nineteen-thirties against Keynes, insisted (and continues to insist) otherwise, but he has been proven wrong.

With Republicans in Congress still intent on pursuing a strategy similar to the failed one adopted by the Brits, this is a story that needs trumpeting. Austerity policies are self-defeating: they cripple growth and reduce tax revenues. The only way to bring down the U.S. government’s deficit in a sustainable manner, and put the nation’s finances on a firmer footing, is to keep the economy growing. Spending cuts and tax increases can also play a role, but they need to be introduced gradually.

...A comparison with what has happened on this side of the Atlantic is illuminating. For the purposes of the natural experiment, the U.S. can be thought of as the control. In adopting a fiscal stimulus of gradually declining magnitude over the past four years, the Obama Administration has administered what was, until recently, the standard medicine for a sick economy.

...Having adopted the policies of Keynes in response to a calamitous recession, the United States has grown more than twice as fast during the past three years as Britain, which adopted the economics of Hoover (and Paul Ryan). Meanwhile, the gaping hole in the two countries’ budgets has declined at roughly the same rate, and next year the U.S. will be in better fiscal shape than its old ally.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Dave Brubeck

Jazz giant Dave Brubeck, whose music is known for its unusual time signatures and lyricism, passed away on Wednesday. Show above is the Dave Brubeck Quartet's 1961 performance of its famous "Take Five" from its influential "Time Out" album. This classic quartet included Brubeck, piano; Paul Desmond, alto sax; Joe Morello, drums; and Eugene Wright, bass. For more on Brubeck, see the obituary, photos and music videos provided by the New York Times.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Geithner: Administration "Absolutely" Ready To Go Over Fiscal Cliff

In an interview with CNBC, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner confirmed that the Obama administration is ready to go over the fiscal cliff if the Republicans refuse to raise taxes on the richest two percent. Geithner stated, “Oh, absolutely. Again, there's no prospect to an agreement that doesn't involve those rates going up on the top two percent of the wealthiest." Watch:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Simpsons' Mr. Burns Explains The Fiscal Cliff

Stunned by Mitt Romney's loss, Mr. Burns of The Simpsons explains the fiscal cliff in a way that epitomizes the Republicans' strategy in all recent fiscal negotiations: "Think of the economy as a car, and the rich man as the driver. If you don’t give the driver all the money, he’ll drive you over a cliff." Watch:

GOP Rejects International Disabilities Treaty

Displaying right-wing paranoia and xenophobia, a majority of Senate Republicans blocked ratification of an international treaty yesterday to protect the rights of the disabled. They argued without foundation that passage would result in U.N. interference with U.S. law; failed to affirm American leadership following the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act 22 years ago; and defied the wishes of President George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole, both Republican war veterans. Dole, disabled during World War II and recently released from the hospital, showed up in a wheelchair (above) to support the bill. Regardless, the vote was 61-38, which did not reach the two thirds needed for passing an international treaty; instead of Dole, the views of Rick Santorum carried the day:

[Santorum] and other conservatives argued that the treaty could relinquish U.S. sovereignty to a U.N. committee charged with overseeing a ban on discrimination and determining how the disabled, including children, should be treated. They particularly worried that the committee could violate the rights of parents who choose to home school their disabled children.

...Supporters dismissed those fears as paranoid, noting that the treaty would change nothing in U.S. law without further approval from Congress.

“With these provisions, the United States can join the convention as an expression — an expression — of our leadership on disability rights without ceding any of our ability to decide for ourselves how best to address those issue in our law,” said Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Robert Reich: 8 Principles To Guide Democrats Through The Fiscal Cliff

With his customary incisiveness and skills as a cartoonist, Robert Reich outlines eight principles Democrats must uphold in fiscal cliff negotiations with Republicans: 1. Hold your ground; 2. No deal is better than a bad deal; 3. Tax cuts for the middle class; 4. Higher tax rates for the wealthy; 5. Don’t cut safety nets; 6. Don’t cut investments in prosperity; 7. Cut military and corporate welfare; 8. Jobs first. Watch:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Buddhist Scholar: Norquist Pledge Is Treason

Robert Thurman, professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, has recorded a video in which he states that Republican members of Congress who swore to support the Constitution cannot also swear in a written oath to Grover Norquist and his non-elected Americans for Tax Reform that they refuse to raise taxes. Through this conflict of interest, Thurman asserts, they are breaking their oath of office and committing treason. Thurman urges Americans to call for the impeachment of those who refuse to renounce the Norquist pledge. Listen to his eloquent appeal:

THURMAN: Almost 95% of the congressmen and Republican senators have sworn a written oath to someone called Grover Norquist and an organization called Americans For Tax Reform that they will under no circumstances, and for no reason, raise taxes of any kind on anyone. And therefore they have taken an oath to an outside organization which was not supported by the U.S. Constitution – which gives Congress the right to levy taxes, to do the work of the people through the government – but this is a non-governmental organization, it is not elected by anybody, it is supported by big money people who are making money by not having to pay taxes. And these people have signed a sworn oath that contradicts their oath of office. And therefore, in fact, they do have mental reservations, and they do have purpose of evasion and they are not sincerely taking their oath of office. And if they persist in that, and if they are held to that pledge by this outside person who is not a member of the government, then they are, in fact, breaking their oath of office and they are not serving what they swore to serve the American people. ...It’s actually a kind of seditious oath, a treasonous oath. People who take that oath cannot actually serve in the government with good conscience, because their real role is to act as a mole to destroy the government; they are “starving the beast.

Former Florida GOP Officials: Party's Aim Was Voter Suppression

Two former Florida Republican officials have confirmed that cutting back on early voting was designed solely to suppress votes, especially among the black population. What other reason could there have been? There's no connection between early voting and so-called "voter fraud." Former state party chair Jim Greer (left) and former Gov. Charlie Crist made the admission:

In an interview with The Palm Beach Post published on Sunday, the former chairman of the Florida Republican Party said voter suppression was the sole reason for the change to the election rules. Jim Greer, the party chairman in from 2006 to 2010, said he went to several meetings during which Republican officials discussed the damage that early voting — which brought an unprecedented number of black voters to the polls in 2008 — had done to the party.

“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Mr. Greer said. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only.”

He made it clear the stated reason for the change, to reduce voter fraud, was nonsense.

“They never came in to see me and tell me we had a fraud issue,” he told The Post. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”

It’s true that Mr. Greer is under indictment — charged with stealing money from the party — and Republican officials have dismissed his comments as motivated by bitterness. But other party officials and consultants, including former Gov. Charlie Crist, confirmed his observations in the Post article.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Obama: "Some Republicans" Holding Middle Class Tax Cuts Hostage

In his weekly address, President Obama spoke at a Pennsylvania factory about negotiations to avoid the "fiscal cliff"–and the fact that some Republicans are holding middle class tax cuts hostage to tax cuts for the wealthy. Obama also spoke about ways to contact one's congressional representative on this issue. Once again, I'm glad that Obama prevailed over Romney, who stood for regressive taxation. Watch Obama make his case for middle class tax cuts for the third straight week:

OBAMA: Right now, Congress can pass a law that would prevent a tax hike on the first $250,000 of everybody’s income. Everybody. That means that 98% of Americans and 97% of small businesses wouldn’t see their income taxes go up at all. And even the wealthiest Americans would get a tax cut on the first $250,000 of their incomes... It’s unacceptable for some Republicans in Congress to hold middle class tax cuts hostage simply because they refuse to let tax rates go up on the wealthiest Americans. And if you agree with me, then I could sure use your help. Let your congressman know what $2,000 means to you. Give them a call. Write them an email. Or tweet them using the hashtag 'My2K.' 

Read the full transcript.

"Picasso Black And White" At The Guggenheim Museum

While Picasso is known for his "periods" in his paintings, his use of black, white and gray ran throughout his career, as shown in "Picasso Black And White" at the Guggenheim Museum. This exhibit proves Picasso's statement, "The fact that in one of my paintings there is a certain spot of red isn’t the essential part of the painting. You could take the red away, and there would always be the painting.” With their stripped-down palette, these works highlight Picasso's concern with line, form and structure. Certainly these elements were essential to his Cubist paintings, and they fit the mood of his anti-war works, including "The Charnel House" (1944-1948), "Rape of the Sabines" (1962) and "Mother with Dead Child II, Postscript to Guernica" (1937).

Particularly striking is Picasso's development in his portraits of women. He ranged from the classicism of "Bust of a Woman, Arms Raised" (1922) to the multi-dimensionality of "Marie-Thérèse, Face and Profile" (1931), shown above. Because Picasso kept returning to black and white, this exhibit ultimately serves as a survey of his remarkable, varied and prolific career.

Picasso Black and White” runs through Jan. 23, 2012 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue at 88th Street, NYC, (212) 423-3500,

Krugman: Don't Let The One Percent Off The Hook

Paul Krugman warns us about the latest fraudulent arguments against ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich, presented under the guise of responses to the deficit and the need for "shared sacrifice." Instead of ending tax cuts for billionaires, the argument goes, it's time for people to retire at an older age and take advantage of Medicare later. And instead of real progressive taxation, let's just limit deductions–an idea touted by the Romney campaign and, lately, by Republican governors. Krugman tells us why these plutocrat-friendly schemes won't work in "Class Wars of 2012":

Consider, as a prime example, the push to raise the retirement age, the age of eligibility for Medicare, or both. This is only reasonable, we’re told — after all, life expectancy has risen, so shouldn’t we all retire later? In reality, however, it would be a hugely regressive policy change, imposing severe burdens on lower- and middle-income Americans while barely affecting the wealthy. Why? First of all, the increase in life expectancy is concentrated among the affluent; why should janitors have to retire later because lawyers are living longer? Second, both Social Security and Medicare are much more important, relative to income, to less-affluent Americans, so delaying their availability would be a far more severe hit to ordinary families than to the top 1 percent.

Or take a subtler example, the insistence that any revenue increases should come from limiting deductions rather than from higher tax rates. The key thing to realize here is that the math just doesn’t work; there is, in fact, no way limits on deductions can raise as much revenue from the wealthy as you can get simply by letting the relevant parts of the Bush-era tax cuts expire. So any proposal to avoid a rate increase is, whatever its proponents may say, a proposal that we let the 1 percent off the hook and shift the burden, one way or another, to the middle class or the poor.

...So keep your eyes open as the fiscal game of chicken continues. It’s an uncomfortable but real truth that we are not all in this together; America’s top-down class warriors lost big in the election, but now they’re trying to use the pretense of concern about the deficit to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Let’s not let them pull it off.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: JD McPherson

JD McPherson brought his 1950s-style rhythm and blues and rockabilly to Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop, Austin, Texas, March 2012. For more driving retro rhythms, take in the entire concert. In addition, listen to an NPR interview with McPherson, a former punk rocker raised on an Oklahoma cattle ranch.