Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Death Penalty: Are Inevitable Mistakes Acceptable?

Writing in the Washington Monthly blog "Ten Miles Square," Andrew Gelman (left), director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University, considers the bottom line regarding the death penalty: Is one willing to accept the inevitable execution of the innocent? In my view, such an inevitability cannot be justified. Gelman writes in "The Death Penalty":

My larger perspective on the death penalty, informed by my research with Jim Liebman several years ago, is that you can only accept capital punishment if you’re willing to have innocent people executed every now and then. And, the more effective you want the death penalty to be, the more innocents you have to execute.

The occasional execution of innocent people might be deemed ok in some settings—they shoot deserters in wartime, and if a country is in the midst of a big enough crime wave, I could see people accepting the need for the occasional lethal mistake of the judicial process. My point here is just that if you want to execute people on a regular basis, you’re gonna make some mistakes. We saw this in our research on death-sentencing reversals, which were not merely the actions of a few liberal court panels.

Pastor Joel Osteen: "The Scripture Says That Being Gay Is A Sin"

Asked by Fox's Chris Wallace whether being gay is a sin, televangelist Joel Osteen said, "I believe that the scripture says that being gay is a sin." Osteen, who has previously linked homosexuality with sin, then said that he doesn't dislike anybody, including gays, "some of the nicest, kindest, most loving people in the world." Asked about equal rights for gays, including marriage equality, Osteen stated, "I'm not for gay marriage, but I'm not for discriminating against people." Sorry, pastor, but if you're for marriage for straights and against it for gays, you're for discriminating against people. Watch:

Study: Increased Productivity Benefits Wealthy As Labor Pay Stagnates

As the wealthy prosper, so should the rest of us–if one believes in "trickle down" economics. Lawrence Mishel (left), president of the Economic Policy Institute, published a report in which he found that both productivity and capital income are up–but that labor income has not kept pace. Unlike earlier decades, the increased productivity disproportionately benefits the top one percent. Pointing this out, of course, is called "class warfare" in certain quarters. Regardless, this shift of income from the middle to the top reflects the reality of income inequality. Excerpts from Mishel's study:

Income inequality has grown over the last 30 years or more driven by three dynamics: rising inequality of labor income (wages and compensation), rising inequality of capital income, and an increasing share of income going to capital income rather than labor income. As a consequence, examining market-based incomes one finds that “the top 1 percent of households have secured a very large share of all of the gains in income—59.9 percent of the gains from 1979–2007, while the top 0.1 percent seized an even more disproportionate share: 36 percent. In comparison, only 8.6 percent of income gains have gone to the bottom 90 percent” (Mishel and Bivens 2011).

A key to understanding this growth of income inequality—and the disappointing increases in workers’ wages and compensation and middle-class incomes—is understanding the divergence of pay and productivity. Productivity growth has risen substantially over the last few decades but the hourly compensation of the typical worker has seen much more modest growth, especially in the last 10 years or so. The gap between productivity and the compensation growth for the typical worker has been larger in the “lost decade” since the early 2000s than at any point in the post-World War II period. In contrast, productivity and the compensation of the typical worker grew in tandem over the early postwar period until the 1970s.

Productivity growth, which is the growth of the output of goods and services per hour worked, provides the basis for the growth of living standards. However, the experience of the vast majority of workers in recent decades has been that productivity growth actually provides only the potential for rising living standards: Recent history, especially since 2000, has shown that wages and compensation for the typical worker and income growth for the typical family have lagged tremendously behind the nation’s fast productivity growth.

Mann And Ornstein: "The Republicans Are The Problem"

Thomas E. Mann (l) of the Brookings Institute and Norman J. Ornstein (r) of the American Enterprise Institute write in the Washington Post that the Republicans are responsible for the dysfunction in Congress. They also advise the media to see the GOP as the extreme right-wing party that it's become and not employ a false equivalency with the Democrats in the name of objectivity. Excerpts from "Let's just say it: The Republicans are the problem.":

...The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

...Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.

...No doubt, Democrats were not exactly warm and fuzzy toward George W. Bush during his presidency. But recall that they worked hand in glove with the Republican president on the No Child Left Behind Act, provided crucial votes in the Senate for his tax cuts, joined with Republicans for all the steps taken after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and supplied the key votes for the Bush administration’s financial bailout at the height of the economic crisis in 2008. The difference is striking.

...We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public...

Mississippi Gov. Bryant: The Left's Mission Is To Abort Children

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R) spoke to Family Research Council president Tony Perkins on American Family Radio about a new law aimed at closing the state's only abortion clinic. Bryant's TRAP (targeted regulations of abortion providers) bill will make it more difficult for the clinic to employ out-of-state doctors; it depends on these doctors since doctors from Mississippi face constant harassment and threats. Bryant was also a supporter of the failed "personhood" amendment referendum. Listen as Bryant states that the left's "one mission in life is to abort children" and poses as the protector of women from "fly-in abortionists":

BRYANT: You would think that Barack Obama and all those on the left that love so much to talk about women’s health care would rush to support this bill, would just say, ‘absolutely we want the strongest health care, we want admissions privileges, we want that women that is going through that abortion for her life and safety to be paramount,’ well it should be the paramount of the child.

Even if you believe in abortion, the hypocrisy of the left that now tried to kill this bill, that says that I should have never signed it, the true hypocrisy is that their one mission in life is to abort children, is to kill children in the womb. It doesn’t really matter, they don’t care if the mother’s life is in jeopardy, that if something goes wrong that a doctor can’t admit them to a local hospital, that he’s not even board certified. We passed that bill and I think you’ll see other states follow and when that happens at least these fly-in abortionists are going to be regulated under the state laws of the Medical Procedures Act here in the state of Mississippi as they should be across the nation.

PERKINS: Well the driving factor is profit for many of them.

(h/t: Right Wing Watch)

Caught On Video: Republican Parade Of Misogyny

We recently watched Gov. Nikki Haley (R) of South Carolina state, "There is no war on women." This week, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) followed up by calling the GOP's war on women "imaginary" and "outlandish." Think Progress has produced a video proving that Republican animosity toward women is quite real. Watch this parade of misogyny among right-wing political and media personalities:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Cale And Clapton Live

JJ Cale plays his driving blues guitar shuffle "Call Me The Breeze," with the accompaniment of Eric Clapton. The performance took place at the Crossroads Guitar Festival, 2004, Dallas, to benefit Clapton's drug treatment center in Antigua.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Michael Tomasky: Romney Can't Retreat From Extreme Right Statements

When Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom compared campaigning to an "Etch-A-Sketch" in which one can "reset" one's positions, he exposed his candidate's flip-flopping and shameless pandering. While Romney stands for nothing but getting elected, his campaign positions have been so consistently and vehemently to the right that it's going to be difficult to backtrack (and doing so would heighten conservative mistrust of Romney). The Obama campaign is well aware of this, as is evident from a recent ad featuring Romney's statements. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Michael Tomasky (left) recounts the many divisive and extreme stances that Romney has taken–and comments that the Republican candidate can't simply do another "Etch-A-Sketch"-style "reset." Excerpts from "How to Follow Our Weird Politics":

...Eric Fehrnstrom, aside from being glib, was wrong about expressed views being ephemeral. Romney can’t retreat from endorsing Paul Ryan’s budget and its dark implications for Medicare. He can’t say that he was just kidding about supporting the recent Republican congressional bill that sought to give not just religious institutions but any employers the right to deny contraceptive coverage on moral grounds, or about his vow to defund Planned Parenthood.

He can’t back away from a tax proposal designed to placate the far right, a plan that makes Bush’s 2000 proposal look positively generous to the middle class. He can’t renounce his support for Arizona’s harsh immigration laws. He can’t magically undo having opposed the auto industry bailout...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Poet Lauren Zuniga: "To The Oklahoma Lawmakers"

Performance poet Lauren Zuniga recites a wrenching poem in response to the Oklahoma Legislature's law requiring that women seeking abortions undergo mandatory ultrasounds. In March, the law was ruled unconstitutional; however, Oklahoma lawmakers have continued introducing anti-abortion bills, including laws on the heartbeat and personhood of a fetus and, believe it or not, banning aborted fetuses in food. Of course, the poem also applies to the Republican war on women on a national level. Listen as Zuniga speaks of a confused, impregnated high school girl and lawmakers' attempts to "tattoo her womb with shame":

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sen. Rubio: “George W. Bush Did A Fantastic Job As President”

Speaking to Candy Crowley yesterday on CNN's "State of the Union," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) praised George W. Bush for the “fantastic job” he did as president, yet couldn’t say how a Romney administration would differ. The discussion veered off into whether Rubio would accept a vice presidential candidacy, an issue on which he was evasive. One is left wondering which highlights of the Bush years Rubio particularly admires: Iraq? Katrina? Torture? The Patriot Act? Tax cuts for the wealthy? Deregulation? The crashing of the economy? Reactionary Supreme Court appointments? Perhaps if Rubio is part of a victorious Republican ticket, he can help uphold the “fantastic” standards established during by the Bush years. Watch:

RUBIO: I haven’t gone through the comparison. I think that presidents serve in different times with different challenges. And so I think that George W. Bush, in my opinion, did a fantastic job as president over eight years, facing a set of circumstances during those eight years that are different from the circumstances that a President Romney would face.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

GOP Worried About Social Issues' Impact On Voters

Following the Republicans' reactionary moves on social issues in states throughout the country, consultants and officials are suddenly worried and facing a dilemma. If the party backs off and focuses more on the economy, they'll alienate social conservatives. If they continue the war on women and other divisive stances, they'll alienate other important groups in November:

...Tennessee enacted a law this month intended to protect teachers who question the theory of evolution. Arizona moved to ban nearly all abortions after 20 weeks, and Mississippi imposed regulations that could close the state’s only abortion clinic. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin signed a law allowing the state’s public schools to teach about abstinence instead of contraception.

...Some Republican strategists and officials, reluctant to be identified because they do not want to publicly antagonize the party’s base, fear that the attention these divisive social issues are receiving at the state level could harm the party’s chances in November, when its hopes of winning back the White House will most likely rest with independent voters in a handful of swing states.

...John Weaver, a Republican strategist who worked on the presidential campaigns of Senator John McCain and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., said that the attention Republicans were paying to social issues at the state level could cost the party support from several important blocs of voters, including independents, women and young people voting for the first or second time.

(Image: Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Fox's Gutfeld: NOW Irrelevant Because Of Women's Right To Shop

Fox's "The Five" presented a double dose of sexism on Friday. First, Eric Bolling appeared in near ecstasy due to a rare opportunity to expose the "left-wing, their motives, their agenda and their real plan for America." He referred to the National Organization for Women (NOW), which has a "pro-abortion agenda and is willing to do just about anything to silence conservatives who get in their way. Case in point: NOW's national smear campaign against Rush Limbaugh." Of course, the criticism of Limbaugh was not based on his stance on abortion per se, but his own despicable smearing of Sandra Fluke. Then Greg Gutfeld stated that NOW  is "not as relevant...because women have all the rights...they can shop." Watch:

GOP Congressional Candidate: Obama Supports Buffet Rule, Doesn't Love Country

Nothing gets Republican politicians and candidates more incensed than the idea that millionaires and billionaires should pay their fair share of taxes. Iowa congressional candidate Dan Dolan told a Tea Party audience that Obama's support for the Buffet Rule, which raises taxes on the wealthy, proves that the president doesn't love his country. Dolan, like his fellow conservatives, downplays how much revenue such taxes would accrue. Perhaps he should also question the patriotism of 72 percent of Americans, including 53 percent of Republicans, who agree with the Buffet Rule according to a CNN poll. Listen to Dolan's comments:

DOLAN: The president who is, to me disturbing where he’s willing to turn the country against itself to advance his agenda. He keeps talking about the Buffett Rule. The Buffett Rule would generate just over $1.1 billion in the first year. That’s 6 hours of federal borrowing. He knows it’s not going to fix anything, but he says it polls well and we’re going to just throw gasoline on the fire. He’s willing to turn the country against itself even though it won’t make a difference. So that’s bad leadership. I have a hard time thinking that he loves this country if he’s willing to turn them against themselves for his own advancement.

(h/t: Think Progress)

Phyllis Schlafly: Feminists Are "Insanely Jealous" Of Men

Phyllis Schlafly, who spearheaded efforts against the Equal Rights Amendment in 1973, brought her anti-feminist perspective to a class at The Citadel. She stated that feminism, like liberalism, should be treated as a "bad word" because "everything [feminists] stand for is bad and destructive." A longtime proponent of the view that a woman's place is in the kitchen, Schlafly stated that feminists want to "abolish" the role of stay-at-home mothers because they're "insanely jealous" of men, who have a wife at home cooking dinner and raising children. Schlafly reveals a profound misunderstanding of feminism, which is about expanding women's choices, not telling them whether or not they should be at home. She also ignores the fact that many women can't afford to stay home. Schlafly advises the cadets not to date feminists regardless of how pretty they are and to ask women how they feel about Phyllis Schlafly to detect whether they're feminists. View highlights via Right Wing Watch:

Sunday Talk Shows: Cavalcade Of Republican White Men

Planning on watching the Sunday morning talk shows? Expect to see that notorious "liberal media bias"? Please. Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) has produced a detailed study showing that over the last eight months, the guest lists have been dominated by Republican white men–and that this period is part of a longtime trend. According to FAIR, the shows amount to "GOP TV." Excerpts from "Right and Early":

...Single-source interviews are the showcase segments on the Sunday shows, which tend to compete for access to guests they consider the top newsmakers—which, in the world of Beltway media, usually means politicians. In the eight-month study period, partisan-affiliated one-on-one interviews were 70 percent Republican—166 guests to Democrats’ 70.

...Men overwhelmingly dominated one-on-one interviews, at 86 percent: 228 male guests compared to 36 women. Meet the Press featured the fewest women, with just six female interviewees—three of whom were Rep. Michele Bachmann (R.-Minn.), the presidential candidate.

Guests were also also ethnically homogeneous, with 242 white interview guests (92 percent of the total), 15 African-Americans (seven of whom were Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain), four Arabs or Arab-Americans, and three Latinos.

...the roundtable debate format could at least give these programs a chance to bring in more diverse voices. But these segments are hard to distinguish from the lopsided interview segments.

...As FAIR has argued (Extra!, 9–10/01), it’s likely that the politically connected corporations who sponsor these shows prefer a center/right spectrum of debate that mostly leaves out strong progressive voices who might raise a critique of corporate power.

(Image: Think Progress)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Religious Right Defends Criminalization Of Homosexuality

In December 2011, the Obama administration announced that it would back gay rights worldwide–a cause that all decent individuals must support, especially in view of the threats and violence directed toward gays in many lands. At the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton correctly stated, "Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct, but in fact they are one and the same.” The religious right organization Truth in Action Ministries, which previously compared the "radical homosexual agenda" to the iceberg that destroyed the Titanic, responded with a video, "Is Our Government Promoting Immorality?" In it, the criminalization of homosexuality is defended by right-wing activists, including the Southern Baptist Convention's Dr. Richard Land, who states, “...God is already judging America and will judge her more harshly as we continue to move down this path towards sexual paganization.” Right Wing Watch brings us the following highlights:

AFL-CIO: Booming Corporations Hoarding Cash, Cutting Jobs

The prime conservative economic falsehood is that we must cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations because they'll "create" new jobs with the savings. Of course, corporations don't "create" jobs because they're swimming in cash; they open up positions in response to consumer demand. The AFL-CIO shows the disconnect between right-wing rhetoric and fiscal reality in a chart and commentary, "Corporate Cash Hoarding Holds Back Job Creation," that tracks the shedding of jobs in the U.S. among five booming corporations:

Since the Wall Street financial crisis, the largest U.S. non-financial corporations have amassed record levels of cash. But rather than investing these cash hoards to expand their operations and create jobs, many companies have shed workers in the United States.

At the end of 2011, the largest non-financial companies in the S&P 500 Index had accumulated more than $1 trillion in cash, a historic high. Corporate cash was up 66 percent from the end of 2007, before the Wall Street financial crisis.

This comes at a time when the U.S. unemployment rate has exceeded 8 percent and more than 12 million Americans are looking for jobs. While overall employment at S&P 500 Index companies has grown since 2007, cash stockpiles have grown even faster.

Most of this job creation has been overseas. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the U.S. parents of multinational companies cut a total of 864,000 jobs between 1999 and 2009, while their foreign affiliates added 2.9 million jobs.

...How many jobs could be created if U.S. companies reinvested their cash to grow their businesses rather than holding it on their books? Enough to put America back to work.

...According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), if U.S. nonfinancial corporations invested $508 billion of their excess cash holdings, U.S. GDP would grow an additional 1 percent to 1.6 percent a year between 2012 and 2014 and 2.4 million new jobs would be created.

Another study by the Political Economy Research Institute found that if corporations and banks invested $1.4 billion in cash into productive investments and job creation, unemployment would fall below 5 percent by the end of 2014.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Eric Bibb Goes Down The Road

Acoustic blues guitarist and singer-songwriter Eric Bibb performed a fine rendition of “Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad,” a traditional blues tune that became a staple of the Grateful Dead's repertoire. Bibb appeared as part of the BBC’s “Transatlantic Sessions,” Feb. 2012, accompanied by Aly Bain, fiddle; John Doyle, guitar; Jerry Douglas, Dobro, and Dirk Powell, banjo. To find out more about Bibb, watch his 2011 interview on Australia's "ABC Radio National Breakfast."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Remembering Levon Helm, Legendary Drummer With The Band

Levon Helm, legendary drummer and singer, passed away today at 71. Helm was the one American among the Canadians who made up The Band, known for its American roots music. After The Band broke up, he played more roots-oriented music at the "Midnight Ramble" concerts at his studio in Woodstock, NY, and eventually on tour. Above, Helm performed a Band tune, "Ophelia," composed by Robbie Robertson, with the Ramble at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville. Regarding his vocals, the New York Times, in an obituary and fine career assessment, explained, "...particularly when [The Band's] lyrics turned to myths and tall tales of the American South — like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Ophelia” and “Rag Mama Rag” — the lead went to Mr. Helm, with his Arkansas twang and a voice that could sound desperate, ornery and amused at the same time." Helm's exuberant performance exemplifies his statement, “If it doesn’t come from your heart, music just doesn’t work.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sen. Bernie Sanders: We're Moving Into An Oligarchy

Senate Republicans blocked a debate and, ultimately, a vote on the Buffet Rule, which would have ensured that the wealthiest pay at least a 30 percent tax rate. The Republicans' obstructionism comes despite the fact that a Gallup poll last week said that 60 percent of Americans supported the proposal–followed by a CNN poll reflecting 72 percent support. The GOP, however, is protecting the financial interests of the one percent, including its upcoming presidential candidate. Mitt Romney paid a 13.9 percent tax rate on $21.7 million income in 2010; he has released no other tax returns.

Interviewed by Ed Schultz following the Republican move, Sen. Bernie Sanders commented on widening income inequality and historically low tax rates for the wealthy, trends that corrupt our politics and threaten democracy itself. Watch:

SANDERS: If we don't turn this around, we are going to lose the democratic foundations that have made this country the nation that it is, and we are going to move very rapidly, which is where we're going right now, into an oligarchic form of society where a handful of people on the top control not only the economics of the nation; they control the politics as well.

SCHULTZ: When you're looking at 72 percent of the American people want something and the Congress doesn't deliver, what does that tell you?

SANDERS: That tells you that our Republican friends are in the pocket of big money interests... With Citizens United Supreme Court decision, these billionaires are pumping huge amounts of money into the political process so that they can become even wealthier.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Wisconsin Senator On Equal Pay Repeal: "Money Is More Important For Men"

Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) recently repealed a state law helping women pursue complaints about workplace pay discrimination. Walker had the enthusiastic backing of Republican State Senator Glenn Grothman (left), who told The Daily Beast, "Money is more important for men." Grothman dismissed reports about a pay gap as reported by the American Association of University Women and other institutions, relying instead on the findings of "expert" Ann Coulter. Women make up half the American workforce and in two-thirds of American families are either the primary or a co-breadwinnner, yet still earn less than what male counterparts earn throughout the country. None of this matters to Grothman, however, who uses outdated and inaccurate notions to justify pay discrimination. Michelle Goldberg reports:

Whatever gaps exist, he insists, stem from women’s decision to prioritize childrearing over their careers. “Take a hypothetical husband and wife who are both lawyers,” he says. “But the husband is working 50 or 60 hours a week, going all out, making 200 grand a year. The woman takes time off, raises kids, is not go go go. Now they’re 50 years old. The husband is making 200 grand a year, the woman is making 40 grand a year. It wasn’t discrimination. There was a different sense of urgency in each person.”

...Grothman doesn’t accept these studies. When I ran the numbers by him, he replied, “The American Association of University Women is a pretty liberal group.” Nor, he argued, does its conclusion take into account other factors, like “goals in life. You could argue that money is more important for men. I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious. To attribute everything to a so-called bias in the workplace is just not true.”

Uygur And Greenwald On Koch Brothers' Attack On Social Security

In the following video, Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks and Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films offer insights on oil magnates Charles and David Kochs’ attack on Social Security. Uygur opens with an overview on how the Koch brothers use their billions to corrupt our political system and pursue a right-wing agenda (I recommend Jane Mayer's "Covert Operations," The New Yorker, 8/30/10). Uygur and Greenwald, who is doing an outstanding job with his "Koch Brothers Exposed" series, focus on the Koch Brothers' funding of right-wing think tanks to pursue their goal. Watch:

Jeffrey Toobin: Current Supreme Court Rules By Political Agenda

Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin (left) writes in the New Yorker that past Supreme Courts had a record of respecting acts of Congress pertaining to interstate commerce, including relevant parts of FDR's New Deal and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When it comes to the current Supreme Court, however, he doubts that it will respect Congressional discretion. This is the same Court, after all, that anointed the president in Bush v. Gore (2000) and opened the floodgates of corporate electoral cash in Citizens United (2010). Toobin considers the current Court's conservative judicial activism–and the consequences if it rules against the individual mandate in President Obama's Affordable Care Act. Excerpts from "Heavy Burden":

In the more than seven decades since the New Deal, the Supreme Court has avoided...line-by-line parsing of the policy choices made by legislators. As the Justices have said repeatedly, the courts should overrule the work of Congress only on the rarest occasions. “Conclusory second-guessing of difficult legislative decisions,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist once observed, “is not an attractive way for federal courts to engage in judicial review.” ...Now, instead, the Supreme Court acts as a sort of supra-legislature, dismissing laws that conflict with its own political agenda. This was most evident in the 2010 case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, when the five-Justice majority eviscerated the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law (not to mention several of its own precedents), because Congress showed insufficiently tender regard for the free-speech rights of corporations. The question now is whether those same five Justices will rewrite—or erase—the health-care law on which Barack Obama has staked his Presidency.

It’s tempting to analyze the case in the context of election-year politics, to game out how Obama might be helped or hurt by the Court’s eventual decision. ...But the decision is a great deal more important than its immediate political aftermath. It’s about what the government can do, not just who runs it. If the Court acts in line with the sentiments expressed by the conservatives last week, it could curtail the policymaking options of Congress for a generation. An adverse decision on the Affordable Care Act could even jeopardize the prospects for conservative legislative priorities, like health-insurance vouchers or private retirement accounts in lieu of Social Security. It is simply not the Supreme Court’s business to be making these kinds of judgments. The awesome, and final, powers of the Justices are best exercised sparingly and with restraint. Their normal burdens of interpreting laws are heavy enough. No one expects the Justices to be making health-care policy any more than we expect them to be picking Presidents, which, it may be remembered, is not exactly their strength, either.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sen. Inhofe: Bible Proves Global Warming Is A Hoax

In a radio interview with the Voice of Christian Youth America, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) cited the Bible as proof that global warming is a hoax. Inhofe, who has received $1,352,523 in contributions from the oil and gas industries, including $90,950 from Koch Industries, was promoting his book "The Greatest Hoax: How Global Warming Threatens Your Future." He criticized the "arrogance" of stating that anyone other than God can affect the climate. Listen to the views of this member of the U.S. Senate Environment Committee:

INHOFE: Well, actually, the Genesis 8:22 that I use in [my book] is that “as long as the Earth remains, there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.” My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.

Tennessee Senate Bill Warns Against “Gateway Sexual Activity”

Senators in Tennessee approved an update to their abstinence-based sex education laws by warning against “gateway sexual activity.” Though such activity is not defined, it has been interpreted as anything that could lead to sex, including holding hands and kissing. Sponsored by Republican state Senator Jack Johnson, Senate Bill 3310 prohibits discussion of contraception and “any gateway sexual activity or health message that encourages students to experiment with non-coital sexual activity." Planned Parenthood director of education Elokin CaPese cites statistics of youth sexual activity in objecting that such a curriculum is ineffective, unrealistic and not health-based. Nonetheless, the bill promotes “abstinence, regardless of a student's current or prior sexual activity”–and legal consequences for teachers who stray from this message. Watch:

Mark Fiore: “Shoot-Em-Up Charlie Discovers ALEC”

Last week we viewed Ed Schultz's exposé of the corporate-sponsored American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which writes bills with lawmakers promoting a right-wing agenda. Now let's look at political animator Mark Fiore's take on ALEC. Along with the NRA, ALEC was instrumental in pushing "Stand Your Ground" laws. Fiore also cites ALEC's negative impact on health care, the environment, labor and private prisons. The last two lines of the video speak to our political corruption: "But laws don't kill people. Laws introduced by pliable politicians backed by a shadowy organization funded by huge corporations kill people." (ALEC has recently lost some corporate affiliates due to a boycott campaign.) Watch:

Mayor Bloomberg Calls For Repealing "Stand Your Ground" Laws

Joined by Florida civil rights leaders and lawmakers at a press conference in Washington, DC, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) announced a new effort to end "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida and elsewhere. The law, which allows someone who feels threatened to shoot and not retreat if one can safely do so, has also been criticized by former Miami Police Chief John F. Timoney. It enabled George Zimmerman to remain free for weeks after shooting Trayvon Martin. Bloomberg criticized the role of the NRA in passing the law. Watch:

BLOOMBERG: In 2005, the NRA began pushing a so-called "Stand Your Ground law there, and the law has been cited to justify the gunfire that killed Trayvon Martin. Florida was the NRA’s first target, and it succeeded in pushing the bill through the legislature over the objections of leading police and law enforcement… In reality, the NRA’s leaders weren’t interested in public safety. They were interesting in promoting a culture where people take the law into their own hands and face no consequences for it. Let’s call that by its real name: Vigilantism. It's now clear that these laws have undermined the integrity of the justice system and done real harm to public safety. They have sown confusion in police departments about when to make arrests; they have made it more difficult for prosecutors to bring charges in cases of deadly violence, and these "Stand Your Ground" states have seen a major increase in so-called justifiable homicides. These laws have not made our country safer. They have made us less safe.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Robbie Robertson Live

Robbie Robertson, former guitarist and songwriter for The Band, performed "He Don't Live Here No More" on the Jools Holland Show, England, April 2011. The song is part of Robertson's fifth solo recording, "How To Become Clairvoyant," released that month. In the album, his first since 1998, Robertson looks back at his past. The lyrics to this song describe life in the fast lane; Robertson commented, "It was a lifestyle of the time that most of my friends went through. Some came out the other side, and for some, the train ran off the tracks."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Religious Right Film: “Homosexual Agenda” An Iceberg Destroying America

Just how loony the religious right is regarding gay rights is evident in a new short film, “The Radical Homosexual Agenda," by Truth in Action Ministries. Inspired by the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the film portrays the “radical homosexual agenda” as the “moral iceberg…ripping a hole in the structure of America.” After warning that “the ship is already going down,” the narrators predict that opposition to gay rights will be “criminalized and targeted for assault” and “the military could be used in a persecution of those that are viewed as enemies of the new state belief system.” Right Wing Watch brings us the following highlights:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Gov. Nikki Haley: "There Is No War On Women"

Speaking on "The View" last week, Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) stated, "Women don't care about contraception." Today on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor," Haley stated, "This is a president that is trying to create distractions. There is no war on women. Women are doing well." Haley is defending her party, the one that called for mandatory ultrasounds, threatened Planned Parenthood, spoke against contraception and held a House hearing on contraception without one woman testifying. After a woman tried to testify, she was called a "slut" by the de facto head of the GOP. These are hostile acts against the well-being of women. Indeed, these acts constitute a war on women–and it's being waged by the Republican Party. Watch:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Matt Rothschild: NYPD Spied On Liberal Groups

Last week we listened to Matt Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, criticize the New York Police Department for excessive spying on Muslims in New York and surrounding states. Now he states that "the NYPD is at it again," using similar tactics on liberal groups. Rothschild refers to an AP story that cites documents revealing surveillance of lawful peace activists. The NYPD even traveled to New Orleans to monitor the People's Summit, a liberal gathering. Listen:

(h/t: Best of the Left Podcast)

"The Beat Hotel": Ginsberg, Burroughs And Corso In Paris

"The Beat Hotel," directed by arts documentarian Alan Govenar, captures a time from 1957 to 1963 when Beat writers lived with other artists in a seedy hotel in Paris managed by a Madame Rachou. From this hotbed of creativity and bohemianism emerged some of the writers' greatest works, including Allen Ginsberg's "Kaddish," William Burroughs' "Naked Lunch" and Gregory Corso's "Bomb." Ginsberg moved there with his partner, Peter Orlovsky, while his poem "Howl" was the subject of an obscenity trial (see my review of the film "Howl.") The main narrator is Harold Chapman, an English photographer who captured the scene with his camera (he also reminisced about life at the hotel in the Guardian). The documentary provides an insightful and entertaining look at a group of writers and the freedom and creativity they found abroad.

Gay Brigham Young University Students Post "It Gets Better" Video

Gay students from Brigham Young University, a Mormon institution, made a video as part of journalist Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" project that provides hope to young people bullied for being gay. In this case, the students had the additional burden of reconciling their faith with their sexual identity. BYU stated in 2007 that discussing one's sexual orientation will not subject one to expulsion; the university also lifted a ban in 2010 on advocacy of homosexuality. Gay students, however, unlike their straight peers, still cannot show affection on campus. Regardless, this video represents a tremendous step forward in that the students are bringing a message of self-acceptance and openness to a conservative campus. Watch:

"de Kooning: An American Master": Chaos And Creative Genius

de Kooning: An American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan. 630 pp. Alfred A. Knopf

After viewing the de Kooning retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (my review here), I had to read this biography. Born to a poor family in Rotterdam, Willem Kooning was trained in an art academy, came to America as an illegal stowaway and became part of the bohemian artistic life in Greenwich Village. Evolving into one of the leading abstract expressionists, he was close to artists Arshile Gorky and Franz Kline and something of a rival to Jackson Pollock. He also had a tumultuous, on-and-off relationship with painter Elaine de Kooning, née Fried.

A thorough individualist, de Kooning could not follow a straight path in his private or artistic life. He conducted affairs with several women at once and, though an abstract artist, always returned to the human figure. This was especially the case in his powerful, comical and malevolent “Women” series (to those who see misogyny, de Kooning’s relationship with his domineering mother must have played a part, as it did with his inability to form a stable relationship). Critics who called for “pure” abstract expressionism were disappointed to see the figure in his work. Regardless, de Kooning worked on "Woman I" obsessively for two years. His doubt and endless re-working of his art made him an existential hero in the 1950s, during the postwar era when angst was part of the zeitgeist. When pop art and minimalism became more fashionable, de Kooning continued to follow his vision.

Stevens and Swan take the reader through subsequent shifts in de Kooning’s art, as it evolved from the slashing, aggressive canvases created downtown to the broader brush strokes and luminous colors following his move to Springs, Long Island. His turn toward the pastoral, however, didn’t necessarily mean a more stable private life. De Kooning’s alcoholism became more pronounced, including destructive binges and hospitalizations. Toward the end of his life, Elaine returned to manage his affairs and ensure enough stability so that, even with the onset of Alzheimer’s, de Kooning embarked on a final phase characterized by a stripped-down, lighter touch. Stevens and Swan provide a full understanding of their elusive subject and the contours of his masterful career in a biography that is a masterpiece in itself.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Chris Hayes: Why Do Unpopular Oil Subsidies Persist?

Chris Hayes strikes at the heart of our political corruption in exploring the persistence of oil subsidies. He notes that the subsidies are unpopular among Americans; not supported by liberal and conservative economists, and not needed by booming oil companies, as admitted by company executives and some Republicans. Hayes solves the mystery: those in the Senate who supported a recent bill to end the subsidies received over $5 million from big oil; those who opposed it, over $23 million. A 51-47 vote failed to end a Republican filibuster. Hayes observes that Teddy Roosevelt’s fears about economic power skewing our political system have been confirmed. Watch:

(h/t: Best of the Left Podcast)

The Ed Show Exposes ALEC Scoundrels

Ed Schultz focused on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which writes bills with lawmakers promoting voter suppression and anti-public education, -labor, -consumer and -immigrant legislation, among other right-wing initiatives. ALEC has gained increased prominence due to its support for Florida's “Stand Your Ground” gun law. Recently, major corporations have been dropping their association with ALEC, to the objection of Fox News. Schultz spoke to Rashad Robinson of Color of Change, which has been urging a boycott of ALEC's corporate allies, and Mike Papantonio, host of the "Ring of Fire" radio show. Watch:

Gov. Walker Signs Repeal Of Equal Pay Law

Every woman in Wisconsin should remember this during the recall vote on June 5: Gov. Scott Walker (R) does not believe in equal pay protection for you. The union-busting governor signed a repeal of the state's Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which increased the time people can file employment discrimination suits and enabled them to file outside federal courts:

...The Equal Pay Enforcement Act was passed in 2009 and gave workers avenues to pursue complaints about pay discrimination in the workplace and press charges where necessary. The law conferred upon workers the ability to pursue their cases in circuit court rather than the federal court system, which is costlier and less accessible to average citizens. It also expanded the window in which complainants are allowed to file their complaints relative to the time when they worked under discriminatory conditions.

...The Republican dominated state Senate passed SB 202 in November of 2011, which repealed the Equal Pay Enforcement Act, followed by the State Assembly in February. Both votes passed along party lines in the currently Republican-led state bodies.

The governor quietly signed the bill into law ahead of its 5 p.m. Thursday deadline. The law is known as Act 219.

...Business associations lobbied heavily to overturn the 2009 Act, including Wisconsin Manufacturing and Commerce and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association. It is estimated that for every dollar earned by men in the state of Wisconsin, women earn 75 cents, two cents less than the national average, according to the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Keith Richards And James Cotton Rehearse

Keith Richards, vocals and slide guitar, and James Cotton, harmonica, rehearse the blues standard "Little Red Rooster" prior to a tribute concert to the late blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin, February 2012, at New York's Apollo Theater. Richards and Mick Jagger paid Sumlin's funeral expenses. For related material from The Liberal Curmudgeon archives, see Sumlin performing "Killing Floor"; the Rolling Stones performing an acoustic "The Spider and the Fly," and my review of Richards' autobiography "Life."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

President Obama: GOP Budget Is "Thinly Veiled Social Darwinism"

Speaking at the Associated Press Luncheon on Tuesday, President Obama criticized the budget put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and passed by House Republicans. The plan was enthusiastically endorsed by the GOP's upcoming presidential candidate, Mitt Romney–and, of course, the party's propaganda organ, Fox News. As was the case in 2011, Ryan's plan calls for shredding the social safety net and presenting the wealthy with a substantial tax cut. Obama accurately described the budget as "Social Darwinism," a return to failed "trickle down" economic policies and a "prescription for decline." Watch:

OBAMA: This Congressional Republican budget is something different altogether. It is a Trojan Horse. Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly-veiled Social Darwinism. It is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who’s willing to work for it — a place where prosperity doesn’t trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class. And by gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last — education and training; research and development; our infrastructure — it is a prescription for decline. And everybody here should understand that because there’s very few people here who haven’t benefited at some point from those investments that were made in the fifties and the sixties and the seventies and the eighties. That’s part of how we got ahead. And now we’re going to be pulling those ladders up for the next generation.

(h/t: Think Progress)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Gov. Haley: "Women Don't Care About Contraception"

Speaking on "The View," Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) told American women what their priorities are not. "Women don't care about contraception," she stated. Since they care about economic and family issues, according to Haley, they can't possibly care about birth control. When Joy Behar pointed out that women also care about contraception, Haley contradicted herself and said that's not the only thing they care about. The main issue, according to Haley, is "...we don't want government to mandate when we have to have it or when we don't." In her distorted view, the requirement that insurance companies provide contraception is equivalent to forcing it on women. Actually, it is Haley's Republican Party that is attempting to mandate that women have unnecessary ultrasounds before abortions and not have birth control coverage. Watch:

HALEY: Women don’t care about contraception, they care about jobs and the economy and raising their families and all those other things–

BEHAR: Well, they care about contraception too.

HALEY: But, that’s not the only thing they care about. The media wants to talk about contraception.

BEHAR: But when someone like Rick Santorum says he’s going to take it away, we care. [Applause]

HALEY: Well, while we care about contraception, let’s be clear. All we’re saying is we don’t want government to mandate when we have to have it or when we don’t. We want to be able to make that decision. We don't want government to make that decision for us.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Matt Rothschild: Bloomberg "Cheney-esque" On NYPD Muslim Surveillance

The AP published a series of articles on the New York Police Department's constitutionally suspect surveillance of Muslims in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey and beyond, in businesses, colleges, mosques and neighborhoods. They found that the scrutiny was often based on ethnicity, not possible wrongdoing. Despite the defense of Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the program has been criticized by Michael B. Ward, the agent in charge of the FBI's Newark office, for alienating Muslims who cooperated with the Terrorism Task Force; Attorney General Eric Holder, and university and Muslim leaders. Matt Rothschild (left), editor of The Progressive, surveys the snooping and comments that Bloomberg is "being Cheney-esque in his rationale for guilt by association and racial profiling–and that's no compliment." Listen:

(h/t: Best of the Left Podcast)

Justice Scalia Repeats Right-Wing Talking Points Vs. Health Reform

Antonin Scalia is among the conservative Supreme Court justices who view themselves as “Constitutional originalists,” upholding the Constitution's original intent–as opposed to the "liberal judicial activists." In this regard, it’s remarkable how much Scalia echoes the talking points of Republicans against the Affordable Care Act, including the "broccoli argument." Think Progress produced the following video, which reveals the extent to which Scalia, far from merely "calling balls and strikes," is a conservative judicial activist:

Rep. King: Health Reform Will "Nationalize Our Soul"

Speaking to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) stated that health care reform will "nationalize our soul." King is unaware that citizens in all other Western democracies aren't complaining about "soul nationalization" due to single-payer coverage. He's also unaware that the Affordable Care Act, unfortunately, does not implement universal, "nationalized" health care. It reforms private insurance, so that, for example, one can purchase a plan despite a "pre-existing condition" and one's child can be covered until age 26. To a reactionary like King, however, such modest measures threaten the soul, freedom and liberty. Watch:

KING: You know when I look at this and this whole picture of you seeing the expansion of the nanny state here in America and the administration reaching into every aspect of our lives, the Obamacare piece addresses about 1/6 of our economy and a great big chunk of our American freedom and liberty. I define it this way, the sovereign thing that we have is our own soul, and the federal government hasn’t yet figured out how to nationalize our soul. They did figure out how to nationalize some investment banks, some insurance companies, some car companies and our skin and everything inside it. That’s Obamacare—it’s a nationalization—it’s a government takeover of our sovereign responsibility to manage our own health. Not only do they take over our skin and everything inside it, but they put a ten percent tax on the outside if you go to a tanning salon, Tony.

(h/t: Right Wing Watch)

Gmail Tap: Breakthrough In Texting

I haven't written before about new technological products, but I'm so excited about the cutting-edge Gmail Tap that I had to share the news with my readers. This breakthrough in texting represents a wedding between old technology and new. Based on the Morse Code, it replaces 26 keys with 2, enables one to tap without looking at the screen and type two emails at once. Watch the video below, then get more information and download the app here.

Krugman: Anti-Health Reform Justices Embrace Flimsy Arguments

Paul Krugman considers two flawed criticisms of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. The first concerns Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s facile comparison of health care and broccoli; the second, contradictory stances on taxation and the mandate. Krugman states that “antireform justices” are embracing “any argument, no matter how flimsy, that they can use to kill reform.” Excerpts from “Broccoli and Bad Faith”:

...Let’s start with the already famous exchange in which Justice Antonin Scalia compared the purchase of health insurance to the purchase of broccoli, with the implication that if the government can compel you to do the former, it can also compel you to do the latter. That comparison horrified health care experts all across America because health insurance is nothing like broccoli.

Why? When people choose not to buy broccoli, they don’t make broccoli unavailable to those who want it. But when people don’t buy health insurance until they get sick — which is what happens in the absence of a mandate — the resulting worsening of the risk pool makes insurance more expensive, and often unaffordable, for those who remain. As a result, unregulated health insurance basically doesn’t work, and never has.

There are at least two ways to address this reality — which is, by the way, very much an issue involving interstate commerce, and hence a valid federal concern. One is to tax everyone — healthy and sick alike — and use the money raised to provide health coverage. That’s what Medicare and Medicaid do. The other is to require that everyone buy insurance, while aiding those for whom this is a financial hardship.

Are these fundamentally different approaches? Is requiring that people pay a tax that finances health coverage O.K., while requiring that they purchase insurance is unconstitutional? It’s hard to see why — and it’s not just those of us without legal training who find the distinction strange. Here’s what Charles Fried — who was Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general — said in a recent interview with The Washington Post: “I’ve never understood why regulating by making people go buy something is somehow more intrusive than regulating by making them pay taxes and then giving it to them”...

Romney Backs Ryan's Cruel Budget

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has a zeal for gutting programs for the poor and transferring the savings to the wealthiest. Similar to his 2011 plan to destroy Medicare and Medicaid, Ryan put forth a budget, passed in the House along party lines, that resembles his previous right-wing wish list. Mitt Romney, the eventual Republican presidential nominee, enthusiastically endorsed it. No surprise there, since Romney said that he's "not concerned about the very poor." Ryan's budget, though, shows ample concern for one percenters like Romney. A New York Times editorial considered the Romney-Ryan alliance. Excerpts from "A Cruel Budget":

...The biggest of the cuts would be to Medicaid, the joint federal and state program that is already gasping for money in many states that put a low priority on health care for low-income people. ...a cut of $810 billion through 2022, one-fifth of current spending...would lead states to drop coverage for an estimated 14 million to 28 million people.

By eliminating the expansion of Medicaid in the health care law, cutting $1.6 trillion, it would leave another 17 million low- and moderate-income people uninsured.

Just as revealing is the acceptance by Mr. Romney and the other Republican presidential candidates of the Ryan plan to cut food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The budget would cut 17 percent of the SNAP budget, or $133.5 billion over a decade...

...At the same time, though, those [low income] families would find themselves unable to pay for health care, and they would also face reductions in housing assistance, job training and Pell grants for college tuition, all of which Mr. Ryan wants to cut, with Mr. Romney’s approval.

In all, 62 percent of the budget’s cuts come from low-income programs, and that’s on top of the substantial cut in spending already in place from last year. But the Ryan budget does contain a substantial tax cut for the rich, which is one of the reasons Mr. Romney said he was “very supportive” of the plan...