Thursday, January 31, 2013

Newtown Father: My Son Had The Right To His Life

Speaking at a public hearing yesterday held by the Connecticut legislature's Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence and Children's Safety, David Wheeler, whose son Benjamin, 6, was killed during the massacre on Dec. 14 in Newtown, made a compelling case for stricter gun regulations. He said, "Thomas Jefferson described our inalienable rights as life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness–the rights with which we are endowed for the protection of which we have instituted governments. I do not think the composition of that foundational phrase was an accident. I do not think the order of those important words was haphazard or casual. The liberty of any person to own a military-style assault weapon and a high-capacity magazine and keep them in their home is second to the right of my son to his life." Watch:

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Gun Industry Markets To Kids: "Get Newcomers Started Shooting Something"

The lead story of the Sunday New York Times, "Selling a New Generation on Guns," details how the firearms industry is spending millions with the aim of "getting guns into the hands of more, and younger, children," getting them "started shooting something" and cultivating future consumers of military-style and semiautomatic weapons:

The industry’s strategies include giving firearms, ammunition and cash to youth groups; weakening state restrictions on hunting by young children; marketing an affordable military-style rifle for “junior shooters” and sponsoring semiautomatic-handgun competitions for youths; and developing a target-shooting video game that promotes brand-name weapons, with links to the Web sites of their makers.

...[A] study, commissioned last year by the shooting sports industry...suggested encouraging children experienced in firearms to recruit other young people...

“The point should be to get newcomers started shooting something, with the natural next step being a move toward actual firearms,” said the report, which was prepared for the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Hunting Heritage Trust.

...The foundation and gun companies also support Junior Shooters magazine... The publication is filled with catchy advertisements and articles about things like zombie targets, pink guns and, under the heading “Kids Gear,” tactical rifle components with military-style features like pistol grips and collapsible stocks.

Gun companies often send new models to the magazine for children to try out with adult supervision. Shortly after Sturm, Ruger announced in 2009 a new, lightweight semiautomatic rifle that had the “look and feel” of an AR-15 but used less expensive .22-caliber cartridges, Junior Shooters received one for review. The magazine had three boys ages 14 to 17 fire it and wrote that they “had an absolute ball!”

...The AR-15, the civilian version of the military’s M-16 and M-4, has been aggressively marketed as a cool and powerful step up from more traditional target and hunting rifles. But its appearance in mass shootings — in addition to Newtown, the gun was also used last year in the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., and the attack on firefighters in Webster, N.Y. — has prompted calls for tighter restrictions. The AR-15 is among the guns included in a proposed ban on a range of semiautomatic weapons that was introduced in the Senate last week.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

High School Senior Tells 300+ Students He's An LGBT Teen

Jacob Rudolph, 18, of Parsippany, NJ, was voted Class Actor by his classmates at Parsippany High School. Accepting the honor, Rudolph told a crowd of 300+ students, plus parents and teachers, that he's been acting the part of a straight person who is actually an LGBT teen. In a video posted on Facebook and YouTube by his supportive father, Jonathan Rudolph, the teen told a cheering audience, "It's time to end the hate in our society and accept the people for who they are." Watch this inspiring video:

RUDOLPH: "Sure, I've been in a few plays and musicals, but more importantly, I've been acting every single day of my life. You see, I've been acting as someone I'm not. Most of you see me every day. You see me acting the part of 'straight' Jacob, when I am in fact an LGBT teen-- lesbian gay bisexual transgender. Unlike the other millions of other LGBT teens who've had to act to avoid verbal harassment and physical violence, I'm not going to do it anymore. It's time to end the hate in our society and accept the people for who they are... So take me or leave me or move out of the way, because I am what I am, and that's how I'm going to act."

Robert Reich: “The Hoax Of Entitlement Reform”

Robert Reich takes on “entitlement reformers,” conservatives who want to cut the deficit by slashing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He discusses real solutions, including raising the Social Security income tax ceiling and means testing, containing healthcare costs through Medicare for all, cutting the military budget and ending corporate welfare. Reich concludes, “This whole notion of entitlement reform, it’s a hoax, it only distracts us from these more important steps.” Watch:

GOP Governors Push Higher Sales Taxes, Increasing Inequality

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana (left) and other Republican governors are continuing their party's regressive tradition of promoting the cutting of personal and corporate income taxes and raising sales taxes. Taxing consumption instead of income, favored by conservatives, benefits the rich and hurts those lower down the economic ladder. Joseph Henchman of the conservative Tax Foundation acknowledges the reason that some are against this policy: "It’s just that some people prioritize fairness":

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal is pushing to repeal the state’s personal and corporate income taxes and make up the lost revenue through higher sales taxes. Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska is calling for much the same thing in his state. Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas wants to keep in place what was supposed to be a temporary increase in the state sales tax to help pay for his plan to lower and eventually end his state’s income tax.

...Taxing consumption has the potential to lift economic growth by encouraging more savings and investment. But the shift could also increase inequality by reducing taxes predominantly for the wealthy, who spend a smaller share of their income than middle- and lower-income people.

“The question of whether we should tax income or whether we should tax spending is really a proxy for a different debate,” said Joseph Henchman, vice president for state projects at the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning research organization. “Everyone agrees we’ll get more growth with consumption taxes. It’s just that some people prioritize fairness.”

...For Mr. Jindal and other Republican governors who are considering a presidential run in 2016, there are obvious political benefits to having a robust income tax-cutting record to present to conservative primary voters.

But Democrats say the approach would lead to cutbacks in education, health care and other vital services while shifting relatively more of the tax burden to those who can least afford it.

Film Warns Of The Perils Of Catnip

The 1936 movie "Reefer Madness" warned us of the dangers of marijuana. Filmmaker Jason Willis now warns us of the perils of catnip in "Catnip: Egress To Oblivion?" The film won the Short Film Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. According to the festival's program notes, "Catnip is all the rage with today's modern feline, but do we really understand it? This film frankly discusses the facts about this controversial substance." Cat owners should especially take heed and watch:

Paul Krugman: Deficit Scolds Have Lost Influence

After noting with approval that President Obama barely mentioned the deficit in his inaugural address, Paul Krugman provides four reasons the “deficit scolds” no longer control the political dialogue. Among them are failed predictions, declining deficits, failed economic austerity policies–and the hidden political agenda of conservative economic austerity pushers to benefit the rich at everyone else's expense:

They’ve spent three years warning of imminent crisis — if we don’t slash the deficit now now now, we’ll turn into Greece, Greece, I tell you... But that crisis keeps not happening. The still-depressed economy has kept interest rates at near-record lows despite large government borrowing, just as Keynesian economists predicted all along. So the credibility of the scolds has taken an understandable, and well-deserved, hit.

Second, both deficits and public spending as a share of G.D.P. have started to decline — again, just as those who never bought into the deficit hysteria predicted all along.

...the third reason the deficit scolds have lost influence: the contrary doctrine, the claim that we need to practice fiscal austerity even in a depressed economy, has failed decisively in practice... In 2010, when the new government of Prime Minister David Cameron turned to austerity policies, it received fulsome praise from many people on this side of the Atlantic... Sure enough, the sudden, severe medicine cut short Britain’s economic recovery, and threw the nation back into recession.

...there was also clearly a lot of bad faith involved, as the scolds tried to exploit an economic (not fiscal) crisis on behalf of a political agenda that had nothing to do with deficits. And the growing transparency of that agenda is the fourth reason the deficit scolds have lost their clout.

What was it that finally pulled back the curtain here? Was it the way the election campaign revealed Representative Paul Ryan, who received a “fiscal responsibility” award from three leading deficit-scold organizations, as the con man he always was? Was it the decision of David Walker, alleged crusader for sound budgets, to endorse Mitt Romney and his budget-busting tax cuts for the rich? Or was it the brazenness of groups like Fix the Debt — basically corporate C.E.O.’s declaring that you should be forced to delay your retirement while they get to pay lower taxes?

Boehner: "Make Abortion A Relic Of The Past"

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) addressed the anti-abortion "March for Life" in Washington, DC, through a video this past Friday. He said, "in accordance with the will of the people, we will again work to pass the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, formally codifying the Hyde Amendment." Regarding "the will of the people," a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 70 percent of Americans oppose Roe v. Wade being overturned. The Hyde Amendment would hurt poor and minority women the most. Boehner also said that "no government on Earth has the right to treat [human life] as a [economic or political commodity]." Politicians, though, supposedly have the right to determine women's reproductive choices. The Speaker concludes with a call to "make abortion a relic of the past"–regardless of the hazards of illegal abortion. Watch Boehner's call to return to the past:

McConnell On Filibuster Cave: "We Beat The Liberals"

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) capitulation on filibuster reform was galling enough, as it left the Republicans with the ability to force a 60-vote supermajority to advance bills. To add to the wound, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) crowed about the deal in a fundraising email entitled, "We Beat the Liberals." According to McConnell, the supermajority is a normal part of Senate "checks and balances" and a "simple majority" is to be resisted. Regardless of minor tweaks to filibuster rules, GOP obstructionism and Congressional gridlock will continue:

The Kentucky Republican’s 2014 re-election campaign fired off a fundraising email to supporters after the finalization of the bipartisan rules change agreement, which passed Thursday night. The agreement negotiated by McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) leaves the 60-vote threshold intact but speeds up the legislating process.

The email, subject line “We Beat the Liberals,” bragged that President Obama was “furious” after liberal senators and left-wing groups failed to pass their “dangerous scheme” to break down the checks and balances in the Senate.

“You see, they had been pushing a plan to end the filibuster, allowing Harry Reid and the Obama Democrats to pass their agenda with a simple majority,” wrote Jesse Benton, McConnell’s campaign manager. “Well, Mitch McConnell stood strong and stopped that scheme dead in its tracks.”

...“[B]ottom line,” Benton declared, “Mitch McConnell saved the ability of Republicans to filibuster any bill at 60 votes. Period. … We all owe Leader McConnell a debt of gratitude today. We won the first battle. But there will be many more to come.”

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Los Lobos

Los Lobos played a dynamic medley from the Grateful Dead repertoire, including "Lovelight," "Not Fade Away" and "Bertha," at the Vic Theater, Chicago, November 2010.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Harry Reid: "I'm Not Ready...To Get Rid Of The 60-Vote Threshold"

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Democrats had the chance to reform the filibuster, whose abuse by today's GOP is greatly responsible for Congressional gridlock and dysfunction. While a bipartisan agreement resulted in modest rule changes, the bottom line for this mediocre deal is that the Republican minority can still force a 60-vote supermajority for advancing bills. Ezra Klein spoke to Reid:

“I’m not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold,” Reid (D-Nev.) told me this morning, referring to the number of votes needed to halt a filibuster. “With the history of the Senate, we have to understand the Senate isn’t and shouldn’t be like the House.”

...The agreement...limits the number of times you can filibuster a bill after both the House and the Senate have agreed to it, and it limits the post-filibuster period on most nominations from 30 hours to two hours. Both reforms will speed the pace of the Senate a bit — the limit on post-cloture debate for nominations is particularly welcome among reformers — but neither is anything close to a game-changer. The question among some reformers, then, is what happened?

...I asked Reid whether he really thought the filibuster could survive in a Senate where, in truth, the majority leader, alongside 49 other senators and the vice president, could change any rule they wanted.

“The only way we’ll get rid of the filibuster is if it continues to be abused,” he said. “Hopefully, what we’ll do here will stop some of the abuse, but what will happen if the minority continues to abuse the rules is we won’t get rid of the filibuster, but we’ll go to something like what [Sen. Tom] Harkin has pushed, where one vote is at 57, and then another vote is at 55.”

But for now, Republicans have little to fear. The filibuster is safe. Even filibusters against the motion to proceed are safe. And filibuster reformers have lost once again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lizz Winstead: "Hands Off Roe v. Wade"

Today is the 40th anniversary of the passing of Roe v. Wade. According to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 70 percent of Americans oppose its being overturned, the highest number since 1989. Regardless, abortion foes continue their fight; the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice think tank, states that 135 laws restricting access to abortion over the past two years were enacted in 30 states, most with Republican-majority legislatures. Another poll, conducted by Pew, finds that 53 percent feel that abortion is “is not that important, compared to other issues.” Such apathy may enable anti-choice forces to continue passing bills rendering access more difficult. Comedian, writer and producer Lizz Winstead created a video reflecting the state of American women's reproductive rights on this anniversary. She shows that there's ample reason for pro-choice forces to be both concerned and engaged. Watch:

Monday, January 21, 2013

Fox & Friends: Today Is "The Most Depressing Day Of The Year"

Steve Doocy of Fox & Friends said that today has been dubbed "'Blue Monday,' the most depressing day of the year." He explained the malaise in terms of "drab weather, holiday bills, and resolutions that we have not met." Is there anything else about Monday, January 21, 2013, that induces such melancholy in this Fox cast? Whatever it is, they're not saying. Watch this downcast group:

Joe Scarborough: GOP Won House Majority Through Gerrymandering

Speaking on "Meet the Press" this past Sunday, Joe Scarborough, a former Republican representative, criticized his party for its narrowing ideology and the fact that the GOP won the House majority through gerrymandering (there were over one million more votes cast for Democratic House candidates than Republicans). Watch:

SCARBOROUGH: "This party has been getting smaller and smaller and smaller... In this debate, we actually have conservative thinkers talking about Ronald Reagan being a RINO — a Republican in name only – because he supported an assault weapons ban. They keep pushing themselves closer and closer to the cliff. But I just have to say one other really important point, because I made a mistake over the past month talking about how Republicans have also won a majority in the House. As this article I was referencing mentioned, we actually got a minority of votes nationwide in House races. It was just gerrymandering from 2010 that gave us the majority."

The Republican State Leadership Committee issued a report actually celebrating its gerrymandering strategy. Also see two segments by Rachel Maddow on this issue.

Obama Outlines Progressive Agenda In Inaugural Speech

In his inaugural speech today, President Obama included infrastructure, income inequality, financial regulation, the social safety net, health care, climate change, ending wars, fair pay for women, gay rights, voting rights, immigration reform, and keeping our children, including those in Newtown, safe. Besides being pleased with this progressive agenda, I was once again relieved that Mitt Romney, who would have made a speech that reflected a reactionary agenda, did not take the Oath of Office. If you haven't already seen it, watch Obama's speech:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: ...For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class...

...The commitments we make to each other - through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security - these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great...

...We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms...

...We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war...

...For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law - for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.

Civil Rights Leader Rep. John Lewis Forgives 1961 Attacker

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), one of the leaders of the civil rights movement, was attacked and suffered a fractured skull on May 9, 1961, in a whites-only Rock Hill bus station waiting room. In February 2009, his attacker, Elwin Wilson, apologized to the Congressman, who forgave him. Their reconciliation represents, as Rep. Lewis puts it, "the power of love" epitomized by the man whose legacy we honor today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Watch their moving story:

Lewis and Wilson also thoughtfully reflected on their experience during an appearance on CNN:

Republican Report Celebrates Gerrymandering To Win House

In a remarkably candid report, "REDMAP: How a Strategy of Targeting State Legislative Races in 2010 Led to a Republican U.S. House Majority in 2013," the Republican State Leadership Committee celebrated the fact that the GOP retained control of the House through gerrymandering. Despite "over one million more votes cast for Democratic House candidates than Republicans," the GOP victories "rest on the congressional district lines":

Farther down-ballot, aggregated numbers show voters pulled the lever for Republicans only 49 percent of the time in congressional races, suggesting that 2012 could have been a repeat of 2008, when voters gave control of the White House and both chambers of Congress to Democrats.

But, as we see today, that was not the case. Instead, Republicans enjoy a 33-seat margin in the U.S. House seated yesterday in the 113th Congress, having endured Democratic successes atop the ticket and over one million more votes cast for Democratic House candidates than Republicans. The only analogous election in recent political history in which this aberration has taken place was immediately after reapportionment in 1972, when Democrats held a 50 seat majority in the U.S. House of Representatives while losing the presidency and the popular congressional vote by 2.6 million votes.

...all components of a successful congressional race, including recruitment, message development and resource allocation, rest on the congressional district lines, and this was an area where Republicans had an unquestioned advantage.

Rachel Maddow has been focusing on GOP gerrymandering in the House and its plans to use the scheme in future presidential elections.

GOP Senator: Guns Not A Major Issue For American Families

Speaking to CNN's Candy Crowley about President Obama's gun control proposal, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) stated that American families are concerned about the economy, not guns. Crowley tried to explain that "families deal with a lot of things," but that point was lost on the senator. Barrasso also fell back on the argument of NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre that everything-including mental health, the media and video games–is to blame for gun violence except guns. Watch:

CROWLEY: I spoke with [White House adviser] David Plouffe in the segment before this. He said that he is confident there are enough vote he is in the House and there are the requisite 60 votes in the Senate to pass universal background checks for gun owners and limiting the clips, those high-capacity magazine clips that can fire off so many rounds to 10 and under. Do you think that’s so? Do you think Congress would pass a ban on those clips with ten or over and a universal background check. Is that going to happen?

BARRASSO: No, I don’t think it will. Candy, that gets beside the major issues that face American families, which are jobs and the economy and the debt and spending. That’s where people are focused. That’s the big anxiety of this country.

CROWLEY: Sure, I agree with you, but as you know, you deal with a lot of things up there and at the White House. People and their families deal with a lot of things. One of the things that’s been out there is gun control of some sort. Something that addresses Newtown, whether its gun control or better access to mental health. You know the president’s going to push that.

BARRASSO: As a doctor, I can tell you the president’s essentially ignored the major issues of mental health and violence in society in the media and video games and he has focused so much on what may be happening at gun shows or on gun shelves and gun stores that I think he is failing to really try to find a solution to the problem of the tragedy of Newtown.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Rachel Maddow: GOP Considering “Redmap” Scheme For Presidential Elections

Rachel Maddow discussed “Redmap,” a Republican gerrymandering scheme that enabled them to hold the House even though, by their own admission, voters gave Democratic candidates 1.1 million more votes. Now Republicans in states under their control want to use the same Congressional district maps in order to rig the Electoral College. Under this strategy, Electoral College votes will no longer result in one state-wide victor; instead, states will be carved up into Electoral College voting districts that favor the GOP presidential candidate. Maddow rightly warns us, as she did in December, that this should not be a process that quietly moves forward into 2016. Watch:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Bromberg Covers Dylan

David Bromberg covered Bob Dylan's "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" at WFUV Public Radio, Fordham University, Bronx, NY. The song is on Bromberg's excellent acoustic blues album "Try Me One More Time" (2007); the original is on Dylan's classic "Highway 61 Revisited" (1965).

Friday, January 18, 2013

NRA Releases Despicable Web Ad About Obama's Daughters

The NRA reached a new low with a despicable web ad that focuses on President Obama's daughters to launch a political attack. The ad calls Obama an "elitist hypocrite" for being skeptical about armed guards at schools while his daughters have Secret Service protection. The Secret Service, of course, is authorized to protect the president and his immediate family. In addition, Obama's skepticism, as expressed on "Meet the Press," is entirely reasonable. He said, “I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools. And I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem.” Indeed, there was an armed guard at Columbine High School, where 15 were killed and 23 wounded in 1999. Watch the ad, which further exposes the NRA as a fringe, extremist organization:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New York Enacts Nation's Toughest Gun Control Law

Kudos to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature for passing the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (NY SAFE Act), the toughest gun control law in the country. Instead of waiting for Washington, the state enacted sane gun regulations, the first since the Sandy Hook massacre. The bill was condemned, of course, by the NRA–a sure indication that New York took the right course. One hopes that other states are motivated to adopt similar measures throughout the country:

In addition to outlawing a broader array of military-style weapons, the measure restricts ammunition magazines to seven rounds, down from the current 10, creates a more comprehensive database of people barred from owning guns, and makes New York the first state to require background checks to buy bullets. The system will also help flag customers who buy large amounts of ammo.

In another provision, therapists, doctors and other mental health professionals will be required to tell state authorities if a patient threatens to use a gun illegally. The patient’s weapon could then be taken away.

...Previously, New York state law on assault weapons banned semiautomatics that have detachable magazines and at least two military-type features, such as a pistol grip, folding stock, muzzle flash suppressor or bayonet mount. The new law outlaws weapons with just one of those features.

It also requires background checks for even private gun sales, except those among immediate family.

In addition, it says handgun owners must renew their licenses every five years, and it increases prison sentences for using guns in various crimes or taking them onto school grounds.

Flash Mob Cheers Spanish Unemployment Office With Beatles Song

Spain is undergoing an economic crisis with high unemployment, and The Guardian reports that austerity measures have depressed the country's fiscal situation further–as we've seen in Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe. Against this background, a flash mob of musicians brought cheer to those waiting in a Spanish unemployment office by performing The Beatles' "Here Comes The Sun." Watch:

We also recently viewed New Yorkers countering hate preacher Terry Jones with The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

GOP Rep Against Gun Control Due To Hammers, Hatchets, Cars

Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) echoed the argument of NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre that everything is to blame for gun violence except guns. Blackburn contended that instead of guns, we should focus on mental health, psychotropic drugs and video games–and realize that those who want to harm others could use "a hammer, a hatchet, a car." Watch:

BLACKBURN: We need to do a couple of things. Number one is to drill down on the mental health issue. Number two is to look at the psychiatric and psychotropic drugs, because that is many times linked to the individuals who carry out these crimes. They are also wanting to make certain that we begin to get in behind these video games. [...] The problem is it could be a hammer, a hatchet, a car.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Obama: "We Are Not A Deadbeat Nation"

At a press conference today, President Obama responded to Republican threats to use the raising of the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip. Signaling again that he will not negotiate with Congress on paying bills that it has already incurred, Obama affirmed, "We are not a deadbeat nation." He continued, "What Congress can't do is tell me to spend X, and then say, 'But we're not going to give you the authority to go ahead and pay the bills.'" Obama also clarified a point that is often muddled by the Republicans: "Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more." Watch:

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Powell: GOP Has "A Dark Vein Of Intolerance"

Speaking today on "Meet the Press," Colin Powell warned the Republican party that it had better adapt to the country's changing demographics. Specifically, Powell criticized the GOP's "dark vein of intolerance" expressed by the use of racist code words. Watch:

POWELL: There’s also a dark — a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party. What do I mean by that? I mean by that that they still sort of look down on minorities. How can I evidence that? When I see a former governor say that the President is “shuckin’ and jivin’,” that’s racial era slave term. When I see another former governor after the president’s first debate where he didn’t do very well, says that the president was lazy. He didn’t say he was slow. He was tired. He didn’t do well. He said he was lazy. Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African Americans, the second word is shiftless and then there’s a third word that goes along with that. The birther, the whole birther movement. Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?

Fischer: Anti-Gay Christians Are "The New Rosa Parks"

The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer responded to the news that Pastor Louie Giglio, who delivered a bigoted anti-gay sermon in the mid-1900s, has withdrawn from delivering the benediction at President Obama's inauguration. In a measure of how twisted the religious right's perspective has become, Fischer stated that those who campaign against gay rights are "the new Rosa Parks" and, citing an article by Albert Mohler, the victims of "a new moral McCarthyism." Watch:

Gov. Cuomo: End Marijuana Arrests That Stigmatize And Criminalize

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) of New York called for reforming state marijuana possession laws that waste millions of dollars and are racially biased. Republicans in the state senate refused to act on Cuomo's attempt last year to decriminalize possession. One hopes that he can succeed in ending the needless arrest of thousands, especially minority youths in New York City:

In his prepared written statement, the governor referenced the original intent of the marijuana possession law from 1977: “The legislature finds that arrests, criminal prosecutions, and criminal penalties are inappropriate for people who possess small quantities of marihuana for personal use. Every year, this process needlessly scars thousands of lives and wastes millions of dollars in law enforcement resources, while detracting from the prosecution of serious crime.”

Today, marijuana possession is the number one arrest in New York City. The governor cited the harmful outcomes of these arrests – racial disparities, stigma, fiscal waste, criminalization – and called on the legislature to act: “It’s not fair, it’s not right. It must end, and it must end now.”

...The need for reform is abundantly clear: In the last 15 years, over 600,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession, mostly in New York City. More than 50,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in the City in 2011 alone, far exceeding the total marijuana arrests from 1981-1995. Most of those arrested, nearly 85%, are Black and Latino, mostly young men – despite federal government data on drug use showing that whites use marijuana at higher rates. The costs of these arrests to taxpayers is at least $75 million a year.

GOP Rep. Defends Akin On "Legitimate Rape"

Despite the fact that six members of the Republican Rape Caucus, including Todd Akin, lost their elections, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) seemingly couldn't help himself. He defended Akin's outrageous statements regarding "legitimate rape" and rape victims rarely getting pregnant since their bodies have a way "to shut that whole thing down." Gingrey's comments are all the more disgraceful since he is an ob-gyn and co-chair of the GOP Doctors Caucus. Listen to Gingrey at the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce, Smyrna, GA, on Thursday:

GINGREY: 'Look, in a legitimate rape situation’ — and what he meant by legitimate rape was just look, someone can say I was raped: a scared-to-death 15-year-old that becomes impregnated by her boyfriend and then has to tell her parents, that’s pretty tough and might on some occasion say, ‘Hey, I was raped.’ That’s what he meant when he said legitimate rape versus non-legitimate rape. I don’t find anything so horrible about that.

...I’ve delivered lots of babies, and I know about these things. It is true. We tell infertile couples all the time that are having trouble conceiving because of the woman not ovulating, ‘Just relax. Drink a glass of wine. And don’t be so tense and uptight because all that adrenaline can cause you not to ovulate.’ So he was partially right wasn’t he? But the fact that a woman may have already ovulated 12 hours before she is raped, you’re not going to prevent a pregnancy there by a woman’s body shutting anything down because the horse has already left the barn, so to speak. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Gregg Allman

Gregg Allman covered Muddy Waters' "I Can't Be Satisfied" with his band during a Savannah, GA, studio session. The song is part of his fine "Low Country Blues" (2011) album. Read an interview with Allman on the album and his career here. "Can't Be Satisfied," by the way, is the title of Robert Gordon's excellent biography of Muddy Waters reviewed by the New York Times in 2002.

Friday, January 11, 2013

As Biden Speaks About Guns, Another School Shooting Takes Place

CNN was covering Vice President Joe Biden's efforts to curb gun violence and his meetings with gun rights groups, including the NRA, on Thursday afternoon. The station suddenly broke into a story that illustrates exactly why we can't wait any longer for gun control: another school shooting took place, this time at Taft High School in California. Watch:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

NOAA: 2012 Warmest Year On Record For U.S.

Despite the fact that many Republicans view climate change as a hoax and obstruct measures to reverse it, global warming continues. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climatic Data Center marked 2012 as the warmest year on record for the U.S. and the second most extreme in terms of weather conditions:

Last year was the warmest on records going back to 1895 for the 48 contiguous U.S. states and the second-worst for weather extremes including drought, hurricanes and wildfires, according to a U.S. report.

The average temperature in the region in 2012 was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit (12.9 Celsius), 3.2 degrees higher than the average for the 20th century, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climatic Data Center said today in an analysis of the year.

U.S. Climate Extremes Index, which takes into account temperatures as well as tropical storms and drought, showed 2012 followed 1998 into the record books for extreme weather with almost twice the average value, the center said. Eleven disasters caused at least $1 billion in damage, including hurricanes Isaac in August and Sandy in October.

“The heat we saw in the U.S. is consistent with what we expect in a warming world,” Deke Arndt, chief of the climate monitoring branch at the center, said on a conference call. “It’s a huge exclamation point on the end of several decades.”

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Rasmussen Reports: Tea Party In Full Decline

In 2009, the Wall Street Journal stated that the Tea Party "could change American politics." Four years later, it appears to be a passing political phenomenon. A recent survey from the right-leaning Rasmussen Reports states that just a small percentage of Americans identify with the Tea Party, while more respondents than ever view the movement unfavorably:

Views of the Tea Party movement are at their lowest point ever, with voters for the first time evenly divided when asked to match the views of the average Tea Party member against those of the average member of Congress. Only eight percent (8%) now say they are members of the Tea Party, down from a high of 24% in April 2010 just after passage of the national health care law.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 30% of Likely U.S. Voters now have a favorable opinion of the Tea Party. Half (49%) of voters have an unfavorable view of the movement. Twenty-one percent (21%) are undecided.

Image: Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

NRA Blames Violent Films But Holds "Hollywood Guns" Exhibit

During his press conference in Washington, DC, on December 21, Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, criticized Hollywood for its "... blood-soaked slasher films like “American Psycho” and “Natural Born Killers” that are aired like propaganda loops on 'Splatterdays'..." According to LaPierre, Hollywood movies, the media and video games–but not guns–are to blame for the recent epidemic of horrific gun massacres. How strange, then, that since 2010 the NRA National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, VA, has been holding a "Hollywood Guns" exhibit on the firearms used in such films as "Dirty Harry," "Pulp Fiction," "Reservoir Dogs," "Lethal Weapon," "Terminator 3" and "Die Hard." "American Rifleman," an NRA publication, advised, "If you love guns or you love movies or, still luckier, you love guns and movies, this is a trip you cannot miss." Watch Phil Schreier, senior curator at the museum, introduce the exhibit:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Elizabeth Rosenthal: "More Guns = More Killing"

Elizabeth Rosenthal (left), physician and science reporter for the New York Times, writes that the NRA's advocacy of "a good guy with a gun" in all of  America's schools (which didn't stop the Columbine massacre) is based on the flawed principle that the answer to gun violence is more guns. Such an strategy hasn't worked in Latin American countries; instead, the U.S. would be better served emulating the gun control approach in Australia and some Latin American cities such as Bogotá, Colombia:

...I recently visited some Latin American countries that mesh with the N.R.A.’s vision of the promised land, where guards with guns grace every office lobby, storefront, A.T.M., restaurant and gas station. It has not made those countries safer or saner.

Despite the ubiquitous presence of “good guys” with guns, countries like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Venezuela have some of the highest homicide rates in the world.

...In Guatemala, riding a public bus is a risky business. ...when bullets start flying, everyone is vulnerable: in 2010 the onboard tally included 155 drivers, 54 bus assistants, 71 passengers and 14 presumed criminals. Some were killed by the robbers’ bullets and some by gun-carrying passengers.

Scientific studies have consistently found that places with more guns have more violent deaths, both homicides and suicides. Women and children are more likely to die if there’s a gun in the house. The more guns in an area, the higher the local suicide rates. “Generally, if you live in a civilized society, more guns mean more death,” said David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. “There is no evidence that having more guns reduces crime. None at all.”

After a gruesome mass murder in 1996 provoked public outrage, Australia enacted stricter gun laws, including a 28-day waiting period before purchase and a ban on semiautomatic weapons. Before then, Australia had averaged one mass shooting a year. Since, rates of both homicide and suicide have dropped 50 percent, and there have been no mass killings, said Ms. [Rebecca] Peters, [former director of the International Action Network on Small Arms], who lobbied for the legislation.

...Indeed, even as some Americans propose expanding our gun culture into elementary schools, some Latin American cities are trying to rein in theirs. Bogotá’s new mayor, Gustavo Petro, has forbidden residents to carry weapons on streets, in cars or in any public space since last February, and the murder rate has dropped 50 percent to a 27-year low. He said, “Guns are not a defense, they are a risk.”

Gingrich: Republicans Will "Cave" On Debt Ceiling

It's outrageous that the Republicans would threaten a debt ceiling showdown, something they never did when a party member was president. President Obama rightly said, "One thing I will not compromise over is whether or not Congress should pay the tab for a bill they've already racked up." While both sides of the aisle dig in their heels, Newt Gingrich, among other Republicans, said that the GOP will "cave" on the issue as a result of overwhelming political and economic pressure. Watch as he commented on "Morning Joe":

GINGRICH: They've got to find, in the House, a totally new strategy. For example, everybody talks about "Okay, now comes the debt ceiling." I think that's, frankly, a dead loser because in the end you know what's going to happen. The whole national financial system is going to come into Washington by television and say "Oh my God, this would be a gigantic heart attack, the entire economy of the world will collapse, you guys can't be responsible." And they'll cave.

Bachmann Introduces Bill To Repeal Obamacare

Inexplicably, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) was re-elected. Famous for her antics, Bachmann announced through the tweet above that she intends to waste Congressional time by re-introducing a repeal of "Obamacare in its entirety."

Memo to Bachmann and the Republicans: This is a tired act. The president who promoted this bill won a second term. Obamacare will remain in effect. You'll just have to get over the fact that parents can keep their kids on their plan until age 26, insurance companies can't deny coverage due to pre-existing conditions and lifetime limits to coverage have been ended, among other benefits.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Former NRA President Equates Banning Assault Weapons With Racism

On the NRA News show, past NRA president Marion Hammer resorts to the organization's nonsensical rhetoric that regulating guns is the same as confiscating all of them. In addition, Hammer states that gun control is not prompted by public safety brought to light by horrific massacres like Sandy Hook, but is instead a government conspiracy to "control the masses." Most absurdly, she equates banning assault weapons with racism. Listen:

HOST: And they even admit this is about banning the ugliest guns. It's about cosmetics. It has nothing to do about how a firearm works.

HAMMER: Well, you know, banning people and things because of the way they look went out a long time ago, but here they are again. The color of a gun, the way it looks. It’s just bad politics.

Rep. Grayson: GOP's Holding Debt Ceiling Hostage Is “Legislative Terrorism”

Al Sharpton introduces Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) with clips showing why every liberal should be pleased that this outspoken public servant is back in Congress. He follows with past clips from Republicans rightly stating that not raising the debt ceiling would be economically catastrophic. Regarding the GOP's changed position, Grayson comments that the Republicans are once again threatening to use “legislative terrorism” to cut Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance. Watch:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Frank Zappa

Accompanied by the Mike Douglas Orchestra, Frank Zappa demonstrated his guitar virtuosity with this performance of "Black Napkins," October 1976.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cantor Blocks Violence Against Women Act

It's difficult to see how the Republicans are going to appeal to more women voters after killing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) at the conclusion of the 112th Congress. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor blocked the bill passed by the Senate; he simply could not abide added protections for American Indian, undocumented, lesbian and trans women:

Among the many items up for consideration at the conclusion of the 112th Congress was the Senate bill reauthorizing VAWA, which was originally passed in 1994. The Senate version had newly added tribal protections for American Indian women, granting tribes limited authority to prosecute sexual-assault crimes on their lands–whether the crimes are committed by American Indians or not. Cantor stood in the way of the Senate bill, offering instead the version the House passed, which excluded the new American Indian protections, along with those for undocumented immigrants as well as lesbian and trans women.

Though his actions indicated that he was against giving every woman in America the same legal protections against violent perpetrators, Cantor never articulated in public exactly why he was doing this.

...Why was Cantor so steadfast in his desire to block protections for American Indian, undocumented, lesbian, and trans women? All we do know is that while Republicans made compromises to avoid a so-called fiscal cliff, they were unwilling to do so in order to avoid dropping legal protections for women that have stood for nearly 20 years...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

GOP Rep.: Republicans Knifed Sandy Victims In The Back

Last night, House Republicans under Speaker John Boehner chose not to bring up a bill providing $60 billion in relief to help New York and New Jersey recover from Hurricane Sandy. In an interview with Fox News today, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said that his party knifed the two states in the back, questioned why anyone in the area would contribute to Congressional Republicans, and said that he will vote independently. Watch:

KING: No one even told us, the Speaker walked off the floor, told an aide to the Majority Leader that the Congress was finished. There were no votes, and then they come back and told us. Listen, I’m not taking this as personal offense. I’m talking about the thousands of people in my district, hundreds of thousands of people throughout the New York-New Jersey area. Within 10 days after Katrina, $60 billion was appropriated. Nine weeks after Sandy, not one penny has been appropriated. And let me just make this one point. These Republicans have no problem finding New York when they’re out raising millions of dollars. They’re in New York all the time filling their pockets with money from New Yorkers. I’m saying anyone from New York and New Jersey who contributes one penny to Congressional Republicans is out of their mind. Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans, it was an absolute disgrace...

Why the Republican party has this bias against New York, this bias against New Jersey, this bias against the Northeast. They wonder why they’re becoming a minority party. Why we're going to be the party of the permanent minority. What they did last night was so immoral, so disgraceful, so irresponsible. They’re supposed to be the party of family values. And you have families that are starving, families that are suffering, families that are spread all over living in substandard housing. This was a disgrace. They are inexcusable. And they have had it. As far as I’m concerned I’m on my own. They’re going to have to go a long way to get my vote on anything.

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) also expressed dismay about his party.

"Matisse: In Search Of True Painting" At Metropolitan Museum

How did Henri Matisse (1869-1954) achieve such vibrancy of light and color in his paintings? Apparently by his lifelong habit of reworking his canvases, as is made evident by "Matisse: In Search of True Painting" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He created series and pairs of paintings on the same subjects that nevertheless resulted in startling differences; compare the hue and brushstrokes of "Le Luxe I" (1907, above left) and "Le Luxe II (1907-1908, right). The exhibition also includes, among others, varied renderings of still lifes, domestic interiors, a young sailor, Notre Dame and a dark-haired model, Laurette. These experiments demonstrate that Matisse remained true to his mission, in his words, to "push further and deeper into true painting."

“Matisse: In Search of True Painting” runs through March 17 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd St., NYC; (212) 535-7710,