Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cantor: GOP's Image Problem Due To Messaging, Not Policies

The current issue of The New Yorker includes an article on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his role in the manufactured crises that have become a Republican specialty, including the sequester. Cantor argues that the GOP's image problem is a matter of messaging, not policies:

“We’ve got to understand that people don’t think Republicans have their back,” [Cantor] said. “Whether it’s the middle class, whether it’s the Latino or the Asian vote.” It was not “necessarily our policies” but, rather, how “we’ve been portrayed.”

...Cantor reaffirmed his belief that the best way to win the winter and spring budget fights is by making short-term adjustments in public relations, not major changes in policies. As he sees it, Republicans face a marketing challenge: the problem is the box, not the pizza.

Consider, then, recent actions on Cantor's part. He blocked the Violence Against Women Act and voted against the bill that finally passed the House. Now he plans to propose a Federal law that would end overtime pay for hourly workers.

Exactly how does Cantor show that the Republicans have our back with these actions? If the policies are fine, what message are we missing?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Calvin Coolidge: Prophet To Today's Right

Reviewing "Coolidge," a biography on the 30th U.S. President by Amity Shlaes, Jacob Heilbrunn notes in the Sunday New York Times Book Review that Calvin Coolidge (left), has been resurrected as a "prophet on the right" by George Will, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, among others. "Silent Cal" was noted for his opposition to progressive taxation, labor rights and financial regulation–and for his support of supply-side economics. Heilbrunn, though, does not share the conservative Shlaes' admiration for her subject and is particularly critical of her contention that Coolidge had no responsibility for the Depression. He notes that Coolidge, Reagan and George W. Bush all supported similar policies that had negative economic impacts. One might also note that these are the same disastrous policies promoted by today's conservative Coolidge fans:

...No, Coolidge was not single-handedly culpable for the economic calamity of the 1930s. But neither can he be safely extracted from the ruin that followed his presidency. Quite the contrary. Coolidge was the pre-­eminent cheerleader for the economic nostrums that led to the crash. His opposition to regulation allowed Wall Street and the banks to engage in rampant speculation and insider trading, practices that were not curbed until Joseph Kennedy was appointed head of the new Securities and Exchange Commission by Franklin Roose­velt to ban the very practices he himself had employed. So deep was Coolidge’s antipathy to any form of government action that he even viewed his gifted secretary of commerce and successor Herbert Hoover with a measure of contempt, calling him the “wonder boy” because he fell into the progressive Republican camp.

With yet another tribute about to appear — “Why Coolidge Matters,” by the former Claremont Institute fellow Charles C. Johnson, will be published in March — Coolidge will surely continue to enjoy a comeback on the right. Yet his actual record shows that he was an extraordinarily blinkered and foolish and complacent leader, no less than George W. Bush before the stock market plummeted in 2008. The bogus nostrums that Coolidge touted have directly led either to enormous deficits during the Reagan era or to outright catastrophe during the Bush era. Shlaes never stops to ponder the abundant literature chafing at and exposing the conformity and avarice of the Roaring Twenties, but the prosperity offered by Calvinism has always proved as elusive as the promise of the green light that Jay Gatsby watches at the end of Daisy’s dock. Conservatives may be intent on excavating a hero, but Coolidge is no model for the present. He is a bleak omen from the past.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gohmert: Guns Protect Country From Sharia Law

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who has proven himself incapable of making sense, told the conservative Voice of Freedom radio show that Republicans must oppose gun control to safeguard the nation from falling under Sharia, Islamic law. Listen:

GOHMERT: [The Second Amendment] is for our protection and the founders’ quotes make that very, very clear and including against a government that would run amok. We’ve got some people that think Sharia Law ought to be the law of the land, forget the Constitution. But the guns are there, that Second Amendment is there to make sure all of the rest of the Amendments are followed.

Ted Cruz Doubles Down On Commies At Harvard Law

On Friday, New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer reported that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) alleged in a speech that there were "twelve" Harvard Law School professors who "believed in the overthrow of the U.S. government" when he was a student there from 1992 to 1995. Yesterday, Mayer wrote that Cruz reaffirmed his statements through a spokesman. Mayer (who discussed Cruz's McCarthyite tactics with Rachel Maddow) cited Charles Fried, a Harvard law professor and former Reagan administration official, as among those who take issue with Cruz's charges:

[Cruz] spokeswoman Catherine Frazier told The Blaze website that the “substantive point” in Cruz’s charge, made in a speech in 2010, “was absolutely correct.”

She went on to explain that “the Harvard Law School faculty included numerous self-described proponents of ‘critical legal studies’—a school of thought explicitly derived from Marxism—and they far outnumbered Republicans.” As my story noted, the Critical Legal Studies group consisted of left-leaning professors like Duncan Kennedy, who is a social democrat, not a Communist, and has never “believed in the overthrow of the U.S. Government.”

Among those who have taken issue with Cruz’s castigation of the Harvard Law School faculty are his former law professor, Charles Fried, who is a well-known Republican and former Solicitor General to Ronald Reagan. In his 2010 speech, Cruz had said there was only “one” Republican on the faculty, but his former professor, Fried, told The New Yorker there were at least four, including himself. A spokesman for Harvard Law School, Robb London, also described the school as “puzzled” by Cruz’s allegations.

Ryan Supported Sequester Since 2004, Called It "Bad Gov't." In 2012

Since 2004, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who supported big-ticket priorities and stimulus spending under Bush, has defended the sequester as a statutory cap against excessive government spending. In August 2011, the sequester was signed into law. In May 2012, Ryan suddenly referred to it as "not good government." Paul Krugman warned us last year that supposed GOP intellectual heavyweight Ryan is a "con man" and a "fraud." Watch the sequence of clips via James Carter, who also brought us Romney's 47% statement:

Krugman: GOP Sequester Proposals Reduce Growth, Increase Injustice

Paul Krugman observes that the origins of the sequester lay with GOP hostage taking in the form of refusing to raise the debt ceiling and President Obama's buying time. The wrangling resulted in the latest manufactured fiscal crisis, the sequester. Now that we’re at this impasse, Krugman resists the pundits’ usual line that Republicans and Democrats are equally to blame for the continued impasse; indeed, the GOP’s proposals hurt job growth and the vulnerable:

Unfortunately, neither party is proposing that we just call the whole thing off. But the proposal from Senate Democrats at least moves in the right direction, replacing the most destructive spending cuts — those that fall on the most vulnerable members of our society — with tax increases on the wealthy, and delaying austerity in a way that would protect the economy.

House Republicans, on the other hand, want to take everything that’s bad about the sequester and make it worse: canceling cuts in the defense budget, which actually does contain a lot of waste and fraud, and replacing them with severe cuts in aid to America’s neediest. This would hit the nation with a double whammy, reducing growth while increasing injustice.

As always, many pundits want to portray the deadlock over the sequester as a situation in which both sides are at fault, and in which both should give ground. But there’s really no symmetry here. A middle-of-the-road solution would presumably involve a mix of spending cuts and tax increases; well, that’s what Democrats are proposing, while Republicans are adamant that it should be cuts only. And given that the proposed Republican cuts would be even worse than those set to happen under the sequester, it’s hard to see why Democrats should negotiate at all, as opposed to just letting the sequester happen.

Is Ted Cruz The New Joe McCarthy?

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) raised allegations without proof that Chuck Hagel, nominee for Secretary of Defense, has received “funds…from foreign sources, from extreme sources.” Cruz also said in a speech to the Koch-supported Americans for Prosperity that twelve Harvard law professors were communists who advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government. Rachel Maddow discussed Cruz’s McCarthyite tactics–cheered by some on the right–with Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, who covered Cruz's speech (Mayer also reported on the Kochs). Watch:

McCain To Grieving Mom: "You Need Some Straight Talk"

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) presented an appalling response to a mother, Caren Teves, whose son Alex, 24, was killed in the Aurora, CO, movie theater massacre. At a town hall in Phoenix, Teves said that assault weapons "do not belong on our streets." Without any expression of condolence, McCain offered his standard rhetoric: " “I can tell you right now you need some straight talk. That assault weapons ban will not pass the Congress of the United States.” The crowd applauded. Teves told Talking Points Memo, “I was very surprised that a senator...would address a grieving mother, who just lost her son exactly seven months tell me that I needed ‘some straight talk.'” Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks showed the video and registered his disgust. Watch:

"Jean-Michel Basquiat" At The Gagosian Gallery

The best of Jean-Michel Basquiat's brief, brilliant career is on display at the Gagosian Gallery in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. Over 50 paintings, including "Untitled (Two Heads on Gold)," 1982, above, demonstrate his frenetic energy, rage and humor; use of mixed media; haunting, mask-like images; mixture of the primitive and the neo-expressionistic, and tributes to African-American jazz masters and boxers. Like Keith Haring, another 1980s downtown New York artist whose 2012 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum was reviewed here, Basquiat started off as a graffiti artist. His meteoric rise ended as he succumbed to a heroin overdose at 27. For more on Basquiat, watch the documentary "The Radiant Child" (2010). I also recommend the film "Basquiat" (1996), directed by Julian Schnabel (see trailer).

Jean-Michel Basquiat” continues through April 6 at the Gagosian Gallery, 555 West 24th Street, NYC; (212) 741-1111,

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: The Kinks

The Kinks performed "Lola" in Providence, RI, 1979. The lyrics include the most famous ambiguous line in rock, "I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man and so is Lola." For an outstanding retrospective on The Kinks, listen to parts one and two of this past Friday's St. James Infirmary music show, hosted by my good friend Dr. Michael Mand with commentary by Prof. Thomas Kitts, Kinks scholar and chair of the English and Speech Dept. at St. John's University. The program reviews the Kinks' blues roots, their emergence as a quintessentially English band and Ray Davies' status as one of rock's greatest songwriters.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fox: Al Jazeera To Activate Muslim Sleeper Cells In Detroit

After Fox's Megyn Kelly warned that Al Jazeera is set to "infiltrate" the U.S., contributor Lisa Daftari argued that the network has a negative intent by virtue of the fact that it plans to expand, among eight cities, into Detroit, where Muslim-American "sleeper cells have been detected." Watch Fox's "fair and balanced" coverage:

DAFTARI: The point is they want to differentiate themselves from their sister network, but at the same time, it’s the same thing. They’re having the same type of coverage. They’re apparently expanding to eight cities, including Detroit, Michigan. Detroit, Michigan is a large ex-pat community of Muslim-Americans and sleeper cells have been detected. You can Google this, you can find out all this information. So if you’re trying to set yourself apart the Qatari petro-dollars are backing this, you’re still developing in this area where the sleeper cells have been detected. They’re going to have do do much more to prove to me that they’re different from their sister network.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

GOP Rep.: A Fetus Is "The Largest Organ In A Body"

Under the guise of protecting women, the Alabama House of Representatives is introducing new legislation that would actually shut down abortion clinics. Among the restrictions is a requirement that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals; that rule was passed in Mississippi by lawmakers who want to shut down the state's only abortion clinic. The sponsor of the Alabama bill, GOP Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin (left), came up with a novel anatomical argument in defense of the legislation:

The legislation...would require physicians at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at local hospitals; require clinics to follow ambulatory clinic building codes and make it a felony — punishable by up to 10 years in prison — for a nurse, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant to dispense abortion-inducing medications.

McClurkin and other supporters of the bill, known as HB 57, argue that the nature of abortion should require strict regulations, and claim that abortion clinics have a higher rate of regulatory violations than any other providers.

“When a physician removes a child from a woman, that is the largest organ in a body,” McClurkin said in an interview Thursday. “That’s a big thing. That’s a big surgery. You don’t have any other organs in your body that are bigger than that.”

Monday, February 18, 2013

Fox: Preschool An Obama Plot To Bribe Future Voters

Fox hosts Stuart Varney and Steve Doocy brushed aside the many benefits of universal preschool education proposed by President Obama in the State of the Union address. Instead, it's all an Obama plot in which he is "buying votes" by giving four-year-olds something "free" so that they'll cast ballots for him "in the future" (apparently Obama is going to have a remarkably long political career).  Further, pre-school will strengthen the nefarious teachers' union and the "nanny state." Varney also echoes Mitt Romney and Bill O'Reilly regarding Obama's bribing voters with "free stuff." Watch:

VARNEY: Look what the president is doing here. It’s a repeat performance of his campaign, which is you raise taxes on the rich and you offer all kinds of free stuff to people who will vote for you in the future. This is one of those occasions. Free preschool education for 4-year-olds, it’s free, here it is. Hand out the goodies.

IMF Chief: We Were Wrong About Austerity

A remarkable article in The Washington Post cites IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard's admission "that the fund blew its forecasts for Greece and other European economies because it did not fully understand how government austerity efforts would undermine economic growth." This is exactly the point that Keynesian economist Paul Krugman has been repeatedly making, in contrast to the Republicans' efforts to apply the same policies that have failed abroad. On the Majority Report, Sam Seder discussed the article and its findings. Watch:

(h/t: Best of the Left podcast)

"Can The Republicans Be Saved From Obsolescence?"

The Sunday New York Times Magazine article, "Can the Republicans Be Saved From Obsolescence?" highlights the frustration of young Republicans regarding the GOP's lack of tech-savviness compared to the Democrats, made apparent during the presidential election, and its negative, backwards image in a changing America. Regardless, more than one young party activist made the point that the GOP has a "messaging issue...not a principal issue"–as if the problem is spin, not policy:

...The party brand — which is to say, its message and its messengers — has become practically abhorrent to emerging demographic groups like Latinos and African-Americans, not to mention an entire generation of young voters. As one of the party’s most highly respected strategists told me: “It ought to concern people that the most Republican part of the electorate under Ronald Reagan were 18-to-29-year-olds. And today, people I know who are under 40 are embarrassed to say they’re Republicans. They’re embarrassed! They get harassed for it, the same way we used to give liberals a hard time.”

…About an hour into the [focus group] session, [GOP pollster Kristen Soltis] Anderson walked up to a whiteboard and took out a magic marker. “I’m going to write down a word, and you guys free-associate with whatever comes to mind,” she said. The first word she wrote was “Democrat.”

“Young people,” one woman called out.

“Liberal,” another said. Followed by: “Diverse.” “Bill Clinton.”“Change.” “Open-minded.”“Spending.”“Handouts.”“Green.”“More science-based.”

When Anderson then wrote “Republican,” the outburst was immediate and vehement: “Corporate greed.”“Old.”“Middle-aged white men.” “Rich.” “Religious.” “Conservative.” “Hypocritical.” “Military retirees.” “Narrow-minded.” “Rigid.” “Not progressive.” “Polarizing.” “Stuck in their ways.” “Farmers.”

...In the previous few days, the pollster interviewed Latino voters in San Diego and young entrepreneurs in Orlando. The findings were virtually unanimous. No one could understand the G.O.P.’s hot-blooded opposition to gay marriage or its perceived affinity for invading foreign countries. Every group believed that the first place to cut spending was the defense budget. During the whiteboard drill, every focus group described Democrats as “open-minded” and Republicans as “rigid.”

“There is a brand,” the 28-year-old pollster concluded of her party with clinical finality. “And it’s that we’re not in the 21st century.”

Warren Concerned That Banks Are "Too Big For Trial"

At a Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) asked bank regulators when they last took a Wall Street bank to trial. Thomas Currey, head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, said, "We have not had to do it as a practical matter to achieve our supervisory goals." Elisse Walter, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, responded, "I will have to get back to you with the specific information." Warren observed, "There are district attorneys and U.S. attorneys who are out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I'm really concerned that 'too big to fail' has become 'too big for trial.'" Warren could have had in mind Internet activist Aaron Swartz, whose funeral she attended. Watch as Warren asks the uncomfortable, necessary questions:

"Life Of Pi": Confounding Universal Mysteries

In "Life of Pi," directed by Ang Lee and based on the novel by Yann Martel, Pi Patel, a professor in Montreal, is telling a harrowing story of survival from his youth to a Canadian journalist, who has been told prior to the interview that the tale "will make you believe in God." The son of an Indian zoo keeper, young Pi embraces Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, while his rationalist father warns him against believing in everything. His father decides to take the family, along with the zoo animals, whom he intends to sell, to Canada on a freighter. The freighter is wrecked in a storm, and Pi ends up on a raft with a tiger whose magnificence is due to the wonders of digital imaging. The movie is also stunningly beautiful in its depiction of the sea and nature's creatures.

Through ingenuity, compassion and determination, Pi tames the tiger–an accomplishment that the movie depends upon but bothered this reviewer, who kept thinking that the lad would have been the tiger's lunch within a minute. But since this film is a parable, one must not be such a bloody-minded literalist. The parable aspect, though, is also problematic. The main character's spirituality is a constant undercurrent; for example, Pi feels that the meal of a fish was divinely sent. But the spiritual message is ultimately vague. Was Pi's survival brought about through divine benevolence? What can one say, then, about the rest of his family, who perished in the storm? Does the journalist now believe in God? In confronting universal mysteries, "Life of Pi" confounds more than it illuminates. Or are universal mysteries meant to be confounding, as well as the narratives we attempt as explanations?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Krugman: Zombie Ideas Have Eaten Rubio's Brain

Following Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is supposedly the new Republican "savior"–at least according to Time Magazine. Just as he did with Ryan, Paul Krugman exposes Rubio as another golden boy who is merely re-packaging refuted GOP ideas. Rubio, who voted against the the Violence Against Women Act, also has nothing constructive to say about fiscal policy. In Krugman's diagnosis, "zombie economic ideas have eaten his brain"–"zombie ideas" being conservative policies that have failed, but persist due to politics and prejudice:

...Every piece of revisionist history has been refuted in detail. No, the government didn’t force banks to lend to Those People; no, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac didn’t cause the housing bubble (they were doing relatively little lending during the peak bubble years); no, government-sponsored lenders weren’t responsible for the surge in risky mortgages (private mortgage issuers accounted for the vast majority of the riskiest loans).

But the zombie keeps shambling on — and here’s Mr. Rubio Tuesday night: “This idea — that our problems were caused by a government that was too small — it’s just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.” Yep, it’s the full zombie.

What about responding to the crisis? Four years ago, right-wing economic analysts insisted that deficit spending would destroy jobs, because government borrowing would divert funds that would otherwise have gone into business investment, and also insisted that this borrowing would send interest rates soaring. The right thing, they claimed, was to balance the budget, even in a depressed economy.

Now, this argument was obviously fallacious from the beginning. As people like me tried to point out, the whole reason our economy was depressed was that businesses weren’t willing to invest as much as consumers were trying to save. So government borrowing would not, in fact, drive up interest rates — and trying to balance the budget would simply deepen the depression.

Sure enough, interest rates, far from soaring, are at historic lows — and countries that slashed spending have also seen sharp job losses. You rarely get this clear a test of competing economic ideas, and the right’s ideas failed.

But the zombie still shambles on. And here’s Mr. Rubio: “Every dollar our government borrows is money that isn’t being invested to create jobs. And the uncertainty created by the debt is one reason why many businesses aren’t hiring.” Zombies 2, Reality 0.

Deborah Kass: "My Elvis +" At Paul Kasmin Gallery

Last November, I reviewed an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum that focused on Andy Warhol's enduring influence. Deborah Kass's "My Elvis +" show at the Paul Kasmin Gallery in the Chelsea section of Manhattan is a testament to that influence. In her "Warhol Project" paintings, Kass appropriated some of Warhol's most famous images for her own ends. "Double Double Yentl (My Elvis)," a series of silkscreens in blues, reds and grays (above), reminds one of Warhol's "Double Elvis" series. The painting shows Barbara Streisand in the movie "Yentl," about a Jewish girl who dresses like a man to undergo religious studies. The theme reflects Kass's concerns with ethnic and gender identity as a feminist Jewish lesbian (in a NY Times profile, Kass also called the painting "a perfect metaphor for being a woman artist"). Also striking are Kass's appropriations of Warhol's "Elizabeth Taylor" for her self portrait, "Red Deb," and Warhol's "Self Portrait With Camouflage" for her "Camouflage Self Portrait."

“Deborah Kass: My Elvis +” continues through Feb. 23 at the Paul Kasmin Gallery, 515 W. 27th St., NYC,

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Nada Surf

Nada Surf performed the reflective "See These Bones" in Seattle, February 2012. You can also watch the full performance.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fox Mocks 102-Year-Old's Hours-Long Wait To Vote

Republican voter suppression, especially targeting the black population, contributed to long lines in Florida during the presidential election. One of the voters affected was 102-year-old Desiline Victor (left), who made two trips and waited over three hours in Miami to cast a ballot. President Obama praised her and she received a standing ovation during the State of the Union speech on Tuesday. On Fox News, however, hosts Brian Kilmeade, Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer mocked Victor. MacCallum commented, "What's the big deal? She waited on line, she was happy that she was there to vote. This is such a non-issue. Ridiculous." Hemmer said, "They held her up as a victim! What was she the victim of? Rashes on the bottom of her feet?” Listen to the Fox hosts' amusement at the prospect of a 102-year-old woman forced to wait hours to vote:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Obama On Gun Violence Victims: "They Deserve A Vote"

President Obama made an impassioned point tonight in his State of the Union speech about the need for gun control in the wake of the Newtown massacre. He cited several common-sense reforms and said that since Newtown, more than 1,000 have fallen to gun violence, including Hadiya Pendleton, 15, who performed at the inauguration. Regarding gun regulation proposals, Obama declared that Hadiya's parents, along with Gabby Giffords and the families of gun massacre victims throughout the country, "deserve a vote." Watch:

Ed Schultz Calls Out Hypocrisy Of Fox's Roger Ailes

In an interview with The New Republic, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes had the chutzpah to accuse President Obama of stirring up division and hate. Ed Schultz points out that it’s Ailes who has been doing just that throughout his career, from his advocacy of the “Southern Strategy” as a campaign aide to Richard Nixon to the all-encompassing divisiveness promoted by Fox. Watch Schultz call out Ailes' hypocrisy:

Monday, February 11, 2013

Gabrielle Giffords Urges Action In Gun Control Ad

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who was shot in the Tucson 2011 massacre and urged the Senate this month to act on gun control, appears in a moving new ad produced by her new super-PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions. "We have a problem where we shop, where we pray, where our children go to school," Giffords states, as the ad shows scenes associated with mass gun violence. Joined by husband Mark Kelly, she adds, "But there are solutions we can agree on, even gun owners like us" in reference to popular support for universal background checks. Giffords concludes, "Take it from me. Congress must act. Let's get this done." Watch:

Maher Blasts Trump Over $5M Orangutan Lawsuit

Reacting to Donald Trump's anti-Obama birther campaign last year, Bill Maher joked that he would give $5 million to charity if the orange-haired Trump could prove that he wasn't the son of an orangutan. Trump had his lawyer send Maher a letter stating that he enclosed Trump's birth certificate proving he's not an orangutan. Trump is now suing Maher for the $5 million. On his show, Maher schools Trump on the difference between a joke and a contract and the fact that "the legal not a toy for rich idiots to play with." He also questions the validity of Trump's "short-form certification." Watch:

"Quartet": Opera, Old Age And Renewal

"Quartet," directed by Dustin Hoffman and based on the play by Ronald Harwood, takes place in Beecham House, a grand English retirement home for musicians. The home is having financial difficulties, and the residents are preparing for a benefit concert. Among them are former opera singers, including the flirtatious Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly); dotty Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins) and melancholy Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay). Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), a former diva and the ex-wife of Reginald, suddenly moves into the home, and the latter relives his bitterness regarding their brief marriage. Following Jean's arrival, the idea is conceived that the four will share the same stage for a performance from Verdi's "Rigoletto." The drama centers around whether Reginald will reconcile with Jean and whether Jean will agree to perform. While repeatedly citing Bette Davis's adage "Old age isn't for sissies," "Quartet" also poignantly and humorously depicts the possibilities for renewal in one's senior years.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

O'Brien Challenges Perkins On Boy Scouts Gay Ban

The Boy Scouts have postponed until May their decision on whether to lift the ban on openly gay participants. Interviewing the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, CNN's Soledad O'Brien challenged his arguments–including "core values" and the pedophilia canard–in support of the ban. To Perkins' question, "Why would they want to change an organization that's been around for 100 years?," O'Brien provides a succinct answer: "Because it's discriminatory." O'Brien, in turn, asks, "Do you worry you're on the wrong side of history?" Watch:

Saturday, February 9, 2013

NRA Enemies List: They Hate Everyone

Taking a page from Richard Nixon, the NRA has posted an extensive enemies list on its web site. The "anti-gun" forces include organizations, corporations, media outlets, celebrities, national figures and journalists. CNN contributor John Avlon writes that this "absurd" list includes "just about every major American faith group and denomination, every major ethnic group and voter constituency." Your loyal blogger is insulted that The Liberal Curmudgeon is not among them. Sam Seder of the Majority Report reviews the NRA enemies list and observes, "They seem to have a lot of hate for a lot of different people." Watch:

Paul Krugman: Kick The Deficit Can Down The Road

Paul Krugman reminds us that, despite the warnings of deficit scolds that we're in a "fiscal crisis," now is not the time to cut spending. The Republicans want to apply the same austerity here that has derailed recovery in Great Britain. Their positions, though, are rife with contradictions. Bush squandered the Clinton surplus, but the GOP didn't focus on the deficit until a Democrat became president. The Republicans also resist more revenue through tax increases for the wealthy, which they falsely claim creates jobs. They defend defense contracts, however, in part by arguing that cuts to the military results in job losses–a contention that Krugman refers to as "'weaponized Keynesianism,' a doctrine under which military spending, and only military spending, creates jobs." Krugman answers the deficits hawks' objections and advises us that the responsible thing to do regarding the deficit is to "kick that can" down the road:

Start with a basic point: Slashing government spending destroys jobs and causes the economy to shrink.

...Still, won’t spending cuts (or tax increases) cost jobs whenever they take place, so we might as well bite the bullet now? The answer is no — given the state of our economy, this is a uniquely bad time for austerity.

...But aren’t we facing a fiscal crisis? No, not at all. The federal government can borrow more cheaply than at almost any point in history, and medium-term forecasts, like the 10-year projections released Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office, are distinctly not alarming. Yes, there’s a long-term fiscal problem, but it’s not urgent that we resolve that long-term problem right now. The alleged fiscal crisis exists only in the minds of Beltway insiders.

...Still, even if we should put off spending cuts for now, wouldn’t it be a good thing if our politicians could simultaneously agree on a long-term fiscal plan? Indeed, it would. It would also be a good thing if we had peace on earth and universal marital fidelity. In the real world, Republican senators are saying that the situation is desperate — but not desperate enough to justify even a penny in additional taxes. Do these sound like men ready and willing to reach a grand fiscal bargain?

Realistically, we’re not going to resolve our long-run fiscal issues any time soon, which is O.K. — not ideal, but nothing terrible will happen if we don’t fix everything this year. Meanwhile, we face the imminent threat of severe economic damage from short-term spending cuts.

So we should avoid that damage by kicking the can down the road. It’s the responsible thing to do.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Grateful Dead

NYC's being buried in snow put me in mind of the song "Cold Rain and Snow," performed by the Grateful Dead in June 1991.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Alabama Lawmaker Concerned That Aborted Fetuses May Go To Hell

Republican State Senator Shadrack McGill of Alabama has trouble conceiving of the fact that we don't live in a theocracy. McGill supports the "Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment," which legalizes displaying the Ten Commandments on state property and public schools. He also supports a "personhood" bill stating that life begins at conception. One of McGill's reasons for denying women's constitutional right to choose is his concern about the afterlife of the aborted fetus:

“Just based on the Scripture alone, the Psalm that talks about God knowing us before he placed us in our mother’s womb, is enough for me to know that that is a life inside of a mother,” said McGill, R-Macedonia.

“So my question concerning aborted babies is, where do they go, heaven or hell? I just want to know what [people’s] perspective is.”

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Administration Memo Cites Legal Conditions For Killing U.S. Citizens

NBC obtained a Justice Department 16-page white paper containing the Obama administration legal team's justification for killing an American citizen who is a ranking member of Al Qaeda and poses an imminent threat, and whose capture is deemed not feasible. The memo features what the New York Times describes as an "elastic definition of 'imminent threat'" in terms of an ongoing, general engagement in terrorist activities aimed at the U.S. Further, the memo states that courts should neither review nor restrain the use of lethal force. Rachel Maddow finds that the legal team's justifications–along with Attorney General Eric Holder's vague responses at a press conference–raise more questions than they answer. A bipartisan group of Senators also wants access to the full legal opinions justifying "a high-level official" authorizing the killing of an American citizen, especially without judicial oversight. Watch:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

GOP Sen. Backing Abortion Ban: We Won't Let "Minorities Run Roughshod"

Writing in The Nation, Lee Fang introduces us to Sen. Jason Rapert (R-AR), the chief sponsor of a radical anti-abortion bill in Arkansas that will "ban most abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected within six weeks of a pregnancy, a requirement experts say will force the state to insert a probe into a woman’s vagina to detect" and "[penalize] doctors who perform abortions after the arbitrary cut-off date with a Class D felony, carrying up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000." To give us a fuller picture of the Koch-backed Senator Rapert, he complained at a 2011 Tea Party rally about a Ramadan White House event and issued a racist warning that "we’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in!" Watch:

RAPERT: I hear you loud and clear, Barack Obama. You don’t represent the country that I grew up with. And your values is [sic] not going to save us. We’re going to take this country back for the Lord. We’re going to try to take this country back for conservatism. And we’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in!

Krugman Dismantles Conservative Rhetoric On Public Sector Jobs

On ABC's "This Week," economist Paul Krugman corrected former Republican gubernatorial candidate Carly Fiorina's right-wing talking point that public-sector jobs consist of government bureaucrats. Instead, he cited the thousands of schoolteachers, plus police officers and firefighters, who have been laid off. In addition, Krugman argued, public spending cuts have resulted in an "incredible drought of basic infrastructure." Watch:

FIORINA: I think it’s important to remember, when we talk about the economy, that a private sector job and a public sector job are not the same things. They’re not equivalent. I’m not saying public sector jobs aren’t important. But a private sector job pays for itself. A private sector job creates other jobs. A public sector job is paid for by taxpayers. [...]

KRUGMAN: But when we say public sector jobs, it is not a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C.

FIORINA: Oh, it is, actually.

KRUGMAN: When we talk about public sector jobs — when we look at the public sector jobs that have been lost in large numbers in this — it’s basically school teachers. Don’t think about bureaucrats. It’s school teachers. What we’ve laid off is hundreds of thousands of school teachers. And when we talk about the cuts in public spending that have happened, they are not, you know, some god awful who knows what. It’s actually public investment. It’s largely fixing potholes and repairing bridges. So, you know, you have this image of these wasteful bureaucrats doing god knows what. What we’ve seen is an incredible drought of basic infrastructure, and laying off hundreds of thousands of school teachers.

FIORINA: It is a fact that virtually every department in every organization in Washington, DC, has seen its budget increase for the last 40 years. That money is being paid to hire people. The number of people who are — of course there are some teachers…

KRUGMAN: The vast bulk of public sector employees are at the state and local level. They are largely school teachers plus police officers plus firefighters. And your notion that it’s all these bureaucrats — that’s a myth that’s used…

FIORINA: It’s not a myth, it’s a fact. It’s not a myth, it’s a fact. We don’t have enough private sector job creation.

Beck: "Female Eskimo Hispanic Dwarf Cross-Dresser" Shouldn't Be In Combat

Glenn Beck called the Pentagon's lifting the ban on women in front-line combat "the dumbest idea I've ever heard." He explained, "The enemy's not going to cower in defeat because we have a female Eskimo Hispanic dwarf cross-dresser and some handicapable, transgendered breast cancer survivor as a soldier on the front line, ready to unleash an attack of unparalleled diversity." Got that? Watch Beck present what he views as a cogent argument:

Fishcher Cites Akin To Argue That GOP Not "The Stupid Party"

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association objected to Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R-LA) warning to the Republican National Committee that the GOP "stop being the stupid party." Fischer defended Todd Akin's widely derided comments regarding "legitimate rape," stating, "That wasn't stupid. ...He was completely accurate about that." Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) also recently defended Akin. Meanwhile, Republican strategist Kevin Madden advised, "If you’re about to talk about rape as anything other than a brutal and horrible crime, stop." GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway told Republican lawmakers to stop talking about rape. Six members of the Republican Rape Caucus, including Todd Akin, lost their elections. Fischer nevertheless insists that Akin's rape comments demonstrate that "our ideas are not stupid." Watch:

Mayors Against Illegal Guns Runs Super Bowl Ad

Mayors Against Illegal Guns is running an ad in the Washington, DC, area during the third quarter of the Super Bowl. The ad, part of the group's "Demand A Plan" campaign, reminds us of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's flip-flop on background checks for gun sales. Watch:

LaPierre: Obama Wants To Take Away Your Guns

NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that President Obama's ultimate aim is to take away all rifles, shotguns and handguns from law-abiding citizens. He didn't provide details on how 300 million firearms would be confiscated; instead, he cited Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) proposed assault weapons ban as "proof." One is left wondering whether driving regulations have put us on a slippery slope toward confiscating all cars. Watch LaPierre practice his fear mongering and falsifying:

GOP Senator: "Video Games Are A Bigger Problem Than Guns"

Speaking to MSNBC's Chuck Todd, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) evaded a question regarding universal background checks for gun sales and said that video games "are a bigger problem than guns because video games affect people." Watch:

TODD: Can you envision a way of supporting the universal background checks bill?

ALEXANDER: Chuck, I'm going to wait and see on all these bills. I think video games is [sic] a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people. But the First Amendment limits what we can do about video games; the Second Amendment to the Constitution limits what we can do about guns.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie was a giant in the bebop and Afro-Cuban jazz movements. Performing in Denmark in November 1970, Gillespie led the Clarke-Boland Big Band in this driving rendition of his composition "Manteca."