Sunday, March 31, 2013

TN Lawmakers Relieved That Suspected Muslim Foot Bath Is A Mop Sink

Senator Bill Ketron and Representative Judd Matheny, Tennessee Republican lawmakers, were concerned when they thought they saw, in the state capitol building, a foot bath that Muslims use before prayer. The two sponsored a 2011 bill to make it a felony to follow some versions of Islamic Shariah law. Building managers assured them that they were looking at a new mop sink on the floor of the men's restroom, replacing the one mounted on the wall. Imagine their relief when they learned that the sudden imposition of Islamic law in the state capitol was not underway. Good to know, though, that they're on the lookout for security breaches. Watch:

"Searching For Sugar Man": Musical Mystery Tour



The documentary "Searching For Sugar Man," directed by Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, recounts one of the most improbable tales in contemporary music. Rodriguez, a Detroit singer-songwriter, put out an album, "Cold Fact," in 1969 to good reviews. The song "Sugar Man" and the rest of the collection are in the social protest tradition, depicting the realities of inner city life and showcasing the artist's outstanding voice, musicianship and lyrics. Despite these attributes, the album didn't sell in the U.S. and Rodriguez supported himself as a laborer. Unbeknownst to him, however, his record became a tremendous hit in South Africa, even though he didn't reap the rewards.

Rodriguez's anti-establishment music appealed to young, white, liberal South Africans opposed to Apartheid. It took a South African Rodriguez fan, Stephen Segerman, nicknamed Sugar, to lead a worldwide search for the performer. Segerman's quest led him to Rodriguez, which eventually resulted in a triumphant tour in South Africa and the current revival of his career in the U.S. Through it all, Rodriguez remains a modest, soft-spoken man with an air of mystery, one who gives away most of his musical earnings to friends and family. How someone so talented was overlooked for so long is part of the vagaries of the music industry. "Searching for Sugar Man" leaves us celebrating the rediscovery of Rodriguez and the introduction of his musical creativity to a wider audience.

"On The Road": Kerouac's Beat Classic In Film



A film adaptation of Jack Kerouac's 1957 Beat literary classic "On The Road" has been a long time coming, and it finally fell to Walter Salles, a Brazilian director, to undertake it. "On The Road" stars Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty, the fictional name for Neal Cassady, and Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, the autobiographical Kerouac character. Kerouac and poet Allen Ginsberg–"Carlo Marx," played by Tom Sturridge–were enthralled by Cassady's rootlessness, recklessness, fast driving, sexual escapades and endless talk. The film depicts Moriarty and Paradise's driving trips in a 1949 Hudson across the country and to New Orleans, where they stay with Old Bull Lee, aka writer William Burroughs, played by Viggo Mortensen, and to Mexico. Their travels are fueled by jazz, including a nightclub performance of Slim Gaillard's nonsensical "Yep Roc Heresay," drugs, liquor, orgies and the theft of gas and food. Panoramic views of the American West approximate the grandeur described in the novel.

Just as the novel did, the film also portrays the underside to the charismatic Moriarty. Married to Camille, aka Carolyn Cassady, played by Kirsten Dunst, Moriarty is also involved with the teenage Marylou, based on LuAnne Henderson and played by Kristen Stewart (Carolyn was Cassady's second wife; LuAnne his first and third). Old Bull Lee, a heroin addict, warns Paradise about Moriarty's "psychopathic irresponsibility," and both women end up disappointed by him. Moriarty also abandons Paradise, desperately ill, in Mexico City.

The film is a fine rendering of "On The Road," but it faces limitations. No movie can approximate the experience of Kerouac's "spontaneous prose." His stream-of-consciousness style has a power and vitality that blend and flow perfectly with the roads upon which he traveled. That dimension can only be experienced by reading the novel.

Review written in memory of Hal Goldman (1954-2010), Beat scholar, blues brother.
"Strange now to think of you, gone...while I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village." - Allen Ginsberg, "Kaddish"

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Garcia, Weir, Kahn, Baez



Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, John Kahn and Joan Baez performed an acoustic cover of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" at the Warfield Theater, San Francisco, December 17, 1987. You can also listen to the entire seven-song set, which was part of "Joan Baez and Friends: A Christmas Concert," an AIDS benefit.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Matt Rothschild: No Accountability For The Iraq War

Matt Rothschild, editor of The Progressive Magazine, marked the recent 10th anniversary of the Iraq War (March 19, a day in which bombs killed at least 50 in Iraq) by noting its horrendous costs in terms of our troops and Iraqi civilians, as well as its astronomical financial price. Yet those who prosecuted a war built on lies have not been held accountable. Listen:



(h/t: Best of the Left Podcast)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Economics Professor Richard Wolff Flunks Bill O’Reilly

Speaking to Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now!,” Richard Wolff, economics professor who taught at the University of Massachusetts for 35 years, refuted Bill O’Reilly’s contention that the so-called “nanny states” in Europe are going broke due to entitlements. Wolff argued that states such as Germany and Scandinavia provide more social services and also have a low unemployment rate: “The more you do nanny state, the better off you are during a crisis and to minimize the cost of a crisis. That’s what the European situation actually teaches. [O’Reilly’s] just making it up as he goes along to conform to an ideological position that is harder and harder for folks like him to sustain...” Watch:



WOLFF: You know, he gets away with saying things which no undergraduate in the United States with a responsible economics professor could ever get away with. If you want to refer to things as nanny states, then the place you go in Europe is not the southern tier—Portugal, Spain and Italy; the place you go are Germany and Scandinavia, because they provide more social services to their people than anybody else. And guess what: Not only are they not in trouble economically, they are the winners of the current situation. The unemployment rate in Germany is now below 5 percent. Ours is pushing between 7 and 8 percent. So, please, get your facts right, Mr. O’Reilly.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Former Bush Adviser Blasts Marriage Equality Opponent

Former George W. Bush adviser Nicolle Wallace blasted social conservative Gary Bauer for his statement that the campaign for marriage equality is led by "elites" who "cower people." Wallace pointed out that Bauer's "biggest problem" is the fact that marriage equality is now supported by a majority of Americans. Watch Wallace present Bauer with uncomfortable facts:



WALLACE: Chris, Chris, the biggest problem that Mr. Bauer faces, not just this morning but moving forward is that more than 65% of his own base, self-describing Evangelical Christians, under the age of 33, support marriage equality. 80% of people in this country, right, left, Democrat, Republican, man, woman, support marriage equality. More than 60% of all Americans, everyone, supports marriage equality. And that very same activist court that he railed against with such hostility this morning always sides on the side of freedom. They are the same court that overturned gun bans, for overreaching. They’re the very same court that overturned campaign finance reform for overreaching, so we can despise the courts for its activism when we don’t like their behavior, but we can’t say that this is a court that always sides on the side of liberals.

Limbaugh: “Young People Have” A “Romantic Attachment To Civil Rights”

According to Rush Limbaugh, Democrats don’t support gay and immigrant rights due to a concern for equal justice under the law. Instead, “they put people in groups as victims.” Young people are at fault, too, since they “have this almost romantic attachment to civil rights, civil liberties.” Limbaugh is offended by the idea that people in America need emancipation–an idea that he contends is "pushed" by an "inept" educational system. Listen:

"No": Marketing A Dictator's Defeat



"No," a film directed by Pablo Larraín, takes place in 1988 during the plebiscite in Chile to decide the fate of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Rene Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) is a young adman who, though relatively apolitical, reluctantly decides to work on the campaign to vote "No" to continued dictatorial rule. Renee dismisses ads depicting oppression and advocates appealing to more of the electorate with dancers, mimes, rainbows and a jingle, "Chile, happiness is coming!" Opposition veterans object to such frivolity as an insult to the many killed, tortured and disappeared, but Saavedra prevails.

We are shown a fictionalized treatment of the real "No" campaign, which in itself is fine. The film, however, could make it seem as if this ad campaign were solely responsible for turning the population against Pinochet, which accounts for some of the criticism it received from political organizers. At the same time, it aims for verisimilitude by being shot with vintage video cameras, producing a blurry effect that blends with actual documentary footage. The net result is a confusing narrative mix of distortion and reality. In addition, "No" gets bogged down in the production of the ads. We are, however, left with one indisputable point about modern political ads: they're no different from marketing campaigns aimed at selling any other commodity.

Andrew Kohut: GOP Is Estranged From America

Andrew Kohut (left), founding director and former president of the Pew Research Center, writes that the Republican Party is estranged from America, a situation that he views as similar to that of the Democratic Party of the late 1960s and the early 1970s. The GOP has a negative public perception and is driven by a staunch conservative base representing a narrow portion of the electorate that leaves it little room for broader appeal:

While there are no catchy phrases for the Republicans of 2013, their image problems are readily apparent in national polls. The GOP has come to be seen as the more extreme party, the side unwilling to compromise or negotiate seriously to tackle the economic turmoil that challenges the nation.

…The Republican Party’s ratings now stand at a 20-year low, with just 33 percent of the public holding a favorable view of the party and 58 percent judging it unfavorably, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey

…The party’s base is increasingly dominated by a highly energized bloc of voters with extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues: the size and role of government, foreign policy, social issues, and moral concerns. They stand with the tea party on taxes and spending and with Christian conservatives on key social questions, such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

These staunch conservatives, who emerged with great force in the Obama era, represent 45 percent of the Republican base. According to our 2011 survey, they are demographically and politically distinct from the national electorate. Ninety-two percent are white. They tend to be male, married, Protestant, well off and at least 50 years old.

…I see little reason to believe that the staunch conservative bloc will wither away or splinter; it will remain a dominant force in the GOP and on the national stage. At the same time, however, I see no indication that its ideas about policy, governance and social issues will gain new adherents. They are far beyond the mainstream.

Any Republican efforts at reinvention face this dilemma: While staunch conservatives help keep GOP lawmakers in office, they also help keep the party out of the White House. Quite simply, the Republican Party has to appeal to a broader cross section of the electorate to succeed in presidential elections.

O’Reilly Now Fighting Against "The War On Easter"

Fox’s Bill O’Reilly declared victory against those who waged the “war on Christmas.” Regardless, this culture warrior can’t rest on his laurels, since secular progressives have now supposedly declared war on Easter. O’Reilly explains, “So, if the far left can marginalize Santa and the Easter Bunny…they then set the stage for a totally secular society in the future” that includes abortion on demand, laws against criticizing minorities, and the legalization of drugs. Already at this early stage of the war, "the Easter Bunny is on the run here in America." His "proof" of this nefarious plot is a handful of "anti-Easter municipalities" whose schools substitute the word “spring” for “Easter,” as in “spring egg hunts.” O’Reilly is joined by Laura Ingraham in lamenting the leftist onslaught against “traditional forces.” Watch:

Trickle Down Economics False, “Middle Out” Is The Best Policy

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks shows that conservative trickle-down economics has completely failed. Despite greater corporate profits and worker productivity, middle class wages have stagnated while income inequality in the U.S. has grown. There’s no relation between cutting taxes for the rich and job growth, as a comparison between the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush years shows. In contrast, helping the middle class builds consumer demand, which in turn boosts jobs and the economy. Watch Uygur advocate “middle out” economics as opposed to the fraudulent trickle-down approach:



(h/t: Best of the Left Podcast)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bachmann Runs From CNN Reporter's Questions

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has added one more chapter to her history of irrationality. Bachmann, who was offended when Chris Wallace asked whether she was a "flake," falsely claimed at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that President Obama is living in unparalleled luxury at the White House, with taxpayers footing the bill. CNN's Anderson Copper stated that these accusations are untrue and sent Dana Bash to interview Bachmann about them. After running away, Bachmann expressed outrage that Bash would ask her about Obama's supposed dog walker instead of Benghazi. The astonished Bash reminded her, "But Congresswoman, you're the one who brought it up!" Watch:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Louis Armstrong



Louis Armstrong–the inimitable "Satchmo"–was the international ambassador of jazz. He paid tribute to New Orleans, his hometown, in this performance of "Basin Street Blues," which took place in Stuttgart, Germany, 1959.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pat Robertson Warns Against "Scamsters In Religious Garb"

Following his appeal to bankrupt families to give him "just $20 a month," Pat Robertson offered valuable advice that, as Right Wing Watch notes, would land him "in deep trouble" if followed. After a 700 Club story about the Profitable Sunrise investment scam that used religious scriptures to lure victims, Robertson warned, "Beware of these scamsters, especially scamsters in religious garb quoting the Bible. I mean, run from them. They’re all over the place.” Watch Robertson demonstrate his sense of irony:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pat Robertson: Bankrupt Families Should Give Him “Just $20 A Month”

Televangelist Pat Robertson played a short film about a family that became bankrupt. They agreed to keep tithing, started watching The 700 Club and eventually became partners. Their finances were eventually restored. Robertson’s lesson: "They were faithful. Listen, there is no way you can out-give God. You can't do it. And that which is given to him will come back 30-, 60- and 100-fold… We encourage you to join The 700 Club. It's just $20 a month. And if all of us do it together, it gets to be millions and millions and millions of dollars!" Watch:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Katherine S. Newman: "In The South And West, A Tax On Being Poor"

In a New York Times commentary, Katherine S. Newman (left) writes that Southern and Western states' higher sales taxes and public service fees (as opposed to more progressive tax policies in the Northeast and Midwest) disproportionately burden the poor. Such policies have especially negative consequences among the poor in the South in terms of health, education and dependence on federal programs. Unfortunately, governors in these states are moving in an even more regressive direction:

...Southern states have steadily increased the tax burden on their poorest citizens by shifting the support of the public sector to sales taxes and fees for public services. ...Sales taxes on clothing and school supplies and fees for bus fare and car registration take up, of course, a far bigger slice of a poor household’s budget than they do from the rich.

...Southern states have far higher rates of strokes, heart disease and infant mortality than the rest of the country. Students drop out of high school in larger numbers. These outcomes are not just a consequence of a love of fried food or higher poverty levels. Holding all those conditions constant, the poor of the South — and increasingly the West — do worse because their states tax them more heavily. They have less money to buy medication, so their health problems get worse. High sales taxes make meals more expensive, so they shift to cheaper, unhealthy food. If people can’t make ends meet, they may turn to the underground economy or to crime.

This self-defeating pattern has plagued the citizens of the “meaner states,” the ones that tax poor people at a higher rate, for a long time. But it is about to get worse. Governors in fiscally strapped states are hoping to roll back state earned-income tax credits. Some — like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Dave Heineman of Nebraska and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma — are aiming to cut or even eliminate state income and corporate taxes and raise sales taxes. North Carolina lawmakers are considering the same thing.

...The fact is, the more the poor are taxed, the worse off they are, whether they are working or not. We all pay a huge price for this shortsightedness. Medicaid payments, food stamps, disability benefits — all of these federal programs swoop in to try to patch up a frayed safety net. Consequently, the Southern states reap more dollars in federal benefits than they pay in taxes... As noble as the federal effort to rescue the poor in the “mean states” may be, it is not enough to reverse the impact of regressive taxation.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Hillary Clinton Declares Support For Marriage Equality

In coming out for marriage equality, Hillary Clinton referred to her declaration in Geneva, Switzerland, that “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights, and that the United States would be a leader in defending those rights.” She bases her support on the fact that “LGBT Americans are our colleagues, our teachers, our soldiers, our friends, our loved ones, and they are full and equal citizens and deserve the rights of citizenship. That’s why I support marriage for lesbian and gay couples.” Listen to Clinton’s eloquent statement in this Human Rights Campaign video:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Robert Reich: Raise The Minimum Wage

Despite the fact that House Republicans voted down a minimum wage increase, Robert Reich argues that raising it to $9.00 an hour "should be a no-brainer." Besides the basic fairness of a raise, it would stimulate the economy and reduce the cost of social services. Reich also explains why the objections of conservatives don't add up. Watch:

"African Art, New York, And The Avant-Garde" At The Metropolitan Museum

"African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art captures a dynamic period at the outbreak of World War I when the major market for African art shifted from Paris to New York. While European artists such as Picasso and Matisse applied African motifs to their work, Europeans mainly viewed African art as colonial artifacts. In New York, collectors and artists viewed the work according to its aesthetic merits, connecting African art with Modernism and abstraction. From the perspective of the art's actual creators, masks and other forms lost some of their power when stripped of their original association with costumes and ceremonies and placed in museums. Besides introducing viewers to major collectors of African art, the exhibition also portrays the way in which it served as an inspiration to black artists and writers who were part of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. The reverence with which James Lesesne Wells (right) printmaker, educator and Harlem Renaissance artist, holds a ceremonial Kuba drinking vessel testifies to this vital connection.

African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde” continues through April 14 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. (at 82nd St.), NYC; (212) 535-7710, metmuseum.org.

For more on the Harlem Renaissance and the New York cultural scene of the 1920s, see my review of "Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan In The 1920s" by Ann Douglas.

Laura Bush Glad GOP Has Room For Candidates Who "Frightened Women"

Speaking to CNN's Erin Burnett, Laura Bush said that some Republican candidates in 2012 "frightened some women." One recalls Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and other members of the Republican rape contingent who made appalling statements before losing their campaigns. Regardless, the former first lady said that she is “glad that in our party we have room for all of them." That includes, of course, those who pontificated about "legitimate rape" and pregnancies from rape being "something God intended." Isn't the Republican "big tent" wonderful? Watch:

Fox Station Marks Women's Day With Breasts

The Fox station in Connecticut showed footage of women's breasts while announcing an International Women's Day event hosted by the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women in Washington, DC. In a statement, the Permanent Commission said, "Anyone who doubts the existence of the ‘war on women’ need look no further than Fox News. We invite the executives at Fox to ask about our Sexual Harassment Awareness and Prevention trainings, which would help them and their staff learn a little more about what goes on above a woman’s shoulders.” The station tweeted an apology for the "file footage error." Watch Fox's sexist broadcast:

CPAC Attendees Hostile To GOP Senator's Support For Gay Marriage

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio (right) is now the only sitting Republican senator who supports gay marriage, changing his former opposition in response to his son Will's coming out in February 2011. Portman explained his reversal in a Friday op-ed; regardless, his stance was received with tremendous hostility at this past weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC. Think Progress interviewed 10 attendees, all of whom criticized Portman, including a pastor who urged the senator to "quit being so selfish as to only think about his son" and a woman who recalled the 1950s, "when people who were homosexual stayed in the closet. And I really preferred it that way." CPAC also barred conservative gay rights groups GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans from participating in the conference. Watch as CPAC attendees blast Portman and marriage equality:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Alvin Lee



Alvin Lee, British rock and blues guitar master, recently passed away. Perhaps the highest point of his career was his performance with his band, Ten Years After, of "I'm Going Home" at Woodstock, 1969.  Proving that he lost none of his fire decades later, Lee above is shown performing "I'm Going Home" in Moscow, 1995, in a medley that included the rock classics "Blue Suede Shoes," "Whole Lotta Shakin'" and "Hound Dog." In 1971, he had his only Top 40 hit, "I'd Love To Change The World." To hear more of Alvin Lee live with Ten Years After, listen to their album "Undead."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Jim Hightower: "The Mythical 'Dow' Versus The Real 'Doug' "

Jim Hightower counters rosy interpretations of the March 5 record high closing of the Dow Jones industrial average. For those whose wealth depends on stocks, it was the dawn of a golden age. Those dependent on wages, on the other hand, are likely mired in economic conditions brought about by the very forces whose profits are soaring. The record high of March 5, from that perspective, is just one more indication of rising income inequality. That’s a situation that Hightower finds “revolting” in more ways than one. Listen as he explains the difference between the Dow Jones average and the "Doug Jones average":



(h/t: Best of the Left podcast)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ryan: "We’re Not Going To Give Up On Destroying The Health Care System"

Talk about Freudian slips. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) revealed his party's true intentions during a news conference regarding his latest budget plan. Ryan, who has pushed to destroy Medicare through Vouchercare and is again calling for the repeal of Obamacare, said regarding the latter, “We believe that this law is going to collapse under its own weight… This to us is something that we’re not going to give up on, because we’re not going to give up on destroying the health care system for the American people.” Watch Ryan's determined pledge on behalf of us all:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Wallace To Ryan On Obamacare Repeal: "Not Going To Happen"

Despite the fact that the Republicans have tried and failed to repeal Obamacare over 30 times, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) still insists that such a move is viable. Speaking to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Ryan said that his new budget would repeal Obamacare. Wallace countered, "that's not going to happen" and pointed out that this was a "big issue" in the presidential campaign. Ryan argued that his ticket didn't lose this issue, since "We won the senior vote." Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and other Republicans also want to defund Obamacare. Watch Ryan perpetuate his delusions:



WALLACE: Are you saying that as part of your budget you would repeal — you assume the repeal of Obamacare?

RYAN: Yes.

WALLACE: Well that’s not going to happen.

RYAN: Well, we believe it should. [...]

WALLACE: This was a big issue in the campaign between Romney-Ryan vs. Obama-Biden. They think they won and they think that’s one of the reasons they won, and there are, Congressman, a lot of independent studies that say if you put this into effect, the net effect will be that seniors will end up having to pay more of the share of their healthcare cost. [...]

RYAN: I would argue against your premise that we lost this issue in the campaign. We won the senior vote.

Kansas GOP May Cut College Aid For Poor To Pay For Tax Cuts

Kansas Republicans have a dilemma: how are they to pay for their tax cuts for the wealthy, signed by Gov. Sam Brownback (right)? They're considering the elimination of a program that helps the poor save for college:

The program on the chopping block benefits nearly 1,000 Kansans who receive up to a $600 yearly match from the state for contributions they make to the state’s 529 college savings plan — a way to shelter college savings accounts from taxes.

Matching contributions benefit households at 200 percent or below the federal poverty level, or incomes roughly below $47,100 a year for a family of four.

“The real question is: Is it a core function of government?” asked Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican and chairman of the House General Government Budget Committee.

A move to cut the program comes as lawmakers search to pay for massive income tax cuts enacted last year and even more cuts in the coming years.

...Some argue a program aimed at helping poorer families afford higher education is the wrong place to cut.

“I just think it’s quite unfortunate there are some that believe that stealing people’s dreams is the way to get to zero,” said Rep. Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat.

Robert Reich: GOP "Pro Rich" At Everyone Else's Expense

Speaking to Current TV's John Fugelsang, Robert Reich advised President Obama to challenge the Republicans' austerity economics, presenting Europe as an example of the failure of such policies. Reich also said that the GOP's anti-tax stance is all that holds the party together–and their opposition to higher taxes for the rich comes at the expense of everyone else. Watch:



REICH: “Republicans are saying, ‘No taxes on the rich, no closing of any loopholes at all. Mitt Romney’s special privileges with regard to private equity, and all of the other privileges that the rich have — we want to protect [that] … even at the expense of schools and roads and bridges and women and infants and children programs, and everything else the public needs.”

Arkansas Bans Abortions After 12 Weeks

Arkansas adopted the country's most restrictive abortion ban at 12 weeks of pregnancy, which sharply challenges Roe v. Wade and Supreme Court limitations. The law, called the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, was sponsored by Republican Sen. Jason Rapert (right), who compared abortions in the U.S. to the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide. The Republican legislature overrode the veto of Gov. Mike Beebe, who said the ban was "blatantly unconstitutional." It is not expected to survive a legal challenge:

The law contradicts the limit established by Supreme Court decisions, which give women a right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks into pregnancy, and abortion rights groups promised a quick lawsuit to block it. Even some anti-abortion leaders called the measure a futile gesture.

...“When is enough enough?” asked the bill’s sponsor in the legislature, Senator Jason Rapert, a Republican, who compared the more than 50 million abortions in the United States since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision to the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. “It’s time to take a stand.”

But abortion rights groups and many legal experts, including some in the anti-abortion movement, say the law so deeply contradicts existing constitutional doctrine that it may quickly be voided.

“The 12-week ban actually bars abortion within the first trimester,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York. “It has no chance of surviving a court challenge.”

The center and the American Civil Liberties Union have vowed to bring a case in federal court, aiming to head off the law before it takes effect, 90 days after the legislature adjourns in the next month or so.

Air Force Stops Reporting Afghan Drone Strike Data

Concerned about the "disproportionate focus" on weapons related to unmanned planes, the U.S. military has removed data from monthly summaries related to drone strikes in Afghanistan:

U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Afghanistan war, said in a statement the data had been removed because it was "disproportionately focused" on the use of weapons by the remotely piloted aircraft as it was published only when strikes were carried out - which happened during only 3 percent of sorties. Most missions were for reconnaissance, it said.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has increasingly used drones to target against al Qaeda-linked militants overseas.

Civilian casualties from drone strikes have raised ethical concerns and angered local populations, creating tension between the United States and Pakistan and Afghanistan.

...The Air Force Times said air force chiefs had started posting the drone strikes data last October in an attempt to provide more detail on the use of drones in Afghanistan.

The newspaper said the statistics were provided for November through January, but the February summary released on March 7 had a blank spot where the drone data had previously been listed.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Van Jones: Keystone XL Would Be "The Obama Pipeline"

The State Department released a draft environmental impact statement contending that there is "no conclusive environmental reason" that the Keystone XL Pipeline, running from Canada, should not be built. Interviewed on CNN, former Obama adviser Van Jones warns that corrosive tar sands from Canada threaten the U.S. environment, and he dismantles myths, promulgated by Wolf Blitzer, regarding the project's supposed employment and energy independence benefits. Jones warns that this would be "the Obama Pipeline"–and if it leaks, Obama's "legacy could be the worst oil disaster in American farmland history." Watch:

"Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg" At Grey Gallery



"Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg" at New York University's Grey Art Gallery provides a visual portrait of the Beat writers through the poet's black-and-white photos. Seeking to catch "certain moments in eternity," Ginsberg's lens was aimed at Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Neal Cassady and himself from 1953 to 1963. Always a peripatetic group, the Beats are shown in the East Village, San Francisco, Tangier, Paris and elsewhere. Ginsberg lost track of these pictures until the 1980s, rediscovered them among his papers, added hand-written captions and started taking more photos. The 1980s set includes portraits of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Keith Haring and Larry Rivers, among others. "Beat Memories" captures the 1950s literary rebels that influenced the 1960s counterculture, and it celebrates the spontaneity, camaraderie and focus on the everyday that characterize Ginsberg's poetry.

“Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg” runs through April 6 at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, 100 Washington Square East, NYC; (212) 998-6780, www.nyu.edu/greyart

Review written in memory of Hal Goldman (1954-2010), Beat scholar, blues brother
"Strange now to think of you, gone...
While I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village." - Allen Ginsberg, "Kaddish"

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Van Cliburn



Van Cliburn, renowned American classical pianist who won the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, recently passed away. Above he is shown in 1962 performing the third movement of his signature piece, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, under the direction of Kirill Kondrashin. Among those applauding at the end is Soviet Union leader Nikita Krushchev. I also recommend listening to Van Cliburn's stirring rendition of Chopin's Polonaise. PBS NewsHour paid tribute to Van Cliburn and his effect on classical music and the Cold War; PBS also produced The Cliburn: 50 Years of Gold.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Matt Rothschild: GOP Drive To Crush Postal Service Must Be Opposed

Matt Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, explains why the Postal Service’s decision to abolish Saturday delivery is a "fool's errand." It will benefit their competitors, hurt the vulnerable and result in thousands of lost jobs. Rothschild rightly blames the Postal Service’s deficit on the Republican-controlled Congress during the Bush administration, which passed a bill requiring it to fully fund, over one decade, retirement healthcare benefits for the next 75 years. That bill, Rothschild concludes, is part of the “Republican drive to crush unions and privatize everything. That's why it must be opposed.” Listen:



(h/t: Best of the Left podcast)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Pat Robertson: Liberals Use Schools Like Gulags

Pat Robertson responded to a report that Chicago public schools will teach kindergartners “the basics about anatomy, reproduction, healthy relationships and personal safety” by calling it a “liberal initiative to force their point of view on others.” He compared such supposed liberal indoctrination in American schools to the Russian use of Gulags and the Chinese use of prisons. Parents can opt children out of the sexual health education program, a point not mentioned by Robertson in the following clip:



ROBERTSON: You see we believe in America, in freedom, in free choice, free enterprise, freedom; but the liberals, the progressives so-called, they want to enforce their point of view and have people in lockstep accepting what they want. If people won’t accept it, the Russians were willing to put them in gulags; the Chinese have been willing to put them in prisons. Here in America, the liberals think they’ve got them in school and they want to indoctrinate them and force them into a mindset that is contrary to what their parents believe.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Harris-Perry Slams Scalia On Voting Rights Act

The Supreme Court is considering oral arguments regarding the fate of Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, which covers states that have a history of discrimination. During the arguments, Justice Antonin Scalia said that the Voting Rights Act represents a "perpetuation of racial entitlement." In an open letter to Scalia, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry objected to this definition and made the case for the continuation of the Voting Rights Act, particularly in view of recent attempts at voter suppression. Watch:

Monday, March 4, 2013

GOP Rep. Opposed VAWA Since It Protected Too Many Groups

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) voted against the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) because "it was expanded to include other different groups." The supposedly superfluous groups included LGBT, Native American and undocumented victims of domestic violence. Watch Blackburn explain her position to Chuck Todd of MSNBC:



BLACKBURN: When you start to make this about other things it becomes an “against violence act” and not a targeted focus act... I didn’t like the way it was expanded to include other different groups. What you need is something that is focused specifically to help the shelters and to help out law enforcement, who is trying to work with the crimes that have been committed against women and helping them to stand up.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

California GOP Leader: Rape Pregnancies Rare Since "Body Is Traumatized"

Celeste Greig (shown with Marco Rubio), president of the California Republican Assembly, is the latest GOP leader to make an outrageous comment about rape. Strangely, she made her comments while criticizing Todd Akin, who said that "legitimate rape" rarely results in pregnancy because the female body has ways of shutting that whole thing down." Greig's comments to the Bay Area News Group weren't that different: "Granted, the percentage of pregnancies due to rape is small because it's an act of violence, because the body is traumatized. I don't know what percentage of pregnancies are due to the violence of rape. Because of the trauma the body goes through, I don't know what percentage of pregnancy results from the act."

Six members of the Republican rape caucus lost elections. Former Bush adviser Karen Hughes warned Republican men to stop talking about rape. Apparently there's at least one Republican woman who needs to hear the same warning.

Romney Blames Loss On Minorities' Attraction To Obamacare

Soon after the presidential election, Mitt Romney said that President Obama, in effect, bribed voters to secure his victory. Romney's at it again. In his first post-election interview on Fox, Romney said that his poor showing with minorities and those with lower incomes was due to their attraction to the Affordable Care Act. Watch:



ROMNEY: We did very well with the majority population, but not with minority populations, and that was a failing, that was a real mistake.

CHRIS WALLACE: Why do you think that was?

ROMNEY: Well, I think the Obamacare attractiveness and feature was something we underestimated, particularly among lower incomes. And, uh, just didn’t do as good a job in connecting with that audience as we should have.

Administration Urges Supreme Court To Reject CA Gay Marriage Ban

The Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to rule that California voters were not entitled to ban same-sex marriage in 2008 through Proposition 8. The administration rightly argues that such a ban violates equal protection under the law. In this regard, it is impermissible for voters to decide upon the rights of a particular group. One wishes that the administration didn't just apply its argument to California, but to all states with such a ban. Still, it is going in the right direction by fighting Proposition 8:

In a forceful argument, the administration claimed that denying gay couples the right to marry violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause...

...While the brief does not call explicitly for the court to strike down the laws in the seven other states, the implication of its argument is clear. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. issued a statement that tied the government’s argument into the fundamental struggle against discrimination and for civil rights, saying that the brief “seeks to vindicate the defining constitutional ideal of equal treatment under the law.” He said that the court’s decisions concerning the two same-sex marriage cases “are not just important to the tens of thousands of Americans who are being denied equal benefits and rights under our laws, but to our nation as a whole.”

"The Gatekeepers": Dark Reflections Of Israel's Spymasters



"The Gatekeepers" by Israeli director Dror Moreh centers around interviews with six former heads of Shin Beth, Israel's security agency. None are stalwarts of the Israeli left, and they're able to clinically describe targeted assassinations and "moderate physical pressure" applied to Palestinian militants, though some, such as Yuval Diskin (Shin Beth director, 2005-11), come to consider as "unnatural...the power you have to take lives in an instant." They clearly distinguish, though, between the tactics they used and the country's ultimate strategy regarding the conflict with the Palestinians. Each one, with tremendous candor, faults the country's political leadership.

"No Israeli prime minister took the Palestinians into consideration," states Avraham Shalom (Shin Bet director, 1980-86). Carmi Gillon (1994-96), reflects, "We are making the lives of millions unbearable." They are also critical of the Israeli right's incitement against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before his assassination and of right-wing religious extremists who tried to blow up the Dome of the Rock, all of whom were set free. Their closing assessments are pessimistic: "The future is dark," states Shalom. "We've become cruel...to ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population." Avi Dichter (2000-05) warns, "You can't make peace with military means." Assessing the folly of focusing on security while disregarding a political solution, Ami Ayalon states, "The tragedy of Israel's public security is that we don't realize that we face a frustrating situation in which we win every battle, but we lose the war."

Filmmaker Moreh stated, "If this film does not lead to change, there is no hope for Israel." One hopes that, despite the Netanyahu government's frosty reception, this remarkable and unsettling documentary resonates with the Israeli public and leadership.

Charles M. Blow: Sequester Is GOP "Poison Pill Politics"

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the sequester could cost 750,000 jobs in 2013. Regardless, Republicans cheered House Speaker John Boehner as he halted further talks with President Obama. Charles M. Blow (left) states that the sequester is a "poison pill" that the Republicans "popped...like a Pez." He considers the mixture of GOP intransigence and misrepresentations about taxes and austerity that led to this latest manufactured crisis:

As Speaker John Boehner said after his Congressional leaders met with President Obama on Friday: “Let’s make it clear that the president got his tax hikes on Jan. 1. This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over.”

...Let’s make this clear: it is wrong to characterize the American Taxpayer Relief Act as a “tax hike.” In reality, much of what it did was allow 18 percent of the Bush tax cuts — mostly those affecting the wealthiest Americans — to expire while permanently locking in a whopping 82 percent of them.

But of course, that misrepresentation fit with the tired trope of Democrats as tax-and-spend liberals. It also completely ignores that it was Bush-era spending that dug the ditch we’re in.

Republicans have defined their position, regardless of how reckless: austerity or bust. However, as economists have warned, austerity generally precedes — and, in fact, can cause — bust. Just look at Europe.

But Republicans are so dizzy over the deficits and delighted to lick the boots of billionaires that they cannot — or will not — see it. They are still trying to sell cut-to-grow snake oil: cut spending and cut taxes, and the economy will grow because rich people will be happy, and when rich people are happy they hire poor people, and then everyone’s happy.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Jon Hiatt



Jon Hiatt performed "Master of Disaster" at Jazz San Javier, Spain, July 2012.