Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Etta James Live

Etta James performed "Hoochie Coochie Gal" on the "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll" documentary, which centers on two 1987 concerts celebrating the 60th birthday of Chuck Berry. Accompanying James are Keith Richards and Robert Cray, guitars; Steve Jordan, drums; Johnnie Johnson, piano, and Joey Spampinato, bass. Berry is seen encouraging the ensemble.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Sam Seder: The 3 Types Of Annoying Conservative Relatives

Sam Seder of The Majority Report outlines the three types of annoying conservative relatives one encounters at Thanksgiving. Listen and see if you relate: 

Liberal Vs. Conservative Governor: Whose State Fares Better?

Lawrence R. Jacobs, professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, compares the records of two governors: liberal Democrat Mark Dayton (left) of Minnesota and conservative Republican Scott Walker of Wisconsin (right). Walker attacked unions and slashed taxes and spending, while Dayton raised taxes, particularly on the affluent, and increased state services. Jacobs finds that liberal policies trump conservative ones in terms of jobs, economic growth, education and health care:

Three years into Mr. Walker’s term, Wisconsin lags behind Minnesota in job creation and economic growth. As a candidate, Mr. Walker promised to produce 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first term, but a year before the next election that number is less than 90,000. Wisconsin ranks 34th for job growth...

Along with California, Minnesota is the fifth fastest growing state economy, with private-sector job growth exceeding pre-recession levels. Forbes rates Minnesota as the eighth best state for business...

...The lion’s share of Minnesota’s new tax revenue was sunk into human capital. While the state’s Constitution required that half of the new revenue balance the budget in 2013, Mr. Dayton invested 71 percent of the remaining funds in K-12 schools and higher education as well as a pair of firsts: all-day kindergarten and wider access to early childhood education. Minnesota was one of the few states that raised education spending under the cloud of the Great Recession.

By contrast, Mr. Walker’s strategy limited Wisconsin’s ability to invest in infrastructure that would have catalyzed private-sector expansion, and he cut state funding of K-12 schools by more than 15 percent. Per student, this was the seventh sharpest decline in the country.

Health care presents another difference. When Mr. Walker refused to establish a state health insurance exchange or to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government covered all costs for three years and most costs after that, ideology trumped pragmatism. The uninsured and the ill bear the burden. Many of the 10 percent of uninsured Wisconsinites were denied new Medicaid benefits and were shunted off to the federal exchange’s stumbling website.

Mr. Dayton is on course to improve Minnesota’s already low uninsured rate. He expanded Medicaid to cover an additional 35,000 people and accepted Washington’s offer to pick up the cost — as half the states, including a growing number with Republican governors, have. Mr. Dayton also created a state insurance exchange, which enrolled more than 90 percent of its first month’s target. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s tradition of innovative medical care and nonprofit insurers produced premiums in its insurance exchange that are, on average, the lowest in the country, well below premiums in Wisconsin.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fox's Steve Doocy: Iran Deal "Changes The Subject" About Obamacare

Yesterday we looked at Sen. John Cornyn's (R-TX) tweet stating that the accord temporarily freezing Iran's nuclear program purposely distracts us from problems with Obamacare. Sure enough, Fox News is now propagating this latest right-wing talking point. Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy stated, to the agreement of news anchor Bret Baier, that the deal's announcement amounted to "curious timing" in view of "Obamacare not unrolling correctly." Watch (starting at 1:50):

DOOCY: Don't you think it's a little curious? Some of my friends were talking over the weekend, "Isn't that curious timing?" Out of nowhere, you know, in the midst of Obamacare not unrolling correctly, the president's poll numbers never been lower then, look, [Secretary of State] John Kerry pulls a rabbit out of his hat and changes the subject.

BAIER: Yes. I mean, you're right. It is questionable timing as far as, you know, how much this is sucking up the oxygen in the room and Obamacare was taking a lot of front-page space. However, they had been working on the deal for while and it did come together at this time. I mean, they unrolled it at this point.

DOOCY: It's handy for them.

BAIER: It's handy for them.

(h/t: Crooks and Liars)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

GOP Senator: Iran Deal Distracts From Obamacare

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) tweeted about President Obama's nefarious intent behind the landmark accord that resulted in a temporary freeze of Iran's nuclear program. According to Cornyn, it's all a grand conspiracy on the part of the U.S. and five other world powers to distract us from the problems of Obamacare. Below is the tweet:

Gerrymandering Pushes GOP Further To The Right

Writing in The Nation, Rick Perlstein (left) explains how the Republicans' "aggressive gerrymandering of Congress by conservative state legislatures" has resulted in the party's control of the House and further rightward shift:

The engineers of the shutdown were aided by the final structural component that makes the current conservative push different from right-wing crusades of the past: the aggressive gerrymandering of Congress by conservative state legislatures. To take one infamous example, Pennsylvania has thirteen Republican and only five Democratic members of Congress, even though 52 percent of the state’s voters chose Barack Obama in 2012. That had been the plan all along: as a Texas Republican operative close to Tom DeLay said about their redistricting work following the 2000 Census, “This has a real national impact that should assure that Republicans keep the House no matter the national mood.” It has also meant that Republican seats have become so safe that the remorseless far-right ideological entrepreneurs have been able to run further- and further-right candidates in primaries against establishment Republicans. It’s a win-win strategy: even if their candidates lose, they manage to drive incumbents far to the right to save their seats; and if they win, Tea Party representatives can rest secure in the knowledge that their re-election is safe no matter how recklessly they “govern.”

Why Senate Democrats Had To "Go Nuclear"

E.J. Dionne recently tweeted, "It is odd in a democracy (or a democratic republic, if you prefer) that being for majority rule is considered going 'nuclear.'" Why the Democrats had to "go nuclear" in response to Republican filibuster abuse is made evident in the chart above provided by Think Progress. It shows the unprecedented spike in cloture motions filed since Sen, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) became Minority Leader. Think Progress explains:

Though it’s not a perfect measure, a common mechanism used to gauge the frequency of filibusters is the number of “cloture motions” filed during a particular Congress — “cloture” is the procedure used to break a filibuster. So, while filibusters certainly were not unheard of before Democrats gained their current majority and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) became the Republican leader, they spiked massively the minute McConnell assumed this position. Indeed, nearly 3 in 10 of all cloture motions filed in the history of the Senate were filed during McConnell’s tenure as Minority Leader. Any claim that the Senate’s current minority is simply following past practices is not credible. The filibuster existed before the Age of McConnell, but McConnell made them commonplace.

NSA Backup: Always On, Always Watching

The Good Fight with Ben Wikler offers satiric comment on the National Security Agency's (NSA) "amazing service" in terms of backing up all of one's personal data "from all sources, all of the time." Listen:

(h/t: Best of the Left Podcast)

Nicholas D. Kristof: Food Stamp Cutbacks Are Infuriating

The slashing of food stamps mostly affects children, the elderly and the disabled. Meanwhile, subsidies to wealthy executives and big agriculture continue. Nicholas D. Kristof comments on this Congressional cruelty:

Some 47 million Americans receive food stamps, including some who would otherwise go hungry — or hungrier. A recent government study found that about 5 percent of American households have “very low food security,” which means that food can run out before the end of the month. In almost a third of those households, an adult reported not eating for an entire day because there wasn’t money for food.

Meanwhile, 14 percent of American toddlers suffer iron deficiency. Malnutrition isn’t the only cause, but it’s an important one — and these children may suffer impaired brain development as a result. This kind of malnutrition in America is tough to measure, because some children are simultaneously malnourished and overweight, but experts agree it’s a problem. We expect to find malnourished or anemic children in Africa and Asia, but it’s dispiriting to see this in a country as wealthy as our own.

Let me take that back. It’s not just dispiriting. It’s also infuriating.

...Food stamp recipients already took a cut in benefits this month, and they may face more. The Senate Democratic version of the farm bill would cut food stamps by $4 billion over 10 years, while the House Republican version would slash them by $40 billion.

More than 90 percent of benefits go to families living below the poverty line, according to federal government data, and nearly two-thirds of the recipients are children, elderly or disabled.

Let’s remember that the government already subsidizes lots of food. When wealthy executives dine at fancy French restaurants, part of the bill is likely to be deducted from taxes, which amounts to a subsidy from taxpayers. How is it that food subsidies to anemic children are more controversial than food subsidies to executives enjoying coq au vin?

Meanwhile, the same farm bill that is hotly debated because of food stamps includes agricultural subsidies that don’t go just to struggling farmers but also, in recent years, to 50 billionaires or companies they are involved in, according to the Environmental Working Group, a Washington research group.

NYC Graffiti Mecca 5Pointz Whitewashed

5Pointz, an abandoned factory building in Long Island City, Queens, one subway stop from Manhattan, served as a graffiti mecca for artists from all over the world. It should have been landmarked; instead, it was whitewashed this past Tuesday to give way to luxury towers. Filled with ever-changing artwork, 5Pointz became a graffiti museum and a stop for tour buses. It was a startling aesthetic delight.

Building owner Jerry Wolkoff explained his decision to whitewash 5Pointz: “This is why I did it: it was torture for them and for me. They couldn’t paint anymore and they loved to paint. Let me just get it over with and as I knock it down they’re not watching their piece of art going down. The milk spilled. It’s over. They don’t have to cry.” It's not for me to judge the sincerity of Wolkoff's feelings; I'll just comment on what his actions mean.

We've already witnessed the gentrification of Soho, the East Village and Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Artists moved in and established studios in former warehouses at affordable rents. Eventually, the areas became hip and fashionable. With the onset of luxury buildings and high-end stores, the artists who made the neighborhood trendy couldn't afford to stay. This process is now underway in Long Island City. The whitewashing of 5Pointz for luxury towers, practically and symbolically, is another step in the obliteration of local culture and the gentrification of one more neighborhood.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Dick Dale Live

Dick Dale, "King of the Surf Guitar," played his signature song "Misirlou" on the Jools Holland Show, England, 1995. Dale, a Lebanese-American, recorded "Misirlou" in 1962; the song originated in Greece and dates back to the 1920s. Rolling Stone listed Dale among the 100 greatest guitarists. Influenced by Middle Eastern instrumentation as a youth, Dale also connected his music to his love for surfing, stating, "When I started surfing, you'd hear this neat rumbling sound when you took off and go for the drop and when the wave is lipping up over the top of you it makes this hissing sound. And that's the intermittent squeals on the top that I do with my guitar. The music is a collective togetherness between the ocean's power, the animal power, and the human power that we have inside our abdomen."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Republicans' Employment Paradox

Michelle Goldberg (left), senior contributing writer at The Nation, defines the Republicans' contradictory beliefs regarding employment:

It seems that to be a contemporary Republican, one must simultaneously believe two things: that Obama has immiserated the country and driven unemployment to intolerable levels, and that the poor have it easy and there are plenty of jobs out there for the taking. When the tension between these two beliefs gets to be too great, Republicans will usually tilt toward the latter.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

GOP Rep.: Republicans "Risk Becoming A Permanent Minority"

Every once in a while, a Republican acknowledges the fact that the party faces a demographic threat. In 2012, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” Now Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) has warned the GOP that it urgently needs to expand its base:

“Republicans need to understand that their political problems are neither tactical nor transitory,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “They are structural and demographic. The hard truth is the GOP coalition constitutes a shrinking portion of the electorate. To change that daunting reality, Republicans must appeal to groups that are currently outside their ranks or risk becoming a permanent minority.”

House Speaker John Boehner's refusal to take up immigration reform, despite growing Hispanic negativity toward the GOP, indicates that the Republicans are not heeding such warnings.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Boehner: No Negotiations on Immigration

In July, House Speaker John Boehner said that Congress should be judged by "how many laws we repeal." By this do-nothing criteria, it's no surprise that Boehner has ruled out negotiations on immigration reform. It's also no surprise that the nation's largest minority group, Hispanics, have grown increasingly negative toward the GOP. Regardless, Boehner and the House Republicans have adopted an obstructionist stance on one more major issue. One of the reasons Boehner cited is that the bill passed by the Senate is too long to read:

Signaling an end to the push for major immigration legislation this year, Speaker John A. Boehner on Wednesday ruled out negotiations between the House and the Senate on an expansive immigration overhaul similar to one approved by the Senate with bipartisan support in June.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Boehner said that while House Republicans were working on a “common-sense, step-by-step approach in terms of how we deal with immigration,” they were unwilling to enter into talks with the Senate on a broad bill that would include a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally.

“The idea that we’re going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House,” he said. “And frankly, I’ll make clear we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.”

With few legislative days left in 2013 and nearly all the focus on the health care law and House-Senate budget talks, Mr. Boehner said House Republicans had little interest in detouring on to immigration legislation that divides their party. His stance means the immigration fight would be pushed into 2014. If there was to be movement, it would probably have to come earlier in the year before the midterm elections get too close.

ACLU Report: 32,000+ Serving Life Sentences For Non-Violent Crimes

The American Civil Liberties Union has issued a report, "A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Non-Violent Offenses," along with a press release, on the thousands serving mandatory sentences of life without parole for non-violent offenses. The report's introduction states, "For 3,278 people, it was nonviolent offenses like stealing a $159 jacket or serving as a middleman in the sale of $10 of marijuana. An estimated 65% of them are Black. Many of them were struggling with mental illness, drug dependency or financial desperation when they committed their crimes. None of them will ever come home to their parents and children. And taxpayers are spending billions to keep them behind bars." The following ACLU video, "A Living Death," focuses on the human impact of extreme sentences for nonviolent crimes. Watch:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Bill Maher: Conservative Supreme Court Made Two Disastrous Decisions

Bill Maher points out that the conservative-majority Supreme Court has done enormous harm with decisions regarding the Voting Rights Act, whose gutting resulted in the voter suppression of minorities, and Citizens United, which corrupted American democracy. Maher also criticizes conservatives’ contentions that racism is over and moneyed interests don’t corrupt. Watch:

Matt Rothschild: Republicans Have No Answers On Health Care

Matt Rothschild, senior editor of The Progressive Magazine, compares President Obama's owning up to problems with the Affordable Care Act to the nauseating glee of the Republicans, who offer nothing as an alternative except for "the same old private health insurance system that's ripped people off for decades." Listen:

"Kill Your Darlings," Directed By John Krokidas

"Kill Your Darlings," the directorial debut of John Krokidas, is both a coming-of-age story of Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) as he developed into a poet at Columbia University and a true tale of a murder on the part of one of his peers. At Columbia, Ginsberg meets Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster); the trio would eventually achieve renown as Beat literary figures. Ginsberg also meets Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), troubled and charismatic, who becomes a muse–but not a fellow writer–as he urges his friends to overturn convention in their writing and their lives. Carr has been stalked for years by Dave Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), an older teacher. As tension between the two reached a climax, Carr stabbed Kammerer to death in Riverside Park, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, in 1944–an event that has legal ramifications for Kerouac and moral ones for Ginsberg. Carr, the muse, literally gave this group of artistic rebels an outlaw aura as depicted in this compelling film.

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"

Study: Just 1.5% Of "Stop-And-Frisk" Arrests Results In Jail Time

The New York Police Department's "stop-and-frisk" practice targets members of minority communities, the vast majority of whom are innocent. A study by the office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman shows just how vast that innocent majority is–and how ineffective "stop-and-frisk" under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has been. The report also contains implications regarding racial profiling and the long-term, practical impact of "stop-and-frisk":

According to the analysis, just 1.5% of all stop-and-frisk arrests resulted in a jail or prison sentence. Just one in 50 stop-and-frisk arrests, 0.1%, led to a conviction for a violent crime or possession of a weapon. Close to half of all stop-and-frisk arrests did not result in a conviction.

...Over the past decade more than 4 million New Yorkers have been targeted under the program. The vast majority of those stops occurred in mostly poor, mostly minority neighborhoods. Between 2004 and 2012, 4.4 million people were stopped. A weapon was found in less than 1% of the cases.

...The report found that while minority men were the overwhelming targets of the random, largely unprovoked stops, the likelihood of a stop of an African-American uncovering a weapon was half that of white New Yorkers stopped. According to the report, the NYPD found a weapon in one out of every 49 stops of whites in the city in 2012, compared to one in every 71 stops of Latinos and one in every 93 stops of African-Americans.

The attorney general’s office report analyzed nearly 150,000 arrests between 2009 and 2012. The report concluded that the numbers of convictions of stop-and-frisk arrests were extremely low. Just one in 16 of the arrests led to a jail or prison sentence of more than 30 days. And almost a quarter of all stops, 24.7%, were dismissed before arraignment or resulted in a non-criminal charge.

The report also highlighted the far reaching impacts, the collateral consequences, of stop-and-frisk arrests regardless of their outcome. Those consequences, according to the report, include threats of a possible loss of employment, housing, student loans, and immigration status.

Michiko Kakutani: "Lou Reed’s New York Was Hell or Heaven"

New York Times literary critic Michiko Kakutani wrote a poetic tribute to the late Lou Reed (left) that captured the rock icon's dark portraits of the outsiders who populated the grittier areas and underground milieus of New York City. Despite the fact that many of the locales that Reed depicted have been gentrified, Kakutani asserts that his music still evokes the city:

He wrote about hustlers, drag queens and speed freaks, and about the ordinary dreamers, misfits and down-and-outers who populated the hotels and nighttime streets of New York City — native-born New Yorkers like himself, and all the lost or marginal seekers who came to the city to become somebody else or take a walk on the wild side. Pearly Mae, who “can’t tell the night from the day”; Jackie, who thought “she was James Dean for a day”; the small kid standing by the Lincoln Tunnel, “selling plastic roses for a buck”; the “druggy downtown kids who spray-paint walls and trains.”

Lou Reed’s New York was a tough place. It was a place of “dark party bars” and neon lights, a “funny place/Something like a circus or a sewer,” despite the “new buildings/Square, tall and the same” — a place as distinctive as Chandler’s Los Angeles or Baudelaire’s Paris. He wrote about New York with a mix of journalistic observation and deeply felt emotion, a poet’s tenderness and a bad boy’s street cred, creating a soundtrack to the city that resonates decades after Times Square has been hosed down and scrubbed clean, and the Village and SoHo and TriBeCa have been transformed from grungy bohemian haunts into destination stops on luxury real estate search engines.

...For some of Mr. Reed’s older fans, his portraits of New York are like old black-and-white snapshots (or the monochrome covers of old New Directions paperbacks), summoning memories of a time when they were young and defiant and searching for some elusive something. For generations of younger fans, too, his gritty view of life on the edge and his primal, uncompromising music remain an inspiration. He was “an early calling card to New York and how to be an artist,” Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth told Rolling Stone magazine. “He was like the Empire State Building to me.”

... the lyrics possess a remarkable organic coherence, charting a harrowing journey through the bohemian underworlds of New York City, through the ravages of heroin and speed, and emotional terror, fury and aloneness — and toward something like grace.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: McCoy Tyner Quartet Live

The McCoy Tyner Quartet performed the beautiful John Coltrane composition "Naima" in the UK, 2002. Personnel included Tyner, piano; Bobby Hutcherson, vibes; Charnett Moffett, bass; and Eric Harland, drums. Tyner first played "Naima" as a member of John Coltrane Quartet in the early to mid 1960s. Coltrane wrote the song in 1959 as a tribute to his wife at the time, Juanita Naima Grubb.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Republicans Filibuster Another Obama Judicial Nominee

The Republicans have filibustered yet another Obama top judicial nominee, Nina Pillard (left). Early this year, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) backed down from getting rid of the 60-vote filibuster threshold. One wonders whether the Democrats are finally ready to change the rules:

Senate Republicans escalated the showdown over the nuclear option in dramatic fashion Tuesday with a second consecutive filibuster of a top judicial nominee, daring Democrats to put up or shut up when it comes to changing the rules.

Nina Pillard, President Barack Obama's nominee to the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, received 56 votes to move forward, short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster. Two weeks ago, Republicans filibustered Patricia Millett to the same court. A third nominee, Robert Wilkins, is expected to have the same fate in a vote that has yet to be scheduled.

...Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) emphasized Pillard's qualifications as a Georgetown law professor who has argued nine cases before the Supreme Court. He stressed that it's the third female nominee -- including Millett and Caitlin Halligan -- that the GOP has filibustered to the D.C. Circuit court for "nakedly partisan reasons."

...Norm Ornstein, a congressional expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told TPM that the GOP's mass filibuster of D.C. Circuit nominees is unprecedented and an attempt at "nullification." If Republicans don't let up, he said, then "then I don't see much other choice" for Democrats other than to go nuclear.

Rubio To Fundraise For "Gay Conversion Therapy" Group

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) may run as the Republican presidential candidate in 2016. If so, the American people will have to decide whether they want a leader who supports a group that promotes harmful "gay conversion therapy" and honors anti-gay activists. Specifically, Rubio will deliver the keynote address at the fundraising dinner for the homophobic Florida Family Policy Council:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will speak at a fundraising dinner this week honoring Mat Staver, an ardent anti-gay activist who has defended Malawi's ban on homosexuality. Staver is suing New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie for signing a law banning gay-to-straight conversion therapy, and has said that teaching gay rights in schools is tantamount to "sexual assault."

Rubio, a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, will deliver the keynote address at the annual fundraiser for the Florida Family Policy Council, a prominent social conservative organization that promotes so-called "conversion therapy" to help LGBT individuals become straight. Conversion therapy has been condemned as a form of abuse by psychologists. It is banned outright in a handful of states beyond New Jersey, including California. The American Psychiatric Association, which does not endorse conversion therapy, says the practice is at best ineffective and at worst can "reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."

Gallup: 76% Support Minimum Wage Increase

Congressional Republicans not only want to block an increase in the minimum wage, but they're also against the very existence of minimum wage laws. Their stance is out of step with the majority of the country, including most of their constituents. According to a recent Gallup poll, 76% of Americans support raising the minimum wage:

Congressional Republicans have vowed to block any bill raising the minimum wage, but a new Gallup poll shows that 76% of Americans and 58% of Republicans supporting increasing the minimum wage.

The Gallup poll found that support for raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour has jumped from 71% in March to 76% today. Sixty nine percent of those polled support a minimum wage that increases as inflation goes up. 91% of Democrats, 76% of Independents, and 58% of Republicans support increasing the minimum wage. Democrats (92%) and Independents (71%) strongly support linking the minimum wage to inflation. Fifty six percent of Republicans oppose making the minimum wage inflation proof.

While the American people want a higher minimum wage, Republicans in Congress support getting rid of all minimum wage laws...

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) admitted to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that he wants to abolish the minimum wage. Elected Republicans are moving in the opposite direction from the rest of the country. They are even out of step with a majority of their own party on the minimum wage.

Democrats are planning on using the minimum wage issue to help candidates around the country in 2014. The minimum wage is a powerful issue that brings out voters who otherwise might stay home and skip a midterm election.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lou Reed’s Final Interview: “My Life Is Music”

Lou Reed, speaking to film director Farida Khelfa, gave his final interview in September at a photo shoot for Parrot Zik Headphones in downtown Manhattan. In a departure from his legendary cantankerousness, Reed presents an elegiac, moving testament, one month before his death, to his love of music and the primacy of sound in his life. Watch:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fox Fails To Apologize For Use Of Erroneous Benghazi Report

CBS has apologized for its erroneous report on "60 Minutes" regarding the attack on the U.S embassy in Benghazi, Libya, which led to the death of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. In the "60 Minutes" report, security official Dylan Davies claimed that he had been at the scene of the September 11, 2012, attack; on Thursday it was disclosed that Davies told the FBI that he was not at the scene. After the initial "60 Minutes" broadcast, Fox News aired the segment repeatedly. Unlike CBS, however, Fox has not apologized for its use of the discredited story. Instead, Fox ignored the revelations, then claimed that it stands by its reporting. Fox also devoted 28 seconds on the story's collapse, with host Bret Baier telling viewers on Friday, "CBS is backing off a report on 60 Minutes -- we told you about last week -- that relied on a source whose credibility has crumbled." Watch:

Nicholas D. Kristof: "This Is Why We Need Obamacare"

Nicholas D. Kristof acknowledges that the rollout of Obamacare has been "inexusably messy." Regardless, we need it because for all too many, not having health insurance is a literal death sentence: those Republicans protesting Obamacare: You’re right that there are appalling problems with the website, but they will be fixed. Likewise, you’re right that President Obama misled voters when he said that everyone could keep their insurance plan because that’s now manifestly not true (although they will be able to get new and better plans, sometimes for less money).

But how about showing empathy also for a far larger and more desperate group: The nearly 50 million Americans without insurance who play health care Russian roulette as a result. FamiliesUSA, a health care advocacy group that supports Obamacare, estimated last year that an American dies every 20 minutes for lack of insurance.

It has been a year since my college roommate, Scott Androes, died of prostate cancer, in part because he didn’t have insurance and thus didn’t see a doctor promptly. Scott fully acknowledged that he had made a terrible mistake in economizing on insurance, but, in a civilized country, is this a mistake that people should die from?

...The Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council this year ranked the United States health care system last or near last in several categories among 17 countries studied. The Commonwealth Fund put the United States dead last of seven industrialized countries in health care performance. And Bloomberg journalists ranked the United States health care system No. 46 in efficiency worldwide, behind Romania and Iran.

The reason is simple: While some Americans get superb care, tens of millions without insurance get marginal care. That’s one reason life expectancy is relatively low in America, and child mortality is twice as high as in some European countries. Now that’s a scandal.

Yet about half the states are refusing to expand Medicaid to cover more uninsured people — because they don’t trust Obamacare and want it to fail. The result will be more catastrophes...

Stonewall Awards Names Pat Robertson "Bigot Of The Year"

The Stonewall Awards, which took place in London's Victoria and Albert Museum, named televangelist Pat Robertson the "Bigot of the Year," which is "reserved for an individual who has gratuitously caused hurt and offence to gay people around the world." Among his other homophobic statements, Robertson, as shown below, claimed that gays with AIDS purposely spread the disease by wearing special rings that cut others while shaking hands with them. Surely Robertson richly deserves this "honor." Watch:

Studies: Education Gap Growing Between Rich And Poor

In 2012, the wealthy took a record share of income in the U.S., confirming rising income inequality. In addition, studies have found less economic mobility in America than in comparable nations. Recent studies have also found a widening education gap between rich and poor. The gap has widened since the recession, with wealthy families able to spend much more on their children's education:

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.

In another study, by researchers from the University of Michigan, the imbalance between rich and poor children in college completion — the single most important predictor of success in the work force — has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s.

...“With income declines more severe in the lower brackets, there’s a good chance the recession may have widened the gap,” Professor Reardon said. In the study he led, researchers analyzed 12 sets of standardized test scores starting in 1960 and ending in 2007... By the end of that period, the achievement gap by income had grown by 40 percent, he said, while the gap between white and black students, regardless of income, had shrunk substantially.

...A study by Sabino Kornrich, a researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies at the Juan March Institute in Madrid, and Frank F. Furstenberg, scheduled to appear in the journal Demography this year, found that in 1972, Americans at the upper end of the income spectrum were spending five times as much per child as low-income families. By 2007 that gap had grown to nine to one; spending by upper-income families more than doubled, while spending by low-income families grew by 20 percent.

Tom Hayden: Bill de Blasio Is The "Harbinger Of A New Populist Left"

The supporters of Bill de Blasio, winner of the New York City mayoral election, responded to his campaign themes regarding the income inequality that soared under the Bloomberg era and the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices in minority communities. Income inequality and racial profiling, of course, are issues relevant to the entire country. Tom Hayden writes in The Guardian that de Blasio is the "harbinger of a new populist left in America":

De Blasio is positioned to...shift the nation's dialogue, policies and priorities in a progressive direction – assuming he delivers on his campaign pledges...

Among De Blasio's first challenges will be prodding Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature in Albany to permit local tax increases to fund universal pre-kindergarten in New York City...

De Blasio has direct power over New York City's $70bn budget and re-zoning policies, which, under Bloomberg, showered favors on a real estate industry bent on competing with London and Hong Kong at the expense of residential neighborhoods...

De Blasio also can tackle income inequality by signing the living wage ordinance on city contracts, or by preventing Wall Street developers getting special city abatements – measures that Bloomberg vetoed. De Blasio didn't flinch on the issue when confronted in closed meetings with developers during the campaign.

When De Blasio first raised his opposition to the police stop-and-frisk policies, according to Vincent Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the candidate began rising in the polls against other contenders in the Democratic primary...

...From 2008 to 2012, the NYPD stopped nearly 2.9 million New Yorkers, a majority of them young, about 85% black or brown. On average, 88% of those stopped were completely innocent of any crime or misdemeanor.

When a federal appeals court halted a judicial order ordering detailed changes in the NYPD last week, De Blasio expressed "extreme disappointment" and pledged to move forward on police reform from day one. How he will do so is procedurally muddled for the moment, but there is little doubt that another staple of the Bloomberg era is ready for the dustbin.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Cowboy Junkies Live

In my tribute to Lou Reed last week following his passing, I featured him performing his composition "Sweet Jane." Above, a band influenced by Reed and The Velvet Underground, Cowboy Junkies, with Margo Timmins on vocals, played the song on the Tonight Show in 1989. I also recommend two moving tributes to Lou Reed that appeared in The New Yorker by Patti Smith and Luc Sante.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Matt Rothschild: Progressive Message From Tuesday's Election

Matt Rothschild, senior editor of The Progressive, states that the elections on Tuesday were generally a "victory for progressive politics and sane governance," including the election of Bill de Blasio (D) in the New York City mayoral race, Terry McAuliffe's (D) victory over Tea Party favorite Ken Cuccinelli (R) in the Virginia gubernatorial race, and various local initiatives approving recreational marijuana, a rise in the minimum wage and the banning of fracking. Rothschild concludes that "what the Tea Party is selling, a majority of voters aren't buying" and "the American public is much more progressive than the laws that get passed in Washington, D.C., or that most mainstream commentators would have you believe." Listen:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gaffney: More People Voting Means "The End Of America As We Have Known It"

In a commentary, Frank Gaffney, conservative columnist and former Reagan official, expresses the Republican fear of the "wrong people" voting–and he makes clear the party's motivation to suppress the vote. Gaffney complains that the Affordable Care Act website asks users if they want to register to vote (other conservatives are also upset about this). Gaffney envisions millions of low-income voters registering, resulting in "a permanent majority demanding government hand-outs – and the end of America as we have known it." More people voting? Why, the implications are positively un-American! Listen:

GAFFNEY: For some time, it’s been apparent that the Obama presidency is promoting creeping socialism. Obamacare’s intervention in, and substantial takeover of, one-sixth of our economy is a particularly ominous manifestation of the administration’s agenda – and evidence of its progress.

Not content with creeping, though, Team Obama’s socialists have broken into a full gallop. That’s the practical implication of a newly revealed facet of Obamacare: Whatever its other shortcomings and outright failings, the health care registration process is being used effectively to compel Americans to register to vote.

The process lends itself to abuse and fraud. And allies of the President say the goal is to register sixty-eight million, mostly low-income voters. If successful, expect a permanent majority demanding government hand-outs – and the end of America as we have known it.

The NRA Made It Easier To Bring Guns Into Airports

The NRA has been silent on the shootings by alleged gunman Paul Ciancia at Los Angeles International Airport, which resulted in the killing of a TSA agent and the wounding of six at a security checkpoint. This is the second airport shooting in six months. Think Progress outlined the ways in which the NRA has made it easier to bring guns into airports:

Advance laws that allow guns in airport terminals.
Over the last decade, the NRA has repeatedly lobbied against airport firearm restrictions. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, states including Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin either expressly allow firearms in specific sections or only prohibit firearms in airports beyond checkpoints.

And in California in 2012, the NRA formally opposed Assembly Bill 2182, which would have required a person be arrested if they brought a firearm into the airport and ban them from entering in the future. The bill never moved from committee. More recently, bills introduced in Virginia, Georgia, and Ohio would allow people to carry their weapons inside.

Intimidate TSA agents for aggressively screening for guns.
When the TSA subjected a girl carrying a firearm-shaped purse to extra questioning, the NRA responded that this extra precaution constituted harassment. “We shouldn’t be surprised that security personnel who see nothing wrong with humiliating 85-year-old women at our nation’s airports might see a teenage girl sporting a purse with a firearm motif as a potential danger,” NRA President David Keene said at the time. “But it should upset us as much as it did her and her parents.” The extra scrutiny may be needed: TSA agents have confiscated 30 percent more guns from passengers, many of them loaded, in 2013 compared to last year. Most travelers say they “forgot” they had the firearm, which has made sociologists think the trend is a result of people being permitted to carry their guns virtually anywhere.

Endorse candidates who oppose limiting guns at airports.
The NRA’s “A-rated” allies are trying to make it even easier to access guns in airports. Virginia Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli (R) and Virginia Attorney General candidate Mark Obenshain voted against a 2004 bill banning guns in airport terminals (it passed anyway). The NRA has spent more than $500,000 to make Cuccinelli Virginia’s next governor.

The NRA will likely argue that this shooting is more proof guns restrictions should be weakened, not strengthened in public areas, since a bystander could intervene in a shooting. All the best research points to this being even more dangerous.

Image: Matt Bors

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jeremy Scahill: "How Does A War Like This Ever End?"

Guernica Magazine has posted "Perpetual War," the epilogue to Jeremy Scahill’s “Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield.” Scahill considers the global counterterrorism policies initiated by Bush and expanded under Obama: redefining “imminent threat” in order to justify killing U.S. citizens abroad and employing “guilt by association” in order to select drone targets. Scahill also considers the consequences of these actions: whether future presidents will expand the use of drone strikes and kill lists; whether the U.S. is creating more enemies than it is killing; and whether we are encouraging an new arms race for drones. Ultimately, he asks how we will ever end this perpetual war:

In early 2013, a Department of Justice “white paper” surfaced that laid out the “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen.” The government lawyers who wrote the 16-page document asserted that the government need not possess specific intelligence indicating that an American citizen is actively engaged in a particular or active terror plot in order to be cleared for targeted killing. Instead, the paper argued that a determination from a “well-informed high level administration official” that a target represents an “imminent threat” to the United States is a sufficient basis to order the killing of an American citizen. But the Justice Department’s lawyers sought to alter the definition of “imminent,” advocating what they called a “broader concept of imminence.”

...Michael Boyle, a former adviser in the Obama campaign’s counterterrorism experts group and a professor at LaSalle University, said that one of the reasons the administration was “so successful in spinning the number of civilian casualties” was the use of signature strikes and other systems for categorizing military-aged males as legitimate targets, even if their specific identities were unknown. “The result of the ‘guilt by association’ approach has been a gradual loosening of the standards by which the U.S. selects targets for drone strikes,” Boyle charged. “The consequences can be seen in the targeting of mosques or funeral processions that kill non-combatants and tear at the social fabric of the regions where they occur.” No one, he added, “really knows the number of deaths caused by drones in these distant, sometimes ungoverned, lands.”

...It is not just the precedents set during the Obama era that will reverberate into the future, but also the lethal operations themselves. No one can scientifically predict the future consequences of drone strikes, cruise missile attacks, and night raids. But from my experience in several undeclared war zones across the globe, it seems clear that the United States is helping to breed a new generation of enemies in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and throughout the Muslim world.

...The question all Americans must ask themselves lingers painfully: How does a war like this ever end?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Paul Krugman: Republicans Waging "A War On The Poor"

Paul Krugman analyzes the motivations behind the Republicans' war on the poor, evidenced by "savage food stamps and Medicaid." He contends that the GOP views the poor as "lazy and undeserving" and that the party's hostility is also driven by their market ideology and racism:

Republicans in leadership positions...[are] still clearly passionate about making sure that the poor and unlucky get as little help as possible, that — as Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, put it — the safety net is becoming “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” And Mr. Ryan’s budget proposals involve savage cuts in safety-net programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.

All of this hostility to the poor has culminated in the truly astonishing refusal of many states to participate in the Medicaid expansion. Bear in mind that the federal government would pay for this expansion, and that the money thus spent would benefit hospitals and the local economy as well as the direct recipients. But a majority of Republican-controlled state governments are, it turns out, willing to pay a large economic and fiscal price in order to ensure that aid doesn’t reach the poor.

...So what’s this all about? One reason, the sociologist Daniel Little suggested in a recent essay, is market ideology: If the market is always right, then people who end up poor must deserve to be poor. I’d add that some leading Republicans are, in their minds, acting out adolescent libertarian fantasies. “It’s as if we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel right now,” declared Paul Ryan in 2009.

But there’s also, as Mr. Little says, the stain that won’t go away: race.

In a much-cited recent memo, Democracy Corps, a Democratic-leaning public opinion research organization, reported on the results of focus groups held with members of various Republican factions. They found the Republican base “very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority” — and seeing the social safety net both as something that helps Those People, not people like themselves, and binds the rising nonwhite population to the Democratic Party. And, yes, the Medicaid expansion many states are rejecting would disproportionately have helped poor blacks.

Fox's Stossel: Women Should Pay More Insurance Since "Maybe They're Hypochondriacs"

Speaking to Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy, libertarian Fox Business host John Stossel argued that women should pay more for health insurance because "they go to the doctor more often than men" and "maybe they're hypochondriacs." Watch:

Michael Eric Dyson: Poor Whites In Red States Vote Against Their Interests

Addressing the issue of poor whites in red states voting against their interests, MSNBC host Michael Eric Dyson cites a dialogue between Dr. Martin Luther King and a Southern white jailer. Dyson makes a clear analogy: instead of being "blinkered" by racist divisions, such Republican voters would be better off joining in a multi-racial coalition that fights for a better education, wages and health care. Watch:

Christie Tantrum: Tells Teacher, “I Am Tired Of You People"

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, even while leading Democratic challenger Barbara Buono in the gubernatorial race, can't seem to curb his rage against teachers. Jersey Jazzman provides an account of the encounter between a teacher and the bullying Christie, cited as a possible Republican presidential candidate:

In an exclusive, I am privileged to present an account of what happened today from Melissa Tomlinson, the brave South Jersey teacher who showed up at Christie's partisan political rally in Somers Point this afternoon and dared to ask her governor a question - as is her right as a citizen and a taxpayer of New Jersey. Here, in Tomlinson's own words, is what happened:

Well, I was in a crowd of all Christie supporters with my sign. They were all eyeing me apprehensively. A few tried to stare me down. Some of them even blocked me from the crowd.

When his bus arrived one of his henchmen went on the bus to speak to him. I was right at the door. It was like he was told to deliberately turn away from me when he got off of the bus.

I went to listen to him speak. I stood in the front of the crowd that was standing towards the back. I know he caught sight of me. He stared at me a few times during his speech. I left right as his speech was over to position myself right at the door of the bus. He came out, shaking everyone's hands as he was getting on the bus. I asked him my question, expecting him to ignore me but he suddenly turned and went off.

I asked him: "Why do you portray our schools as failure factories?" His reply: "Because they are!" He said: "I am tired of you people. What do you want?"

I told him I want money for my students. He fought back with the amount that he has spent on education. My response was along the lines of the fact his amount was not actually an increase from the previous years, given the rate of inflation and other factors...

The crowd started arguing with me. He screamed at me to just do my job. The crowd cheered for him. I just looked at them and told them: "Hey, this is my life. I had to do this." I tried to follow him to Atlantic City to continue the conversation but the roads were blocked by police when I got there.

Vote Bill de Blasio For NYC Mayor, November 5

Heading into Tuesday, I again urge fellow New York City residents to vote for Bill de Blasio for mayor. We just received one more reason to support him: the unfortunate appellate court blocking of changes to the NYPD's unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program that targets minorities, the vast majority of whom are innocent. De Blasio, a longtime critic of the practice, was "extremely disappointed" by the decision and wants to "end the overuse of stop-and frisk." His Republican opponent, Joseph Lhota, applauded it and wants to continue appealing any changes to the program.

The candidates also have profoundly different perspectives on the income inequality that has widened tremendously under the Bloomberg era. A recent article in The New Yorker points out that the city has more homeless than it has had in decades. De Blasio's "a tale of two cities" theme points directly to this gap. Lhota dismisses such concerns, stating on MSNBC, "I don’t think it’s a problem, it exists.” Perhaps he should tell the rising number of NYC households living in poverty that income inequality isn't a problem.

De Blasio, of course, will have difficulty realizing all he envisions. His proposal to enroll every NYC child in pre-school by raising taxes on the wealthy is laudable, but it requires the agreement of the State Legislature–something hardly assured. Regardless, de Blasio clearly wants to lead New York City in a progressive direction. The fact that he leads Lhota by almost 40 percent is no reason to stay home. This Tuesday, New Yorkers should vote to give Bill De Blasio an overwhelming mandate supporting his progressive vision.

Remembering Lou Reed (1942-2013), Rock's Urban Poet Laureate

Rock music lost a major icon last Sunday with the death of Lou Reed, 71, singer, songwriter and guitarist renowned for his poetic, dark, urban-oriented lyrics. He originally played with The Velvet Underground, one of the most influential groups in rock history. The music of this proto-punk, late 1960s, NYC-based band focused on drugs, sexuality, alienation and street life, among the themes Reed continued to explore as a solo artist. Above, Reed played "Sweet Jane" on the BBC, in the year 2000. Reed previously appeared on this blog here and here, as a solo act; here, with Pete Townshend, and here with The Velvet Underground. Listen to a tribute to Lou Reed (parts one and two) on the St. James Infirmary music show, hosted by my good friend Michael Mand.