Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tom Tomorrow: "2013: Year In Crazy," Part II

Tom Tomorrow's annual survey of political lunacy continues. You can also view Part I. Happy New Year to all of my readers!

New Report Debunks Major GOP Claim On Obamacare

A new report from the minority committee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce dismantles a major Republican claim that the Affordable Care Act will cause five million people to lose coverage:

Republicans are constantly blurring the line between people who lose a plan and people who lose coverage. That is, many people might lose a particular insurance plan but immediately be presented with other options.

Now, a new report from the minority staff of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has destroyed the foundation of that particular GOP claim. It projects that only 10,000 people will lose coverage because of the ACA and be unable to regain it — or in other words, 0.2 percent of the oft-cited 5 million cancellations statistic.

The report starts with an assumption that 4.7 million will receive cancellation notices about their 2013 plan. (Notably it doesn’t endorse that figure, just takes it on for the sake of argument.) But of those, who will get a new plan?

• According to the report, half of the 4.7 million will have the option to renew their 2013 plans, thanks to an administrative fix this year.

•Of the remaining 2.35 million individuals, 1.4 million should be eligible for tax credits through the marketplaces or Medicaid, according to the report.

•Of the remaining 950,000 individuals, fewer than 10,000 people in 18 counties will lack access to an affordable catastrophic plan.

“This new report shows that people will get the health insurance coverage they need, contrary to the dire predictions of Republicans,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking committee member. “Millions of American families are already benefiting from the law.”

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ex-GOP Activist: Stop Bashing The Affordable Care Act

Clint Murphy, former Republican Party activist and cancer survivor, writes in the Savannah Morning News that Republicans should stop spreading falsehoods about the Affordable Care Act:

It seems almost daily that you have a Republican candidate or elected official is [sic] making inaccurate statements or using various stories to fit their narrative of what’s wrong with the law.

...At the core of the act is the individual mandate that all able-bodied individuals purchase health insurance. This is consistent with individuals taking personal responsibility for their lives and actions. This idea originated with the conservative Heritage Foundation in 1994 and was adopted by the Republican Party as its position on health insurance reform, up until it was made a part of the reforms of the ACA in 2009. Republicans abandoned this position simply because it was adopted by Democrats as part of the ACA.

Georgia is one of only 16 states that does not have a high-risk insurance pool for people with pre-existing conditions. This means people who have a chronic illness or have survived a life threatening disease, such as cancer, have not been able to purchase insurance on the individual market at all.

Thanks to the ACA, that discrimination comes to an end.

...The Affordable Care Act is not a perfect law and was never meant to be a panacea to the woes of our health care system. Republicans argue that this is an expansion of government. I find that a false notion as we are already paying for the care, be it through higher taxes or higher premiums, and the care provided is at the most expensive and inconvenient point of care — the emergency room. Those costs are hidden within our health care system.

When people have health insurance and have access to primary care doctors, health outcomes improve, worker productivity heightens and costs begin to stabilize. It’s because of the start of these reforms that the rate of inflation for health care costs is at its lowest level in 50 years.

There is still work to be done. But for that to occur, Republicans must come to the table with constructive and realistic ideas and solutions beyond a full repeal of the bill.

Robert Reich’s End-Of Year Message About Our Do-Nothing Congress

After picking up a guitar and lip-synching the Queen song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Robert Reich recounts the ways in which our do-nothing Congress (particularly the Republicans) has failed to grapple with today’s pressing issues. He also finds hope in the ways that people have begun to fight widening income inequality in 2013 and encourages us to get out the vote in the new year. Reich reminds us, "Even though Congress is paralyzed, America isn't." Watch:

Pew Research: Republican Belief In Evolution Declines

A new Pew Research Center analysis has found that the number of Republicans who believe in evolution has declined since 2009. While a majority of Democrats and independents state that human beings have evolved over time, that is now a minority position among GOP voters:

There are sizable differences among partisan groups in beliefs about evolution. Republicans are less inclined than either Democrats or political independents to say that humans have evolved over time. Roughly two-thirds of Democrats (67%) and independents (65%) say that humans have evolved over time, compared with less than half of Republicans (43%).

The size of the gap between partisan groups has grown since 2009. Republicans are less inclined today than they were in 2009 to say that humans have evolved over time (43% today vs. 54% in 2009), while opinion among both Democrats and independents has remained about the same.

NY Times Report Refutes GOP Benghazi Conspiracy Theory

The New York Times has published an extensive multi-media report refuting Republican claims of a cover-up regarding the attack last year on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya. The investigation is critical of the administration's security decisions and lack of information about the dangerous situation at that time; however, it found no evidence for the GOP conspiracy theory that the White House, to enable President Obama to trumpet his counter-terrorism successes during the election campaign, denied Al Qaeda's leadership role in an attack that killed four Americans. Indeed, the investigation found no evidence of Al Qaeda involvement:

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

...Republicans have accused the Obama administration of covering up evidence of Al Qaeda’s role to avoid undermining the president’s claim that the group has been decimated, in part because of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

...
“It was very clear to the individuals on the ground that this was an Al Qaeda-led event,” Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said last month on Fox News.

“This was a preplanned, organized terrorist event,” he said, “not a video. That whole part was debunked time and time again.”

But the Republican arguments appear to conflate purely local extremist organizations like Ansar al-Shariah with Al Qaeda’s international terrorist network. The only intelligence connecting Al Qaeda to the attack was an intercepted phone call that night from a participant in the first wave of the attack to a friend in another African country who had ties to members of Al Qaeda, according to several officials briefed on the call. But when the friend heard the attacker’s boasts, he sounded astonished, the officials said, suggesting he had no prior knowledge of the assault.

Andrew Hacker: GOP Holds The House Through Gerrymandering

Writing in The New York Review of Books, Andrew Hacker (left) reminds us that gerrymandering, along with voter suppression, is central to the Republicans' hold on the House–and warns that this factor will continue to affect races in 2014:

If we are to fathom the power and demeanor of the current House of Representatives, two numbers are central to the story:

59,214,910
57,622,827

These are the respective electoral totals for Democratic and Republican candidates for that chamber in 2012. Yet Democrats ended with only 201 of the 435 seats, an easily ignored minority. House Republicans are in no way diffident about holding sway with a minority of the votes. As heirs to Alexander Hamilton, they see no reason to heed the “mass of the people” who “seldom judge or determine right.” In their view, the 47 percent described by Romney as freeloaders don’t deserve to have their ballots carry weight, any more than they deserve Medicaid coverage. Indeed, an avowed GOP strategy is to reduce the electorate, deploying a modern variant of the poll tax. In more than a few states, anyone lacking a driver’s license or a passport will have to unearth a decades-old birth certificate in order to be eligible to vote.

The GOP used its statehouse victories in 2010 to make the House its permanent preserve, regardless of overall totals. The method used was careful gerrymandering—the old art of massaging political maps, now augmented by computer algorithms...

...In 2012 House races, eighty-two Democrats won with margins over 70 percent, but only forty-six Republicans did so. Another tactic is to ensure that the GOP’s own seats stay relatively safe. ...almost all GOP districts [have] ample margins, with only one under 55 percent. For Democrats to break up this bloc will require an extraordinary effort. By my count, in Pennsylvania they will need to rally 185,384 new voters in counties where their support is already quite sparse. The same kind of recruiting will be needed in a dozen other states. Indeed, the Democrats’ demography is such that they will need well over a majority to get their numerical share of district-based seats.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Living In A Red State Is Hazardous To Your Health


The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation charted the number of deaths per 100,000 population. Apparently, people live longer in blue states than red:

The 10 states with the lowest mortality rates:

1. Hawaii
2. California
3. Connecticut
4. Minnesota
5. New York
6. Massachusetts
7. Colorado
8. New Hampshire
9. New Jersey
10. Washington

The 12 states with the highest mortality rates:

1. Mississippi
2. Alabama
3. West Virginia
4. Oklahoma
5. Kentucky
6. Louisiana
7. Arkansas
8. Tennessee
9. South Carolina
10. Georgia
11. Indiana
12. Missouri


Daily Kos notes, "Of the 25 states above the national average, 19 are blue and just six are red. Of the 25 states below the national average, 17 are red and just eight are blue. Environmental policies, access to health insurance, workplace safety regulations ... these things matter. They are literally a matter of life and death. And it's clear that conservatism is hazardous to your health."

"Philomena," Directed By Stephen Frears



"Philomena" is based on Martin Sixsmith's non-fiction book "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee," about a young woman who was sent to a convent in Ireland after giving birth to a child out of wedlock. The teenage Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark) is forced to work long hours in the convent laundry and is allowed to see her son Anthony only an hour a day. She is also forced to sign a contract in which she agrees never to pursue her son, who is sold to an American couple as Philomena looks on in anguish. Years later, the elderly Philomena (Judi Dench) meets an unemployed journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), and sets off with him to America to find her child in a journey that uncovers scandalous revelations. Philomena's religiosity and love of romance novels are contrasted with Martin's atheism and cynicism, but the movie avoids excessive sentimentality, respects both their perspectives and movingly conveys their journey.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Yusef Lateef



Yusef Lateef, innovative jazz saxophonist, flutist, composer and music professor, passed away on Monday. Lateef was among the first to play "world music," incorporating influences from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Above, Lateef played flute on his sinuous composition "Metaphor" at the Jazz à Vienne Festival, France, 2006.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Study: Government Gives More Housing Aid To Rich Than Poor Households



The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that, in terms of housing expenditures, the federal government favors high- over low-income households, as well as renters over homeowners–regardless of the fact that the wealthy have little if any need for subsidies to purchase a home:

Federal housing expenditures favor higher-income households. The bulk of homeownership expenditures go to the top fifth of households by income, who typically could afford to purchase a home without subsidies. According to estimates by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, more than three-fourths of the value of the mortgage interest and property tax deductions goes to households with incomes of more than $100,000, and close to a third goes to families with incomes above $200,000.

Overall, more than half of federal housing spending for which income data are available benefits households with incomes above $100,000. The 5 million households with incomes of $200,000 or more receive a larger share of such spending than the more than 20 million households with incomes of $20,000 or less, even though lower-income families are far more likely to struggle to afford housing.

In 2010, the most recent year for which complete data are available, households with incomes of $200,000 or more received an average benefit of $7,014 — more than four times the average benefit of $1,471 received by households with incomes below $20,000. It is difficult to see the policy purpose served by providing such large benefits to higher-income households, who in most cases could afford to purchase a home without subsidies.

...more than three-quarters of federal housing spending in 2012 (counting both federal outlays and the costs of tax expenditures) went to homeowners. Renters received less than one-fourth of federal housing subsidies despite making up more than a third of households.

Economist: U.S. Income Inequality Highest Since 1928

The Pew Research Center cites the research of Emmanuel Saez (left), economics professor at UC-Berkeley, who finds that U.S. income inequality has been on the rise since the 1970s and is now the highest since 1928. In addition, Pew notes that Republicans perceive current economic issues quite differently from Democrats and independents:

...In 1928, the top 1% of families received 23.9% of all pretax income, while the bottom 90% received 50.7%. But the Depression and World War II dramatically reshaped the nation’s income distribution: By 1944 the top 1%’s share was down to 11.3%, while the bottom 90% were receiving 67.5%, levels that would remain more or less constant for the next three decades.

But starting in the mid- to late 1970s, the uppermost tier’s income share began rising dramatically, while that of the bottom 90% started to fall. The top 1% took heavy hits from the dot-com crash and the Great Recession but recovered fairly quickly: Saez’s preliminary estimates for 2012 (which will be updated next month) have that group receiving nearly 22.5% of all pretax income, while the bottom 90%’s share is below 50% for the first time ever (49.6%, to be precise).

...More than half (55%) of Republicans said the economic system is fair to most people, but majorities of Democrats (75%) and independents (63%) said it favors the wealthy. And 61% of Democrats and 50% of independents said the [rich-poor] gap was a very big problem, versus only 28% of Republicans. Four-in-ten Republicans termed the gap either a small problem (22%) or not a problem at all (18%).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Study: Minimum Wage Rise Of $10.10 Would Boost Economy By $22 Billion

According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016 would boost workers' wages, jobs and the economy. The Institute also reports that those who would be helped are older and have more family responsibilities than those traditionally thought of as low-wage workers. Among the key findings:

• Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016 would return the federal minimum wage to roughly the same inflation-adjusted value it had in the late 1960s.

• An increase to $10.10 would either directly or indirectly raise the wages of 27.8 million workers, who would receive about $35 billion in additional wages over the phase-in period.

• Across the phase-in period of the increase, GDP would grow by about $22 billion, resulting in the creation of roughly 85,000 net new jobs over that period.

• The workers who would receive a raise do not fit the stereotypes of low-wage workers:
• Among affected workers, the average age is 35 years old, nearly 88 percent are at least 20 years old, and more than a third (34.5 percent) are at least 40 years old.
• Of affected workers, about 54 percent work full time, about 69 percent come from families with family incomes less than $60,000, and more than a quarter have children.
• The average affected worker earns half of his or her family’s total income.

Eugene Robinson: Edward Snowden Is The Person Of The Year

Eugene Robinson writes that there are two choices for person of the year, Pope Francis and Edward Snowden–and he argues for the latter. Pope Francis, "by shifting his church’s focus to social justice, may change the world." Snowden, in Robinson's estimation, already has by revealing the extent of government surveillance in America and the world:

[Snowden] was an obscure analyst working for a National Security Agency (NSA) contractor at a remote outpost in Hawaii. When he began working in the secret world, by his own telling, he was a true believer. But he became disillusioned — and then incensed — at what he considered outrageous violations of individual privacy by a surveillance apparatus that was out of control.

Snowden’s decision to leak massive amounts of information concerning some of the NSA’s most secret and intrusive spying programs has done more than embarrass officials in Washington. It has galvanized efforts throughout the world to protect what little privacy we have left.

Snowden’s revelations are devastating in their specificity. Americans know that all of our phone calls are logged by the government in a massive database. German Chancellor Angela Merkel knows that the NSA tapped her mobile phone. Brazilians and Indonesians, among others, know that their phone conversations may be listened to and their e-mails may be perused.

We know that secret court orders have forced phone companies and Internet providers to surrender private information. We also know that, unbeknown to those companies, the NSA and its partners — the equivalent spy agencies in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — apparently tap into fiber-optic cables and guzzle as much information as they can.

These ongoing disclosures provide a detailed map of a shadow realm that spans the globe. We now know how technology is destroying privacy — and what steps governments and communications companies must be pressured to take in order that privacy survives.

I can’t think of any individual who had more influence in 2013. Edward Snowden is the person of the year.

Throughout 2013, Fox Railed Against America's "Wussification"

Yoga in schools. Suspending a police officer for cursing on a school bus. Paid internships. A possible name change for the Washington Redskins. Complaining to human resources. Firing abusive coaches. Those are among the top 10 signs of the "wussification" of America that Fox News cited throughout 2013. Watch Media Matters' video compilation:

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tom Tomorrow: "2013: Year In Crazy," Part I

Each year, I share political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow's review of the past 12 months of political lunacy. Here's Part I:


(h/t: Daily Kos)

Jeffrey Toobin: The Grotesque Search For A Lethal-Injection Drug

Jeffrey Toobin writes in The New Yorker about the grotesque search for sodium thiopental as part of the "three-drug protocol" for executions. He concludes that no matter how much we try to make the death penalty "more palatable," it's still barbaric:

...In 2009, Hospira, Inc., the sole American manufacturer of sodium thiopental, stopped production of the drug at its plant in North Carolina. The company intended to shift production to Italy, but the government of that nation, which prohibits capital punishment, demanded a guarantee that none of the drug sold would be used for executions. Hospira felt unable to enforce the agreement—and claimed not to condone such use, anyway.

What followed was a black comedy of increasingly desperate attempts by prison officials to procure sodium thiopental. Under pressure from European authorities, legitimate pharmaceutical companies began refusing to provide it. For a time, officials obtained the drug from a middleman in London, who shared office space with a driving school. Then, in 2012, a federal court told the Food and Drug Administration to block its importation, because the source had not been properly certified. Some states had already moved to replace it with the barbiturate pentobarbital, but Denmark, the sole producer of that drug, had refused to allow its sale for executions. Missouri then adopted a one-drug protocol, seeking to inject an overdose of propofol, a well-known drug used in medical anesthesia. (Michael Jackson died of a propofol overdose.) Here, too, a manufacturer objected, issuing a statement that the use of propofol “in executions—regardless of its source—could lead to sanctions by the European Union that would threaten the U.S. supply of this indispensable drug.” Now seven states, including Missouri, have turned to the shadowy world of “compounding pharmacies,” which can obtain and create drugs without F.D.A. supervision. The risks of these substances being contaminated, or insufficiently effective, are considerable.

...The oxymoronic quest for humane executions only accentuates the absurdity of allowing the death penalty in a civilized society. It’s understandable that Supreme Court Justices have tried to make the process a little more palatable; and there is a meagre kind of progress in moving from the chair to the gurney. But the essential fact about both is that they come with leather straps to restrain a human being so that the state can kill him. No technology can render that process any less grotesque.

Media Matters Video: A "War On Christmas" Story

Naturally, Fox's Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh are once again hyping the so-called "war on Christmas." Media Matters accurately calls this campaign "a fiction: make-believe manufactured and sustained by a noisy conservative echo chamber in order to perpetuate a culture war and keep their base trapped in a bubble." What would a real "war on Christmas" look like? To answer that question, Media Matters produced the following satirical video. Watch:

"Inside Llewyn Davis," Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen



The latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen depicts a few days in the life of a hapless, scruffy folk singer, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), in the Greenwich Village of 1961. The Coens set this milieu, the height of the folk music boom, perfectly amidst Village landmarks: Washington Square Park, the Caffe Reggio, the Village Cigars store. The film opens and closes at another, now defunct, landmark, the Gaslight Cafe, where Davis is performing. It's as a performer where Davis's humanity is most apparent; when not singing, he's frequently sullen or offensive, whether at a dinner party at a professor's apartment on the Upper West Side, visiting his sister in Queens or trying to arrange an abortion for his friend's angry wife (Carey Mulligan), whom he may have impregnated. Taking a break from sleeping on couches in friends' apartments, Davis travels to Chicago for an audition that ends in frustration. He takes his place among the losers in such Coen brothers films as "Barton Fink" and "A Serious Man" (reviewed here), which reverse the Horatio Alger myth and portray a world of malevolence or indifference. Poignant and humorous, "Inside Llewyn Davis" is a reminder of the many performers we don't hear about, those who don't make it–and of the dedication to their art that motivates them to strive, at least for a while.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Jim Hall



Jim Hall, jazz guitar master known for his graceful, understated and fluent style, passed away on Tuesday. Above he is shown performing "My Funny Valentine" with Kenny Barron, piano; Scott Colley, bass; and Lewis Nash, drums, at the Marciac Jazz Festival, France, 2009. To hear a tribute to Jim Hall, listen to the St. James Infirmary music show, hosted by my good friend Michael Mand.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Reich Counters Gingrich On Poverty And Income Inequality

Participating in an ABC panel discussion, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich (D) explained to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R) that Republican intransigence has "something to do" with poverty worsening: "...every time there was a jobs bill, every time there was an effort to expand low income housing, every time there was an effort to provide better opportunities for young people — We’re talking about equal opportunity…” Gingrich called Reich's arguments "baloney" and said, “Every major city which has a center of poverty is run by Democrats. Every major city. Their policies have failed, they’re not willing to admit it, and the fact is it’s the poor who suffer.” Reich countered by referring to growing national income inequality and a lack of government action: "First of all, [former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg] is not a Democrat. What’s happening in America is happening all over America. And it is happening in a way that has to do with the fact that wages, median wages, are going nowhere and rents are going up. And there’s absolutely no response in Washington or elsewhere. Newt, I’m surprised you are not taking responsibility here.” Watch:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Megyn Kelly's Race-Baiting: Just Like The Rest Of Fox News

In response to a Slate commentary that the portrayal of Santa Claus as white might alienate minority children, Fox's Megyn Kelly insisted, “For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.” Despite Kelly's subsequent charge that her critics are race-baiters who fail to get her "joke," she and Fox News actually have an ugly history of race baiting, as the following video montage (and accompanying analysis) from Media Matters shows:



For this viewer, the most outrageous and insulting example is Bill O'Reilly's telling a black Columbia University professor that he "kinda looks like" a cocaine dealer (1:01).

Pat Robertson: Lesbian Friend Might Turn Your Kids Gay

Pat Robertson agreed with a viewer's reluctance to introduce her lesbian friend to her children, stating, "...you don’t want your children to grow up as lesbians, that’s what you’re talking about, you don’t want to show them that that’s an acceptable lifestyle for your family.” If introducing children to a lesbian might turn them gay, could introducing them to Pat Robertson turn them into homophobic bigots? Ponder that as you watch:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

ACLU Holiday Parody: The NSA Is Coming To Town

The following ACLU video takes a satirical holiday season look at NSA (National Security Agency) widespread spying on digital information. Viewers are advised, "They know who you call and who you write, so encrypt for goodness sake." Watch:



Read more about the ACLU's campaign.

Economist: Reagan Labor Secretary Admitted "Trickle Down" Failed

Speaking to PBS NewsHour, Northeastern University economist Barry Bluestone explains why "trickle-down" economics failed and led to wide income inequality and unemployment: "When we redistribute income from working families and low-income families to rich people, we're basically reducing our consumption. The wealthiest people spend maybe 30% of their income. Poor people spend 100%, working people spend 98%. So as we move money away from working families to very wealthy families, we take more and more consumption out of the economy, means slower and slower growth, means higher and higher and extended unemployment.” Bluestone then recounts that Reagan Secretary of Labor William Brock criticized his views in 1987 and admitted three years later that Bluestone was right. Watch:

Hannity Runs After Getting Schooled On Obamacare

On his  "Giving Up On Obamacare" panel, Sean Hannity was confronted by a well-informed individual who enumerated several popular features of the Affordable Care Act. Did the Fox host respond with facts? Hardly. After Hannity and his audience repeatedly interrupted the individual, the Fox host said, "I gotta go." Hannity then asked his followers, “Who here thinks this [law] is wildly popular?” While the majority responded derisively, Fox commentator Alan Colmes also cited popular features of the law. Watch Hannity make a quick getaway:

Bill Moyers: NRA Is "The Armed Bully Of American Politics"

In a powerful commentary, Bill Moyers calls the NRA "the armed bully of American politics, the enabler of the gunfighter nation, whose exceptionalism includes a high tolerance for the slaughter of the innocent." Moyers cites Mother Jones' study that at least 194 children have been shot to death since the Newtown gun massacre one year ago. He closes by showing a moving appeal from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, urging us to speak out against gun violence. Watch:



Transcript (h/t: Truthout).

Jimmy Kimmel Presents Fox’s Remake Of “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Jimmy Kimmel presents a Fox News holiday special, starting with Megyn Kelly’s now notorious statement, “For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.” Following this bizarre comment about the race of a mythic figure, Kimmel shows “Mr. Potter and the Commies of Bedford Falls," Fox’s version of "It’s A Wonderful Life.” In this remake, Henry Potter is the capitalist hero and George Bailey is the socialist troublemaker. Watch:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

At Least 194 Children Shot to Death Since Newtown



Today is the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School gun massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Mother Jones reports that since then, at least 194 children aged 12 and under have been shot to death. The magazine also notes that the gun lobby has "helped kill off research into gun violence"; the U.S. leads all affluent societies in the gun deaths of children; and the NRA supported the "Docs vs. Glocks" law passed in Florida in 2011, which made it illegal for doctors to ask patients about firearms. The following statistics are from the report:

Following Sandy Hook, the National Rifle Association and its allies argued that arming more adults is the solution to protecting children, be it from deranged mass shooters or from home invaders. But the data we collected stands as a stark rejoinder to that view:

127 of the children died from gunshots in their own homes, while dozens more died in the homes of friends, neighbors, and relatives.
72 of the young victims either pulled the trigger themselves or were shot dead by another kid.
In those 72 cases, only 4 adults have been held criminally liable.
At least 52 deaths involved a child handling a gun left unsecured.

Additional findings include:

60 children died at the hands of their own parents, 50 of them in homicides.
The average age of the victims was 6 years old.
More than two-thirds of the victims were boys, as were more than three-quarters of the kids who pulled the trigger.
The problem was worst over the past year in the South, which saw at least 92 child gun deaths, followed by the Midwest (44), the West (38), and the East (20).

...What happened a year ago in Newtown is still in some ways hard to fathom. The nation mourns again for the victims and families. But as [former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics Judith] Palfrey also puts it, "Newtown concentrated the horror in one place." Whether by malice or tragic mistake, the day-to-day toll of children dying from guns goes on.

Also see Mother Jones' interactive photo gallery of the 194 victims.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Joan Jett Live



Joan Jett performed "Bad Reputation" on the David Letterman Show, March 4, 2010. The song can be taken as both a punk and feminist anthem, with Jett proclaiming, "A girl can do what she wants to do and that's what I'm gonna do." I recommend the film "The Runaways," reviewed here, which depicts Jett as a pioneer in her determination to establish an all-girl hard-rock band. See also the recent review of "Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways" in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Gallup: 30% Delay Medical Treatment Due To Cost

A recent Gallup poll found that over the past year, 30% of adult Americans report that they, or a family member, have delayed medical treatment due to cost. In fact, Americans called cost "the most urgent health problem." These statistics remind us of why we need to cover more people through Obamacare–and why the ultimate solution is universal health care:

Uninsured Americans are more than twice as likely as those who have Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance to say they put off medical treatment. Fifty-nine percent of the uninsured have done so, compared with roughly one-quarter of those with Medicare or Medicaid (22%) or private health insurance (25%).

Additionally, younger Americans aged 18 to 29 and lower-income Americans -- two groups that are the least likely to have health coverage -- are significantly more likely to have put off treatment than their older and higher-income counterparts.

A provision of the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," that takes effect in 2014 requires most Americans to get insurance or pay a fine. Most uninsured Americans say they plan to get insurance, which is likely to reduce the percentage who put off medical treatment. But about one in four Americans who currently have insurance still put off treatment, so increasing the percentage who are insured should help reduce, although it likely won't eliminate, Americans' forgoing medical treatment for cost reasons.

...Americans named cost as the most urgent health problem in the nation this year, with more citing this issue than access, obesity, and cancer. Healthcare costs also remain a significant problem for individuals: a higher percentage of Americans now say they put off medical treatment because of cost than did so in the early 2000s. One possible explanation for the higher numbers since then is the increase in the number of high-deductible plans. Americans with serious conditions who have insurance may be putting off treatment to avoid high out-of-pocket costs.

Bernie Sanders: GOP "Just Factually Wrong" On Minimum Wage

Speaking to Ed Schultz, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) stated that the Republicans are "just factually wrong" when they speak of a minimum wage raise as a "job killer." He also referred to taxpayers' subsidizing immensely profitable corporations such as Walmart, McDonald's and Burger King that underpay their employees. Watch:



SANDERS: I say they’re just factually wrong. In my state of Vermont, our minimum wage is $8.60 compared to the national minimum wage of $7.25. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in America. You have states where there is virtually no minimum wage at all, and their unemployment rate is much higher. The facts just don’t bear it out. ...Right now the taxpayers of this country are subsidizing the McDonalds people, Burger King and Walmart. In Walmart in particular, you have the wealthiest family in the world. They’re worth $100 billion, but the wages and the benefits they provide to their workers are so low that many of these workers go on Medicaid. They go on food stamps. They have to get government help for their housing, so the taxpayers of America end up subsidizing Walmarts, McDonalds, and Burger King. If we raise the minimum wage the workers would actually have enough living, enough income to get off of some of these programs.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Mark Danner: "We Live In A World The Iraq War Has Made"

Mark Danner's essay, "Rumsfeld's War and Its Consequences Now," in The New York Review of Books, considers the international repercussions of the war in Iraq. Danner provides a grim assessment of an Iraq that is far from the stable, democratic ally envisioned by Bush administration rhetoric. He also finds that Obama, despite his own previous rhetoric, has continued many of Bush's misbegotten policies in a world made by the Iraq war:

In Iraq, the sectarian guerrilla war set off by the invasion goes on, the suicide bombers continue their work, hundreds of Iraqis die in horrific violence every month. That most Americans would prefer to ignore this does not alter the reality that we live in a world the Iraq war has made. Before the war, Iraq had served the United States as a check on the revolutionary ambitions of the Islamic Republic of Iran—a “tilt” to Iraq that Donald Rumsfeld had personally set on course, during talks with Saddam in Baghdad in 1983 as President Reagan’s special envoy. It took the American invasion two decades later to make of Iraq an Iranian ally.

Under Saddam, Iraq had been devoid of Islamic jihadists; it took the American occupation to make of Iraq a breeding ground for jihadists and a laboratory for developing and honing their techniques of asymmetric warfare: the car bombs, kidnappings, improvised explosive devices, and other ruthless tactics in a cheap and effective “toolbox” that has been employed with considerable success from Afghanistan to Yemen to Mali. Iraqi jihadists, many of them former soldiers and officers in the Iraqi army that the American occupiers abruptly dissolved in the summer of 2003, have become the proud foot soldiers of the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” a proclaimed zone of insurgency and Wild West lawlessness that stretches west from Fallujah through Anbar province and into the heart of Sunni Syria.

...Though Bush is long gone, replaced by a president who had seemed to voters to be in many ways his opposite, this geopolitical reality has hardly changed. As Rumsfeld remarks to [filmmaker Errol] Morris:

'Barack Obama opposed most of the structures that President George W. Bush put in place: Guantánamo Bay, the concept of indefinite detention, the Patriot Act, military commissions. Here we are, years later, and they’re all still here. I think that has to validate, to some extent, the decisions that were made by President George W. Bush.'


One needn’t accept such “validation” to concede that more than a dozen years later we still live in the world that Bush’s “war on terror” made. The “state of exception” that began on September 11, 2001, has not ended, owing not only to the political compromises and misplaced priorities of the Obama administration but to the terribly misbegotten and self-defeating way the “war on terror” was conceived and waged.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gingrich Fires Back At Mandela Critics

Ta-Nehisi Coates points out in the Atlantic that Newt Gingrich "was among a cadre of conservatives who opposed the mainstream conservative stance on apartheid and ultimately helped override Reagan's unconscionable veto of sanctions." Gingrich praised Nelson Mandela on his Facebook page and was met with much hostility. Speaking to CNN's Candy Crowley, he expressed surprise at the reaction and spoke about  Mandela's militant period as a response to apartheid: "All of your options are gone. You're now up against an oppressive dictatorship which, if you're black, means that you're going to be in a police state." Regarding Mandela's alliance with communists, he pointed out that they were the only allies available during the Cold War. Gingrich also cited Mandela's deep commitment to freedom and reconciliation. Watch:



Also see Gingrich's video and statement, "What Would You Have Done? Nelson Mandela and American Conservatives."

Eric Cantor To 9-Year-Old Girl: "I Can't Help You"

Quite a guy, that Eric Cantor (R-VA). The House Majority Leader had no time for Liz Marquez, 9, an American citizen and member of FIRM (Fair Immigration Reform Movement), who wanted to speak to him about her undocumented father. After she said "Please...," Cantor brushed past her, saying, "I can't help you. Good to see you." Watch:

Obamacare Alternative? Republicans Don't Have One

The Young Turks review a video montage showing one Republican after another offering no alternative to Obamacare, despite their ardent opposition to the latter. The GOP offered nothing under Bush, and they offer nothing now in terms of providing affordable, comprehensive health care. This attitude is epitomized by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who states that repealing Obamacare is "the only solution that will work." Host Cenk Uygur concludes that the Republicans simply don't care, since the uninsured are not among their donors. Watch:



(h/t: Best of the Left Podcast)

Colin Powell Advocates Universal Health Care In U.S.

Speaking at the Prostate Cancer Survivors Celebration Breakfast, former Secretary of State Colin Powell called for universal health care in the United States. Powell, a retired four-star general, Republican and prostate cancer survivor who benefited from the health care provided by the military, advocated for the adoption of a single-payer system already operating in every developed country:

“We are a wealthy enough country with the capacity to make sure that every one of our fellow citizens has access to quality health care,” he said Thursday at a Seattle fundraiser for prostate cancer. “(Let’s show) the rest of the world what our democratic system is all about and how we take care of all of our citizens."

...“I am not an expert in health care, or Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, or however you choose to describe it, but I do know this: I have benefited from that kind of universal health care in my 55 years of public life,” Powell said. “And I don’t see why we can’t do what Europe is doing, what Canada is doing, what Korea is doing, what all these other places are doing.”

...He also shared a story about his wife, Alma, who recently had a serious health scare with three aneurysms and a blockage in an artery.

Both he and his wife had swift, effective treatment and never had to fear whether they could afford the care they needed, he said.

Powell compared that to the experience of a woman named Anne who sells him firewood and does work around his yard.

...Even though she had insurance, it wouldn’t cover MRIs she needed before doctors would perform surgery to treat a growth in her brain. Powell gave the woman the money, and she’s receiving treatment now.

“After these two events, of Alma and Anne, I’ve been thinking, why is it like this?” Powell said. “Every country I’ve visited, every developed country, they have universal health care. They don’t understand why the United States of America, which uses more health care than just about anybody else, still (has) 40 million people not properly insured.”

“I think universal health care is one of the things we should really be focused on, and I hope that will happen,” Powell said. “Whether it’s Obamacare, or son of Obamacare, I don’t care. As long as we get it done.”

Santorum: Mandela's Fight vs. Apartheid Like The Fight vs. Obamacare

We recently witnessed Republican Representative Ted Yoho (FL) compare the attempt to defund Obamacare to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Now former Republican Senator Rick Santorum (PA), in an interview with Fox's Bill O'Reilly, compares Nelson Mandela's fight against apartheid to the Republicans' fight against Obamacare. First O'Reilly falsely referred to Mandela as a "communist" while conceding that he was "a great man." Santorum then stated, "...he was fighting some great injustice. And I would make the argument that we have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever-increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people’s lives–and Obamacare is front and center in that.” Watch Santorum make this preposterous analogy:

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Maya Angelou Writes Poem In Tribute To Nelson Mandela

Pulitzer-Prize winning American writer Maya Angelou wrote a poem, "His Day Is Done," in tribute to Nelson Mandela "on behalf of the American people." Angelou gave the U.S. State Department permission to circulate the poem in 15 languages. The work refers to Mandela's courage in fighting oppression and his embrace of his entire nation following the fall of apartheid: "Yes, Mandela's day is done. Yet we, his inheritors, will open the gates wider for reconciliation." Watch this acclaimed writer deliver a moving tribute to a great leader:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Tracy Chapman Live



Tracy Chapman performed "Talking 'Bout A Revolution" at the 70th Birthday Tribute Concert for Nelson Mandela, Wembley Stadium, London, June 11, 1988.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Walker: Instead Of Buying Kids Presents, Contribute To My Campaign

Besides being a union buster, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) is also something of a Grinch. His campaign sent out an email titled, "The Gift That Keeps On Giving," which asks supporters not to buy their children holiday presents. They're urged to look at the big picture and send the money to Walker's re-election effort: “Instead of electronics or toys that will undoubtedly be outdated, broken, or lost by the next Holiday Season, help give your children the gift of a Wisconsin that we can all be proud of.” The following is the email:


(h/t: Think Progress)

Eugene Robinson: President Obama's Immoral Drone War

Eugene Robinson questions President Obama's expanded drone warfare, characterized by summary executions conducted in countries with which the U.S. is not at war and by "collateral damage," the killing of innocent civilians. Either way, he argues that the rationale for such strikes is morally ambiguous–and predicts that historians will view the drone war as a "great moral failure":

Even if the intelligence agents and military officers who operate the drones have perfect knowledge — meaning they are absolutely certain that the target is a dangerous enemy — and fire the drones’ missiles with perfect accuracy, this amounts to summary execution. Is such killing morally defensible?

...Under what theory...does the president order drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, with which we are not at war? It would seem the definition of “enemy” is, basically, “someone the United States decides to target.”

...How many civilians have been killed in drone strikes? The Obama administration refuses to say but insists that the toll, whatever it may be, is declining because of stricter rules on choosing targets.

In Afghanistan, it is hard to attempt a count because there is an actual war going on, with no agreement on who qualifies as a civilian. The Los Angeles Times wrote recently about a Sept. 7 drone strike in Kunar Province. U.S. officials told the paper that 11 people died, most of them Taliban fighters; grieving local residents, however, insisted that 14 civilians had been killed. When does a village cease being a village and become a “Taliban stronghold”? When we say so, apparently.

The nonpartisan New America Foundation, which has attempted to keep a running tally, says drone strikes under both presidents have killed between 258 and 307 civilians in Pakistan, and between 66 and 68 in Yemen. Those numbers may seem small, but each victim was a human being who posed no threat to the United States or its interests — in some cases a child who was here one minute, full of laughter and life’s promise, and gone the next.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Economist: Minimum Wage Rise Doesn't Hurt Employment

Arindrajit Dube, associate professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and research fellow at IZAcounters the conservative argument that increasing the minimum wage would cause job losses. His research finds that the effect on employment is "statistically indistinguishable from zero":

In my work with T. William Lester and Michael Reich, we use nearly two decades’ worth of data and compare all bordering areas in the United States to show that while higher minimum wages raise earnings of low-wage workers, they do not have a detectable impact on employment. Our estimates — published in 2010 in the Review of Economics and Statistics — suggest that a hypothetical 10 percent increase in the minimum wage affects employment in the restaurant or retail industries, by much less than 1 percent; the change is in fact statistically indistinguishable from zero.

...While the evidence may not convince the most strident of critics, it has shifted views among economists. A panel of 41 leading economists was asked recently by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business to weigh in on President Obama’s proposal to increase the minimum wage and automatically index it to inflation. A plurality, 47 percent, supported the policy...

But how can minimum wages rise without causing job losses? For starters, if the demand for burgers is not price sensitive, some of the cost increase can be passed on to customers without substantially reducing demand or jobs. Existing research suggests that if you raise the minimum wage by 10 percent, you can expect the price of a $3 burger to rise by a few cents, which is enough to absorb a sizable part of the wage increase.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Tribute To An Elderly Activist


Who are you, elderly woman being handcuffed by police in riot gear as you stand up for the rights and dignity of Walmart workers during the Black Friday protests? You've kept alive the spirit of outrage over injustice, the courage to confront it, the fight for a better world. You are an inspiration to us all.

Whoever you are, I bow to you with the deepest respect.

Image: Alex Garland Photography, alexgarlandphotography.com

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thom Hartmann: Is It Vampire Capitalism?

Thom Hartmann discusses the new model of capitalism exemplified by Walmart and fast food chains: reaping immense profits, paying low wages and forcing the taxpayers to subsidize the workers–and, ultimately, the companies–through food stamps, Medicaid, and housing and heating assistance. Watch:



(h/t: Best of the Left Podcast)

Jeb Bush Tweets The Latest Obamacare "Conspiracy"

The United States has announced that it's relocating its Vatican embassy for economic and security reasons–resulting in the National Republican Senatorial Committee declaring on its website, "Obama Closes Vatican Embassy." In any event, last week we witnessed the right-wing talking point stating that Obama made a nuclear weapons deal with Iran in order to "distract" us from Obamacare problems. Now Jeb Bush announces, through the tweet below, the latest Obamacare "conspiracy": Obama is "closing" the embassy in "retribution for Catholic organizations opposing Obamacare":

Video: McDonald's "Helpful" Tips To Low-Wage Workers

McDonald's personal wellness website, the McResource Line, purports to tell low-wage fast-food workers how to manage stress and maintain health. "Low Pay Is Not OK" produced the following video showing some of the most clueless and offensive tips, which include telling employees to take unaffordable vacations, break food into little pieces and quit complaining. Watch:


GOP Praises Rosa Parks For "Ending Racism"

The 58th anniversary of Rosa Parks' brave refusal to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, certainly merits commemorating. In the tweet below, however, the Republican National Committee, while praising Parks, also proclaims that racism has ended:



Memo to the GOP: Racism hasn't ended. Perhaps you can fight it by helping revive the Voting Rights Act.

Richard Hell On The Downtown New York Music Scene

After mourning the death of Lou Reed and reviewing the film CBGB, I was interested in Richard Hell’s perspective, expressed in the short video below, on downtown New York–and, now, Brooklyn–as an incubator for musical creativity. Hell is the author of the memoir “I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp” and the founder of the punk rock band Richard Hell and The Voidoids. He recalls the Lower East Side before gentrification and contrasts commercial music with music that is “about the actual lives of street musicians; it’s about reality rather than pleasing a demographic”–exemplified by Reed and The Velvet Underground. Watch: