Monday, December 29, 2014

Tom Tomorrow: "2014 In Review," Part II

That was quite a second half of the year: Ferguson, torture, the midterm elections. These events and more are captured in Part II of Tom Tomorrow's annual survey of political lunacy (see Part I here). It's time, then to say good riddance to 2014 and hope for the best in the year ahead. I'm in the midst of a year-end blogging break. Happy New Year to all my readers. See you in 2015!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Obama Sounds Like He's Going to Reject Keystone Pipeline

Following his moves on immigration, Cuba and a U.S.-China climate deal, President Obama must do one more thing in order to effect a Republican meltdown: reject the Keystone Pipeline. In a press conference last week, he sounded like he was leaning that way. Obama stated that the tar sands oil would reach the Gulf Coast and enter the world market, primarily benefiting Canadian companies; it would have little impact on U.S. gas prices; it would result in a small, temporary number of jobs; and it could exacerbate climate change, with negative impacts on the environment and economy. Watch:



OBAMA: I don't think I've minimized the benefits, I think I've described the benefits.

At issue in Keystone is not American oil, it is Canadian oil that is drawn out of tar sands in Canada. That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks, and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it all the way through the United States down to the Gulf. Once that oil gets to the Gulf, it is then entering into the world market and it would be sold all around the world…  There is very little impact, nominal impact, on US gas prices, what the average American consumer cares about, by having this pipeline come through.

And sometimes the way this gets sold is, let's get this oil and it's going to come here and the implication is that's gonna lower oil prices here in the United States. It's not. There's a global oil market. It's very good for Canadian oil companies and it's good for the Canadian oil industry, but it's not going to be a huge benefit to US consumers. It's not even going to be a nominal benefit to US consumers.

...If we've got more flooding, more wildfires, more drought, there are direct economic impacts on that.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tom Tomorrow: "2014 In Review," Part I

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

NYT Editorial Board: Prosecute Cheney for CIA Torture Program

Responding to the Senate Intelligence Committee's torture report, the New York Times Editorial Board has called for President Obama to "authorize a full and independent criminal investigation" of those responsible for the CIA torture program. While the Times finds it hard to conceive of a former president being subject to such an investigation, it asserts that Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials should be prosecuted. The editorial rejects the twisted legal logic justifying torture, and calls it by its proper name: crimes. Such an investigation, the Times states, would help ensure that these practices are not repeated and enable the nation to regain "the moral credibility to rebuke torture by other governments":

...The nation cannot move forward in any meaningful way without coming to terms, legally and morally, with the abhorrent acts that were authorized, given a false patina of legality, and committed by American men and women from the highest levels of government on down.

Americans have known about many of these acts for years, but the 524-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report erases any lingering doubt about their depravity and illegality: In addition to new revelations of sadistic tactics like “rectal feeding,” scores of detainees were waterboarded, hung by their wrists, confined in coffins, sleep-deprived, threatened with death or brutally beaten. In November 2002, one detainee who was chained to a concrete floor died of “suspected hypothermia.”

These are, simply, crimes. They are prohibited by federal law, which defines torture as the intentional infliction of “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” They are also banned by the Convention Against Torture, the international treaty that the United States ratified in 1994 and that requires prosecution of any acts of torture.

So it is no wonder that today’s blinkered apologists are desperate to call these acts anything but torture, which they clearly were. As the report reveals, these claims fail for a simple reason: C.I.A. officials admitted at the time that what they intended to do was illegal.

...as hard as it is to imagine Mr. Obama having the political courage to order a new investigation, it is harder to imagine a criminal probe of the actions of a former president.

But any credible investigation should include former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos. There are many more names that could be considered, including Jose Rodriguez Jr., the C.I.A. official who ordered the destruction of the videotapes; the psychologists who devised the torture regimen; and the C.I.A. employees who carried out that regimen.

...Starting a criminal investigation is not about payback; it is about ensuring that this never happens again and regaining the moral credibility to rebuke torture by other governments. Because of the Senate’s report, we now know the distance officials in the executive branch went to rationalize, and conceal, the crimes they wanted to commit. The question is whether the nation will stand by and allow the perpetrators of torture to have perpetual immunity for their actions.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Fox Bashes Obama, Holder, Sharpton for NYC Police Killings

Fox has embraced the conservative theme that comments on the reform of the police and justice system "incited" the tragic deaths of officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in Brooklyn. Tucker Carlson referred to "leaders who have whipped up these protests to a frenzy." As "evidence," Fox presented a video montage of statements by Al Sharpton, Attorney General Holder and President Obama who, respectively, speak about reformation of the grand jury system; the fraying trust between law enforcement and minority communities, and the fact that this alienation is a genuine problem. All three present thoughtful analyses, not blood-curdling calls for murder and mayhem. Watch:


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Police Union Pres. Blames Protesters, Mayor for Murders of NYC Officers

Last night in Brooklyn, police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were assassinated execution-style as they sat in their patrol car. The shooter, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who wrote about retribution on Instagram, then ran to a nearby subway station and committed suicide. In addition to being a cowardly and despicable act, this double murder enabled right-wingers to blame protesters for "incitement," denying the fact that the goal of the protests is police reform, not murder. That includes tweets by conservatives, including former NY Governor George Pataki, who blamed Attorney General Eric Holder and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio for "anti-cop rhetoric." The always divisive Rudy Giuliani (I'm so glad he's no longer my mayor) blamed Obama for teaching "anti-police hatred." Reacting to de Blasio's support for the rights of protesters and his statement that he warned his biracial son, Dante, to "take special care" around the police (said following the Eric Garner decision; de Blasio has also repeatedly praised police for their work), Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch added to the demagoguery by proclaiming that there is "blood on many hands," including "those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protest” and "the office of the mayor.” Watch:

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday Night at The Liberal Curmudgeon: Violent Femmes Live



Folk punk band the Violent Femmes performed "Blister in the Sun." While there are multiple perspectives regarding the song's lyrics, the group itself denies one popular interpretation.

Overheard At Anti-Obama Rally: "Hang Him! We've Got Rope!"

"Operation American Freedom," held recently in coordination with a sheriffs' rally to protest President Obama's immigration plans, turned out to be a handful of right-wing extremists gathered in front of the White House. They made appalling statements, as picked up in the video below supplied by Right Wing Watch, including “Hang the traitor!”; “Hang the lying Kenyan traitor!”; “We’ve got rope!”; “Plenty of trees in the front yard; wouldn’t be the first one hung on one of them trees.”; “Whatever happened to those good ol’ days?”; “Don’t snap his neck, you watch him choke to death.”; “He’s just biding his time until Satan takes him home to where he belongs.” These horrendous, racist sentiments, associated with lynching, point to the fact that there is a segment of this country that nurtures an irredeemable, murderous rage at the reality of a black president. Watch:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Michele Bachmann's Parting Request To Obama: Bomb Iran

What will we do without Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), now that she's retiring from Congress? Known for her zany comments, Bachmann went out with a bang–or advocated one, asking President Obama at the White House Christmas party to bomb Iran. She told Fox News that she tried to have a "substantive conversation": “I asked the president to be very serious and to think about this because if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon on his watch, the course of history will change.” One supposes it will also change if Obama bombs Iran tomorrow morning. Anyway, Bachmann came away annoyed with Obama's refusal to heed her foreign policy counsel: “He smiled and laughed and was fairly patronizing, and said, ‘Well, you know, it just isn’t that easy, Michele, but that’s OK,’ like I’m some little woman who doesn’t know what I’m talking about.” Watch her interview with a sympathetic Fox host:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cheney Unfazed About Death of Innocent Detainee

Speaking about the Senate Intelligence Committee's torture report, Dick Cheney told NBC's Chuck Todd that it was "a crock" and that he would promote the same interrogation methods "in a minute." Todd then asked about the torture of innocents, including Gul Rahman, who was "chained to the wall of his cell, doused with water, froze to death in CIA custody and it turned out it was a case of mistaken identity." Cheney stated, "I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that in fact were innocent." When Todd countered that "Twenty-five percent of the detainees turned out to be innocent," Cheney responded, "I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States." The former Vice President, then, is unfazed hearing that the program he strongly backed resulted in the detention and torture of innocents, even unto death. Watch:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

GOP Bill Boosts Industry Scientists, Censors Independent Scientists

House Republicans have passed a bill changing rules for eligibility to the Science Advisory Board (SAB), which advises the Environmental Protection Agency. The bill clears the way for corporate-allied scientists to serve on the board and bans independent scientists from discussing their own research with the board. According to GOP bizarro logic, the independent scientists present a conflict of interest when talking about their work while the corporate-allied scientists, financially tied to industries, present no conflict. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) told House Republicans, “I get it, you don’t like science. And you don’t like science that interferes with the interests of your corporate clients. But we need science to protect public health and the environment.” McGovern is correct about the GOP's latest campaign in their ongoing war on science:

The House voted 229-191 to pass H.R. 1422, which would change the rules for appointing members to the Science Advisory Board (SAB), a group that gives scientific advice to the EPA Administrator. Also called the Science Advisory Board Reform Act, the bill would make it easier for scientists with financial ties to corporations to serve on the SAB, prohibit independent scientists from talking about their own research on the board, and make it more difficult for scientists who have applied for grants from the EPA to join the board.

The purpose of the bill, according to Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), is to increase transparency and accountability to the EPA’s scientific advisors. Burgess said on the floor Tuesday that the board “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.” With this bill, Burgess said the inclusion of industry interests would erase “any appearance of impropriety on the board.”

But scientists, environmental groups, and health experts have said that the bill compromises the scientific independence of the SAB, and makes it harder for the Board to do its job, thereby increasing the amount of time it takes to implement EPA regulations.

“The supposed intent [of the bill] is to improve the process of selecting advisors, but in reality, the bill would allow the board to be stacked with industry representatives, while making it more difficult for academics to serve,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) on the House floor on Tuesday. “It benefits no one but the industry, and it harms public health.”

...The Union of Concerned Scientists has come out strongly against the bill, particularly the portion that says SAB members can not participate in discussions that cite their own peer-reviewed research. Republicans say this would make scientists biased for their own work — but scientists say this makes no sense.

“This [bill] effectively turns the idea of conflict of interest on its head, with the bizarre presumption that corporate experts with direct financial interests are not conflicted while academics who work on these issues are, “the group’s director, Andrew A. Rosenberg, said in a letter to Congress. “Of course, a scientist with expertise on topics the Science Advisory Board addresses likely will have done peer-reviewed studies on that topic. That makes the scientist’s evaluation more valuable, not less.”

Despite the bill’s passage, however, it is unlikely that it will become law. The Senate does not have a similar bill nor does it plan to take one up, and the President Obama has already pledged to veto the bill if it comes to his desk.

Image: John Boehner (Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Texas Textbooks Teach New "Facts" About Moses and Climate Change

The social studies books adopted by the Texas State Board of Education make a national impact on the textbook market, since the state has around 5 million students. In the textbooks approved by the Republican-dominated, 15-member Texas Board of Education, students will soon "learn" that Moses influenced the country's founding documents and that scientists are divided about climate change:

Consider one high school government textbook. It lists four thinkers who influenced the Founding Fathers.

"Three of those on the list make a lot of sense: John Locke, Montesquieu and Blackstone. Those are all either British philosophers or Enlightenment thinkers," says Jennifer Graber, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin.

She says that these three thinkers are all quoted in America's founding documents. But, for Graber, the fourth person on the list raised a red flag: Moses.

"I think for many of us who are academic historians, it's a very ahistorical connection to make. Moses is not someone who is quoted in the founding documents," Graber says.

Moses is, however, mentioned explicitly in Texas learning standards, which is why the publisher included him in its textbook (and this is not the publisher's only textbook to include him).

The standards are called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and were created in 2010. They state that high school students in U.S. government are expected to "identify the individuals, whose principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding documents, including those of Moses, William Blackstone, John Locke, and Charles de Montesquieu."

...Another point of contention: climate change. Josh Rosenau, programs and policy director with the National Center for Science Education, took issue with its characterization in books by megapublishers Pearson and McGraw-Hill.

"They were saying we didn't know what was causing climate change or saying that scientists were divided about whether humans were responsible," Rosenau says. "And that was just not true."


Image: Mikhaela Reid, bollingpointcartoon.com

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Thousands March in NYC Against Police Violence


As part of a national day of demonstrations against police violence following the failure to indict officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown, tens of thousands marched from Washington Square Park up Fifth Avenue and back downtown to NYPD headquarters. Protesters carried eight panels (above) created by French artist JR hauntingly depicting Eric Garner's eyes. Below is a time lapse video showing the massive amount of people who took part in "Millions March NYC" against police brutality and impunity. Watch:

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday Night at The Liberal Curmudgeon: David Bowie Live



With his constantly changing persona, appearance and musical direction, David Bowie is rock's ultimate postmodernist. Above he performed the song about one of his alter-egos, the rock star "Ziggy Stardust," in Paris, 2002. In the animated interview below, Bowie discusses Ziggy–whom he refers to as "half out of sci-fi rock and half out of the Japanese theater"–and the other characters he's created. Bowie's imaginative forays must have something to do with the fact that he's one of the most well-read rockers, as is clear from his list of "75 Must-Read Books."

Elizabeth Warren on Omnibus Bill: "Who Does Congress Work For?"

On the Senate floor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) railed against the Omnibus spending bill's repeal of Section 716 of the Dodd-Frank financial regulations of 2010. She asked, "Who does Congress work for? Does it work for the millionaires, the billionaires, the giant companies with their armies of lobbyists and lawyers, or does it work for all the people?" She condemned the repeal that would permit "derivatives traders on Wall Street [to] gamble with taxpayer money and get bailed out by the government when their risky bets threaten to blow up our financial system." Warren pointed out that the same banks that crashed the economy and were bailed out in 2008 favor the repeal. She criticized the Republicans who threatened another government shutdown unless it was passed, as well as the former members of Congress who are now lobbyists for big banks that spend big bucks to scuttle financial regulations. Warren concluded, "This is a democracy, and the American people didn't elect us to stand up for Citigroup. They elected us to stand up for all the people." Watch:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

John McCain: Torture "Stained Our National Honor"

Though he shares the neocons' warmongering propensities, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) parts with them in one important way: he is firmly opposed to torture. Dick Cheney received five deferments during the Vietnam War yet sent over 1.5 million young people to an unnecessary war in Iraq and called the torture report "full of crap." McCain, in contrast, was a prisoner of war who was tortured by the North Vietnamese in the "Hanoi Hilton." He has a moral clarity about torture that his fellow Republicans lack. McCain defended the Senate Intelligence Committee's CIA torture report with an eloquent statement, in which he stated that torture "stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good." Watch:



McCain: The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.

They must know when the values that define our nation are intentionally disregarded by our security policies, even those policies that are conducted in secret. They must be able to make informed judgments about whether those policies and the personnel who supported them were justified in compromising our values; whether they served a greater good; or whether, as I believe, they stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good.

What were the policies? What was their purpose? Did they achieve it? Did they make us safer? Less safe? Or did they make no difference? What did they gain us? What did they cost us? The American people need the answers to these questions. Yes, some things must be kept from public disclosure to protect clandestine operations, sources and methods, but not the answers to these questions.

By providing them, the Committee has empowered the American people to come to their own decisions about whether we should have employed such practices in the past and whether we should consider permitting them in the future. This report strengthens self-government and, ultimately, I believe, America’s security and stature in the world. I thank the Committee for that valuable public service.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Seven Key Points from the CIA Torture Report

The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a report condemning the CIA for its use of torture under the Bush administration. The report detailed the brutality of the agency's torture practices, their ineffectiveness in delivering information, the detainees who were wrongfully held, the CIA's deception regarding the effectiveness of the program and the program's lack of oversight, among other findings. The committee's chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), called the program “a stain on our values and our history.” She continued, “History will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say ‘never again.’ ” The New York Times outlined  7 Key Points From the C.I.A. Torture Report:

1. The C.I.A.’s interrogation techniques were more brutal and employed more extensively than the agency portrayed.
The report describes extensive waterboarding as a “series of near drownings” and suggests that more prisoners were subjected to waterboarding than the three prisoners the C.I.A. has acknowledged in the past. The report also describes detainees being subjected to sleep deprivation for up to a week, medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” and death threats. Conditions at one prison, described by a clandestine officer as a “dungeon,” were blamed for the death of a detainee, and the harsh techniques were described as leading to “psychological and behavioral issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation.”
Waterboarding is called “a series of near-drownings” (Page 86)
• Detainees with psychological and behavioral issues (Page 114)

2. The C.I.A. interrogation program was mismanaged and was not subject to adequate oversight.
The report cites dissatisfaction among intelligence officers about the competence and training of interrogators. Those found to have violated agency policy were “rarely held accountable.” The architects of the program had never carried out a real interrogation. The report states that the C.I.A. resisted congressional oversight, restricted access to information, declined to answer questions about the program and “impeded oversight” by the agency's inspector general by providing false information.
An officer with no previous experience conducting interrogations (Page 50)
• C.I.A. officers were "rarely held accountable" for death, injury or wrongful detention. (Page 14)

3. The C.I.A. misled members of Congress and the White House about the effectiveness and extent of its brutal interrogation techniques.
The report says that the C.I.A. provided false and misleading information to members of Congress, the White House and the director of national intelligence about the program’s effectiveness. It asserts that a review of cases, in which the agency claims to have collected “actionable intelligence” it would have been unable to obtain by other means, calls into question the connection between the information and any “counterterrorism success.”
How the C.I.A. represented the program’s effectiveness (Page 172)
• Examples of inaccurate C.I.A. testimony (Page 462)

4. Interrogators in the field who tried to stop the brutal techniques were repeatedly overruled by senior C.I.A. officials.
C.I.A. personnel reported on multiple occasions to being “disturbed” by waterboarding and concerned over its legality. Officials, including the program’s architects, described the interrogation as a “template for future interrogation” of detainees. In one instance, a senior official pushed back against concern over the “legal limit” of brutal interrogation techniques by stating that the “guidelines for this activity” had been “vetted at the most senior levels of the agency.”
C.I.A. personnel concerned over waterboarding (Page 44)
Counterterrorism official pushes back on questions of legality. (Page 43)

5. The C.I.A. repeatedly underreported the number of people it detained and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques under the program.
The report states that the C.I.A. never produced an accurate count or list of those it had detained or subjected to brutal interrogation techniques. The agency said it detained “fewer than 100 individuals,” but a review of agency records indicated that it held 119. It also underreported the number of detainees who were subjected to torture.
C.I.A. director “instructed me to keep the detainee number at 98” (Page 15)

6. At least 26 detainees were wrongfully held and did not meet the government’s standard for detention.
The report found that at least 26 detainees “were wrongfully held,” including an “intellectually challenged” man who was used as “leverage” to obtain information from a family member, two former intelligence sources and two individuals identified as threats by a detainee subjected to torture. Agency records were often incomplete and, in some cases, lacked sufficient information to justify keeping detainees in custody.
Of 119 detainees, at least 26 were “wrongfully held.” (Page 14)

7. The C.I.A. leaked classified information to journalists, exaggerating the success of interrogation methods in an effort to gain public support.
The report found that the C.I.A. provided classified information to journalists but that the agency did not push to prosecute or investigate many of the leaks. C.I.A. officials asked officers to “compile information on the success” of the program to be shared with the news media in order to shape public opinion. The C.I.A. also mischaracterized events and provided false or incomplete information to the news media in an effort to gain public support.
Overview of representations to the media (Page 401)

Photograph: Kenton Powell/Guardian US

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jon Stewart Tears Into Reactions to Eric Garner's Death

Jon Stewart reviews the ways in which some public figures blamed the death of Eric Garner "on anything but the injustices of a flawed system," including the following: Garner was too big (Former NYPD Commissioner Bernie Kerik), he was too ill (Rep. Peter King), he wasn't subject to a chokehold (Sean Hannity), he was resisting arrest (former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani) and he was the victim of high cigarette taxes (Rand Paul). Kerik and Giuliani also said that criticisms of the failure to indict the killers of Eric Garner and Michael Brown amount to tearing down the criminal justice system. (An aside: I'm so glad that the divisive Giuliani is no longer my mayor.) Watch:

Monday, December 8, 2014

#AliveWhileBlack: Twitter Testimonies to Black Encounters with Police

Last Thursday, we looked at the Twitter hashtag trend #CrimingWhileWhite, which consists of tweets by whites regarding their scrapes with the law–scrapes in which they suffered no consequences. Now let's consider the hashtag trend #AliveWhileBlack, in which blacks testify to their encounters with the police–encounters in which they were clearly subject to racism. Reading the two sets of tweets, one realizes that the famous sentence of the Kerner Commission of 1968 still applies to the America of 2014: "Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal." Here are 18 tweets:


















Sunday, December 7, 2014

"What Makes Something Right or Wrong?" by Stephen Fry

We recently watched Stephen Fry, English comedian, actor, writer and activist, provide humanist perspectives on happiness, truth, and death. Let's conclude with Fry's animated essay on morality. In contrast to the view in which morality never varies and is revealed by religious texts and authorities, humanists consider a particular situation and weigh the most ethical choices. Further, morality is not something imposed from outside, but something that human beings have developed based on reason, experience, empathy and respect. Watch:

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Saturday Night at The Liberal Curmudgeon: Bob Marley Live



Bob Marley's lyrics in "War" are derived from a speech presented by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I before the United Nations, June 1963. Marley performed the song with The Wailers at Harvard Stadium, Boston, June 1979. The first stanza states, "Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war." Marley followed "War" with "No More Trouble," his plea for universal love, which he wrote with Curtis Mayfield, featured here recently. This week's musical entry is posted in memory of Eric Garner, Tamar Rice and Michael Brown.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

#CrimingWhileWhite: Twitter Testimonies To White Privilege

In September, we looked at the case of Sarah Culhane, a white teen who drove her BMW into three cars, injured a woman, tried to flee and kicked a police officer in the head. The police took her to jail. Does anyone doubt that if she were a young black male, she would have wound up in the morgue? In this regard, a fascinating hashtag trend on Twitter, #CrimingWhileWhite, consists of tweets by whites regarding their scrapes with the law–scrapes in which they suffered no consequences. In a number of cases, their black friends were the only ones who were apprehended–and in every case, the tweeters are alive to tell their tales. Reading them, one comes to two conclusions: a "postracial society" remains a fantasy and white privilege is a reality. Here are 18 tweets:



































Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Grand Jury Doesn't Indict Officer in Death of Eric Garner

The failure by a grand jury to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY, is a disgrace, a profound miscarriage of justice. After a brief exchange regarding the possible selling of loose cigarettes, the police jumped Garner, whereupon Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold, banned by the NYPD in 1993. The NYC medical examiner ruled the death a homicide resulting from the chokehold. Garner himself repeatedly pleaded, "I can't breathe!" What part of those three words didn't the police understand? After the failure of another grand jury to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown, one watches the following two videos of Garner's death with a terrible sense of déjà vu.  One wonders how the jury didn't find probable cause that a crime was committed. One also wonders what it takes, if anything, for an officer to be indicted in the death of a black person. The first video shows events leading up to the chokehold, the second shows Garner not breathing for seven minutes. Watch:



GOP Panel Refutes GOP Benghazi Conspiracy Theories

We observed how Fox's fear-mongering about Ebola and ISIS–combined with blame for Obama–ended right after the elections. Recently, another right-wing myth, this time about Benghazi, was refuted, by no less than a GOP-led House panel. Their report denied Republican charges that the administration ordered the military to "stand down" and engaged in a coverup:

A report released late Friday about the fatal 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, left Republicans in the same position they have been in for two years: with little evidence to support their most damning critiques of how the Obama administration, and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, responded to the attacks.

Similar to five other government reports, the one released by the House Intelligence Committee on Friday said that the administration had not intentionally misled the public about what occurred during the attacks in talking points it created for officials to use in television appearances that turned out to be inaccurate.

It also said that no order was given by the military to “stand down” in responding to try to save the four Americans killed in the attacks, a claim that Republicans have made based on the account of a member of the security team in Benghazi that day.

...The report said the C.I.A. did not have an “intelligence failure” in the months before the attacks. In fact, the report said, the agency had increased its security because of intelligence reports showing that attacks had intensified in the area.

...Republican lawmakers have said that the administration, fearing political fallout from the attacks — which occurred on Sept. 11, 2012, less than two months before the presidential elections — tried to mislead the public.

In particular, the Republicans have said that Susan E. Rice, who was the ambassador to the United Nations at the time, lied on several Sunday television talk shows when she said the attacks were set off by a protest over an anti-Muslim video. They claimed that she glossed over whether the fatalities were the result of “terrorist” attacks by Al Qaeda because that would have undermined the administration’s narrative that it had all but defeated the group.

The panel found that in the days after the attacks, there was contradictory intelligence about what precipitated them and who was behind them. Ultimately, Ms. Rice’s assertions were wrong, the committee said, but there was no evidence that the administration was attempting to misconstrue the facts.


Image: Mike Lukovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

John Nichols: "Democrats: The Party of Pablum"

Yesterday we considered Jamelle Bouie's contention that, in addition to racism, another factor alienating white working-class voters from the Democrats is their feeling that the party offers them little. Let's now consider another problematic phenomenon related to the Democrats that was evident during the midterms: voters who supported progressive ballot initiatives and referendums while electing Republicans who oppose them. In "Democrats: The Party of Pablum" (The Nation), John Nichols (left) asks, "How...can we explain voters who chose Mitch McConnell senators and Elizabeth Warren policies?" Nichols concludes that voters were excited by specific proposals, but found Democratic candidates overly cautious or incoherent:

While voter suppression and low turnout are huge concerns that must be addressed, voters who came to the polls on November 4 were sufficiently progressive and populist to support minimum-wage hikes, paid sick leave, crackdowns on corporate abuses of the environment, expansion of healthcare and radical reform of a money-drenched campaign-finance system. They just didn’t elect Democrats. Of course, personalities, dark-money interventions and plenty of other factors were at play. But the consistent pattern of progressive policy votes in combination with Republican wins provide the starkest evidence of the extent to which the Democratic Party was an incoherent force in 2014.

[Sen. Bernie] Sanders [I-VT] and members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus tried to get Democrats on message throughout the year. [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren [D-MA] wowed the crowd at Netroots Nation in July, where she outlined a platform centered on economic populism but also including progressive social, environmental and political reforms. But the memo never got to most candidates, consultants, party chairs and leaders. And the results were devastating—not just at the federal level but in the states, where Republicans grabbed governorships and eleven new legislative chambers. Midterms are usually rough for the party of the sitting president, but the 2014 defeats ran deeper, and in many cases will be harder to reverse.

At the root of the problem is a delinking of politics from policy. Increasingly, Democratic candidates in major contests run as “brands” carefully constrained to make a lowest-common-denominator appeal that is satisfying to campaign donors and insiders in Washington but that makes little sense to voters. While GOP candidates rage cynically against “elites” and “crony capitalism,” Democrats peddle pablum. As such, they don’t excite even their own base. What excited activists were those initiative and referendum campaigns; indeed, some of the biggest rallies I witnessed during the 2014 campaign were organized by backers of minimum-wage hikes and “Move to Amend” campaigners for an end to corporate influence on politics and policy. They were right to be excited: they were on their way to big and meaningful victories because they were fighting for big and meaningful—as well as popular—proposals. That’s a lesson Democrats should ponder, because as Stephanie Taylor of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee reminds us: “When elections are about nothing, Democrats lose.”

Monday, December 1, 2014

Jamelle Bouie: "Why Democrats Can’t Win Over White Working-Class Voters"

Writing in Slate, Jamelle Bouie (left) considers the fact that the Democrats, supposedly on the side of labor, lost working-class white voters by 30 points in the midterm elections. In his view, it's partly racism, but also "something broader." These voters, he argues, resent the Democrats' associations with black Americans and feel that the party offers them little. Republican presidential candidates from Nixon to Reagan to Romney have run on this resentment. Bouie proposes that the Democrats support universal policies that will appeal to working-class whites. He's not optimistic, however, that the party or its 2016 presidential frontrunner will adopt a new "muscular liberalism":

...Specifically, whites were bewildered and infuriated with liberals who defended rioting communities—correctly noting the decades of deprivation and abuse that led to those violent outbursts—and pushed anti-poverty programs to address the underlying conditions. Black incomes rose while at the same time, many white incomes were beginning to stagnate or even fall. Why was the government spending our tax dollars on them, working-class whites asked, when they destroy their neighborhoods and refuse to work, and we’re losing our jobs and our homes? In Nixonland, historian Rick Perlstein captures the basic attitude by relaying this comment from a white construction worker, directed at George McGovern, “They’re payin’ people who are on welfare today doin’ nothin’! They’re laughin’ at our society! And we’re all hardworkin’ people and we’re gettin’ laughed at for workin’ every day!”

Part of this was just racism. For most of the post-war era, whites were empowered by the federal government to separate themselves and their lives from black Americans. For the white middle class, federal aid built white suburbs and white schools, and for the white working-class, it built segregated housing projects and cities. The civil rights revolution brought blacks and black demands to their doorsteps, and for the white working class—which couldn’t just leave for the suburbs—it fueled a backlash.

But part of it was something broader. After all, there wasn’t a backlash to government programs writ large. Then, as now, working-class whites are ardent supporters of Social Security and Medicare. But to them, our retirement programs came with an implicit social contract: If you work and contribute to society, society will care for you into your old age. By contrast, you didn’t have to work to benefit from anti-poverty programs, in fact, you could riot and still receive government benefits. To these whites, the New Deal and its successor programs rewarded self-reliance and independence. The War on Poverty didn’t. And they hated it.

...Democrats can adopt populist rhetoric, but there’s no guarantee working-class whites will buy it. Indeed, in parts of the country—like the Deep South—it’s a lost cause. The Democratic Party is too associated with blacks and too associated with welfare to win over enough whites to make a difference.

Put another way, for a new rhetoric of populism to work—or at least, attract the winnable whites...it needs to come with a commitment to universal policies that working-class whites like and support. (It’s no coincidence that the most liberal working-class whites belong to private and public sector unions.)

But the United States doesn’t have a political party to support that kind of social democracy. Instead, it has the Democratic Party, a collection of disparate interests which—at its best—is nervous about economic liberalism and hesitant to push anything outside the mainstream. And worse, it has a presidential frontrunner who—more than anyone else—is connected to the kinds of elites and the kinds of policies that would push the party away from the muscular liberalism it needs.


Kevin Drum offers a similar perspective in Mother Jones.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

"The Theory of Everything," Directed by James Marsh



"The Theory of Everything" is based on "My Life With Stephen" by Jane Wilde Hawking, former wife of Stephen Hawking, British theoretical physicist. Studying at Cambridge University, Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) meets another doctoral student, Jane (Felicity Jones), a literature major who is taken with this awkward but brilliant youth who wants to develop an “equation that explains everything in the universe.” Hawking moves from trying to uncover the beginning of time to theorizing about a cosmos without beginning or end, topics perhaps beyond the abilities of a movie to explain and treated more comprehensively in “A Brief History of Time.” The focus of the film, though, is on the couple's relationship and the challenges related to Hawking's motor-neuron, or Lou Gehrig's, disease. Jane decides that Stephen's inevitable physical deterioration won't get in the way of her love for him. She marries and cares for him and their children as the film chronicles their human triumph, Jane's in keeping the family going and Stephen's in maintaining his zeal for scientific inquiry. Redmayne is remarkable in portraying both Stephen's physical limitations and his boundless intellectual enthusiasm. Their situation, though, does eventually stress Jane, who nevertheless avoids deeper involvement with a choirmaster friend of the family (Charlie Cox)–at least until Stephen leaves her for his nurse (Maxine Peake), and rather quickly at that after her years of devotion. The physicist who attempts to "explain everything" leaves us with a mystery to ponder regarding his own human heart.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saturday Night at The Liberal Curmudgeon: Jefferson Airplane In Central Park



Readers may recall my pleasure at discovering an archive of clips from a concert I attended as a teen, the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East, September 18, 1970, midnight to 6:00 a.m. As I wrote in a post about the concert, I became convinced that one can find online a record of any concert one has attended, even if, as in my case, the event took place in an ancient era. I was equally pleased to find a recording and setlist from another memorable concert, the Jefferson Airplane at Central Park, August 10, 1969, which I attended with a group of friends. The recording above must have been done reel-to-reel, which is why the sound production doesn't meet today's standards. The black-and-white photo above shows singer Grace Slick and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen in the Central Park Bandshell. After the Airplane played, another band that we'd never heard of, Santana, played, and we were amazed by the Latin rhythms they brought into rock. The performance closed with both bands jamming together. During the concert, one of my friends surveyed the countercultural crowd and said to me, "We're taking over!" We were young enough to believe it. We ignored an inconvenient truth: the election of Richard Nixon as president the year before. We also couldn't have known that many of the issues that we thought were nearing resolution, such as voting and reproductive rights, would be subject to continued reactionary attack. Regardless, we heard the Airplane sing their revolutionary anthems "Volunteers" and "We Can Be Together" and experienced that afternoon as one in which, as Wordsworth proclaimed in "French Revolution": "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!"

Friday, November 28, 2014

Lawrence O'Donnell: Prosecution Handed Ferguson Jury Unconstitutional Law

MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell reports that assistant district attorney Kathy Alizadeh handed out to the grand jury, in the case involving Officer Darren Wilson's shooting of Michael Brown, a law ruled unconstitutional in 1985, stating that it is legal to shoot fleeing suspects. The grand jury was incorrectly led to believe that if Michael Brown ran, Wilson was legally justified in shooting him regardless of whether he posed a threat. Weeks later, Alizadeh stated that the statute doesn't comply with the law, but, O'Donnell states, "never, ever explained to the grand jury what was incorrect about the unconstitutional statute." Instead, she left it to the grand jurors to figure it out. O'Donnell concludes, "With prosecutors like this, Darren Wilson never really needed a defense lawyer." Watch O'Donnell present this shocking revelation:

Legal Analyst Lisa Bloom Blasts Wilson Prosecution With Her Tweets

Lawyer and NBC News legal analyst Lisa Bloom (right), who sharply criticized Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch's handling of the case involving the shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson, has also condemned the prosecution through her tweets:



















For more, see @LisaBloom.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Young Turks: "Video Captures EXACTLY How Cops Treat Black People"

Michael Shure and John Iadarola of The Young Turks watch a wrenching video in which a black man, Chris Lollie, waiting to pick up his kids, is harassed by the police in St. Paul, MN. Despite his attempt to deal rationally with the hostile officers, the situation escalates.  Lollie assesses it accurately: "The problem is I'm black." After reviewing the video, the two hosts refer to Fox's Bill O'Reilly, who insists that there's no such thing as white privilege. Watch the following video and consider whether the two officers would have treated a white dad this way:



You can watch more of the video, a news report and an interview with Chris Lollie.

Fox & Friends: What's Been Toughest For Michael Brown's Killer?

What did Fox & Friends focus on regarding Officer Darren Wilson, who killed a young black man, said he'd do it again and faced no charges after the prosecuting attorney acted as his defense lawyer? Why, they focused on his "ordeal." Here it is, in a Tweet:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lisa Bloom: McCulloch Rigged the System for Wilson

NBC News legal analyst Lisa Bloom criticized St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch for his handling of the case involving the shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. McCullogh, Bloom argues, actually acted as a defense attorney for Wilson, applied invalid reasoning for not wanting to file charges and never explained discrepancies in the case. She concludes that McCulloch "rigged the system to get the result he wanted." Watch:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"What Should We Think About Death?" by Stephen Fry

Last month, we listened to Stephen Fry, English comedian, actor, writer and activist, provide the humanist perspective to finding happiness and discovering the truth. In the following animated video, Fry expresses his doubts about an afterlife and encourages us to accept death as a natural part of life and make the most of the one life we know we have. Watch:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday Night at The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Jimmy Ruffin



Motown singer Jimmy Ruffin, who had a string of hits in the 1960s, passed away on Monday at age 78. Above, Ruffin performed his most enduring song, "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," on the British music show "Later...With Jools Holland," October 2009.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Mitch McConnell Suddenly Believes In Science

Prior to the midterm elections, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) dismissed questions about climate change by stating, "I'm not a scientist." It's unclear how pleading ignorance reassures us of his policy judgment on this critical issue. When it comes, though, to the Keystone XL Pipeline, the project to carry corrosive tar sands from Canada through the U.S., McConnell suddenly believes in science:

In remarks on the Senate floor, hours before a vote on a bill that fast-tracks construction of the pipeline, McConnell pointed to the “science” supporting the legislation.

“Those who took a serious look at the science and the potential benefits reached the conclusion long ago,” he said Tuesday. “They understand that the whole drama over Keystone has been as protracted as it is unnecessary. We hope to turn the page on all of that today."

The same thing can be said of Republican obstinacy on climate change: It's been protracted and unnecessary. Too bad Congress is nowhere near turning that particular page.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Republican Immigration Foe Has No Alternative Plan

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), adamantly opposed to immigration reform, must be apoplectic following President Obama's speech tonight. So what is his alternative plan? Interviewed on Bloomberg's "With All Due Respect," Huelskamp danced around host Mark Halperin's repeated questions about what he would do about millions of undocumented immigrants. When it was clear that Huelskamp had no solution, co-host John Heilemann concluded, "Don't ever say we didn't give you a chance to put forward a positive idea about what your policy is to actually deal with the problem. We gave you a bunch of chances, but you decided not to go for it." Huelskamp reflects his fellow House Republicans, who refused to act after the Senate passed an immigration reform bill. Whether the issue is immigration or health care, the Republicans rail against reform but offer no alternative. Watch Huelskamp refuse to "go for it":

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two GOP Presidents Extended Amnesty For Immigrants

Republicans are criticizing President Obama for his imminent plan to take unilateral action on immigration and, as always, considering ways to obstruct him. They seem to forget that House Republicans under Speaker John Boehner did nothing after the Senate passed immigration legislation. They also forget that two Republican Presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, extended amnesty to protect immigrants. Somehow, though, it's different when Obama does it:

President Barack Obama's anticipated order that would shield millions of immigrants now living illegally in the U.S. from deportation is not without precedent.

Two of the last three Republican presidents — Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — did the same thing in extending amnesty to family members who were not covered by the last major overhaul of immigration law in 1986.

There was no political explosion then comparable to the one Republicans are threatening now.

A tea party-influenced GOP is poised to erupt if and when Obama follows through on his promise. He wants to extend protection from deportation to millions of immigrant parents and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and expand his 2-year-old program that shields immigrants brought illegally to this country as children.

"The audacity of this president to think he can completely destroy the rule of law with the stroke of a pen is unfathomable to me," said GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, an outspoken opponent of relaxing U.S. immigration law. "It is unconstitutional, it is cynical, and it violates the will of the American people."

Such strong feelings are common among congressional Republicans. GOP leaders warn that an executive order from Obama would "poison the well" and severely damage Republicans' willingness to work with the president during his final two years in office.

Some Republicans have even raised the possibility of impeachment.

Nearly three decades ago, there was barely a peep when Reagan and Bush used their authority to extend amnesty to the spouses and minor children of immigrants covered by the 1986 law.

..."It's clear that it's fully within [Obama's] legal authority to issue these orders," said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas. He said Republicans "didn't raise any objections in the past when Republican presidents issued similar orders. This is pure political theater."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gallup: Newly Insured Like Their Obamacare

Gallup reports that a strong majority of Americans like the health insurance coverage they have received through the new government exchanges brought about by the Affordable Care Act:

Over seven in 10 Americans who bought new health insurance policies through the government exchanges earlier this year rate the quality of their healthcare and their healthcare coverage as "excellent" or "good." These positive evaluations are generally similar to the reviews that all insured Americans give to their health insurance.

Among those who bought new health insurance policies through the exchanges, the majority are about as satisfied with their coverage and healthcare as are other Americans -- suggesting that the end result of the exchange enrollment process is a generally positive one for those who take advantage of it. Americans who still lack health insurance will have the opportunity to buy coverage when the national insurance marketplace exchanges open again on Nov. 15.

...In addition to newly insured Americans rating their coverage and the quality of their healthcare positively, they are more satisfied than the average insured American with the cost of their health coverage. Three in four of the newly insured say they are satisfied with this aspect of their healthcare experience, compared with 61% among the general population of those with insurance. To some degree, this could reflect the fact that many who get insurance through the exchanges receive government subsidies to help reduce the overall cost of their health insurance.

Newly insured Americans' positive attitudes toward their health coverage are manifested in their coverage intentions going forward. Among those who bought a new policy through a government exchange this year, 68% say they will renew their current policy, while 7% say they plan to get a different policy through a state or federal exchange. Meanwhile, 15% say they will get a different policy from another source, and 2% say they will drop their health insurance altogether.