Saturday, August 30, 2014

"Italian Futurism 1909-1944" At The Guggenheim Museum

Only once before have I reviewed an art exhibit that was closing within a day or two; that is now the case with "Italian Futurism 1909-1914: Reconstructing The Universe" at the Guggenheim Museum. If you're in NYC through Monday and wish to see a show that is both intellectually and aesthetically stimulating, this is one to consider. While Futurism did not make the same impact as other 20th-century art movements such as Cubism, Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism, there's much here in a variety of media that makes this survey worthwhile. The Futurists exalted speed, industrialization, mechanization, youth, urbanism, air flight and war, which they viewed as the answers to a moribund nation. They produced manifestos proclaiming their ideology and viewed their movement as one that would influence life in its totality, hence the show's subtitle, "Reconstructing The Universe." The Futurists' misogyny and war-mongering before WWI and the Fascism of many of its proponents were indeed unfortunate. These trends probably helped lead to Futurism's end in 1944 with the death of its leader, poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who wrote "The Futurist Manifesto" (1909). Futurist ideas may have been dubious, but the movement did produce some powerful works, such as "The City Rises" (1910) by Umberto Boccioni, shown above, which exemplifies these artists' glorification of industry and dynamism.

"Italian Futurism 1909-1944: Reconstructing The Universe" runs through September 1 at the Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, at 88th Street, NYC, 212-423-3575,

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Bird And Diz Live

In celebration of the birthday yesterday of Charlie "Bird" Parker, let's watch him perform "Hot House" on alto sax in 1951 joined by Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet. Accompanying these two bebop giants are Dick Hyman, piano; Sandy Block, bass, and Charlie Smith, drums.

"Here And Elsewhere," Contemporary Arab Art At The New Museum

The New Museum's exhibit "Here And Elsewhere" is a survey of the work over 40 contemporary Arab artists. This expansive show takes up all five floors of the museum with works in varied media that reflect the complexity, diversity and turmoil of the Middle East. Above, "Qalandia 2087" by Wafa Hourani presents a fanciful, ironic installation of a Palestinian refugee camp with miniature sports cars, an airport and colorful TV aerials. Hrair Sarkissian's photos depict public squares in Damascus, Syria, where criminals were hung prior to the current civil war. Jamal Penjweny's "Saddam Is Here" photo series presents Iraqis holding up masks of Saddam Hussein, suggesting the lasting influence of the former dictator. In Lamia Joreige’s “Objects of War” videos, interviewees speak of the conflicts that have engulfed Lebanon for years. Videos by Bouchra Khalili show hands tracing lines from the Middle East to Europe on maps as undocumented immigrants speak of their complicated quests to find new livelihoods and escape the instability back home. The artists present a provocative, multi-layered, human perspective on the Middle East that makes a more profound impression than the pundits and headlines to which we're constantly exposed.

"Here And Elsewhere" continues through September 28 at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, NYC, 212-219-1222,

"The Guermantes Way" By Marcel Proust

The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust. Translated by Mark Treharne. 619 pp. Penguin Classics. $20.00 (paperback)

The Guermantes Way is the third part of "In Search of Lost Time," Marcel Proust's seven-volume novel (readers can also refer to my comments on the first and second volumes). In this volume, the unnamed narrator is now a young man who emerges into the fashionable salons of Paris and moves from adulation of the aristocracy to disillusionment.

The central focus is the narrator's relationship to Madame Oriane de Guermantes. At first, the narrator associates the name "Guermantes" with a glamorous, inaccessible realm. He becomes infatuated with Madame de Guermantes and arranges his morning walks so that he runs into her. He watches her grand, fashionably late entrance into her cousin's theater box. There are, in fact, a number of scenes associated with the theater, a realm that is analogous to the theatrical, ritualized salon of Madame de Guermantes and her adulterous husband Basin.

Madame de Guermantes prides herself on her wit and her supposed independence from convention. Yet her wit is often cruel and her judgments harsh, and none of her salon regulars would dare contradict her. Further, her independence is a cover for relentless social climbing and concern for appearance. The final, devastating scene depicts the Guermantes' relative indifference toward their friend Charles Swann, an important character in the first volume, who is quite ill and doesn't have long to live. The couple are too busy rushing off in their carriage to their next social engagement to give Swann much sympathy.

In The Guermantes Way, Proust  continues his bildungsroman, the education of a youth, with a scathing portrait of the aristocracy as seen through the eyes of his formerly star-struck narrator.

Written in memory of my mother, Dorothy Tone (1923-2006), who first spoke to me about Proust. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

NY Times Refuses To Endorse Cuomo In NY Primary

While acknowledging Gov. Andrew Cuomo's progressive stances on gay marriage, gun control and minimum wage, The New York Times refused to endorse him in the New York Democratic primary, Sept. 9, due to his blocking an independent commission on campaign finance corruption, which looked into issues involving him and his supporters. The Times also cited Cuomo's cutting funds to education while insisting on tax cuts for the wealthy. The paper did not endorse Cuomo's opponent, Zephyr Teachout, professor at Fordham Law School and an expert on political corruption, due to her limited political experience. The Times, however, stated that "those who want to register their disappointment with Mr. Cuomo’s record on changing the culture of Albany may well decide that the best way to do that is to vote for Ms. Teachout":

The most important failures...were in ethics reform. New York still has no comprehensive campaign finance system and has one of the highest donation limits in the country. Mr. Cuomo proposed a better system, but, when legislators balked, he threw up his hands and claimed there was nothing he could do. Where was the energy and determination he showed on marriage rights and guns?

Corporations and special interests can still give unlimited amounts to party “housekeeping” accounts. The rank partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts, which he promised to end, remains in place for a decade because he chose not to make reforming it a priority.

The worst moment of all came when Mr. Cuomo blocked the progress of the independent commission he set up to investigate corruption after the panel began to look into issues that may have reflected badly on him and his political supporters. As The Times reported in July, Mr. Cuomo’s closest aides pushed back every time the commission began looking at the governor’s own questionable practices, including a committee set up to support his agenda, which became Albany’s biggest lobbying spender and did not disclose its donors. Now a United States attorney is pursuing the questions the commission raised, including the ones the governor wanted dropped.

Mr. Cuomo says the purpose of the commission was the leverage it gave him to push an ethics law through the Legislature and that he disbanded the panel when the law, agreed to in March, achieved roughly nine of 10 goals. But the missing goal — a strong public finance system that cut off unlimited donations — was always, by far, the most important method of reducing corruption, a much bigger reform than the strengthened bribery laws he settled for.

Ms. Teachout brings a refreshing seriousness to the job of cleaning up state government, making a strong case for the urgency of rescuing politics from unchecked corporate power. The centerpiece of her platform is a campaign finance system modeled on the matching funds program that has proved successful in New York City.

She would limit contributions to candidates to $2,600, compared with the current $60,000, and would keep corporations from giving five-figure donations, a loophole that Mr. Cuomo has exploited to raise millions of dollars. These proposals are as thoughtful as one would expect from a leading expert on combating public corruption, particularly given her work promoting transparency as national director of the Sunlight Foundation in 2006 and 2007.

Melissa Harris-Perry: The Deaths Of Unarmed Black Men In America

MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry cites the many black unarmed black men killed by police over the past 10 years, leading up to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. She states, “In the past decade alone, these men and hundreds of others have lost their lives to police. From 2006 to 2012, a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week in this country." She then recalls the Dred Scott Decision, 1857, in which an enslaved black man sued for his freedom only to be told that he had "no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” The implications are clear in this powerful commentary. Watch:

Mike Papantonio: The Corporate Death Grip On America

Mike Papantonio of Ring of Fire speaks of a civil case he handled as an attorney against Bayer, which sold HIV-tainted medicine to hemophiliacs, thousands of whom died of AIDS. As evidence mounted, Bayer sold a safer version in 1984, but continued selling the old medicine in Asia and Latin America for over a year. Papantonio states, "rogue corporations have the best of all worlds." They claim "corporate personhood," with the equal protection and due process it entails. When, however, their conduct is questioned, they claim that they made a "corporate-wide decision" and no single person can be held accountable. Such injustices are upheld by the current, corporation-oriented Supreme Court. Watch:

Papantonio: In the 1980’s, Bayer Corporation produced a medicine that was supposed to improve the lives of hemophiliacs. Bayer didn’t tell those hemophiliacs that their product was infected with HIV. Entire families of hemophiliacs died with AIDS as the virus spread within households.

When Bayer was ordered to stop selling their drug in America, they dumped their AIDS laden product in Asia and killed Asian families. No one with Bayer management was arrested. No one who made those psychopathic quality decisions went to prison. They claimed the protection of their status as a “corporation.”

That “corporate” status gave management the ability to kill people for profit and not go to prison. I handled the civil case against Bayer and saw first hand that this was a rogue operation not typical of most corporations. But how do you put that rogue in prison? Who do you arrest?

Today, rogue corporations have the best of all worlds. They take advantage of the constitutional protections that were originally written for living, breathing, humans. They argue that the U.S. Supreme Court mandated 130 years ago that we must treat a “corporation” exactly like we treat a “person.” They argue that the 14th Amendment was written to protect their “corporate person status” with equal protection and due process.

But when the conduct of that “corporate person” is so vile that they make decisions to kill people to increase profit, we hear the argument that it was a “corporate wide decision.” We hear that there was no single person to hold accountable. They tell us that many people were involved in the acts and we can’t throw their corporation in prison.

Paul Ryan Refuses Dialogue With Dreamers He Voted To Deport

At a book signing in Florida, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) refused to explain his vote against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) bill to several young Dreamers who tried to speak to him about the issue. Ryan's book is entitled "The Way Forward," yet it's difficult to see how we'll move forward on immigration while shutting down dialogue. One young undocumented immigrant asked, "A couple weeks ago you voted for defunding DACA. It would put me and my sister up for deportation. We just had a question — do you want to deport me and my sister?” After telling them to "Read the book," Ryan had store security hustle away each questioner, as seen in the following video. Ray Jose, an organizer for United We Dream, concludes, “I ask you again, Congressman Ryan, are you going to take away our Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and deport us, deport Dreamers like myself? And if so, and that’s your way forward, know that Dreamers before me fought for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Dreamers like myself will defend it.” Watch:

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Grateful Dead At Fillmore East, 1970

I'm convinced that one can find a record online of any concert one has attended. So it was that I found an archive of clips from a memorable concert I attended as a teen, the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East, September 18, 1970, midnight to 6:00 a.m. It's questionable whether I would agree to the same schedule that I did as an intrepid youth. Anyway, I searched for the concert on YouTube and while I couldn't find it, I did find almost an hour's worth of footage and music above from the Dead at the Fillmore, February 14, 1970, which was close enough in time to the show I saw. The performance demonstrates the Dead's versatility, from the ultimate "acid jam" Dark Star to the funky "Hard To Handle," sung by Ron "Pig Pen" McKernan, to the acoustic "I've Been All Around This World" to three more songs from the band's repertoire, "Me And My Uncle," "Not Fade Away" and "Mason's Children." The cosmic images are reminiscent of the Joshua Light Show's psychedelic liquid light shows that formed a backdrop during the performances of the Dead and other groups. So what happened to Bill Graham's fabled rock palace in NYC's East Village? It's now an Emigrant Savings Bank.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Chart Shows The Most Liberal And Conservative Cities

The Pew Research Center examined The Economist's chart of the most liberal and conservative cities in America. Pew concluded that big cities do indeed lean liberal, that liberals prefer urban areas and that city governments reflect a liberal ideology. My city, NYC, is apparently number eight in liberalism and, according to another study, number one in kvetching. I'd rather it were the other way around. Regardless, Pew concluded the following:

Overall, the liberal tilt of big cities is unmistakable. Even cities with conservative reputations (such as Dallas, Santa Ana, Calif. and Cincinnati) show up as left-of-center, if only slightly. This is perhaps not surprising: As the Pew Research Center recently found, 46% of consistent liberals said they’d prefer to live in a city, versus just 4% of consistent conservatives. Liberals also are about twice as likely as conservatives to live in urban areas, while conservatives are more concentrated in rural areas.

As interesting as it can be to ponder the distinctions between, say, Denver and Colorado Springs, the researchers were mainly interested in how responsive municipal governments are to their citizens’ policy preferences. Much previous political-science research assumes that municipal politics are largely non-ideological. But after examining a range of specific municipal-level policy decisions (from the regressiveness of a city’s tax structure to its support for affordable housing), the researchers concluded that in fact, cities’ policies aligned fairly closely with their residents’ ideology. “[C]ities with more liberal populations tend to get more liberal policy…collect more taxes per capita and have substantially higher expenditures per capita….This suggests that not only is city government political, but that it may have more in common with state and national politics than previous scholars have recognized.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Eric Cantor’s Big Payoff

Don't worry about Eric Cantor, who resigned as House leader shortly after losing the Virginia Republican primary to an even more right-wing candidate. He'll be just fine. Cantor's "public service" career, in fact, epitomizes America's political corruption. He stood for the interests of Wall Street and, in turn, received their campaign donations. Now he's about to collect, as the New York Times put it in an editorial, his "big payoff" as he enters the financial industry and cashes in on the favors he's done:

Mr. Cantor, who was the House majority leader and clearly didn’t want to spend four months as a backbencher, is about to embark on the next phase of his life, which inevitably involves making a lot of money. His aides and colleagues told Politico that he is already looking for a job in the private sector, ideally with a hedge fund, a private equity firm, or a big bank. So let the favor-trading begin.

“He’s got a lot of private-sector friends he has done favors for,” Tom Davis, another former Republican congressman from Virginia, told The Times Magazine a few weeks ago. “I think it would be easy for him to become Eric Cantor Inc. and make a few million dollars a year.”

His attractiveness to the hedge-fund crowd is not, of course, because of his proven acumen managing big money. Before his first election as a state legislator in 1991, he practiced law in his family’s real-estate development firm in Richmond. What he brings to that world are the connections he built in what is still known, innocently enough, as public service.

From his first assignment on the Financial Services Committee, Mr. Cantor courted the favor and the donations of Wall Street. He opposed raising the absurdly low income taxes for private-equity managers, and personally eliminated a requirement that hedge funds disclose how they gather market-sensitive intelligence. He stopped other Republicans from taxing Wall Street banks to pay for tax reform ideas. And he correctly fought Tea Party conservatives who were trying to eliminate the Export-Import Bank and limit terrorism risk insurance, two business priorities that actually do some good.

He has been well rewarded, raising more than $3 million since 1999 from the securities and investment sector. (In the last few years, he has been the top congressional recipient of its generosity.) His close ties to big money were one of the reasons he was defeated by a little-known candidate, but, in the modern calculus of Washington, his work for his patrons is about to produce its real payoff.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Charles M. Blow: "War Against Whites? I Think Not"

Considering Rep. Mo Brooks' (R-AL) argument that the Democrats are waging a "war on whites," Charles M. Blow writes that it is actually the Republicans who have pursued racially divisive strategies for decades. He corrects the historical record with a summary of GOP racist strategies since the 1970s:

Republicans have been digging a trench between themselves and racial minorities for decades. One could argue that it began when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and reportedly lamented that, in doing so, he was assuring that Democrats had lost the South for a generation, a kind of political white flight of Southern whites to the Republican Party.

The racial divisiveness became part of the party plan in the 1970s with the “Southern Strategy,” when Richard Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips told The New York Times Magazine: “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”

...The racial divisiveness continued in 1988, when George Bush’s supporters used the Willie Horton attack ad against Michael Dukakis.

It continues as Republicans trade racial terms for culture-centric euphemisms. Newt Gingrich, in 2011: “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” although most poor people of working age work. Paul Ryan, earlier this year: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” And Bill O’Reilly said recently in a discussion about legalizing marijuana that the left’s position was that marijuana was harmless and “It’s blacks, you know, you get, you’re trapping the blacks because in certain ghetto neighborhoods it’s part of the culture.”

Add the Obama birthers, voter suppression laws, congressional obstruction and Republicans in the House voting to sue the president, and it becomes clear: Democrats didn’t drive a wedge between Republicans and blacks; Republicans drove blacks away. Blacks have voted more than 80 percent Democratic in every election since at least 1972 and that percentage was over 90 percent in both of Obama’s elections.

And in the Obama era — despite what Mo Brooks says — Republicans are not only solidifying their division with blacks but solidifying a divide with Hispanics as well.

...we have seen further anti-immigrant legislation like Arizona’s Show-Me-Your-Papers law, Congress’s failure to move on comprehensive immigration and opposition to efforts to help the Dreamers. It has now culminated in an ugly conservative reaction to the humanitarian crisis of undocumented children from Central American arriving at our southern border.

...Whites are not under attack by Democrats; Republicans like Brooks are simply stoking racial fears to hide their history of racially regressive policies.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

GOP Rep.: Democrats Are Waging A "War On Whites"

Speaking to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) accused the Democrats of waging a "war on whites." Brooks was responding to comments by National Journal's Ron Fournier, who said to Fox host Chris Wallace regarding Hispanic voters, "the fastest growing voting bloc in this country thinks the Republican Party hates them. This party, your party, cannot be the party of the future beyond November if you’re seen as the party of white people.” Brooks told Ingraham, “This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else. It's part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things. Well, that’s not true.”

This is a classic right-wing argument: Democrats and liberals are blameworthy by just talking about a real issue. By this logic, talking about income inequality means one is waging class warfare and talking about racial inequities means one is divisive. In the words of Rep. Brooks, "Well, that's not true."

Monday, August 18, 2014

America's Police Rapidly Militarized Since 9/11

How did we get to the point that a militarized police force confronted crowds in Ferguson protesting a police officer's shooting of Michael Brown? Ferguson is part of a nationwide phenomenon in which the federal government, since 9/11, has provided a vast array of military gear for the police in the name of fighting terrorism. A New York Times analysis finds that "Terrorism is exceedingly rare...and the equipment and money far outpaced the threat." Further, there is little in the way of training with the equipment or limitations on its use:

...the federal government has spent more than a decade paying for body armor, mine-resistant trucks and other military gear, all while putting few restrictions on its use. Grant programs that, in the name of fighting terrorism, paid for some of the equipment being used in Ferguson have been consistently popular since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. If there has been any debate at all, it was over which departments deserved the most money.

...While the major Homeland Security grants do not pay for weapons, Justice Department grants do. That includes rubber bullets and tear gas, which the police use to disperse crowds. A Justice Department report last year said nearly 400 local police departments and more than 100 state agencies had bought such less-lethal weapons using Justice Department grant money.

The grants also paid for body armor, vehicles and surveillance equipment. It was not immediately clear if those grants had paid for equipment being used in Ferguson.

The military also sent machine guns, armored trucks, aircraft and other surplus war equipment to local departments. Compared with other urban areas, however, St. Louis County has received little surplus military equipment.

All these programs began or were expanded in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, when the authorities in Washington declared that local police departments were on the front lines of a global war on terrorism. Terrorism is exceedingly rare, however, and the equipment and money far outpaced the threat.

...In most instances, the government did not require training for police departments receiving military-style equipment and few if any limitations were put on its use, he said.

The increase in military-style equipment has coincided with a significant rise in the number of police SWAT teams, which are increasingly being used for routine duties such as conducting liquor inspections and serving warrants.

For years, much of the equipment has gone unnoticed. But as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have drawn down, police departments have been receiving 30-ton, mine-resistant trucks from the military. That has caught the attention of the public and caused controversy in several towns.

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Garry Winogrand At The Metropolitan Museum

The Garry Winogrand retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art presents a generous sampling of the photographer's work, which was first centered around New York City before encompassing the Midwest and California. His NYC work, shot in midtown Manhattan in the 1950s and 1960s, captures the city at a time when its inhabitants were more formally attired and less culturally diverse than they are today (see above, from 1962). He also portrayed the turmoil of the late 1960s with portraits of anti-Vietnam war protests in Central Park and construction worker riots against peace demonstrators. When Winogrand went west, he depicted a country adrift: faceless suburbs, self-absorbed pedestrians, a legless veteran at an American Legion convention, a woman who is a hit-and-run victim lying in the street as a car drives by. Similar to his peers Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand's black-and-white photos have a haunting power.

"Garry Winogrand" continues through September 21 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd St., NYC; (212) 535-7710,

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Elvis Presley Live

Elvis Presley died 37 years ago today, at age 42, in Memphis. Above, "The King of Rock and Roll" performed "Hound Dog" on the Milton Berle Show, June 5, 1956. "Hound Dog" was written by the famed songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952. Scotty Moore, cited by Rolling Stone as 29th in its list of the 100 greatest guitarists, accompanies Elvis. Elvis's gyrations during this performance outraged conservative opinion and led to his being dubbed "Elvis the Pelvis." I recommend Peter Guralnick's two-volume biography, "Last Train To Memphis" and "Careless Love," covering Elvis Presley's rise and decline, as well as the birth of rock and roll.

Jelani Cobb: "The Race-Tinged Death Story Has Become A Genre"

Jelani Cobb (left) writes in "The Anger In Ferguson" (The New Yorker, 8/13/14) that the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer evokes bitter ironies and the grim familiarity of "the race-tinged death story," which "has become a genre itself" leading to an "unsatisfactory resolution of the central problems":

...The story that witnesses tell is disturbing not only in its details but in the ways in which those details blur into a longer narrative. It’s one we’re all familiar with if we have paid even passive attention, and yet, despite its redundancy, we have yet to grasp its moral. A trivial incident sparks a confrontation, followed by a disproportionate response, then the tableau of grieving parents struggling to maintain composure and the social-media verdicts rendered in absentia, many asking about the culpability of the deceased. Invariably, some self-ordained truth teller will stand up to quote non sequiturs about black-on-black violence.

...after dark on Monday, police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. The ironies of race and policing were readily apparent: law enforcement using force to suppress outrage at law enforcement’s indiscriminate use of force.

Three weeks ago, Eric Garner died as the result of N.Y.P.D. officers placing him in a choke hold, a banned tactic, following a confrontation over selling loose cigarettes. His death echoed that of Renisha McBride, the nineteen-year-old who was killed when she knocked on a stranger’s door following a car accident, which in turn conjured memories of Jonathan Ferrell, who was shot ten times and killed by officers in North Carolina soon after the death, in Florida, of Jordan Davis, shot by a man who wanted him to turn down his music, which in turn paralleled the circumstances of Trayvon Martin’s demise. For those who have no choice but to remember these matters, those names have been inducted into a grim roll call that includes Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, and Eleanor Bumpurs. These are all distinct incidents that took place under particular circumstances in differing locales. Yet what happened on Staten Island and in Dearborn Heights, Charlotte, Jacksonville, and Sanford have culminated, again, in the specific timbre of familial grief, a familiar strain of outrage, and an accompanying body of commentary straining to find a novel angle to the recurring tragedy.

Despite all the variables, there’s a numbing constant. ...Brown was a large eighteen-year-old—six feet four inches, according to his mother—and, in the image that circulated in the media immediately following the shooting, his size is highlighted. He flashes a peace symbol that, in conjunction with his imposing stature, could predictably be assailed as a gang sign. The hashtag was an overt riff on the way a jury, for example, might decide that a slight teen-ager like Trayvon Martin could be justifiably seen as a threat to George Zimmerman, a man with a gun. Imagery counts as a kind of unspoken forensics, with the power to render someone an innocent victim or a terrifying menace. Implicit is a question: Would you be afraid of this person, too?

The truth is that you’ve read this story so often that the race-tinged death story has become a genre itself, the details plugged into a grim template of social conflict. The genre is defined by its tendency toward an unsatisfactory resolution of the central problems. Two years ago, I visited St. Louis to give a talk at a museum. My visit fell in the wake of a rally in which hundreds of local residents turned out to demand an arrest in Martin’s death. (Brown’s family has now retained Benjamin Crump, the attorney who represented Martin’s family.) Martin was killed nearly a thousand miles away, but when I spoke to people about the rally they conveyed the sense that what had happened to him could happen anywhere in the country, even in their own back yards. For those people in Ferguson pressed against the yellow police tape separating them from Brown’s remains, the overwhelming sentiment is that it already has.

Friday, August 15, 2014

5 Unarmed Black Men Killed By Police In A Month

Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen planning to attend college, was shot by a police officer on Saturday in Ferguson, Missouri. Mother Jones reports that Brown is one of five unarmed black men to be "killed by police in recent weeks under disputed circumstances." The other four, from New York, Ohio and California, include:

Eric Garner, Staten Island, New York / July 17: Eric Garner, a 43-year-old asthmatic father of six, was confronted by New York City police officers for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. When he resisted being cuffed, an officer appeared to put him in a chokehold—a tactic banned by the department since 1993. A video of the arrest, first obtained by the New York Daily News, shows Garner gasping,"I can't breathe!" while officers relentlessly smother him. The city medical examiner later ruled Garner's death a homicide, saying neck compression from the chokehold killed him. But the officers involved in the arrest may not face charges if the homicide is found to be justifiable. Staten Island district attorney Daniel Donovan is investigating the case.

John Crawford, Beavercreek, Ohio / August 5: Two police officers responded to a 911 call about a man waving a gun at customers inside a Walmart store. According the Beavercreek police department, 22-year-old John Crawford disregarded officers' orders to disarm before being fatally shot in the chest. Crawford's gun turned out to be a .177 calibre BB rifle that he'd picked up from a store shelf. Walmart surveillance camera footage was turned over to the police but hasn't been released to the public or Crawford's family. "Why did John Crawford, a Walmart customer, get shot and killed carrying a BB gun in a store that sells BB guns?" asked Michael Wright, the family's attorney, during a joint press conference with the NAACP. "All the family demands is answers." The Ohio Attorney General's Office is investigating the case.

Ezell Ford, Los Angeles, California / August 11: When police conducted an "investigative stop" of 25-year-old Ezell Ford on a Los Angeles sidewalk, he "wheeled around and basically tackled the lead officer," then went after his weapon, an LAPD spokesperson told the LA Times. But in an interview with KTLA News, a woman who identified herself as Ford's mother said he was lying on the ground, complying with the officers' orders, when he was shot in the back. On Sunday afternoon, a handful of people protested the shooting outside LAPD's headquarters. The LA County District Attorney and the department's Force Investigation Unit are looking into the shooting.

Dante Parker, Victorville, California / August 12: A Victorville resident told police that a robbery suspect had fled on a bicycle. The police detained Dante Parker, a 36-year-old pressman at the Daily Press newspaper, apparently because they found him nearby on a bike. Though Parker had no criminal record (other than a DUI), a scuffle ensued and Parker was tased repeatedly when he resisted arrest, according to witnesses. He began breathing heavily and was taken to a hospital, where he died. The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department is conducting an investigation.

Photo: Police confront protestors in Ferguson - AP

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Paul Krugman: "Libertarians Are Living In A Fantasy World"

Paul Krugman writes that libertarians live in a fantasy world, crusading against non-existent problems. He cites libertarian objections to government spending, regulations and monetary policy:

...when it comes to substance, libertarians are living in a fantasy world. Often that’s quite literally true: Paul Ryan thinks that we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel. More to the point, however, the libertarian vision of the society we actually have bears little resemblance to reality.

Mike Konczal takes on a specific example: the currently trendy idea among libertarians that we can make things much better by replacing the welfare state with a basic guaranteed income. As Mike says, this notion rests on the belief that the welfare state is a crazily complicated mess of inefficient programs, and that simplification would save enough money to pay for universal grants that are neither means-tested nor conditional on misfortune. But the reality is nothing like that. The great bulk of welfare-state spending comes from a handful of major programs, and these programs are fairly efficient, with low administrative costs.

Actually, the cost of bureaucracy is in general vastly overestimated. Compensation of workers accounts for only around 6 percent of non defense federal spending, and only a fraction of that compensation goes to people you could reasonably call bureaucrats.

And what Konczal says about welfare is also true, although harder to quantify, for regulation. For sure there are wasteful and unnecessary government regulations — but not nearly as many as libertarians want to believe. When, for example, meddling bureaucrats tell you what you can and can’t have in your dishwashing detergent, it turns out that there’s a very good reason. America in 2014 is not India under the License Raj.

In other words, libertarianism is a crusade against problems we don’t have, or at least not to the extent the libertarians want to imagine. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the case of monetary policy, where many libertarians are determined to stop the Fed from irresponsible money-printing — which is not, in fact, something it’s doing.

And what all this means in turn is that libertarianism does not offer a workable policy agenda. I don’t mean that I dislike the agenda, which is a separate issue; I mean that if we should somehow end up with libertarian government, it would quickly find itself unable to fulfill any of its promises.

So no, we aren’t about to have a libertarian moment. And that’s a good thing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

McCain Criticizes Obama: We Should Have Stayed In Iraq

For the past two decades, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has consistently called for the military escalation of international conflicts. Speaking to CNN's Candy Crowley, McCain criticized President Obama for leaving Iraq; once again, McCain distorts history by ignoring the fact that it was the Bush administration that signed the Status of Forces agreement with Iraq to extract American combat forces. In addition, McCain said that we should conduct airstrikes in Syria and warned against U.S. forces leaving Afghanistan:

On CNN's "State of the Union," McCain blamed the deteriorating situation in Iraq on America's failure to leave forces behind in Iraq.

The senator said Obama's targeted strikes in Iraq aren't enough.

“That’s not a strategy. That’s not a policy," McCain said. “That is simply a very narrow and focused approach to a problem, which is metastasizing as we speak.”

McCain called for airstrikes in Syria and for the U.S. to give weapons and supplies to the Kurds in order to fight ISIS.

“There’s a vacuum of American leadership all throughout the Middle East," he said.

CNN host Candy Crowley asked McCain to respond to the widely-held belief that he opposes everything Obama does when it comes to foreign policy.

“I predicted what was going to happen in Iraq," he said. "And I’m predicting to you now, that if we pull everybody out of Afghanistan, not based on conditions, you’ll see that same movie again in Afghanistan."

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

I’m among millions who are deeply saddened and shocked by the death of Robin Williams, the most brilliant comic talent of our time. There will not be another like him.

Williams was loved for his outstanding performances in so many films. Among my favorites are “Good Will Hunting,” “Dead Poets Society,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and "Good Morning, Vietnam.”

There was a manic intensity to Williams' improvisational skills. Perhaps that was the other side of his severe depression. The inner demons he was battling clearly overshadowed all the acclaim he earned.

There are four more movie appearances coming to the theaters. They will be a testament to the outstanding actor and individual we have lost. Robin Williams’ performances still stand, however, all evidence of the spirit, genius and humanity he brought to his craft.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

"Transmormon": Mormon Family Embraces Their Transgender Daughter

The following documentary by Torben Bernhard focuses on Eri Hayward, born as a boy, and her path toward becoming a transgender woman. It depicts her relationship with her supportive parents and the challenges she faces within her conservative Mormon community in Utah. "Being LDS was our life," she says. "It's one of the reasons I didn't find out about what being trans was until I was an adult." Eri's father states, "I'm hoping that this documentary that you're shooting will be watched by some parents. Maybe something we've said will help them—and through helping them, help their children." Watch the moving documentary "Transmormon":

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: James Brown Live

James Brown is the subject of a new bio-pic, "Get On Up," starring Chadwick Boseman and produced by Mick Jagger. Above, the "Godfather of Soul" sang a quick medley of "Poppa's Got A Brand New Bag" and "I Feel Good" on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1966.

Obama: "We Tortured Some Folks"

In a recent press conference, President Obama stated that after 9/11, the United States engaged in torture. Conservatives were dismayed to hear their beloved euphemism, "enhanced interrrogation," referred to as torture, which is exactly what it was. Among other right-wingers,  Liz Cheney attacked Obama for going after "American patriots" who tortured prisoners. Regardless, Obama explicitly said, "We tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values." Watch:

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thom Hartmann: Rich Brats Hijacked Our Democracy

Thom Hartmann comments on wealthy elitists such as Sheldon Adelson and Ken Griffin, who plan to "invest" big bucks during the midterm elections on Republicans, in return for lower taxes and fewer regulations. Such "rampant bribery," Hartmann continues, "would be considered both immoral and illegal in virtually every other developed country in the world." He cites the Supreme Court, with decisions such as Citizens United, as the institution that codified the corruption of our political system. While the wealthy and corporations profit, "the rest of us live in a very different America than we had just a generation ago": our infrastructure is crumbling, students are overwhelmed with debt, wages are dropping and our health care system still doesn't work for all. Hartmann calls for an end to the legalized bribery of politicians, which would "reel in the rich brats and corral the giant transnational corporations." Watch:

Counterspin: Don't Mention Why The Kids Are On Our Borders

Counterspin comments on the contest among public officials to see who can be the toughest on children who are fleeing to the U.S. out of fear of gang violence in their Central American countries. While the media is focused on this political contest, what isn't mentioned is what led to these children flocking to our borders. During the Reagan era, the U.S. backed right-wing regimes in a number of these countries, including Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, which led to enduring violence and instability (a point also made recently by Robert Reich). On the other hand, Nicaragua, which under the Sandinistas resisted Reagan's attempts to overthrow them, does not suffer from a soaring homicide rate and its children are not flocking to the U.S. Counterspin asks if our journalists are ignoring the roots of today's violence because "it confers moral responsibility on the U.S., and that discussion would spoil a swell debate about just how quickly the kids should be returned to their dangerous homelands." Listen:

(h/t: Best of the Left Podcast)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

David Cole: What If Gore Had Been Able To Appoint Supreme Court Justices?

In "The Anti-Court Court" (The New York Review of Books, 8/14/14) David Cole (left) considers what would have happened had Al Gore been elected president and replaced Rehnquist and O'Connor on the Supreme Court. Reading his summary, one realizes that the disposition of the Supreme Court is the most important domestic issue in a presidential election; that there are indeed differences between Democrats and Republicans; and that liberals should proceed with caution when considering supporting a third party presidential candidate. Cole points out the decisive differences that Democratic Supreme Court appointees would have made:

Had a Democratic president been able to replace Rehnquist and O’Connor, constitutional law today would be dramatically different. Affirmative action would be on firm constitutional ground. The Voting Rights Act would remain in place. The Second Amendment would protect only the state’s authority to raise militias, not private individuals’ right to own guns. Women’s right to terminate a pregnancy would be robustly protected. The validity of Obamacare would never have been in doubt. Consumers and employees would be able to challenge abusive corporate action in class action lawsuits. And Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down regulations on corporate political campaign expenditures and called into question a range of campaign spending rules, would have come out the other way.

Monday, August 4, 2014

NYC Medical Examiner Rules Eric Garner's Death A Homicide

The New York City Medical Examiner has ruled that the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who was placed in a chokehold by the New York Police Department, was a homicide. NYC's Civilian Complaint Review Board has received over 1,000 complaints regarding chokeholds, a maneuver that has been banned:

The NYC Medical Examiner has finally released its conclusion on the death of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after police put him in a choke hold during his arrest last month. Though there was early speculation that perhaps Garner died from cardiac arrest, and not the chokehold, the report concludes Garner died from "compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police."

Contributing conditions, according to the ME, were "acute and chronic bronchial asthma; Obesity; Hypertensive cardiovascular disease." The report concludes that Garner's death was a homicide.

Garner's death has prompted widespread outrage and promises from NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton to retrain all NYPD officers. Chokeholds have been prohibited by the NYPD since 1993, but police continue to use them. A year after the ban went into effect, an NYPD officer killed 29-year-old Anthony Baez with an illegal choke hold during an argument sparked by Baez’s football hitting a cop car.

And three days before Garner's death, another officer was caught on video appearing to put a suspect in a chokehold. Last weekend, an officer allegedly put a pregnant woman in a chokehold outside her Brooklyn home.

Police say Garner had been selling illegal untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk and that they were responding to a complaint about his behavior. The fatal arrest was captured on video by a witness, and raised questions about how Garner's death would have been handled if not for the documentation. The first police report about the incident, for instance, makes no mention of the use of a chokehold.

Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put Garner in the chokehold, has been stripped of his gun and badge and placed on modified duty pending the outcome of the investigation. The EMTs who lackadaisically responded to an unresponsive Garner have been suspended. Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised a full investigation into Garner's death.

8 Women Explain Why The Hobby Lobby Ruling Is Dead Wrong

In the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ruled that for-profit corporations controlled by religious families have the right not to provide insurance coverage for birth control and emergency contraception. In the following Media Matters video, eight women explain why discrimination against women in the name of corporate religion cannot stand. Watch:

(h/t: Best of the Left Podcast)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: The B-52's Live

New Wave band The B-52's performed "Planet Claire" in Dortmund, Germany, 1983. They took the "Peter Gunn" theme and added a 1950s science fiction sound, complete with lyrics about a woman who drove in from Planet Claire in a Plymouth Satellite.

Jessica T. Matthews: U.S. Leaves A Legacy Of "Iraq Illusions"

Writing in the New York Review of Books, Jessica T. Matthews (left), president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, provides a grim account of the legacy that America left in Iraq. Instead of a Sunni-dominated corrupt and brutal state under Saddam Hussein, there is now a Shia-dominated corrupt and brutal state under Nouri-al Maliki. The nation-building and democracy-spreading propaganda under the Bush administration were, as the title of Matthews' essay puts it, "Iraq Illusions." This state of affairs can hardly be repaired by continued U.S. military engagement, as advocated recently by Iraq war hawks who were wrong then and are wrong now:

Had the US been willing to stay longer, might the artificial peace its troops imposed have turned into a real one? Perhaps it might have, if American forces had continued to occupy Iraq for another decade or two. But it is unlikely that Iraq or its neighbors would have been willing to tolerate our presence for that long, and people can nurse a political dream or a desire for revenge for far longer even than that. Iraqis knew that someday we’d be gone and they would remain. They could afford to wait.

Nor did we give short shrift to building up Iraqi security. Iraq has a huge military apparatus—a million men under arms—extensively and expensively trained, and equipped with American weapons. It is a fantasy to argue that another year or two of the US presence would have fundamentally altered Iraq’s military response to the jihadists, for an army will not fight well for a government it does not respect. As Admiral Michael Mullen told Congress in July 2007, shortly before becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Iraq needs political reconciliation; “barring that, no amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference.”

What Prime Minister Maliki has done since taking office eight years ago is to systematically exclude and abuse Iraq’s Sunnis. He has justified everything from denial of government resources to arbitrary arrest and torture on the grounds that he is fighting a war against terror. But he has pointedly failed to classify Shia violence—including, for example, dozens of killings by Asaib, a Shia militia in Basra—as terror. At the same time, he has put himself at the center of the state’s power at the expense of its other institutions. Parliament is powerless and government ministries, the judiciary, and the security forces are politicized and corrupt. The criterion of appointment is loyalty to Maliki, not competence. Lawless Shia militias, answerable only to their leaders, supplant the army and police. Under varying degrees of US pressure to change this behavior, Maliki has nonetheless enjoyed US backing throughout, including through two reelections.

There is no military solution to this state of affairs. The solution must be political, and the fact that there is only a slim chance of success does not make doing the wrong thing any more sensible. The administration should not be stampeded by either Washington hawks or cries of imminent collapse from Baghdad into mission creep on the ground or into becoming Maliki’s air force. Instead, over the coming month or two, it should use all its strength to push for a new Iraqi prime minister and a government that can make a credible case for Sunni and Kurdish support. It is true that Maliki has just been reelected, but his party holds only a quarter of the seats in Parliament—hardly a mandate.