Friday, February 28, 2014

Robert Reich: Inequality Has Warped The Minds Of America’s Rich

Robert Reich considers America's "We" problem — as in “Why should we pay for them?” This stance extends from unemployment benefits to food stamps to helping residents of poorer districts. Racism and middle-class economic stress explain some of the resistance, but what accounts for the refusal of the rich, who alone are doing better than ever? Reich explains that income equality has enabled the wealthy to live completely sheltered from the realities of those who are struggling:

They’ve never been richer. Surely they can afford a larger “we.” But most of today’s rich adamantly refuse to pay anything close to the tax rate America’s wealthy accepted forty years ago.

Perhaps it’s because, as inequality has widened and class divisions have hardened, America’s wealthy no longer have any idea how the other half lives.

Being rich in today’s America means not having to come across anyone who isn’t. Exclusive prep schools, elite colleges, private jets, gated communities, tony resorts, symphony halls and opera houses, and vacation homes in the Hamptons and other exclusive vacation sites all insulate them from the rabble.

America’s wealthy increasingly inhabit a different country from the one “they” inhabit, and America’s less fortunate seem as foreign as do the needy inhabitants of another country.

The first step in widening the sphere of “we” is to break down the barriers — not just of race, but also, increasingly, of class, and of geographical segregation by income — that are pushing “we Americans” further and further apart.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Gov. Nikki Haley: Union Jobs Not Welcome In SC

The vote against unionization on the part of Tennessee VW workers followed a scare campaign on the part of the state's GOP and well-funded right-wing groups. Following this unfortunate event, Gov. Nikki Haley (R) of South Carolina said, "we don't need unions in South Carolina" since "associates appreciate that direct relationship with their employer." Do they appreciate the state's ranking of 44th out of 50 for income? Is there a relation between the lack of unionization and that ranking? Can "associates" trust that their employers will always act in their best interests? How can a governor say that any kind of employment is unwelcome in her state? Regardless, Haley states, “We discourage any companies that have unions from wanting to come to South Carolina because we don’t want to taint the water.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Media Shrugs At The Right's Extremist Rhetoric

We recently noted that Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) shrugged off a constituent's call at a town hall meeting for the execution of President Obama as an "enemy combatant." How is it that this outrageous comment and Bridenstine's failure to immediately censure this individual didn't result in widespread media coverage? On The Media notes that the media has adopted a "tolerance for incendiary, vile and just plain crackpot speech" emanating from the right. Listen:

(h/t: Best of the Left)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Oxfam Warns Of The Dangers Of Global Inequality

Oxfam International's new report, "Working for the Few," makes it clear that income inequality is a worldwide phenomenon. Writing in The Nation, Corinne Grinapol reflects on the ramifications of 85 people who are financially worth the same as 3.5 billion. They are able to rig political systems to favor their interests and continue the cycle of inequality:

Here's a riddle: What do the eighty-five wealthiest people in the world have in common with the 3.5 billion poorest? Answer: the richest sliver possesses the same share of the world's wealth as its poorest half. Another startling fact? One percent of the world's families now possess 46 percent of the world's wealth. And another? Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has grown in the last three decades.

These and similar revelations are at the heart of "Working for the Few," a new report by Oxfam International about rising inequality. Released two days before this year's World Economic Forum, the global elite's annual high-altitude shmooze-fest, the report is a bracing look at the way the world's wealthiest have rigged the system, bending it into a "winner-takes-all" feedback loop to perpetuate their place at the top.

As laid out in the report, the rigging is made possible by this fantastic "ill-gotten" wealth ($110 trillion for the top 1 percent alone), which creates "political capture": the ability of elites to influence lawmakers to enact policies favorable to their interests. And that leads, in turn, to "opportunity capture," in which the best of everything, from healthcare to education, flows to the wealthy and their offspring. Then the cycle begins again.

This is a serious problem. As Oxfam's executive director, Winnie Byanyima, explains, "We cannot hope to win the fight against poverty without tackling inequality. Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table."

To break this cycle, the report offers a roster of solutions aimed squarely at the privileged class: progressive taxation, an end to tax shelters, a living wage for workers, etc. They're all solid suggestions, with just one problem: many require the wealthy to use their political heft to advocate policies that run counter to their interests. Now there's a riddle waiting for an answer.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Arizona Pizzeria Responds To State's Anti-Gay Bill

The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate passed a bill that allows businesses to not serve customers based on "religious belief." For "customers," read "gays." Go figure how they square this blatant bigotry with equal protection under the law. State Senate Democratic Leader Anna Tovar correctly said, "SB 1062 permits discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. With the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation." The bill awaits the decision of Gov. Jan Brewer (R). In the meanwhile, kudos to Rocco's Little Chicago Pizzeria in Tucson for displaying the sign, "We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators." On their Facebook page, the pizzeria stated, "Funny how just being decent is starting to seem radical these days."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"In Secret," Directed By Charlie Stratton

"In Secret," directed by Charlie Stratton, is based on "Therese Raquin," the 1867 Emile Zola novel. Therese (Elizabeth Olsen) is left by her father in the care of her aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange). In turn, she must care for her sickly cousin, Camille (Tom Felton). Madame Raquin compels Therese, virtually an orphan, to marry the unappealing Camille, and the three move from the country to Paris when the latter lands an office job. Madame Raquin opens a shop below the gloomy quarters where the three live. The frustrated Therese meets a family friend, artist and office mate of Camille's, Laurent (Oscar Issac, who recently appeared in "Inside Llewyn Davis," reviewed here), with whom she starts a passionate affair. When Camille decides to move back to the country, Therese and Laurent plot Camille's murder. While this deed is supposed to enable them to live together in bliss, it is the entry point to a cycle of remorse, recriminations and degradation. "In Secret" does full justice to Zola's grim, harrowing work, which has parallels with another great naturalistic novel of adultery and murder, Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy," as well as films that include Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and "Matchpoint," Tay Garnett's "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity."

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Haim Live

Haim covered "Oh Well" at the BBC Radio, December 2012. The song was composed in 1969 by Peter Green, former lead guitarist for Fleetwood Mac.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Bill Nye To Rep. Blackburn: Stop Denying Climate Change

In a Meet the Press debate, Bill Nye "the Science Guy" refuted Rep. Marsha Blackburn's (R-TN) attempts to cast doubt on human-caused climate change. Blackburn, vice-chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a recipient of campaign contributions from Koch Industries, repeatedly stated that there isn't a scientific consensus on climate change–a completely false assertion. Nye pointed out that cold local weather events do not invalidate findings regarding a global climate shift, stating, "It is a way apparently that the fossil fuel industry has dealt with our politics..." Nye also pounced on Blackburn's denial of significant change in the the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere: “When you said, you asserted, congresswoman, that a change from 320 to 400 parts per million is insignificant. My goodness, that’s thirty percent. That’s an enormous change, and it’s changing the world…There is no debate in the scientific community, and I encourage the congresswoman to look at the facts. You are a leader. We need you to change things, not deny what’s happening. This weather event’s important.” Watch:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Data Disproves Conservatives On Obama's Executive Orders

Despite conservative claims that President Obama's use of executive orders is unprecedented, Christopher Ingraham reports in the Washington Post Wonkblog that Obama's record is similar to that of President George H.W. Bush. Does anyone remember the right wing decrying Bush '41 as a "dictator"? Ingraham cited findings from his tally of economically significant regulations:

I tallied data on final regulations from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) and found that Obama has issued an average of 56 economically significant regulations per year during his time in office. This is greater than Clinton or George W. Bush, but similar to the annual average under George H. W. Bush – hardly anyone's idea of an overbearing executive.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Texas Sports Reporter Blasts NFL Homophobia

Kudos to Texas sportscaster Dale Hansen for his powerful statement in support of openly gay NFL prospect Michael Sam. Hansen cited NFL officials telling Sports Illustrated that Sam will be hurt "on draft day because a gay player wouldn’t be welcome in an NFL locker room." Hansen blasted the hypocrisy of those who oppose Sam: “You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You’re the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft... You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far.” Hansen equated current bigotry toward gay players with past bigotry toward black athletes and also pointed out the hypocrisy of political conservatives: “So many of the same people who used to make that argument and the many who still do are the same people who say government should stay out of our lives. But then want government in our bedrooms.” Watch:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Map Shows Where GOP Is Denying Health Care To The Poor

The map above from the Urban Institute shows that millions of poor Americans who would benefit from an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act won't get the health care they need. The problem is that they live in states where Republican governors refuse Medicaid expansion. The darker colors represent high concentrations of poor Americans who would be eligible if GOP governors expanded the program. The Urban Institute reports:

In June 2012, the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) put the decision to expand Medicaid coverage to nonelderly adults with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) in the hands of the states. In states that do not expand Medicaid, uninsured adults with incomes between 100 and 138 percent of FPL may qualify for subsidies to purchase coverage through the new Marketplaces. Poor uninsured adults with incomes below the poverty level, however, will not have access to any new coverage options. As of January 2014, 25 states and the District of Columbia had chosen to expand Medicaid coverage under the ACA.1

...Based on current information, an estimated 4.4 million poor uninsured adults will become newly eligible for Medicaid in the 25 states and the District of Columbia that have opted to expand Medicaid; an estimated 5.8 million will not be eligible because they live in one of the 25 states that had not committed to expand Medicaid by January 2014 (state-level estimates are available here). Poor uninsured adults who would be newly eligible for Medicaid under the ACA expansion constitute 24.3 percent of all uninsured adults nationwide, and 21.2 and 27.2 percent, respectively, in the states that are and are not expanding Medicaid...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pro-Choice Group Gives Country A "D" For 2013

In January, NARAL Pro-Choice America released a study, "Who Decides?: The Status of Reproductive Rights in the United States." The map above shows its "report card" of reproductive rights for each state, numerically ranked. Half the states received an "F" in the report, while a dozen earned an "A." In 2013, 24 states enacted 52 laws restricting abortion, while 10 states enacted 16 laws supporting it. NARAL gave country as a whole the grade of "D."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

America's Most Reactionary Wish Sarah Palin A Happy Birthday

ShePAC produced the following video, in which the most reactionary voices in the country join together to wish Sarah Palin a happy 50th birthday. Included are Newt Gingrich, divisive former House speaker; Donald Trump, ignoramus who pressed the racist birther charge; Wayne LaPierre, NRA leader who fought for no change in gun laws following the Sandy Hook massacre of children and faculty; Phil Roberston, homophobic Duck Dynasty star; Ted Cruz, today’s Joe McCarthy; Gov. Scott Walker, shameless union buster, and many more dedicated to leading America backwards. Watch:

(h/t: Dangerous Minds)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Warren Zevon Live

The late Warren Zevon, known for his alternately hard-boiled and tender compositions, performed "Werewolves of London" at the Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ, Oct. 1, 1982. The lyrics start with a werewolf looking for some Chinese food, but quickly turn bloodcurdling.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Anti-Marijuana Group: Legalization Would Lead To "Zombie Nation"

The Drug Free America Foundation asked on Twitter, "What happens if marijuana is legalized?" The group answered with the image shown above reminiscent of the 1938 movie "Reefer Madness," evoking a "lazy, drugged out  zombie nation" and predicting, without a shred of evidence, "an additional 17 to 34 million users." In a Tweet, Tom Angell of the pot-policy reform group Marijuana Majority and The New York Times' Jack Healy asked for their research–and received the following answer:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Video: "The Fracking Song (My Water's On Fire Tonight)"

The following video offers a fast-paced, musical explanation of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." Watch and find out "what the frack is going on":

Find out more about fracking from ProPublica’s three-year investigation.

(h/t: Moyers & Company)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

CNN Poll: GOP Out Of Touch With Women

A CNN poll has found that a majority of Americans, particularly women, view the Republicans as not understanding women's problems and concerns. Instead of examining their policies toward such issues as equal pay and choice, however, Republican politicians are focusing on their messaging:

According to the CNN/ORC International poll, which was released Friday, 55% of Americans surveyed say the GOP doesn't understand women. That number rises to 59% among all women and 64% among women over 50.

...Some controversial comments by Republicans over the past few years have fed Democratic claims the GOP is out of touch with women. The highest ranking female House Republican tells CNN her party has a messaging problem.

"When you look at our position on issues, a lot of times majority of Americans agree with our positions. But it's the way that we talk about it that doesn't resonate and we have to do a better job," said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state. "I think it's fair to say there have been some comments which are offensive and they're not representative of the entire Republican Party."

...Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina agrees the problem is more about tone than policy.

Republican women questioned in the poll say the GOP understands their problems and concerns, but the survey indicates independent women don't agree. Fifty-nine percent of independent women said they weren't pleased with the GOP's track record on such issues.

According to the survey, the Democratic Party does not face the same concerns: 63% of all Americans and 62% of American women say that the Democrats understand women.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

One Table Shows How The 1 Percent Won The Recovery

In the table above, UC Berkeley's Emmanuel Saez and the Paris School of Economics' Thomas Piketty show that the top one percent made dramatic income gains following the 2007-2009 recession, in comparison to previous recessions. In fact, that group has accrued 95 percent of the income gains since the recovery started. Dylan Matthews comments in the Washington Post Wonkblog:

This table comes courtesy of UC Berkeley's Emmanuel Saez and the Paris School of Economics' Thomas Piketty, everyone's favorite inequality-tracking researchers (thanks to Annie Lowrey for pointing out the paper). They've added preliminary 2012 numbers to their dataset on growth in Americans' — and in particular rich Americans' — incomes, which gives us three years of data (2010, 2011, 2012) during the recovery, in addition to the full 2007-2009 span of the Great Recession. That lets us compare what happened to incomes in the recovery to what happened in past recoveries, and what happened during the recession to what happened in past recessions.

Shockingly — shockingly — what they found is that while only 49 percent of the decline in incomes during the recession was born by the top 1 percent (whose income share fell to 18.1 percent due to the recession), 95 percent of income gains since the recovery started have gone to them. This is a big change from past recessions and recoveries. Only 65 percent of the expansion under George W. Bush, and 45 percent of that under Bill Clinton, went to the top 1 percent. The rich bore a greater share of the 2001 recession's damage than of the Great Recession's, and the differential between the amount lost in the recession and gained in the recovery was much smaller last decade.

"Overall, these results suggest that the Great Recession has only depressed top income shares temporarily and will not undo any of the dramatic increase in top income shares that has taken place since the 1970s," Piketty and Saez conclude. "Indeed, the top decile income share in 2012 is equal to 50.4%, the highest ever since 1917 when the series start."

Monday, February 10, 2014

GOP Rep. Shrugs Off Call For Obama Execution

At a town hall meeting, a constituent of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) told him that President Obama "should be executed as an enemy combatant." Bridenstine did not respond directly to this outrageous comment; instead, he criticized the president for his "lawlessness" and for choosing "which laws he's going to decree"–reflecting the right-wing theme that Obama is the first president to issue executive orders. More than a week after the meeting, Bridenstine released a statement that read in part, "A public figure cannot control what people say in open meetings." True, but can't one immediately censure an individual for making a public call to assassinate the president? With hatred of Obama so virulent and irrational, does anyone still doubt that racism is at its core? Watch:

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Selling Cars, Bob Dylan? Really?

My interest in the Super Bowl was limited to my chagrin over Bob Dylan appearing in an ad as, in effect, a car salesman. Dylan did a trade-in, otherwise known as a sell-out, using his image and artistry to peddle stuff. The ad starts with the insipid line, "Is there anything more American than America?" I suppose not, in the same way that there's nothing more English than England. We then see iconic images from the America of the 1950s and 60s: Route 66, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, the younger Dylan, a farm, a diner, baseball. With more scenes evoking Kerouac's open road and ad copy professing our belief in "the zoom and the roar and the thrust," Dylan evokes authenticity to cynically mask his commercial pitch. This is not the first time he's traded in his art for ads; he appeared among scantily clad models in an ad for "Victoria's Secret" with his "Love Sick" playing in the background and has also pitched for Cadillac and Apple. Does he need the income or the exposure? Neil Young, in contrast, sang in "This Note's For You," “Ain’t singing for Pepsi. Ain’t singing for Coke. I don’t sing for nobody. Makes me feel like a joke.” Another songwriter wrote, "Advertising signs they con you into thinking you’re the one that can do what’s never been done, that can win what’s never been won, meantime life outside goes on all around you." That was Bob Dylan in "It's "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" in 1965. Watch his reversal almost 50 years later:

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Dave Van Ronk Live

I'm following up my review of "The Mayor of MacDougal Street," the autobiography of acoustic folk and blues singer Dave Van Ronk, with a video of the latter speaking about and singing "Green, Green Rocky Road," which became his theme song. Van Ronk's opening remarks from 2001 refer to the Greenwich Village folk music scene of the 1950s and 60s; he played a central role during that era (a street in the Village was named after him in 2004), and it is the subject of his book, which in turn inspired the film "Inside Llewyn Davis" (reviewed here). We then see him perform the song in a 1980 concert. The two parts of the video provide a poignant portrait of Van Ronk, who passed away in 2002, as a raconteur and unique artist. Watch:

Friday, February 7, 2014

Three Reasons I'm Glad I Voted For Bill de Blasio

I voted for Bill de Blasio for mayor of New York City, and I like what I see so far. De Blasio is moving forward with the progressive agenda on which he campaigned, as seen in three fronts: reforming stop-and-frisk, universal pre-K for NYC children and paid sick leave:

Stop-And-Frisk: New York City will settle its long-running legal battle over the Police Department’s practice of stopping, questioning and often frisking people on the street — a divisive issue at the heart of the mayoral race last year — by agreeing to reforms that a judge ordered in August, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday.

In making the announcement, which he said he hoped would end a turbulent chapter in the city’s racial history, Mr. de Blasio offered a sweeping repudiation of the aggressive policing practices that had been a hallmark of his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, but that had stoked anger and resentment in many black and Latino neighborhoods. He essentially reversed the course set by Mr. Bloomberg, whose administration had appealed the judge’s ruling.

Paid Sick Leave: New York City’s top elected officials said on Friday that they would greatly expand the reach of a measure mandating paid time off for sick workers, a cherished cause of the national left that had long been resisted by local business leaders.

...A bill unveiled on Friday would require businesses with five or more employees to provide up to five compensated days off to full-time workers if they, or their family members, fell ill. The benefits would accrue for 360,000 more New Yorkers, and affect 40,000 more employers, than under a weaker version that passed last year, which included only companies with staffs of 15 or more.

Universal Pre-K: On Monday, Bill de Blasio traveled to the State Capitol with a paramount wish: permission from the Legislature to raise taxes on New York City’s highest earners, which would pay for prekindergarten classes and after-school programs.

...On Monday, in a bid to address concerns about the pace at which he could expand prekindergarten enrollment, his office released a 14-page plan laying out how the city could have many classes ready by the fall.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

"The Mayor of MacDougal Street" by Dave Van Ronk

The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk. 246 pp. DaCapo Press

Years ago, I was listening to a folksinger play in Washington Square Park and noticed a sign on his guitar, "This Machine Kills Fascists." An adolescent, I wondered what that meant. In "The Mayor of MacDougal Street," the late folk and blues artist Dave Van Ronk wrote that this sign was famously placed on the guitar of Woody Guthrie. While I highly doubt that I actually saw Guthrie, the anecdote reflects the fact that anyone who had the slightest connection to the Greenwich Village folk music scene of the late 1950s to the mid 1960s will find something to spark a memory in this finely detailed book.

The book sat on my shelves for too many years until I was inspired to read it after seeing the film "Inside Llewyn Davis" (reviewed here). The Coen brothers, who directed the film, adapted a number of scenes from this account of the life of Van Ronk, who remained a prominent member of the Village folk scene for decades. He earned his moniker, "The Mayor of MacDougal Street," and there is now a Dave Van Ronk Street, dedicated in 2004, in Greenwich Village. His autobiography, written with Elijah Wald, reflects the fact that, as Bob Dylan put it, "In Greenwich Village, Van Ronk was king of the street, he reigned supreme." Van Ronk's deep involvement in the folk scene is reflected in the fact that he knew everyone: Dylan; the recently departed Pete Seeger; Joan Baez; Tom Paxton; Joni Mitchell; Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Peter, Paul and Mary; Phil Ochs, and more. Concomitant with the folk scene was an acoustic blues revival, and Van Ronk formed friendships with its prominent African-American artists: the Reverend Gary Davis, Sonnie Terry and Brownie McGhee, Josh White and Mississippi John Hurt. And, of course, Van Ronk performed and attended concerts at all of the legendary Village folk clubs and coffee houses: the Kettle of Fish, Gerde's Folk City, the Cafe Bizarre,  the Cafe Wha? and the Bitter End.

Van Ronk was both an entertaining raconteur and a contrarian. A lifelong leftist, he viewed the New Left of the 1960s as "a petty bourgeois movement that had no connection with what was really going on." He disparaged Dylan's lyrics when the latter went electric for their "unintelligibility." Van Ronk's assessment of the music of the 1960s, however, was too dismissive. He allowed that the Beatles were "sweet and amusing and had some very interesting ideas." Regarding the folk period itself, he wrote, "...very little of what got put down had much permanent value." If that is the case, why write this book? He also wrote, "...we produced a Bob Dylan, a Tom Paxton, a Phil Ochs, a bit later a Joni Mitchell–but we did not produce a Johann Sebastian Bach or a Duke Ellington." In the folk genre, such artists are indeed comparable to the classical and jazz greats. Regardless, "The Mayor of MacDougal Street is incomparable as a portrait of a folk music era and scene that, despite Van Ronk's dissension, produced artists and music of lasting influence.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

GOP Rep.: Republicans Will Never Stop Obamacare Repeals

Despite the re-election of Barack Obama, the passing of the Affordable Care Act, its upholding by the Supreme Court and 47 failed repeal attempts, Rep. Tom Cole (OK), a prominent Republican Congressman, told NPR's Robert Siegel, "I think Republicans are never going to stop trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act." Listen as Cole states, following the State of the Union Address, that the GOP will continue wasting time and money trying to derail a law that is providing health care to millions:

SIEGEL: He appealed for an end to votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Do you think that’s behind us now, that indeed Republicans might be better with the Affordable Care Act in place to run against in November?

COLE: [Laughter] I think Republicans are never going to stop trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Look, that’s something that’s not popular, no Republican voted for it. Frankly all the polling suggests it’s become progressively less popular over the last several months so I doubt that that’s going to disappear but I also think you have to recognize political reality. There’s a Democratic senate, the president’s not likely to accept the repeal of his signature issue.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chris Hayes: GOP Poverty Agenda Makes More People Poor

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes focuses on the Republicans' poverty agenda and what they’ve done to advance it, namely cutting off unemployment benefits for 1.3 million people, slashing food stamps by almost $40 billion in 10 years, and refusing to expand Medicaid in 23 states, affecting almost 5 million recipients. The Republicans do have a poverty agenda and, tragically, it is succeeding in making more people poor. Watch:

(h/t: Best of the Left Podcast)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Unemployment Insurance Boosts The Economy

Contrary to the Republican emphasis on austerity, unemployment insurance and food stamps actually boost the economy for an obvious reason: those funds are spent immediately. This increased demand generates more money than a corporate tax cut:

Beyond helping Americans in need, economists say that programs like unemployment insurance and food stamps generate high returns on investment, especially during recessions. According to data from Moody's Analytics, every dollar spent on a temporary increase in food stamps contributes another $1.67 to the economy. A buck of extended unemployment kicks in $1.49. Compare that with the impact of a corporate tax cut—32 cents on the dollar.

"Using the deficit for something like unemployment insurance—that's a multiplier—is a good thing," says Josh Bivens, the director of research and policy at the Economic Policy Institute. "They're shock absorbers, not bad things." Unemployment benefits tend to get spent right away on needs like groceries, for example. Chad Stone, the chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, explains that as long as you don't raise taxes or cut spending from other programs, this type of spending trickles up, giving the overall economy an added boost.

However, that idea has lost currency, Bivens says, because "the politics are more divisive than they've been for a long time." Some Republicans have argued against extending federal benefits programs, citing the deficit. But that argument doesn't hold up, Bivens explains, because the growth of public spending is at a historic low: "We're undertaking unprecedented austerity on the budget side."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Conservative White Men Prevail On Sunday Talk Shows

America is becoming a more diverse nation, but one wouldn't know that watching the Sunday morning talk shows. Media Matters has produced a report, "The Demographics Of The Sunday Morning Political Talk Shows," showing that conservative white men prevail on the major political broadcasts. Examine the two charts below:

White Men Represented The Largest Proportion Of Guests On Every Show. On the four broadcast shows and CNN, white men represented a majority of all guests: 60 percent on This Week, 67 percent on Face the Nation, 67 percent on Fox News Sunday, 62 percent on Meet the Press, and 54 percent on State of the Union. On Up and Melissa Harris-Perry, white men represented a plurality of guests at 42 percent and 27 percent, respectively. Melissa Harris-Perry deserves special mention for having a much more diverse guest list than the other programs; 26 percent of guests were African-American women, 20 percent were African-American men, and 16 percent were white women. Up also featured significantly more women and people of color than CNN or the broadcast shows. Latino, Asian-American, and Middle Eastern guests continued to rank in the single digits or not at all among every show.

White, Conservative Men Were the Largest Demographic Group On The Broadcast Sunday Morning Shows. On the four broadcast shows, white, conservative men represented more than a quarter of all guests at 29 percent. White, progressive men represented close to half that amount at 15 percent. White, neutral men represented 23 percent. All other groups were in the single digits.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger (1919-2014), folk music legend and peace, civil rights and environmental activist, passed away on Monday. Seeger's compositions reflected his activism, including the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome," adapted from spirituals, along with "If I Had a Hammer" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Above, joined by his grandson, Seeger sang "Guantanamera" at Wolf Trap National Park, Virginia, 1993. As always, he invited the audience to join in. Seeger once said, "When a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling higher, then we know there is hope for the world."

Listen to a comprehensive tribute to Pete Seeger on the St. James Infirmary music show, hosted by my good friend Michael Mand. Also listen to clips of Seeger interviewed by Bill Moyers on dissent, environmentalism and his hope for a better world.