Thursday, July 31, 2014

NY Times Calls For Marijuana Legalization

In an editorial, "Repeal Prohibition, Again," the New York Times considers the social costs of the marijuana laws and the drug's health effects, and concludes that it is time for the federal government to legalize marijuana:

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

...We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.

But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.

There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco. Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. Claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the “Reefer Madness” images of murder, rape and suicide.

There are legitimate concerns about marijuana on the development of adolescent brains. For that reason, we advocate the prohibition of sales to people under 21.

Creating systems for regulating manufacture, sale and marketing will be complex. But those problems are solvable, and would have long been dealt with had we as a nation not clung to the decision to make marijuana production and use a federal crime.

Illustration by Eric Timothy Carlson.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

J Street: Ceasefire Now

In its defining statement, J Street asserts that it believes in "a two-state solution, resulting in a Palestinian state living alongside Israel in peace and security"–and that "being pro-Israel doesn’t require supporting every policy of its government." That alone contrasts it with the older, hawkish AIPAC. J Street has just released a "Statement on the Gaza Conflict" calling for an immediate ceasefire, arrangements to avoid another round of violence in the near future and negotiations to reach a two-state solution:

• It is time for the fighting to end through a sustainable cease-fire agreement. J Street strongly supports Israel’s right to defend itself proportionately against the threat of relentless rockets and to destroy tunnels leading into Israel. We agree with Shimon Peres and other Israeli officials that the military objectives have largely been exhausted and it's now time for Israel to look for a way out of Gaza. Ultimately, there is no military victory over an ideology and no military solution to a fundamentally political conflict. We adamantly oppose calls for Israel to “reoccupy Gaza”.

• We support efforts by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry as well as the engagement of other countries such as Egypt to bring about an immediate cease-fire. Any such cease-fire must account for Israel’s security concerns, specifically from rockets and tunnels, as well as Palestinian humanitarian needs, and should be structured to lead to negotiations to establish arrangements related to security, political issues and humanitarian assistance. We support the inclusion of the Palestinian Authority in the cease-fire and in the negotiations around security, political arrangements and humanitarian assistance.

• We are deeply offended by attacks on and mischaracterizations of the Secretary’s efforts to resolve this crisis and his relationship to the state of Israel. We believe his pursuit of not only a cease-fire but a two-state solution represents the highest possible form of friendship to Israel and all the people of the region, and we salute and support the Secretary for his efforts.

• Every effort should be made to establish arrangements that minimize the chances that another round of violence erupts again in two years. A real solution for Gaza must (a) address Israel's legitimate security concerns from both rockets and tunnels, (b) establish a structure that brings the West Bank and Gaza together politically and allows Palestinian differences to be settled politically, and (c) address the serious humanitarian issues that face the civilian population in Gaza including greater freedom of movement for people and goods for non-military purposes. J Street supports those suggesting that cease-fire negotiations be used to advance prospects for a Palestinian unity government committed to early elections and demilitarization in Gaza. Allowing the previously-signed reconciliation agreement between Palestinian factions to move forward as part of the cease-fire deal might pave the way for a Palestinian government with a broad mandate and committed to a long-term cease-fire.

• The ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and the violence it spawns cannot be addressed without looking at the deeper issues that are at stake. This conflict didn’t start when the latest rockets began flying three weeks ago or with the terrible kidnapping and murder of three teenagers or Israel’s response to that incident. The roots of this conflict remain the tragic fight between two peoples over one land and the unresolved status of territory won by Israel in the 1967 war that has been occupied since and on which the Palestinian people will one day build their state. Failure to address and resolve these underlying issues through a two-state solution condemns both peoples to a never-ending spiral of violence that will only deepen as technology improves and hatred festers.

• We remain absolutely committed to achieving a comprehensive diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that results in two states for two peoples. A never-ending and deepening cycle of violence will do nothing to advance that cause. Only a two-state solution that resolves the underlying conflict will ensure Israel’s safety, security and legitimacy as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people and provide the Palestinian people with freedom, dignity and self-determination.

NYC Approves Apartment Building With Separate Entrance For The Poor

An apartment building in the Upper West Side of Manhattan apparently received approval, as part of zoning changes during the Mayor Bloomberg era, for two separate entrances, one for wealthy residents and one for those who rent affordable units. The "poor door" is one of the most blatant signs of the gentrification that has swept New York City over the past few years:

It would be difficult to come with a more on-the-nose metaphor for New York City's income inequality problem than the new high-rise apartment building coming to 40 Riverside Boulevard, which will feature separate doors for regular, wealthy humans and whatever you call the scum that rents affordable housing.

Extell Development Company, the firm behind the new building, announced its intentions to segregate the rich and poor to much outrage last year. Fifty-five of the luxury complex's 219 units would be marked for low-income renters—netting some valuable tax breaks for Extell—with the caveat that the less fortunate tenants would stick to their own entrance.

The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development approved Extell's Inclusionary Housing Program application for the 33-story tower this week, the New York Post reports. The status grants Extell the aforementioned tax breaks and the right to construct a larger building than would ordinarily be allowed. According to the Daily Mail, affordable housing tenants will enter through a door situated on a "back alley."

Any of the unwashed folk who complain about such a convenient arrangement, of course, are just being ungrateful. As the Mail points out, fellow poor-door developer David Von Spreckelsen explained as much last year:

"No one ever said that the goal was full integration of these populations," said David Von Spreckelsen, senior vice president at Toll Brothers. "So now you have politicians talking about that, saying how horrible those back doors are. I think it's unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood."

In these economically fraught times, it's easy to forget that the super rich earned their right to never see you, hear you, smell you, or consider your pitiful existence. Expecting them to share an entrance would be unfair.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

David Grossman: "Stop The Grindstone Of Israeli-Palestinian Violence"

David Grossman is one of Israel's most prominent novelists and essayists and a longtime campaigner for peace and critic of his country's policies toward the Palestinians (view him speaking at a demonstration against the settlements). I heard him interviewed by South African writer and Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer (shown at Grossman's left) at Cooper Union in downtown NYC as part of a PEN American Center Festival in 2007. I recommend Grossman's book "The Yellow Wind" (1988), an account of his travels throughout the West Bank and reflections on the corrosive effects of occupation. In a recent essay, "An Israel Without Illusions: Stop the Grindstone of Israeli-Palestinian Violence" Grossman reviews the claims of both Israel and Hamas trapped by "the law of violence and war, revenge and hatred" and considers what the future holds. Since he cannot speak to the leaders of Hamas, he directs his questions toward his country's leaders and asks why they've squandered opportunities for peace, especially with the Palestinian majority under Mahmoud Abbas. Grossman believes that there are still Israelis of all backgrounds who will seek a resolution to this tragic conflict. In a debate filled with vitriol, he is one of the few voices of sanity. Excerpts follow:

...the big question, as war rages on, is not about the horrors occurring every day inside the bubble, but rather it is this: How on earth can it be that we have been suffocating together inside this bubble for over a century? This question, for me, is the crux of the latest bloody cycle.

Since I cannot ask Hamas, nor do I purport to understand its way of thinking, I ask the leaders of my own country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors: How could you have wasted the years since the last conflict without initiating dialogue, without even making the slightest gesture toward dialogue with Hamas, without attempting to change our explosive reality? Why, for these past few years, has Israel avoided judicious negotiations with the moderate and more conversable sectors of the Palestinian people — an act that could also have served to pressure Hamas? Why have you ignored, for 12 years, the Arab League initiative that could have enlisted moderate Arab states with the power to impose, perhaps, a compromise on Hamas? In other words: Why is it that Israeli governments have been incapable, for decades, of thinking outside the bubble?

And yet the current round between Israel and Gaza is somehow different. Beyond the pugnacity of a few politicians fanning the flames of war, behind the great show of “unity” — in part authentic, mostly manipulative — something about this war is managing, I think, to direct many Israelis’ attention toward the mechanism that lies at the foundation of the vain and deadly repetitive “situation.” Many Israelis who have refused to acknowledge the state of affairs are now looking into the futile cycle of violence, revenge and counter-revenge, and they are seeing our reflection: a clear, unadorned image of Israel as a brilliantly creative, inventive, audacious state that for over a century has been circling the grindstone of a conflict that could have been resolved years ago.

...I would hope that on the right, too, there is now greater recognition — even if it is accompanied by anger and frustration — of the limits of force; of the fact that even a powerful country like ours cannot simply act as it wishes; and that in the age we live in there are no unequivocal victories, only an illusory “image of victory” through which we can easily see the truth: that in war there are only losers. There is no military solution to the real anguish of the Palestinian people, and as long as the suffocation felt in Gaza is not alleviated, we in Israel will not be able to breathe freely either.

...Will a similar comprehension emerge on the other side, in Hamas? I have no way of knowing. But the Palestinian majority, represented by Mahmoud Abbas, has already decided in favor of negotiation and against terrorism. Will the government of Israel, after this bloody war, after losing so many young and beloved people, continue to avoid at least trying this option? Will it continue to ignore Mr. Abbas as an essential component to any resolution? Will it keep dismissing the possibility that an agreement with West Bank Palestinians might gradually lead to an improved relationship with the 1.8 million residents of Gaza?

Here in Israel, as soon as the war is over, we must begin the process of creating a new partnership, an internal alliance that will alter the array of narrow interest groups that controls us. An alliance of those who comprehend the fatal risk of continuing to circle the grindstone; those who understand that our borderlines no longer separate Jews from Arabs, but people who long to live in peace from those who feed, ideologically and emotionally, on continued violence.

I believe that Israel still contains a critical mass of people, both left-wing and right-wing, religious and secular, Jews and Arabs, who are capable of uniting — with sobriety, with no illusions — around a few points of agreement to resolve the conflict with our neighbors.

...If we do not do this, we will all — Israelis and Palestinians, blindfolded, our heads bowed in stupor, collaborating with hopelessness — continue to turn the grindstone of this conflict, which crushes and erodes our lives, our hopes and our humanity.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Eric Garner Dies After NYPD Uses Banned Chokehold

Eric Garner, 43, an asthmatic father of six, died on Thursday in Staten Island, NY, after the police, who suspected him of illegally selling loose cigarettes, placed him in a chokehold. Forced to the ground, Garner repeatedly pleaded, "I can't breathe." The chokehold is prohibited by New York Police Department regulations. Despite that, NYC's Civilian Complaint Review Board has received over 1,000 complaints regarding the maneuver. Following Garner's death, the New York Civil Liberties Union, civil rights organizations and labor unions sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) urging him to veto a bill that would immunize police officers from discipline by local government officials. At Garner's funeral in Brooklyn, the Rev. Al Sharpton urged the community to "fight back." The following video shows the confrontation between Garner and the NYPD that led to his death:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Charlie Haden

Charlie Haden, among the most influential bassists in jazz, recently passed away at 76. Above, Haden performed "First Song (For Ruth)," written for his wife, with his longtime band Quartet West, which included Gary Foster, tenor saxophone; Alan Broadbent, piano; and Larence Marable, drums. Haden opened with a solo that set the tenor for this beautiful and contemplative composition.

Federal Appeals Court Finds Oklahoma's Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

In a decision affirming equal protection under the law, a federal appeals court has ruled that Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional:

A federal appeals court here on Friday struck down a second conservative-leaning state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that Oklahoma could not deny gay couples their “fundamental right” to wed.

The 2-to-1 decision came less than a month after the same panel of judges for the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit decided that Utah’s ban was unconstitutional. It was another legal victory for gay couples as a range of legal challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage edges toward the United States Supreme Court.

...Lawyers for the Tulsa County court clerk, who was the lead defendant in the Oklahoma case, argued that limiting marriage to one man and one woman sought to reinforce traditional family bonds and encourage the raising of children by their biological parents. The majority rejected that view.

“Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage sweeps too broadly in that it denies a fundamental right to all same-sex couples who seek to marry or to have their marriages recognized regardless of their child-rearing ambitions,” Judge Carlos F. Lucero wrote in the majority opinion. “Oklahoma has barred all same-sex couples, regardless of whether they will adopt, bear, or otherwise raise children, from the benefits of marriage while allowing all opposite-sex couples, regardless of their child-rearing decisions, to marry.”

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Todd Akin Still Defends "Legitimate Rape" Comments

Former Republican Congressman Todd Akin doomed his 2012 Senate campaign by stating that pregnancy from rape is "really rare" and “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Speaking to MSNBC's Chuck Todd, Akin twisted himself into a pretzel trying to explain away his notorious comments, stating, “Legitimate rape is a law enforcement term and its abbreviation for legitimate case of rape ...this is something that was intentionally misunderstood and twisted for political purposes because it doesn’t make any sense to say a conservative is saying that rape is legitimate.” Got that? In addition, Akin believes that rape victims should be forced to bear their rapist's child. After he said that people conceived in rape helped his campaign, Todd pointed out that such people prove that rape doesn't "shut down" a woman's body. Actually, the only thing that's "shut down" is any sense of rationality to Akin's thought processes. Watch:

Robert Reich: Fleeing Children Are "Refugees Of The Drug War We Created"

In two Facebook posts, Robert Reich states that the “United States is not a detached, innocent bystander” when it comes to the refugee crisis and reminds us that the women and children fleering Central America are “refugees of the drug war we’ve created.” Reich argues that our past support for brutal right-wing regimes in Central America followed by our indifference to these countries after the fall of the Soviet Union created destruction, poverty, and gangs and cartels supplying the U.S. with drugs. Further, those who show hatred toward child refugees, many escaping from violence, are the same as those who despise a wide variety of groups:

For decades, U.S. governments supported unspeakably brutal regimes and poured billions into maintaining them ($5 billion in El Salvador alone). Implacable opposition to communism—often defined as virtually any reformer—gave these regimes a blank check. The result is a legacy of dealing with opponents through extreme violence and a culture of impunity. Judicial systems remain weak, corrupt, and often completely dysfunctional. After the cold war ended, the United States lost interest in these countries. What was left was destruction, tens of thousands dead, and massive population displacement. The percentage of people living below the poverty line is 54 percent for Guatemala, 36 percent for El Salvador,and 60 percent for Honduras. More recently gangs, organized crime, and drug cartels feeding the US market have become part of this unholy mix.

...The haters direct their venom not just at child refugees seeking asylum from the drug war we created, but also at gays who want to marry, African-Americans who want to vote and exercise their other rights of citizenship, women who seek abortions, or even women in general, Latinos who want their children to be taught in Spanish, immigrants in general, Muslims, Jews, government “bureaucrats,” the poor and needy, anyone who dares suggest a required background check before buying guns, people they call “liberals” or “socialists” or “communists,” even the President of the United States.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Joan Walsh: McCain Was Cowardly To Put Palin A Heartbeat From Presidency

Speaking to MSNBC's Al Sharpton, Joan Walsh criticized Senator John McCain's (R-AZ) response to the Ukranian crisis. McCain referred to the administration as "cowardly"for not giving weapons to Ukraine and, true to his constant advocacy for military action, called for placing troops and missiles throughout Eastern Europe to confront Russia–"just for openers." Walsh said, "The idea that you would send more weaponry into an area like this where people are already misusing weapons obviously is crazy. And, you know, Senator McCain, I'm not sure that there's been a conflict in recent years that he hasn't thought that we should have more troops and more weapons from Iran to Iraq, Libya, Syria, Nigeria and now Ukraine." Regarding McCain's use of the word "cowardly," Walsh said, "You don’t say that about the commander-in-chief. This is a man, I respect him for his service, but if we’re going to talk 'cowardly,' somebody tried to put Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency so that he hoped to hold onto his right-wing base. Somebody that has a lot to atone for and a lot to think about shouldn’t be tossing around words like 'cowardly.' " Watch:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Central American Children Feeling Homeland Violence

Over the past few weeks, we've seen ugly protests against immigrant mothers and children, along with xenophobic comments by Republican Representatives McCaul, Bachmann and Gohmert. A New York Times article, "Fleeing Gangs, Children Head To U.S. Border," focuses on the horrific violence these children face in their homelands. They deserve our compassion and should be considered refugees seeking a safe haven:

The killings are a major factor driving the recent wave of migration of Central American children to the United States, which has sent an unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors across the Texas border. Many children and parents say the rush of new migrants stems from a belief that United States immigration policy offers preferential treatment to minors, but in addition, studies of Border Patrol statistics show a strong correlation between cities like San Pedro Sula with high homicide rates and swarms of youngsters taking off for the United States.

...Honduran children are increasingly on the front lines of gang violence. In June, 32 children were murdered in Honduras, bringing the number of youths under 18 killed since January of last year to 409, according to data compiled by Covenant House, a youth shelter in Tegucigalpa, the capital.

With two major youth gangs and more organized crime syndicates operating with impunity in Central America, analysts say immigration authorities will have a difficult time keeping children at home unless the root causes of violence are addressed.

In 2012, the number of murder victims ages 10 to 14 had doubled to 81 from 40 in 2008, according to the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. Last year, 1,013 people under 23 were murdered in a nation of eight million.

Although homicides dropped sharply in 2012 after a gang truce in neighboring El Salvador, so far this year murders of children 17 and under are up 77 percent from the same time period a year ago, the police said.

...Refugee advocacy organizations have urged the State Department to treat the children arriving at the United States border as refugees, and proposed a processing system where asylum claims could be reviewed in Central America and those accepted could move safely to the United States or countries willing to accept them, as was done in countries such as Haiti and Iraq. They have not yet received a response, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said.

VOA Photo: A Border Patrol agent stands on a ranch fence line with children taken into custody in South Texas brush country north of Laredo, Texas.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bill Moyers: America's Mad Dash To Oligarchy

Bill Moyers reports that while top CEOs made 331 times more than the average worker, many paid a lower tax rate than members of the middle class. “Inequality,” he asserts, “has turned Washington into a protection racket for the one percent. It buys all those goodies from government: tax breaks, tax havens allowing corporations and the rich to park their money in a no-tax zone, loopholes, favors like carried interest.” Moyers referred to a study asserting that “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened” and that the influence of the average American is "miniscule." He concluded that it’s up to us to stop this “mad dash to oligarchy.” Watch:

(h/t: Best of the Left Podcast)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter, among the greatest of blues guitarists, passed away at 70 last Wednesday. The Texas-born Winter, who recorded with one of his blues heroes, Muddy Waters, was renowned for his fiery, high-octane playing and raw vocals. Performing above in Barcelona, Spain, 1990, he applied his blistering slide guitar to Elmore James' "Stranger Blues."

Friday, July 18, 2014

Mike Papantonio: Multinational Corporations Colonizing The U.S.

Speaking to MSNBC's Michael Eric Dyson, Mike Papantonio spoke about the dark money from multinational corporations that is corrupting our politics–and its applications to the minimum wage battle in Florida and Republican Gov. Rick Scott's $72 million campaign war chest. Papantonio referred to Howard Zinn, Chalmers Johnson and Studs Terkel, who predicted that corporations would colonize our country by using dark money to bribe regulators and politicians, bust unions and ruin the environment. Seems that all three historians were, unfortunately, quite prescient. Watch:

Obama Criticizes GOP For Failing To Help The Middle Class

In his weekly address, President Obama criticized the Republicans for obstructing every measure to help the middle class, including lifting the minimum wage, fair pay and student loan reform. Instead, House Speaker John Boehner wasted time and taxpayers' money on the political stunt of suing the president–an unpopular action from which he's since distanced himself. Watch:

OBAMA: But so far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked every serious idea to strengthen the middle class. Lifting the minimum wage, fair pay, student loan reform—they’ve said no to all of it. And that’s when I’ve acted this year to help working Americans on my own—when Congress won’t act. I’ve taken actions to attract new jobs, lift workers’ wages, help students pay off their loans, and more. And the Republican plan right now is not to do some of this work with me—instead, it’s to sue me. That’s actually what they’re spending their time on. It’s a political stunt that’s going to waste months of America’s time. And by the way, they’re going to pay for it using your hard-earned tax dollars. I have a better idea. Do something, Congress. Do anything to help working Americans. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Eden Foods Battles Contraception Coverage Mandate

Despite the fact that Eden Foods markets to liberals with appeals such as ”Organic agriculture is society’s brightest hope for positive change,” the company has sued the Obama administration to exempt itself from the mandate to cover contraception under the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, which stated that "for-profit corporations controlled by religious families" have the right not to provide insurance coverage for birth control and emergency contraception, has boosted Eden Foods' contention that insurance coverage for contraception violates its religious beliefs:

Clinton, Mich.-based Eden Foods, a natural foods company that makes soy milk and other organic products, appears on track to win its fight with the federal government over funding insurance coverage of contraception in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial Hobby Lobby ruling.

Last week, after its ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a judgment against Eden Foods and sent a lawsuit back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for further consideration.

Eden Foods claims the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is violating the company's religious beliefs by requiring the company to pay for health care services, including contraception. The Eden Foods case was separate from the Hobby Lobby case but argued similar issues.

"We were convinced that actions of the federal government were illegal, and so filed a formal objection," the company said in a statement on its Web site last week. "The recent Supreme Court decision confirms, at least in part, that we were correct."

Eden Foods Founder and CEO Michael Potter, who has compared contraceptives to "lifestyle drugs," is a devout Catholic who does not believe companies should be forced to fund insurance that includes that coverage.

The Supreme Court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that some family-owned or other closely held businesses can opt out of a federal requirement to pay for contraceptives in health coverage for their workers.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Conservatives Making Vehicles Purposely Spew Toxic Smoke

Conservatives who dislike the Obama administrations's emissions regulations, as well as liberals and environmentalists, are "making a statement" by "coal rolling," altering diesel trucks to enable them to pour thick toxic smoke into the air. They even have a Facebook page, Rollin' Coal, with over 16,000 fans. A seller of coal rolling customization equipment told Slate's Dave Weigel, "I run into a lot of people that really don’t like Obama at all. If he’s into the environment, if he’s into this or that, we’re not. I hear a lot of that. To get a single stack on my truck—that’s my way of giving them the finger. You want clean air and a tiny carbon footprint? Well, screw you." The Clean Air Task Force estimates that diesel fuel pollutants “lead to 21,000 premature deaths each year and create a cancer risk that is seven times greater than the combined risk of all 181 other air toxics tracked by the EPA.” That doesn't seem to matter to the drivers in the following video, entitled the "Diesels Rolling Coal on PEOPLE 2014 Compilation." Watch:

GOP Rep.: Some Teens At Border Look Like A "Threat" To U.S.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, acknowledged that the plight of young undocumented immigrants at the Southwest border was "sad"–but he also stated, "I also saw some 17-year-olds that I thought looked more like a threat to coming into the United States." According to what criteria is McCaul able to assess, at a glance, that some Central American teens look like a threat to national security? Actually, many of the children themselves are under threat from horrific gang violence in their own country, causing them to flee. That makes no difference to McCaul, who wants to ship most of them back:

"It’s very heart-wrenching as a father to see that — mothers with their babies," McCaul said on "Fox News Sunday." "I also saw some 17-year-olds that I thought looked more like a threat to coming into the United States."

The congressman showed little sympathy for young migrants crossing the border. While he said that some may qualify to stay in the U.S., that most needed to be sent away as a "message of deterrence."

He called for immigration policy changes, including tweaking the 2008 anti-trafficking law to make it easier to quickly deport immigrant children from Central America.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Katha Pollitt: Where Will The Slippery Slope Of "Hobby Lobby" End?

Writing in The Nation, Katha Pollitt agrees with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's scathing dissent to the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling. Considering the decision that "for-profit corporations controlled by religious families" have the right not to provide insurance coverage for birth control and emergency contraception, Pollitt warns about a future that could hold more restrictions on coverage that offends an employer's religious beliefs:

Justice Alito’s opinion is canny. Slippery slope? No problem: “our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate. Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs.” He specifically mentions vaccines, blood transfusions and protection from racial discrimination as being in no danger, but he gives no argument about why Hobby Lobby’s logic would never apply. In other words, birth control is just different. Of course, it’s about women. Anyone could need a blood transfusion, after all, even Alito himself. And it’s about powerful Christian denominations, too, to which this Court slavishly defers—for example, in the recent decision finding no discrimination in the Christian prayers that routinely open town council meetings in Greece, New York.

As Ruth Bader Ginsburg argues in her stirring dissent, there’s “little doubt that RFRA
[Religious Freedom Restoration Act] claims will proliferate, for the Court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood—combined with its other errors in construing RFRA—invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith.” The reason it’s unlikely the Supreme Court would uphold a religious exemption for vaccinations or blood transfusions is not something intrinsic to those claims; it’s simply that Alito finds them weird. Birth control is banned by the Bible? Sure. Blood transfusions are banned by the Bible? Don’t be silly. For now. We have no idea, really, how far the Court might be willing to extend RFRA. Could a CEO refuse to pay childbirth costs for unmarried women? Could he pay married men more because that’s what the Lord wants? (Actually, he’s probably already doing that.) But here’s my prediction: the day a religious exemption burdens by so much as a mouse’s whisker the right of men to protect their own bodies from unwanted, well, anything, is the day the Supreme Court Five discover that religion is not so deserving of deference after all.

It would be nice to think this ruling, which applies only to “closely held corporations,” will affect few women. Unfortunately, these are not just sweet little family businesses. As Ginsburg noted, some are huge—Dell, Cargill, Mars. Altogether, they employ some 52 percent of the workforce. True, most either offer contraception coverage already or are exempt because they employ fewer than fifty workers, but who’s to say what the future holds? Companies change hands, CEOs find Jesus—or Allah or Thoth or L. Ron Hubbard. It’s not reassuring that a CEO’s views of a fertilized egg get deference today, but workers’ contraceptive coverage is left to the fates.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Tommy Ramone

Tommy Ramone (right), 65, the drummer and last surviving founding member of the iconic punk rock band The Ramones, passed away on Friday. The Ramones, whom I saw at the legendary East Village punk bar CBGB, had a fast, raw, aggressive sound that counteracted the excesses of rock operas, prog rock and jam bands. Above, the band performed "Rockaway Beach," which refers to a beach in Queens, the NYC borough where the band met, specifically at Forest Hills High School–also the alma mater of a duo with quite a different sound, Simon & Garfunkel. .

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Guttmacher Institute: Abortion In The United States

In the following video, the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that focuses on sexual and reproductive health, answers the following questions: Who are the women who obtain abortions in the United States? Why do they decide to end a pregnancy? What are their social and economic circumstances? While considering social and economic inequities, the institute advocates, at a minimum, available contraception for all and comprehensive sex education for all adolescents. Further, while prevention is key, abortion is basic health care for women that should be covered by private insurance plans and public insurance programs such as Medicaid. Watch:

Friday, July 11, 2014

If Black People Said The Stuff White People Say...

Buzzfeed Yellow produced the following video, which turns the tables on supposedly well meaning white people who make absurd comments to black people. Watch:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pres. Clinton Destroys GOP "Family Values" Myth

Bill Clinton pointed out the hypocrisy of the Republicans portraying themselves as the "pro-family, pro-work party" while opposing Medicaid expansion. He stated, "I have listened for 34 years now, while the Republican Party has told me that they are the party of pro-family, pro-work party, and we were the pro-welfare party. Their position on the Medicaid expansion is ‘Take care of the people on welfare because they’re already covered. Don’t help those poor working families that cannot get their kids out of poverty, that cannot get them healthcare!’ It’s morally wrong and it’s economically wrong!" Watch:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Ted Cruz Doesn't Have To Worry About Health Insurance

No one fought longer or harder against the Affordable Care Act than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who led the government shutdown over the issue. Cruz raged against legislation that provided millions with health insurance. In this regard, I was particularly struck by three sentences in a recent article in The New Yorker on Cruz–especially the third one in parentheses:

As he travels the country, he has hardened his positions, delighting the base of his party but moving farther from the positions of most Americans on most issues. He denies the existence of man-made climate change, opposes comprehensive immigration reform, rejects marriage equality, and, of course, demands the repeal of “every blessed word of Obamacare.” (Cruz gets his own health-care coverage from Goldman Sachs, where his wife is a vice-president.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Bill Moyers: Iraq "Armchair Warriors" Wrong Then, Wrong Now

Bill Moyers speaks about the folly of the "armchair warriors" who were so wrong about Iraq–and are advocating military action again. Watch:

MOYERS: "They said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that could turn the smoking gun into a mushroom cloud, and they were wrong. They said Iraq had ties to Al Qaeda, and they were wrong. They said the war would be a cakewalk, and they were wrong.

Over and again they were wrong, yet 11 years, thousands of lives, millions of refugees, and trillions of dollars later, the very same armchair warriors in Washington who from the safety of their Beltway bunkers called for invading Baghdad, are demanding once again that America plunge into the sectarian wars of the Middle East.

A chorus of kindred voices fills the echo chamber: the same old faces, the same old arguments, never acknowledging the phony premises and fraudulent intelligence that led to disaster and chaos in the first place. A headline at the website ThinkProgress sums it up: “The People Who Broke Iraq Have A Lot of Ideas About Fixing It Now.”

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Robert Reich: "Why The Koch Machine Is A Threat To Democracy"

Robert Reich states that while “a number of billionaires are flooding our democracy with their money, drowning out the voices of the rest of us…Charles and David Koch are in a class by themselves.” In a video, he lists six ways that the billionaire right-wing activists are building a political machine to protect their financial interests, enabled by the Supreme Court's “opening the floodgates to big money.” Reich warns that the Kochs are “using their exorbitant wealth to impose” their “views on the rest of us.” Watch, then click on the link at the end to sign Reich’s “Our Democracy Is Not For Sale” petition:

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Guy Davis Live

Guy Davis, blues musician and actor, is the son of the late actors and social activists Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. Though raised in New York, Davis's music is rooted in the rural folk-blues of the American South. Above, he sang the classic blues song "Goin' Down Slow," accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica, at Music City Roots Live From The Loveless Cafe, Nashville, July 2011.

Friday, July 4, 2014

"Ai Weiwei: According To What?" At The Brooklyn Museum

Why does the Chinese government have it in for Ai Weiwei, the country's most prominent international artist? The answer is made evident at the exhibit "Ai Weiwei: According to What?" at the Brooklyn Museum. As a result of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, thousands were killed–including thousands of students who were trapped and crushed in shoddily built schools. Ai had tons of rebar, reinforcement rods, straightened and stacked together, and he compiled a floor-to-ceiling list and recording of the names of the dead, all to official outrage. Ever the provocateur, he blew up the X-rays of his head after the police raided his home and gave him a bashing. He made a marble replica of surveillance cameras that Chinese police used to record his home. When the government evicted a feminist leader from her home and dumped her belongings in a road, Ai replicated her possessions and called it “Ye Haiyan’s Belongings.” The work shown above, "S.A.C.R.E.D.," is from a series of dioramas inside iron boxes into which one peers and sees scenes from the cell in which Ai was detained for 81 days, with ever-present guards. Indeed, Ai turns every means of oppression into art that reflects and indicts the Chinese government. Ai Weiwei's art represents a powerful statement of a courageous individual who refuses to bow to totalitarianism.

Ai Weiwei: According to What?” continues through August 10 at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY, (718) 638-5000,

"Words and Pictures," Directed by Fred Schepisi

"Words and Pictures," directed by Fred Schepisi and written by Gerald DiPego, is a romantic comedy set in a prep school. Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) is an alcoholic English teacher who rails against social media, which he believes has led to a lessening of appreciation for the written word. He's by turns brilliant and impassioned, as well as erratic and irresponsible, and is fighting to keep his job. Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) is a prominent artist and art teacher, new to the staff, who is demanding in her educational methods and seemingly uninterested in personal relationships with students and other faculty members. Jack, however, is quite interested in engaging with her, as well as proving his point that the written word is superior to images. When Dina (whose outstanding canvases were painted by Binoche, an actual artist), tells her students that "words are lies," Jack sets up a contest between their students to decide the primacy of one medium over another. Knowing that an important job review is coming, Jack attempts to act more responsibly as a teacher, and his deepening relationship with Dina is also part of getting his act together. It's all threatened by his on-and-off drinking and by an act of literary plagiarism. The contest becomes his one last chance to inspire his students and prove his worth as an educator. Regardless of the results, "Words and Pictures" offers a dramatic dialogue of ideas worth considering in an era of sound bites and tweets.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Target Asks Customers To Leave Guns At Home

In a statement,"Target Addresses Firearms in Stores," interim CEO John Mulligan asked customers not to bring firearms into its facilities. Prior to this statement, Target tolerated the open carrying of loaded weapons in store aisles. Target made its announcement following a public pressure campaign. The company joins Costco, Toys “R” Us, Babies “R” Us, Whole Foods Market, Chili’s, Sonic and IKEA in asking customers not to enter their establishments with firearms. Target's statement is as follows:

The leadership team has been weighing a complex issue, and I want to be sure everyone understands our thoughts and ultimate decision.

As you’ve likely seen in the media, there has been a debate about whether guests in communities that permit “open carry” should be allowed to bring firearms into Target stores. Our approach has always been to follow local laws, and of course, we will continue to do so. But starting today we will also respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target – even in communities where it is permitted by law.

We’ve listened carefully to the nuances of this debate and respect the protected rights of everyone involved. In return, we are asking for help in fulfilling our goal to create an atmosphere that is safe and inviting for our guests and team members.

This is a complicated issue, but it boils down to a simple belief: Bringing firearms to Target creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Justice Ginsburg's Hobby Lobby Dissent Is Now A Song

Singer-songwriter Jonathan Mann has created a song and video every day since January 1, 2009. He transformed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's blistering 35-page dissent from the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision into a song with "lyrics" that include, "Any decision to use contraceptives is not propelled by the government. It's the woman's autonomous choice informed by her doctor." Listen: