Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Love Is Strange," Directed By Ira Sachs



"Love Is Strange" begins with the marriage of Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) two Manhattan seniors. Following this joyful ceremony, George is fired from his job teaching music at a Catholic school because, though it's been known for years that he's been living with Ben, his same-sex marriage is viewed as a violation of his contract. The couple is then faced with the realities of New York City real estate. Ben, a painter, is retired and George's loss of income means that they can no longer afford the mortgage on their apartment. In their search for affordable housing, they put themselves on lists with endless applicants. Their friends, all of whom are willing to help, don't have the space to accommodate them both. George is afforded a couch in the downstairs apartment of two gay, younger policemen, who treat him kindly but throw noisy parties where he feels out of place. Ben moves in with his nephew, Elliot (Darren Burrows), his wife, Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their teen-age son, Joey (Charlie Tahan). Joey increasingly resents Ben's presence in the lower part of the bunk bed in his room and Kate, a novelist, is exasperated with his need for conversation while she's trying to write. Despite their dislocations, Ben and George's essential connection is not severed, and Ben's impact on the moody Joey goes deeper than the latter realized in this poignant, moving and believable film.

"The Trip To Italy," Directed By Michael Winterbottom



In "The Trip To Italy," directed by Michael Winterbottom, British actors Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan play themselves on assignment for The Observer driving on the beautiful Italian coast, stopping at charming hotels and eating in top restaurants in order to write reviews of regional cuisine. During this movie ostensibly about male-bonding, the two allude to mid-life crises. Rob, married, sleeps with a woman he meets during their travels and wonders whether to pursue her further. Steve (whose dry wit was put to better purpose in "Philomena," reviewed here), divorced, meets up with his son and, in the movie's most poignant scene, tries to persuade him to stay at his home more frequently. The duo also visit landmarks associated with Romantic poets Shelley and Byron and allude to verses about mortality in their work, a theme reinforced with a visit to a crypt. At the same time, the two engage in endless banter, one-upmanship, and imitations of other actors, including Michael Caine, Hugh Grant, Sean Connery and Robert De Niro. Perhaps this behavior covers up more troubling inner currents; regardless, the constant schtick takes over the movie to an annoying degree, and these inner currents are not explored in any depth. What could have been a witty and moving film is ultimately unfocused and empty.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Aerial Drone Footage From People's Climate March, NYC

One week ago today, hundreds of thousands took part in the People's Climate March in New York City, showing their concern for reversing the climate change that threatens the environment and human habitation. The following video footage from an aerial drone, provided anonymously to Democracy Now!, makes it clear just how massive the turnout was. The drone takes off from Central Park, films the throngs of people marching along Central Park West and returns to Central Park. It's awe-inspiring to see so many concerned about the fate of the planet we all share. Watch:

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Dhani Harrison Live



During a weeklong tribute to George Harrison on "Conan," the Beatle's son Dhani Harrison performed "Let It Down" from his father's classic solo album "All Things Must Pass." Dhani's appearance and voice strongly resemble George's. In succeeding weeks, I'll feature other artists who took part in this tribute.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sunday Morning Talk Show Guests Lean Right

If you plan to watch the Sunday morning talk shows, you'll be hard pressed to find evidence of the so-called "liberal media." Instead, you'll see a cavalcade of conservatives. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) alone has appeared 97 times since 2009. Examining the data, The New York Times "Upshot" column reports that the tilt is to the right, not the left:

Conservative members of the current Congress have appeared more often on the network talk shows than their liberal counterparts. Senators and representatives from the conservative end of the ideological spectrum have made 57 percent of the appearances, compared with 42 percent for liberals, according to an Upshot analysis of data collected by American University.

This slightly lopsided distribution is primarily the result of three Republican senators’ frequent visits to the network shows: John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell. Because of the Republican Party’s control of the House during the past three years, its leaders and committee chairmen are presented with more opportunities to discuss the latest political news.

We matched the list of frequent guests to ideological scores generated by Crowdpac, a website that makes detailed ideological comparisons between political candidates. They extend along a line from “10 Liberal” to “10 Conservative.” The analysis excludes former members of Congress who have contractual agreements to appear on one of the five shows: “Fox News Sunday,” NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CBS’s “Face the Nation,” ABC’s “This Week” and CNN’s “State of the Union.” The appearances were compiled from data collected by the Women in Politics Institute at American University.

When the Sunday shows have turned to former members of Congress, the same ideological pattern emerges: Conservatives have made 56 percent of the appearances, compared with 41 percent for liberals. As a group, the former conservative lawmakers were slightly more liberal than their current counterparts.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Chris Hayes: Leave Fossil Fuels In The Ground

During Earth Day last April, MSNBC's Chris Hayes spoke about the challenge faced by the movement to reverse climate change. Specifically, the movement is calling upon companies like BP and Exxon to leave trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuels in the ground, because burning those fuels will raise the global temperature to an unsustainable level (a point made by Naomi Klein in her recent interview with Hayes). Hayes points to two ways forward: putting an onerous price on carbon extraction and developing alternative sources, such as solar energy, that make extraction increasingly worthless. In view of the People's Climate March last Sunday, Hayes' message is more timely than ever. Watch:



Hayes: Now, here's where things get interesting. If we want to stay below that 2 degrees Celsius threshold, there's a limited amount of fossil fuel we can burn. I mean, we know more or less how much fossil fuel raises the temperature a certain amount. And the amount of carbon contained in the proven fossil fuel reserves on the planet right now that we can get out with current technology is 2,795 gigatons.

And if we want to stay in that zone of not exceeding the global temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius, we can only use 1/5 of it, 20 percent. That means 80 percent of the known fossil fuel reserves that are on the books that companies like BP and Exxon know about along with oil reliant nations like Saudi Arabia, 80 percent of it needs to stay in the ground. Eighty percent of the fossil fuel needs to stay in the ground.

And this is why I want to talk about money, because that stuff that needs to stay in the ground, 80 percent that's in the books, the fossil fuel companies, the oil-producing nations, that stuff is worth a ton of money. Best estimates are the ballpark of $20 trillion. And so, the only way this works out is if we somehow convince these giant energy companies and nations with entire economies built on fossil fuel extraction to somehow leave it behind, to give up their claim on $20 trillion of wealth, to leave that money in the ground.

...Well, here's why you should not be feeling completely hopeless, completely pessimistic... There may be ways to get to the point where leaving trillions of dollars of fossil fuel in the ground doesn't seem like such an impossibility. The good news is getting fossil fuels out of the ground happens to be extremely expensive. It takes a ton of capital investments, billions and billions of dollars to get it out. And that -- that is the Achilles heel.

One way to attack the Achilles heel is put a price on carbon that makes it not worth anyone's while to take that out of the ground. Another is to work to create cost competitive alternatives to make the fossil fuel sitting in the grounds increasingly worthless.

Solar energy which we discussed is becoming a more viable alternative every day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Marsha Blackburn Gives Incoherent Interview On ISIS

Interviewed by CNN's Ashleigh Banfield, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) was absolutely incoherent regarding fighting ISIS. Naturally, the Republican representative said that President Obama should be more aggressive, but could not define what that entails. Banfield pressed her to be more concrete: “I hear you, but I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying, though. What’s more aggressive than 47 tomahawk cruise missiles, four dozen aircraft, 200 pieces of ordinance, about 150 weapons with precision-guided munitions, all in just two days? You’re saying the president needs to use ‘more force’ and be ‘more aggressive' using what?” After more evasive comments from Blackburn, Banfield asked, "If the airstrikes and the campaign that you’re seeing right now isn’t aggressive enough, in your words, do you want to see American boots on the ground? Is that the aggression that you’re looking for?” Blackburn refused to answer. Banfield concluded, “This is a very simple question for a Congresswoman to answer.” Not if that Congresswoman is Marsha Blackburn. Next time, she'd better go with Hannity. Watch:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Naomi Klein: "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate"

Naomi Klein spoke to MSNBC's Chris Hayes about her new book, "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate." She stated that responding to climate change will involve regulating and leaving carbon in the ground and investing in the public sphere. While she believes such measures will create jobs and make more livable communities, she understands why free-market conservatives resist the reality of climate change. "It's not the end of the world; it's the end of their highly individualistic, zero-sum-game thinking," Klein asserts. She's not surprised that those who are ready to slash social safety nets are also willing to sacrifice the environment for profit. Watch:



In part two, Klein speaks about meeting the challenge of climate change with the "progressive tradition of responding to crises with positive and democratic transformation":

Christie Resists Climate Change Plan To Please Koch Group

Don't be surprised that Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) didn't cross the George Washington Bridge–you know, the structure that his administration infamously blocked–to participate in the People's Climate March in NYC this past Sunday. In 2011, Christie said, “When you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this, stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts.” Makes sense, right? Since then, however, Christie has stopped talking about climate change and now refuses to rejoin a regional cap-and-trade program that would limit New Jersey’s carbon emissions, despite the wishes of the Legislature and the state's citizens. He withdrew from the plan since it would hurt support among the Republican base for a possible presidential run. Christie spoke at an Americans for Prosperity donor meeting in New York on Friday; the group is funded by billionaire right wingers and climate change deniers Charles and David Koch:

Some political analysts say Mr. Christie’s motive in staying out of the plan is to placate powerful conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity, which are highly influential in Republican primaries and consider cap-and-trade programs to be energy taxes that hurt business and eliminate jobs. Mr. Christie will be the main speaker at an Americans for Prosperity donor meeting in New York on Friday.

...Americans for Prosperity, which receives funding from the libertarian billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch, spent heavily in the 2010, 2012 and 2014 elections to oppose candidates who supported cap-and-trade. The group took aim at Republican candidates in primary races who signaled that they would back climate-change policy, and it is expected to play a key role in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries. “We were exceedingly pleased that the governor got New Jersey out of the R.G.G.I. boondoggle,” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, referring to the regional plan. “It’s something that A.F.P. in New Jersey worked hard on, and the governor listened, and we applauded him pulling out and applaud him for refusing to go back in.” Mr. Phillips said the move would be sure to help Mr. Christie’s efforts in the Republican primaries, should he run.

Although many Republican politicians question the established science that burning fossil fuels warms the planet, support in New Jersey for climate-change policies increased after Hurricane Sandy battered the Northeast in 2012. Experts say no single storm can be directly attributed to climate change, but a federal study released in May, the National Climate Assessment, concluded that climate change is making the Northeast more vulnerable to deluges, rising sea levels and higher storm surges. Last year a Stanford University poll found that 80 percent of New Jersey adults think the government should take action to limit greenhouse gases from industry.

Even after withdrawing from the program, New Jersey customers still have slightly higher electricity bills because the state is part of a wider regional electricity market, said Susan Tierney, an author of the Analysis Group report and a former top Energy Department official in the Clinton administration. Ms. Tierney also noted that the state no longer enjoyed the revenue flow from companies paying for pollution permits. “It would be a very economically efficient thing for New Jersey to rejoin,” she said. “They could get more bang for their buck and have money to circulate back into the economy.”

Sunday, September 21, 2014

People's Climate March: A Demonstration For Human Survival

I must express deep respect for the many people who traveled far distances in order to attend today's People's Climate March in NYC. It's one thing for me to take the subway to the march; it's quite another to plan and pay for the trip and travel from throughout the country. That clearly shows a deep commitment to reversing the threat that climate change poses to us all and to future inhabitants of the Earth.

The environmental movement faces two tremendous challenges. It is calling upon companies like BP and Exxon to leave trillions of dollars' worth of fossil fuels in the ground, because burning those fuels will raise the global temperature to an unsustainable level. Another challenge comes from our corrupt political system, in which massive polluters like the Koch brothers pay legal bribes to politicians in order to continue polluting on a massive scale, as well as fund climate-denial "research" that contradicts the overwhelming scientific consensus confirming climate change.

Despite these challenges, we can't give in to despair. There's too much at stake. While demonstrations alone aren't enough to stop climate change, they are part of changing the popular consensus. Marches were a crucial tactic in the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the Sixties. It was heartening to see hundreds of thousands out in the streets today demanding changes that are key to human habitation and survival.

Photo by the author

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Tom Paxton Live



Tom Paxton performed "Whose Garden Was This?" in 1988 as a tribute to John Denver, who popularized the song. Paxton composed it for the first Earth Day; I'm featuring it in view of tomorrow's People's Climate March here in NYC. As we face the reality of climate change, its lyrics speak to us more powerfully than ever. For information on the People's Climate March, visit http://peoplesclimate.org/march/.

Friday, September 19, 2014

White Teen Hits 3 Cars, Injures Woman, Assaults Officer, But Isn't Shot

Sarah Culhane (right), a white teenage woman in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, drove her BMW into three different cars, injured a woman, tried to flee and, once stopped, kicked a police officer in the head. The police wrestled her to the ground and took her to jail. As you watch the following video regarding her arrest, consider the following question: where would Sarah Culhane be right now if she were a young black man?

Three Arrested Protesting David H. Koch Plaza Unveiling At Metropolitan Museum

Every time I've gone to the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the past few years, I've been bugged by a sign announcing the construction of the David H. Koch Plaza. The plaza was unveiled on Tuesday, with a group of protesters on hand who objected to the tribute to the billionaire right-wing activist. Following current law-enforcement practice, they were cordoned off into a "protest pen" across the street. The protesters symbolically renamed the plaza the “Art for the Planet Plaza.” A flyer explained the group's motivation: "David H. Koch and his brothers are mega-billionaires who use their vast fortunes to deny climate change and buy elections. Koch Industries is the largest funder of climate science denying organizations in the world, outpacing even ExxonMobil. They have spent more than $67 million since 1997 to buy advertising, corporate media, talk show hosts, and lobbyists while legally bribing politicians to deny the catastrophic effects of climate change." Above, David Koch is shown grimacing at the protesters; below is an image three protesters projected onto the museum, "KOCH = CLIMATE CHAOS: The Met is a museum, not an oil lobby." They were arrested and reportedly charged for "illegal advertising."


Top photo by Erik McGregor/Flickr

Bottom photo via Occupy Museums

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Group Supports Columbia University Rape Victim's Protest

Last week, we took a look at the protest/performance art piece of Emma Sulkowicz, a visual arts major at Columbia University who is carrying a mattress around campus as long as her alleged rapist still attends the school. One of her rules for her piece, "Carry That Weight," is that she is not allowed to ask for help, but she is allowed to accept it. Some of her classmates started a group, "Carry the Weight Together," to show their support. The founder of the group, Allie Rickard, stated that the aim is to “help Emma carry the weight of the physical mattress, give her and other survivors of sexual assault in our community a powerful symbol of our support and solidarity, and show the administration that we stand united in demanding better policies designed to guarantee our safety and wellbeing on campus.” Watch the group "Carry the Weight Together":

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

John Cassidy: "The Meaning Of Andrew Cuomo's Embarrassment"

Zephyr Teachout (left), a little-known, underfunded professor at Fordham University Law School, took more than a third of the primary vote in her Democratic challenge to Andrew Cuomo. The New York governor cut funds to education, upheld tax cuts for the wealthy and blocked an independent commission on campaign finance corruption. Due to these stances, the New York Times refused to endorse Cuomo. John Cassidy writes in The New Yorker that Teachout is part of a movement in the Democratic Party that resists the "pro-corporate policies of the Clinton years" and favors more progressive policies and candidates:

The strong showing by Teachout and Wu was a victory for progressive voters who warmed to their message about tackling rising inequality, political corruption, and corporate abuses. It was also a rejection of Cuomo’s economic philosophy, which led him to introduce a series of tax cuts for the rich, at the same time that he cut the state budgets for education and social services. I’d be willing to wager that most Democrats who voted against Cuomo objected more to his policies than to his personality.

Teachout and Wu’s insurgent campaigns gave voice to this sentiment. Eschewing the etiquette of internal party discourse, Teachout accused Cuomo of governing as a Republican, acting as a shill for the big banks and other campaign contributors, and being part of a “corrupt old boys’ club” in Albany. Making full use of social media and appearances in more traditional media, she demonstrated that, even in this day and age, a candidate with a real message doesn’t necessarily need the support of the party apparatus, or the financial backing of big donors, to have an impact.

...The Democratic Party establishment survived. But Teachout and Wu both achieved more than seemed possible a couple of months ago. By thoroughly embarrassing Cuomo, New York Democrats didn’t merely deliver a blow to whatever national aspirations he may have. They signalled to other Democrats, Hillary Clinton included, that the political center of gravity has shifted, and that a significant segment of Democratic voters won’t suffer gladly a return to the timid, pro-corporate policies of the Clinton years, which Cuomo represents.

That’s why what happened on Tuesday wasn’t just a New York story: it has national implications. The progressive movement that emerged from the financial crisis, giving birth to Occupy Wall Street and the de Blasio campaign, may still be inchoate and splintered. But it can’t be ignored.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Elizabeth Warren Slams Eric Cantor And "Revolving Door" To Wall Street

I recently wrote that one shouldn't worry about Eric Cantor, who resigned as Republican House leader shortly after losing the Virginia Republican primary to an even more right-wing candidate. Cantor, who stood for the interests of Wall Street, has received his payoff by taking a position as vice-chairman of the investment firm Moelis & Co., where he'll receive a base salary of $400,000. Speaking to Katie Couric, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) criticized the corruption epitomized by Cantor: “This is wrong. People work in Washington and, man, they hit that revolving door with a speed that would blind you and head straight out into the industry, not because they bring great expertise or insight, but because they’re selling access back in to their former colleagues, who are still writing policy, who are still making laws. It worries me about what happens if people in government are looking for that next job [and saying], ‘Yeah, I’m working now, not as much money as I could be making, but when I leave here that’s where I’m headed.’” Watch:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Carl Sagan: A Pale Blue Dot

The late astronomer Carl Sagan, in his book "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space," reflected on the 1990 photo of the Earth taken from the Voyager 1 space probe. The planet appears as a tiny dot in the vastness of the universe, "a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark." In the following video, Sagan speaks of this dot as the place where "every human being who ever was, lived out their lives." He puts our pretensions and hatreds in perspective: "Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light." From an ethical standpoint, Sagan states that this "demonstration of the folly of human conceits...underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." Watch:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Calexico Live



Calexico covered "Alone Again Or" on the German show Rockpalast in 2006. The song was composed by Arthur Lee, the leader of Love, whose rendition was shown here in January.

McConnell Reveals Obstructionist Agenda At Koch Brothers Meeting

At a Koch brothers-hosted meeting, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised his wealthy donors that if the Republicans take over the Senate, they will obstruct all bills meant to help anyone other than the one percent: "“So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board. All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.” McConnell also said that a GOP-controlled Congress also won't allow measures on minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance and college affordability to pass. Watch:



Thursday, September 11, 2014

DNA Evidence Clears Death Row Inmate

The ultimate argument against the death penalty is the inevitability–not just possibility–that the innocent will be put to death for the crime of another. Henry Lee McCollum, 50 (left), has spent 30 years on death row; he and another man, Leon Brown, 46, who was serving a life sentence, were recently declared innocent and freed following DNA evidence linking a 1983 rape and murder in North Carolina to another man. The state's Republicans and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cited the case as a justification for capital punishment. The facts argue the opposite:

Thirty years after their convictions in the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in rural North Carolina, based on confessions that they quickly repudiated and said were coerced, two mentally disabled half brothers were declared innocent and ordered released Tuesday by a judge here.

The case against the men, always weak, fell apart after DNA evidence implicated another man whose possible involvement had been somehow overlooked by the authorities even though he lived only a block from where the victim’s body was found, and he had admitted to committing a similar rape and murder around the same time.

The startling shift in fortunes for the men, Henry Lee McCollum, 50, who has spent three decades on death row, and Leon Brown, 46, who was serving a life sentence, provided one of the most dramatic examples yet of the potential harm from false, coerced confessions and of the power of DNA tests to exonerate the innocent.

...For death penalty supporters, the horrifying facts of the girl’s rape and murder only emphasized the justice of applying the ultimate penalty. As recently as 2010, the North Carolina Republican Party put Mr. McCollum’s booking photograph on campaign fliers that accused a Democratic candidate of being soft on crime, according to The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C.

In 1994, when the United States Supreme Court turned down a request to review the case, Justice Antonin Scalia described Mr. McCollum’s crime as so heinous that it would be hard to argue against lethal injection. But Justice Harry A. Blackmun, in a dissent, noted that Mr. McCollum had the mental age of a 9-year-old and that “this factor alone persuades me that the death penalty in this case is unconstitutional.”

The exoneration based on DNA evidence was another example of the way tainted convictions have unraveled in recent years because of new technology and legal defense efforts like those of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, a nonprofit legal group in North Carolina that took up the case.

Image: Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

University Student Carries Mattress Until Alleged Rapist Is Expelled

Emma Sulkowicz, a visual arts major at Columbia University, is taking a stand against the fact that the student she accuses of raping her in August 2012, Jean-Paul Nungesser, is still on campus. Sulkowicz is carrying a mattress around the campus as a reminder. She states, “The thing about beds is, we keep them in our bedroom, which is this intimate space, our private space, where we can retreat if we don’t want to deal with anyone at that moment. The past year or so of my life has been marked with telling people what happened in that most intimate, private space and bringing it out into the light.”  She has joined others in filing a federal Title XI lawsuit stating that the university applied pressure on them not to report attacks and that disciplinary hearings are conducted by untrained personnel. Sulkowicz met with two other women allegedly assaulted by the same attacker, who was found “not responsible.” Sulkowicz's protest is also her senior thesis, a performance art piece she calls “Mattress Performance” or “Carry That Weight.” She intends to continue until her alleged rapist is expelled. “I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there everywhere since then,” she told the campus newspaper. Watch Emma Sulkowicz's interview with the Columbia Spectator:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fundamentalist Family Disowns Gay Son

A few months ago, I wrote about the Ali Forney Center, a shelter for LGBT youth in NYC. I thought about the Center in regard to Daniel Ashley Pierce, 20, of Georgia, who was subject to verbal and physical abuse and finally disowned by his family after he revealed that he is gay. Thanks to the generosity of donors who responded online to his plight, he does not need a shelter. Regardless, he should not have had to put up with the behavior of his fundamentalist family, who peddled nonsense about homosexuality being a "choice" and, in response to Daniel's citing his studies in biology and psychology, stated, “You go by all the scientific stuff you want to; I’m going by the word of God.” Daniel recorded the confrontation on his cell phone; his family said that they wanted it removed from YouTube, where it remains. Watch, but be warned that this video is upsetting:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Thom Hartmann: Most Libertarians Don't Know What "Libertarian" Means

Thom Hartmann argues that most of those who call themselves libertarians don't know what "libertarian" actually means. He examines the 1980 Libertarian Party platform of David Koch, who ran as the party's vice presidential candidate, and exposes the extremist vision of libertarianism, one that is contrary to many who profess belief in it. In that regard, Hartmann states, "libertarianism is a scam." Watch:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Terry Gross’s Moving Talk With Maurice Sendak: "Live Your Life"

In 2011, Terry Gross of NPR's "Fresh Air" interviewed Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), author of the children's classic, "Where the Wild Things Are." Sendak spoke about the preciousness of life, aging, mortality, friendship, love, nature, belief and non-belief. Artist Christoph Niemann was so moved by Sendak's profound reflections that he illustrated the interview, resulting in the following video. The background music is from the "Impromptu in B-flat Major" by Franz Schubert, which I chose as this week's music selection below. The interview concludes, "I wish you all good things. Live your life, live your life, live your life." Watch:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Horowitz Plays Schubert



Last October, we listened to Vladimir Horowitz playing Chopin. Now let's listen to this master pianist perform another sublime composition, the Impromptu in B-flat Major by Franz Schubert. The legendary concert took place in Moscow in 1986; Horowitz, native to Russia, had last been in the country in 1925.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Washington Post: ISIS Adopted Waterboarding From CIA

The Washington Post reports that ISIS appears to have modeled its waterboarding technique on the CIA's use of the torture practice. ISIS waterboarded, among others, U.S. journalist James Foley (left), whom it later beheaded. This would confirm the warnings of critics that the CIA's use of waterboarding would put Americans at risk of being tortured in the same way:

James Foley was among the four who were waterboarded several times by Islamic State militants who appeared to model the technique on the CIA’s use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Waterboarding often involves strapping a person down on a gurney or bench and pouring cold water over a cloth covering the face. It causes the sensation of drowning. “The wet cloth creates a barrier through which it is difficult — or in some cases not possible — to breathe,” according to a Justice Department memo in May 2005 about the CIA’s use of the technique.

...“They knew exactly how it was done,” a person with direct knowledge of what happened to the hostages said of the Islamic State militants. The person, who discussed the hostages’ experience on the condition of anonymity, said the captives were held in Raqqah, a city in north-central Syria.

...Waterboarding was one of the interrogation techniques adopted by the CIA and sanctioned by the Justice Department when the agency opened a series of secret overseas prisons to question terrorism suspects.

...Critics of waterboarding have said for years that the practice endangered Americans, putting them at risk of being subjected to the same brutal treatment at the hands of the enemy.

“Waterboarding dates to the Spanish Inquisition and has been a favorite of dictators through the ages, including Pol Pot and the regime in Burma,” Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) said in an op-ed in 2008. “Condoning torture opens the door for our enemies to do the same to captured American troops in the future.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to release a report asserting that waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques used by CIA operatives were not effective, said Feinstein, who chairs the panel. Former agency employees dispute that conclusion.


Image: American journalist James Foley covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria, in November 2012. (Nicole Tung/AP)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

U.S. Invasion Of Iraq Contributed To Rise Of ISIS

A New York Times feature on ISIS details how the U.S. invasion of Iraq contributed to the Sunni jihadist group's growth. The new Iraqi government disenfranchised Sunnis; ISIS honed its terrorist techniques fighting American troops; and the group's leader met his associates, including officers from the former Iraqi army, under U.S. detention. The repercussions of the invasion of Iraq in terms of regional instability and extremism continue:

As fighters for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria continue to seize territory, the group has quietly built an effective management structure of mostly middle-aged Iraqis overseeing departments of finance, arms, local governance, military operations and recruitment.

At the top the organization is the self-declared leader of all Muslims, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a radical chief executive officer of sorts, who handpicked many of his deputies from among the men he met while a prisoner in American custody at the Camp Bucca detention center a decade ago.

He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army.

They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group’s military council.

The pedigree of its leadership, outlined by an Iraqi who has seen documents seized by the Iraqi military, as well as by American intelligence officials, helps explain its battlefield successes: Its leaders augmented traditional military skill with terrorist techniques refined through years of fighting American troops, while also having deep local knowledge and contacts. ISIS is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army.

...Michael Knights, an Iraq analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said it was no surprise that so many officers from Mr. Hussein’s era had joined ISIS. Discontent in the military was widespread near the end of his rule, and underground Islamist movements were gaining strength, even inside the military, he said.

Political changes after the American invasion accelerated their rise. Members of Mr. Hussein’s Baath Party were barred from government positions, and the political dominance of Iraq’s Shiite majority made many Sunnis feel disenfranchised.

“After 2003, what did these guys have to do but get more radical?” Mr. Knights said.


Image: The Telegraph

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

APN To Obama: Reverse Israel's Confiscation Of West Bank Land

In a statementAmericans for Peace Now, allied with the Israeli group Peace Now, joined the latter in protesting the Israeli government's recent announcement of a 1,000-acre West Bank settlement expansion and urged the Obama administration "to take decisive action to block this decision":

Americans for Peace Now (APN) joins its Israeli sister organization, Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), in strongly condemning the Israeli government’s decision to take over a large swath of West Bank land to expand Gva’ot, a settlement-in-the-making west of Bethlehem, as well as neighboring settlements.

The Obama administration reportedly called on the Israeli government to reverse its decision. APN strongly supports this call. This will require however, more than a boiler-plate statement of condemnation. We urge the administration to take decisive action to block this decision, which thwarts efforts for a future Israeli-Palestinian two-state accord.

APN’s President and CEO Debra DeLee said: “This takeover of a thousand acres of strategically-located West Bank land is confiscation, the largest since the 1980s. It is a direct blow to peace efforts. As our Israeli sister organization Peace Now correctly stated yesterday when it publicized this new development, the move sends a message that the Netanyahu government does not want peace with the Palestinians. By declaring its intention to take over this land, the Israeli government is stabbing President Abbas and the moderate Palestinian forces in the back, proving yet again that violence delivers Israeli concessions – as is the case with Israel’s current negotiations with Hamas – while Abbas’ nonviolence and peace-seeking policy results in settlement expansion.

“The Israeli government’s method of confiscating land for settlement use is through declaring it ‘State Land,’ a method that has been used by Israeli governments, mostly in the 1970s and 1980s, to secure most of the land that now serves the West Bank settlements. Examining the contours of the land that has been declared ‘State Land’ shows a long strip, along the Green Line that separates Israel from the West Bank. This strip vastly expands the settlement-bloc surrounding Beitar Illit, one of the West Bank’s largest and most rapidly-growing settlements. If Israel is to annex such settlement-blocs as a part of a future peace accord with the Palestinians, it will have to come up with land on the Israeli side to swap for what it annexes in the West Bank. Such ‘swappable’ land inside Israel is scarce. By expanding the footprint of West Bank settlement-blocs, the Israeli government is therefore jeopardizing its ability – or the ability of future governments – to provide a future relationship of peace and security that Israelis and Palestinians want and deserve.”

For more on this land confiscation, click here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Israeli Peace Now Group: Settlement Expansion Weakens Palestinian Moderates

The announcement by the Israeli government that it is appropriating almost 1,000 acres of land for settlement building in the West Bank is indeed disheartening. Israel has a reasonable partner for peace in that area's Palestinian Authority (PA). Instead of compromising with President Mahmoud Abbas and weakening the extremist Hamas in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is weakening the moderate PA. In a statement, Peace Now, the leading group on the Israeli left that opposes settlement expansion and supports a two-state solution, called the move "unprecedented in its scope since the 1980's." Hagit Ofran, director of Peace Now's Settlement Watch project, said, “Netanyahu is weakening the moderate voices of the Palestinians and strengthening Hamas and those who say they don’t talk to the Israelis because they do not want peace”:

The Civil Administration, the Israeli military authority responsible for implementing government policy in the West Bank, said the decision was based on the “instructions of the political leadership” after Operation Brother’s Keeper, the security sweep in June that followed the killing of three Israeli teens abducted in the area.

In recent weeks, leaders of the Islamist militant movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is branded a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, have indicated that their operatives were behind the kidnapping.

On Sunday, Israel formally began the process of converting the 1,000 acres into “state land.” The area lies west of Bethlehem in a section of the West Bank that Israelis call Gush Etzion, a cluster of nine Israeli settlements.

According to Peace Now, 10 Jewish families live at the site and operate a religious school.

A leader of the council that administers the Gush Etzion settlement bloc told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the appropriation paves the way for the establishment of a city to be called Gvaot.

Those who oppose the appropriation plan have 45 days to express their objections. According to the news agency Reuters, the mayor of a nearby town said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olives there.

Image: Peace Now

Monday, September 1, 2014

Robert Reich's Labor Day Message: 6 Ways To Boost Labor

Robert Reich states, "Labor Day used to be a time to celebrate the rising wages, better working conditions and improved benefits that most working people in America enjoyed for years. No longer. Although jobs are coming back, most of them pay lower wages than the jobs we lost in the great recession. So while we're celebrating our nation's legacy of giving workers a fair share this Labor Day, let's also commit ourselves to mobilizing and organizing for better jobs and better wages. What's needed in particular: six things." Watch as Reich cites "6 Ways To Boost Labor," starting with raising the minimum wage: