Sunday, November 30, 2014

"The Theory of Everything," Directed by James Marsh

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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

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

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

Friday, November 28, 2014

Lawrence O'Donnell: Prosecution Handed Ferguson Jury Unconstitutional Law

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

Legal Analyst Lisa Bloom Blasts Wilson Prosecution With Her Tweets

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

For more, see @LisaBloom.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lisa Bloom: McCulloch Rigged the System for Wilson

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

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

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday Night at The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Jimmy Ruffin

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Mitch McConnell Suddenly Believes In Science

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Republican Immigration Foe Has No Alternative Plan

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two GOP Presidents Extended Amnesty For Immigrants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Republicans have even raised the possibility of impeachment.

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gallup: Newly Insured Like Their Obamacare

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

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

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

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

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

Fox's Ebola Panic Ends Right After Elections

Isn't it an amazing coincidence that, right after the midterm elections, we no longer heard the constant media drumbeat of panic over Ebola–which was linked at times to the panic over ISIS? This coverage, particularly in the case of one network–Fox, naturally–has severely tapered off. It was based on a cynical, failed attempt to boost ratings–and to fear monger for the Republicans and blame Obama for the crises. Watch this compilation of pre-election coverage:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Sodom and Gomorrah" by Marcel Proust

Sodom and Gomorrah by Marcel Proust. Translated by John Sturrock. 557 pp. Penguin Classics. $25.00 (paperback)

"Sodom and Gomorrah" is the fourth volume of Marcel Proust's magnum opus "In Search of Lost Time" (see my commentary on the first, second and third volumes). In the third book, "The Guermantes Way," Proust paints a scathing portrait of the aristocracy with his depiction of Madame Oriane de Guermantes and her salon. In "Sodom and Gomorrah," he continues this theme with Mme. Verdurin, who demands complete loyalty from the regulars in her "little clan." The unnamed narrator, who is living in a hotel at the seaside resort of Balbec, becomes part of this group, taking the train every Wednesday to the parties at a country home that the Verdurins rent from the Cambremers; in this case, the renters and the rentees share a mutual disdain for each other based on snobbery.

The title, "Sodom and Gomorrah," is based on the homosexual theme in the book. Proust, a closeted gay man, doesn't necessarily portray gays, whom he called "inverts," in a complimentary way. One of the members of the Verdurin clique is Baron de Charlus, a verbose, pedantic, histrionic man given to manipulating his petulant young lover, the violinist Charlie Morel. In another development, the unnamed narrator of the novel becomes more involved with Albertine, one of a group of girls he met at Balbec in the second volume. Though he seems to be growing tired of her, he jealously suspects that she will become involved with Mlle. Vinteuil, a lesbian from the narrator's hometown, Combray. This jealousy motivates him to move back to Paris, take Albertine with him and declare to his mother, despite her objections, that he will marry the young woman. In the first book, much of the infatuation of Charles Swann with the courtesan Odette de Crecy was also based on jealousy and suspicion, apparently major motivators in the love relationships in "In Search of Lost Time."

Written in memory of my mother, Dorothy Tone (1923-2006), who introduced me to art and literature, including the work of Marcel Proust.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Phil Lesh and Friends

"Mason's Children" by Phil Lesh & Friends from The Capitol Theatre on Vimeo.

Phil Lesh and Friends played "Mason's Children" at the Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY, on October 31, 2014. The seemingly mythological song, written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, was part of the Grateful Dead's early repertoire, around the time of a memorable show I attended as a teen at the Fillmore East in 1970. Lesh, who was the group's bassist, now includes it in his concerts, complete with a spacey jam quite pleasant to these ancient ears.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bernie Sanders: GOP Works Against Majority, Democrats Need To Stand Up

Speaking to Bill Maher, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) laid out the Republican agenda: cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid while giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations. In contrast, the American people want a jobs program that rebuilds our infrastructure, the expansion of Social Security, and an affordable college education. If the Democrats “[spoke] to the issues facing the vast majority of the American people and had the guts to stand up to the billionaire class that has so much wealth and power, I think the American people would be supportive of that kind of agenda,” Sanders stated. The problem is that big money makes the most campaign contributions, and most candidates are afraid to defy the wealthy in terms of taxation and shipping jobs overseas. Watch (Sanders' comments start at 5:44):

Thursday, November 13, 2014

New Colorado GOP Rep: Obama Possessed by "Demon of Tyranny"

Televangelist and religious right activist Gordon "Dr. Chaps" Klingenschmitt, host of a TV program "Pray In Jesus Name," was elected Republican member of the Colorado House of Representatives. The anti-gay, demon-hunting Klingenschmitt wrote a book claiming that President Obama and Hillary Clinton are possessed by demons. Right Wing Watch compiled videos showing "Klingenschmitt's 10 Craziest Moments: Homophobia, Exorcisms And More!"; the following shows him praying that this "demon of tyranny who is using the White House occupant" leave the body of President Obama. As you watch the following, consider the fact that a majority of voters felt that this loon is qualified to represent their state:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Paul Krugman: "Triumph of the Wrong"

Paul Krugman reminds us how wrong the Republicans have been about three major issues: economics, health care and climate change. How, then, did they triumph in the 2014 midterms? By hiding their positions and obstructing solutions to today's challenges, then blaming Obama for the lack of progress:

...First, there’s economic policy. According to conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 — brought on by runaway financial institutions — shouldn’t have been possible. But Republicans chose not to rethink their views even slightly. They invented an imaginary history in which the government was somehow responsible for the irresponsibility of private lenders, while fighting any and all policies that might limit the damage. In 2009, when an ailing economy desperately needed aid, John Boehner, soon to become the speaker of the House, declared: “It’s time for government to tighten their belts.”

So here we are, with years of experience to examine, and the lessons of that experience couldn’t be clearer. Predictions that deficit spending would lead to soaring interest rates, that easy money would lead to runaway inflation and debase the dollar, have been wrong again and again. Governments that did what Mr. Boehner urged, slashing spending in the face of depressed economies, have presided over Depression-level economic slumps. And the attempts of Republican governors to prove that cutting taxes on the wealthy is a magic growth elixir have failed with flying colors.

In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.

Then there’s health reform, where Republicans were very clear about what was supposed to happen: minimal enrollments, more people losing insurance than gaining it, soaring costs. Reality, so far, has begged to differ, delivering above-predicted sign-ups, a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, premiums well below expectations, and a sharp slowdown in overall health spending.

And we shouldn’t forget the most important wrongness of all, on climate change. As late as 2008, some Republicans were willing to admit that the problem is real, and even advocate serious policies to limit emissions — Senator John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system similar to Democratic proposals. But these days the party is dominated by climate denialists, and to some extent by conspiracy theorists who insist that the whole issue is a hoax concocted by a cabal of left-wing scientists. Now these people will be in a position to block action for years to come, quite possibly pushing us past the point of no return.

But if Republicans have been so completely wrong about everything, why did voters give them such a big victory?

Part of the answer is that leading Republicans managed to mask their true positions. Perhaps most notably, Senator Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority leader, managed to convey the completely false impression that Kentucky could retain its impressive gains in health coverage even if Obamacare were repealed.

But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates and high unemployment.

This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering prosperity — and they punished his party.

Will things change now that the G.O.P. can’t so easily evade responsibility? I guess we’ll find out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fox's Carlson: "We Need An Older White Guy Appreciation Day"

Dana Perino, former press secretary under George W. Bush, recently told "Fox and Friends" that Republicans had to overcome the perception among young voters that they are "too old, too white, too male." Tucker Carlson was suddenly inspired: "We need, I think, an older white guy appreciation day. I think they've done a lot for this country. And as one of them, I do. I do think that. Penicillin! That's a contribution! I want to do that. Draft me, I'll host it." So never mind about the struggles of the young and minorities and women and the poor; it's the privileged that count–including the privileged who whine about being unappreciated. That is the essence of Fox. Watch:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Right-Wing Media: Obama Deliberately Spreads Ebola

Right-wing media figures have been propagating the crackpot conspiracy theory that President Obama wants to deliberately "infect the nation with Ebola." Listen to Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham and Dr. Keith Ablow, followed by Rush Limbaugh stating that Ebola is part of "the president's political agenda":

(h/t: Best of the Left Podcast)

Limbaugh states that Ebola is part of "the president's political agenda":

Image: Rob Tornoe

Sunday, November 9, 2014

"Cubism" at The Metropolitan Museum

"Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection" encompasses 81 paintings, collages, drawings and sculptures presented as a gift to the Metropolitan Museum of Art from collector Leonard Lauder. The works are by the four most influential Cubists: Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger and Juan Gris. This comprehensive survey reminds one anew just how decisive the early twentieth-century Cubist movement was to the entire course of modern art. In shattering the illusion of three-dimensional representation for flat, two-dimensional paintings, Cubism paved the way for abstract art. The artists' use of collage and mixed media broke the boundary between "high" and "low" art and brought in popular culture. The Cubists deconstructed the everyday world–musical instruments, human figures, landscapes, still lifes–in a radical new way that still resonates. This exhibition is essential viewing for an understanding of the art of the last century.

Above: Composition (The Typographer), Fernand Léger, 1918-19

"Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection" continues through February 16 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue (at 82nd Street), NYC, (212) 535-7710,

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Curtis Mayfield Live

Let's end this dispiriting week with something uplifting: Curtis Mayfield's performance of "Move On Up" at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland, 1987. Mayfield was a leading soul and R&B composer, musician and singer renowned for his songs associated with the Civil Rights Movement, including those penned when he was with The Impressions: "People Get Ready," "Keep On Pushing" and "We're A Winner." Mayfield also expressed his social conscience with "Move On Up" on his first solo album, "Curtis," 1970. At the beginning of the video above, Mayfield tells the crowd, "Come on, it's not over yet!" Something for us all to keep in mind.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Cenk Uygur: Democrats Lost By Running Away From Their Base

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks argues that the Democrats failed to appeal to their base during the 2014 mid-term elections. Instead of campaigning on the successes of Obamacare and the economy, they ran away from President Obama and positioned themselves as Republican lite. GOP strategists agree. Uygur cites Rob Collins, National Republican Senatorial Committee executive, who said, “Democrats sidelined their best messenger by running from President Obama. They were so focused on independents that they forget they had a base. They left their base behind. They became Republican lite.” Watch:

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

White House Aide: No Way the GOP Will Work With Us

Writing in Mother Jones, David Corn (left) considers the "silver lining" idea that the Republicans, now that they're in control of both chambers of Congress, will "act more reasonably and demonstrate that they can govern and not just say no to everything." Corn quickly rejects "this lovely notion." With the continued surge of the party's far right and an agenda of confrontation and obstruction, the idea of compromise with the president, Corn argues, is a fantasy. One senior White House aide told him that House Speaker John Boehner couldn't negotiate if he wanted to because of the crazies in the GOP:

...The fundamental political dynamic of the Republican Party has not shifted; its advance has been fueled by its Obama-hating tea party wing. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Cory Gardner of Colorado will be two new GOP stars in the Senate, and they both hail from the far-right region of their party. Their model senator will likely be Ted Cruz of Texas, who on election night refused to endorse the newly reelected Mitch McConnell of Kentucky as Senate majority leader, signaling his intention to lead what might be called the Monkey Wrench Caucus. And in the House, the tea party club—which blocked House Speaker John Boehner's deal-making with the White House and pushed for government shutdowns and a debt ceiling crisis—will likely have a few more members when the new Congress convenes in January. The lesson the House tea partiers will probably draw: Obstruction pays off, big-time.

Sure, Republican lawmakers will be eager to pass bills, but their efforts won't be aimed at forging compromises with the president. Their legislation will likely target Obamacare and slash spending for social programs. They can be expected to fiercely block presidential appointments, especially judges. They might try to enact restrictions on abortion, and they will certainly seek to gut environmental regulations and climate change policies. Oh yes, and they will push tax cuts for the well-to-do. Such an agenda will be predicated on more confrontation and obstruction.

The idea that Republicans, emboldened by this election, will now negotiate more reasonably with the president seems like wishful thinking. At least one senior administration official assumes it is. When I asked him whether he was buying this happy talk, he laughed and grimaced simultaneously. "The problem hasn't been that Boehner doesn't want to govern," he said. "He can't, because of the crazies in his own party." With these election results, the official pointed out, there will be even more "crazies" for Boehner and McConnell to contend with.

"And just wait until Cruz is chairman of some subcommittee," he added with a sigh. A long sigh.

The Nation: "Republicans Just Took Over the Senate—Here’s Why That Sucks"

On Monday, I posted an editorial from The Nation Magazine, "Why GOP Control of the Senate Would Be a Disaster." Well, the disaster has happened. We can consider the following analysis from George Zornick of The Nation as the unfortunate follow-up. He offers nine reasons "why [the takeover] sucks." For progressives it's grim reading, but we may as well know what we're up against for the next two years:

1. Staffing the Executive Branch ...Republicans well understand that failing to staff the executive branch—and particularly the judicial branch—is a great way to slow down Obama’s priorities now, and even affect the trajectory of American jurisprudence long he leaves office. There are still 59 vacancies on federal district and appellate courts, a seven percent vacancy rate, and 35 percent of those empty seats are in areas that have been declared judicial emergency. This problem will get much worse, not better, over the next two years.

2. Filling a Supreme Court Vacancy The old filibuster rules still required 60 votes to confirm a Supreme Court nominee, which was going to be a tough lift anyway. But Obama managed it twice already. With Republicans in charge, it may be impossible...

3. Deregulating Carbon Emissions If the GOP’s biggest goal is repealing Obamacare, a close second is blocking the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed limits on carbon emissions. As Senator Sheldon Whitehouse pointed out on All In with Chris Hayes last night, the GOP House has actually passed more bills targeting the EPA than those repealing Obamacare. And unlike with the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have the full and enthusiastic backing of their corporate allies in blocking EPA carbon limits...

4. Deregulating Everything Else The House provided a nice sneak preview of how a GOP Congress would try to deregulate just about anything—passing big bills like the REINS Act which would essentially stop or slow most government regulation, to a plethora of smaller exceptions, carve outs, and cancellations for chosen industries. We can expect the Senate to approve many of these moves and force a showdown with Obama...

5. Keystone XL This one is easy to predict, since Republicans have said outright, several times, that one of their first orders of business will be a binding bill authorizing the pipeline. Now, GOP Senate aides are telling The Hill that they may already have the Democratic votes necessary to pass a filibuster-proof bill approving the pipeline...

6. Keeping Obamacare Intact ...Republicans might be able to force...changes to the law, like repealing the Medical Device Tax and cancelling the Independent Payment Advisory Board, as Igor Volsky at ThinkProgress notes. Both are things that also might gather some Democratic votes. If the GOP is smart, it will pick winnable battles on Obamacare and succeed in at least partially weakening the law they hate so deeply.

7. Budgeting Many of the GOP’s desired goals will still be impossible, as they still need to overcome the sixty-vote threshold on legislation. But on budgeting and appropriations that’s not true—only fifty-one votes are needed to pass those under reconciliation that isn’t true.

This is going to create a super-tense showdown with Obama. Many progressives remember when the president was eager to adopt budgetary changes like cutting Social Security benefits through a change in the Chained-CPI formula—something Harry Reid thwarted by literally throwing the proposal in his fireplace.

8. Keeping the Government Open This is the big one, and the mechanism through which the GOP might be able to get many of the above-mentioned policy wins. Before, the House GOP wasn’t able to clearly put forward its goals, particularly on things like the Ryan budget, because they got all garbled up in conference negotiations with the Senate. House members who wanted to avoid this conversation were fond of telling hard-liners that “we’re only one-half of one-third of the government,” so they had to compromise.

But that’s no longer true. With a deeply red Republican Congress and the word “mandate” dancing through the heads of many elected GOPers—and members of the media—it will be easy to force a simple showdown with Obama. Maybe Republicans go full-Ryan budget, which Obama certainly rejects, and there’s a government shutdown. Maybe they are smart about it, and pass a really bad budget that’s just good enough for Obama to sign. Either way, it’s bad news for progressives.

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Cenk Uygur: "Batsh*t Crazy Moments From The 2014 Election"

I was eating dinner and watching the election returns. I had to turn it off during Sen. Mitch McConnell's victory speech, in order to avoid indigestion. In addition, the Republicans took the Senate under the leadership of McConnell, who pledged an obstructionist agenda at a Koch brothers meeting. I'm therefore grateful for the comic relief provided by Cenk Uygur (right) of the Young Turks. Watch his "Batsh*t Crazy Moments From The 2014 Election":

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Nation: "Why GOP Control of the Senate Would Be a Disaster"

In an editorial, The Nation Magazine warns against a GOP-controlled Senate: "The Republican wrecking crew would hurt workers, women, minorities and the environment." In case that isn't enough to convince you to vote blue tomorrow, the editors outline the dire consequences of Republican control of both chambers of Congress:

Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, has already promised the Koch brothers that “we’re not going to be debating all these gosh-darn proposals…like raising the minimum wage…extending unemployment…the student loan package.” And it won’t just be progressive proposals that are stymied. Consider the judges who will never make it to the bench, including the highest, if Chuck Grassley, not Pat Leahy, is in charge of the Judiciary Committee. Consider the destabilizing political circus Republicans will create if Darrell Issa’s hyperpartisan investigations into fake scandals spread from the House to the Senate.

GOP control of key Senate committees will reorder the debate. What happens, for example, if Senator Pat Toomey, former president of the right-wing Club for Growth, takes over Sherrod Brown’s subcommittee overseeing financial institutions and consumer protection? What happens to nuclear negotiations with Iran if McConnell, Lindsey Graham and John McCain are deciding when to bring up a sanctions bill?

...Perhaps the most worrying consequence of a GOP-controlled Senate will be the extension of the damaging austerity agenda. Think, for example, about the next debt-ceiling fight. Republicans have repeatedly used the debt ceiling to hold the economy hostage, but they have relented each time because they knew that they would be blamed for the consequences—not the president. But if Republicans take control of the Senate, that calculus will change. What happens when they send Obama a bill to prevent default on our debt at the eleventh hour, attached to a bill that ravages Social Security? The Republicans will be able to force the president to choose between impossible options.

They will also be able to advance the Keystone XL pipeline, ban abortions after twenty weeks, decimate an already-weak Dodd-Frank Act and shred the torn social safety net.

In a democracy, there’s no such thing as an election without consequences. We are not satisfied with today’s Democratic Party; we wish it was more populist and more progressive. But it is absurd to argue that little will change if Republicans take the Senate. A lot will change—and it will be for the worse. A Republican Senate, working with a Republican House, will be a wrecking crew. There’s only one way to avert the devastation, and that is to vote with a vengeance on November 4!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

"Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs" At MoMA

In 1941, Henri Matisse underwent a difficult surgery for abdominal cancer, following which he spent most of his time in a wheelchair or in bed, unable to paint as he had before. Matisse found a breakthrough method to channel his immense creativity: paint-washing sheets of paper, cutting shapes with scissors and pinning–eventually gluing–the cut-outs together to form a composition. "Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs" at the Museum of Modern Art makes clear that the French master triumphed artistically in the final years of his life until his death at 84 in 1954. Matisse said that he was "painting with scissors" and that "Only what I created after the illness constitutes my real self: free, liberated." Indeed, he carrie forward his vibrant colors and appealing lines and shapes into a bold new artistic medium. "Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs" is a must-see aesthetic delight.

"Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs" continues through February 8 at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY, (212) 708-9400,

Above: The Horse, the Rider, and the Clown (Le Cheval, l’écuyère et le clown),
1943, and Icarus (Icare), 1943?–44.

See also my review of "Matisse: In Search Of True Painting" At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 2, 2013.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Lou Reed & Laurie Anderson

The Greenwich Village Annual Halloween Parade is always an amazing spectacle, including last night. Lou Reed (1942-2013), New York's rock poet laureate, offered a more haunted, melancholy perspective of the event in his song "Halloween Parade." As the costumes swirled about him, Reed thought of the people no longer around. Above, Reed performed the song with his wife Laurie Anderson on violin in Paris, September 2009. You can also listen to the original and read the lyrics from Reed's 1989 album "New York"–or listen to the entire album, one of his greatest.