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Ted Cruz’s Logo: Hilariously Appropriate

You know that “TrusTed” logo? The one with TRUS and TED merged, yet separated via different colors?

TrusTed
Turns out that when you Google “TRUS”, the logo at once becomes hilarious and hilariously appropriate:

“A transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) is an ultrasound technique that is used to view a man’s prostate and surrounding tissues. The ultrasound transducer (probe) sends sound waves through the wall of the rectum into the prostate gland, which is located directly in front of the rectum.”

Yup, that’s the very top Google result. Basically, it’s an anal probe. Which makes us even more certain that he’s actually an alien.

Well done, Ted!

 

Hinko, DailyKos

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Warren: GOP push to block criminal justice reform ‘shameful’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) slammed a Republican push to oppose a sentencing reform bill unless it includes a provision that could make it harder to prosecute corporate crimes, calling the move “shameful.”

“All of a sudden, some Republicans are threatening to block a reform unless Congress includes a so-called mens rea amendment to make it much harder for the government to prosecute hundreds of corporate crimes,” she said Wednesday from the Senate floor. “That is shameful because we’re already way too easy on corporate law breakers.”

She added that her colleagues should reject the effort, which is considered key to getting additional Republican support for passing criminal justice reform legislation this year.

Democrats and the Obama administration have voiced concerns about linking the battle over “mens rea” to a reform bill, suggesting it would make it harder to prosecute federal crimes including corporate fraud.

Including the provision, however, has support from key House Republicans, as well as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who voted against the criminal justice reform bill during a Judiciary Committee markup over the fight.

The Utah Republican suggested it is needed to help protect Americans who don’t realize that they are committing a crime.

“Without adequate mens rea protections—that is, without the requirement that a person know his conduct was wrong, or unlawful—everyday citizens can be held criminally liable for conduct that no reasonable person would know was wrong,” he said at the time.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing last month, when Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the committee, suggested the panel was to try to “get to the bottom” of the fight that is threatening to bog down the broader criminal justice effort.

Warren’s remarks come after she slammed the Obama administration Friday for being “shockingly weak” on corporate crime.

She added on Wednesday that if Republicans block the broader criminal justice bill, there could be political consequences.

“Anyone in Congress who thinks they can simply talk tough on crime and then vote to make it harder to crack down on corporate criminals hear this: I promise you, I promise you, the American people are watching,” she said.

Jordain Carney, The Hill

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Ted Cruz applauds Duck Dynasty star’s ‘cheerful’ vow to ‘rid the earth’ of gay marriage supporters

“Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson warmed up a crowd Sunday in Iowa for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) by vowing to “rid the earth” of same-sex marriage supporters.

“It is evil, it’s wicked, it’s sinful and they want us to swallow it,” Robertson told the crowd in Council Bluffs.

“We have to run this bunch out of Washington D.C.,” Robertson continued. “We have to rid the earth of them. Get them out of there.”

Robertson said Cruz was a “godly” politician who could cure what he believes is a “spiritual problem” in Washington, D.C.

“When a fellow like me looks at the landscape and sees the depravity, the perversion — redefining marriage and telling us that marriage is not between a man and a woman? Come on Iowa!” Robertson said, drawing cheers from the crowd. “It is nonsense.”

Cruz followed Robertson onstage and described the reality TV star’s wrathful comments as “cheerful” and “unapologetic” expressions of Christian love, reported Right Wing Watch.

“How about Phil Robertson, what an extraordinary human being,” Cruz said. “I mean, listen, God makes every one of us unique, but some are uniquer than others. What a voice Phil has to speak out for the love of Jesus. What a joyful, cheerful, unapologetic voice of truth Phil Robertson is.”

Robertson also described Cruz, who is polling second to Donald Trump in Iowa in the hours before Monday’s caucuses, as a “strict constitutionalist” who “loves James Madison.”

The conservative TV star explained his comments about Madison later Sunday in an interview with Fox News, where he shared a phony quote to claim the Founding Father was an evangelical Christian like himself.

He claimed Madison had written that the U.S. was based “on the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves based on the Ten Commandments of God.”

However, as the website Snopes reported, historians have found no evidence that the fourth president had ever made such a statement.

“The idea is inconsistent with everything we know about Madison’s views on religion and government, views which he expressed time and time again in public and in private,” said the curators of the Madison Papers at the University of Virginia in a 2013 response to a question from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Travis Gettys, Raw Story

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San Francisco’s tech bros told: quit changing the gayborhood

When Cleve Jones, a longtime gay activist who led the creation of the Aids Memorial Quilt, went to his local gay bar in the Castro district, he saw something that shocked him.

“The tech bros had taken over The Mix. They commanded the pool table and the patio. These big, loud, butch guys. It was scary,” he said. “I’m not heterophobic, but I don’t want to go to a gay bar and buy some guy a drink and have him smirk and tell me he’s straight. They can go anywhere. We can’t.”

Residents of San Francisco’s historically gay Castro district are worried that it’s changing, as speculators come in to flip the few remaining ramshackle old Victorians and the old-timer gay bars shutter. In a recent small survey, 77% of people who have lived in the neighborhood for 10 or more years identified as gay, while only 55% of those who moved in the past year did.

When an iconic building was on the market earlier this year, it was between two potential tenants: a gay strip club and a SoulCycle. The SoulCycle won. This winter, The Gangway, the oldest gay bar in town, is closing down.

“When you lose the geographic concentration, you lose a lot,” Jones said. “We lose the cultural vitality, the political power – you also lose the specialized social services.”

Let’s be clear: San Francisco is still extremely gay, with 6.2% of the population identifying as LGBT, according to a recent Gallup poll that puts the Bay Area as the gayest region in America. Portland follows with their gay population at 5.4% of the region.

But the gay community is changing – and traditional LGBT institutions are rapidly disappearing.

“The neighborhood is more professional gay now. Not that it’s less gay, but you gotta have money to move in,” said Hank Cancél, who lives on the corner of 19th and Castro streets, where he keeps a collection of gay erotic dolls in the window. “So now it’s Apple gay. Airbnb gay.”

The “faeries” – which Cancél defines as those in the artistic, eccentric gay culture, the sort who founded the Castro as a gayborhood in the 1970s – are now more rare. “There are so few faeries, we call it a unicorn sighting,” he said, unwittingly giving each other the same word given to startups valued over $1bn. “It’s such a rare magical thing to run into a fellow faerie in the city these days.”

At the Castro district Vanguard office, real estate agent Steve Huang said he finds the gay people moving to town don’t necessarily want to live in any specific neighborhood anymore but prioritize being close to work or Bart. Also, as gay people have integrated further into mainstream culture, it’s gotten harder to tell who’s gay in the first place. “So you’re doing this story about gay culture disappearing, and you might want to take a picture of a mother pushing her stroller outside a porn store, but that mother might be gay or she might be pushing it for two dads. The thing is we just don’t look so different any more.”

He wonders if gay people need to live in a concentrated neighborhood at all and says it’s not a major factor for most of his queer homebuyers.

“If you follow the history of the Irish or the Japanese, they started in concentrated communities and then they assimilated,” said Huang, whose husband leads historic tours of the neighborhood.

Asked how he felt about SoulCycle winning the key real estate over a male strip joint, he balked and said something half a dozen others interviewed for this story echoed:

“Oh my God, think if you have a male strip spot near Bart. Who’s going to come? Not gays. No, no,” he said, raising his hands and leaning back in his office chair. “Bachelorettes. Bachelorettes will come.”

Charlie Ballard, a longtime drag queen and comedian in San Francisco, said he now has to contend with straighter crowds that are less enthusiastic about LGBT topics.Charlie Ballard, a longtime drag queen and comedian in San Francisco, said he now has to contend with straighter crowds that are less enthusiastic about LGBT topics. Photograph: Stephen McLaren for the Guardian

Others worry, though, that as the gay community becomes less concentrated or visible, those who do stand out will feel less safe.

Amy Sueyoshi, 45, associate dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University, says she now feels less safe as a genderqueer person walking around San Franciscoand faces more street harassment. “Now, me and my friends step off Muni and we get called ‘dyke’ and ‘queer’ … It feels less loving … I do think that taking a walk on Valencia Street is not so great for me any more.”

“The Dyke March has become this huge frat party … All these straight dudes and their girlfriends are descending on the park and setting up hammocks,” Sueyoshi said. “It’s a little bit sad.”

She followed up with an email: “I do like to go to places in and around the Castro for Happy Hour or a snack and I’ve noticed more straight people making out at these places where I go deliberately to NOT feel like I am oppressed by heterosexuality. Really, straight people do you HAVE to make out in the Castro as well? Good Lord.”

Some drag queens feel they’re gawked at more recently. Charlie Ballard, a longtime drag queen and comedian in San Francisco, said he now has to contend with straighter crowds that are less enthusiastic about LGBT topics. “Some of our LGBT performers have to deal with wishy-washy audiences of pseudo-hipster techie types. They’re just sitting there, and I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re not watching TV.’”

On a recent Thursday night at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, one of the only remaining drag bars in the Tenderloin, the crowd included a mix of longtime gay patrons and younger straight people – some of whom work in the neighborhood. Bar manager Joe Mattheisen, 66, who has worked at the hole-in-the-wall bar since 1997, said the bar has attracted younger, straighter crowds in recent years.

Part of the reason that so many gay bars have closed or turned straight, he said, is that LGBT people have become increasingly comfortable spending time at mainstream bars.

“The gays fought for equal rights – and they got it,” he said. “So the gays no longer needed gay bars. They just go to their neighborhood bar.”

Mattheisen said real estate brokers regularly reach out to Aunt Charlie’s expressing interest in buying the space. But he said the owners have no plans to sell the business and plan to maintain it as a gay bar – even if the crowd is getting straighter.

Eddie Bellber, 75, is a longtime regular at Aunt Charlie’s who spends nearly every day at the bar. Known locally by his nickname “Hola”, he said that it’s been depressing to see so many gay bars in the area shut down. “San Francisco in the past few years has changed so rapidly with new development and young professionals coming here and new tech companies moving in,” he said.

He said he fears that Aunt Charlie’s could suffer a similar fate. “I’m constantly worried. It’s like they get one offer a week to sell,” he said. If it closed, the drag performers would lose one of their best performance spaces. “Where would my girls go?”

At Tenderloin gay bar Gangway, which recently acquired new owners and is expected to soon close and transform into a new establishment, longtime manager Bob Ames, 58, said he hoped the gay community would continue to patronize the bar in its new form. “I keep telling people they’ve got to come back, and we’ve got to make it our own.”

 and in The Guardian

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Every Candidate’s Impossible First-Day Agendas, Ranked

With the Iowa caucuses officially kicking off primary voting season, it won’t be long before a brand new butt is working a fresh groove into Obama’s old chair. In preparation, our various candidates are already hard at work making wild schedules for their first day on the job. And each one is more impossible than the last.

First, let’s remember that there are still only 24 hours in a day, some of which will almost surely be spent sleeping. And let’s also remember what George W. Bush did during his first day on the throne:

  • Had coffee with his parents
  • Spent the day “getting accustomed to his surroundings”
  • Took supporters on a tour of his new home

In fact, it’s the very same schedule I had the first day I moved into my freshman college dorm. Obama’s first day checklist, while slightly busier, still just consisted of:

  • Read the note left behind by Dubya
  • Attended prayer service
  • Met with advisors
  • Swore-in Cabinet members
  • Signed an executive order forbidding White House employees from acting as lobbyists

So with those ambitious day-one agendas in mind, let’s take a look at the proposed agendas of our current candidates, ranked in order from most impossible to least.


1. Ted Cruz will…

  • Rescind every single executive order issued by President Obama (which total 184 thus far)
  • Open a Department of Justice investigation into Planned Parenthood
  • “Rip up” the Iran nuclear deal (which would look something like this)
  • Order the IRS to end its “persecution of religious liberty”
  • Order the Department of Justice to end its “persecution of religious liberty”
  • Move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
  • Send flowers and condolence notes to “all the editors and reporters who have checked themselves into therapy”

2. Donald Trump will…

  • Eliminate gun-free zones at schools and on military bases
  • Round up and ship out all 11 million “bad” illegals
  • Stop all American companies from continuing to build their products outside of the U.S.
  • Have the U.S. Treasury Department declare China a currency manipulator
  • Rescind every single executive order issued by President Obama (which total 184 thus far)

3. Jeb Bush will…

  • Rescind every single executive order issued by President Obama (which total 184 thus far)
  • Repeal Obamacare
  • Lift the “regulatory burdens” off of business’s backs

4. Mike Huckabee will…

  • Sign an executive order supporting “traditional” marriage and “protecting religious beliefs”
  • Direct the Attorney General to protect religious liberty and aggressively prosecute any violations of First Amendment rights of individuals, businesses, religious organizations, institutions and civil servants, including those who believe in traditional marriage”

5. Rand Paul will…

  • Shut down the National Security Agency’s various mass surveillance programs
  • Repeal Obama’s environmental regulations

6. Ben Carson will…

7. Marco Rubio will…

  • Rip up” the Iran nuclear deal
  • Increase and reimpose previous sanctions on Iran

8. Carly Fiorina will…

  • Make a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to let him know that he has the U.S.’s support
  • Make a phone call to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, to demand that he allow the U.S. to conduct random and unrestricted inspections of Iranian nuclear sites

9. Rick Santorum will…

  • “Walk away” from the Iran nuclear deal and “open up all these facilities for inspection”

10. Chris Christie will…

  • Sign an executive order decreeing that for the next three months there will be “no more regulation by any government agency or department” [Note: This makes absolutely no sense.]

11. Martin O’Malley will…

  • Write an executive order declaring the transition to clean energy the government’s number one priority

12 and 13. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders…

… have yet to release any first day plans whatsoever. Slackers.

 

Ashley Feinberg, Gawker

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You’ve Probably Missed This Key Struggle Among Democrats

The 2008 financial crisis was the most transformative event in American politics since the end of the Cold War. But while the crash fundamentally changed the way voters think about politicians, leaders in both parties have struggled to adjust their politicking to the populist currents it unleashed. That confusion at the top is forcing Debbie Wasserman Schultz to fight for her job.

Wasserman Schultz is best-known for her tumultuous tenure as chair of the Democratic National Committee. But she’s also a congresswoman from a solidly liberal district in Florida. This month she drew a formidable primary challenger in Tim Canova, a law professor who studies big finance with a critical eye.

“On all these issues that I’ve been writing about for so many years — trade, banking, money in politics — she toes the Wall Street line,” Canova told The Huffington Post. “People want politicians who will represent them and not sell them out.”

The contest between Wasserman Schultz and Canova mirrors the internal conflict that has roiled the Democratic Party in the years following the crash. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has vaulted from a bankruptcy scholar to one of the most popular Democrats in Congress — but many of her top legislative priorities have been thwarted by old party hands. At the presidential campaign level, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is marshaling the same anti-corporate momentum against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who most party insiders had picked to take the nomination in a walk.

But the Florida race could well reveal more about the Democratic Party than any other contest this cycle, including the one for president. There are no electability considerations for Democrats in Florida’s 23rd District, which stretches from just south of Fort Lauderdale to Miami Beach. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will make it to Congress. It’s a question of whether a bald, male, not-quite-so-accomplished version of Warren can defeat a proven fundraiser with deep connections forged over the course of a decade in office. It’s a test of whether progressive ideas or corporate money are more central to the Democratic Party’s future.

“The progressive wing of the party — which really used to dominate the party from Franklin Roosevelt through John Kennedy — has mostly been taken for granted,” Canova said. “Their votes are curried by the New Democrats at election time, but when it comes time to governing, they’re really marginalized.”

Many DNC chairs pass through the post without becoming household names. It’s never an easy job, but nobody remembers the trials of David Wilhelm or the tribulations of Paul Kirk. Wasserman Schultz has become a national figure by screwing up. She’s been panned party-wide for burying presidential debates on holiday weekends when viewership is low, a move broadly seen as an attempt to tilt the scales in favor of Clinton (Wasserman Schultz chaired Clinton’s 2008 presidential run). She severely punished the Sanders campaign for exploiting the DNC’s own security failures on voter data, only to reverse course a few days later. As soon as that controversy had died down, she said weird things about medical marijuana and abortion rights activists in an interview with The New York Times Magazine.

“For someone who’s the head of a national party, you would think she’d be better at, you know, politics,” an anonymous “senior Democrat” told Bloomberg in October.

Wasserman Schultz did not respond to HuffPost’s request to comment for this article.

Canova isn’t running for DNC chair. He’s running for Congress. Unlike Republicans, Democrats rarely take on other sitting Democrats, according to research from Clark University political scientist Robert Boatright. Ideological contests are even more infrequent — candidates are far more likely to be targeted for scandal or old age. Literally nobody launched an issues-based challenge against a Democrat in 2014.

Primary challenges are just hard to win. Across every election since Bill Clinton left office, only 21 Democrats have lost a primary in the House and Senate combined — an average of three per year. Sometimes even when they win, they lose. Ned Lamont knocked out Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary, only to be defeated by Lieberman in the general election.

Still, somebody wins those races. While the headlines about the DNC’s management have made their way to Florida, Canova is focusing his attacks on Wasserman Schultz’s voting record. The issue that convinced him to run, he said, was her vote in favor of President Barack Obama’s trade agenda this summer — particularly a provision allowing corporations to challenge domestic laws and regulations before an international court.

“I’ve been teaching international trade law for many years,” Canova said. “I’m very concerned about the investor-state provisions in the [Trans-Pacific Partnership].”

The TPP became a major progressive cause, bolstered by Warren’s very public opposition to the same provision Canova criticizes. But Canova himself is all but unknown in electoral politics. His only tenure in Washington came as an aide to Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.) in the mid-1980s. The two men got along well, but it wasn’t a good ideological fit. Tsongas was one of the pioneers in the Democratic Party’s turn toward GOP economic ideas during the Reagan era. Canova, by contrast, was already sharpening his knives against big banks. Two of his letters to the editor on financial policy were published in The New York Times, and he even wrote a feature for the Washington City Paper on the collapse of Continental Illinois — at the time the largest bank failure in American history and the birth of the phrase “too big to fail.” Canova argued (correctly) that deregulation had destabilized American finance, and predicted a rash of upcoming bank failures that are today known as the Savings and Loan Crisis.

Tsongas didn’t even try to prevent his aide from publishing articles that conflicted with his own views. At the time, Canova’s interests just weren’t hot-button issues with the general public. Big-ticket bank deregulation bills were passing with broad bipartisan majorities — a trend that continued through the 1990s.

What a difference a crash makes. Today, corporate accountability, particularly in finance, is a major organizing principle of Democratic activists. The progressive chatter surrounding the presidential primary has spent nearly as much time on Glass-Steagall as it has on single-payer health care. But the major organizing principle of elected officials — Republican or Democrat — is fundraising. And Wasserman Schultz has shined as a fundraiser throughout her career.

Since her earliest days in Congress, Wasserman Schultz has identified as a member of the New Democrat coalition — a group of lawmakers who take progressive stands on social issues, but are sympathetic to GOP economic policies.

Signing up with the New Democrats was once seen as a savvy move for ambitious young politicians, allowing them to woo liberal voters on abortion, gay rights and other issues while consolidating a power base among corporate elites.

Sometimes Wasserman Schultz’s corporate favoritism is subtle. She voted in favor of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill — but has also voted to repeal key aspects of the law and hamstring regulators from implementing it.

There’s nothing subtle about her fundraising success. Wasserman Schultz raised $2.2 million for her leadership PAC in 2014 — almost double what Nancy Pelosi brought in, and just behind the haul generated by Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat. So far in the 2016 cycle, she has received contributions from Goldman Sachs, Comcast, Google, Lockheed Martin, the Major League Baseball Commissioner’s Office, the Transport Workers Union and lobby groups representing all kinds of different industries.

This is on top of the money she raises for the DNC itself. She even deploys her own personal campaign fund on behalf of other Democrats, giving $270,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2014 — money that the DCCC in turn spent on House races.

This money doesn’t just help put Democrats in office — it generates loyalty. Everybody who gets a check from a Wasserman Schultz fund knows that he or she owes her something. And there are a lot of debtors. In the last cycle, 96 Democrats got money from Wasserman Schultz’s PAC. Twenty-eight Democrats have already received money from her PAC for the 2016 elections.

So not many Democrats highlight the breaches Wasserman Schultz makes with her party. She waffled on the Iran deal when Obama was looking for support. She opposes not only legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but also medical marijuana (Canova highlights her fundraising from the alcohol lobby and private prisons — two groups that have a financial interest in blocking medical marijuana). She also voted to hamstring the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new rules against shady payday lenders, and to help auto dealers charge more to customers of color. When Warren and Pelosi led a revolt against a government funding bill over federal subsidies for risky Wall Street trades, Wasserman Schultz supported the package.

These are common transgressions among Democrats — Obama wanted the funding bill to pass, and 87 other Democrats joined Wasserman Schultz on the auto dealer bill. Several Democrats outright opposed Obama’s Iran deal. And Wasserman Schultz has always supported reproductive freedom and gay rights — she officiated a same-sex marriage near the Supreme Court last year. But the rest of her record has made progressives eager to see a different face representing the party.

“She’s not progressive,” said Howie Klein, a former record company president who now runs Blue America PAC, a fundraising group that supports liberal candidates and is backing Canova. “Tim is who he says he is. He’s terrific.”

Blue America is currently backing only one other challenger to a sitting Democrat in Congress. But a chance to take down the DNC chair was worth the gamble. Klein has been eyeing Wasserman Schultz since 2008 — before she was tapped to head the DNC — when she refused to support three Democratic candidates over Republican incumbents.

When Tsongas retired from the Senate in 1985, Canova enrolled in Georgetown University Law Center. He eventually turned to academia, focusing his work on the Federal Reserve, and landing a tenured position at the University of New Mexico. In Albuquerque, he helped lead a successful campaign to reinstate the voting rights of convicted felons who had served their time, convincing a Republican governor to go along with a progressive policy. He has written articles for Dissentand The American Prospect on the Federal Reserve, arguing that its current structure is fundamentally undemocratic. By insulating itself from the dictates of elected representatives in Congress and the White House, Canova argues, the central bank became far too cozy with the very banks it is tasked with regulating. Canova calls for the Fed to finance both state and federal spending by purchasing infrastructure bonds at low interest rates — a return to policies the Fed pursued in the 1940s, which had largely been scrubbed from economic history prior to Canova’s scholarship. In 2011, Sanders named him to an advisory committee on the Fed, alongside liberal economists including Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.

The Fed isn’t going to finance Canova’s campaign. And neither will corporations. “I’m not taking corporate money,” he said.

But the campaign support has to come from somewhere. In South Florida, a lot of eyes are on John Morgan — founder of the plush trial law firm of Morgan & Morgan, home to heavyweight lawyers including former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Morgan is a staunch advocate of medical marijuana. In 2014, he bankrolled a Florida ballot initiative to legalize medical weed statewide. The initiative came up 3 points shy of the 60 percent threshold needed for approval. Wasserman Schultz campaigned against the issue, and Morgan has never forgiven her.

Morgan has deep pockets, and his law firm is not a publicly traded corporation, so his dollars won’t violate Canova’s ban on corporate cash. He has also tweeted support for Canova as a “true progressive” and blasted Wasserman Schultz as a “transactional politician” in the aftermath of Canova’s announcement. That has not, as yet, translated into campaign contributions, or to what some insiders say would be still more effective — an independent super PAC.

The primary election for the Florida House doesn’t take place until August, months after the presidential primary. Canova will not benefit from any Sanders supporters looking to turn the tide at the top of the ticket. But even a close race would demonstrate that Democratic voters want to see a different policy course than what their leaders are offering.

“I think there need to be progressive challenges to incumbents around the country, even in primaries,” Canova said. “Most of these members of Congress have safe seats for the general election, so if they’re not challenged in the primary, what does that say about our democracy? There’s no contested election in the primary, there’s no real contested election in the fall. They get a free pass the entire time. And of course they’re going to keep voting the interests of the big corporations that are funding their campaign.”

 

Zach Carter, Huffington Post

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Word for Word Presents the First Production of its 2016 Season

Stories by Emma Donoghue and Colm Tóibín:  
“Night Vision” by Emma Donoghue and “Silence” by Colm Tóibín
Directed by Becca Wolff and by Jim Cave

 

Word for Word opens the company’s 2016 season with the work of two powerful contemporary writers, Emma Donoghue and Colm Tóibín. The evening-length performance is entitled Stories by Emma Donoghue and Colm Tóibín: “Night Vision” by Emma Donoghue and “Silence” by Colm Tóibín.

The production opens with a press night on Saturday February 27 and runs through April 3 in San Francisco’s Z Below Theater. “Both Irish, and transplanted writers, Emma Donoghue and Colm Tóibín have taken historical moments and let the empathy of their imaginations and the curiosity of their research create stories of two unique women. Each of these writers has a film currently in release and based on their novels: Donoghue’s Room, and Tóibín’s Brooklyn. These two films show the writers’ incredible empathy for the ravages of the heart and the amazing power of love over adversity.’’ remarks Co-Artistic director Susan Harloe.

Culled from historic fact, both of the production’s  stories deal with writers and their adversities. “Night Vision,” by Emma Donoghue, tells of young, blind Frances Browne who thrived on education when it was allowed her, and whose determination made her one of Ireland’s most renowned poets. In “Silence”, Tóibín recreates the story of the intense love-affair between Lady Gregory (founder of the Abbey Theater in Dublin) and the young poet Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. Their affair was secretly revealed in the love-poems she gave Blunt to publish as his own work. Lady Gregory’s self-containment and reserved passion are impressively imagined: women’s interior lives are one of Tóibín’s great strengths.

“Night Vision” by Emma Donoghue (from her collection The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits) is directed by Becca Wolff**. “Silence” by Colm Tóibín (from his collection The Empty Family),is directed by Jim Cave. The production features actors Stephanie Hunt*, Robert Sicular*, Rudy Guerrero*, Patricia Silver*, Richard Farrell* and Roselyn Hallett**. The production is realized with scenic design by Jacqueline Scott, lighting by Jeff Rowlings, costumes by Callie Floor and dialect by Lynne Soffer. *Member AEA; **Word for Word Associate Artist 

“The stories create an evening showing the power of the word, the thirst for learning, and the profound desire to create…” states Susan Harloe.

Emma Donoghue’s “Night Vision” reveals Frances Browne as a child. Blind–and a girl–the common wisdom is to deny her schooling, but Frances’ love of words and longing for learning gives her the courage to overcome the obstacles of her time and place. Tóibín’s “Silence,” views Lady Gregory, married to a man far beyond her years, who embarks upon an affair with a well-known poet.  Her longing for expression, and to break the bounds of her own silence, lead her to share her private story with writer and chronicler Henry James. Both stories reveal the secrets of these women with wit and compassion.

Feb 27- April 3 (Previews Feb 24-25-26)
Z Below, 470 Florida St.

Word for Word Performing Arts Company, a program of Z Space,  is an ensemble whose mission is to tell great stories with elegant theatricality, staging performances of classic and contemporary fiction. Founded in 1993 by Susan Harloe and JoAnne Winter, Word for Word believes in the power of the short story to provide solace, compassion, and insight into our daily lives.

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Outrage: House Republicans Call Everyone BUT Gov. Snyder for Flint Poisoning Hearing

After intense public pressure, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has finally agreed to hold a congressional hearing this February 3rd to address the Flint water crisis. Incredibly, Governor Rick Snyder will not be required to testify.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) said Snyder was “at the top” of her list of witnesses she wanted to question, but the Committee chose to ignore her request. She called the decision to give Snyder a free pass “unacceptable.”

“The nearly 100,000 people of Flint who have been permanently impacted by this crisis, either directly or indirectly, demand that Congress set aside party politics if we are to ensure that this never again occurs in Flint or any city in America,” Lawrence said.

Party politics may indeed be the key to Rick Snyder’s free pass. Gov. Snyder is a valued member of the Republican party and was even one of the frontrunners to be tapped as Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential candidate before ultimately losing out to Paul Ryan. The House Committee is comprisedof 24 Republicans, with Democrats in the minority at 17.

Lawrence says she’s still not giving up. “I told them I felt that was unacceptable. It’s not a full hearing unless we get the people who are actually responsible for the decision-making at the table. I am not going to give up until I feel the proper people have been called.”

empower-girls_Lawrence-Brenda

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.)

“The only way that we can hope to earn back the shattered trust of the American public is for our government leaders to put the needs and interests of the people we serve above all else,” Lawrence said.

Meanwhile, the state is still asking Flint residents not to drink their own water, and the National Guard has been distributing bottled water to supply the needs of the people. The public water used in Flint tested as being over 900 times the EPA limit for lead particles.

Ironically, committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) campaigned on a platform to bring reform.

“The pitch I made to the steering committee is we really have to triangulate the problem if we’re actually going to get to reform,” Chaffetz told Politico in 2014. “In order to fix the problem long term, we can’t just be the highlighter pen. We do a good job highlighting things, but we don’t do a great job of fixing things.”

Nathan Wellman, US Uncut

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SYLVESTER Musical Opens Feb. 17 at Brava! for Women in the Arts

This show will have youdancing in the aisles!!  Don’t miss this musical nominated in 5 categories for NY’s prestigious Audelco Award for Excellence in Black Theatre that celebrates the life of the Original 1970′s Disco Queen Sylvester.  Broadway Star Anthony Wayne sings, lives and breathes life as Sylvester. Also featuring the return of the amazing Anastacia McCleskey (“Priscilla,” “Hair,” “Book Of Mormon”) and Jacqueline B. Arnold (“We Will Rock You,” “Priscilla”) as Two Tons of Fun/The Weather Girls.

With songs like “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” “Can’t Stop Dancing,” and “You Are My Friend,” this show tells the story of Sylvester through HIS music and HIS point of view. Beyond all his trials, tribulations, glitz and glamour, he was iconic for being unapologetically fabulous. If you enjoyed last year’s show, this year 3 additional songs, new costumes and a new set are introduced.

Might Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical - The smash hit of last season, returns for a LIMITED ENGAGEMENT

February 17 – March 13, 2016 at Brava! for Women in the Arts 

Wednesdays 7pm / Thursday, Friday & Saturday 8pm / Sunday 2pm &  7pm

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Brava ! for Women in the Arts
In 1986, Ellen Gavin and an eclectic and talented group of 75 women artists, met at Galería de la Raza in SF’s Mission District with the intention of bringing attention to the unspoken realities of women’s lives, through the creation of new theater works. These artists first expressed their creative passion by producing a black lesbian event at the African American Art & Culture Complex in the Western Addition, followed by a women’s writing showcase at the Victoria Theater. In the midst of these two projects, Brava! For Women in the Arts sprang forth.

In 1996, BRAVA purchased the shuttered York Theater, a former vaudeville / movie house built in 1926, on the vibrant lower 24th Street Corridor in the Mission District.  A $3 million renovation ensued creating two performance spaces, a 360-seat main theater and a 60 seat Studio Theater.

Stacie Powers Cuellar, the Executive Director since 2012, has revitalized youth programming and regenerated their capital campaign which recently was awarded $200,00 from the Superbowl 50 Fund to create much needed dressing rooms and performance space. Per Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe, Marketing Director since 2013, “in the future we hope to renovate nearby storefronts boarded up for the past 7 years.”

“Today Brava supports the creative talents of LGBT and under-represented communities including persons of color.”  In the recent past they have headlined LGBT artists such as Marga Gomez and Lydia Popovich.

Brava is seeking volunteers who wish to gain lighting, sound, costume and set design experience plus many other positions are available.  They offer artists-in-residence training as well as a chance to have fun and network.  http://www.brava.org/about-brava/volunteer-opportunities/#.VminEOLQObQ

Your generous tax-deductible contribution supports their efforts at: – low-cost and free youth programs – unique and diverse live performances – subsidized community rentals – artists-in-residence – community collaborations – theater building repairs – new storefront performance space, offices, and dressing rooms! http://www.brava.org/about-brava/support-brava/#.VminU-LQObQ

 

This article prepared by Paul Margolis – Founder and Director of www.OurTownSF.org

See more interviews of SF LGBT nonprofits at http://ourtownsf.org/Videos-Interviews

 

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Bernie Sanders Refuses to Melt

Bernie Sanders keeps refusing to run the way that the pundits think he should — that’s what makes this primary so interesting and perhaps a turning point in American politics.

You could see it last night in the Democratic town hall. Before they let, you know, sensible people ask questions, there was CNN moderator Chris Cuomo. Cuomo, of course, wanted to know if Bernie Sanders was going to “bring back the era of big government.” This is exactly the kind of frame that pundits have been trying to put on American politics for about as long as I can remember, which is at least back to the Carter era.

This question is supposed to be a kind of kryptonite that causes Democratic politicians to sweat and turn pallid and immediately explain that no, they’re for efficient government or some such. It’s the kind of question that turned Bill Clinton into a triangulating centrist who cut welfare to the bone and elevated corporate power with a series of disastrous trade agreements. Everyone in Washington knows that “big government” is always bad.

But Bernie wasted no time in saying that he was going to bring back the era when government helped care for people. He thinks government should help people go to college and pay for their medical care, which is what big government does in every other industrialized country in the world. He even — in an ad released earlier in the day — dared to advocate that people who have spent their lives working might deserve the chance to relax and be grandparents at the end of the day. 

This kind of stuff makes the keepers of our political order crazy. In the last few days, we’ve seen folks such as Paul Krugman in the New York Times and Paul Starr in Politico patiently explain that Bernie is too far to the left to be president. It’s like they’re dumping water on the Wicked Witch of the West and waiting for her to shriek, “I’m melting!” But actually, he’s just shrugging it off, like a duck. As Cuomo tried to get him to confess to his socialism, his team just tweeted out a list of “socialist” accomplishments: Social Security, the minimum wage, Medicare, the 40-hour workweek.

The Beltway polls don’t quite get how much America has changed — how unequal and desperate it’s become. Sanders has spent his career on the back roads of Vermont, which is America’s second-most rural state. That means he’s met a lot of poor people and a lot of desperate people — a lot of people like the woman who started crying at his event in Iowa earlier in the day. The Washington Post reporter described it as “a remarkably moving thing,” which it was. But since Post political reporters only meet actual people during those rare moments in a four-year cycle when they happen to intersect with presidential candidates, he perhaps imagined it as rare. This is what life is like.

Which is probably why actual people are also less worried about the other half of the “serious people” test imposed by pundits. Cuomo’s next question for Sanders was about if Hillary’s experience trumps his. This was pretty much the same question Hillary herself posed to Barack Obama with her infamous “3 a.m.” ad eight years ago. In the D.C. world, “experience” is crucial. It doesn’t matter what you believe — it matters how much power you’ve exercised. Do your time, and you’re in the club.

But again Bernie refused to melt. Yes, he said, she’s very experienced — an obvious concession made with the graciousness that’s marked his campaign. (“People are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”) But, hey, experience isn’t everything. If it was, we’d elect Dick Cheney to every possible office, because he’s had the most experience of all. Instead, as Bernie pointed out, judgment is really more important.

That is why, he added, it is relevant that he opposed the Iraq War when she supported it. And he opposed the Keystone pipeline when she supported it. He could have gone on for a long time with that list: why did she set up a wing of the State Department to spread fracking around the planet, for instance? Why was she against gay marriage for years? But the point is clear. A leader is someone who figures out where the future is going, not someone who joins the party once it’s underway. A canny politician, by contrast, is precisely someone who waits until it’s safe and then runs up to lead the parade. 

If it was a year for canny politicians, then Hillary would be a shoo-in. She’s spent decades perfecting that approach.

But it’s not, perhaps, a year for canny politicians. Our Earth is becoming hopelessly unequal (a report last week showed that 62 people owned more assets than the poorest 3.5 billion on the planet) and hopelessly hot. It’s a year, perhaps, for people who insist on telling the truth, even if it’s in a Brooklyn accent.

Bill McKibben, The World Post

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Former Pentagon chief Robert Gates: Republicans’ grasp of national security is at a child’s level

Robert Gates , a Republican stalwart and former US defence secretary who served under eight presidents, has derided the party’s election candidates for a grasp of national security issues that “would embarrass a middle schooler”.

An ex-CIA director who first joined the White House under Richard Nixon, Gates joked that if frontrunner Donald Trump wins the presidency, he would emigrate to Canada. He condemned the media for failing to challenge candidates from both parties on promises he believes are unaffordable, illegal or unconstitutional.

“The level of dialogue on national security issues would embarrass a middle schooler,” Gates said of the Republican contenders at a Politico Playbook event in Washington on Monday . “People are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable. Either they really believe what they’re saying or they’re cynical and opportunistic and, in a way, you hope it’s the latter because God forbid they actually believe some of the things that they’re saying.”

Gates is among Republican elders dismayed by the way this year’s campaign is unfolding with establishment figures such as Jeb Bush, whose father he served as director of central intelligence, failing to gain traction against mavericks with unusual prescriptions for keeping America safe.

Trump suggested “closing parts of the internet” to prevent Islamic State attracting recruits, Ted Cruz pledged to “carpet bomb them into oblivion”, Chris Christie proposed flying Air Force One over disputed Chinese islands and Carly Fiorina boasted of having had “a private meeting” with Russian leader Vladimir Putin when in fact they met in a green room at a conference.

Gates, promoting a new book, A Passion for Leadership, said “one of the greatest, most appealing aspects of Ronald Reagan was his optimism about this country and about the future, and these guys all make it sound like we’re going down the drain.” All the candidates, he argued, should “try to communicate better to the American people that these are complicated, difficult problems that are going to be difficult to solve and are probably going to require some sacrifice”.

The 72-year-old declined to comment on specific candidates but was pressed by interviewer Mike Allen on the prospect of Trump reaching the White House. After a pause, he replied: “Well, I live about 50 miles from Canada.”

As the audience erupted in laughter, Gates continued philosophically: “I’ve been around a long time. There are a lot of people who have run for president where people have said, ‘Oh my god, if he’s elected it’s the end of the world!’ And the truth of the matter is, it wasn’t, and so I’m not prepared to be overly dramatic and believe me, the comment I just made was very sarcastic and humorous, not meant seriously. Somebody out there will write a story that I’m going to Canada. It’s totally not true; I intend to remain within the United States.”

Gates was the only defence secretary in American history to be asked to remain in that office by a newly elected president. Working under Barack Obama, he was alongside Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state and praised her as “tough minded” with “a lot of common sense” but admitted they began to disagree on issues towards the end, notably the intervention in Libya .

He did not mention Bernie Sanders by name but did suggest both Democratic and Republican candidates are being given an easy ride by the media. “Frankly, I think that the press needs to be more aggressive,” he said. “A lot of people in both parties are making huge promises and commitments.

“In some cases the things they’re saying they’re going to do are unconstitutional or merely against the law and others are, from a budgetary standpoint, inconceivable, and so it seems to be that the press has not hammered hard enough and been relentless in saying, ‘How the hell are you going to do that?’”

Gates condemned National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden as a traitor, called on tech companies to put security ahead of business interests and cooperate with intelligence agencies on encrypted data, and repeated his past description of Putin as a “stone cold killer” which, in the light of the Alexander Litvinenko inquiry, “the British now seem to reaffirm”.

The intelligence veteran of nearly 27 years also spoke about the danger of leaks and recalled the 2011 raid in Pakistan that killed terrorist Osama bin Laden. A friend later emailed him a Photoshopped version of the famous picture in the situation room with the occupants wearing superhero costumes: Obama as Captain America, Joe Biden as The Flash, Clinton as Wonder Woman and Gates himself as the Martian Manhunter.

“And we all had a good laugh, and then I said, ‘Mr President, this is the reason the photographs of the dead Bin Laden must never be released, because somebody will Photoshop them and it will anger every Muslim in the world, even those that hated Bin Laden because of being disrespectful of the dead, and it will create greater risk for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and for all Americans, especially in the Middle East.’ And to the best of my knowledge those photographs are the only things about that raid that have never leaked.”

He added: “The Defense Department wrote the book on leaking. They know how to do this. But the Defense Department leaks about policy and budget and weapons programmes and stuff like that. They do not leak about military operations because they know lives are at stake. So the leaks about the Bin Laden raid for the first couple of weeks came from the White House and CIA, and I just thought that was a disgrace.”

David Smith, The Guardian (from Raw Story)

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Newly Leaked Emails Indicate Michigan Republicans Didn’t Poison Water To “Save Money”

As Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s tower of lies collapses around him, we are finding some extremely disturbing, if at this point unsurprising, new pieces of evidence among the rubble. A great deal of effort is going into determining just what happened in Flint, Michigan, where a switch in water sources by the Snyder administration, ostensibly in order to help save money after Snyder’s tax cuts blew giant holes in the state budget, ended up poisoning thousands of people with toxic lead in the poor and largely African-American city of Flint.

However, question marks are already emerging from the conventional explanation for the switch – that is, to save $2 million by selling polluted water to Flint residents. Journalist Steve Neavling of the independent newspaper, Motor City Muckraker, believes that the water pipes were not switched in order to save money, thanks to the release of a new email which appears to indicate that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) offered Snyder a deal worth $800 million over 30 years, which would have been 20% cheaper than switching to the polluted Karegnondi Water Authority.

MCM also reports that “A high-ranking DWSD official told us today that Detroit offered a 50% reduction over what Flint had been paying Detroit. In fact, documents show that DWSD made at least six proposals to Flint, saying “the KWA pipeline can only be attributed to a ‘political’ objective that has nothing to do with the delivery – or the price – of water.” The deal was signed in 2013, and Governor Snyder refuses to release the emails from this period – refusing to offer up the paper trail of how, exactly this decision was made.

OccupyDemocrats cannot independently confirm or deny these allegations, however; if they are true, they begin to paint a very different picture than the one we originally thought we were looking at. What appears at first to have been a tragic case of desperate cost-cutting and criminal negligence is now taking on the contours of a much deeper conspiracy in which the people of Flint were a sacrificial lamb on the alter of free market fascism.

Neavling not-so-subtly suggests that the ultimate goal was to break up and privatize the DWSD by starving it of a crucial customer base. It has already been split into two entities in 2015: the DWSD and the Great Lakes Water Authority; depriving it of the Flint contract would give the Snyder administration an excuse to sell it off. Others point to a desire to begin new fracking operations in Michigan.

It just goes to show how dangerous the Republican Party’s crusade to dismantle all public institutions and replace them with privatized alternatives that put profits over the well-being of their customers truly presents to our nation. Governor Snyder, who was propelled into office with over $12 million in corporate campaign cash, has spent his entire governorship implementing all the trademark pieces of the Koch Brothers’ plan for America – an Americans For Prosperity-spearheaded union killing right-to-work law (even though he promised he wouldn’t during the election); the appointment of rule-by-decree”emergency managers” for major cities; slashing corporate taxes and instituting a budget-crippling flat tax; crippling public schools with budget cuts and replacing them with charter schools.

More information will reveal itself as Snyder heads to Washington to explain himself to the House Oversight Committee, but the lesson here is clear. Not only do the Congressional Republicans show little interest in any actual governance, but their governors tend to wreck the states they are supposed to lead. Snyder blew a $454 million hole in his budget and poisoned a city; Sam Brownback of Kansas passed corporate tax cuts that blew a $600 million hole in his state budget; Bobby Jindal of Louisiana gave $12 billion in handouts to corporations, turning a $1 billion surplus into a $1.4 billion shortfall and a syphilis epidemic after he closed all of their Planned Parenthoods. There is little that the Republican Party has to offer the American people; they are only interested in fulfilling the whims and petty desires of the oligarchs and the ultra-wealthy while the rest of us pay the price.

 

Omar Rivero, Occupy Democrats

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Hollywood Stars Pose As Gay Couples To Combat Homophobia

A photo exhibit created by French artist Olivier Ciappa hopes to combat against homophobia.

For the series, entitled “Imaginary Couples” (“Les Couples Imaginaires”), Ciappa captured beautiful images of straight celebrities posing as same-sex couples and families in order to spread a message of love.

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Featuring stars including Eva Longoria, Lara Fabian, “Sicario” director Denis Villenueve, and “Dallas Buyers Club” director Jean-Marc Vallee, the exhibit is due to come to the United States in coming months.

“The celebrities that I shot are heterosexual, but it was essential to me that you would believe these imaginary couples and families they portray were real,” said Ciappa.

“If you couldn’t identify with their love and feel it was real, then I would have failed. And to show that love is love, no matter who [is involved], the exhibition also features real gay families, straight ones, single parents, disabled, people of different skin colours and origins, different religion, young couples, old ones.

“All of these pictures, imaginary or real, have the same glamorous and warm monochrome style that makes them look not only appealing but timeless.”

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From Instinct.com

 

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Jewish transgender man gives birth and embraces life as a single ‘abba’

When Rafi Daugherty went to the hospital for the birth of his first child, he posted a sign on the delivery room door.

“I am a single transgender man having my first baby,” it read. “I use he/him/his pronouns and will be called ‘Abba’ (Hebrew for father) by the baby. Papa, Dad, Daddy, Father … are also ok.”

Rafi, 33, wanted hospital staff to be prepared for what they were about to see: a man laboring in bed.

“I didn’t want them to assume that I identified as female because I was having a baby,” he said.

After eight hours of labor, Rafi was holding his 7-pound, 10-ounce daughter: Ettie Rose, named, in the Jewish tradition, for Rafi’s maternal grandmother and great-grandmother.

Since bringing Ettie home from the hospital, Rafi’s days have been filled with frequent feedings — unable to nurse, he gives his daughter donor breast milk  — and diaper changes and stroller walks around his Denver neighborhood.

Nearly five months on, Ettie is a thriving infant with an impressive collection of plush seahorses.

Obvious, that is, if you happen to know that male seahorses carry and birth their offspring.

Male pregnancy first made headlines in 2007, when Thomas Beatie, a transgender man, became pregnant — and went public with his story, posing for magazines and appearing on “Oprah.” Back then, there were virtually no resources for pregnant transmen. (“I had nothing to go by; the organizations I reached out to had nothing,” Beatie told JTA.)

That’s slowly changing thanks to nascent research, as well as the emergence of closed social media groups devoted to transmasculine birthing and infant-feeding.

Furthermore, transgender rights and inclusion are increasingly a part of public — and Jewish — discourse. That’s due in part to the recent transition of the Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star now known as Caitlyn Jenner, and the prominence of transgender characters on hit series such as “Transparent,” where the protagonist is a Jewish transwoman, and “Orange Is the New Black.”

In November, the Union for Reform Judaism issued a resolution affirming its commitment to the full equality of transgender and gender non-conforming people. The flagship Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist seminaries welcome transgender students, and the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College have ordained transgender rabbis.

Rafi, who grew up Orthodox, said he’s been warmly welcomed by Colorado’s progressive Jewish community. One independent minyan organized a postpartum meal train for Rafi, and a large Conservative synagogue hosted Ettie’s simchat bat, or Jewish welcoming ceremony.

“I have dreamed of being a parent since I was just a small child,” he said at the ceremony in October. “It’s something that has been a part of me for as long as I can recall. I remember carrying my baby dolls around and dreaming of the day that they would be real and not just fabric and plastic.”

That day would have come sooner, he explained, but he felt he had to be “the most authentic and fulfilled human that I could be before trying to raise kids.” For Rafi, that involved transitioning from female to male — something that had long seemed out of the question, given his religious upbringing.

Growing up, Rafi attended a haredi Orthodox Bais Yaakov school in St. Louis. (Like many in the transgender community, Rafi is guarded about his birth name and asked that it not be published.) On Purim, he sometimes dressed up as a boy, donning a kippah and tzizit ritual fringes.

At night, young Rafi would pray to God to turn him into a boy. But because he was brought up to believe that gender is immutable, he didn’t think he had any agency in the matter.

Rafi was 21, living in New York, and in recovery for alcohol and drug addictions when he first met a transgender person.

“My immediate thought was, ‘Wow, if I wasn’t Orthodox I would totally be transgender,’” Rafi recalled during a 2012 speech to Congregation Bonai Shalom in Boulder, Colorado. “But I didn’t think God made mistakes and I always wanted to be a mommy, so I tried very hard to stay female.”

But in 2007, Rafi came out as a male. He had a renaming ceremony, becoming Rachamim Refael “Rafi” Yehoshua Ben Zechariah Leib, at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, an LGBTQ synagogue in Manhattan. Rafi turned 25 a few weeks later and began taking testosterone. His voice became lower and hair sprouted on his chin. He then underwent chest reconstruction surgery, but opted against other procedures, such as a hysterectomy.

“I was created with a body that could create life, and I didn’t want to damage that ability,” he said.

Living as a man, Rafi was finally comfortable in his own skin.

But his transition was met with resistance from his Orthodox mother and then-stepfather, and his haredi Orthodox brother. Rafi didn’t see his mother for three years after his transition, though they have since reconciled, and his older brother has refused contact since 2007. In an interview, Rafi’s mother described herself as a doting grandmother — she attended Ettie’s simchat bat — who is trying to respect the life choices of both her children. She acknowledged, though, that she holds out hope that the daughter she raised will go back to living as a woman. (She asked that her name not be published to protect her family’s privacy.)

After college and graduate school — Rafi has a master’s degree in crisis and trauma studies from Tel Aviv University — he settled in Denver. Rafi began working as a community organizer, then a regional manager, for the Jewish LGBT advocacy group Keshet. In 2014, he took a job at Ramah Outdoor Adventure, a Jewish camp affiliated with the Conservative movement; he is now the director of camper care.

“We welcomed Rafi as a Jewish leader, and one that pushed us to live our value of being open and accepting,” said the camp’s executive director, Rabbi Eliav Bock.

Summer session 2015 at Ramah Outdoor Adventure, which serves children in grades 3–12, coincided with the third trimester of Rafi’s pregnancy. Rafi was met with a round of applause when he told the camp staff his news. But he asked his colleagues not to discuss his pregnancy with campers, who, Rafi said, “just thought I was a fat dude.” By the end of the summer, with Bock’s blessing, Rafi disclosed to the high school-age campers that he was pregnant.

Rafi and Ettie celebrate Hanukkah. (Courtesy of Rafi Daugherty)

Rafi and Ettie celebrate Hanukkah. (Courtesy of Rafi Daugherty)

Rafi became pregnant by artificial insemination. The sperm donor is a friend whom Rafi described as “a tall, dark and handsome gay man, who is half South Asian” and half white.

“He’s expressed gratitude to be part of this journey for us,” Rafi added, “and not have to deal with the diapers and the crying.”

In 2014, the journal Obstetrics and Gynecologypublished a groundbreaking study that drew on data from 41 people who had been pregnant and given birth following a female-to-male transition. The study showed use of the male hormone testosterone did not seem to prevent conception, though some respondents who conceived reported being turned away when they sought prenatal care and facing insensitive comments from health care providers.

Rafi did run up against records software that wouldn’t allow hospital staff to enter the name of a father without first entering the name of a mother. He was ultimately successful in changing the birth certificate to reflect what Rafi called “the truth of our family”: that Rafi is Ettie’s father.

In recent months, Rafi has become accustomed to the assumptions people make when he and his daughter are out and about: that Ettie is adopted, for example, or that Rafi has a spouse at home. (Rafi is single, but open to a relationship; he said he’s attracted to “androgynous to masculine” individuals.)

“I’m getting used to saying, ‘I’m transgender and I gave birth to her,’” Rafi said, “so that Ettie can be empowered to know her story and share her story, and not feel like it’s something embarrassing or weird.”

“We got a lot of seahorse toys, for obvious reasons,” Rafi told JTA.

Gabrielle Birkner, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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Travesty: Leaked Emails Reveal Republican Officials Made Fun Of Poisoned Flint Residents

In a desperate effort to save his job, Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder has released a flood of emails in an attempt to exonerate himself from his criminal negligence that lead to the mass poisoning of thousands of people with lead-tainted water. Unfortunately for him, his desperate attempt at showing some kind of “transparency” and “accountability” is just digging himself into a deeper hole.

Some 294 pages of emails were released to the public. The first problem that journalists ran into was the fact that some of the most important emails were heavily redacted, which immediately squashed any hopes that the Snyder administration would be open and honest about exactly how the decision to switch the water supply of Flint, Michigan, to the notoriously polluted Flint River, in the hopes of saving some $5 million dollars and pad one of the giant holes that Snyder’s corporate handouts and tax giveaways blew in their state budget.

The more disturbing revelation was confirmation that the Snyder administration was dismissive and belittling to the mountain of complaints that residents filed after discovering their water had turned a disturbing brackish brown, and that even after evidence began mounting, they refused to act to rectify the situation until it was far too late, playing off their concerns as “initial hiccups” and dismissing them for being overly concerned with “aesthetics.” When the city’s water plant found traces of “coliform and fecal coliform bacterium,” they simply began adding chlorine to the water. They also refused to take any responsibility for their actions, as this email from Snyder’s Chief of Staff indicates:

“I can’t figure out why the state is responsible except that [State Treasurer] Dillon did make the ultimate decision so we’re not able to avoid the subject.”

The emails insinuate that the frightened residents were in fact politically motivated, describing them as an “anti-everything” group that wanted to use the health of their children as a “political football.”  There was no action taken after a nearby General Motors factory stopped using Flint’s water because it was corroding the metal in their cars; not after a hospital stopped using the water because it was damaging their instruments, nor after a university stopped for the same reason. How anyone could consider water that was literally damaging metal be safe for consumption by humans?

The final nail in Snyder’s coffin should be this email from an Environmental Protection Agency expert, Miguel Del Toral, which shows that “the state was testing the water in a way that could profoundly understate the lead levels.” Not only were they fully aware of the dangers presented by the water, the Snyder administration attempted to cover up the scandal by misrepresenting the data. 

All of this simply confirms what we already knew – that Governor Rick Snyder and his administration purposefully sold water that they knew was contaminated to a majority African-American city of a hundred thousands souls, dismissed the concerns of the residents they were poisoning, and then attempted to hide the evidence until it was too late. Resignation is not enough for these men. After these explosive revelations, justice demands criminal prosecution and harsh punishments for this kind of heartless mismanagement.

But that, ladies and gentlemen, is just how a Republican governs.

 

Colin Taylor, Occupy Democrats

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IOA Presents 33rd Annual Dinner à la Heart Tuesday, February 9th

ioagingIn the next few years the number of LGBT adults over 60 in San Francisco will increase dramatically. Recognizing that many LGBT older adults and seniors grew up in a time when they could be harassed, fired, arrested, disowned and/or physically assaulted for their sexual orientation and gender identity preference without legal protection, Institute on Aging understands the need to be very sensitive to the fears and concerns, isolation and loneliness and health and social disparities affecting us.

Institute on Aging is playing a role in addressing our needs through education and case assessment.  http://www.ioaging.org/lgbt  They participate in committees and forums throughout the Bay Area to advocate for appropriate cultural strategies and programming to ensure LGBT older adults have access to services.

A San Francisco tradition, Institute on Aging Dinner à la Heart on February 9, 2016 gives Bay Area residents an opportunity to choose a restaurant, make reservations online, and enjoy a unique prix-fixe dining experience with your family and friends while supporting this nonprofit neighborhood resource helping thousands of seniors remain independent and healthy in San Francisco, Marin, and the Peninsula. Prices range from $75 – $200 per person, including wine and coffee or tea.  See http://www.ioaging.org/calendar-events/dinner-a-la-heart  or reserve your seats at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/institute-on-aging-presents-dinner-a-la-heart-tuesday-february-9-2016-if-your-restaurant-choice-tickets-19954566646  If your restaurant choice does not list the required amount of seats for your party, please contact 415.750.3443.  Sandra Simon, volunteer co-chair of this event for almost 20 years, follows the tradition of her mother who was one of its founders.

In 1975, internist and cardiologist Lawrence Feigenbaum, MD, along with Barbara W. Sklar planted the seed at Mount Zion Hospital where a safe alternative to nursing home placement was created.  This was the nation’s first adult day health center in a U.S. community hospital, effectively launching the senior independence movement.

Over the next ten years, Mount Zion Hospital added outpatient service for seniors and The Institute on Aging was created in 1985.  Their innovative approach cut down on hospitalizations, and opened the nation’s first in-home creative arts program for homebound seniors.  Tom Briody, the CEO for the past 4 years, feels that the services offered “are 2nd to none and it’s an honor to be part of this organization.”

They create an environment ensuring that growing older for Bay Area residents is something to look forward to, at every age.  Call 415-750-4111 to Institute on Aging’s Connect Line to access local senior services.  If you think aging and disability are issues that matter, you may support their work by making a contribution or by volunteering.

This article prepared by Paul Margolis – Founder and Director of www.OurTownSF.org

See more interviews of SF LGBT nonprofits at http://ourtownsf.org/Videos-Interviews

 

 

 

 

 

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Flint Water Response Perfectly Captures The Difference Between Bernie Sanders And Hillary Clinton

On Saturday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to resign over the lead poisoning crisis in Flint.

Three days later, Snyder remains in office, and Sanders has moved on after generating a fair amount of media attention.

On Thursday, Hillary Clinton went on national television and chastised Snyder for refusing to ask for federal assistance in order to help the affected residents.

Two hours after that interview aired on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC, the governor did just that.

Clinton had also already dispatched two of her top aides – including one with years of experience working for a Michigan senator — to the state to assist Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (D) with whatever she needed.

The different approaches are emblematic of the ways the two Democratic presidential candidates respond to problems — and would perhaps continue to do so if they win the presidency. Sanders goes big, not always worrying about whether what he’s proposing is politically realistic. Clinton, meanwhile, focuses on the pragmatic instead of the aspirational, using her experience as a guide to what can get done.

Their approaches on health care have exposed this rift as well. Sanders has continued to push for a single-payer health care system — a dream for many Democrats — while Clinton has slammed his proposal as too vague and politically unrealistic.

Since October, officials have told Flint residents not to drink the brown stuff coming out of their taps, which they had previously been assured was safe even though it caused rashes. The state admitted it made a mistake when a local pediatrician reported unusually high lead levels in Flint children’s blood.

The former secretary of state’s approach has won over Weaver, who came out and endorsed Clinton during a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning.

“As far as what Hillary Clinton has done, she has actually been the only — the only — candidate, whether we’re talking Democratic or Republican, to reach out and talk with us about, ‘What can I do? What kind of help do you need?’” Weaver said.

Amanda Renteria is the Clinton campaign’s national political director and one of the staffers who went to Flint last week to talk with the mayor. She has experience in the state, having previously served as chief of staff to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D- Mich.).

“When this came about and [Clinton] read about it, her immediate response has been, ‘Let’s see what’s going on, and what can we do to help?’” Renteria told reporters during Tuesday’s conference call.

Snyder, for his part, has denied that Clinton and her appearance on Maddow had anything to do with his decision to ask for federal funds.

“Gov. Snyder announced the state was coordinating with FEMA days before and [was] dealing with the crisis on Thursday, not watching political talk shows,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray told the Washington Examiner.

Last week, the Clinton campaign also called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct an “expedited review” of Flint’s water infrastructure and said the Obama administration should immediately set up a “health monitoring and surveillance system” to test residents for lead poisoning. It’s less exciting and headline-grabbing than getting Snyder to resign, but also more likely to happen.

Clinton was also the first candidate to bring up the Flint water crisis during a presidential debate. On Sunday night in South Carolina, Clinton said the crisis had its roots in race and class issues.

“We’ve had a city in the United States of America where the population, which is poor in many ways and majority African-American, has been drinking and bathing in lead-contaminated water,” she said, adding, “I’ll tell you what — if the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it there would’ve been action.”

In his statement Saturday, Sanders did go further in trying to hold Snyder accountable.

“There are no excuses,” he said. “The governor long ago knew about the lead in Flint’s water. He did nothing. As a result, hundreds of children were poisoned. Thousands may have been exposed to potential brain damage from lead. Gov. Snyder should resign.”

Erin Brockovich, the legendary environmental activist and lawyer, endorsed Sanders’ approach Saturday, saying she hadn’t yet called for the governor’s resignation because she believed “we need to focus all of our energy on helping the people of Flint.” But she changed her position after seeing the seriousness of the situation.

“I will be speaking with the campaign over the next few days to help him understand just exactly how this is truly a National crisis beyond Flint,” Brockovich said in a statement.

Weaver didn’t seem particularly impressed with Sanders’ comments Tuesday, telling reporters, “A lot of people said the governor should step down.”

The Sanders campaign did not return a request for comment on what else the senator has done on Flint.

Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post

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On Scene with Bill Wilson for Michelle Obama’s Birthday

PhotoA017237Mrs. Obama acknowledging the crowd as she is escorted to the speaker’s platform during the commissioning ceremony for the Coast Guard Cutter, Stratton.

First Lady Michelle Obama was the sponsor for the Coast Guard Cutter Dorothy C Stratton when it was commissioned at Alameda Coast Guard station on March 31, 2012. I had the privilege of attending the commissioning on what was a soggy blustery day. The wind turned the umbrella being held by Mrs. Obama’s escort inside out as they descended the gangplank after Mrs. Obama had toured the Cutter.

PhotoB017154Mrs. Obama in orange scarf poses with the crew of the Dorothy C. Stratton on March 31, 2012.

In the year that women finally gained the right to sere in combat it is right to remember those who paved the way for that service. According to the official biography of Dorothy Stratton on the Coast Guard website, “ she became the first woman to be accepted for service in the Women’s Reserve of the Coast Guard soon after President Franklin Roosevelt signed an amendment to Public Law 773 that created a women’s reserve program for the nation’s oldest continuous-going sea service.  Her transfer to the Coast Guard as the Director of that service’s Women’s Reserve occurred on 24 November 1942 and she was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander.  She made commander in December, 1943 and captain in February, 1944.  One of her first contributions to the Coast Guard was creating the name SPAR for the Women’s Reserve, which she discovered in the first letters of the Coast Guard’s motto “Semper Paratus” and its English translation “Always Ready”.

PhotoCStrattonRooseveltLt.(JG) Eugenia Laurence, Commander DOROTHY C. STRATTON, Director Women’s  Reserve of the US Coast Guard, Vice Admiral Russell H. Waesche, Commandant, US Coast Guard and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (left to right) review a contingent of SPARS as they celebrate the first anniversary of their organization on November 23, 1943.  Credit Line (ACME)

While searching for photos of Eleanor Roosevelt on Ebay I was amazed to come across one of Mrs. Roosevelt and Dorothy Stratton. It seemed to me that it completed a cycle. Two First Ladies whom I greatly admire connected by Dorothy Stratton the woman, and the Coast Guard Cutter named in her honor.

PhotoD017302-Mrs. Obama addresses the crowd of invited guests at the commissioning of the Coast Guard Cutter Dorothy C. Stratton on March 31, 2012.

 

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Trump Slams Obama for Not Freeing “Hostages” Five Hours After Obama Negotiated their Release by Iran

Thanks to the reasoned negotiating of Barack Obama and his team, the ten American sailors detained after entering Iranian waters were released early this morning, and a potential international incident was averted at a critical juncture for the Iranian nuclear deal. Donald Trump, however, who apparently pays little attention to world affairs or to the office he supposedly aspires to hold, put his dangerous ignorance on display in calling for the sailors’ release five hours after it was announced.

Picking up the standard Republican line, he criticized Obama as being “weak” and assured us that he would be “much stronger” in dealing with Iran, nevermind that the Iranians had legitimate cause to detain the sailors. But, the insidious belief that diplomacy is “weak” and yelling and murder are the only way to get things done is not the only shameful Republican tenet on display in Trump’s statement. Even more so, it was yet another example of many Republicans’ profound ignorance of the Middle East, the region that attracts so much of their demagogic and racist war-mongering.

It’s no secret that many of the leading Republican presidential candidates know remarkably little of foreign affairs, and their incessant racially-tinged fear-mongering about ISIS has put this baffling ignorance on full display, from Chris Christie calling a long-dead Jordanian king his close friend to Ben Carson’s top advisors literally having to quit because they were unable to teachhim the first thing about the Middle East. As in most contests of stupidity and incompetence, however, Donald Trump has taken the cake for his ignorance of the Middle East even as he has blithely called for the mass murder of innocent civilians in the region.

He has confused Iran’s Revolutionary Guards with the Kurds and Hamas with Hezbollah, and has been unable to name a single major leader in the region or even a former U.S. Secretary of State, among numerous other disturbing lapses. When a radio host asked Trump when he would learn more about the region, he said, with typical middle-school level arrogance, “When it’s appropriate. I’ll know more about it than you know and believe me, it won’t take long.” As many have pointed out, however, it will never be “appropriate” in his mind to know anything about the world, because the problem isn’t simply that he doesn’t know about the world (though that is certainly the case) but that he doesn’t care about the world. To Trump and his followers, any question that he shows off his ignorance is a “gotcha” question dreamed up by the “liberal media” and their evil obsession with facts.

This is of course to be expected from a demagogic populist like Trump, who appeals to the masses with an over-aggressive militant nationalism that purposefully dehumanizes the supposed enemy. It is just this sort of dehumanization, in which the ignorance Trump so proudly displays is the first step, that makes it easy to commit mass murder and other atrocities. And, sure enough, Trump and those like him have advocated the carpet bombing of entire Middle Eastern cities and the intentional mass murder of innocent Middle Eastern citizens, who to them are nothing more than faceless and interchangeable “bad guys” whom it isn’t even worth understanding on the most basic level. It is this demagogic fear-mongering, that intentionally dehumanizes people to facilitate their murder and makes ignorance into a virtue while prizing senseless killing, that makes the moniker of proto-fascist – however sensational it sounds – apply perfectly to The Donald.

James DeVinnie, Occupy Democrats

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GOP Bill To Derail Iran Deal Goes Down In Flames After 100+ Republicans Forget To Show Up To Vote

The Republican Party is an absolute mess and we’re starting to reap the benefits.

While the GOP has spent Obama’s entire presidency attempting to do nothing to help the country, they’ve recently taken it so far that they hardly bother to show up at the Capitol at all. This is creating some really, really stupid problems.

It’s easy to see why House Speaker Paul Ryan was reluctant to take the job because one of the unenviable tasks he’s expected to do is to somehow trick the hundreds of Republican lawmakers he leads into actually doing their jobs once in a while. It’s not easy.

Recently, an increasingly frustrated Ryan even told Congress that they needed to make more of an effort to show up on time for legislative votes. The process is supposed to take 15 minutes, but with lawmakers slowly trickling in when they feel like it, oftentimes it can go on for an eternity. (If you’re getting the sense that lawmakers are behaving worse than high school students dragging their feet to homeroom, you’re not the only one.) The lack of urgency means Congress hardly gets anything done.

“Members should be reminded, members should attempt to come to the floor within the 15-minute period as prescribed by the first ring of the bells. All sides of the aisle,” Ryan said.

“As a point of courtesy to each of your colleagues, voting within the allotted time would help with the maintenance of the institution. The chair appreciates the members’ attention to this matter,” he said with a smile.

Apparently, nobody listened, least of all Ryan’s fellow Republicans.

When it came time for Republicans to vote on a measure meant to derail Obama’s historic nuclear deal with Iran, over 130 lawmakers, mostly Republicans, were visibly absent. It appears that voting for a thing they themselves had introduced had slipped their minds. An unhappy Ryan slammed down his gavel after 15 minutes and abruptly ended voting which vacated the tally due to insufficient votes.

How big of a screw up was this for Republicans? The window to truly derail Obama’s Iranian deal closed with Ryan’s gavel. They blew it. Instead, Secretary of State John Kerry says America will begin upholding its obligations to the deal starting in a matter of days, barring any setbacks from Iran.

“Implementation day, which is the day on which Iran proves that it has sufficiently downsized its nuclear program and can begin to receive sanctions relief, is going to take place very soon, likely within the next coming days somewhere.”

In a supreme irony, many Republican lawmakers were probably catching up on sleep after spending last night giving breathless interviews disingenuously spreading the lies that Iran was holding American Navy service members hostage. As usual, their lofty rhetoric doesn’t match their actions. If Iran was really so dangerous and they cared so much for the troops, would skipping this vital vote really be an option?

Yet another example that the dysfunction in Washington stems largely from the Republican Party. As the right-wing movement continues to become swallowed by anti-government extremists who were once considered the radical fringe, even doing the jobs you were elected to do – say, pass legislation – can paint you as a “RINO.” Instead, many Republican lawmakers try their best to destroy the government from the inside by willfully throwing wrenches into the works. But as we’ve seen, this “scorched earth” approach can backfire. During those times when Republicans actually do want to accomplish something, they fall apart. We see it here.

Another Republican chance to hurt Obama goes down in flames by a needless unforced error due to stupidity, apathy, and laziness. What a legacy this Congress is building for itself. Republicans ought to be so proud.

Jameson Parker, Addicting Info

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Edwin Outwater Leads The San Francisco Symphony With Piano Soloist Stephen Hough, January 28-31 At Davies Symphony Hall

image003Outwater

Conductor and longtime San Francisco Symphony colleague Edwin Outwater leads the Orchestra in a multi-faceted program that has become a hallmark of his conducting career, January 28-31 at Davies Symphony Hall. Pianist Stephen Hough joins Outwater and the SFS in Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 5, Egyptian. Additional music exploring the exoticism of the East includes Weber’s Overture to Oberon, excerpts from Busoni’s Turandot Suite, and Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Weber.

Describing the thematic arc of his program, Edwin Outwater says:

This program is a musical jewel box, full of sparkling delights. I decided to surround the Saint-Saëns concerto with other works that evoke the exotic. Both Busoni and Weber wrote music connected to Carol Gozzi’s commedia dell’arte play, Turandot. Hindemith’s reference to Turandot is actually a version of a version: a scherzo based on Carl Maria von Weber’s musical treatment of Turandot. And Weber’s Oberon overture evokes a different kind of fairy-tale exoticism, from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Edwin Outwater most recently appeared at the SF Symphony curating this season’s opening SoundBox concerts in December, which took audiences on a journey through the subversive culture of cabaret with performing artist Meow Meow. Outwater additionally serves as the SFS’s Director of Summer Concerts, in which his recent highlights include conducting summer performances with Shara Worden, Bryce Dessner, Angélique Kidjo, and SFS Principal Trumpet Mark Inouye, among others. He served as Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony from 2001 to 2006 and from 2001 to 2005 he was Wattis Foundation Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Outwater is Music Director of Ontario’s Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony (KWS). In the 2015-16 season, the KWS’s 70th anniversary season and Outwater’s ninth as Music Director, the orchestra continues its groundbreaking “Intersections” series celebrating the intimate relationship between music and geometry, collaborating with Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq and premiering Scott Good’s newly commissioned score to silent horror classic The Hands of Orlac. Other KWS highlights include a complete Beethoven concerto cycle with pianist Stewart Goodyear, a world premiere from Owen Pallett, and Die Fledermaus in concert.

Edwin Outwater’s extensive guest conducting schedule this season features returns to the Chicago and Tokyo metropolitan symphonies, accounts of Caroline Shaw’s new violin concerto with the Indianapolis and North Carolina symphonies, and a trio of programs with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

He conducted on two recent recording releases: Expanded, which captures his Barbican Centre debut with These New Puritans, and Sarah Kirkland Snider’s album Unremembered, released on New Amsterdam Records. In 2011, Outwater directed the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony on its first commercial CD release in more than a decade, From Here On Out, which features the music of Nico Muhly, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, and Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, on the Analekta label.

A native of Santa Monica, California, Outwater attended Harvard University, graduating cum laude in 1993 with a degree in English literature; he received his master’s degree in conducting from UC Santa Barbara.

image004

Hough

Pianist Stephen Hough made his San Francisco Symphony debut in 1990, and last appeared with the Orchestra in February 2013, performing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with conductor Pablo Heras-Casado. Over the course of his career, Hough has distinguished himself not only as an insightful concert pianist, but also as a writer and composer. In 2001 he was the first classical performing artist to win a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He was awarded Northwestern University’s 2008 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano, won the Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist Award in 2010, and in January 2014 was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in the New Year’s Honors List.

Hough’s 2015-16 performance season includes an extensive tour of Asia, and return appearances with the orchestras of Cleveland, Los Angeles, Montreal, Houston, Vancouver, and New Jersey in North America, and with the London Philharmonic and the Finnish Radio Symphony in Europe. He gives recitals at New York’s 92nd Street Y, London’s Barbican Centre, in Quebec and Kansas City, and at Dartmouth and Northwestern University.

Hough’s compositions for orchestra, choir, chamber ensemble, and solo piano have been commissioned and performed by the choirs of Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral, and by musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic, London’s National Gallery, Wigmore Hall, Le Musée de Louvre, and Musica Viva Australia, among others. He has performed his two piano sonatas in London, New York, Saint Paul, and Chicago. Also a noted writer, Hough regularly contributes articles in print and online for leading publications in the UK. His book, The Bible as Prayer, was published by Continuum and Paulist Press in 2007.

Hough’s more than fifty recordings have garnered several Grammy nominations and such awards as the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis, Diapason d’Or, Monde de la Musique, and eight Gramophone awards, including two Record of the Year awards and the Gold Disc. His 2012 recording of the complete Chopin waltzes was awarded the Diapason d’Or de l’Année. Mr. Hough’s most recent releases, all for Hyperion, include the two Brahms Piano Concertos with the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra under Mark Wigglesworth; In the Night, featuring works by Beethoven, Schumann, and Mr. Hough himself; Grieg’s Lyric Pieces; and a recording of his mass, Missa mirabilis, with the Colorado Symphony. He most recently released an acclaimed recording of the music of Scriabin and Janáček in August of 2015.

Hough resides in London where he is a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music and holds the International Chair of Piano Studies at his alma mater, the Royal Northern College in Manchester. He is also a member of the faculty at the Juilliard School.

 

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In David Bowie coverage, the media forgot to mention a major aspect of the rockstar’s life

THE NEWS OF DAVID BOWIE’S DEATH, at 69, from cancer, broke late Sunday night. Most people in the US awoke to read the news, and Monday was filled with hurriedly published obituaries, and then appreciations from critics, fans, and celebrities and notables from all over the world.

Bowie was a rock star of some note. He broadened the musical and thematic borders of the 1970s with a series of garish stage characters—personae, the critics called it—who played all manner of music. The doomed rocker Ziggy Stardust; the transvestite on the cover of the album Hunky Dory; the epicene Aladdin Sane (a pun on “a lad insane”); the swellegant Thin White Duke, with his self-styled “plastic soul.” And that was just the 1970s, before he moved firmly into the mainstream with his MTV-friendly “Let’s Dance” phase and the following several decades as beloved elder statesman of rock.

One aspect of Bowie’s life was left out of much of the tributary coverage, however. You could read Jon Pareles’ obituary in The New York Times Monday morning and not learn that Bowie was the first major rock star to say he was gay. You could read Edna Gunderson in USA Today and not hear about it, either. The obituary on CNN left it unsaid, as did the Wall Street Journal. Even hipper online outlets like Slate ignored that element of Bowie’s life in their obituaries.

What’s going on?

Bowie was already married and a recording artist when he first declared his sexuality to a British music journalist: “I’m gay and always have been, even when I was David Jones” (his given name). Later, he would allow that he was bisexual, and he always spoke frankly, even dismissively, about sexual matters in a way that was unique at the time.

This aspect of his life, too, was ignored in most major obituaries. A CNN report, for example, went out of its way to mention Bowie’s involvement in a “schoolboy fight over a girl.” Bowie’s own contemporary version of his life then was much different. He told Playboy:

So it was some very pretty boy in class in some school or other that I took home and neatly fucked on my bed upstairs.

As he grew older, such talk became less a part of his public life. In the 1980s he told Rolling Stone he was a “closet heterosexual,” and, as all the obituaries noted, he was married to his second wife, the model Iman, the last 20 years of his life.

A few outlets took the time to put his sexuality into context—like this story in the New York Daily News, and this one, if somewhat backhandedly, in the Washington Post. Later in the day, Slate posted another article discussing the singer’s sexuality from the point of view of gender studies.

Bowie’s openness and his gender-bending dress were a hugely important part of  music’s—and society’s—evolution. This would seem to be worth noting in an obituary.

It was also one other thing: illegal.

Britain’s attitude toward homosexuality has been historically severe. It was punishable by death into the 1800s. Oscar Wilde, a flamboyant celebrity much like Bowie, had been imprisoned and had his life destroyed for being gay. Bowie was born in 1946. Even then, homosexual acts between men were still a good way to get thrown into prison. Alan Turing, the noted cryptologist who helped Britain win the Second World War, was chemically castrated for homosexuality. He committed suicide in 1954.

By midday on Monday, The New York Times posted a link to tributes to Bowie from around the world, including encomiums from “Madonna and the archbishop of Canterbury.”

“ ‘The archbishop acknowledged,’ ” I cracked on Twitter, ” ‘that many of his predecessors would have enjoyed drawing and quartering Mr. Bowie.’ “

The country’s laws began to be relaxed in the mid-1960s, but homosexual acts were still criminalized when Bowie came out. They weren’t entirely decriminalized until 2000.

Rock and roll, for all its supposed honesty and thumb-in-your-eye attitudinalism toward societal mores, was never particularly open about being gay. Leaving aside ’50s rock pioneer Little Richard, whose sexuality might best be described as boundless, Bowie seems to have been the first major musician to talk publicly in a straightforward way.

A few years later, Elton John declared himself bisexual in a Rolling Stone interview; but, leaving aside certain disco performers, coming out still wasn’t seen as a good career move. One of the biggest bands of the 1970s and 1980s, Queen, had a closeted lead singer, Freddie Mercury; he died of AIDS in 1991. His sexual orientation wasn’t mentioned in his Times obituary. A memorial concert held the following year with an impressive lineup of stars was billed as benefiting AIDS research, but during the actual show the disease, much less Mercury’s sexual orientation, was barely mentioned.

There were, of course, gay rockers along the way—Janis Joplin is widely thought to have been bisexual—but it was not spoken of at the time. In the last few decades, a few stars, notably the Who’s Pete Townshend and Kinks guitarist Dave Davies, have said they were bisexual during their early careers.

However rushed their obituaries might have been, journalism shouldn’t take pride in the work that resulted. The coverage of the acclaimed life of David Bowie is one of those cases where ignorance and some misplaced niceties left a historic piece out of a celebrated life—and out of a much-persecuted group as well.

 

Bill Wyman. Columbia Journalism Review

 

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The white man pathology

The border

You feel your whiteness properly at the American border. Most of the time being white is an absence of problems. The police don’t bother you so you don’t notice the police not bothering you. You get the job so you don’t notice not getting it. Your children are not confused with criminals. I live in downtown Toronto, in one of the most liberal neighborhoods in one of the most open cities in the world, where multiculturalism is the dominant civic value and the inert virtue of tolerance is the most prominent inheritance of the British empire, so if you squint you can pretend the ancient categories are dissipating into a haze of enlightenment and intermarriage.

Not at the border.

My son’s Guyanese-Canadian teacher and the Muslim Milton scholar I went to high school with and the Sikh writer I squabble about Harold Innis with and my Ishmaeli accountant, we can all be good little Torontonians of the middle class, deflecting the differences we have been trained to respect. But in a car in the carbon monoxide-infused queue waiting to enter Detroit, their beings diverge drastically from mine.

I am white. They are not. They are vulnerable. I am not.

Here’s the thing: I like the guards at the American border. They’re always friendly with me, decent, even enjoyable company. At the booth in between the never-was of Windsor and the has-been of Detroit, the officer I happened to draw had a gruff belly and the mysterious air of intentional inscrutability, like a troll under a bridge in a fairytale.

“Where are you headed?” he asked.

“Burlington, Iowa.”

“Why would anyone ever choose to go to Burlington, Iowa?” he asked philosophically.

“I’m going to see Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.” Then, because it did seem to require an explanation: “They’re giving rallies within a couple of days of each other.”

“Why would anyone ever choose to go see Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders?”

I didn’t argue, because it was the border, but I could have said that the police chief of Birmingham estimated that 30,000 people showed up in Alabama to see Donald Trump in August and that in Dallas, he had filled the American Airlines Center, and that his counterpart, Bernie Sanders, has generated equally unprecedented numbers – vastly more than Barack Obama drew at comparable moments in the 2008 campaign.

“I’m curious,” I said instead.

At this point he asked me to roll down my window. But it was all fine. Like I said, I’m white.

As I drove through the outskirts of the ruins of Detroit, across the I-94, one of the ugliest highways in the United States, the old familiar lightness fluttered to my heart. I love America. America is not my mother. Canada is my mother. But AmeriAs I drove through the outskirts of the ruins of Detroit, across the I-94, one of the ugliest highways in the United States, the old familiar lightness fluttered to my heart. I love America. America is not my mother. Canada is my mother. But America is an unbelievably gorgeous, surprisingly sweet rich lady who lives next door and appears to be falling apart. I cannot help myself from loving it.

For people who love to dwell in contradictions, the US is the greatest country in the world: the land of the free built on slavery, the country of law and order where everyone is entitled to a gun, a place of unimpeded progress where they cling to backwardness out of sheer stubbornness. And into this glorious morass, a new contradiction has recently announced itself: the white people, the privileged Americans, the ones who had the least to fear from the powers that be, the ones with the surest paths to brighter futures, the ones who are by every metric one of the most fortunate groups in the history of the world, were starting to die off in shocking numbers.

The Case and Deaton report, Rising Morbidity and Mortality in Midlife among White Non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st Century, describes an increased death rate for middle-aged American whites “comparable to lives lost in the US Aids epidemic”. This spike in mortality is unique to white Americans – not to be found among other ethnic groups in the United States or any other white population in the developed world, a mysterious plague of despair.

In one way, it was easy to account for all this white American death – “drug and alcohol poisoning, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis”, according to the report. It was not so easy to account for the accounting. Why were middle-aged white Americans drinking and drugging and shooting themselves to death? The explanations on offer were pre-prepared, fully plugged into confirmation bias: it was the economy or it was demography or it was godlessness or it was religion or it was the breakdown of the family or it was the persistence of antique values or it was the lack of social programs or it was the dependence on social programs.

Case and Deaton call it “an epidemic of pain”. Fine. What does that mean?

On the I-94, you do find yourself asking: what the fuck is wrong with these people? I mean, aside from the rapid decline of the middle class obviously. And the rise of precarious work and the fact that the basic way of life requires so much sedation that nearly a quarter of all Americans are on psychiatric drugs, and somewhere between 26.4 and 36 million Americans abuse opioids every day. Oh yes, and the mass shootings. There was more than one mass shooting a day. And the white terrorists targeting black churches again. And the regularly released videos showing the police assassinating black people. And the police in question never being indicted, let alone being sent to jail.

And you know what Americans were worried about while all this shit was raining down on them? While all this insanity was wounding their beloved country? You know what their number one worry was, according to poll after poll after poll?

Muslims. Muslims, if you can believe it.

‘The American dream is dead but I’m going to make it stronger!’

My body is white and it is male. It is six foot tall and weighs 190lb. It is 39 years old and it has had to start running. It has had to start counting calories. There is a tingle in the joint of my right thigh, so I try not to think about my body. The tingling comes and goes. I know my body is going to kill me.

“A man who fears suffering already suffer what he fears,” as Montaigne said. That’s one of the reasons why men die so much younger than women – six years younger on average in America. Ninety-two percent of men say they wait at least a few days to see if they feel better before they go to a doctor, but I know what they mean by a few days. They mean a few more days than makes sense. It is hard to have a male and white body and to conceive of its weakness. In the same breath, my body cannot bring itself to believe it is the personification of power, though it evidently is in any rational accountancy of social status. It feels like a mere body. It feels mortal.

I’ve never been to a place as white as Iowa. That’s the honest truth. Whenever I go to America it’s New York or Chicago or Los Angeles or Florida. In Burlington, at Jerry’s Main Lunch, the signature dish is “the hot mess, eggs and bacon cooked right into the hash browns. The sugar shakers all have white crackers in them, to prevent clumping – a classic bit of commonsense American know-how. The hot mess is delicious. Why don’t they make these everywhere? Why isn’t there a chain of Jerry’s Main Lunches serving hot messes all across the midwest?

The answer is in the rest of the town: everything that’s going to leave has already left Burlington. The beautiful brick buildings downtown are mostly vacant. The most interesting street is the road out of town.

The Memorial Arena, on the banks of the Mississippi, filled up early. Trump wasn’t speaking until 6pm but by 4.45 the parking situation was grim. Outside the building, the hawkers who follow Trump on the road, event to event, sold T-shirts and buttons, three for $10. “We shall overcomb.” “Cats for Trump, the time is Meow.” “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”

Inside, every seat had been taken and the floor filled quickly with a standing room only crowd. Burlington is 10% black. The rally was 99.99% white.

The people who attend political rallies in America are a specific genre of humanity, like the people who stand outside in lines for nightclubs. They know where they’re supposed to go and how they’re supposed to behave when they get there. They have gear.

An elderly lady sat beside me wearing a sequined stars-and-stripes-hat she clearly takes out for just these occasions. “Y’all from Illinois?” she asked. I’m not but I can pass. She goes to all the rallies, she explained. She’s been a Republican her whole life, an active Republican, an Iowa Republican. For 30 years, she’s been in crowds like this one. She plans to go, one time in her life, to the national convention. Like going to see the Stones. When the organizers passed around hand signs reading “The Silent Majority”, she grabbed a dozen so she could pass them around to others.

Cheerful helpful women were half the crowd. Angry and absurd men were the other. They wore T-shirts with whole paragraphs written on them: “I am a United States Military Veteran. I once took a SOLEMN OATH to defend the CONSTITUTION against ALL enemies, foreign and Domestic. Be advised No one has ever relieved me of my duties under this Oath!”

There were cars in the parking lot slathered with bumper stickers. “We the people are 100% FED UP!” “So if guns kills people, I guess pencils miss spell words [sic], cars drive drunk and spoons make people fat.” “I’m straight, conservative, Christian, and I own a gun. Is there anything else I can do to piss you off?” A picture of Obama with “Does this ass make my car look big?” The Republican style for 2016 is angry aphoristic humor. Behind comedy, absurd rage: America is the greatest country in the world but America is falling apart, government is the problem which is why government must solve it.

This was a Trump production so naturally there was a VIP section. A door guarded by bald, unsmiling men, the bouncers who stand forever as the bored sentinels of indifferent celebrity. A swinging door at the side of the stage received and dispensed the best-looking people, the ones with the buffed neutrality of political professionals, the women whose faces have been tautened to a perma pout, the men who get their hair cut before every event.

The woman beside me – Stars ’n’ Stripes Hat – was wearing a pewter elephant pendant. A young girl in a bright orange dress passed out of the VIP entrance wearing an elephant pendant encrusted with diamonds. Elephant pendants were a theme, I noticed, and elephant brooches and elephant rings and elephant T-shirts. They came in all different price points and in all different styles: round elephants reminiscent of French cartoons from the 1960s, and strange pseudo-sexual shimmies, and with 1920s straw boater hats leading parades. There was one kind of elephant you couldn’t find. An elephant that actually looked like an elephant. A realistic elephant might serve as a memento to the hundred elephants killed for their ivory every day. A naturalistic elephant would be inherently environmentalist. The elephants must all be fabulous.

Like any good show, there was a warm-up act. In fact, there are two – three if you count the recitation of the pledge of allegiance. The first was Tana Goertz, an Iowa woman who had been runner-up on the third season of The Apprentice. “What a good-looking crowd,” she pandered. She vouched for Trump as a woman (“He loves women!”) and as someone who had returned to Iowa (“How could you live in New York City if you didn’t love people?”). She promoted the idea which is at the core of every last thing that Trump does, that simple contact with the man brings prosperity. “When you’re in the Trump train you’re going places!” She walked off to polite Iowan applause. The crowd would probably, all things considered, rather have listened to the Elton John music playing on the speakers instead, but at least she made the effort.

A more standard hype man followed. Sam Clovis hosts a conservative radio show and is a Tea Party activist who has run and lost a bunch of Iowa Republican positions. He just started right in with it. Trump was “one of the greatest men to ever walk the face of this earth,” a good line – the crowd could have laughed but instead they applauded, thus proving that they were not paying attention or would swallow anything. Clovis compared Trump’s recent speeches to Reagan’s A Time for Choosing at the Goldwater convention in 1964, which must have been, to his way of thinking anyway, roughly like comparing it to the Sermon on the Mount.

Clovis knew what the crowd had come to hear and he gave it to them. “America and Americans will be first again!” A collective roar shook the Burlington Memorial Arena. They so badly wanted to be first again. First in what was unclear but definitely first.

After the roar died, the crowd was ready for Trump. But, showmanship. Trump let the tension build; the angry absurd men and the cheerful, helpful women hollered. Trump! Trump! Trump! I could barely imagine the pleasure the muted sound of his chanted name, from backstage, must have been bringing the man.

When he finally took the stage, the crowd surged; their phones surged. It was an orgy of phones. The men behind Trump scanned the crowd with their phones. The cameras in the back were recording everyone recording each other. Trump was the only person not holding a screen, the absence that brought desire. He started roaring, as everybody in the crowd stopped to check the footage they had gathered.

Trump started out with the clip he knew would appear on the news the next morning – Joe Biden had dropped out of the race and Trump approved of his decision because Biden never had a chance and Trump wanted to face Hillary. The mainstream media adroitly handled, Trump began his disquisition on the subject dearest to his heart: his own success.

The Burlington rally marked the 100th day he had led the polls. He read the polls, poll after poll. He paused only to ask the crowd how great the polls were. “Beating Hillary nationwide do you love that?” The crowd approved of his approval numbers. And so he moved on to the more qualitative aspects of his greatness. His opponents just weren’t winners. “I speak from the brain but I also speak from the heart,” he said, rambling like a rich know-it-all uncle – “I’m bringing back the jobs from China!” – with brief digressions into self-pity: “Macy’s was very disloyal to me. They don’t sell my ties any more.”

He described, in twists intermittently frank and self-deluded, the brilliance of his own capacity for political manipulation. He talked to the people he was spinning about how cleverly he was spinning them. So he declared “I’m a good Christian” and that if he became president “we’re going to be saying merry Christmas”, but then he couldn’t stop himself from acknowledging the cleverness of his Christian electioneering: “I walked on to a stage with a Bible, everybody likes me better.” Trump brought meta to Burlington, Iowa. And he did not deny the crowd that taste of celebrity they desired. What would he say to Caroline Kennedy, the ambassador to Japan? “You’re fired!” “You’re fired!”

A few spectators started to drift out to beat the traffic and Trump shouted about the silent majority and about how he says what nobody else dares to say and about how he will end free trade and how Mexicans are car thieves (big laugh) and how he wants a piece of the action from the Keystone pipeline and how he’s going to help women’s health and how America used to be emulated. “The American Dream is dead but I’m going to make it bigger and stronger!” he shouted. At this moment he appeared to me the way every celebrity I have met in the flesh does, like a living pagan idol awaiting sacrifice, a puff-faced Baal. “We’re going to win so much,” he promised before leaving the stage to Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Going to Take It.

I stayed to watch Trump work the line. Up close, in person, the hair is much more intricate than it appears on screen. Its construction is tripartite, its significance polyvalent. First and foremost, there is the comb-over, although it can be called a comb-over only in the sense that the mall in Dubai with a ski hill inside it can be called a building. It is hair as state-of-the-art engineering feat, with the diaphanous quality of a cloak out of Norse legend or some miraculous near-weightless metal developed in an advanced German laboratory. It floats over the skull, an act of defiance not only against ageing and loss but against time and space, against reality.

Behind the technical display of the comb-over, as counterpoint, the back is as traditional and old-fashioned as a haircut can be. It’s a classic ducktail. It’s such a classic that I have only seen it in movies set in the 1950s. Not movies from the 1950s I should be clear, but movies from the 1970s about the 1950s. In between the comb-over and the ducktail, between the two follicular spaces representing the modernistic and the atavistic, the fantastical and the nostalgic, there is a third tranche. Even in person you have to look closely to catch sight of it. It bulges, slightly but only slightly. It is the real part of the hair, the human part, the actual hair. It is the hinge of Donald Trump.

As Trump’s campaign for the Republican nomination has unfolded, in all its unlikeliness, he has shaken hands with many thousands of Americans, and posed with many thousands for many thousands of selfies. And among those many thousands, not one has reached up to mess up his hair. Though he regularly brings up the physical appearances of his opponent, none of the other candidates even mention the fact that he looks ridiculous. Trump’s hair is an act of defiant social pre-emption: call me a phony. I dare you. I fucking dare you.

A few hardcore fans lingered on the fringes, just like at a concert. Everybody else had drifted into the parking lot and the town center of Burlington was soon returned to its emptiness. A Trump show is good value for the money, especially since it’s free. They don’t even ask for donations.

The view from Fun City

The morning after the rally, it has become clear that Iowa may be the bramble in Trump’s path. A scandal over an errant tweet has cloudburst.

He blames the insult on a young intern. But the eight-point rise of Carson must be galling. Trump possesses the weakness of anyone who lives by the strength of their results. Results vary. When the results are down, where are you? Who are you? Trump is in the business of winning. Does Trump losing even exist?

I had a day between Trump and Sanders, and all I had to read was a pdf of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, which I had agreed to look at for a book of the month club. After another hot mess at Jerry’s Main Lunch, and a run to burn it off, I spent a day at the Motel 8 in Burlington reading, while across the street, the Winegard factory, manufacturing satellite dishes 24 hours a day, thudded like a heart without syncopation. Did you know you can buy a six pack of beer and a bottle of bourbon for just a little over 20 bucks in Iowa? What a great country.

The title of Between the World and Me comes from a Richard Wright poem called White Man, Listen! and it was never going to get much whiter or more male than me in the Motel 8 sipping bourbon and beer, on my iPhone, with the Jays and Royals highlights flickering in the background and the thud of the satellite dish factory in the background.

The urgency of the book, the vitality of the historical imagination at play, rose like waves into crests of anger tumbling over their own force. It was all of a piece. And it all made very ferocious sense. Between the World and Me is one of those books that possess the powerful inevitability of a natural phenomenon – as if it accrued out of the ether that surrounds us, a crystalline formation of the outrage that defines the moment. To criticize is beside the point. It’s just there.

To me, the key passage in Between the World and Me, comes after Coates has been on television explaining to the host the desperate consequences of yet another police assassination of a black boy.

I came out of the studio and walked for a while. It was a calm December day. Families, believing themselves white, were out on the streets. Infants, raised to be white, were bundled in strollers. And I was sad for these people, much as I was sad for the host and sad for all the people out there watching and reveling in a specious hope. I realized then why I was sad. When the journalist asked me about my body, it was like she was asking me to awaken her from the most gorgeous dream. I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is treehouses and the Cub Scouts. The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake.

Right then, reading that passage, I knew that white people were going to love this book. What white people crave – more, they require it, they require it to live – is an alibi from their whiteness, an escape from the injustice of their existence. There are various alibis available depending on how much stupidity you can tolerate. You can say to yourself or to others that black people are stupid and lazy; you can say that you don’t see color; you can call your uncle a racist so everybody knows you’re not; you can share the latest critique of brutality on Twitter with the word THIS; and now you can tell a friend that she really has to read Between the World and Me.

Because that Dream of Whiteness, the dream of treehouses and cub scouts that tastes like peppermint and smells like strawberry shortcake, is a perfect alibi. Who lives that dream? Somebody else may live it but not me, not anyone I know, no one I could see in Burlington. That’s a dream that belongs to somebody else. Always to somebody else.

It certainly didn’t belong to the Winegard factory workers who were drifting to their cars at the end of their shift. The whiteness of my existence was my iPhone and the fumes of bourbon and beer, and the game from last night and the tingling in my thigh. The tingling in my thigh was my body – the reality I can’t look at because I’m too afraid of my mortality.

To me, the best question ever asked about race in America has always been the one that James Baldwin asked, when an interviewer wanted to know if he was optimistic or pessimistic about the future of America. “What white people have to do is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place,” he said. “If you invented him, you, the white people invented him, then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that.” The obsession of intellectuals over the question of Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr active or passive resistance – was moot; the pressing matter was why white people were blowing up churches filled with children.

Whiteness is a spiritual distortion, evidently – by the fruit ye shall know the tree. And on the question of white pathology, what good answers has America produced since Baldwin asked that question in 1963? And now that white pathology has returned to waste away its host, unexamined and mysterious, a golem.

In the evening, I finished the book and didn’t want to think about my white and male body any more, or the tingling in my thigh.

Across from my hotel, the Fun City complex contained an imitation midway, a bowling alley, a couple of bars, a replica diner and, tucked in between a hotel and a spa, the Catfish Bend Casino. The poker room is dingy but serviceable. A game started at six. I wanted to play. I wanted to find out how much fun can you have in a place called Fun City.

The youngest guy at the table, Curved Baseball Hat, grew beans and corn. A man with an angry mustache ran the conversation, a three-day beard beside him adding an occasional aside. The rest of us sat cooking quietly in the juices of our addictions, like in any casino. Everybody at the table knew everybody else, except for me and a black welder in town for a specialist job. It was happy hour in Fun City, and beer was a dollar. Everybody ordered a mess of them. And I felt just how lucky it is to be in America, despite politics, despite everything. Cheap beer and frank people and an honestly run game in a clean room. Even compared to Canada, the unthinking prosperity of the place is dazzling.

Three Day Beard had seen Trump the night before, and Angry Mustache asked his opinion.

“I think he could win,” Three Day Beard said cautiously, as if it were a criticism, as if it were all you could say of him, that he might have a chance to take the presidency, for what it was worth.

“Don’t matter,” said Angry Mustache. “No matter who gets in, Washington just ruins them.”

“He might be different because he doesn’t need the money.”

Angry Mustache quoted a statistic, which I later check and turns out to be bullshit, that all congressmen become millionaires by the time they’ve been in office for a year. Everybody agreed that Trump’s main advantage is that he comes pre-corrupted.

“It’s not even the money,” Three Day Beard said. “They get there. They all have these schemes and plans. They can’t do anything.” Three Day Beard almost pitied the politicians.

“It’s all broken,” added Angry Mustache as a kind of given, the way you’d state any historical fact, like “Germany lost the second world war” or “Frances Farmer was once a star.”

The view of American politics in Fun City is snug despair. It is despair not just at who happens to be in power but at whoever could ever be in power. It is despair not simply that the system is broken but that any system, imaginable in the current iteration of the United States, would turn out to be just as broken. The choice is a choice between impotence and coercion. The response was not revolution but a shrug.

Curved Baseball Hat, the guy who grows corn and beans and who had delicate traces of soil in the lunulae of his fingernails, asked about an old gambling hall that used to be in town, and the reminiscences of the way Burlington used to be flowed – buildings that had been knocked down, women that were once beautiful and were now dead, fortunes made and vanished.

Eventually the black player, who has said almost nothing except his calls and folds and raises, busted out.

“Did you see that guy’s fingers?” Angry Mustache asks when he had left. He gestured an inch past his middle finger. We were all, it was made very clear, in a room of white men. “You know what they say. My brother worked in the prison and he says it’s all true. I guess that’s why they say once you go black.”

The rest of us nodded or smiled or said nothing, looking down at the cards. Now that we had all shown how white we were, it was a friendlier room. We knew that none of us would object to the evil of the others. What if the answer to Baldwin’s question is as banal as it appeared to be in Fun City? What if it white people make the nigger to make themselves a little less lonely?

And I said nothing. I offered no resistance, though the line between the man in Fun City and the cop shooting a black child in the face was not hard to trace. Here was my alibi that evening: I am Canadian. Which means I am a spy from nowhere. Or perhaps I am a coward or something in between a coward and spy from nowhere. It’s a pretty threadbare alibi anyway. Whose isn’t?

Conversation drifted back to Trump. It was more polite.

“I can see Trump,” said Angry Mustache. “He’s not the worst that I’ve seen anyway.”

“I’m starting to like that doctor,” Three Day Beard adds as an afterthought.

That doctor, Ben Carson, proposes a flat tax of 10% that would put the US government, estimating conservatively, in a $3tn deficit. He believes that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain, and he believes that Hitler never would have risen to power if the German people were armed, and that Obamacare is worse than slavery, and that Americans are living in a Gestapo age.

I wish that Coates had some crazy scheme, some utopian fantasy for communards in Georgia, or the return to one motherland or another, but he just wants the end of white supremacy. He just wants white people in America to grow up, to cede their inhumane sense of absurd superiority. I cannot imagine why they would. It’s fun to drink and to play cards and to imagine what Donald Trump would say to the Mexican president the day after he was elected, or whether Ben Carson would set the flat tax at 10 or 12%. The ultimate alibi is ignorance – it lies closest to innocence – but if you can’t manage ignorance, craziness does nearly as well.

I mean, none of it’s going to happen anyway, right? Whoever gets elected, it’s just going to be gridlock and outrage anyway, right? Did I mention that beer cost one dollar? A single, solitary buck.

‘Ellen Degeneres, eat your heart out!’

The Bernie Sanders rally in Davenport was the precise opposite of the Donald Trump rally in Burlington and yet precisely the same in every detail. “Make America Great Again” was replaced by “Feel the Bern”. Hawkers sold pins, three for $10. They read “Bernie Sanders is my spirit animal” and “Cats for Bernie” and “I supported Bernie Sanders before it was cool.” Davenport, at least near the Adler Theater, is the same Brooklyn-outside-Brooklyn that has conquered every corner of the world that is not a strip mall. The tattoo artists of Davenport do not go hungry. The cornfed hipsters at the Sanders rally look like they have probably attended a party at which somebody played a bongo. They may even have attended a literary reading.

There were hype men as with Trump, too, although in this case they were twentyish women in glasses screaming “Feel the Bern!” and “We’re Going to Build a Revolution!” Somebody with a camera from NBC asked a group who has brought their precocious children because they want them to be engaged in the political process “Can I get you guys to look like you’re excited about Bernie?” They carefully placed their drinks on the floor, out of sight, to oblige.

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The same specter of angry white people haunts Saunders’s rally, the same sense of longing for a country that was, the country that has been taken away. The Bernie crowd brought homemade signs instead of manufactured ones, because I guess they’re organic. They waved them just the same. They were going to a show. They wanted to be a good audience.

The fundamental difference between the Trump and Sanders crowd was that the Sanders crowd has more money, the natural consequence of the American contradiction machinery: rich white people can afford to think about socialism, the poor can only afford their anger.

Sanders’s opening act was a congressional hopeful, Gary Kroeger. He hadn’t been on The Apprentice but on Saturday Night Live, a forgettable lesser actor from the great period between 1982 and 1985. He started out, naturally, with a half-assed gag: “the fresh patchouli in the air is so beautiful”. The sign language translator offered a mild smile to indicate it was a joke. Then, after a brief foray into leftwingery, calling America a “social democracy also known as a republic”, Kroeger took a big selfie with the crowd behind him: “Ellen Degeneres, eat your heart out!” he shouted. Everyone’s phones rose up to take pictures of themselves in a picture imitating a picture from the Oscars: such was American socialism in the year 2015.

A few desultory bands followed, performing an assortment of leftwing songs from various historical leftwing movements. They harmonized on The Auld Triangle, a prison ballad that was covered on Inside Llewelyn Davis. The singer from Alice in Chains (remember them?) did an electric version of I Won’t Back Down. An old The Clash song, Jail Guitar Doors, was sung by the subject of the first verse, Wayne Kramer. And it was all, so obviously, a nostalgia act, the indulgence for a longing of a time when music encouraged politics, when activism possessed an artistic face, and vice versa.

Eventually Bernie wandered out. The phones went up. The phones went down. “Enough is enough,” he shouted, leaving blank what there’s been enough of. And then he talked about how he wanted to end the war on drugs and campaign finance reform and government that isn’t for plutocrats, and how they were going to build a revolution (such an embarrassing word to hear uttered out loud), and America was going to be a social democracy, by the people of the people.

Sanders’s exasperation was the principal fact to be communicated, more than any political content. Trump was about winning again. Sanders was about having lost. The vagueness of American politics is what astonished the outsider. It’s all about feelings and God and bullshit. Sanders actually uttered the following sentence out loud: “What we’re saying is when millions of people come together to restore their government we can do extraordinary things.” Nobody asked what he meant. Nobody asked for numbers. They applauded. Better to take it in the spirit in which it’s given, like a Catskills resort comedian.

Sanders reminded me of a line from Seinfeld, maybe because Larry David’s SNL parody was only a few days’ old. “The sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli.” When Ben and Jerry make a Bernie Sanders ice cream, I hope it’s chili and ginger: the delicious hot flavour of nasal-passage clearing outrage.

Sanders’s speech was much shorter than Trump’s. There had already been the music, I guess. I had the impression, as with Trump, that I had traveled many hundreds of miles to look at a man’s hair. Bernie Sanders’s hair is as much a statement as Trump’s. It looks like the hair of a tenured professor whose wife has stopped nagging him to get a haircut because the nagging doesn’t work. You couldn’t muss Sanders hair. The disorder is just as much an aesthetic as the comb-over. I mean it always looks the same. Somebody is cutting it to droop that way over the ears.

The view from Tampico

As despair has suddenly spread like a fabulous mist over the white people of America, as the white people die off in their unprecedented numbers, the commenters are surprised, a bit, but they have no plan of action. No policy proposals aim at ameliorating the conditions of white people. 

How could they? If you believe the Case and Deaton report, white people are victims of their own privilege – literally. Their cherished right to own guns, and the vast increase in the ownership of weaponry, means that their suicide attempts are more effective. They have more access to opioids because doctors are more likely to trust white people with them. They have the money to make themselves lonely and drink.

I remember reading a passage from bell hooks once, the kind that circulates on Facebook because it sounds slightly unusual in its predictable virtue. “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males,” she wrote, “is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage is psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves.”

Her compassion is admirable, glorious even, but also inaccurate. No one is more emotional than a piece-of-shit white man. They are sentimentality personified. How else can so many be moved to rage over the absence of a Christmas tree on a Starbucks cup?

That dream, that white dream that smells like peppermint and tastes like strawberry shortcake, comes with a cost of shit. If you take shit, if you eat shit, if you live through the shit, if you survive the stupid wars and the meaningless jobs, you should be sure of who you are and what you deserve. And if you are not sure and you have not received what you deserved, why did you take and eat and breathe all that shit?

In the aftermath of that deal, the choice, I suppose, is either to be proud to be white, which is a form of insanity, or to fantasize a post-racial cosmopolis, which is a kind of make-believe, or to be ashamed. So much easier to forget those choices, or to defer endlessly the choosing, or to debate the difficulties of choosing infinitely, because white male flesh is not under mortal threat, as the flesh of black men or the flesh of women. Our bodies are safe. Our bodies are the threat.

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In medieval monarchies, the state required the existence of a double body, one for the real world and one for the symbolic. There was the flawed and mortal body of the king, which wept and shat and screwed and died, and then there was the Body of the King, sacred, pure, indestructible.

Race gives us all double bodies, “double consciousness” in WEB Du Bois’s phrase, whatever you want to call having to live mortally through the judgment of others. The new white distortion, the sickness at heart, the pathology, may simply be the arrival of the awareness of two bodies: the dizziness and nausea that arrive with the onset of double vision.

Because they have to be like everybody else, their hearts are breaking in half.

The morning after the Sanders rally, I found enough strength to look in the mirror at my white and male body, to examine its mortal and symbolic nature. At the corner of my groin, where it had been tingling, a brown patch spilled like spoiled milk down my skin. A wide brown patch shaped like post-climate change Florida in the corner of my thigh. Instantly, I knew I would die. And the next moment I started driving back to Toronto, to my wife and children, flesh of my flesh.

Bernie Sanders wants a revolution to overthrow casino capitalism but the problem, or maybe just the first problem, is that the American people love casinos. They can’t build them fast enough. On the road from Iowa, I passed at least a dozen, a dozen Fun Cities of various shapes and sizes, enduring various conversations about Trump and Sanders. The highways of Illinois are a unique vision of the workings of human desire – a nearly limitless marketplace for addiction and its cure. Strip clubs or fried chicken or gambling or church or rehab or cancer treatment. The I-94 spoke right to the unwounded body – the promise of processed sugar and pussy, or salvation from them.

There was one other attraction on the route home: Ronald Reagan’s birthplace in Tampico. The beauty of the landscape around those towns, for some reason, has never been properly romanticized. There are no tourist buses to these fields, as there are to the ocean or the mountains, but the landscape is every bit as sublime. Reagan’s childhood passed in the loin of the continent, the grand hinge between the industrial core of the Great Lakes and the agricultural heartland. The historical memory of his presidential monuments has been consumed by fantasies of small-town life but it is a landscape of whitewashed buildings against the undulating emptiness, a country roiling with dreams. You can picture Reagan as a boy in these fields, dreaming of movies and America – vast screens on which he could project himself. The highway runs like a river of craving through an ancient dream.

The ancient dreams are still so vivid here. In the United States, 240-year-old writings can be recited by heart by people who cannot be described as educated. Documents written by men who owned slaves are spoken of as if they could solve the problems of today and tomorrow and any conceivable future no matter how distant.

Thomas Jefferson believed that the constitution should expire after 19 years, so that the dead would not have dominion over the living. That fate seems to have arrived. The Americans are in constant debates with ghosts and their conversations with dead people are most powerful, most ferocious, at exactly the points where they are most nonsensical. They state defiantly that all men are created equal when any casual observer of life knows they aren’t. They claim that men and women should be judged by the content of their character, when nobody can know the content of another’s character. These dreams, these impossibilities, are the absolute and real foundation of their nation. And the dreams are so entrancing that it’s unclear whether the problem is that the Americans believe them, or that they don’t. It’s supremely childish, either way.

Back in Toronto, my wife took a look at the brown patch on my groin and sent me to a doctor, and the doctor told me it was a rash from running too much, and I had been given the greatest gift anyone can hope for, in this time and this place. I had been forgiven, for a while, for my body.

The Guardian, Stephen Marche

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On Scene with Bill Wilson

A Rome 1516_0000651Pilgrims enter St. Peter’s Basilica through the Holy Door opened by Pope Francis on December 8, 2015

This year you have a rare opportunity to participate in an event that has taken place only about 25 times in the past seven hundred years – a Jubilee Year proclaimed by the Pope. Millions of pilgrims are expected to come to Rome from all over the world to walk through the Holy Doors of the four major basilicas in Rome – St. Peter’s, St. John in Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Wall.

B Rome1516_0001343AA fragment of a fresco by Giotto showing Pope Boniface VIII.

In 1300 the first Jubilee of the Christian church was proclaimed by Pope Boniface VIII. A fragment of fresco by Giotto showing Pope Boniface VIII can be seen at St. John in Lateran, which is the official seat of the Bishop of Rome. The Pope is at the same time Bishop of Rome.

C Rome1516_0001416Hammer used to unseal the Holy Door on display at St. John Lateran.

In the Middle Ages St. John in Lateran was the location of the papal palace and the center of papal authority. During the “exile” of Popes in Avignon the place deteriorated so much that upon return to Rome it was decided to move the Papal palace to St. Peter’s because of the healthier location. So the first Holy Door was located at St. John in Lateran. It wasn’t until the Jubilee proclaimed for the year 1500 that St. Peter’s, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Wall were added to the sites of Holy Doors (Porta Santa) by Pope Alexander VI.

D Rome1516_0001348The Holy Door at St. John in Lateran

The ceremonies marking the start of the Jubilee year remained the same from 1500 until 2000. The wall sealing the Holy Door was hit three times by the Pope with a hammer and then the wall would be removed and the door opened. However on Christmas Eve, 1974 as Pope Paul VI was opening the Holy Door debris fell close, dangerously close, or actually hit the Pope (depending on the source you read). Whatever the true version in 2000 the ceremony was changed so that the removing of the wall was done before the Pope actually opened the door.

E Rome1516_0002136The Holy Door at Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Wall

In the Papal Bull Proclaiming the Jubilee Year of Mercy Pope Francis wrote,  “I have chosen the date of 8 December because of its rich meaning in the recent history of the Church. In fact, I will open the Holy Door on the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The Church feels a great need to keep this event alive. With the Council, the Church entered a new phase of her history. The Council Fathers strongly perceived, as a true breath of the Holy Spirit, a need to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way. The walls which for too long had made the Church a kind of fortress were torn down and the time had come to proclaim the Gospel in a new way. It was a new phase of the same evangelization that had existed from the beginning. It was a fresh undertaking for all Christians to bear witness to their faith with greater enthusiasm and conviction. The Church sensed a responsibility to be a living sign of the Father’s love in the world.”

F Rome1516_0001840The unopened Holy Door at Basilica of St. Mary Major. The photo was taken before Pope Francis opened it on January 1, 2016

In a move reminiscent of his request that money that people would have spent to come to Rome for his inauguration as Pope be spent helping the poor, Pope Francis has declared that Holy Doors would be designated in other places around the world. The first such door was one he opened while visiting the Central African Republic.

G Rome1516_0001415A trowel used in the closing of the Holy Door is part of a display at St. John in Lateran

Like the opening ceremony, the closing ceremony has been revised. In 1949 Pope Pius XII commissioned a new Holy Door for St. Peter’s that was ready for the Holy Year of 1950. In years not designated as Holy Years it can be viewed from the outside and like so much of the artwork within the churches, seeks to inspire the viewer through images and stories. All Holy Doors in Rome and throughout the word will closed on November 13, 2016 with the exception of the one at St. Peter’s. On November 20, 2016 Pope Francis will close the doors in solemn ceremony marking the end of the Jubilee Year. It will later be sealed to remain closed until the next Jubilee.

H Rome1516_0001418A brick used by Pope Pius XI to close the Holy Door in 1924.

As he opened the Caritas Holy Door Pope Francis said to those listening, “If you want to find God, seek him in humility, seek him in poverty, seek him where he is hidden: in the neediest, in the sick, in the hungry, in the imprisoned. And when Jesus preaches life to us he tells us how we will be judged….What will Jesus say to open the doors of Heaven to us? “I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was homeless and you gave me a home; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me” (cf. Mt 25:35-36).”

J Rome1516_0001784An innovation by Pope Francis is a Holy Door at the entrance to a homeless and migrant service center near the Termi Train Station.

 

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Cruz campaign official says Christians must take over public schools to stop ‘deception of the seed’

The co-chair of Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign in Virginia cited some bogus statistics to argue that Christians must take over public education to stop the deception of children.

Cynthia Dunbar, who brags that she tried to correct a “biblically illiterate society” during her tenure the Texas State Board of Education, now works at Liberty University and serves as co-chair of the Texas Republican’s campaign in Virginia.

She took part recently in a “ProFamily Legislator’s Conference,” along with a number of conservative lawmakers, sponsored by anti-LGBT pseudo-historian David Barton — who heads the pro-Cruz Keep the Promise PAC, reported Right Wing Watch.

In a speech broadcast last week on Barton’s “Wallbuilders Live” program, Dunbar explained her obsession with the Genesis passage in which God vows to create hostility between Eve and the serpent who deceived her.

“It’s what I call the seed policy,” Dunbar said. “If you think about it, every major social issue you’re encountering as legislators actually directs back to what it talks about it in Genesis, ‘if I would put enmity between you and the seed of the woman.’ Because what happens, what is abortion? Abortion is the destruction of the seed. What is homosexuality? It is the prevention of the seed. And what is education? It is potential deception of the seed.”

Dunbar said nearly all American students attend public schools — which she warned were a secular plot to turn children away from Republican values.

“When we have 88 to 90 percent, which is approximately the number of the students that are being educated within our socialized education system, effectively indoctrinating our children with our own tax dollars, guess what?” she said. “We lose every other issue. We lose life, we lose marriage — we lose all of it. So I think this is the linchpin issue.”

She also promoted Barton’s history instruction materials, using a statistic the pseudo-historian apparently made up.

“One of my favorite historians — brilliant, brilliant man — says that 94 percent of the quotes of the founding fathers contemporaneous to our nation’s founding were either directly or indirectly from holy scripture,” Dunbar said. “We know what that means when we say ‘directly’ — they’re quoting scripture. What does it mean when we say ‘indirectly’? They were quoting men who were quoting scripture.”

 

Raw Story, Travis Gettys

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