Trump was offered a bipartisan government funding bill. He essentially turned it down because it wasn’t racist enough. He owns this government shutdown. And the Democrats should not capitulate.

Some of what you’re about to read may very well be wrong. I don’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of our convoluted government funding mechanisms. I have, however, been trying to follow along, and I wanted to share what I think is going on. As always, if you have an issue with something that I’ve written, or have access to more timely, relevant information, please leave a comment.

Every year, by October 1, which is the start of the government’s fiscal year, Congress needs to have passed 12 different appropriations bills, and the President needs to have signed them. And, if that doesn’t happen, the government… or at least all the parts of the government that have been deemed non-essential… come grinding to a halt. Well, this past September, as you may recall, when Trump didn’t get the funding for his border wall, he refused to sign the appropriations bills that had been given to him by Congress. Instead of bringing our federal government to a standstill, though, Trump agreed to accept a proposal offered by Chuck Schuemer and Nancy Pelosi, which would temporarily fund the government through something called a continuing resolution, essentially funding everything for the short term, with he understanding that we’d go on to have this fight at some point down the line. Well, that first deadline came and went, as did a second, and a third, leaving us with an ultimate deadline of January 19, which is two days from now. [And many seem to think that another continuing resolution, extending the deadline even further, would not pass if it came to a vote.]

As I understand it, if a shutdown happens, the active military keeps working, the Post Office keeps delivering mail, and Robert Mueller and his team keep going to work. A lot of departments, however, implement rolling furloughs. According to CNN, the Office of Management and Budget reported that “at the peak of the 2013 government shutdown, about 850,000 employees were furloughed per day.” So it’s certainly not an insignificant thing, and millions of Americans would be impacted.

But, and here’s the good news, last week at about this time, a bipartisan group of Senators calling themselves the Gang of Six, were able to strike a bargain that both sides could live with, a bargain with would both increase border security and protect the 800,000 or so immigrants who came here as children and have been protected under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) since the Obama administration. Sounds promising, right?

Well, Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin, who spearheaded this bipartisan agreement, took it to the White House to seek approval from the President late last week. And, guess what? It was at this meeting that the President, who was apparently joined by his racist advisor Stephen “Dead Eyes” Miller, went off on his tirade about how he’d rather have more (white) immigrants from nations like Norway, than (black) immigrants from “shithole” nations like Haiti. [While it’s true that several Republican who were in the room that day claim not to have heard this exchange, both Graham and Durbin have confirmed it.] And, after the meeting, Trump called their proposed compromise, which, again, would have passed both the House and Senate, a “big step backwards.”

As far right Texas Senator John Cornyn said today, the compromise funding bill won’t get a vote in either chamber for one reason, and one reason only… because Trump won’t sign it. [Simply put, the compromise bill is not racist enough for his tastes, as he wants to restrict immigration from “shithole” nations, and build his fucking wall.]

So, that’s we are today. We have a bill that would pass, protecting approximately 800,000 young immigrants who have grown up in the U.S., but, because of Trump, our government is about to be shut down. So, when you hear Trump say that the shutdown is happening because of the Democrats, don’t believe him. He was offered a compromise, and he refused because that compromise does not conform to whatever hodgepodge of racist ideologies informs his decision making.

It’s worth noting here that extending a path to citizenship for those currently signed up under DACA, also known as Dreamers, is widely popular among voters of both parties. In fact, accordion to some polls, as many as two-thirds of Trump supporters are in favor of passing DACA.

Some Republicans, of course, are saying that Congress can address DACA later, and no harm will come to these young people if we wait a few more months. This, however, isn’t true. Some DACA recipients are already losing their protections and their ability to secure work permits… The following comes from a Talking Points Memo article published yesterday titled “DHS Head Wasn’t Aware Thousands Have Already Lost DACA Status.”

The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security revealed during an oversight hearing Tuesday that she didn’t know that thousands of DACA recipients had already lost their status as a result of President Donald Trump ending the program on Sept. 5.

“No one has lost their status,” DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said, incorrectly. “No one will lose their status until March 5 or later.”

Contrary to frequent and incorrect reporting that DACA will end on March 5, young people whose work authorizations expired before then actually began losing DACA status after Oct. 5 of last year, the Trump administration’s new deadline to reapply to renew one’s authorization. Many more DACA recipients were ineligible to renew their DACA applications in the first place, because their work permits expired after March 5.

A federal judge halted the end of DACA on Jan. 9, but the move left thousands of DACA recipients in limbo.

The government did very little to notify DACA recipients of the Oct. 5 deadline, as Vox reported, and even some DACA recipients who thought they’d applied for renewal in time found that their applications had been delayed in the mail, according to the New York Times.

Estimates vary as to how many DACA recipients have so far been left out in the cold: The Hill reported on Jan. 10 that 15,000 people had lost their status since Sept. 5, citing unnamed immigration activists. Sen. Dianne Feinstein used the same number last week. According to the Center for American Progress’ running estimate, 16,166 have lost DACA status between Sept. 5 and Tuesday…

Meanwhile, across town, members of the Trump administration have already started walking back the President’s campaign promise about building a wall along the entire southern border, and having Mexico pay for it. First it was Kellyanne Conway, a week or so ago, saying that Trump had just “discovered” that an actual physical wall wouldn’t be necessary along the entire border, and today we’re hearing from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly that only part of Trump’s wall will be a big concrete barrier. According to attendees at the Kelly meeting, he also said that Mexico absolutely will not pay for the wall, as Trump had promised during the campaign, and that some of Trump’s immigration promises were “uninformed.” It was, of course, obvious to anyone paying attention that Trump was lying when he said that he’d build a ‘big, beautiful wall’ to keep the Mexican rapists and drug dealers out, and that we wouldn’t have to pay a dime for it. But I suppose it’s good that we’re finally coming to a point where that’s becoming obvious to his supporters. For what it’s worth, though, he still wants to give them a wall that they can be happy about. And that’s one of the things holding up the government funding deal.

Trump still has a number in his mind.. a certain number of miles that his great legacy wall needs to be. According to Dick Durbin, Trump wants $20 billion to build 722 miles of wall along the border, and, if he doesn’t get it, he won’t sign the funding resolution, throwing the government into shutdown.

And, to further complicate things, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, having apparently relocated his spine, informed reporters today that he is “not going to vote for” the GOP’s current government funding strategy, which, it would appear, includes the ridiculous wall, but not DACA. He went on to say that Trump “is pretty naive,” if he thinks that he can get this bill signed without DACA being a part of it.

So, that’s where we are right now. The Senate gave Trump a bipartisan bill, but he says he won’t sign it unless he gets 722 miles of useless wall that people can just throw drugs over, or tunnel underneath. [The entire border is approximately 1,900 miles long.] And, today, instead of working on the issue, and attempting to divert a government shutdown, Trump spent his time organizing his fake news awards… which, by the way, I still haven’t been able to see, as the RNC website, where they were to be announced, crashed.

This is what America has become.

Meanwhile, here at home, an immigrant who, at the age of 40, is too old to participate in DACA, was just deported. Jorge Garcia, who came to the United States at 10 years old with an undocumented relative, has now called this country his home for 30 years. He is married to a US citizen. He has two teenage sons here. He works as a landscaper. He pays his taxes. And he’s never been in any trouble with the law. In spite of all this, though, he was deported yesterday… Here’s video of Garcia crying at Detroit Metro airport as he says goodbye to his family.

I’m not sure how this makes America stronger. Sure, I suppose, there might be one more landscaping job, but at what cost? We now have two American kids growing up without a father in their lives. And we’ve lost a hardworking taxpayer, a Detroiter who, based on what I’ve read, was an asset to his community… Is this what you voted for when you voted for Trump? Is this what you, as a so-called “family values” voter, signed up for? When Trump talked about getting rid of gang members, did you know he really meant people like Jorge Garcia, who have been living here without incident for 30 years? I understand the desire to defend our borders, and I too want to have more clear immigration rules. But, with that said, I find it difficult to imagine that anyone could look at the case of Jorge Garcia, or that of any of the Dreamers, and say it’s in our nation’s best interest, after educating them here, to make them leave. These people are assets, and we should be doing everything in our power to keep them, not to push them away.

OK, one last thing… I’d like to ask you a favor. If you can set aside a few minutes today, can you please call your representatives in Congress and asked that they not vote in favor of any funding bill that does not include both DACA and CHIP, the health insurance program that covers 9 million American children in poverty? On both counts, they’re fights worth having.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

That was a meteor, right?

Posted in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , | 20 Comments

75 hours in Baltimore…. celebrating the Monkey Power Trio’s 23rd day as a band

The weekend of October 21st marked the 23rd meeting of my one-day-a-year pseudo-band, the Monkey Power Trio. For those of you who might not be familiar with our origin story, it all began back in 1995 with a promise between old friends one hot, summer afternoon in Brooklyn. On the spur of the moment, we’d decided to make a record. We gathered whatever instruments we could find, and we made our way into an unlocked basement storage room in a Carrol Gardens apartment building [131 Union Street], where we proceeded to scream and beat on things while an old cassette recorder whirred away, suspended in front of us from a string tied to a sewage pipe. The result was a 7″ record, which we decided to call The First Hour, acknowledging the fact that we’d agreed, shortly after finishing, to meet up and do the same exact thing every year until the point when only one of us was left alive, creating extemporaneous noise over beers with no practice, forethought, or concern as to what people outside the band might like. And, against all odds, we’ve stayed true to our word for 23 years now, despite the fact that, every year, it becomes exponentially more difficult for the five of us to both get away from our real-world obligations, put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies, which have grown more extreme over time, and express ourselves creatively… This year, we elected to meet in the city of Baltimore “We’re A Lot More Than Just Murder” Maryland.

WHY BALTIMORE… Generally speaking, we like to do things as inexpensively as possible, which usually means that we go where we can stay for free, whether it be at the vacation home of a family friend in Lake Tahoe, or the basement of a bandmate who lives in the soulless exurbs of Atlanta. Occasionally, though, we all chip in and rent a house for a few days, like we did the year before last in a Cleveland suburb, where we thought we might find some inspiration at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or a few years ago in Jackson Hole, where we knew someone with a truck who promised that, if we came his way, he’d not only set us up with an inexpensive place to stay and record, but drive us around in search of large, wild animals. Well, this year, when it became clear that we’d exhausted our network of free vacation homes and the like, we started looking at cities we’d like to visit, where we could find a relatively soundproof, inexpensive place to rent that was within walking distance to restaurants, bars, museums, and other things of interest. And Charm City soon bubbled up to the top of the list. [We also considered recording on Hippy Hollow Road, in Potosi, Wisconsin, which, according to the Geographic Midpoint Calculator, is the exact midpoint between our five locations, but no one really liked the idea of recording in a trailer parked at 42.699323 latitude,-90.671756 longitude. And, the folks at MASS MoCA didn’t seem overly enthusiastic when we approached them about the possibility of recording in one of their galleries, behind a wall of kraft paper.]

We all had our different motivations for voting in favor of Baltimore. For me, it came down to a few specific things. First, as it had been almost 20 years since Linette and I had seriously contemplated living there, I wanted to go back and see how things had changed. I wanted to check out the view from Federal Hill, visit a few bars in Fells Point, and spend some time at the American Visionary Arts Museum, which was only about a year or two old when Linette and I were last making the rounds. And, more importantly, and I wanted to have a beer or two over some local crab cakes with my old friend Scott Huffines, the founder of America’s best underground bookstore, Atomic Books, where, back in the day, they not only carried the zine Linette and I published, Crimewave USA, but actually seemed to care about it… And, as I pretty much got to do all of those things, I’d say the trip was a success, at least for me… although, to be honest, I think we’ve recorded more interesting songs.

Here, for those of you who might be interested, are a few photos from the trip, along with my abbreviated notes. I know it’s unlikely that anyone reading this will care, but, with my memory starting to fade, I think it’s important to document these things… just in case the Monkey Power Trio ever gets popular and I’m asked to either write a travel book based on our annual weekend adventures, or make a witty speech during a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

OUR NIGHT WITH SCOTT HUFFINES… While I just interviewed Scott not too long ago about the founding of Atomic Books, I still had questions I wanted to ask him about how he went from managing a Maryland Friendly’s to opening what was arguably the best underground book store in the United States at the time. And, as I mentioned above, I thought that he might be able to steer me toward a decent crab cake, seeing as how he’s always presented himself as something of an authority on the subject. Well, as it turned out, at least according to Scott, there are no longer any decent crab cakes to be had in the city of Baltimore, as giant lump crab meat from Venezuela is so easy to come by. Fortunately, though, there were drinks. And Scott suggested that we go to a place called 1919 on Fleet Street, which, according to him, was one of the only truly interesting, old-school places still around. Owned by an older woman with two dogs, who, according to what I hear, may have once dated Danny Mills, the actor best known for portraying Crackers, the chicken-fucker in John Waters’ 1972 film Pink Flamingos, the place was every bit as magical as he said it would be. [Some of the characters we met that night made their way into a song we wrote the next day, during the session, called Charm City Holiday, which may possibly make its way onto our next record.] While I talked briefly with the bar’s owner about her dogs, most of my time not spent peppering Scott with questions about the weirdos of Baltimore, was spent talking with the bartender, who, among other things, had a great story about Glenn Danzig having a temper tantrum in a local record store a few decades ago when they refused to take Misfits bootlegs off their shelves. [As I recall, she said they’d marked the spot of Danzing’s meltdown on their floor with yellow tape.]

Here’s Scott, an hour or so into our evening together, regaling us with stories of old Baltimore. As I’m told, this is was a rare honor, as Scott seldom leaves his home these days. In fact, sightings of Scott are so rare, people have taken to calling him the Chesapeake Yeti. [I tried, by the way, to convince him to start a Baltimore oral history podcast, but he didn’t seem interested.]

THE AMERICAN VISIONARY ART MUSEUM… My bandmate Dave tells me that I’d like Meow Wolf in Sante Fe better, as it’s equally inspired, but more interactive. Until I experience it for myself, though, the American Visionary Arts Museum is going to continue to be my favorite art museum of its size in the United States. I do wish, however, they’d change their signage in the “OCD” gallery, which, either purposefully, or just due to the passage of time, is extremely OCD-unfriendly. [I know you might not understand, but just trust me on this, OK? This is the only thing in the world that I’m truly a subject area expert on.]

There are a lot of great photos I could share from the museum, which has now grown to encompass two large buildings with a small sculpture park in between, but here are my three favorites. The first is of me, taken by my bandmate Dave, in front of a piece by Ted Gordon. [Dave, thought the similarity was hilarious.] The second is the prosthetic lion’s leg artist Paul Laffoley had created to replace his own after an accident in his studio. [The phrase “on legs of lions,” as I recall, made it’s way into a song the following day, when we recorded.] The third is detail from a piece by Reverend Albert Wagner, who, like quite a few untrained, visionary artists, seems to have found sacred art only after having lived a full and interesting life in the secular world. And the fourth is detail from an electrical wire sculpture by Stanley Wright called First Dance.

THE WEIRDNESS FACTOR… There’s always something strange that happens on these annual trips of ours, and, this year, that strangeness came in the form of a man who called himself Nugent, who, one night, began calling to us from over the brick wall separating the house we were staying in from the shit-filled alley behind it. If memory serves, Dan was playing an acoustic guitar at the time, as Matt and I were trying to come up with lyrics, when the voice from the alley started identifying the chords that were being played. And, after a little back and forth, the man on the other side of the wall scurried up, and hopped into our world, telling us about his life as a chef, and asking if we’d like to come and see the giant pot plant at his place, which, according to him, was really close by. [Only one of us went off with Nugent that night. Our most adventurous member. The same one, who, the next day, would head off to a bar by himself, and apparently strike up a conversation with a fellow from Alaska, which, over time, would become increasingly uncomfortable, to the point where said bandmate thought he might have been followed back to the house.] Here’s a photo of Nugent coming over the wall for the first time, telling us about his life, and hinting around that, if we wanted him to, he could join us for a few numbers. We were nice about it, but declined to take the bait. In retrospect, I think we should have asked him to join us for a song or two. [That’s Matt sitting at the table, awaiting the entry of Nugent into our world.]

For what it’s worth, my sense was that Nugent, knowing this particular house was a rental, had made it one of his regular stops. He would return the following day, asking for $2 so that he could buy some beer.

MODES OF TRANSPORT… I can’t say for certain, as I have a notoriously bad memory when it comes to such things, but I’m pretty sure this was my first experience using a ride-sharing app, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. [Dave and I used Lyft to and from the airport, as we arrived and departed at pretty much the same times, and once to go to a wax museum on the other side of town. Otherwise, with the exception of a short boat ride, we walked.] I’ve always enjoyed talking with cab drivers, as they tend to have interesting stories, and know a thing or too about good, inexpensive food, but this was better. I really enjoyed talking with our Left drives about this relatively new industry they find themselves working in, and what they’ve learned about themselves, the American economy, and their fellow human beings as a result. [Don’t tell anyone, but I’m thinking that I should start taping interviews with Lyft drivers and make it a podcast series.] Among others, I was driven around Baltimore by a college gymnastics coach who had left the industry when she could no longer bring herself to force injured young women to compete, a guy who ran an industrial kitchen that produced meals for private religious schools until the company was acquired and the new owners found someone to do the work cheaper, and a young pharmacy tech who, after putting herself through school, couldn’t find full-time employment.

Of particular interest to me was the conversation I had with the former gymnastics coach, who provided a glimpse into the sordid world of college athletics. I told her how, not too long ago, at a Florida hotel, I’d seen the mother of a pre-teen gymnast doling out single bites of food to her daughter as reward for having done specific exercises at the side of the pool, and she opened up, telling about the abuse she’d seen, the personal interactions she’d had with Larry Nassar, the Michigan State University gymnastics team doctor now facing 80 sex abuse charges, and how she can tell by the age of two whether or not a kid has what it takes to be a competitive gymnast. [She said that, if a kid shows any apprehension at all about doing things that might get them hurt, they’ll never be truly great at the sport. They can work hard and get good, she said, but they can never be great.]

We also took a boat. There’s a free one that crosses the harbor in Baltimore, which was awesome, and we used it to get across to the American Visionary Art Museum the first morning, after walking down to the water from Fells Point, where we were staying. I can’t remember what happened exactly, but we somehow got separated on the walk over to catch the boat, and I made it to the dock before everyone else. [There was quite a bit of construction along the waterfront and it was a little tricky to navigate, as you’d occasionally find yourself thwarted and have to backtrack a bit.] I tried to hold the boat for a minute or two, in hopes that Dan, Mike, Matt and Dave would catch up, but they didn’t. This, I believe, is a photo I took of myself, hoping to catch them in the background running for the boat. [They’d catch the next boat 15 minutes later.]

CRIME… I just assumed that, like anyplace else, the people of Baltimore would tell us that their city’s reputation for violence was overblown. That wasn’t really the case, though. People… at least the people we talked to… seemed to take it pretty seriously. One bartender in Fells Point even told us to be careful if we were going to be out in the neighborhood after dark. I might have expected that from someone at an expensive Inner Harbor restaurant that caters to tourists, but it seemed odd to me coming from the bartender at a dive bar who we were just making small talk with. But apparently all the crime in the city didn’t just disappear when The Wire wrapped, and people started buying up historic row houses to turn into Air B&B rentals, like the one we were staying at. In fact, the night we were recording our 23rd record, eight people were shot in Baltimore, in eight separate incidents.

I don’t say this to dissuade anyone from visiting Baltimore, which is really an incredibly lovely, vibrant, friendly and interesting historic city. It just surprised me to see as much evidence of drug dealing and crime, when I’d fully expected to see that gentrification had firmly taken root over the span of time that I’d been away. Maybe things would have been different had we come a few weeks later, during the citywide “nobody kill anybody” ceasefire, but there seemed to be just as much criminal activity as the last time I’d visited, a few decades ago… drug dealing in front of the liquor store across the street from where were were staying, store owners in the neighborhood sweeping up broken glass from smashed windows, odd run-ins with folks on the street, etc. [One guy approached my bandmate Mike as we were walking through the neighborhood, saying that he recognized him as a crooked cop who had once arrested him. “You’re not so tough now, without your uniform, are you?,” he asked.] Again, I don’t say this to suggest that Baltimore is a scary place. We never felt unsafe in any way. It just wasn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting that, over the last decade, since the Wire had wrapped, that everything had changed. I went there expecting that I’d be lamenting the loss of “old Baltimore.” But, really, it wasn’t all that different than I remembered. A lot of the old weirdness was still bubbling up to the surface.

THE LITANY OF AILMENTS… The other guys in the band haven’t rallied around the idea yet, but, for the past two years, I’ve been pushing for us to start each session with something called the “litany of ailments,” where we each take a turn, over some kind of musical accompaniment, to say what’s currently wrong with us. Dave, for instance, has a chronic cough, and, this year, I’ve been told that I’m suffering from both receding gums and pre-cataract conditions. I don’t think we’d necessarily have to release these tracks on a record, but I think it’s important for us to start documenting our decline, now that we’re all almost 50. [I also have bursitis in my knee, and, for a month or so this past summer, I lost the ability to speak, due to a granuloma on a vocal chord, which was likely brought about by my chronic coughing due to acid reflux.]

As I’ve said here before, we didn’t think much of it 23 years ago, when we pledged to do this every year until death. Every year, though, as we lose more and more friends, it becomes increasingly apparent that, before too long, one of us will go. And it’s something that we talk about… what it’ll be like that first year without one of us, when we’ll likely be recording either just before or just after the funeral for that first one to pass, and how overwhelmingly sad it will be.

But this, I think, is one of the best things about this little art project of ours. It makes us confront shit like this… Like it or not, we know we’ve got this one big group therapy session every year, where we have to confront the passage of time. Standing there, in front of our microphones, like it or not, we have to confront the fact that our minds aren’t working as fast as they once did, and that our ideas aren’t quite as sharp as they once were. It sucks, but that’s life. And, if nothing else, I think this little project of ours is a reminder that we should enjoy the time we have left with one another… Listening from year to year, in these tiny little audio snapshots, you can literally hear us collectively breaking down like a space capsule upon reentry. And it’s actually kind of beautiful.

GREAT BLACKS IN WAX… On our last day in Baltimore, after Matt had left for the train station, and Mike and Dan had caught a ride to the airport, Dave and I decided to take a quick trip to an amazingly powerful little museum commemorating the history and ongoing struggle of black Americans. Starting in the galley of a slave ship, where, to one side, there are graphic depictions of slaves are being raped and tortured, while, on the other, a high seas slave revolt is underway, The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum grabs a hold and never lets go. With every room containing a different chapter of the black experience in America, from the firsthand accounts of southern slaves, to Obama’s inauguration, the small building is packed full of work that you can just tell was willed into being by someone’s overwhelming passion. And it’s a lot like the work in the American Visionary Arts Museum in that respect. It’s not slick. The signage, in many places, consists of mimeographed sheets of paper thumbtacked to the walls. And quite a few of the earlier figures seem to be made not from wax at all, but cobbled together from bits of wood and styrofoam. But it’s all the better for of it. When you’re inside, it feels like you’ve opened a door in an eccentric old man’s house and stumbled into a magical world that he’s created over half a century of working in secret, after everyone else in his family has gone to bed. A lot of it is challenging, but I’d highly recommend it to anyone who might be passing through… Here’s are a few examples of exhibits. The first is a depiction of authors Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and James Baldwin.

AIR B&B INTERIOR DESIGN… While I like the idea of Air B&B, I really detest the lowest common denominator, faux-spiritual artwork that one finds in them. I understand why the owners of these properties do it, but I’d love to, for once, stay in a place that doesn’t look as though it was constructed to host a perpetual suburban book club discussion of Eat, Pray, Love.

BILLIE HOLIDAY AND PAINTED SREENS… As I once lived in D.C., and have spend a little time exploring around Baltimore, I knew a bit about the city’s history already. I learned two new things on this trip, though. First, I learned that Billie Holiday grew up in Fells Point. And, second, I learned that, starting just two years before Billie Holiday was born in 1915, an urban folk art fad took hold in Baltimore which involved people painting images on the window screens of their downtown row houses… And, interestingly, these two things intersected just around the corner from where were were staying, where an alleyway has been repurposed to serve as a memorial to Billie Holiday… Here are two images from the alley of painted screens depicting Holiday at different points in her life.

Speaking of the painted screens of old Baltimore, the Museum of Visionary Art just happened to be screening a documentary about the practice when we were there. And it was in this documentary that I learned that legendary “half man” Johnny Eck, who starred in Todd Browning’s 1932 feature Freaks, and portrayed the Gooney Bird in the 1936 film Tarzan Escapes, made his post-Hollywood living as a screen painter in Baltimore. [A guy I know, by the way, owns the Johnny Eck estate and hopes to one day open a museum. Maybe, one of these days, I’ll convince him to do an interview here.]

THE SETUP… I’m going to try to make it a point every year from now on to get a photo showing how we set up our makeshift studio to record the session, as it’s different every time we do it, depending on the space we have to work with. This is what things looked like this year. That’s Dave sitting at the end of the table, setting stuff up. Matt, who plays wind instruments, is in the kitchen, behind the inflatable mattress, which we used to keep the sounds from his saxophone and crumhorn from bleeding through to our vocal mics.

I could go on, but I’m falling asleep… Baltimore, if it didn’t come through in the above, really is a wonderful, vibrant, and diverse and energetic city, with great food and unique sense of place. If you’ve never been, you should check it out. It seriously has a unique sense of place that few American cities have these days.

Posted in Art and Culture, Mark's Life, Monkey Power Trio, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Desperate to restore dignity to the White House, Donald Trump pays porn star Stormy Daniels $130K for her silence to ensure victory

I have a vague memory of proclaiming a while back that I was done posting about the hypocrisy of Trump supporters, as it doesn’t seem to do any good. The evangelical members of the Trump base didn’t abandon him when they heard him talking about grabbing women ‘by their pussies’ without consent, so, really, what’s the point of even mentioning it when Trump does something that, at least historically speaking, the American people would have unanimously considered either unpresidential or unchristian, like referring to non-white nations as “shitholes” or gleefully recounting stories of fucking the wives of his business associates. On the other hand, I think it’s important for the historical record that I at least mention the name Stormy Daniels, as it illustrates just how far down the slippery slope Donald Trump and his enables in Congress have already shoved the party of so-called “family values”.

Stormy Daniels, for those of you who hadn’t heard of her until yesterday, when the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s attorney had given her $130,000 just prior to the 2016 election in exchange for her silence concerning a 2006 sexual encounter with the reprehensible real estate mogul, is an adult film actress with dozens of credits to her name, including Good Will Humping, Grand Opening, The Witches of Breastwick, and Young & Anal, to name just a few.

As for why we’re just learning about the apparently consensual July 2006 tryst now, I’m not quite sure. It sounds as though a lot of people have known the facts of the case for some time. According to what I’ve read, both Good Morning America and The Day Beast knew about the story, and were in negotiations with Ms. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, back in 2016, just prior to the election. It would appear, however, that the Trump campaign won the bidding war. [The Wall Street Journal traced the $130K back from the Daniels’ attorney to Michael Cohen, Trump’s trusted personal attorney and friend.] Now that it’s finally public knowledge, though, there doesn’t seem to be much doubt as whether or not it actually happened. We not only have photos of Trump and Daniels together at the Lake Tahoe celebrity golf outing where they met, but we have a second porn star, Alana Evans, attesting to the fact that Trump and Daniels tried to entice her into joining them and making it a threesome. And this, it’s probably worth noting for the puritanical killjoys in the audience, happened just months after Trump’s third wife, Melania, gave birth to the couple’s only child, Barron.

While it’s true that I can be a judgmental son-of-a-bitch, I try my best to be empathetic. Life is complicated, I tell myself, and people… even the politicians and leaders we most revere… sometimes make mistakes. In this instance, though, I’m pretty sure I’m justified in thinking that Donald Trump is vile and disgusting monster of a human being. Sure, he may have had an arrangement with his young wife, and she may have been fine with his trying to line-up threesomes with porn stars while she was home in New York, tending to their newborn, but I feel pretty confident in my negative assessment of our President’s character, with this being just one more data point in a significant cluster of data points. [Let’s not forget the allegations made several month ago by porn star Jessica Drake, who said that Trump offered her $10,000 for sex at this same 2006 golf event.]

As much as I detest Trump, though, I’m finding that most of my anger this evening has been reserved for those hypocritical, self-described “family values” voters who supported Donald Trump, saying that the thrice-married, pussy-grabbing reality television star would restore ‘dignity’ to the White House. And it pleases me to know that their cash contributions to the Trump campaign, at least in part, likely made their way into the bank accounts of professional sex workers. [Jessica Drake, as I understand it, has been paid-off since making her allegations as well.]

For what it’s worth, the whole “family values” thing was never anything more than a marketing ploy intended to secure the votes of poorly informed evangelicals for the corporatist agenda of the Republican party. As with abortion or same-sex marriage, it was something the GOP used to curry favor with the likes of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority. The Republicans, however, never really cared. They still cheated, and their mistresses still got abortions. But they held their noses and, like Lonesome Rhodes, pandered to the small town bible thumpers because it was good for business. It got them votes that could then be monetized with their donors… With the Trump administration, however, that facade has been torn away. It’s all been laid bare, and we can actually see it clearly for what it is. There is no substance. There is no truth. No one in the GOP has ever asked themselves, “What would Jesus do?” It’s all about power, supported by tribalism, and fed by fear, anxiety and racism. And the “family values” voters are now so deep in, they don’t even know which way is up. These people who now rally to Trump’s support, forgiving him his sins, once called Obama, a man who cashed in every bit of political capital he had in order to extend health care to millions of Americans, the Antichrist… That, my friends, is where decades of lying and Fox News have gotten us. Not only are regular Americans willing to vote against their best interests, but they’re willing to sacrifice their souls to do it.

Speaking of Obama, can you imagine how the news would have played out if we’d discovered that, a month before the election, he’d paid off a porn star with whom he’d had sex with a few weeks after his eldest daughter was born? Here, in Trump world, though, it’s two days later and the Stormy Daniels storm has already passed. Can anyone, Republican or Democrat, tell me the same would have been true had it happened to Obama? A scandal like this would have taken the Obama administration down. Here, though, amid stories of “shitholes” and warnings about incoming missiles, it’s just one more tiny blip on the radar. We have to note these things, though. We have to talk about them. We cannot just allow them to pass.

This isn’t normal. None of this is normal.

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Facing the threat of a million Brits protesting his visit, Trump backs out, blaming Obama

With 48% of Brits saying they don’t want Donald Trump in their country, and members of Parliament debating whether or not he should be banned from the country for spreading the incendiary racist propaganda of known hate groups, our President today announced that he would not be visiting England as planned this February. Of course, he didn’t mention the enormous planned protests as the reason. No, with moths to think of a plausible excuse, he announced last night via Twitter that he would not be visiting England because he had an issue with Obama’s sale of the former U.S. embassy in London.

This, even if it were true, would be a stupid reason for the President of the United States not to visit our closest ally. But, of course, it isn’t even remotely true. The former U.S. embassy building in London was put up for sale on October 2, 2008, and Obama didn’t take office until January 20, 2009. And, for what it’s worth, Trump was also wrong about the cost of the new embassy. Here’s a letter that was issued earlier today by embassy staff, correcting their president.

So, to sum up, our Coward-in-Chief won’t be visiting England, and cutting the ribbon at our new embassy, because he’s terrified of having to face a crowd of angry Brits who can see him for the a lying, racist sociopath that he is… For what it’s worth, though, the Brits don’t seem to mind the wax Trump, which was deposited outside the new U.S. embassy this morning, as you can see in the above photo.

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