White Power shoutouts from the White House

As everyone else is writing about the Trump’s first hundred days, how he didn’t accomplish anything that he’d said that he would, and how he just responded with yet another lie, telling the American people that, despite what we might hear from the “lying press,” he’s kept his promises, I’ve decided to spend my time today looking into a new phenomenon that I just learned about… Apparently, when members of the so-called “alt-right” get invited into the White House Press Corps, they mark the occasion by standing at the podium Sean “That’s What Dictatorships Do” Spicer delivers his lies from, and flash the new hate symbol associated with their movement, which, in recent years, has been popularized across the internet by the lovable little mascot of the new white power movement known as Pepe the Frog… And, yes, this is really a thing.

The folks on the right, of course, deny there’s anything to it, saying that it’s just the good, old “OK” sign, like the one your grandpa used to shoot you from across the room when did something awesome, like steal a few popsicles out of the freezer behind you grandma’s back for you and him to enjoy out int the backyard. That explanation, however, doesn’t hold much water when you consider the context. Take, for instance, the photo on the bottom right in the above collage. The older man on the left, the founder of the alt-right “news” site Gateway Pundit, tweeted out that image with the hashtag “#pepe”, referring to the above-mentioned frog, lest any of his followers not get the reference.

Standing next to the white haired man, whose name is Jim Hoft, is a young man by the name of Lucian Wintrich, who I first heard of during the presidential debates last year, when he tweeted out, “Trump needs to grab Anderson Cooper by the pussy.” This photo of Hoff and Wintrich was taken the day it was announced that Wintrich, the gay conservative agitator behind “Twinks for Trump”, would be attending White House press briefings as Gateway Pundit’s White House correspondent, in spite of the fact that he has no experience whatsoever as a journalist… For what it’s worth, Wintrich admits that. “I don’t consider myself a journalist,” he’s said before on Twitter, before then going on to say, “I consider myself the future of journalism.” [Interesting historical note: It’s not without precedent to hand out White House press credentials to non journalists pretending to be journalists. Does anyone remember, back during the Bush presidency, when the true identity of Jeff Gannon was discovered?]

For what it’s worth, Wintrich isn’t the only shocking unqualified person to receive press credentials under the Trump administration. The man in the top photo is “freelance journalist” Mike Cernovich, who you might know as the blogger who popularized the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring from beneath a popular pizza restaurant in Washington. [Cernovich also said during the campaign that Secretary Clinton was dying of an undisclosed neurological disease.] According to The Independent, Cernovich received White House press credentials on 25 April, just a few weeks after he broke the “news” (since proven to be false) that Susan Rice had misused intelligence data during the Obama administration, thus diverting attention away from Trump’s lie about Obama having tapped his phones. Can you say quid pro quo? [Cernovich, for what it’s worth, is also well known for his views on date rape, which, according to him, can’t really happen. “Have you guys ever tried ‘raping’ a girl without using force? Try it. It’s basically impossible,” he wrote in 2012. “Date rape does not exist.”]

The person standing next to Cernovich in the above photo is Cassandra Fairbanks, a woman who, as I understand it, supported Sanders for President until somewhat abruptly jumping over to team Trump. She now works for Russian news outlet Sputnik, which, I suppose, if I were suspicious by nature, might explain the radical shift… Oh, and if the rumors can be believed, she may have also played a role in the reopening of the investigation into Secretary Clinton’s server security right before the election, which many of us still think is what ultimately gave Trump the victory… Regardless, though, she also just received her White House press credentials.

And, for those of you who might not recognize him, the guy on the right in the remaining photo is none other that Milo Yiannopoulos, the alt-right agitator who was permanently banned from Twitter for instigating online racist attacks against actress Leslie Jones, and forced from Breitbart News after video surfaced of him appearing to condone pedophilia. While Yiannopoulos is not a member of the White House Press Corps (at least not yet), he has apparently been invited to attend press briefings on two occasions. And, one suspects, if he wanted to, he too could have a regular seat in front of Sean Spicer. For what it’s worth, though, that likely isn’t going to happen, as, according to Vanity Fair, secret backers just gave Yiannopoulos $12 million to build “a live-event touring company, dedicated to making progressives’ lives a ‘living hell’.”

Whether the above people are truly racist, or just enjoy the idea of being perceived of as racist, I’m not sure. I don’t know, however, that it really matters. Even if they’re just trolling the left, trying to upset those of us who care about things like decency, civil rights, and the future of humanity, the end result is the same. By lining up behind the Pepe flag, and signaling their allegiance, they’re normalizing extremism, acknowledging the work of those like Richard Spencer who are working to bring the American Nazi movement into the mainstream, and demonstrating to the public at large that it’s not only “OK” to believe such things, but acceptable to celebrate the fact in public. These are scary times, my friends.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

“I thought it would be easier.”

Of all the baffling, cringeworthy, infuriating things that Trump has said over these past 99 days in office, I think this is the one that will stick with him to the end. What makes it so striking, I think, is its incredible simplicity and uncharacteristic truthfulness. In an age so full of lies, and so rife with complex conspiracy theories, this, I think, is the kind of quote that will reverberate. When all is said and done, this is what it is. This gets to the very heart of it. We elected a man who, by his own admission, had no appreciation for just how difficult a task it was to run a country. And now we’re dealing with the consequences. All of the other stuff, as terrible as it might be, I think, is secondary to this. He may be a liar. He may be a conman. He may even be a foreign agent. But, when you peal everything away, he’s just a man who came to power by assuring us that there were easy answers to problems that he didn’t even remotely understand.

[The above quote comes from an interview with Trump posted earlier today by Reuters.]

And because I can’t stop thinking about the phrase, “This is more work than in my previous life,” which was also said during the course of this interview.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Today in fashion… buying the perception of of having done a hard day’s work

In about ’91, as an American Studies undergrad at the University of Michigan, I had the occasion to take a class at with professor Robert Berkhofer, the author of The White Man’s Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present. While I don’t remember a great deal about what we covered in the class, as it was over a quarter of a century ago now, I have a very vivid memory of an offhand comment Berkhofer made one morning about the trajectory of American fashion. He predicted that, one day, as the division between classes in America grew, upscale shops would begin selling the tattered clothing worn by prisoners at Chinese and Russian forced labor camps.

Well, it looks like we’ve taken yet one more step in that direction.

Thank you, Nordstrom, for these “heavily distressed medium-blue denim jeans in a comfortable straight-leg fit (that) embody rugged, Americana workwear that’s seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you’re not afraid to get down and dirty.” You’ve not only picked up Peter Buchanan-Smith’s gauntlet of ridiculousness, but you’ve run with it.

Posted in History, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Richard Florida visits Ann Arbor, advocates for affordable housing, warns “When places get boring, even the rich leave”

Richard Florida, the man credited with popularizing the belief that the so-called “creative class” is the primary driver of urban redevelopment, was in Ann Arbor yesterday to address a regional economic forum hosted by Ann Arbor Spark. As I didn’t take very good notes, and don’t have the time this evening to provide anything even remotely approaching comprehensive coverage, I know I should probably just keep quiet on the subject, but, as I thought it might be of interest to a few of you, and since I haven’t seen anyone else post about it, I figured I’d pass along a few brief notes. Here, in no particular order, are my somewhat jumbled thoughts.

1. The Ann Arbor stop was just one of many for Florida, who is touring the country in support of his new book, The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can Do About It. Florida said he’d pretty much finished writing the book this past fall, but rewrote it in the wake of this past November’s election, when it became clear to him that Trump won because of the growing divide between the haves and have-nots, which, according to Florida, is largely geographic in nature, as those with resources are gravitating toward cities, while those without resources are being driven out. Maybe it was just the table I was at, but my sense was that his anti-Trump sentiments weren’t shared by many in the audience. He did, however, get some applause when he told the crowd that his wife is from Birmingham, and that, every Thanksgiving, they come down from Toronto to watch the Lions play in Detroit. It wasn’t clear, but it sounded like Florida chose to move to Toronto, where he’s the head of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, at least in part due to a desire on his part to pick up the mantle of urban research pioneer Jane Jacobs, the author of 1961’s groundbreaking The Death and Life of Great American Cities, who lived there until her death in 2006. Speaking of Jacobs, Florida said he asked her once what she thought her greatest contribution was to society. According to Florida, she said it was the idea that economic growth didn’t come from companies, but from people, who become something greater than themselves when they come together in cities. When you bring together large numbers of people with ambition and knowledge, Florida says, you create something powerful, an engine for change. But, he says, they also carve deep divides. And, it was at this point, he started talking about the poplulist backlash that gave us Trump and Brexit.

2. It’s probably worth noting that not everyone loves Florida’s work. He has his critics, many of whom, it would appear, see him as more of a self-promoter than a legitimate heir to Jacobs. But his influence over the urban planning field is undeniable, as a generation of city planners have made their careers echoing his mantra that our urban centers, if we’re to see them revitalized, need to be more tolerant of, and welcoming to, creative types. And, for what it’s worth, Florida now acknowledges at least some of the criticism that’s been directed his way. Recently, while in Houston, Florida said the following. “I got wrong that the creative class could magically restore our cities, become a new middle class like my father’s, and we were going to live happily forever after,” he said. “I could not have anticipated among all this urban growth and revival that there was a dark side to the urban creative revolution, a very deep dark side.” And that, it seems, is the narrative that drives the new book, which, by the way, I’ve yet to read. Here’s a clip from the Houston Chronicle.

…Through books and magazine cover stories, pricey speeches and consultations, the TED-talking University of Toronto professor popularized the early-aughts idea that faded cities could revitalize themselves by attracting the talented, intellectual types who made up what he called the “creative class.” Lure some hip coffeeshops, create an “arts district,” play up your gay friendliness, and watch the laptopping masses pour in.

Sixteen years after Florida published his first book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” that theory has proved half true. For many small, post-industrial cities without assets like big tech companies and universities, no amount of creative-class marketing would turn things around. Elmira, N.Y., for example, saw little return on its investment in the Florida program, as a 2009 story in the American Prospect detailed

But it wasn’t just that the creative class wasn’t the silver bullet for struggling cities that he said it would be. There was also the “dark side” Florida alluded to earlier… “The urban pessimists have a point,” Florida went on to tell the Houston Chronicle. “We neglected their point, which is that cities are gentrifying, people are being priced out, displaced from their homes. I think we need a new vision for cities that combines an optimistic viewpoint with an understanding of the challenges that re-urbanization brings.”

So, he preached to the masses that our salvation lay in luring artists and the like back to our cities, but, in doing so, he let the gentrification genie out of the bottle. And this new book, it seems, is his attempt to make amends (while, of course, selling even more books).

3. I was waiting for Florida to claim some of Michael Shuman’s territory, and start talking about the importance of small, locally owned businesses and cooperatives, but he never quite got there. He did, however, share a few ideas about how we might achieve what he called “inclusive urbanism.” We have to build affordable housing, especially affordable rental housing, in our cities, he said. We have to invest in mass transit, so that the people on the periphery, who have been forced out of our cities, are still able to participate. And, we have to “upgrade” service jobs, the same way we did with manufacturing jobs after the great depression. We need to make it possible for people working service jobs to actually make a living wage that allows them to exist within in our cities, he said.

4. If we do nothing to address these issues, he said, we risk losing our cities. And it was at this point that Florida made his most profound statement. “When places get boring,” he said, “even the rich leave.”

5. Regardless of what you think about Florida, I think you’ll probably agree that it’s a good message for the people of Ann Arbor to hear. With the prices of homes in the city rising 6.3% in the last year alone, and the median price of a single-family unit reaching $334,800, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that, according to Florida, ours is the 8th most economically segregated community in the United States, with fewer and fewer places for our non-wealthy citizens to live. And it certainly isn’t helped by the fact that no one seems to have the political will to follow through on the findings of the County’s Affordable Housing & Economic Equity Analysis report and build new affordable housing in Ann Arbor… I don’t know to what extent Florida’s speech might have sunk in, but I know I’ll be repeating the phrase, “When places get boring, even the rich leave,” in my head for a while. [Will someone remind me to create a Maynard Boring Index for American cities?]

6. Florida said that this rift we’re seeing in America, the one that resulted in Trump being elected, is the biggest one we’ve seen since the Civil War. Not only, he said, do we have to contend with the people who have been left behind, who are susceptible to the populist propaganda, but, he added, we have a “new urban luddism” on the left, with people fighting against growth and change. And he seems to think that things are going to get worse before they get better, especially for those of us at universities, who, in his opinion, are going to get the brunt of the anti-intellectualism, anti-creative class, anti-growth attack. “The Backlash to the universities,” he warned, “will be enormous.”

7. For what it’s worth, he added that he knew, when Rob Ford, the crack smoking mayor of Toronto, was elected, that bad things were likely going to start happening elsewhere.

8. We need to stop looking to the federal government for answers, Florida said in conclusion. Under Trump, he said, the federal government won’t fix anything. And they likely wouldn’t have come to our rescue under Clinton either, he added. He then ended his keynote by saying that he hopes two mayors, a Democrat and a Republican, run together on a ticket for the Oval Office in 2020 with a message of “inclusive prosperity,” promising to return control to local communities.

[If you were in the audience for Florida’s keynote, and I either missed something significant, or got something wrong, please leave a comment. I’d appreciate it.]

Posted in Ann Arbor, Art and Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

A rooftop visit from Patrick Elkins, announcing the opening of Totally Awesome season

Every year, in late April, a free, all-ages, multi-venue festival of weirdness called Totally Awesome Fest descends upon the sleepy little midwestern hamlet of Ypsilanti. There’s no escape from it. No one is immune. Like it or not, you will experience beauty and magic. It permeates every element of village life. Walking through town, one might encounter anything, from a magical cart appearing out of nowhere to dispense fee hot dogs, to an inter-species basketball game at a local park. And bands, it seems, are playing in every backyard. Weirdness lurks around every corner.

And, every year, at about this time, like the groundhog who comes out of his hole to see whether or not he can see his own shadow each spring, Patrick Elkins, the director of Ypsilanti’s Totally Awesome Fest, emerges from hibernation with a majestic beard and calls a press conference to announce the coming festivities. And, every year, invariably, I’m the only member of the professional press to show up. This year, however, I couldn’t make it. So apparently Patrick came to me.

It all started with a noise complaint, filed by a tenant at Landline Creative Labs… Here’s the video.

The man playing the urban shofar in the above video is Craig Johnson. According to Elkins, who did all the talking, Johnson calls this one-man project of his, Master Plumber.

Has your curiosity been piqued?

If so, this year’s festivities are scheduled to get underway at 5:00 PM this Friday behind the VG Kids screen printing shop, on the banks of the Huron River, at 884 Railroad Street.

The entire lineup can be found on Facebook, but here’s what to expect this first weekend. [As Elkins explains in the video above, this year’s festival actually stretches from April to August, in an ambitious first.]

Friday: 4/28/17

poetry: Amber Fellows
5:00 PM Sweet Demon
5:30 Christian James
6:00 Stephen Mage
6:30 Human Skull
7:00 Yonic Chill
7:30 Stellar Clouds
8:00 PM Little Traps

DJ: Hee Haw
9:30 PM circument
10:15 Dragon Drop
11:00 Paper Rockets
11:45 Platonic Boyfriends
12:30 Milo Scarcetti
1:00 Exhumed Corpse
1:30 AM Witchboi

Saturday: 4/29/17

poetry: Leah Xue, Devin Leatherman
11:00-12:00 PM Basket Ball at Prospect Park
1:00 Anna Vitale / Rob Halpern
1:30 Antonia
2:00 Peach Lavender
2:30 Legalize Quad
3:00 Heaven
3:45 Craig Johnson
4:30 Flwr.Chld
5:00 PM Wraiths

DJ: Silas Green
7:45 PM RV Mendoza
8:30 CJ Rene
9:15 Honey Monsoon
10:00 Ambit
10:45 TBA
11:30 Duane The Jet Black Eel
12:00 Shells
12:30 Blizzard Babies
1:00 Klayton Dawson
1:30 AM Gruesome Twosome

Sunday 4/30/17

12:00 Allye Gaietto
12:30 Jen Whaley
1:00 Best Exes
1:30 Marisa Dluge
2:00 The Krill
2:45 Heidi Haire
3:30 River Spirit
4:00 Nausea Family
4:30 Eliza Godfrey
5:00 Tanager
5:30 Child Sleep
6:00 p.m. Mixed Feelings

8:00 p.m. Electric Blanket
8:30 Fat Angry Hens
9:15 Squirrel University
10:00 Oedipussy
10:45 Rotokiller
11:30 p.m. Battery Acid

For those who are curious to know more about the history of Totally Awesome Fest, I’d encourage you to check out a few of Patrick’s press conferences from previous years… like the one right before Totaly Awesome Fest 10, which took place at the back of an AATA bus, or the one for Totally Awesome Fest 8, which was hosted by Eastern Michigan University, or the one from two years ago, which took place amid a sea of skateboarders on the steps of Ypsilanti’s Thompson Block, or the one last year, which involved a hijacked the karaoke machine at Powell’s Bar.

And, if you’re still not sold, check out these video highlights from last year.

Oh, and it’s just a rumor that Kelley Deal will be playing in every band this year.

Posted in Art and Culture, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments


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