Ms. Blakk for President

(l to r) Tarell Alvin McCraney and Patrick Andrews in ‘Ms. Blakk For President.’
(Photo: Michael Brosilow)

“Younger audience members who’ve come of age in the era of RuPaul’s Drag Race may not immediately recognize Ms. Blakk’s public political crusades as the daring acts of civil disobedience that they were in 1992. To help provide context, the production makes liberal use of historical video footage displayed on old-fashioned tube TVs hung from the Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre ceiling. We are still two years away from President Bill Clinton’s abominable “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military service policy, and four years out from the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The AIDS crisis is in full swing and people are dying.

As the candidate representing Queer Nation just four years after Ronald Reagan left the White House, Ms. Blakk and her support team have one real ambition: to get on the floor of the Democratic National Convention, hosted that year in New York City. In a pre-Internet media landscape, global television cameras trained on a man in a dress had the potential to draw significant attention to a modest agenda. In full makeup, tall and dignified, Ms. Blakk goes to New York with a message. The right to life and liberty guaranteed by the American Constitution applies to LGBTQ citizens, too. Those promises have been betrayed by hate, violence and a listless approach to combatting an AIDS epidemic that has legions of America’s finest young men lying in hospital beds.

But no one said important work can’t also be fun. Pulling double duty as writer and lead performer, Tarrell Alvin McCraney has created for himself the role of a lifetime with a semi-fictionalized Ms. Joan Jett Blakk – ‘Two Ts, two Ks.’ Strong, introspective, gifted with song, dance and preternatural stiletto poise, Ms. Blakk’s public bravado is an effective cover for Mr. Smith’s private insecurity, poverty and loss.”

Read the full review at The Broadway Blog.

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What Lame Duck? President Obama Approaches The End With Renewed Popularity

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“Post-DNC 2016, which saw POTUS deliver an unbelievably inspiring testament to our country’s greatness while repudiating the authoritarian logic of fear, Obama is enjoying his highest approval rating since before his second inauguration. In contrast to recent electoral contests, which saw Al Gore and John McCain shoving Bill Clinton and W to the back like so many Babys in a corner, Barack Obama is a huge asset to Hillary’s campaign. As CNN’s Jennifer Agiesta argues, ‘Those who approve of Obama’s work as President are almost universally in Clinton’s [camp] in the upcoming Presidential race.’

As my partner Bob said after the third night of the DNC, ‘I’m with her. But also four more years!'”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

Young Texans Are About To Get A Whole Lot Dumber – And Your Kids Might Get Stupider Too (March 16, 2010)

Texas

Instead of galvanizing me to act (though I’m not sure yet what I can do), this latest news story makes me want to sit down and release my frustration via a good cry:

U.S. history textbooks could soon be flavored heavily with Texas conservatism
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ynews/ynews_ts1253

The item made me painfully aware of two truths of which I remained ignorant to this point. First, it seems that the Texas education system is such a large consumer of new textbooks, it is able, quite literally, to determine the curriculum and ideology imbibed by the rest of the nation’s students. And in the second place, the Lone Star State apparently has no regard at all for the fundamental U.S. principle of the separation of Church and State. Unhappy with what they view as the “liberal leanings” of our children’s schoolbooks, they have decided to cherry pick the facts they like, excise the ones they don’t. And most disturbingly, it seems no one is going to stop them.

Among the new conceptions of our nation’s history that students will be told to embrace:

1. “A greater emphasis on ‘the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s.'”

In other words, less Bill Clinton, or the successful work of activists in creating awareness and containing the AIDS epidemic that threatened our populace 30 years ago. Instead, more Reaganomics, more Newt Gingrinch, more O’Reilly and Limbaugh.

2. “A reduced scope for Latino history and culture.”

As of 2009, Latinos represented a full 15% of the American population. That percentage is considerably higher in Texas. Nevermind that the State was once part of Mexico, Latinos will be marginalized in favor of the compelling influence of crusty old white men in the nation’s development. Tragic.

3. “Thomas Jefferson no longer included among writers influencing the nation’s intellectual origins.”

By the time I reached this outrage, I was tempted to start slapping anyone wearing a cowboy hat. Among the intellectual forerunners to be highlighted in Jefferson’s place: medieval Catholic philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas, Puritan theologian John Calvin and conservative British law scholar William Blackstone. Two of these three were never even colonists, let alone Americans. I realize Jefferson, a slave owner, was hardly perfect, but it’s impossible to overstate his importance in the U.S. origin story. Believe it or not, I am wiping tears from my eyes as I continue to contemplate this atrocity.

I could go on, but I will let you folks read the rest of this insanity for yourselves. The good news is that a final vote to implement these changes will not come until May. There is still time to stop the crazy. I just need to figure out how. Any ideas? If Rosebud runs up to me in six years, insisting that Joe McCarthy was really just a misunderstood patriot/martyr, I don’t know what I’ll do.

CVS Ending Sales Of Tobacco Offers Conservative Media Dual Dissembling Opportunity (February 5, 2014)

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Unfortunately, nicotine addiction knows no political affiliation. I can report anecdotally that I am acquainted with as many liberal, free-thinking chain-smokers as those whose right-wing beliefs tend to set my teeth on edge. Be that as it may, the image of the big plantation tobacco farmer is inextricably linked to the Republican Party, and as long ago as 1998, GOP leadership began to understand that the inflow of lobbyist funds was not worth the long-term PR hassle.

During the month of March, 16 years ago, Washington Postwriters Ceci Connelly and John Mintz published a piece entitled,For Big Tobacco, a Future Without GOP Support. This trip through 20th Century history is fascinating for many reasons, not the least because former House Speaker-turned-CNN Crossfirehost Newt Gingrich seemed to declare the end of an era.  While ironically hitching a ride to California aboard a Big Tobacco plane, Gingrich is quoted putting his benefactors on notice:

“‘You guys have screwed us…The Republican Party has been saddled with tobacco.’

This time, said Gingrich, he wouldn’t allow President Clinton to demagogue Republicans on the tobacco issue in the same way he had outmaneuvered GOP leaders on the budget in 1995.

‘I will not let Bill Clinton get to the left of me on this,’ he said.”

And yet…

When CVS/Caremark announced its decision this week to cease the sale of tobacco products in its retail stores by October 1, it wasn’t the liberal media that seized on a perceived opportunity to protect donor dollars while creating another tenuous rebuke of Obamacare. I am fairly certain at this point that the GOP platform consists of blaming every conceivable worldly ill on health care reform. Shaun White withdraws from the slopestyle snowboarding competition at the Sochi Olympic games? Thanks faulty exchange rollout!

Though the tactics may have changed, conservative media figures have wasted little time spin doctoring, in sort of a shadow defense of the tobacco lobby. USAToday Contributor Katrina Trinko (also Managing Editor of Heritage Foundation publication,The Foundry) writes with evidence in hand (none) that the chain’s decision will have no impact upon the nation’s smoking patterns. She observes, “There’s no doubt that cigarettes are unhealthy — and that second-hand smoke has exposed non-smokers to health risks as well. But CVS’ decision doesn’t affect second-hand smoke, and won’t necessarily make a steep dent in overall smoking rates. Other chains, such as Target, haven’t sold cigarettes in years.”

So really then, CVS, why bother?

And in what I’m sure is 100 percent coincidence, wouldn’t you know it, The Foundry (yes!) ran its own piece attempting to tie CVS’ business decision with the desire of conservative-run corporations to exclude female employees from Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage mandate. Writer Amy Payne offers:

“Businesses want to provide products and services that customers want to buy. If they don’t, they go out of business. But CVS’s move to change the products it offers shows that plenty of business leaders consider more than just the bottom line—they consider the values they want their companies to reflect. This is another freedom they should enjoy in America—though it has recently been denied to businesses like Hobby Lobby that are trying to defend their right to do business in accordance with their values.”

Yes, the obvious connection between CVS’s decision to adhere to carefully cultivated healthy brand standards, versus Hobby Lobby’s assertion of religious freedom rights equal to American citizens. I don’t know how we missed it! White males seeking to deny female employees a full range of reproductive health options is exactly the same as a national chain deciding to discontinue harmful products that a customer can just go to another store to obtain.

So if you ask conservative media, CVS’s landmark decision is either a pointless public health move or an assertion of corporate entitlement that undercuts Obamacare. Sometimes you just have to step back and admire the other side’s contortionary skill.

Democrats Need To Rally Around the Issue of Income Inequality in America (December 23, 2013)

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In late 2011, when the promising Occupy Wall Street protests began to fizzle out – a combination of government/police intervention and an internal lack of organized leadership, my heart sank. The movement, which began in Zuccotti Park, ground zero of New York City’s Wall Street financial district, deserved much more than a historical footnote, the status of a fleeting trend.

Most of us outside the one percent sphere of privilege don’t need data to reinforce the certainty that things have gone downhill for the middle class, beginning long before the 2008 onset of the Great Recession. We are being squeezed every possible way: mass unemployment, stagnant wages for those lucky enough to have jobs, depreciated home values, skyrocketing household debt and college tuition prices, rising property taxes. You name it and it hurts. Meanwhile we’ve been forced to sit on our hands and watch as no one responsible for the loss of our 401ks and property is prosecuted and even worse, Wall Street salaries remain 5.2 times higher than that of the average New Yorker. I won’t even get into wages outside the Big Apple or executive pay. It’s too depressing.

Inequality and the divisions between the have and have nots is not a new conversation. Every relevant civilization throughout history has struggled with these tensions. I beganto be of the opinion that in order to have any real traction, the dialogue had to mature. Rather than a simple “us vs. them” discourse, I felt like Democratic leadership ought to challenge itself a bit more. Because frankly, it’s not only the GOP that has lurched to the right. In an effort to begin winning elections again after the drubbings of the 1980s, the left made a great “moderate” leap to the center, bringing some economically disastrous policies with them.

This is one of the themes of New York Times columnist Bill Keller’s December 22 Op-Ed, “Inequality for Dummies.” In it, he writes: “Inequality is in. The president, you have probably heard, has declared income inequality to be ‘the defining challenge of our time…’ Liberals of a more centrist bent — notably the former Clintonites at the Third Way think tank — have refused to join the chorus and been lashed by fellow Democrats for their blasphemy.”

As sick as we might all be of partisan infighting, this is a battle we need to have. This isn’t a pointless test of ideological purity to source a base pleasing candidate. As much fun as it’s been to watch the Republican Party look for its way with all the grace and finesse of a blind rhinoceros, it can’t be that we got into our current situation because of the wretched ideas and decision making of one party alone. 11 months before the 2014 midterm elections, and nearly three years before the 2016 Presidential contest, seems like a fine time for the Democratic Party to ask itself a few critical questions. Do we want to continue letting the GOP set the agenda (and anyone who thinks the most recent budget compromise wasn’t a near-complete victory for the conservative platform, just isn’t paying attention), or do we want to be a little bit more proactive about restoring the American Dream?

Keller goes on to write, “The alarming thing is not inequality per se, but immobility. It’s not just that we have too many poor people, but that they are stranded in poverty with long odds against getting out. The rich (and their children) stay rich, the poor (and their children) stay poor…

A stratified society in which the bottom and top are mostly locked in place is not just morally offensive; it is unstable. Recessions are more frequent in such countries.”

Is it any coincidence that every year since Bill Clinton left office, including the Bush terms, rife with deregulation, outsourcing and bursting bubbles of several varieties (which liberals, let’s be entirely honest, were causes championed by the Clinton administration as well), has felt like one continuous recession?

I caution my fellow lefties: Let’s not be afraid to take a good look at ourselves, our history. We can and should do better to create policies that might begin to redress these spiraling socioeconomic ills. After all this is the season of reflection and we have been, at minimum, G.O.P enablers. Accessory to the destruction of the middle class is still a crime.