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Women’s Voices Stymie Trump Agenda

Women’s Voices Stymie Trump Agenda

Just as mothers understand the pain of others trying to save their children from violence and desperate situations; that children must be defended against the horrors of unregulated guns; they also get that deregulating environmental regulations spells disaster.

July 10, 2018 | No comment | Read More »

“Nelly” —  New Film Looks at Life and Work of Canadian Writer

“Nelly” —  New Film Looks at Life and Work of Canadian Writer

Arcan was both appreciated and reviled. She was a finalist for the revered French literary awards, the Prix Médicis and the Prix Fémina. Perhaps the public couldn’t forgive her for living the life that she wrote about.

September 7, 2018 | No comment | Read More »

Women’s Voices Stymie Trump Agenda

Women’s Voices Stymie Trump Agenda

Just as mothers understand the pain of others trying to save their children from violence and desperate situations; that children must be defended against the horrors of unregulated guns; they also get that deregulating environmental regulations spells disaster.

July 10, 2018 | No comment | Read More »

Massachusetts AG Maura Healey: Protecting the Environment

Massachusetts AG Maura Healey: Protecting the Environment

The work we do as state attorneys general isn’t about just one person. It’s about the dedicated women and men in offices across the country who enforce the law and protect people’s rights. Our commitment to protecting the climate and advancing clean energy is unchanged and stronger than ever.

May 21, 2018 | No comment | Read More »

Spotlight

“Nelly” —  New Film Looks at Life and Work of Canadian Writer

Nelly Arcan: “Life has pierced me through.”

What, for contemporary women, is true agency? Is it being able to throw off the shackles of needing to conform to the expectations of others? The desire to secure approval of one’s physical attributes? The validation of one’s work or role in society? Ownership of one’s sexuality?

These, and other questions are explored in “Nelly,” written and directed by Anne Émond.

The film tells the story of Isabelle Fortier, who took the pen name Nelly Arcan. Her work is well-known in French-Canadian circles, as well in France. Her first book, Putain (Whore), hurtled to the top of the lists in Quebec in 2001, and sold over 30,000 copies in France.

In telling the personal history of Arcan, Émond employs a fluid approach to embody Arcan’s complicated and conflicting personas. The viewer watches the disjointed mashup of Arcan’s story, feeling the same turmoil that Arcan experienced. She is presented from her days as a school-age youth to the age of 36, when she ended her life in her Montreal apartment.

Mylène Mackay, the actress tasked with capturing the insecurities and false bravado of Arcan, delivers a brilliant performance. She serves up the dark-haired cocaine addict who is impossibly jealous; the dazzling blonde prostitute-celebrity; the demure, simply dressed author — all with equal authority.

A traditional biopic would have nailed down the basics of Arcan’s background, elaborating upon her small-town upbringing in a predominately Catholic area with rigid values. Arcan wrote that her main goal was to escape the suffocation of that life — whether it was the strictures of the nuns or being limited in her choices. She decided to come to Montreal to study literature at the Université du Québec.

Instead, Émond gives the audience glimpses of Arcan’s early life. We see her performing at a talent show, a precursor to how she will later find the spotlight not only appealing — but another form of intoxication.

Arcan’s mother is briefly depicted as a woman who sleeps excessively, most probably as a path to coping with the vicissitudes of daily living. This form of escapism, albeit benign, heralds an emotional fragility that will also be a part of Arcan’s makeup.

Arcan states, “Something in me was always lacking.”

Did that feeling emanate from the absence of a viable maternal figure in her upbringing? (Ironically, her handler at the escort service is a woman.) Did it stem from an early teenage experience where she watches the interactions of her sexually adventurous friend capture the attention of a boy she likes?

Arcan’s insecurities are clearly delineated in the depiction of the volatile on and off love relationship with her boyfriend, François. Not being the singular object of his devotion, at every moment, is devastating to her. A fog of alcohol and drugs elevates the slightest incident to explosion after explosion. Arcan laments, “People can stop loving you at any moment.”

Finding the control and adulation she craves in servicing men from all walks of life, Arcan tells them what they want to hear about themselves. She reflects back the illusions they crave to believe. Yes, each one is her favorite John. Yes, she wants desperately to be “fucked” by them.

When spending an evening with her friends from “the life,” they read online reviews of themselves and trade shop talk. Arcan is qualified by men as “a goddess, who loves her work.” Throughout the conversation, the contempt that the women feel for these men is palpable. In another sequence, Arcan tells a doctor that she has sex with ten to twenty clients per week. It is simply a matter of fact.

Observing herself in a mirror as she delivers up a compliant self to demanding customers, Arcan is complicit in her own commodification. When a john insists on anal sex, she refuses — only accepting when the price is sufficiently high enough. Nevertheless, he takes it one step further, coercing her to declare to him that she “likes it.”

Arcan begins to wonder if she “wants out.”

The most brutal scene relates an encounter with a well-dressed businessman, Patrick. Is he real, or is he a metaphor for those respectable men who engage prostitutes to act out their rage and violent urges? At first, Arcan tries to soothe him with the revelation that she too “likes it rough.” This time, her submission doesn’t work. He continues to viciously attack her. Fighting back, she escapes to the balcony, where she infers that she will jump to her death.

Later, a magazine interviewer asks Arcan about the episode in her book where a prostitute leaps from a twentieth-floor balcony to escape a sinister client.

“Did I write that?” she replies.

In her role as an author, Arcan noted that she “wrote with passion.” Yet, digging into her psyche was painful for her. Though she said, “Apart from writing, I am nothing,” she doubted her talents and was aware of the toll her self-examination took on her. She questioned if people only bought her book because of her face on the cover. Arcan’s qualms encompassed whether her other works would sell, and what the literary world would think of her — neither of which she could influence.

As portrayed, even in the solid connections Arcan had with her publisher, Mathieu, and during the work she did with her therapist, she still resorted to the use of sexual seduction as a means to struggle for dominance.

Unsurprisingly, Arcan spends time in a “rest home.” Recurring thoughts of suicide, failure, aging, and losing her ability to write, haunt her. She finishes the edits on what would be her final book, days before she dies.

Arcan was both appreciated and reviled. She was a finalist for the revered French literary awards, the Prix Médicis and the Prix Fémina. Perhaps the public couldn’t forgive her for living the life that she wrote about. Putain was a huge success, just as Émile Zola’s Nana was. Yet, his work was considered a naturalistic observation of French life in the decade from 1860–1870. Zola was the narrator of Nana’s life as a prostitute. Arcan was both observer and subject.

Using her writing to dissect her own neuroses and angst, Arcan delved into territory that was both raw and ugly. She explained to her therapist that she saw herself from outside herself. “It’s not really me. I watch her…I play that woman well. I need to be seen, but it’s not me I reveal.”

“Nelly” is an opportunity to ignite a larger discussion about the cultural conundrums Arcan sought to understand and define in her books.

Photo: Yan Turcotte for Cinema Libre Studio

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Sep 7, 2018 | No comment | Read More »

Blake Morris: The Man Who Could Take Down Simcha Felder

  Blake Morris: Candidate for State Senate District 17

The country is in upheaval…and so is New York. “Albany,” as the seat of state government is referenced, is facing a shake-up via the Democratic State Senate primaries.

Progressive constituents, both horrified and energized by the Trump scenario, have become increasingly knowledgeable about the inside baseball that has been played by “Democrats” they had previously voted for.

It is now more widely known that those Democrats had in fact been caucusing with the Republicans for seven years. They were members of a self-proclaimed group called the IDC (Independent Democratic Caucus). As a result, progressive legislation passed in the Assembly had been prevented from getting traction in the State Senate.

A full slate of primary challengers is working to get on the ballot in order to take part in
the September 13 Democratic primary. Petitions have been submitted. And yes, the
previously entrenched IDC members (who allegedly are back in the fold after a Cuomo initiated reconciliation) are anxious about newly invigorated and informed voters.

The IDC may still have big bucks around, but their scrappy opponents have the will, the energy, and possibly a blue wave of anger on their side.

Recently, I sat down with Brooklyn State Senate District 17 candidate, Blake Morris, for an extended interview.

In my neck of the woods, Alessandra Biaggi is giving kingpin and IDC co-founder, Jeffrey Klein, a robust contest. On his turf, Morris is taking on an equally daunting task. He is challenging local fixture Simcha Felder — who has run as an unopposed Democrat since 2014. Felder managed the interesting feat of being on the Democratic, Republican, and Conservative lines in 2016.

A contract and property litigation lawyer for three decades, Morris presents as affable and accessible. We covered numerous topics, and the interview ran long because Morris dug down deep into each question. Many of his nuanced answers included sidebars and explanations I had previously not heard.

We covered a lot of back story — like how Felder got his seat in the first place. It is common knowledge that the 17th District is the result of gerrymandering by the State Senate.

According to an article by the Times-Union, the 2012 “redistricting plan” was the brainchild of previous Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (currently involved in an ongoing bribery and corruption case). The objective was to construct a “conservative-leaning ‘Super Jewish’ district that would enable the GOP to maintain control over the Senate.”

The end result is a district that Morris qualified as the “whitest in the country.” His breakdown was close to what I found through research:

70 percent: “European Ancestry”
15 percent: Chinese, Bangladeshi, Pakistani
12 percent: Hispanic
2.7 percent: African-American

Morris described the 70 percent European Ancestry group as 60 percent Jewish, with the remaining 10 percent being a mixture of Italian, Irish, and other. Of the Jewish population, 40 percent is comprised of Orthodox or Haredi Jews.

If Albany comes across as convoluted — with an assortment of intersecting alliances — the relationship between Felder and the various sects of the Orthodox Jewish community calls for a scorecard.

While Morris, who is Jewish, consistently underscores the diversity of his district, he clearly acknowledges that there is a “plurality” of Orthodox Jews. And this group is highly influenced by both their religious institutions and its leaders.

One of the top stories of the April State Senate session was the Felder holdup of the state’s budget, while he wrangled to keep New York private Yeshivas and their curriculum away from the oversight of government evaluation. Apparently, it took a phone call from Governor Cuomo to an upstate “spiritual leader” to get things unstuck.

A group that comes up recurrently in a drill-down on the Felder connection to Orthodox influence is Agudath Israel of America. This lobbying group, which self-defines as a social services organization for Orthodox Jews, is mentioned as having an imprint on Felder’s actions to “preserve Jewish tradition.” How? One way is via his support of tax vouchers for private schools, and for security guards at those schools (Christian and Muslim religious schools also benefit). Also key is “government advocacy” to promote family values votes on issues including abortion and LGBTQ rights (Felder has voted against abortion and is “personally” against homosexuality.) In Felder’s 2012 campaign literature, he pronounced that he was “firmly opposed to any redefinition of marriage.”

The district is 90 percent registered Democrats. However, stats show that only 9 percent of those people voted in the primaries. Morris is looking to change that.

Originally part of a group called NYSD17 for Progress, Morris was involved in the core group of about two dozen people who were working on district issues. “We tried to work with Felder and we dealt with his staff,” Morris told me. Apparently, a fight about speed limits on Ocean Parkway became “the final straw.” As Morris described it, Felder wanted to increase the speed limit from 25 mph to 30 mph, and then he wanted to amend it to 35 mph.

Then Felder ended up withdrawing the entire bill.

Morris did a segue way into another traffic story. This one outlined how Felder held up the School Speed Camera Safety bill. Despite having saved many lives, Felder decided to object to passage, in order to use it as a bargaining chip and leverage for his ongoing agenda. He was caught on video, confronted by a mother whose child had been killed by a speeding motorist, as she tried to deliver signed petitions to him.

Undoubtedly, Felder has his unabashed supporters. Morris related his encounter with one such member of the Orthodox community. He was told, “You’re a dirty progressive. Felder protects us.”

Pretty harsh words. Perhaps that’s why people are quietly referencing Morris as, “The bravest man in New York state politics.”

With his legal chops and his zeal for dotting his i’s and crossing his t’s, Morris is not easily intimidated.

He took on Republican State Senate leader John Flanagan about his methodology for putting together a “discretionary budget” for State Senate mailings. In April, Morris delivered a letter to Flanagan, to release the allotment figures given to Republicans. Morris maintained that Simcha Felder was in receipt of one of the highest amounts for constituent mailings — to the tune of $9,000 per year.

Morris filed the necessary FOIL papers in order to bring a case. He said it  was “a push for transparency.” (L. Blake Morris v. Francis W. Patience as Secretary of the Senate Supreme Court of the State of New York, COUNTY OF ALBANY Index No. 905460/17) It was ruled in his favor…until the state appealed it. It is currently pending.

Our conversation turned to education. Morris wants to see “a significant increase in funding for public schools to provide top education for all children.” When I asked him about Charter Schools, he replied, “I’ve studied this a lot.” His take came down to dollars and cents.

“Charter Schools are not-for-profits,” he said. “But the external management companies are for profit — and they are the darlings of Wall Street and hedge funds.” He clarified, “It’s capitalism. High yield on low risk. If they invest in Charter Schools, they are getting money from the state and city.” He added flatly, “They’re feeding at the government trough.”

The workings of Albany elude most New Yorkers. Morris has picked up on what can be the “myopic” views of voters. “We’re all in the same boat together,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you have a better seat if we’re all gonna sink.” He pointed out the existing mindset: “I want my piece, even if it’s not good for democracy.”

Yet, he was relentlessly upbeat. “We have amazing diversity in our district. Everybody gets along.” His hopes have been buoyed by voters who approach him to declare, “Thank you. I’ve been waiting for you for 6 years.”

Felder has been perceived by many as not being present at public events, or when pressed, by deflecting questions with a, “No official comment” response. “He’s a party of one,” quips Morris.

I did a lighting-round with Morris on top issues, going for short-form answers:

Housing: “We need more affordable housing and we need to build more housing. It should fit the pocketbooks of those who are already in the community.”

Health: “I support the New York State Healthcare Act, and am Pro-Choice.”

Minimum Wage: “I want to see a $15 per hour minimum wage implemented immediately, including tipped workers.” (Felder voted against the $15 minimum wage.)

Transit: “I support a major increase in MTA funding. I want to see a return of the express lines for the F and N trains, and have the B line run on weekends.”

Guns: “I support gun control.” (Felder wants armed guards in both public and private schools with New York City footing the bill.)

Free SUNY and CUNY Tuition: “It’s doable. We did it for forty years.”

Veterans: “One of the many benefits of single payer healthcare is that it would help vets.”

Immigration: “What’s happening is disturbing. Families should never be separated. The entire structure of the law is to keep families together.”

Mass Incarceration: “It’s one of the signs of the failure of our educational system.”

Marijuana: “It needs to be legalized and treated like alcohol and tobacco. It needs to be destigmatized.”

New York Equal Rights Amendment: “I would advocate and lobby for it.”

LGBTQ Issues: “I believe in human rights and support same-sex marriage.”

Environment: “I’m against fracking. I support renewable energy plans. The sooner the better.” (Felder voted against New York City’s five-cent fee on disposable bags.)

When I was researching Felder’s record, the website Vote Smart, Facts Matter showed that Felder refused to respond to their inquiries. It wasn’t hard to find out that Felder had been one of two Democrats to kill the DREAM Act.

Even if Morris wins, the Wilson-Pakula law allows the Republican party to give Felder a waiver to get on their line.

“I’m gonna beat him in September,” Morris informed me, after explaining the minutia of Wilson-Pakula. “I’ll make an honest man out of him. I’ll make him run as a Republican in November. The concept that we are one vote short of achieving a progressive agenda where people can actually have a good job, education, and a clean environment..” His voice trailed off.

Morris already has numerous endorsements racked up. Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the other IDC challengers, he is running on his own terms. He is not waiting for approval from the traditional party apparatus. He reiterated “A vote against Felder is a vote against Flanagan.”

Undaunted by what others may consider the odds, Morris was upbeat.

We can prepare ourselves for the future,” he stated optimistically.

 

Photos: Marcia G. Yerman

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Jul 13, 2018 | No comment | Read More »

Women’s Voices Stymie Trump Agenda

Recent top headlines focused on two stories: Family separation of immigrants seeking asylum at America’s southern border, and the “exit” of Scott Pruitt from the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Upon initial reflection, these two narratives may appear unrelated. Yet further examination reveals the thread which palpably connects the two articles.

The connective tissue is the defective moral compass that has been the hallmark of the Trump administration from day one.

Women’s voices have been at the forefront of resistance to Trump’s outrageous behavior. The ranks are diverse; all ages and backgrounds. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and those without children have all stepped up.

Why? Because women are the key caretakers of future generations.

Domestically, women’s reaction to the country’s frightening challenges — brought on by Trump — has been robust. Just as mothers understand the pain of others trying to save their children from violence and desperate situations; that children must be defended against the horrors of unregulated guns; they also get that deregulating environmental regulations spells disaster.

The people who are seeking asylum from oppressive conditions — like waves of immigrants to the shores of America before them — are not “illegal aliens.” One would hope that any American of ethical decency would be outraged about children being torn from their parents.

Wouldn’t any mother or father take action to protect their kids?

The misdeeds of Pruitt were emblematic of the pervasive lack of concern for the common good within Trumpworld. His self-enriching schemes, for himself and his wife, were hardly out of place in that morally corrupt universe.

The Pruitt sideshow had a long run in the Trump performance-art of crazy. The search for a used Trump Hotel mattress and treasure hunts for hand lotion were a deflection from the fact that Pruitt was actively dismantling established safeguards against coal-fired plants.

A top voice for walking away from the 2015 Paris agreement, Pruitt curried favor with his boss by diligently working to demolish the environmental gains of President Obama. He took a sledge hammer to the protections against industrial air pollution, clean car standards, and the reduction of the fossil fuels that are accelerating global warming.

Gleefully mocking settled science, Pruitt squarely placed himself in the climate denier space. Despite ongoing warnings from the military and journalists like Thomas Friedman — both who have outlined the correlation between extreme weather conditions, migration, social upheaval and terrorism — Pruitt stuck with those who brought him to the party. The top oil and gas magnates who were counting their dollars.

Andrew K. Wheeler, now the “acting EPA administrator, could prove even more problematic than Pruitt. He has all the same goals for dismantling protective regulations, without the drama.

Serving for the past several years as a lobbyist for the coal industry, Wheeler also worked for Sen. James Inhofe (of snowball fame). He is part of the Oklahoma cabal that has created a record for their state that’s not a winner: Earthquakes as a result of fracking wastewater injections. Wheeler also has a close relationship with Robert Murray, CEO of the Murray Energy Corporation, who has a message on his company’s website lamenting “excessive federal government regulations” from the Obama administration.

Using a stealth approach combined with policy chops to design legislation that can withstand legal challenges, Wheeler is primed to carry out the worst-case scenario. He may remain as acting administrator through the mid-term elections, or possibly longer.

This is the core commonality: Zero concern for ethical actions over benefits for the corporate good.

Yet, there is still a long way to go before many Americans throw in the towel.

Check out the new group, Immigrant Families Together. An Arizona newspaper ran a story titled, “These moms united to help immigrant mother rejoin separated kids in NYC.” It outlined the joint strategy of raising money to pay bond and then transporting Yeni Gonzalez Garcia, separated from her children at the border, to New York. Nine individual drivers — in a 21st century “underground railroad” of sorts — reunited her with her family.

Meghan Finn, quoted in the Arizona report stated, “We’re just a bunch of moms.” She explained that the organizing group was “mostly women,” adding that being a mother was a coincidence, not a requirement.

Pruitt’s gone. Wheeler will probably be Pruitt 2pt0.

What doesn’t change is that on-the-ground women are a formidable force for change.

Ultimately, we will prevail.

Kristin Mink confronts Scott Pruitt

Contact Your Elected Reps! Say No to Trump’s FY2019 EPA Budget Cuts!

Photo: Kristin Mink/Facebook

A version of this article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force.

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Jul 10, 2018 | No comment | Read More »

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