Former Colorado GOP chairman who accused Democrats of voter fraud arrested for voter fraud

steve curtis

(Credit: Denver Post)

The former chairman of Colorado’s Republican Party, who just last year suggested on his “Wake Up!” talk radio show that Democrats were largely to blame for fraudulent votes, has been charged with voter fraud and forgery.

According to the Weld County District Attorney’s office, Curtis allegedly filed out his ex-wife’s absentee ballot for last year’s presidential election after it had been sent to his house, and forged her signature. He was charged with one count of misdemeanor voter fraud and one count of forgery, a Class 5 felony, according to local media. The 57-year-old radio jock, who served as state party chairman from 1997 to 1999, faces up to three years in jail if convicted.

The Colorado secretary of state’s office told Denver’s ABC affiliate that Curtis’ case is the only voter fraud investigation related to the 2016 election that has resulted in criminal charges in the state.

But the Tea Party activist told listeners one month before the 2016 election: “It seems to be, and correct me if I’m wrong here, but virtually every case of voter fraud I can remember in my lifetime was committed by Democrats.”

Voter fraud, he concluded without citing any evidence on his KLZ 560 show, “is a bigger problem that I realized”:

Curtis’ former spouse, Kelly, inadvertently tipped off elections officials to the potential fraud when she called election authorities to inquire about how she could vote after moving to South Carolina.

“Ms. Curtis called to ask how she could vote and an election worker informed Ms. Curtis that her voter record had shown she already returned her mail ballot,” Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes told NBC News. The Republican official said that her office alerted the authorities after concluding “the signature was questionable.”

“I was livid over the whole situation, definitely,” Kelly Curtis told KDVR-TV. “I was just completely stunned.”

News of Curtis’ charges comes on the same day a member of the Federal Elections Commission reiterated her demand that President Donald Trump provide proof to support his claim that between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes were cast in the November presidential election.

Trump’s voter-fraud allegations ran the risk of undermining faith in democracy, wrote Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat appointed by former President George W. Bush in 2002. “Facts matter, Mr. President. The American people deserve to see your evidence. I therefore call upon President Trump to immediately share his evidence with the public and with the appropriate law-enforcement authorities so that his allegations may be investigated promptly and thoroughly.”

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Man of the times: On “More Life,” Drake is dialed into the sounds and possibility of the digital age

2015 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival - Weekend 1 - Day 3

(Credit: Getty/Kevin Winter)

In the digital era, a collection of songs is whatever an artist wants it to be — for the independent, a mixtape; for the traditionalist, an album; for Drake, a playlist.

On Saturday, through his Beats 1 radio show, Drake released “More Life,” a 22-song “playlist.” The discourse surrounding this release has been about the form more than the quality. Drake had a hand in making all of the songs and he appears on all but two. So how is the project different from an album? It won’t be released physically. And different from a mixtape? Uh, the production quality is better?

Technically speaking, the distinction Drake is making is one without a difference. But figuratively, he’s trying to do two things: first, cleverly market his music; second, suggest to the listener that this collection of songs is not about narrative continuity but party hopping. “More Life” is a pu pu platter of the world’s hip-hop and hip-hop adjacent sounds, all filtered through Drake — just as Drake is being filtered through these sounds.

The album is part dancehall, part trap, part grime, with a little gospel sprinkled in. Drake, of course, is the perfect conduit for such a project. He is a chameleon and an expert curator, someone whose prized qualities are his taste and his flexibility. He is an artist whose innovation was formal — merging singing and rapping, vulnerability and muscularity. Just like “More Life” is what Drake wants it to be, Drake effectively is what the listener wants him to be.

It is for these reasons — and perhaps because of Drake’s mixed ethnicity — that his authenticity goes unchallenged. Drake is not appropriating other cultures so much as he is celebrating them. His is a globalized universe where sounds from London seem appropriate bumping up against sounds from Atlanta or the Caribbean. On “More Life,” Drake is largely unconcerned with politics or race. He’s the rare artist who can get away with cherry-picking sounds from around the world while ignoring the politics surrounding the cultures from which he borrows. He is an artist of the internet and to be of the internet means everyone can have the world at his or her fingertips.

To be of the internet also means working at an unceasing pace. Drake is among the three or four most relevant artists of this age because he is a master of making and distributing content. Over the course of the past three years, in addition to releasing four meaty albums and a smattering of singles, he has generated memes and GIFs and has popularized expressions (expect the word “blem” to pervade the lexicon throughout the next six months). Drake is an actor turned rapper, who is also a radio-show host. His lyrics can be clunky or corny (“Eatin’ Applebee’s and Outback/ Southwest, no first class,” he raps on “Free Smoke”) but his bet — and it is a winning one — is that prolificacy and aesthetic pioneering will mask all warts.  

And make no mistake: Drake’s priority is to be considered the best in the game. Like almost every rapper of the past two decades, Drake is infatuated with Michael Jordan, whose name and brand signify greatest. On “What a Time to Be Alive,” he dubbed himself “Jumpman.” Throughout “More Life,” his lyrics fixate on supremacy — his claim (“I know I said top five, but I’m top two/ And I’m not two and I got one,” he raps on “Gyalchester.”) as well as the glories and burdens (“Winnin’ is problematic/ People like you more when you workin’ towards something,” he raps on “Lose You”). There’s a case to be made that Drake is the best of the day, but the case for Drake as the best is not that he is Jordan. Drake is LeBron James — a versatile jack-of-all-trades, who is both the player and general manager and who shines brightest when he is surrounded by talent.  

Calling a long album a playlist is a greater feat of marketing than of musicianship. And yet, once you suspend disbelief, you realize that a playlist is Drake’s ideal form. It suggests that tastemaking is as much an art as creating flow or writing lyrics and that features are not a hedge but a status symbol. On “More Life,” Drake sets the parameters for his supremacy. When he doesn’t sink the shots, someone else does. And as he raps on “Lose You,” in the game he’s created, “The city gets stronger when everybody is speakin’.”

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The right-wing token factory: Now the grassroots right is rebelling against the mendacity of conservative media

Tomi Lahren

Tomi Lahren (Credit: AP/Colin Young-Wolff)

In 2016 Republicans bucked the party elites and elected Donald Trump as president. This year they’re rising up against the massive media machine that exploits them for ratings, clicks and dollars.

The insurrection has been in the works since Trump first burst onto the scene in 2015, but now many grassroots conservatives are beginning to realize that the media outlets they have read, watched and listened to for decades were more interested in monetizing them than in serving them.

According to Brittany Pounders, a Texas-based blogger who operates a site called LibertyJuice, many of the people who currently target  Republicans didn’t start their careers with the intent to exploit. But they’re all part of a larger media environment where stirring outrage yields big bucks and saying anything to get a rise out of liberals and leftists is all that matters.

The need for attention, ratings, and popularity can be addictive and frightening,” she wrote in an extended essay on her site earlier this week.

I’ve seen it destroy the integrity of people I once admired and deeply respected in conservative media circles,” she wrote, admitting that she was “as guilty as any of them.”

Fanning the flames against real and imagined misdeeds of Democrats and the left is still popular on the right but now, for the first time, regular conservatives are turning their skepticism toward the publications and broadcasters who have been pandering to them.

Many on the right are now openly mocking and ridiculing conservative media for anointing grossly unqualified people as their thought leaders, largely on the basis of their being something other than older white Christian men, the demographic mostly likely to vote Republican.

This conservative token factory has been something liberals have long noticed and ridiculed privately.

“My partner is always teasing me about why I should switch sides, so we can get rich,” one left-leaning female political commentator told me via email. “I think the audience for these tokenized pundits is mainly white male conservatives, who need to tell themselves that they aren’t actually misogynist or racist,” she continued.

Another, who also wished to remain anonymous, pointed out that young liberal women trying to get booked on CNN or MSNBC have a much more difficult time than their right-leaning counterparts do at Fox News.

One of the biggest recent beneficiaries of conservative media’s seemingly insatiable desire for young women has been Tomi Lahren, a political commentator who almost overnight became a right-wing sensation thanks to her youth, telegenic looks and willingness to say almost anything.

Fresh out of college as a 22-year-old in 2014, she applied for an internship at One America News Network, a fledgling cable-news operation that has aspired to “out-Fox” Rupert Murdoch’s profit center — with a hyper-patriotic eagle logo and prime-time hosts who routinely bash Republicans as insufficiently conservative.

Instead of becoming a lowly production assistant or mail opener, Lahren was immediately offered a daily program.

“My jaw dropped. I was stunned. I just wanted an internship. He gave me a show,” she told her hometown newspaper, the Rapid City Journal.

Motivated by her desire to “do whatever,” Lahren shifted from the low-key, centrist approach she favored as a panelist on a program sponsored by her alma mater, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to bomb-throwing rants against Muslims and former President Barack Obama.

Her efforts paid off as she was soon given a show on The Blaze, a web and cable talk channel created by radio host Glenn Beck. She kept up her incendiary approach, lobbing rants at the Black Lives Matter movement (calling it as “the new KKK”) and anti-Trump protesters (“a bunch of sore losers”) while garnering millions of shares and followers on Facebook and Twitter.

Reflecting on her newfound popularity in a July 2015 interview with Fox News, Lahren sounded downright Trumpian in describing how she had somehow given voice to unspoken conservative complaints.

“They’re thinking it in their minds,” she said. “They’re telling it to their friends and family. They’re saying it at the dinner table. And I was just the one that came out and said it on a platform and it resonated.”

Like her intellectual predecessor Sarah Palin, Lahren is unashamed about her lack of familiarity with policy and philosophy.

“I’m going to be honest with you, I’m not a reader,” she said in an interview with the Daily Caller, a conservative site famous in its own right for its liberal usage of stories and photos of scantily clad young women.

“I don’t like to read long books. I like to read news,” she continued. “So I couldn’t tell you that there was a book that I read that changed my life. More so, I love to read news and I love to read commentary and I love to watch TV. . . . I have a very short attention span, so sitting down with a book is very difficult for me.”

Lahren’s meteoric rise came to an abrupt halt last weekend after she criticized pro-life conservatives in a guest appearance on ABC’s “The View.”

“I am a constitutional, you know, someone that loves the Constitution,” she said. “So I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government but I think the government should decide what women do with their bodies.”

The sound bite sent the anti-abortion right into a frenzy. Bloggers and social-media devotees who had harbored misgivings about Lahren from the beginning were suddenly joined by thousands of grassroots conservatives angry at being called out.

“This is so mindlessly incoherent that Glenn Beck should be humiliated he has given this poser such a platform of prominence,” wrote a blogger on The Resurgent, a website for Christian conservatives.

Others linked their criticism of Lahren to what they saw as a larger problem, with one terming it “click-bait conservatism.”

“The error here is not in Lahren holding unpopular opinions, changing her mind on issues, or even in deceiving her audience,” according to blogger Danielle Butcher. “The ultimate mistake belongs to the right as a whole: our mistake is in sensationalizing our values for what is flashy, attractive, and will bring in page views.”

She continued: “When we allow people who are in politics only to build their own careers to speak for us, we delegitimize the sincerity of our cause.”

Such sentiments have become commonplace among young Washington-based conservatives and libertarians for many years. Until last month, however, almost no one had dared to speak out in public about this, even anonymously, for fear of antagonizing the career-making powers of talk radio and Fox News Channel.

Most of these activists blame Fox News for beginning the trend, particularly former CEO Roger Ailes, who was ousted from the network after being accused of being serial sexual harasser. He is even said to have banned female hosts from wearing pants on Fox News’ popular morning program.)

“The reliance on attractive, young women should be called the Fox Effect since it was perfected by Roger Ailes,” said one activist in an email to Salon. “By now, his sexism is documented, but conservative women noticed it for years.”

In conversation and email, many activists and journalists told me they fear that conservative media outlets’ careless promotion of unqualified bomb throwers is dumbing down their movement and making it difficult for women who aren’t young and glamorous to advance. Several conservative journalists seem to be of the opinion that Fox News only hires men over 50 and women under 30.

A political operative who did not wish to be identified said via email that he believed conservative media outlets have long since ceased caring about informing their audiences:

I don’t hate Tomi Lahren. I hate us for constantly propping up people like her.

Our demand for pundits for years has not been to be thought provoking, to challenge our assumptions, or to give ideological coherent and critical arguments that broaden our understanding and stimulate our mind. Our demand for pundits is to reflect our emotional unsatisfaction and tell us what we want to hear, even if it has no substance at all, and to be pleasing to look at.

People who don’t have a well grounded, thoughtful ideological core, but understand what to say and how to say it to play on what the audience wants to hear, which will guarantee success, but provide absolutely nothing in the way of critical thought or intellectual leadership.

While the policy wonks and activists are just beginning to go public with their critiques, the fringe activists of the “alternative right” have long denounced conservative media as shallow and manipulative.

In a January post for Return of Kings, an anti-feminist lifestyle website, writer Michael Sebastian blasted right-leaning men for allowing themselves to be exploited by young female commentators.

“For some reason, men who identify as conservative really flock to any reasonably attractive woman who says conservative things,” he wrote. “Conservative women pundits are a cottage industry that doesn’t exist on the left.”

The post is illustrated with a photo of Lahren and a suggestive image of CNN pundit S.E. Cupp appearing several years ago on the Fox News pop-culture show “Red Eye,” a program that frequently seats young female pundits close to the camera in what the program’s former host frequently referred to as “the leg chair.”

Sebastian’s piece also references Lauren Southern, formerly of The Rebel, a video website that has been trying to cultivate an alt-right and mainstream conservative audience. Besides Southern, the site has also featured Gavin McInnes, a founder of Vice, who has since been trying to fashion himself into a bizarre combination of Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh through a combination of supposedly satirical rants against “the goddamn motherfucking Jews” and stunts like inserting a sex toy into his rectum while on the air.

According to Sebastian, Southern represents a new type of conservative commentator, a “pundithot,” a portmanteau of pundit and “thot,” an offensive slang acronym short for “that hoe over there.”

Such women, according to Sebastian, lack any real qualifications to comment on public affairs, unlike older right-wing pundits like Dana Perino, Ann Coulter, and Laura Ingraham — women with actual political, legal and journalistic experience.

Instead of giving informed commentary based on their experience, Sebastian argued, these new pundits offer only sex appeal and sloganeering. He quoted a passage from an 82-page e-book Southern released in December to illustrate his point:

If there was a moment in the 2016 U.S. election that epitomized this newfound hate for the young on the right, it was Republican consultant Rick Wilson’s infamous . . . declaration that Trump supporters were “childless, single losers who masturbate to anime.” Guilty as charged. Well, except I don’t masturbate to anime characters. I dress up like them and guys masturbate to me.

Sebastian’s views of conservative media outlets exploiting their audience are almost universally shared on the alt-right. Unsurprisingly, some of them see the proliferation of inexperienced young female pundits as the work of their most hated enemy: Jewish people must be responsible in some way, they say.

Commenting on a video in which Southern discusses the results of a DNA test she took (a common rite of passage for those on the alt-right), a reader of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer saw her as part of a plot against the right:

My thoughts are that this is a psy-op. Look how she’s dressed. She’s leveraging right into what the Jews promote as the stereotype for the Alt-Right. Lonely dudes that can’t get laid. Seeing as how that is the very pinnacle of Jew achievement, getting laid that is, it’s obvious that they are putting her forth as an Alt-Right “leader.”

This is the problem with gynocentricism. It makes a lot of thirsty beta males. It makes them easy to con and manipulate as well.

While blaming “the Jews” isn’t likely to become a mainstream conservative sentiment, there’s no question that many average conservatives are beginning to realize their media outlets are more interested in exploitation than in illumination.

The next installment in this series will examine the conservative token factory through the angle of race.

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South Dakota passes “religious liberty” law allowing adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples

Same-Sex, Childless

(Credit: beijersbergen via Shutterstock)

No one told Billy Mawhiney how difficult the adoption process would be.

Mawhiney, a 38-year-old cooking instructor, first signed up to serve as a foster parent with his partner three years ago. In order to be eligible to adopt or serve as a foster parent for a child, prospects must enroll in two months of intensive classes. The couple had to submit fingerprints to local authorities and the FBI. Mawhiney and his partner submitted the results of background checks and four recommendation letters from friends and co-workers who could testify to their fitness as parents. The agency requested that the men make sure their home was completely safe and secure, including fastening their bookshelves to the wall.

“We had to explain every speeding ticket,” Mawhiney said. “We did this because we felt like fostering and adopting kids was our way to enhance our family and give back to our community.”

But if the adoption process is already taxing and intensive by design, it’s about to become even harder for same-sex couples following the passage of a new law in South Dakota which LGBT advocates argue could allow adoption agencies to turn away same-sex couples. Senate Bill 149 was signed into law this month by Gov. Dennis Daugaard after passing the state’s House of Representatives by a 43-to-20 vote and its Senate by a 19-vote margin. SB 149 prevents the state from taking action — in the form of taxes or penalties — against agencies that discriminate on the basis of their “sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction.”

While SB 149 doesn’t specifically reference the LGBT community, Daugaard told the Associated Press that he was concerned that members of a “protected class” could sue adoption agencies if their application were denied. Daugaard’s office didn’t return multiple requests for comment, and the governor has yet to put out a statement since the bill’s passage.

Sen. Alan Solano, one of the co-sponsors of the legislation, was concerned about the impact that the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize the marriage rights of same-sex couples would have on the ability of faith-based adoption agencies to operate in South Dakota. Following the high court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling in 2015, centers in California, Illinois and Massachusetts, as well as Washington, D.C., announced they would close up shop — because they couldn’t in good conscience place children in households headed by a same-sex couple.

“I want to be able to give these organizations and their boards confidence that they have protection so they don’t just preemptively say we are going to get out of the adoption business,” Solano told the Rapid City Journal.

But LGBT groups warn that the bill, which is extremely broad in scope, could have unintended consequences. The Human Rights Campaign argued in a statement that in addition to letting agencies deny adoption services to same-sex couples, SB 149 could permit discrimination against “interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a purported religious objection.”

To Eunice Rho, the advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, SB 149 is chiefly aimed at same-sex couples. “Its implications could be broader, but it is certainly motivated by a desire to discriminate against LGBT people,” she said.

South Dakota’s legislation is just the most recent attempt to limit the adoption rights of same-sex couples. States like North Dakota, Virginia, and Michigan have introduced similar laws targeting families of LGBT couples in recent years, while Texas and Alabama are currently considering legislation similar to SB 149. In February the Alabama Senate approved a bill that would give adoption agencies, such as Catholic Social Serviceslicense to discriminateCatholic Social Services helped write the South Dakota legislation.

The Catholic Social Services of Rapid City didn’t provide a statement in response to a request for comment. When asked for an interview, a representative for the organization said he would “pray about it.”

Zach Nistler, an organizer for Equality South Dakota, warned that SB 149 could be a harbinger of further legislative efforts to target same-sex couples, even on the national level. Nistler claimed that people in his state are frequently on the “front lines” when it comes to fighting anti-LGBT laws. Last year South Dakota was the first state to consider legislation that would restrict transgender students from using bathrooms that corresponded with their gender identity. Just weeks after Gov. Daugaard vetoed House Bill 1008, North Carolina passed a similar measure.

“We’re the training team for major league sports,” Nistler said. “Time and time again, South Dakota is the place where discrimination starts.”

But if Daugaard shot down the previous attempt to introduce legislation that advocates warned could harm the LGBT community, what was the difference this time around? In February 2016 critics of the legislation claimed that the bill’s passage would jeopardize South Dakota’s robust tourism industry. Indeed the state took in nearly $2 billion from tourists flocking there in 2014 to visit historic sites like Mount Rushmore, Deadwood and the Badlands. LGBT people and their allies called for a boycott of South Dakota were HB 1008 to become law, saying that they would vacation elsewhere.

But in the case of the adoption law, there wasn’t nearly the same type of outcry, either from prospective visitor or businesses. In contrast, major corporations like Apple, Google and Microsoft led the charge last year against North Carolina’s House Bill 2, while the National Basketball Association stated that North Carolina would forfeit its eligibility to host the All-Star Game until the law was repealed.

But Rachel Rubin, the deputy director for Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, explained that states like South Dakota may not have as much bargaining power as, say, North Carolina or Georgia. Last year Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a “religious liberty” bill in the Peach State.

“We know in this country what a big role corporations are allowed to play in helping drive our country toward equality,” Rubin said. “But there aren’t as many Fortune 500 companies based in South Dakota as there are in some of those other states where you see success in shutting these bills down. The Walt Disney Company does a ton of filming in Georgia — all the Marvel movies are made there. That was a hard line in the sand that Disney took, and the law didn’t pass.”

The truth is, however, that Rubin was underestimating the problem: South Dakota didn’t have a single Fortune 500 company in 2015. Neither did red states like Montana, Wyoming, West Virginia, Mississippi, North Dakota and Alaska.

If anti-LGBT adoption laws continue to be enacted across the U.S., same-sex couples in such states will be extremely vulnerable to discrimination, but Rho said it’s the children in foster and adoption networks that would be the most harmed. The Human Rights Campaign has asserted that 1,174 children in South Dakota are awaiting placement through the foster care system. The state should be doing everything it can to invite more couples to become involved and offer these children a home, rather than discouraging foster parenting or adoption.

“Some of these children have disabilities or learning disabilities,” Rho said. “Many of them are older and have been neglected and abused. The desire to take these opportunities away from kids is extremely cruel.”

Mawhiney and his partner were able to start foster parenting a child two years ago and now are in the process of adopting him, but the passage of SB 149 will affect their ability to further expand their family. A great number of the adoption agencies in South Dakota are faith based, including Lutheran Social Services, Bethany Christian Services and the New Horizons Adoption Agency. But Mawhiney, who lives in Sioux Falls, said he won’t let this legislation stop him from providing a loving home to children who need it.

“It’s enhanced every aspect of my life to see my child grow up right in front of me, to be at swim lessons or get that hug and a goodnight kiss at the end of the day,” Mawhiney said. “You share your love with your kids every single day.”

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Supreme Court unanimously overruled Neil Gorsuch’s strict interpretation of a law while he testified at his SCOTUS confirmation hearing

Neil Gorsuch

Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Credit: AP)

President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court has only made news this week for not making news during his Senate confirmation hearings. But on Wednesday, as he sat for his third day of grilling on Capitol Hill, Judge Neil Gorsuch’s strict interpretation of the law setting a standard for public school education for students with disabilities was smacked down by every justice he hopes to join on the Supreme Court bench.

The federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act requires “free appropriate public education” for all children. Currently a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver, Gorsuch held in multiple cases that the law demands little “more than de minimis” — what he interpreted as “merely” a program intended for a student to show some annual gains.

But with its decision on Wednesday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that local school districts across the country must provide students with disabilities the environment to make “appropriately ambitious” progress. The opinion from the highest court in the nation held that “appropriate” as prescribed by the law goes further than what Gorsuch and the lower court had held.

While Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision didn’t directly deal with a case decided by Gorsuch, it did gut the standard Gorsuch set which had served as the precedent for the overturned decision.

In a 2008 ruling, Gorsuch applied the “de minimis” standard to rule against a family seeking reimbursement for the placement of a child with autism in a private residential facility because the parents believed their school district had failed to provide a free, appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. According to the parents, the student needed a drastically different approach in school, so they put him in a private school specializing in educating autistic children, where his behavior and academic performance improved markedly.

Gorsuch found that the school district had met its obligation to provide a free appropriate public education since the student in question made some progress toward goals, even if the gains were minimal.

Overturning another Tenth Circuit decision that relied on Gorsuch’s 2008 opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that his strict interpretation of the law narrowed the level of education disabled students are entitled to receive. The unanimous court decried the Gorsuch standard as one that would consign children with disabilities to an educational program that “can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all.”

Writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts argued, “It cannot be right that the IDEA generally contemplates grade-level advancement for children with disabilities who are fully integrated in the regular classroom, but is satisfied with barely more than de minimis progress for children who are not.”

He continued: “When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all … The IDEA demands more. It requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

For his part, Gorsuch deployed his now-familiar defense to avoid comment on controversial topics when quizzed on the Supreme Court’s ruling during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

“If anyone is suggesting that I like a result where an autistic child has to lose, that’s a heartbreaking accusation to me,” Gorsuch said, insisting that his ruling was just the unfortunate byproduct that occurs when a non-ideological judge carefully interprets settled law. “If I was wrong, Senator, I was wrong because I was bound by circuit precedent,” he told Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn. Gorsuch argued that his 2008 ruling simply adhered to precedent set in a 1996 ruling — which cited rulings in other courts and its understanding of a 1982 Supreme Court decision. The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that both the 1975 federal law and the 1982 court ruling interpreting it, are vague about a school’s obligations.

Advocates for the 6.5 million students with disabilities in the United States argue that Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling should sound the alarm that Gorsuch is outside of the mainstream — despite his continued insistence to the contrary during his confirmation hearings.

“Today, the Supreme Court repudiated Judge Gorsuch’s IDEA decisions and overwhelmingly rejected his reading of the law,” said Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, in a statement. “More importantly, the unanimous decision concluded that Judge Gorsuch’s exact language is wrongheaded and antithetical to the IDEA.”

In a review of Gorsuch’s record, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law found that he “almost always” voted in favor of school districts over those with disabilities. As NPR reported, Gorsuch’s opinions in eight out of 10 brought under either the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act favored limiting the responsibilities of school districts.

In an earlier statement against his nomination, García complained that “Judge Gorsuch endorsed the lowest of expectations for students with disabilities, which allowed public schools to provide our highest-needs students with the bare minimum educational benefit.”

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Liberal shaming of Appalachia: Inside the media elite’s obsession with the “hillbilly problem”


The Owsley County Saddle Club trail ride in Booneville, Kentucky. (Credit: Getty/Mario Tama)

The self-sabotaging residents of Trump Country have run out of good will from #TheResistance, according to critic Frank Rich in a recent essay for New York magazine. In “No More Sympathy for Hillbillies,” Rich argued that the presence of “Trumpists” in Appalachia and the Rust Belt justifies cutting off these regions and individuals from the body politic. “Let them reap the consequences for voting against their own interests,” Rich suggested, as he outlined an earth-salting breakup fantasy that included follow-up reminders to those of us who live in these regions that we are equally loathed by both the right and the left.

Rich’s essay is the latest offering in a long line of authors using their bylines to muse on what they see as the country’s “hillbilly problem.” This trend, which last week included a bizarre hit piece by Kevin Baker in the New Republic on progressives in Appalachia, follows a predictable pattern: The authors establish a region in Appalachia or the Rust Belt as ground zero for the archetypal Trump “hillbilly” voter while walking through what they see as paradoxes of our politics or lack thereof, before concluding with their wisdom on what should be done about us.

It’s only on this last point that opinions usually differ. Photographer Chris Arnade, for example, became well-known during the election for ascribing Trump’s appeal to a sense of tribalism in communities that formed in the absence of understanding or empathy from liberal elites. Best-selling “Hillbilly Elegy” author and Republican up-and-comer J.D. Vance has shared a similar view, specifically one of  Appalachian suspicion of outsiders. Media outlets often celebrate Vance as the “reluctant interpreter of Trumpism” in a way that endorses his belief that a “sympathetic but hard-nosed” approach to Trump voters is the way forward in our political moment.

For Kevin Baker, however, the only reasonable solution is complete social and political divorce from states contaminated by majority support for Trump, and it seems that Frank Rich would agree. Collectively, these pieces and others have resurrected a dormant political genre. The “What’s the Matter with Appalachia?” piece, written by disapproving outsiders with little knowledge of the region’s politics or history, is back, once more, with feeling. Currently, the pundit class is waging a self-made war over appropriate emotional response to the anticipated suffering of Trump voters and individuals like me who share their communities.

Why is this genre so popular, particularly among the liberal elite? Let’s look at the phenomenon through the most generous lens. There’s always a need for good faith political knowledge exchange and Appalachia does indeed have interesting and at times disappointing politics. A closer examination of working-class politics is long overdue by the establishment and we need more individuals earnestly engaging with other smart people about these neglected topics and regions. Finally, a healthy dose of anger toward Trump voters is very reasonable among individuals — people of color or immigrants, for example— whose personal freedoms and safety are imperiled by his administration. This, however, is not what the genre looks like.

What this genre looks like is pundits who are almost universally men and almost exclusively white, firing off sleazy ideas about “hillbillies” while doing a very poor job differentiating between Trump voters and the average sort of disadvantaged person who lives in Appalachia or the Rust Belt. I use the word “average” intentionally because these pieces ignore the fact that most people in these regions — just like the majority of people across the nation — did not vote for Donald Trump. This genre ignores the fact that marches, town halls and protests are happening here just as frequently as in New York. And this genre trades on a bad-faith sleight of hand that displaces the reality that the average Trump voter is a college-educated white individual of some means, not a “hillbilly.” The sole reason for this genre’s existence is to provide the liberal elite with the means to feel superior to poor people, of all races, without sounding like Jason Chaffetz.

This genre has a long history, a fact that has also been ignored by the authors who populate it. Appalachia, which is often treated as a predominately white and dysfunctional nation within a nation, has always provided what historian Ronald Eller called the “grist for the media mill.” It’s far less unsettling to blame what are ultimately the failures of technology, the free market and our social responsibilities to one another on backward and provincial people who live in an “other America.” This is a compelling reason for why Kevin Baker, for example, likely feels justified in writing a 2,000-word hit piece on a county in West Virginia that yielded just 4,629 votes for Donald Trump when his neighbors in Staten Island provided a hundred thousand.

Add to this all the cultural baggage that comes with being a “hillbilly” — lower educational attainment, squeamishness over regional accents, coal worship, banjo jokes — and you have the perfect scapegoat for a political tilt experienced by all white people during this election. The odiousness of this genre’s popularity is that it eliminates any productive discussion of actual problems by centering the real issue its authors have with the region: namely, that a fraction of the people in this country with repressive political views who look too much like them for comfort live here.

Apart from all the bloodletting over our recent election, no historical moment illustrates problems with regional perceptions held by liberal elites than the Johnson administration’s “War on Poverty” during the 1960s. Flush from a new professionalization of the social sciences, experts concluded that the causes of poverty could be explained more productively through the psychological pathology of the poor and their culture, rather than economic inequality or political corruption. The government sent young and earnest volunteers into Appalachia to fix up schools and churches and roads in the hope that these improvements could provide the behavior modifications necessary to lift us out of poverty. Although brimming with good intentions, these sorts of solutions never considered the fact that if coming up with the path out of poverty were as simple as repairing a window screen, our grandparents would have tried that before presidential intervention. These solutions didn’t take into account the price of a vote in a rural community and compare that with the cost of a window screen.

Every generation of politicians, writers, analysts, academics and economists believes it has discovered something unique or horrible or paradoxical about Appalachia. And members of each generation of these thinkers is at war with themselves to decide if we’re worthy enough for their solutions to our problems. These solutions, however, never work because they’re almost always premised on the belief that Appalachia is fundamentally different than the rest of the country, not part of it. And so we repeat a frustrating cycle: Our self-appointed social betters interpret our reluctance to embrace their solutions as an act of bad faith and we suffer economically from their withdrawn support.

In our current moment, the liberal compulsion to hold up the disadvantaged Appalachian or Rust Belter as a stand-in for all Trump voters while arguing above his head how much sympathy we’re allowed to have with him eliminates any productive exchange of resistance politics among progressives. Whether progressive elites want to acknowledge this reality, the fact is that we all live in Trump Country now. Those of us who have resisted the incursion of these politics for far longer should be seen as important allies. If Kevin Baker wants people willing to envision a future without coal, or if Frank Rich wants to find readers fed up with “Hillbilly Elegy,” our regions can provide them in droves. That we remain invisible to these critics is a sign of their bad politics, not ours.

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Conversion therapy is “torture”: LGBT survivors are fighting to ban “pray the gay away” camps

Praying Hands

(Credit: PChampion studio via Shutterstock)

Brinton, now 29, was raised as a Southern Baptist missionary, growing up in Africa and the Amazon jungle. After returning to the United States, Sam wasn’t having the “urges” that other young boys his age had. It quickly became clear that Brinton was indeed having those feelings; they were just directed toward a male friend. Sam’s father attempted to “scare the gay away” through physical abuse, but when that didn’t work, his parents allegedly sent the 10-year-old youngster to conversion therapy in their home state of Kansas. Brinton describes it as having been “mental torture.”

It’s difficult for Sam to remember what the office looks like. Brinton, who is still suffering from the trauma of what he experienced, recalls a stack of King James Bibles on a table and a waiting area, just like any other therapist’s office.

But what took place there has been impossible to wipe from Sam’s memory. The conversion therapist allegedly told Brinton that the government “had come and killed off” all gay people because they “brought AIDS into America.” Sam claims that the therapist also said that homosexuals are an “abomination” in God’s eyes. When that didn’t cure Brinton of his same-sex longings, Sam says that the therapist attempted “physical aversion therapy,” burning or freezing the child’s hands when pictures of men touching other men were displayed. Brinton compared it to the Pavlov’s dog experiment, training a physical response.

When applying hot and cold didn’t work either, they moved onto electroshock therapy.

“I cannot understand how a mother hears her child screaming in the other room and doesn’t run in to stop it, but I know my mother was trying to save me,” Brinton explained. “She truly believed that what she was doing was going to save my mortal soul, and that was what mattered.”

These treatments — which lasted for two years — didn’t cure Brinton’s urges, but they did have harmful, long-lasting effects. The pain Sam experienced made Brinton “terrified” to be physically affectionate with men, even something as small as exchanging a friendly hug. Over 15 years later, Sam is still “constantly in need of mental health support,” often experiencing thoughts of suicide. This is extremely common. Statistics from the American Psychological Association show that survivors of conversion therapy are 8.9 times more likely than their peers to consider taking their own lives.

In addition to opposition from the APA, this high rate of trauma among survivors is why organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, and American Psychiatric Association have denounced the practice for years. The groups put out a report in 2008 calling for an end to conversion therapy. “Homosexuality is not a mental disorder,” their findings stated, “and thus is not something that needs to or can be ‘cured.’”

The rest of the country, though, is still catching up with science on the issue. While only five states, as well as Washington D.C., have formally banned conversion therapy, Brinton is spearheading an effort to end the discredited practice. Called “50 Bills 50 States,” Brinton’s goal is to introduce legislation to outlaw conversion therapy in every single state this year. Just two and a half months into 2017, the effort is off to a smashing start: Bills have already been introduced in more than 20 states, and New Mexico’s anti-conversion therapy legislation has passed its House and Senate, awaiting the governor’s approval.

“I never want to repeat the experiences I’ve been through,” Brinton said. “And I never want any other child to have to go through them.”

Conversion therapy, the practice of seeking to redirect same-sex attractions to heterosexual partners, traces all the way back to the work of Sigmund Freud — who treated his daughter Anna’s lesbianism through therapy. Although Freud once wrote that homosexuality was “nothing to be ashamed of,” he also argued that it stemmed from a “certain arrest of sexual development.” Joseph Nicolosi, the recently deceased father of conversion therapy, felt that sexual desire for a member of one’s same gender stemmed from childhood trauma, such as abuse or divorce.

Brinton said that conversion therapy clinics sprung up as a result of the APA’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973. Love in Action, which was founded the same year, operates what the New York Times once referred to as “boot camps” around the country. Exodus International, the now defunct ex-gay network, popped up three years later. Nicolosi’s own National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) was founded a bit later — in 1992.

Many falsely believe that these centers shut down decades ago, but Brinton said there are “hundreds” across the U.S., and they are extremely hard to track. As a recent “20/20” exposé highlighted, many conversion programs operate underground, away from the public eye.

“For every center that advertises conversion therapy, there must be many, many others who do not,” he said.

Although Nicolosi has claimed a 33 percent success rate from his patients, few survivors of conversion therapy were “changed” as a result of their sessions. Many allege that these centers took advantage of parents that want to do the best thing for their children — but might not know what that is. Instead survivors claim that these sessions do irreparable damage to their families and their lives.

When Mathew Shurka, who grew up in Great Neck, New York, came out to his parents at the age of 16, his father claimed that he would love his son and support him no matter what. But he says his father quickly began to “panic.” He feared that Matthew would be bullied in school, and that being gay would affect his ability to get a job, have a family, or lead a normal life. His father found a conversion therapist in Manhattan who claimed that there’s no such thing as homosexuality and that what his son was experiencing could be cured. Shurka would remain in treatment for five years, which he claims were the “worst” time in his life.

“What drove me throughout the conversion therapy was the fear,” the 28-year-old said. What happens if I don’t make it? What happens if I fail? I did everything I possibly could to become straight.”

As a part of the therapy, Shurka claims he was cut off from his mother and sister. They were viewed as “feminizing” influences. He wasn’t allowed to talk or to interact with them for three years. Instead Shurka was advised to spend as much time as he could with other men, whether it was his father or the boys at school. If he were to become aroused, Shurka’s therapist told him to excuse himself to go masturbate in the bathroom — in order to keep from holding onto those thoughts.

“There wasn’t a moment when my actual attraction went away,” Shurka said. “If anything it was the opposite: It was only getting stronger.”

On the surface at least, it appeared to be working. Shurka became popular with the other guys at school and desired among his female classmates (because he wasn’t allowed to give them any attention). He claims his therapist prescribed him Viagra — at 18 years old — when he began to have intercourse with members of the opposite sex. The pills allowed him to perform in the bedroom. But he was miserable. Shurka says he gained weight, stopped leaving his house, and began taking drugs to numb the pain he was experiencing. Like Brinton — as well as so many other survivors — he considered suicide.

“It’s training for having a double life,” he said.

Although there’s no core set of principles practiced by every conversion therapist, what Shurka went through is very common. In order to create a narrative around childhood trauma, many counselors effectively blame the parents of LGBT youth for “making them gay.” Michael Ferguson, a 35-year-old survivor who lives in Ithaca, New York, said that his conversion experience was “focused on cultivating anger and rage toward my parents,” which he said doesn’t foster healthy relationships with your family after therapy ends.

“The only way to break out of those unhealthy attachments from my parents was to rage against them — to be so angry about what they did wrong that I would break the bonds and attachments I had from my parents,” Ferguson said. “I could then be liberated and realize the heterosexual nature my parents had been suppressing.”

As a result of these shattered bonds, many survivors have few support networks after leaving therapy — aside from a handful of groups around the United States. (Born Perfect, a project of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, is one option available to survivors.)

But advocates hope that the recent legislative push to end conversion therapy may spark a long overdue national conversation, helping survivors get the resources they need. Although New Mexico’s bill has been the most successful so far, several states have made significant progress in banning the practice. An anti-conversion therapy bill has been passed by the State Senate in New Hampshire, and the Colorado House has given its thumbs up to similar legislation for the third consecutive year, although the bill died in the Senate on previous attempts.

Meanwhile, Tampa’s city council voted last week to ban licensed professionals from offering conversion therapy. The ordinance, which passed unanimously, fines mental health centers $1,000 on the first offense and $5,000 on each additional instance that they are caught continuing to practice “pray the gay away” methods. There’s a caveat, though: The council decision leaves open an exemption for members of the clergy.

Passing further legislation is important because many survivors of conversion therapy are unable to advocate on their own. Ferguson was one of the plaintiffs in Ferguson v. JONAH, a successful lawsuit against Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality. As a result of the 2015 suit, the New Jersey-based center shut down. Ferguson said, however, that this victory was the result of a “taxing” three-year process, one in which every facet of your private life (including emails and text messages) is made public. Many survivors, who simply want to walk away and move on, may be unwilling to subject themselves to that.

“Most people don’t want to relive over and over again the traumatizing experiences that they’ve gone through,” Ferguson said.

Shurka, though, believes that the legislative push is only the beginning. As part of his advocacy work, he contacts conversion therapists who are still practicing in order to dialogue with them. After a video went viral of Shurka detailing the horror of “ex-gay” programs, he reached out to his former therapist to discuss what happened to him. The two conducted a side-by-side interview about what the experience was like for both of them. Shurka has since reconciled with his former counselor, who has given up practicing conversion therapy.

“Yes, the laws need to be there, but we need to get the word out to people who think differently from us,” Shurka said.

Unfortunately, Brinton doesn’t expect that conversion therapy will “go away anytime soon.” Although Exodus International shut down four years ago, that organization would be rebuilt as Restored Hope Network, which holds an annual conference to promote conversion therapy. Love in Action doesn’t exist anyone, but that’s because it rebranded itself as Restoration Path.

JONAH may have been forced out of New Jersey, but Ferguson claimed that the center relocated to another state.

But Brinton hopes that his legislation will help parents make informed decisions, rather than relying on the false hope he claims conversion clinics peddle.

“If you’re a mother or a father and you see that your state is debating whether this practice should even be legal,” he said, “maybe you shouldn’t be putting your child through conversion therapy.”

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All hail Dave Chappelle: The true king of comedy returns, just in time

Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle (Credit: Netflix)

Netflix released two new Dave Chappelle stand-up comedy specials on Tuesday morning. “The Age of Spin: Dave Chappelle Live at The Hollywood Palladium” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas: Dave Chappelle Live at Austin City Limits” are two-thirds of the output from Chappelle’s reported $60 million deal with the online streaming platform.

Most know Chappelle from Comedy Central’s “Chappelle’s Show,” a cool, creative mix of stand-up and sketch comedy featuring Chappelle and other comedians poking fun at issues related to celebrity, culture, politics and a range of social justice issues. The show, which premiered in 2003 and aired for two full seasons and one truncated final run of “lost” episodes, was an instant classic, leaving us with countless quotes that still get tossed around, including his iconic Rick James impersonation.

We thought we’d have Dave on Comedy Central forever, which is why it was so surprising when he walked away from a $50 million dollar deal with the network in 2005. Rumors swirled about mental illness or drugs, but Chappelle later linked his decision to a loss of creative control.

When Chappelle sat down for an interview with Gayle King on “CBS This Morning” on Monday, King pointed out that his decision to leave Comedy Central in 2005 was “so much bigger than money.” He responded with a nature analogy.

“I watched one of these nature shows one time, and they were talking about how a Bushman finds water when it’s scarce,” he told King. “And they do what’s called a salt trap. I didn’t know this; apparently baboons love salt. So they put a lump of salt in the hole and they wait for a baboon. The baboon comes, sticks his hand in the hole, grabs the salt, the salt makes his hand bigger and he’s trapped, can’t get his hand out.”

The baboon, Chappelle said, is placed in a cage and given “all the salt he wants” until it becomes thirsty.

“The first place the baboon runs to is water, the Bushman follows him, and they both drink to their fill,” Chappelle said. “In that analogy, I felt like the baboon, but I was smart enough to let go of the salt.”

Chappelle also talked to King about how his decision to walk away helped him find peace in Africa and develop a more meaningful relationship with his family. That sounds like the Dave I’ve loved since his “Half Baked” days.

I can’t believe Chappelle sat the whole Barack Obama era out and wasn’t even active during the rise of transracial Rachel Dolezal: Where would she have been placed in the racial draft? But he’s back now, and I can highly recommend both of these specials. Chappelle delivers the realness of Chris Rock mixed with George Carlin-style insight, and that extra edge that is his alone, from calling Bill Cosby “the Steph Curry of rape” to explaining his inability to believe that transgender people have surpassed African-Americans in the race to equality.

Some of the content is more provocative than a Donald Trump sound bite. The difference is that Chappelle is a comedian telling jokes and, well, Trump is the president, giving us new reasons every day to look for humor. With four years ahead of more fake news, easy targets like Uncle Ben Carson and the new-and-improved Glenn Beck, not to mention the hyper-right-wing pundits like Tomi Lahren and Alex Jones who seem more like comedians than journalists, we’re going to need it.

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Whitney Biennial 2017: Kamasi Washington collaboration is first among the big, the boundless and the beautiful

2016 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival - Weekend 2 - Day 3

Kamasi Washington (Credit: Getty/Mike Windle)

The Whitney Biennial is a survey of contemporary American art held every other year that serves to shape tastes and trends. The show has played a part in bringing artists like Jackson Pollock and Jeff Koons to prominence and it is billed as the place to find the next of their ilk — the next household name, the next big thing.

On Friday, the 78th installment of the show launched and runs until June 11. And the through line among the works is bigness: towering paintings, engulfing screens, walls covered not by one piece of faux bologna but by hundreds. It’s unclear what the next big thing in art will be, but it is clear that that thing will quite literally be big.    

The piece attached to the biggest name in the show is no exception. The Los Angeles tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, who in 2015 rose to national prominence on the back of a Kendrick Lamar collaboration and the release of a sprawling, three-hour-long debut album called “The Epic,” has been given a room, three flat screens and a projector to display his latest work. Though the literal space that Washington’s piece, “Harmony of Difference,” occupies is small compared to some of the other works on display — a shooting guard amongst centers — figuratively there was nothing bigger.  

“Harmony of Difference” is a 37-minute jazz suite divided into six parts. The first five parts (“Desire,” “Humility,” “Knowledge,” “Perspective” and “Integrity”) are accompanied by videos of Afrocentric paintings made by Washington’s sister, and they are projected on the flat screens. Each painting features a different color palette and is paired with a part of the suite. The camera zooms and pans over different parts of the canvases.

The idea underlying the suite, per its description, is to explore “the philosophical possibilities of the musical technique known as counterpoint.” Washington defines counterpoint as “the art of harmony between separate melodies” and says he hopes “that witnessing the beautiful harmony created by merging different musical melodies will help people realize the beauty in our own differences.”       

This notion is most apparent in the last part of the suite, “Truth.” The projector comes on and displays magnificent scenes of life in Los Angeles: a mother and her son laughing on their couch, two young men wrestling on a field, a woman standing on the beach. The scenes are of the everyday, but they’re imbued with a mystical weight. The boy cups the universe in his hand. The men are wrestling amid rose pedals. Movements are slowed, the picture definition is ethereal, the lighting celestial.

The videos that accompany the suite were directed by A.G. Rojas, a versatile and zealous music video director who was born in Barcelona and raised in Los Angeles. Rojas’s best-known work is the noxious video for the Odd Future song “Earl,” which helped construct the rap collective’s mythos. The video for “Truth” could not be more different. Where the “Earl” video was grotesque and insolent, the “Truth” video is brazenly beautiful. Where the “Earl” video pointed a middle finger at death, the “Truth” video marvels at life.

Rojas’s video captures the simultaneous intimacy and grandeur in Washington’s music. The cinematography — particularly the just-past-sunset sheen — recalls Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” and Kahlil Joseph’s “m.A.A.d.” And a couple of the shots allude to “Daughters of the Dust.” Like in those films, the smallest details tell the stories of lives. Certain characters and imagery cycle back and become memory. The way Rojas intertwines these clips with mystical shots of the wider galaxy is sublime and deeply affecting.

There are a number of reasons why Kamasi Washington rather than his equally skilled contemporaries broke through and became a mainstream sensation. His work with Lamar, his exotic garb and his representing a burgeoning scene (Los Angeles jazz) were all factors. But what I think really caused Washington to resonate beyond the jazz world is the way his music is at once intimate and grand. “Harmony of Difference” builds to a climax that is cosmic but that is as tender as wrapping an arm around another’s shoulder. Washington and Rojas evoke the biggest feelings — universal ones that resist articulation — by elevating the smallest moments to epic proportions.

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Lawyers for Ethan Couch, “affluenza” teen, say court had no right to sentence him


Ethan Couch is the rich Texas teenager who got away with killing four people in a 2013 car accident while intoxicated on alcohol and Valium by arguing that he had “affluenza,” a fictitious psychological condition that is really just a cover for being spoiled and unaccountable. In April, he was sentenced to a 720-day jail term after he was caught violating his 10-year probation by appearing at a party where alcohol was served, and then fleeing to Mexico with his mother to evade authorities (he claimed being sent back to America violated his human rights).

Now his lawyers are trying to get him out of jail again.

Lawyers working for Couch have filed a motion claiming that the judge who sentenced him had no authority to do so, according to the Associated Press. Their argument is that the judge only had jurisdiction over criminal cases and that, because Couch’s situation involved a matter from when he was a juvenile, it should have been considered a civil case.

When State District Judge Wayne Salvant sentenced Couch, he told him “you’re not getting out of jail.” He then imposed four consecutive 180-day sentences for each of the four people who were killed by Couch’s intoxicated driving in 2013.

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