Donald Trump is freezing out National Security Council experts: report

Michael Flynn

(Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is stacking the National Security Council with friends of the Trump administration in a move insiders fear will create a wall between President Trump and the intelligence community.

Flynn’s appointments — announced Thursday, according to a Politico report — include David Cattler, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official; John Eisenberg, a former Justice Department official; Kenneth Juster, a former Commerce and State Department official; and Kevin Harrington, a former managing director and head of research for the global macro hedge fund Thiel Macro LLC — which was owned by Trump friend Peter Thiel.

Cattler will specialize in regional affairs, Eisenberg will be the NSC’s top legal adviser, Juster will oversee economic policy, and Harrington will be in charge of strategic planning.

All four of these new appointments have the title of deputy assistant to the president.

A White House spokesman told Politico that the goal was to reduce the size of Flynn’s staff so as to “run a very precise and orderly and quick process,” but multiple sources told Politico that staffers that they were concerned this organization structure will lead to an insular policymaking process within the White House.

This isn’t the first time that reports have leaked about federal staffers and policymakers being displeased with how the Trump administration is conducting himself. Many talk with Obama’s recently-departed personnel over how they can resist the president’s initiatives or created social media accounts to anonymously leak their dissatisfaction with the new president’s policies and actions, according to a report by The Washington Post on Tuesday. These developments among State Department employees prompted Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, to say that they “should either get with the program, or they can go.”

 

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What came before “Daughters of the Dust”: A new series focuses on little-known works from black female filmmakers

Daughters of the Dust

“Daughters of the Dust” (Credit: Cohen Media Group)

The paradox of groundbreakers — the artists who shatter barriers — is that their work is often at once ahead of their time and long overdue.

Take for instance the work of the writer and filmmaker Julie Dash. In 1991, Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust,” a film about the conflict within a Gullah family surrounding the move north during the Great Migration, became the first film directed by a black woman to garner a theatrical release. Despite the film’s success at the box office during its limited 1992 New York run — the film packed theaters and brought busloads of black women from throughout the tristate region into the city — many critics misunderstood the film and Hollywood rejected Dash.

“One agency told me I had no future,” Dash reflected in an interview last year. “Another company, a mini major, said [‘Daughters’] was a fluke.”

Now 25 years after the film’s release, “Daughters” is experiencing a renaissance. “Selma” director Ava Duvernay has cited the film and Dash as a vital influence. Last year Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” video made subtle allusion to the film when she donned a Victorian white dress similar to the ones worn by the women in the film. Later in the year, “Daughters” was restored and rereleased at New York’s Film Forum. And the film’s restoration and rerelease has inspired a series, “One Way or Another: Black Women’s Cinema, 1970-1991,” appearing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music beginning Feb. 3.

Rather than reflect on the impact that “Daughters” has had on the films made by black women that have come in its wake, “One Way or Another” highlights works that influenced and paved the way for “Daughters.” “We wanted to look at women’s work that had come prior to ‘Daughters of the Dust,’ because I think people think this work just comes out of nowhere,” said Michelle Materre, who works as director of media studies and films at the New School and has served as one of the series’ programmers. “What people have attributed as an overnight discovery was in fact a long-term history of extraordinary women working as directors and producers behind the scenes.”

In curating the series, Materre and her colleagues gave priority to the most rarely seen films — many of which would not be possible to screen without modern advances in restoration technology. “We hope to bring attention to the work that precedes ‘Daughters’ because of the need to preserve and restore a lot [more] of it,” she said.

What emerges throughout the series is a daring, thought-provoking and often avant-garde alternative time capsule of the 1970s and 1980s,shown through characters and stories rarely seen on screen. “Daughters” eschews plot for the poetry of the everyday during an inflection point in the lives of a family within a Gullah community. And similarly, many of the films in the series forgo not only the faces typically seen in Hollywood motion pictures but also the storytelling conventions and tropes.

Daughters of the Dust
A still from “Daughters of the Dust”

Despite the varying approaches to filmmaking on view in “One Way or Another,” several themes recur. “There are a couple of films that focus around representation of women’s images in the media and body image and self-awareness,” Matratre said. “Then there are some that look at urban youth. They depict some of the same issues that occur today for our urban youth, such as lack of quality education, lack of access to health care, lack of access to after school and arts programming. And the films highlight the importance of the moving image in impacting body images, particularly for audiences of color and underrepresented communities.”

The series is ostensibly timed to coincide with Black History Month. But it also arrives amid awards season, providing a reminder that though this year’s field of Oscar nominees is more diverse than the fields of the past two years, Hollywood remains sorely lacking in female directors of color — and female directors in general. (No female directors were nominated for directing awards this year.)  

Dash’s career is a testament to the influence that representation and access can have on aspiring minority filmmakers. Sheryl Gripper, who runs the Black Women Film Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preparing and preserving untold stories, told me that Dash inspired her in her pursuit of filmmaking. “I’d worked at an NBC affiliate for 29 years and she came in to be interviewed about the film and she wrote a little card of encouragement to me, just as a person who was an aspiring filmmaker,” Gripper recalled. “It said, ‘Congratulations, filmmaker.’ I just couldn’t believe it. I’m like, ‘Julie Dash is calling me a filmmaker!’”

Today Dash sees Ava Duvernay playing a similar role. “In six months’ time, Ava Duvernay has done more to advance women filmmakers than Hollywood has done in 100 years,” Dash said in a WNYC interview late last year. “She hired women directors to direct the entire [‘Queen Sugar’] series — black women, white women, Asian women — six months, changed the landscape.”

Daughters of the Dust
A still from “Daughters of the Dust”

Gripper, Dash and Materre have each said they are encouraged by the opportunities that Duvernay, technology and growing consciousness are creating. But none of them has illusions that the battle has been won. “It’s ongoing,” Materre said, referring to the process of opening of more opportunities for women filmmakers of color. “It’s not an overnight thing. This is who we are, this is where our talent comes from. And there’s need for it, given where we are, socially in this country, particularly as of January 20th.”

While a more inclusive cinematic future will take time, patience, and relentless work, “One Way or Another” brings a more inclusive past to the present instantaneously. And that, too, is a feat worth heralding.

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Don’t call them inspirational: “Looking at the Stars” chronicles the determination of blind ballerinas in Brazil

Looking at the Stars

A still from “Looking at the Stars” (Credit: Alexandre Peralta)

The lovely, heartfelt documentary “Looking at the Stars,” playing at the Dance on Camera film festival in New York City this Friday, profiles dancers from the Fernanda Bianchini Ballet Association for the Blind in São Paolo. Currently, the school enrolls 300 students. Sixty percent are blind or visually impaired. Thirty percent have other disabilities and 10 percent have no disability.

Geyza Pereira, who has been sightless since age 9, was one of the school’s first students. She has since danced on stages in Brazil and become a teacher at the school. One of her pupils, Thalia Macedo, a teenager, is also featured prominently in the film.

Director Alexandre Peralta spent four years making the documentary, having completed a short film version in 2014. While “Looking at the Stars” has some fabulous dance sequences, it is equally strong in showing the quotidian aspects of his subjects’ lives. Scenes depicting Geyza and Thalia rehearsing and performing are contrasted with episodes of Thalia taking a walk or Geyza cooking and washing the dishes.

What emerges is a nuanced portrait of these women, who grapple with independence and insecurity. “Looking at the Stars” is less an inspirational story of overcoming disability and prejudices, and more about the discipline and determination of these fine young dancers.

Peralta chatted with Salon about his documentary.

 You started this film by making a short about Geyza and the school a few years back. How did you discover her, and why did you want to make a film about her?

I found out about the school first. I’m from Brazil, and I went to college in São Paolo. In my last year of college — I was studying advertising and marketing, not film — a friend of mine read about the school and said we had to make a film about it. I later realized I walked by the school every day on my way home from college; I lived two blocks away.

The school sounded so fascinating. I wanted to know what this place was. I went there in 2012 and someone told me about Geyza. I decided I wasn’t going to make a film about her, but when I saw her, she had this posture. There was a light on her, and she was incredible. Then I saw her dancing and teaching, and there was no way I could not make a film about her.

Can you talk about your approach to the subject? “Looking at the Stars” is not an “inspirational” story of overcoming disability. It’s a very realistic documentary about these women whose lives are enhanced by dance.

The first time I saw them dancing, there was something about them which was more interesting. Not that the dance is not interesting, but once you know the back story, the dance becomes more powerful. We wanted to show the similarities between Thalia and Geyza. I wanted subjects you got to know — not only their challenges as blind people, but also as humans. That was the idea. It’s one thing to film them onstage or at the school, but being part of their lives, we were very lucky to get the access we did.

The young women balance life and dance. How did you assemble the film to maintain this delicate balance?

The whole process was very organic, and it felt right. We were not looking to make the performance more important than it actually was. I wanted to make it a parallel. The performance is doing something important for the school. There is this choreography and there is pressure, but they are changing in their lives, too.

It was about having this balance; their home life is affected by ballet and ballet is affected by their home life. We were tempted to make a “performance” movie because it’s simpler and easier; you see their challenges and their success. But the turns Geyza’s life took influenced how we structured the film. You understand the first hour how important ballet is for her [and Thalia]. So in the last act, you really feel their emotions.

Geyza explains that she “transforms herself through dance.” I thought it was a beautiful expression. Can you talk about that?

I think, as she says, ballet saved her. She lived in the mortheast of Brazil, in a rural area, and she gets sick and loses her sight at the age of 9. A month after that, she learns to dance with Fernanda, and in a way, ballet replaced her sight. That is how she sees the world now. It’s an important part of her life. Things change, but she will do everything she can to dance. She’s nothing without dance.

Thalia says she is “more goofy than delicate.” I like that she is not aspiring to dance professionally, but does it more for love. What observations do you have about her character?

Thalia was one of Geyza’s students. She came in late to the class, and I felt there’s something about this girl! I wanted to know more about her. She has a charisma and a personality. She doesn’t need to say much and you really like her. She was having fun [dancing] but she’s very shy — though she doesn’t seem that way in the movie.

It was a process to get to know her and get her to open up, but she is very relatable. She’s really a teenager who goes through the same challenges teenagers do. She might not become a dancer. She may find another path. She wants to do what she likes.

Looking at The Stars

There is a key sequence where Sandra, Thalia’s mother, talks about accepting her daughter’s blindness. What can you say about including Sandra’s perspective?

One of the important aspects of the school are the moms, who are there every day supporting the kids. What happens in Brazil is that mothers give up their jobs to raise kids. So they are in the school and they wait the whole day. They do makeup and costumes for the performances. They are very important. There wouldn’t be a school without the moms.

I wanted to get to know one of the moms. Sandra is very honest. She is realistic, and that’s what I liked about her. Her relationship with Thalia is so beautiful; it’s like Fernanda and Geyza’s relationship. Thalia’s story is so complicated. It made sense to have a mother there.

I love Thalia’s comment that “change comes from them” in response to how prejudices towards disabled people are broken by those that hold the prejudices. It is, Thalia feels, more important for others to acknowledge her than for her to have to concede to others. What can you say about how “Looking at the Stars” addresses this point?

I heard from other girls in the company that people are almost afraid to approach them. [Able-bodied] folks don’t realize that people with disabilities are aware they are not getting attention in situations like [when they are] waiting to cross the street — where they hear people walking, but no one stops to help them. It’s that feeling [of being] ignored; that’s where a lot of the prejudice comes from. Disabled people are just like us and have the same challenges.

These dancers don’t have their sight. They still have to do the same things we all do. We followed another dancer, who talked to us about prejudices. Geyza didn’t because Geyza is so grateful for what she has. Thalia is upset, but she’s confident about who she is, and that’s how ballet helps her. She has this community and knows people are there for her and she can be herself. She’s a regular teenager.

Looking at The Stars

Can you talk about capturing moments of each dancer’s independence and insecurity?

One moment that surprised me — talking about insecurity — was when Geyza gets a serious boyfriend. She said she didn’t think he would like her. She feels she is lucky to have this guy in her life, and you would think it would be the other way around. She’s an independent woman, dancing, and earning a living. So why does she need to “serve” this guy? But that’s part of [women’s roles in] Brazilian society. She can take care of herself, but she is not sure she can take care of someone else.

On that same note, there is an image Geyza has of ballerinas being “perfect.” Yet your film shows that imperfection is fine, too. Can you talk about this idea of perfection?

I think that in a way, that’s what makes the performance fascinating. It’s not about disability; it’s about putting on a good performance. That’s the focus. I don’t want people applauding because they are blind. I want people applauding because they are good dancers. Talking about perfection is Geyza’s arc. In the beginning she’s perfect, and that’s what she wants to be. But by the end, it’s OK for her to dance and not be perfect, but to be happy. There’s this image of perfection she’s trying to achieve by dancing. But ultimately, it’s more about the feeling she has dancing.

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Don’t believe the spin: Donald Trump will absolutely use the White House to attack LGBT rights

Donald Trump

(Credit: Getty/Chip Somodevilla/Salon)

It was a master class in spin. Internal documents leaked to the press earlier this week indicated that the Trump administration is considering rolling back former president Barack Obama’s 2014 executive order barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for all federal contractors. Sources within the White House claimed that  Trump would announce an order nullifying those protections at this week’s National Prayer Breakfast, scheduled for Thursday.

When asked about rumors that Trump would take aim at LGBT nondiscrimination, press secretary Sean Spicer was mum on the subject. “I’m not getting ahead of the executive orders that we may or may not issue,” he said during a Monday press conference.

But in an email to NBC News, Spicer’s deputy press secretary, Stephanie Gresham, appeared to deny reports that Trump would specifically target the LGBT community next. In his first week as president, the POTUS signed orders halting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, vowed to direct federal funding to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and pledged his intent to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would also have a devastating impact on LGBT people, particularly transgender women and HIV-positive individuals.

To the relief of many, Gresham said that LGBT people were not on the White House’s proverbial hit list. “As Sean said in the briefing today — we don’t want to get ahead of the [executive orders and actions] that are coming, but [countermanding new LGBT rights] isn’t the plan at this time,” she wrote.

In a press release, the White House underscored what was described as Trump’s history as an advocate for the LGBT rights. “The president is proud to have been the first ever GOP nominee to mention the LGBT community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression,” the White House press office asserted. “The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBT workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact at the direction of President Donald J. Trump.”

That statement would appear to be a much-needed nugget of good news during a week that’s been extremely devastating for millions of Americans who are worried about their safety and citizenship under the new administration. The problem is that it simply isn’t true: LGBT people have every reason to be terrified of Trump’s presidential pen.

The Trump administration may choose to save face with the LGBT community by refusing to gut protections for federal workers passed under the Obama administration. As Slate’s Ian Thompson reported, Obama’s 2014 executive order protects 1 in 5 Americans from being fired on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and those federal guidelines are supported by a steadily increasing majority of Americans. The Human Rights Campaign found in 2015 that two-thirds of U.S. citizens believe that it should be illegal to terminate workers based on who they are or whom they love.

The executive order of 2014 amounted to merely a step forward from previous administrations. Former president Bill Clinton extended protection to federal workers against discrimination based on sexual orientation and Barack Obama added protection against bias on the basis of gender identity. Although the 2014 order was initially opposed vociferously by those of religious right — who fought for a faith-based exemption — there has been little sustained backlash since it was put into place. Trump may simply elect not to die on a hill that’s not even there.

That will not, however, stop the current president from using his executive position to chip away at other protections for the LGBT community. Numerous stratagems were rumored to be under consideration this week. LGBTQ Nation reported that a Trump order could affect adoption rights for same-sex couples and social service agencies that offer support and care to the LGBT community. Further speculation suggested that the current administration would not restaff the Office of National AIDS Policy and might eliminate the White House’s official liaison for the LGBT community, a position created by the Obama administration.

Another policy that will likely be under attack is the federal guidelines issued by the justice and education departments that mandate equal access for transgender students in bathrooms and locker rooms in schools, from kindergarten through grade 12. Vice President Mike Pence, who passed a law while governor of Indiana making it legal for businesses to deny service to the LGBT community, has claimed that the incoming administration plans to repeal those regulations.

The real reason that the White House statement is so suspect is that Trump simply doesn’t need an executive order to take aim at federal protections for LGBT employees. The president has already stated his support for the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that will be reintroduced in Congress this year. Legislation previously co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, would give private employers and individuals the right to deny services, housing and even health care to LGBT people based on personal opposition to marriage between same-sex couples. On his campaign website, Trump pledged to pass this act. Jennifer Pizer of Lambda Legal further pointed out that the POTUS could sign an executive order along these lines while claiming that the policy isn’t intended to harm LGBT people.

“They may present something as a religious freedom order while denying that it’s about anti-LGBT discrimination,” said Pizer, who serves as the national LGBT legal group’s law and policy director. “That is certainly the position that Mike Pence tried to maintain when he was the governor of Indiana, which he did not do effectively. That stance would be a way for the White House to profess that they would be seeking to expand religious liberty for everyone.”

After Pence, as Indiana’s governor, signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law in 2015, he appeared on ABC’s “This Week,” a political news show hosted by George Stephanopoulos. The host grilled Pence on whether the legislation, which led to a $60 million boycott of the state, would be used to target the LGBT community for discrimination. Pence refused to answer the question numerous times. Instead he argued that the media had lied about the act’s intent with “shameless rhetoric about my state and this law.”

“The issue here is: Is tolerance a two-way street or not?” Pence asked. “There’s a lot of talk about tolerance in this country having to do with people on the left. Here Indiana steps forward to protect the constitutional rights and privileges of freedom of religion for people of faith in our state, and this avalanche of intolerance that’s been poured on our state is outrageous.”

Ilona Turner, legal director for the Transgender Law Center, claimed that any executive order along the lines of the Indiana bill, which is a virtual clone of the First Amendment Defense Act, would likely violate “both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause.” Ratified in 1868 as part of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause guarantees “the equal protection of the laws” for all Americans. (Most famously, that clause led to the desegregation of public schools brought about in Brown v. Board of Education and could apply here.)

“We will be looking for options to challenge” the order, Turner said.

But in the meantime, any federal attack on the rights of LGBT workers — whether accomplished by executive order or legislative action — stands to have a dire impact on queer and transgender people. Recent estimates from Gallup estimate that 10 million Americans identify as LGBT. Despite surveys showing that a majority of Americans believe it’s already against the law to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, that practice remains legal in 28 states, including North Carolina, Mississippi and Texas.

Although Trump billed himself as a “friend to the gays” during the 2016 election, he ran on a staunchly anti-LGBT platform — threatening to discard marriage rights for same-sex couples if elected. Unfortunately, too many people didn’t believe that he was serious about that pledge, and it’s members of the LGBT community who will pay the price.

“We’re now seeing the transition from reality TV to reality,” Pizer said. “Things that many people dismissed as attention-getting, outrageous comments for purposes of dominating the news cycle have been now turned into policy in a way that many voters were not expecting. Mike Pence and [White House senior strategist] Steve Bannon are driving a considerable amount of the agenda, and that has to be alarming for the LGBT community. An enormous number of people stand to be terribly harmed if this isn’t stopped.”

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Insurers shrink from Obamacare exchanges as lawmakers mull changes

obamacare_screen

(Credit: healthcare.gov)

The Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges have become too risky for major health insurers, and that’s creating further doubt about coverage options consumers might have next year.

Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish said Wednesday his company is waiting to see whether the government makes some short-term fixes to the shaky exchanges before it decides how much it will participate next year. The Blue Cross-Blue Shield carrier is the nation’s second largest insurer and sells coverage on exchanges in 14 states.

This is a separate and more immediate concern for consumers beyond whether the ACA will continue to exist. Congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump have vowed to repeal and replace the law. Republicans have promised they won’t strand those now covered under the program, but they also haven’t detailed their replacement plan.

Even if parts of the law continue to exist in some form, as many expect, the insurance exchanges through which millions have bought coverage are in peril. Swedish told Wall Street analysts during a conference call that if Anthem doesn’t see stability in the exchanges heading into next year, “then we will begin making some very conscious decisions with respect to extracting ourselves.”

The enrollment window for 2018 coverage is still several months away, but insurers have to decide by this spring whether they will participate.

Aetna, the nation’s third largest insurer, said Tuesday that it will announce by April 1 whether it will stay in any of the four states where it currently sells coverage. Aetna said it lost $450 million last year on its ACA-compliant coverage — a big hit from a small slice of its overall business.

The losses that insurers have taken on coverage sold on these state-based exchanges in recent years have already prompted some to scale back their participation or raise rates, in some cases dramatically. The higher prices and dwindling choices have made the markets unappealing for many consumers.

Insurers say they’ve struggled to attract young, healthy customers to their risk pools to help keep premium increases in check. They also say they’ve been hurt by expensive customers who use special enrollment periods to sign up for coverage only when they need help paying big medical bills.

Swedish, the Anthem CEO, said Wednesday that his company has had extensive talks with Congressional leaders. Anthem would like to see fewer special enrollment periods and better verification of patients who are eligible, as well as the repeal of a health insurance tax and other fixes.

“While the direction in Washington has been positive, we still need certainty about short-term fixes in order to determine the extent of our participation in the individual market in 2018,” he said.

Swedish said he’s hopeful their recommendations for changes are being looked at carefully, and the insurer is being “very vigilant” about evaluating the markets.

“We will make the right decisions to protect the business with respect to moving into next year,” he said.

Separately, Tennessee insurance commissioner Julie McPeak told a US Senate panel Wednesday that Congress needs to send the industry a clear signal by March to avoid disrupting the individual health insurance market for 2018.

“You need to provide some indication to plans as a quickly as possible,” she told the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.

Representatives of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment on the exchanges.

___

Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

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Trump’s brain drain: The president’s Muslim ban is causing scientists to think about moving to Canada

Donald Trump

(Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump’s ban on Muslim immigration may weaken America in an area that has normally been one of its greatest strengths — the science and technology sectors.

“Social media is now full of people saying we should not schedule conferences in, or I am not sure I want to attend a conference in such a country,” former Rep. Rush Holt, D-New Jersey, told Mashable. Holt currently serves as CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). “I think it does raise serious science issues. Freedom to collaborate in person, to attend conferences in person, to communicate is a fundamental ingredient of good science. And particularly in this age of wide-ranging collaboration, geographically-speaking.”

In addition to concerns about scientists not wanting to travel to predominantly Muslim countries, there is also the fact that so many of America’s scientists and engineers are immigrants. A report by the National Science Foundation in 2013 found that 16 percent of American scientists and engineers are immigrants; of these, 22 percent were permanent residents and 15 percent were temporary visa holders, while the majority had been naturalized.

What’s more, because there is a deficit between the number of open computing jobs and the number of college graduates with computer science degrees (500,000 to 43,000), many high-skilled foreign workers are temporarily employed by American companies using non-immigrant visas known as H-1B visas. President Trump is expected to change this with an executive order that will make it harder for these immigrants to work in the United States.

Finally, there is the special status that Iran — one of the countries impacted by Trump’s Muslim ban — has had as a fertile breeding ground for American technological innovation.

“Iranian-Americans founded or hold leadership positions at Twitter, Dropbox, Oracle, Expedia, eBay, and Tinder,” writes Kaveh Waddell of The Atlantic on Wednesday. “Top venture capitalists like Shervin Pishevar, Pejman Nozad, and brothers Ali and Hadi Partovi, all of whom invest millions of dollars in technology startups, were born in Tehran.”

Although many of these Iranians are naturalized citizens and thus shouldn’t be prevented from entering the United States, those who are here on student visas or work visas may feel afraid that if they leave America they will be unable to return.

Perhaps this explains why Sergey Brin, who co-founded Google and who fled Russia with his family in 1979 to escape anti-Semitic persecution, joined a protest at San Francisco International Airport against Trump’s Muslim ban. It seems he is expressing the views of many of America’s other science and technology titans.

 

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WATCH: Trump, Boy Scouts of America offer unlikely support of LGBTQ community

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The White House announced on Tuesday that it intends to uphold protections for those in the LGBTQ community working for federal contractors. This is a surprising shift for Republicans, President Trump’s party.

“The president is proud to have been the first ever GOP (Republican) nominee to mention the LGBTQ community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression,” reads an official White House statement.

After a controversial first week in office, President Trump has already received a lot of criticism. Following through on his promise to protect the LGBTQ community could help paint him in a more positive light.

The announcement comes at a time when the Boy Scouts of America said the organization will now be accepting transgender boys. The original policy determined eligibility based off the gender stated on someone’s birth certificate.

“Starting today, we will accept and register youth in the Cub and Boy Scout programs based on the gender identity indicated on the application,” Effie Delimarkos, Boy Scouts of America communications director, wrote in an email.

The organization allowed gay males to become scout leaders just two years ago, one year after opening the program up to LGBT youth. Trump’s Secretary of State pick Rex Tillerson has been a longtime proponent of lifting the LGBT ban in the Boy Scouts of America.

These are landmark steps for a group that has been marginalized throughout history. It will be interesting to see how Tillerson and Trump will protect and support the rights of the LGBTQ community in the coming years.

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“Queer Eye” won’t make America gay again: Why rebooting the hit makeover show isn’t the healing Trumpland needs

Queer Eye Hosts

Cast members of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” Sept. 11, 2005. (Credit: AP/Kevork Djansezian)

Netflix wants to make America gay again. The streaming service announced this week that it will be rebooting “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” the short-lived reality program that aired on Bravo from 2003 to 2007. The onetime cultural phenomenon features five gay men (known as the “Fab Five”) giving a hapless straight slob a makeover. In a fairly tone-deaf press release, Netflix argued that the show’s revival is just what the doctor ordered to heal an uncertain America divided by the Trump administration’s aggressive anti-LGBT bigotry.

“A team of five brave men will try to bring us closer together with laughter, heart, and just the right amount of moisturizer,” Netflix said. “With a new Fab Five and the show’s toughest missions to date, ‘Queer Eye’ moves from the Big Apple to turn the Red States pink — one makeover at a time.”

Netflix, which has recently rebooted “Full House” and “Gilmore Girls” to presumptively massive ratings (the service doesn’t report viewership), has perhaps overestimated how much the LGBT community would embrace a revival of the controversial reality program. The show, whose title was shortened to “Queer Eye” in its third season, was often accused of trafficking in gay stereotypes, perpetuating the idea that queer men are swishy fashionistas who are ready to knock down your kitchen wall and turn it into a breakfast nook. Even Thom Filicia, the show’s interior design guru, once claimed that the show would seem fairly “passé” by today’s standards.

That’s somewhat of an understatement. What’s puzzling about Netflix’s decision to bring back the show — which will feature a new cast — is why the company felt that this was the story that needed to be told about LGBT people in 2017, a year in which the queer community faces the greatest threats to its rights and dignity in decades. The show is better than many give it credit for, but “Queer Eye” is nonetheless irrelevant in speaking to the needs of today’s viewers.

It’s difficult to remember in the era of “Orange Is the New Black” and “Glee” (when you can’t throw a rock without hitting a queer person on TV), what a massive and singular cultural phenomenon the show was in 2003. “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” which won the Emmy for Outstanding Reality Program in 2004, was second to only “The Osbournes” in cable ratings. The show was spoofed by “South Park” and popular enough to spawn a remarkably offensive Comedy Central parody, “Straight Plan for the Gay Man.”

President George W. Bush even name-checked the show during the 2004 Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner, quipping that the reality stars should come give his Cabinet a makeover. “Do you know what Rummy’s favorite TV show is?” he asked attendees. “‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.’”

That mainstream cachet earned the show a great deal of criticism from the LGBT community for what many argued was a minstrel portrayal of gay life.

“The joke’s on the gay men — and it’s a fairly cruel joke the audience participates in,” wrote the Socialist Worker’s Nicole Colson in 2003, adding, “The producers selected five living stereotypes to stick in front of the cameras, replete with stylish clothes, good hair, money to burn, and plenty of catty wit and sexual innuendo. The show [reinforces] the prevalent idea that all gay people are upper middle class white men with money to burn — despite the fact that most gays and lesbians are working class.”

All these criticisms are absolutely true. One of the most distasteful aspects about the show is that it defines  acceptance of queer people as being contingent on their serving the needs of heterosexuals, instead of arguing that LGBT folks deserve respect on their own terms. In “Queer Eye,” gay people are defined by consumption — their knowledge of designer brands like Marc Jacobs and Diesel. On the face of it, the show reinforces the notion that queer men are your florists, interior designers and personal shoppers, not your friends, neighbors and people whose humanity is defined by who they are, not what they can do for you.

But “Queer Eye” is perhaps gentler and more nuanced than its critics suggest. The show, which debuted a year before Massachusetts became the first state to grant same sex couples the right to marriage, found the humanity underneath its stereotypes. If gay men were often portrayed as bitter and cutting — ready with a savage putdown — the Bravo show killed tired clichés with kindness.

“Their Gaylord air is cut with affection and generosity; their ebullience is sprightly rather than hysterical,” the Village Voice’s Richard Goldstein wrote in a defense of the show after its divisive debut.

You know the setup of “Queer Eye” by now: The Fab Five arrive at the home of a slovenly heterosexual and root through his belongings, gasping in horror at the man’s hole-in-the-crotch boxers and cargo shorts. But while shows like “What Not to Wear” operate with an undercurrent of disdain, there’s a real affection here between the cadre of lifestyle experts and their subjects. For instance, the “makeovers” are referred to as “make betters,” befitting the “Queer Eye” ethos of self-improvement.

In the show’s premiere, the team assists Brian Schepel, an artist who sports overalls and a Unabomber ponytail. Carson Kressley, the group’s fashion adviser, helps him pick out a wardrobe that better expresses his personality, rather than forcing him to dress like a West Hollywood go-go boy. Brian opts for Lucky Brand jeans and a plaid shirt, more of an upgrade than a total fashion rehab.

The mixed reaction to “Queer Eye” was as much about the discomfort (even among members of the LGBT community), with seeing effeminate men portrayed on television as it was the show’s actual limitations. Kressley instantly became the program’s breakout star as well as its easiest target — a Paul Lynde type with a Visa black card in hand. He’s sassy, loud and sex obsessed, coyly peeking into the dressing rooms of its straight charity cases while they undress. But the reason for his sustained celebrity (he’s currently a host on “RuPaul’s Drag Race”) since the show ended isn’t because his flamboyance is comforting to straight audiences. It’s that he’s really funny.

As Kressley has insisted, his flamboyance is a natural expression of who he is as a person. He isn’t playing it up for camp. “We’re not cartoonish, and we’re not pretending to be super-gay or super-straight or whatever,” Kressley told The Advocate in 2003. “We’re just being ourselves. I’m not going to make any excuses for who I am, and I don’t think any of these guys are either.”

If “Queer Eye” traffics in light deconstruction by taking stereotypes and making them human, clever and likable, that was extremely necessary at a time when many Americans knew very few LGBT people. In 2003 GLAAD’s annual “Where We Are Now on TV” report found that there were just five queer leads in all of prime-time television — a number that doubled when NBC opted to air reruns of the reality program. That visibility gave the Bravo show an opportunity to dispel myths about who gay men are, even if it seemed to many viewers to reinforce them.

How well it did so is up for debate. When TV host Andy Cohen asked the Fab Five in 2003 whether they felt the show had been good or bad for the LGBT community, they responded in unison, “Both.”

What purpose would “Queer Eye” serve in 2017, though? When it comes to busting stereotypes, today’s TV landscape is already doing that work better than its forebears ever imagined by simply showing queer people going about their lives — in all their messy, fully realized beauty. Amazon’s family dramedy “Transparent” portrays two generations of LGBT people, a transgender woman and her queer daughters, living at the intersections of identity and class privilege. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” the CW’s acclaimed musical-comedy, aired a song last season busting myths about male bisexuality, the Huey Lewis-influenced “Gettin’ Bi.”

If Netflix wants to help the LGBT community, why not give a platform to queer storytellers to further inclusive representation that speaks to where we are now? At the time of this writing, the popular streaming service only has one explicitly LGBT-themed show, the popular prison dramedy “Orange Is the New Black.”

In fact, television as a whole boasts few programs that centrally focus on LGBT characters. There’s MTV’s “Faking It,” a comedy about life at a progressive high school where the queer kids are popular and straight people are outcasts, and Freeform’s “The Fosters,” in which an interracial lesbian couple struggles to balance marriage with the responsibilities of taking care of children. Shows like “The New Normal” and “Looking” lasted just a handful of seasons between them, while cable television has yet to fill the vacancies left by Showtime’s “The L Word” and “Noah’s Arc,” the Logo show about gay black men living in Los Angeles.

It’s not just that Netflix can do more to further LGBT representation; in Trump’s America, it’s absolutely imperative to do so. Just today the 45th president announced that he intends to sign into law the First Amendment Defense Act, which would legalize discrimination against LGBT people in the name of “religious freedom.” His Cabinet, full of virulently anti-gay picks, is a threat to the safety and humanity of queer people at every level. When audiences can see that our stories matter, they are reminded that gay lives and our rights matter.

Despite its flaws, “Queer Eye” will always have its place in the canon as a groundbreaking show that opened the doors for more authentic representation on TV. But it’s far from the healing that Trumpland needs now.

Source: New feed