Month: December 2018

An Interview With the Stars of If Beale Street Could Talk

Stephan James and KiKi Layne play Fonny and Tish, two young lovers torn apart by Fonny’s false arrest, just as Tish finds out she’s pregnant. The film jumps through narratives, and we watch their love bloom at the same time we watch Tish’s family come together to face the terrible odds of getting Fonny free.

Nothing in If Beale Street Could Talk is new. Black love isn’t new. White cops wielding their power against marginalized populations isn’t new. Finding strength in vulnerability isn’t new. The many injustices of our justice system aren’t new. James Baldwin published If Beale Street Could Talk in 1974, and yet the combination of all these experiences—the love and the pain—manages to feel new in the hands of Moonlight director Barry Jenkins.

This isn’t James’s first time in a film that deals with such powerful themes. At 25, he’s already played icons Jesse Owens and John Lewis. But this is Layne’s first feature film, and next year she’ll be starring in another adaptation of a seminal work, Richard Wright’s Native Son. The two spoke about the beauty and urgency of Baldwin’s work, how Jenkins translated that to film, and how unfortunately timely and rare the film’s message is.

GQ: Before this, what was your relationship to James Baldwin’s work?

Stephan James: I had read The Fire Next Time a long time ago. I think I was more familiar with James as an activist, as a poet, but not necessarily his writing work. After I read the Beale Street screenplay for the first time, I went back and read the novel.

KiKi Layne: I hadn’t read any of his novels prior to this. I had just been familiar with all the different interviews and speeches he’d given. Beale Street was the first novel that I actually read, and I read it in preparation for my chemistry read. Since then I’ve read so much more. I mean, he’s definitely one of those authors you read one thing, and then you read everything.

What drew you to this movie? Was it just Baldwin’s story?

Layne: I just love that [Tish is] so vulnerable, and just all this love that’s around her. I thought that was so beautiful, how much Tish and Fonny love each other. I just felt like I hadn’t seen love like that for black people, where like you see these two young black people who are soul mates. That really drew me in, but then at the same time, because it’s James Baldwin, the way that he writes and speaks about all of these different injustices, and how beautifully all of that is interwoven with this really lovely love story… It’s amazing to me, the ability to speak about these really painful things but then still be so uplifted and invested in their love. I don’t know, I just think it’s so powerful how Baldwin and Barry, bringing it to film, were able to communicate these two stories in a way.

James: It was, for me, the prospect of working with James Baldwin and with Barry Jenkins, you know, that marriage. The both of them remind me of each other in a way, where they have this beautiful way of describing love and having an abundance of love amidst tragedy, and do it in such a poetic way. So the prospect of working with them, of working with Regina [King, who plays Tish’s mother], it was on, and it was something that was so important, something that I felt was so timely. I looked at Fonny and the ordeal he was going through, and right before finding out about this script I had learned about the Kalief Browder story. For me it was this full-circle moment where I thought to myself, “Wow, James Baldwin had written these words in 1974, but they mean so much now. They probably mean even more now.” I took it on almost like a responsibility to be the vessel to tell this type of story.

The story is unfortunately resonant almost 50 years after it was written. Why do you think now was the right time to tell it again?

James: James Baldwin has a way of describing our struggle and what we have always resorted to [in order] to get through those moments. Love is the biggest thing, right? Love and hope is how we’ve made it through the most tumultuous times, specifically for the African-American experience. You look at a system that has been made to protect you but has failed us time and time again. You have young men who are really having their innocence taken away from them before they get to realize who they even are as people. To me, just that timeliness and timelessness of the story struck me as important.

Layne: I think with social media, people are more aware of these injustices and have more stories and personal experiences and images that are related to a lot of the issues that we’re dealing with in the film. I think that helps to make it more powerful in this time, where you’re watching Fonny and you’re not just thinking about Fonny. You have all of these other images and men and stories that you could think about that are similar to what he is experiencing in the film. I think that’s what makes it really powerful this time, because I think it can be a lot more personal for many more audience members.

Trump Administration Moves to Restrict Food Stamp Access the Farm Bill Protected

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would seek to put in place more stringent work requirements for adults who rely on food stamps, even as the president signed a sweeping farm bill in which lawmakers had rejected stricter rules.

By moving to limit the ability of states to issue waivers to people who say they cannot make ends meet under the requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Agriculture Department found another route to create restrictions, bypassing Congress and drawing immediate criticism that the proposed rule was sure to harm Americans below the poverty line.

The administration, which along with conservatives had fought to include stricter work requirements in the farm bill, continued to argue that food stamps were never meant to be a way of life and that able-bodied adults should be able to find jobs in a healthy economy.

“Long-term reliance on government assistance has never been part of the American dream,” Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary, said in a statement. “Moving people to work is common-sense policy, particularly at a time when the unemployment rate is at a generational low.”

The $867 billion farm bill, a huge piece of legislation intended to provide relief for farmers and the poor, encountered a number of obstacles this year as it faced scrutiny from conservative lawmakers who pushed for an overhaul in how the food program’s participants would be evaluated.

In the end, Republican and Democratic negotiators decided to drop two proposals introduced by conservatives and publicly championed by President Trump: one that would have imposed further work requirements on adults using SNAP, and another that would have closed a loophole allowing states to waive the requirements in areas with high unemployment rates.

The proposed rule drew ire from Democrats, who accused the Trump administration of steamrollering a rare bipartisan compromise and ignoring Congress’s mandate to leave the program and its 40 million recipients untouched.

“After a very rough back and forth on that particular issue, basically we left the program alone without restricting people from being able to get it,” said Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, one of the negotiators on the bill’s bicameral committee. “Now you have Secretary Perdue doing essentially what was, in a bipartisan way, agreed not to do. He needs to know what the intent of Congress is and follow it.”

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, accused Mr. Perdue in a bluntly worded statement of “blatantly” ignoring the bipartisan farm bill and disregarding “over 20 years of history giving states flexibility to request waivers based on local job conditions.” READ MORE:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/20/us/politics/food-stamps-trump-administration-snap.html

Why Mattis Had to Go

The defense secretary could no longer serve a president who no longer thinks he needs to listen to anybody. James Mattis is not an imposing man. At five-foot-nine, with a slight build, he doesn’t have the physical presence you might expect from someone whose nickname is “Mad Dog.” He doesn’t have, say, H.R. McMaster’s bull neck or booming voice. Yet Mattis loomed large over U.S. national security policy, such as it is, under this presidency—so much so that his long-expected but still-sudden resignation Thursday had Washington reporters competing to see who could dial up the most hair raising quotes warning of catastrophe ahead.

(My contribution: One former top official who speaks regularly to the White House offered only a one-word reaction over email: “Alarming.”)
When I met Mattis for the first time, at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, the retired Marine general was still fuming over his treatment by the Barack Obama administration—he was fired as Central Command chief, basically, for urging a more aggressive Iran policy—and though our conversation wasn’t on the record, it was clear he was somebody who wasn’t to be trifled with.


Now, he’s aiming his considerable capacity for outrage at a different occupant of the Oval Office, with the stakes far higher given that the president today is, well, Donald Trump.
Every journalist in Washington knew Mattis opposed Trump on the biggest foreign policy issues of the day, be it pushing back against a revanchist Russia, managing the messy conflicts in the broader Middle East, or handling a surging China. He made it known around town that he was only running the Pentagon to protect it, if not the world, from the president, and for nearly two years he was more or less able to prevent an outright crisis.
The question was always when Mattis would reach his breaking point—when the president’s isolationist instincts, impulsive decision-making and attempts to use the military as a political weapon would push him over the edge.


It wasn’t, apparently, Trump’s deployment of U.S. troops to the Mexican border in a transparent effort to swing the November midterms that did it; Mattis went along with that. It wasn’t the president’s repeated snipes at NATO, the transatlantic alliance that has underpinned American national security for seven decades; nor was it his assiduous adoption of Kremlin talking points or his periodic eruptions at U.S. allies—it was basically all of that, Mattis made clear in his extraordinary resignation letter, which contains not a scintilla of praise for his boss and outlines several major points of disagreement.


“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours,” Mattis wrote, “I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”
Obviously, Mattis couldn’t abide Trump’s sudden and apparently unilateral decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, where they were supporting predominantly Kurdish forces in fighting against ISIS and keeping an eye on an encroaching Iran. Word soon leaked out, too, that Trump plans to yank a big chunk of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, a flailing war effort the president has long questioned as pointless.
It’s not that these moves are indefensible—one can easily imagine a President Hillary Clinton determining that the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze and ordering U.S. forces home.


But in a normal administration, a big move like that would have taken place only after endless rounds of discussions at multiple levels of governments, arguments between agencies, and consultations with allies. There would be plans for every possible contingency, and a carefully coordinated PR rollout. Trump seems to have just ordered it done at the speed of a tweet, and it’s clear his administration hasn’t worked through the dangers that accompany any withdrawal of troops from a war zone.
On Wednesday, the administration hastily announced a conference call to brief the press on the president’s Syria decision, then struggled to explain what it was and when or how it would happen. The Pentagon pointed reporters to the White House; the White House told reporters to talk to the Pentagon. It was a level of chaos I hadn’t seen in a decade of covering U.S. foreign policy.


So it isn’t surprising that Mattis left—with his advice so conspicuously spurned, he might have realized he could no longer be effective. For years, he had ignored or slow-walked Trump’s wilder ideas, such as his reported order to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but this time the president doesn’t appear to have consulted him at all—and reportedly rejected his desperate final attempt to change his mind over Syria. Any Cabinet secretary would have resigned.
So what now?


Each occupant of the Oval Office claims ever-vaster powers in foreign policy, and Congress has steadily ceded its oversight powers as the complexity of conflicts, and the speed and might of the U.S. military, has increased. So those looking to Capitol Hill for a public intervention may end up disappointed. After all, Republican senators have wished away their differences with Trump on foreign policy for many months, occasionally rebuking him but generally doing little to rein him in.

The Shrinking Middle Class: The Current State of Affairs

Most Americans consider themselves part of the “middle class,” but no one can agree on what term that means. The problem? If sizing up the middle class is difficult enough, it’s even harder to say that circumstances within this group have changed. But they certainly have. As you’ll discover in this Fortune special report, life has gotten more difficult for the millions of people within the middle class. We dispatched more than 50 people to discover why the American dream has been fading for far too many.
In this section, we examine the current state of affairs by speaking with the people affected most by it. What we learned: Chasing the American dream was once exhilarating; now it’s exhausting.

When Umbelina Martinez’s family first came to the United States decades ago, from ­Michoacan, Mexico, they settled in a three-bedroom house in Redwood City, Calif. It wasn’t all theirs; 25 people lived on the property, sharing a single bathroom. Martinez’s family of eight squeezed into one bedroom. “My mom and dad had to step over us kids to get to the door,” she recalls.
Today, the 46-year-old single mother of three has much more spacious accommodations: a 200-square-foot mobile home in a trailer park in Palo Alto, the heart of the technology industry and one of the most expensive cities in the country. She has lived there 13 years.
“Who wouldn’t wish to live in Palo Alto?” she asks, seated in her kitchen, which doubles as a living room, dining room, and storage space. Its thin walls are painted pale green, and there is a black refrigerator set against one wall, topped with a TV monitor. (The small quarters call for some creative design.) Kiwis and oranges rest on a tiny table pushed so close to the door that it almost touches.

Trailer Park Living in Techtopia
Most of Martinez’s neighbors live in two- or three-room trailers with their families. Many keep pets. Their homes come in an array of colors, and some feature tiny gardens blooming with flowers and hot peppers.
If Palo Alto, with its many Silicon Valley billionaires, seems like an unlikely location for trailer living, that’s because it is. The Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, tucked behind a Valero gas station on one of the city’s busiest streets, is home to just over 100 trailers and about 400 residents, including Martinez and her kids; her mother, sister, and brother; and his family. (Her mother lives with her; her sister and brother have separate mobile homes.) The residents of the park are mostly working-class immigrants who hold jobs in nearby restaurants, hair salons, and construction sites. They pay around $1,400 a month for rent and utilities in an area where the median home price is $3.2 million.

“For my family and me, it would be impossible to live anywhere else in Palo Alto,” says Martinez, who works as a banquet server at the nearby Four Seasons Hotel.
Buena Vista started out as a road-stop general store and motel in the 1920s. Over the years, it grew into one of the last sources of low-income housing in Palo Alto. In 2012 its then owners informed the residents of the mobile home park that they wanted to sell the property to an apartment complex developer. The plan included some restitution for residents, who would be evicted.
“I didn’t want the money,” says Don Roberto Munoz, one of Martinez’s neighbors. “I wanted my daughters to stay in the schools here.”
Martinez and others echoed the sentiment. So they banded together, aided by supporters from Palo Alto. In 2017 the Santa Clara County Housing Authority purchased the property for $40 million, allowing tenants to stay put.


Martinez’s sister Maria now serves as the president of Buena Vista’s residents association. “It is important to show that there isn’t just one way of thinking,” Maria says. Just a few miles west of her one-room trailer, the founder of Sun Microsystems is selling his four-story mansion. The price? $96.8 million.

California Today: Will a Desert Town Test Marijuana’s Saturation Point?

So this story about Needles, a struggling desert town that was name-checked in “The Grapes of Wrath,” caught my eye. The community is now looking at the marijuana industry as a kind of economic savior — but the town already faces plenty of competition. I asked our reporter Nathaniel Popper about the possibilities of pot.

At some point in the distant future, we will probably test the limits of how many towns and counties can cash in on the marijuana boom, but it is safe to say for now that point is a long way off.

One factor that has been limiting the growth of the industry so far is that federal laws make it illegal to transport the plant across state lines, even to other places where it’s legal. If it becomes legal to transport joints and vape pens across state lines, it’s easy to imagine California becoming the pot basket of the country, with all the jobs that entails. On the other hand, as commercial operations spring up, the price of pot is falling fast, challenging a lot of the early players.

I figured this would make it hard to compete with places like Santa Barbara County, where pot producers are allowed to grow outside. But even though growing marijuana indoors is more expensive on a day-to-day basis, it can be much more efficient because the lights can stay on all night, with growing continuing through the year. Indoor facilities can also make it easier to turn out a uniform product.

All that means that there is room in the industry for towns that have cheap land and electricity, alongside the areas that have plentiful farmland.

Needles is in the desert, which has become a kind of Instagrammer’s paradise. Is it trying to attract tourists, too?


2019 Grammy Nominations: Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Women Lead the Way

The rap stars Kendrick Lamar and Drake lead the list of nominees for the 2019 Grammy Awards announced Friday, but right behind them is a crop of young and less heralded artists, notably women, after years of friction about diversity, including a major dust-up over gender representation after the last ceremony.

The Instagram star turned rapper Cardi B, the folk singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, the left-of-center country singer Kacey Musgraves, and the R&B artists H.E.R. and Janelle Monáe are among the women who will compete for album of the year against some of hip-hop’s biggest names. Lamar received eight nominations — including his fourth for album of the year — for his role as executive producer of the soundtrack to Marvel’s “Black Panther,” and Drake was nominated seven times in connection with his blockbuster double album “Scorpion” and guest appearances. Rounding out the category is “Beerbongs & Bentleys” by the 23-year-old rapper and singer Post Malone.

But each of the big four general field categories — record of the year, song of the year, album of the year and best new artist — is dominated by women, including six out of eight acts up for best new artist: Chloe x Halle, H.E.R., Dua Lipa, Margo Price, Bebe Rexha and Jorja Smith. (The others are the country singer Luke Combs and the retro-rock band Greta Van Fleet.)

[Who got snubbed, and whose nomination was a big surprise? See the round table.]

Neil Portnow, the president and chief executive of the Recording Academy, the organization behind the Grammys, said in a statement that “reflection, re-evaluation and implementation” were the “driving forces” behind recent changes to the show’s processes, and therefore its nominations. Portnow, who will step down in 2019, drew ire from prominent women in music, some of whom called for his resignation, after the 60th annual Grammy ceremony in January, when he told reporters backstage that women in music needed to “step up” if they wanted recognition in the industry.
Amid the backdrop of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements against harassment and professional inequality, only one woman, Alessia Cara, won a major award in one of the televised categories this year and Lorde, the only female nominee for album of the year, was not offered a solo performance slot. A report published before the show found that of the 899 people nominated in the last six Grammy Awards, just 9 percent were women. (Portnow later said he regretted his wording, and that his comments had been taken out of context.)

READ MORE:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/07/arts/music/grammys-2019.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share

What to Do With Your Money in 2019 According to Financial Advisors

Money mistakes are a dime a dozen. Except, you know, they end up costing us a bit more than that.

Think More Critically About Your Resolutions

To prevent those costly financial blunders, we asked some financial advisors and professionals what clients tend to get wrong—and you should do differently going into 2019.

Don’t make News Year’s Resolutions. They don’t work.

Set your goals now, or in early January (after the holiday). The goals need to be realistic. This is key. If they are too hard or not remotely achievable, most folks give up before they even start. When setting goals, start small, then move up. For example, if you are contributing three percent to your 401(k) plan, increase it to four percent. Then plan six to nine months down the road to increase it to five percent.

Similarly, if your cash reserve fund is only one month’s living expenses, give yourself a period of time, say six months, to [get to] two months’ living expenses.

Small steps that are actually implemented have a much higher chance of staying implemented. Then you can go from there and again, slightly raise the goal.

The other thing people need to do is check in with their goals. This doesn’t mean following every movement in the stock market. This means reviewing your progress. This should be quarterly.

Pay Yourself First

The tumultuous markets sometimes cause people to quit contributing to their retirement plans, when we should do the opposite and continue to defer into our 401(k) or other retirement plans. If you are worried about volatility, you should still contribute, especially if you are many years away from retirement. Markets have historically gone through periods of decline and subsequently recovered.

READ MORE: https://twocents.lifehacker.com/what-to-do-with-your-money-in-2019-according-to-financi-1830992314?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits