On this really, really engaging and informative episode historian Grandin takes us on a virtual tour of Central America, a land of beauty, enchantment, and U.S.-supported death squads. Then let Bill Conroy exposes the hypocrisy and opportunism behind mainstream media’s contempt for Sean Penn and his interview with El Chapo. Grandin goes over government’s rich contributions to the violence of Central America, starting with the 1950s (or else we’d be here all day) when we helped the coup in Guatemala that set off a civil war; the 1980s when we trained the Contras in Nicaragua and the death squads in El Salvador; the 1990s when we imposed “free market” neoliberal policies AND tightened border security to keep out the people we knew would be displaced (because we think of EVERYTHING!); the 21st century when we continued those policies, did jack s&*^ over the coup in Honduras… and we’re not even talking about Mexico or Colombia yet! Then Bill Conroy who has worked as an investigative journalist covering the drug wars and law enforcement corruption debunks what the mainstream media and Mexican authorities are saying about Sean Penn and his interview with El Chapo. Conroy frames the freakout as part of a larger fear on the part of gatekeeping journalists and reveals one of the things they are attacking Penn over is something they routinely do, but don’t even admit it. Follow us on Soundcloud, like us on Facebook and subscribe on iTunes!
Katie Halper refers to herself as a stereotype of the Upper West Side. “My dad’s a psychiatrist. My mom’s an English professor and a novelist,” she explained. She identifies as Jewish, but in the secular sense, and uses that in her comedy. “I’ll do stuff about anything from Zabar’s to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The 34-year-old is making a name for herself in the political comedy world of New York City. Describing herself as “liberal, progressive, left,” she is very much aware of the fact that she’s not alone in her thinking here in the city. “It’s funny, people are always like, ‘You’re preaching to the choir,’ but the choir deserves to be entertained,” she said.
This year, she was given her own weekly radio show on WBAI, “The Katie Halper Show,” where she brings on guests such as historians, journalists, organizers and of course, fellow comedians, and they give their takes on the news, the arts, politics and pop culture.
On November 18th, she will host Laughing Liberally, an offshoot of Living Liberally, the troupe, of which she is a member, that creates social events around progressive politics. Her documentary “Commie Camp” about Jewish activist-founded Camp Kinderland, which she attended as a youngster, will play at Anthology Film Archives on December 14.
How did you get started in comedy?I’ve always been very political. I went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut and when I was in college, I thought that I would go to law school. I remember one day at Wesleyan, people were like, “Katie, you should be in the standup show.” And I said, “I don’t do standup. I’m not funny on command.” Because they thought I was funny. So I did the show. I just basically told stories about my family, and my grandmother, in particular. There was a really nice and funny woman who was the headliner named Susan Prekel and she was really encouraging. But I was reluctant to perform. There was something I always thought was kind of obnoxious about actors and performers. I was also more political, so it took me a while to admit that I liked performing.
What was it like growing up on the Upper West Side?Well, I’m the product of a mixed marriage, my mom is Bronxian and my dad is Queensian. But I’m a walking stereotype of the Upper West Side. It’s very Woody Allen. Actually, there’s a part in the film “Annie Hall” where Allen meets a character named Allison Portchnik, who is played by Carol Kane, and tries to size her up and says, “You’re like New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and … father with the Ben Shahn drawings, right, and … strike-oriented kind of, red diaper …” But I grew up on Riverside Drive, not Central Park West, and went to Wesleyan, not Brandeis. I even went to the socialist summer camp, Camp Kinderland, which was founded by secular Jewish workers in the 1920s. My mom, uncle and grandmother worked there and I made a documentary about it called “Commie Camp.” It’s funny because I didn’t use to identify as Jewish because I’m not at all religious. But now I realize that there is a secular Jewish identity and tradition, which I very much have.
New York Magazine called you “Stephen Colbert crossed with Sarah Silverman.” How do you describe your comedic style?Like Colbert. I am ironic or satirical and sometimes pseudo self-congratulating, but I break character all the time. My normal character is just me. Actually someone just gave me a blurb today and she’s like, “You’re quirky and incisive, but never mean.” I like to get people to tell me stories. I really like listening to people and asking them questions. Often I’ll have people talk, not just about the current events, but also about their lives. I like to get them able to relax. And when I do standup, it varies between short, cerebral jokes or storytelling. Sometimes it’s sarcastic. It’s about politics. It’s about dating. More and more it’s about dating, actually. Thank God for small favors, like terrible dates, which make great art. It’s all going in the book that I want to write one day.
Most people know Judah Friedlander for being a standup comedian and actor. You may have seen him on 30 Rock, or in films like The Wrestler, American Splendor or Wet Hot American Summer. But Friedlander is a bit of a renaissance man who not only makes his own hats but has authored two books including How to Beat Up Anybody: An Instructional and Inspirational Karate Book by the World Champion (2010) and If The Raindrops United, a book of illustrations and cartoons which hit the shelves October 20th. While If The Raindrops United, is undoubtedly hilarious, it’s also, in many ways, a work of political protest, in which Friedlander uses humor and graphic art to deal with serious issues such as gentrification, alienation, and the excesses of capitalism.
Friedlander came on The Katie Halper Show, my weekly radio show on WBAI, to talk to me and my co-host Gabe Pacheco about his new book and politics. Here are his thoughts on some important topics:
The Democratic Debates
“I thought it got off to a bad start with Cheryl crow singing the National Anthem. First of all it was a horrible rendition. But I thought it was such a weird, desperate attempt to make us look like we’re not anti-american. What was that all about?… It seemed like a very staged thing.”
“I just liked how Bernie Sanders pronounced the word blunder like ‘blunda.’ That’s actually kind of a double blunder since you mispronounced blunder.”
“[Sanders] was talking about how in rural areas gun laws should be different from urban areas. And he’s right. I talk about gun issues in my standup and I perform all over the place. First of all the gun stuff in this country is actually horrendous. But, yes the dynamic of guns in a rural area is completely different from the dynamic in an urban area. But you know, how you deal with it is a whole other issue.”
The Presidential Election and the two party system
I’m very progressive so…I haven’t decided who I’m going to vote for or what party. The last election I think I voted green party. I mean the person didn’t have a chance. But I think the country really has to get out of this two party system.
“I moved to New York in 1987. My dad’s actually from Brooklyn… we would come up when I was a kid and the city was just so impressive and diverse. And for years I hadn’t lived in Manhattan. I lived way out in queens. A mile past the last stop on the subway in a non-gentrified neighborhood where families had been living for generations. Middle Village, Queens. But when I moved back to Manhattan… the classism in Manhattan and I would say half of Brooklyn at this point was just staggering.
When people say New York they’re usually talking about Manhattan. And when you’re in Manhattan it’s such a weird city because almost everyone is wealthy or ultra wealthy. And that means it’s mostly white… New York has always had wealthy and ultra wealthy but it was never the majority. And when you have a city where the teachers, policemen, firemen, subway workers, mail delivery people, when all the service workers and the blue collar people, when all of them are working in the city but none of them can actually afford to live in the city, that’s not a healthy dynamic at all. New York is a much less diverse place than it used to be. There’s even a mini-10 page comic book called “gentrification man” in the book and gentrification man is the first super hero for the corporations.”
His Favorite Band
Make sure you listen to the entire interview with Friedlander. Listen for some hilarious parts including:
You can catch The Katie Halper Show on WBAI at 99.5FM or online at WBAI every Wednesday from 6pm to 7pm. Or you can subscribe to the Katie Halper Show podcast on Itunes (and please rate and review us) or Soundcloud. And make sure to listen on October 28th when we talk to Ta-Nehisi Coates!
The Human Rights NGO Amnesty International cast a historic vote to decriminalize sex work on Tuesday. I spoke to Melissa Gira Grant, author of the book Playing the Whore, about what this really means and the connection between Black Lives Matter and sex work.
Tuesday, Amnesty International delegates gathered in Dublin, Ireland voted to endorse a policy of decriminalizing sex work. But weeks earlier a leak of the policy sparked a backlash, including a petition critical of Amnesty, which was signed by female celebrities, as Vero wrote about previously.
Melissa Gira Grant is a journalist and writer who covers politics, tech and sex work for outlets like The Nation, The New York Times, Wired, The Atlantic, Glamour, The Guardian, In These Times, The Washington Post, Dissent, Slate, and Salon. She is also the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work. I interviewed her for my WBAI radio show on Wednesday. Here is part of our conversation.
Why is the vote so significant? What does it mean?
What they’re doing by deciding as an organization that they are going to bring this issue of sex workers’ rights under this larger umbrella of Human Rights work that they take on [is] not only sending sort of a signal to their members to take this issue on but I think they’re also sending this message to other Human Rights organizations and activists. [A message that] sex workers’ rights– including the decriminalization of sex work to protect sex workers from the harms they might experience because what they do is considered a crime or they themselves are considered outlaws or criminals– are a mainstream human rights issue right now. And I think that is the most significant part of what they’ve done.
What was the leaked document?
If you actually looked at what was leaked, and most news outlets didn’t, what you would find in that document was a brief on research that Amnesty did in four different countries where selling sex might not be illegal but a lot of the activities around it are criminal. They found that that creates dangerous situations for sex workers and environments where sex workers’ rights, when they are violated, they have very little recourse in the legal system.
There is one quote-unquote Feminist framing that sex workers are victims as opposed to criminals. Then there is this other Feminist framing which is that sex work is inherently empowering. There is this false dichotomy where sex work is the most degrading thing in the world or the most empowering thing in the world. And what’s so interesting and frustrating and puzzling to me is does it matter? The point is, it seems to me, for anyone who cares about the quality of life, protecting the safety and health, recognizing the humanity of sex workers, [that] it doesn’t matter if you see it as a Feminist thing as a sexist thing. It’s not going anywhere. Do people actually think that they’re going be able to prohibit it out of existence?
I don’t think so. I would say that the issue of empowerment comes in at: are you empowered to take advantage of your rights? Are you empowered to get justice when you experience violence? Are you empowered to negotiate the conditions of your own work? And criminalization makes all these things really, really hard. So what you have happening for some folks on the opposition, what they’re primarily opposed to is sex work itself existing ever… And so I think that’s why we end up in this kind of circular thing of are you empowered and did you choose it or whatever. And you know, to be honest, when police arrest you they don’t ask you are you empowered or are you a victim. They’re just going to take you away.
It seems like people want to know what your position is on sex work as opposed to [evidence of the impact of criminalization on] sex workers.
Exactly and it becomes this performance, it becomes this… conversation about our feelings on sex work rather than having a real grounded conversation about what’s going on in people’s lives. What do they need. Let’s have pro and con conversations about policy. Let’s do that. But let’s not do that in this abstract way that has nothing to do with the lives of sex workers.
The thing that’s so frustrating about the empowerment conversation is it’s a double standard. We don’t apply this to anybody else in any other job. We don’t say to the fight for 15 folks, “do you really love McDonalds? I dunno! I’m not so sure.” Why is this somehow the exception where labor organizing is somehow impossible? Where people think it condones an industry? Would we say [that about] workers in other industries that are dangerous or that we don’t accept? Are we trying to protect people from the very dire situations that all workers face when their rights are not respected? Or are we trying to express some kind of opinion?
A lot of the Feminist project has been about defining a particular kind of valuable woman. She has a career, she loves her job, she has this perfect equitable relationship with her partner, she’s professional, she’s educated. And I think anybody who sort of falls outside that frame is seen as somebody to help, not a partner.
What is the evidence about how decriminalization improves the lives of sex workers?
HIV isn’t just about individual behaviors, its about the environment that you live in…. When sex work is criminalized or when police target sex workers, whether or not what they’re doing is considered criminal, one of the ways they look for a pretext to harass them is to turn out their purse and see if they have condoms. So this is a really classic case of creating an environment where because of how police workers are interacting with sex workers, because of how sex workers are profiled in public spaces, we are actually damaging their ability to care for themselves and their health. And we were doing this in New York until very recently. How much money does our Department of Health spend making condoms available to all New Yorkers? And yet we’re also paying the police to take them out of their hands.
How much harder is it to have recourse to protection when it is criminalized?
A few years ago I wrote about a man who had targeted several transgender women in Philadelphia, some of them sex workers, some of them trans women that he thought were sex workers. And he killed a trans woman — after other women had already known that he was targeting the community. After they had already gone to the police and asked for help and been denied help by the police.
When we’re talking about violence that sex workers face, we’re not just talking about violence that they face from customers but we’re talking about state violence and police violence. And whether you’re talking about sex workers in Jamaica Queens or whether you’re talking about sex workers in Bangalore, India, the rates of violence that they’re facing from police targeting them are much higher than the rates they’re facing from customers.
So that is something that isn’t even just about criminalization. That is about this very complex set of issues that have to do with how police officers use prostitution laws to profile Black women and trans women, which I think is moving only further to the top of the agenda especially when we look at how Black Lives Matter this summer has taken a turn towards talking about Black women and how Black women are criminalized. That’s where I hope this conversation goes in the United States. To bring it under this larger and very upsetting umbrella of police harassment and police profiling and police violence.
I actually have a lot more hope about addressing these issues under police violence and under Black Lives Matter movements than under feminist movements that historically have been really slow to jump on board.
Donald Trump may be asking the FBI for protection against Joaquin Guzman Loera, the notorious Mexican drug lord known as el Chapo, who recently escaped from prison, again. But The Donald has already been attacked by a more formidable adversary who also hails from The Mexico. And his weapon of choice? Not bullets, not machetes, not gruesome torture…… Butt plugs!
Meet Fernando Sosa, the 32-year old 3D artist based in Orlando, Florida, who was born and raised in Puebla Mexico. Sosa, who came to the United States when he was 11, was enraged when he heard Donald Trump spew his racist vitriol about Mexican rapists. So he decided he would turn his anger into a product… a butt plug, made of “fully colored material with a coarse finish and a delicate feel,” more specifically, as his website explains. In case you don’t know, a butt plug is a sex toy that does exactly what it sounds like it does.
In case you missed it, the Donald peppered his presidential announcement speech with the following:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.
I asked Sosa how he felt when he heard that and he said, “I was really enraged and I was like, what better way to insult him back than to make a Donald Trump Butt plug.”
For black and white americans, the difference between life and death is literally worlds apart. Although we may know this on some level, Nate Silver, the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight, has the startling statistics that demonstrate this reality.
As he explained to me on the latest episode of The Katie Halper Show, “If you’re a white person your chance of being murdered every year is 2.5 out of 10,000… If you’re a black person it’s 19.4, so almost eight times higher.”
To put this into context, Silver explained, the murder rate for white Americans is similar to the murder rate for people living in Finland, Chile or Israel. The murder rate for black Americans, on the other hand, is similar to the rate found “in developing countries that are war zones even, like Myanmar, or Rwanda, Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, places that have vast disorder. To me that stat was so striking that I thought this was a case where even if you kinda zoomed out, that was a data point that helped to inform the discussion.”