Reading Bobby, Arlene, and Jane

I found the video on YouTube:  Bobby Kennedy speaking to a rally of black people in Indianapolis in 1968, on the night Martin Luther King was shot. Bobby had been informed about King’s death by the mayor, who told him not to go to the black neighborhood because riots could break out. Bobby had replied, “Don’t tell me where I can and cannot go.”

Bobby mlkIn the darkness, standing on a flatbed truck, he spoke, unrehearsed, from his heart. “If you’re black, and you’re tempted to be filled with feelings of hatred and mistrust,” he told the crowd, “I would only say that I can also feel, in my own heart, (he pointed to his chest) the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my own family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

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Slouching Toward the Caucus in Hawaii

It’s hard to tell in Honolulu that a Presidential election is happening. The only evidence of the upcoming Democratic caucuses, on March 26th, is near the University of Hawaii and other spots, where, at rush hour, young people and a few retirees stand at intersections, grinning and waving signs for “Bernie 2016” to get drivers’ attention. Since the nineteen-twenties, Hawaii has banned billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising. Legend has it that, in 1968, Charles Campbell, a schoolteacher who was running for Honolulu’s city council, made a sign and waved it on the main street of town. The rest is history. Volunteers are taught to smile and to acknowledge drivers who honk by waving or flashing the shaka—a fist with thumb and little finger extended.

Bernie signCampaigns in Hawaii are unique, and not just in their sign-waving. It’s effectively a one-party state, where almost every elected official is a Democrat.  Presidential candidates rarely campaign here. There’s no ethnic majority, and many residents are hapa, or mixed, in their backgrounds. The state is five hours behind Washington and New York (six hours when it’s daylight-saving time), and twelve hours away by plane. At dawn in Hawaii, your inbox is already flooded with e-mails, but it goes silent after 4 P.M.

It was 5:30 A.M. Honolulu time, on February 28th, when the somnolent campaign was jolted awake by the thirty-four-year-old Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who announced on “Meet the Press” that she had resigned as a vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee to endorse Bernie Sanders. A veteran of two deployments in Iraq and Kuwait, Gabbard said she wanted a Commander-in-Chief “who will not waste precious lives and money on interventionist wars of regime change.”

Tulsi blueGabbard had been warned that her action would have political consequences, but, she told me on Sunday, “it was not a hard decision. . . . It was deeply personal to me, as a soldier and veteran.” Before Gabbard resigned from her post in the D.N.C., she had tried to draw attention to what she sees as “the core issue of this Presidential election: war and peace. But that message was not being heard,” she said. “The tough questions were not being asked. I needed to resign and endorse Senator Sanders to communicate to voters that there was a clear choice—a clear difference of position—between Sanders and Clinton.”

The congresswoman fears that, if elected, Clinton “will escalate the civil war in Syria.” She pointed out that Clinton “was the head cheerleader and architect of the war to overthrow the Libyan government of Qaddafi, which has resulted in chaos, a failed state, and a stronghold for ISIS and Al Qaeda.” She said that the domestic programs the candidates are advocating—“education, infrastructure, growing our economy—are not possible if we continue throwing trillions of American taxpayer dollars . . . on these wars.”

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One Woman’s Brokeback Mountain

Every so often, I come across a human story that rivets me. Here’s one.

Nayla Tawa, a lanky brunette with large blue eyes, was an extreme snowboarder.

nayla eat snowShe flew to Kyrgyzstan to go boarding in uncharted mountains, and to make a film about villagers who were trying to create a winter sports center to bring much-needed income to their town. On the first day , however, she had a car accident that broke her back in three places and stopped the film in its tracks. Ultimately, it set the stage for a different film.

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Colorado — Medicare for All?

A revolution is sprouting in Colorado that could make it the first state to create a single-payer health care system that covers every resident. They’re calling it “Medicare for All.”

ColoradoCareYes, a citizens’ group, wrote an amendment and collected enough signatures to get ColoradoCare on the ballot in November. If passed, it would cover everyone, with no deductibles and no co-pays for primary care.

Irene Aguilar, the only state senator who’s a practicing MD, is a driving force behind ColoradoCare

Irene Aguilar, the only state senator who’s a practicing MD, helped create ColoradoCare

Obamacare, they assert, fails to provide what it promised—affordable care. Insurance companies still control the deck, and are raising rates. The New York Times reported recently that about 20% of insured people are struggling with “crushing medical debt.” Others are paying more for health care and getting less than they were before Obamacare.

Take, for example, my neighbors, Matt, 33, and his Korean wife, Nuri, 29. He works for an educational nonprofit, and she just started her first job in America, as a stock person at a clothing store.

Before Obamacare, they had a plan that cost $500 a month for them both. They could see any doctor they chose, and their deductible was $1000.

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My Dinner with Mick

When I was in my 20’s, in the Stone Age, I was married to a disc jockey and obsessed with Mick Jagger.  Several close friends and I had rich fantasies about him, so I arranged to write a story about Mick, covering the Rolling Stones’ European tour in 1970 for the Atlantic.Jagger_FentonI was kicked off  the tour after two days, for reasons I’ll explain, but I still had to do the story.  So I wrote a piece I thought was slight—embarrassingly slight.  I hadn’t looked at it in 40 years when I unearthed it last week.

I’m about to downsize, moving from a house in the foothills of the Rockies to a condo in the center of town. I’ve been purging my stuff, going through boxes I’ve been carting around for 30 years but never opened, which contain research files, notebooks, diaries and old articles. I pulled out a 1971 copy of the Atlantic with my story, “Mick Jagger Shoots Birds.” I started reading it and was surprised at how sharp and funny it was, not the embarrassment I’d remembered. Friends urged me to post it now, so I’ve done that below.

WHAT HAPPENED:

I flew to Copenhagen where the Stones were beginning the tour, and joined the crowd of reporters and photographers camped in the lobby of their hotel. I was wearing a lavender, form-fitting nightgown that, in those days, passed as a dress, and I’d straightened my long, then dark hair, so it hung to the center of my back.

003“They’re coming! The Stones!” people shouted. The hotel doors burst open and in they came, along with bodyguards and staff whose job was to keep “the boys” out of reach of the press and fans. The Stones were at their zenith of popularity then, with fresh songs that both created and reflected the zeitgeist: “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Street Fighting Man.”

As they walked past me, Bobby Keys, the saxophone player who toured and recorded with the Stones, grabbed my arm.

“You play poker?” he said.

“Um… no.”

He shrugged. “Come and watch then.”

He pulled me into the elevator where I suddenly stood face to face with Mick. I went into shock. Bobby, obviously, thought I was a groupie, and the others started referring to me as “Bobby’s friend.” When we came out of the elevator and headed for Mick’s room, Bobby asked what I was doing in Copenhagen. “Actually, I’m a reporter,” I said. He stopped short, and blew out his breath. Then he said, “Don’t mention that,” and hustled me into Mick’s room

For the rest of the night, I sat paralyzed, afraid to speak, which supported their assumption that I was a groupie, a breed who have learned to be seen and not heard. While the boys played poker, smoked joints, and engaged in raunchy talk, I concentrated on memorizing what they said. I knew that if they found out who I was, I’d be cooked. Around midnight, I made up an excuse to tell Bobby  why I had to leave, and he urged me to come back the next day before the concert.

Bobby Keys, who played the saxophone solo on “Brown Sugar” and other hits, died of cirrhosis in 2014.

Bobby Keys, who played the saxophone solo on “Brown Sugar” and other hits, died of cirrhosis in 2014.

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Last Tango in Cuba

This is Part 5, the conclusion of a series about the time I spent in Cuba not long ago. To see all posts in chronological order, Click HERE.

The last place our group visits is Baracoa, a small town with old world charm, at the very eastern tip of the island. It’s where Columbus landed, and at Our Lady of the Assumption church, they have the cross he allegedly planted in the sand. Our guide, Liliana, tells us that the first land deed Castro signed over to a campesino was in Baracoa. “He started giving land back to the people at the same place where the Spanish colonizers started taking it.” baracoaOur hotel, the Castillo, feels like paradise, especially after some of the ones we’ve stayed at that had threadbare sheets, scratchy towels, lights that don’t work and only a trickle of water dripping from the shower. The Castillo sits on the highest hill in town, has a sparkling clean swimming pool, and rooms that look out on water in two directions—the Straits of Florida and the Atlantic.

I wander through the streets of pastel houses with decorative iron grillwork. Horses are pulling carriages, and people are eating pizza they buy for a few pesos from a window in someone’s home.cub man bara Continue reading

Midnight Call in Cuba

In 1961, 200,000 Cuban students—half of them girls—volunteered to leave their city homes and go live in remote villages to teach adults to write their names and read.

two girl volunteersGirl volunteers

I learned about this when our group visited the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, the  place where, in 1953, Fidel, who was 25, and his younger brother, Raul, staged their first armed attack, on the second largest military barracks in the country. Fidel had 120 rebels in a caravan of cars, but the cars got separated and the one carrying the heavy weapons got lost. The men who did reach the barracks started firing too soon and were outnumbered ten to one. They lost the battle and 61 were killed, but the revolution was on.

As we tour the Moncado Barracks, now a museum, I stop before a wall on which is written: “Every revolution has 3 phases: conspiracy, insurrection, and ultimately, the phase where it truly begins. Here was born the liberty of Cuba.”

Below are large black and white photos of the faces of the 61 killed. They’re so young—the average age is 18. Each has a unique expression, with singular eyes and set of mouth. I look at each face, sounding out the young man’s name. I can imagine what they felt: the rightness of their cause; the passion to transform an illiterate, poor country into a society where every person would learn to read, have free health care, education, housing and a job.

It was this passion, I suspect, that spurred so many Cuban teenagers, after Fidel triumphed in Havana, to take a year off school to go teach campesinos to read.

And it came to me: if I’d been a Cuban in my teens or 20’s at the time of the revolution, I probably would have been with Fidel.

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Women, $ and Weed

They came wearing stiletto heels, running shoes, cowboy boots, ballet flats and even high heel sneakers. They were hard-working professionals, most of them mothers, gathered around a fake campfire at the five-star Cordillera Lodge in the Rocky Mountains. Despite the occasional rain shower, they roasted marshmallows for s’mores, howled with laughter, and soaked naked in the Jacuzzi while eating crème Brule.

It was May 15, the first night of the Leadership Summit organized by Women Grow, a group whose mission is to train—or “cultivate”—women to be leaders of the cannabis industry, which the Arcview research group has called “the fastest growing industry in the U.S.”

Leaders of Women Grow

Leaders of Women Grow

Now that marijuana is medically legal in 23 states plus the District of Columbia and fully legal in four, Women Grow asserts that it’s time for women to claim their place.

The Summit sold out quickly, drawing 121 women from 20 states, ranging from 23 to 68. They included lawyers, doctors, farmers, dispensary owners, research scientists, financiers, and C.E.O.’s of companies, one of which is valued at $40 million.

Every conversation began: “What do you do in the industry?” By day they attended panels and made deals, and by night they let loose—dancing with abandon and gathering in groups to try new marijuana strains, massage oil and edibles.

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Men, Marijuana and $

Delusional Confidence?    Report from the Marijuana Investor Summit

“When we want to raise capital,” said Dooma Wendschuh, the 38-year-old co-founder of a cannabis company called ebbu, “I go up to someone and say, ‘Would you like to invest in my company? Here’s how it will work. One: you may go to prison for making this investment. Two: I may go to prison, and you might lose all your money. Three: Our minimum investment is $250,000. Sure you want to play ball?”

There was nervous laughter from the crowd. It was the first day of the first Marijuana Investor Summit in Denver, and Wendschuh was speaking on a key panel, “Raising Funds.”

Dooma Wendschuh

More than 800 people from across the country had come to the Summit at the Crowne Plaza Hotel near the airport. It was a testosterone-fueled crowd, mostly white men in suits—entrepreneurs mixing with hedge fund managers and venture capitalists. But there were outliers: an Orthodox Jew, with a long white beard and tzitzit, whose family in Philadelphia wants to obtain the first license to grow medical marijuana in Pennsylvania; an African-American man who spent 17 years on Wall Street, then left to grow pot near Detroit; and a female doctor who wants to start a practice treating chronic diseases with cannabis.

All were convinced that the ongoing legalization of marijuana is creating an opportunity for people with a high tolerance for risk to make a killing.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the story on NewYorker.com.

Dancing with Cubans

This is Part 3 in a series about the time I spent in Cuba not long ago. To see all posts in chronological order, Click Here.

There are two questions I start asking everyone I meet: “Why are the women so flamboyant in flaunting their bodies?” And, “Can the Cuban government change its spots?”

When I tell our tour guide, Liliana, about the women I saw at the Casa de Musica, she shakes her head. “Those were jinateras, girls who sell themselves to make extra money.”

“But most of the women around here dress like that. Why?”

“Ask the men,” she says, turning to a group of locals drinking coffee at the next table. They give several reasons: “the climate,” “it’s the style,” “the custom,” and “the men like it.” Laughing, one adds, “We don’t have dangerous animals in Cuba. Only women.”

cub girl phone

Girl with jury-rigged phone on street

Liliana says the two major forms of entertainment are music and sex. At most clubs they have condoms on the menu, and sex education starts early. “They use a banana,” she says.

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