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The Dual Economy

In the Fray - Tue, 07/25/2017 - 14:41

In his new book The Vanishing Middle Class, MIT economist Peter Temin provides a short and accessible take on this country’s deeply unequal economy, which he argues now represents two different Americas. The first is comprised of the country’s elite workers: well-educated bankers, techies, and other highly skilled workers and managers, members of what he calls the “finance, technology, and electronics sector” (FTE)—the leading edges of the modern economy. A fifth of America’s population, these individuals command six-figure incomes and dominate the nation’s political system, and over the past half-century, they have taken a greater and greater share of the gains of economic growth. The other America, what he calls the “low-wage sector,” is the rest of the population—the dwindling ranks of clerks, assemblers, and other middle-income workers, and an expanding class of laborers, servers, and other lowly paid workers.

Drawing on the work of the Nobel Prize-winning economist W. Arthur Lewis, Temin describes this new reality as a “dual economy,” where the fortunes of the first America are all but disconnected from those of the second. Free trade and technological advances allow the FTE elites to make more money, pay lower prices, and enjoy an integrated global market’s many conveniences, even as those trends sweep aside many of the good jobs that the rest of America relies upon. Increasingly isolated, elites have little reason to care about less affluent communities, and much reason to want to reduce their taxes, so they tend to favor stripping away the safety net and pulling public funds from the schools the poor and middle class depend on. The American educational system, which used to be an engine of upward mobility that lifted many children of parents with few means into society’s upper echelons, has been split into two systems—separate and unequal.

Temin’s idea of a dual economy focuses our attention on how, if left unchecked, the workings of the market economy lead to disaster for those Americans stuck in the low-wage sector. FTE industries are booming, and capitalists seek to eke out even greater returns on their investments by lowering the cost of labor. In doing so, they have strong incentives to push down the wages and benefits of the bottom 80 percent of workers—importantly, even those who have nothing to do with their industries. The reason for this callousness toward the low-wage sector is pragmatic: a glut of underpaid or unemployed workers at the bottom makes their own workers so grateful to have decent jobs that they accept lower wages. In other words, what’s good for Silicon Valley and Wall Street is not good for ordinary Americans—and that’s a feature, not a bug, of the current system.

In his previous work with Frank Levy, Temin described how the Treaty of Detroit—a landmark contract reached in 1950 between General Motors and the United Auto Workers—epitomized a postwar economy of job security and high wages that raised the well-being of all workers, including those with little education (a central theme of my own book). In Temin’s new book, one of the most vivid illustrations of the changed reality that now faces America’s working class comes when he describes the situation of newspaper delivery workers:

Most of us do not think about how the paper gets to our door in the morning, but paper delivery has evolved into a grueling nocturnal marathon for low-income workers who work invisibly at the edge of the economy. Delivery drivers are classified as independent contractors rather than employees; they therefore do not get guaranteed health care or retirement savings. They work 365 days a year for pay that makes ordinary jobs look good, and they have to find a replacement if they need to take a day off. Many of them work at another job during the day to support their families. More and more working people are being forced into working conditions like these.

The day-to-day drudgery of today’s delivery driver is a symbol of the low-wage sector: work that children on bicycles used to do is now expected to support families, but with all the risk of success and failure piled on the workers themselves, who toil in the early morning hours, unseen by those they serve. And it is telling, too, that these conditions occur in an industry that is itself struggling to survive in the face of technological and economic changes.

Like Richard Reeves in his book Dream Hoarders, Temin doesn’t think we should only dwell on the top 1 percent of earners and their extraordinary ascent over the past few decades. As much as this group has made out like bandits in our unregulated Wild West economy, Temin’s focus on the FTE sector makes clear that a larger fortunate fifth of America has been benefitting immensely from the status quo, too. At the same time, a strength of Temin’s book is his in-depth discussion of how the top 1 percent has far outpaced the rest of the elite as well—largely due to their outsized political influence. He explains that a view of American democracy as an arena where the public clashes on important social issues, and the majority winner justly enacts policy, is simply naïve. In the real world of politics, people with money “invest” in politicians who then do their bidding—and the top 1 percent have more to invest than everyone else. In turn, racial prejudice (which he discusses at length, almost exclusively referring to bias against African Americans) weakens whatever public support exists for a stronger safety net for low-wage workers by casting the beneficiaries as undeserving outsiders.

By concisely and insightfully sketching out the contours of the modern economy, Temin’s book helps us to understand why workers in auto plants and office cubicles alike have fallen behind in recent decades. Their pursuit of the American Dream has been halted by stagnant wages and declining employment. Their working conditions have worsened thanks to the end of job security and management’s unchecked control in the workplace. The roots of their problems aren’t just economic, however, as his discussion of politics makes clear. Temin emphasizes how institutions like labor unions and government no longer push the economy toward a widely shared prosperity—as they did in mid-twentieth-century America, and as they still do in parts of Europe today. The implication is that, with the proper support, they can do it here again.

Recognizing that labor unions in America have been all but stamped out in many sectors, Temin seems to pin his hopes on government intervention on behalf of ordinary workers, particularly to promote high-quality, broadly available education and training. This hope, however, seems very much at odds with the gloomy picture of a corrupt and unresponsive political system he sketches out for much of the book. In other words, as compelling as his diagnosis of the problem is, he doesn’t say much about how to bring about the sort of democratic renaissance that could solve it.

But these are the big, unresolved question in our politics today. Can unions can be revived, and thus provide a countervailing force to restrain the excesses of corporations? To what extent can union power be replaced by the organizing of the so-called alt-labor movement—worker centers and nonprofit networks working outside the formal union-management negotiating process? And what role can social movements, knitted together through grassroots organizing, play in making sure the country’s political system starts responding again to the popular will?

We academics tend too often think in technocratic policy terms. We typically want to devise the innovative policies and then assume that a can opener of bold government action could open up the system to change. We find it hard to imagine concrete and practical strategies that activists could actually use (though sociology has been better than most disciplines in offering such advice, and nonacademic research groups are increasingly taking on this role). Intellectuals’ most important contributions to social change have been ideas, ways of looking at the world that inform and inspire action. But as I argue in Cut Loose, scholars should also consider the political and cultural context when we propose policies.

While Temin could do more of this, his book provides a useful framing of the problem for those who want to fix it—dusting off the “Two Americas” rhetoric of a past political moment and reworking it for an even more unequal age.

This piece originally appeared in the blog Working-Class Perspectives.

The post The Dual Economy appeared first on In The Fray.

EXCLUSIVE preview: Jim Gaffigan takes over Pandora Comedy in honor of Cinco

Punchline Headlines - Thu, 06/15/2017 - 13:14

With the release of his latest album Cinco, Jim Gaffigan continues to spread his everyman comedy to the world. So, it’s no surprise he’s set to to begin a national tour — dubbed the Noble Ape Tour — that begins July 14 in Hershey, PA and continues through December. Before he hits the road, however, he’s got a job to do. In honor of Cinco and Father’s Day — you probably know Gaffigan is a father to five children — he’s taking over Pandora’s Today’s Comedy Station today!

During today’s takeover, Gaffigan will curate a selection of tracks from his favorite comedians and will, obviously, be playing some of his favorite bits from his past albums as well as tracks from Cinco. But the pressure is on for the comedian-turned-radio host since Pandora‘s Today’s Comedy channel is its most popular; listeners logged 1.7 million hours listening to comedy on Pandora in the past month. And Gaffigan, himself, is the most popular comedian on Pandora with 770 million total spins. With the release of Cinco, those numbers will only shoot up.

In an exclusive preview of Gaffigan’s Pandora takeover, Laughspin got a sneak peek into some of the things the comedian will talk about today. “I’ve done a fair amount of comedy albums and specials over the years. And you’re never really sure when it’s done because I think every comedian knows that they tape a special or they record and album and then a week later they think of a great line,” Gaffigan says about co-writing material with his wife Jeannie. “The addition of a line can change the whole makeup of a joke or a chunk. But I do think that determining when a chunk is done, it does feel like material reaches a point where it’s ripe.”

On being labeled a “self-deprecating comedian,” Gaffigan says,  “it’s definitely something that I am aware of. Look, I’m a straight white male, so there’s no punching above me. And I don’t really want to punch down. And so the self-punching — my comedy — I really kind of steer away from ‘us and them.’ And so making fun of myself, it’s not easy, but it’s a safe place to go because I don’t want my comedy to end up messing up someone’s day. That being said, I’m sure I say things that offend people.”

Check out the full Gaffigan takeover today!

Women’s March

In the Fray - Wed, 06/07/2017 - 11:45

Women and girls march through the village of Derbesi to celebrate International Women’s Day 2016.

A few years ago, I began hearing remarkable stories about a social movement in northern Syria. Not far from the wreckage of Aleppo, a society founded on principles of direct democracy and women’s rights has taken root in the predominantly Kurdish region known as Rojava. There, in defiance of the Islamic State’s brutal patriarchy, women are leading the way in political decision-making and fighting on the frontlines in their own battalions.

Last year, I was invited to come to Rojava with a delegation of women from around the world—journalists, activists, academics and lawyers— in a visit set to coincide with International Women’s Day. I wanted to see for myself what was going on in Rojava, and I set about finding people to join me. Ali, a freelance journalist from Spain, and Kimmie, a university student I had interviewed for my book about hitchhiking, agreed to go. (Their last names have been left out for security reasons.) None of us had actually met in person before the trip.

The first thing we learned was that getting into Rojava was tough. Turkey had closed its borders with Syria, and the only way into Rojava was via the KRG—the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north of Iraq. We decided to enter the KRG from Turkey, little realizing that renewed fighting between Turkish state forces and Kurdish guerrillas had escalated so much that some of the roads were closed. In Turkey, we passed through numerous checkpoints, where security forces would interrogate and search us. When we reached the Syrian border, it took us four hours and numerous phone calls to talk our way past the final checkpoint.

Once we crossed into Rojava, we met the women from the Foundation of the Free Women of Rojava (WJAR), the organization that had invited us. It quickly became clear that, in light of the worsening security situation, even they had not expected us to make it in.

The next day—International Women’s Day—we headed to Derbesi, a village straddling the Turkey–Syria border, where a solidarity march was taking place. Thousands of Kurdish women wearing colorful traditional dresses chanted and whooped as they paraded down the street. There was a feeling of sisterhood beyond anything I’d ever felt before. Smiling women stopped to hug us, take photos, and thank us—the foreign guests—for coming. Soon we were shouting along with them: “Jin, jiyan, azadî! Jin, jiyan, azadî! Jin, jiyan, azadî!” Women, life, freedom!

We didn’t see any men at all until the end of the march, when we noticed civilian men lining the sides of the street. The women were the ones doing the marching that day—and the guarding, too. Down the street we met a female member of Rojava’s civilian self-defense force. She wore a spotless white headscarf and carried an ageing Kalashnikov rifle. Flipping a V sign, she posed for a photo.

A soldier stands guard during the solidarity march in Derbesi.

What has been happening in northern Syria has been decades in the making. Rojava, which means “west” in Kurdish, is one of four areas unofficially known as Kurdistan. In a series of treaties and agreements following World War I, the victorious European powers divvied up the lands where the Kurds lived, apportioning them across the newly created states of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. (The northwestern part of Iran, which also has a substantial Kurdish population, is considered part of Kurdistan as well.) The Kurds encountered persecution throughout the region. In Turkey, for example, the Kurdish language was banned, with on-the-spot fines for speaking it on the street. Their names for towns, villages, mountains, and rivers were Turkified. The Turkish government even refused to acknowledge that there was such a thing as “Kurdish” people, calling them “mountain Turks” who spoke a broken form of Persian.

A half-century of repression led to the emergence of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, in the late 1970s. Demanding an independent Kurdish homeland, the PKK led a series of armed uprisings against the Turkish state. Tens of thousands died in the fighting over the next two decades. Under pressure from the Turkish government, the United States and other nations began listing the group as a terrorist organization.

In 1999, Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the PKK, was captured—reportedly, with the help of the US government. He was imprisoned in the Turkish island prison of Imrali, where he has remained ever since. During the first years of his incarceration, Ocalan’s politics underwent a dramatic shift. Originally a proponent of Marxist-Leninist communism, he turned to a form of communalism he called “democratic confederalism.” Inspired by the writings of social ecologist Murray Bookchin, democratic confederalism sees the nation-state itself as a fundamental cause of social problems.

If the Kurds went down the conventional path of nationhood, Ocalan argued, they would eventually fall into the same trap of authoritarianism that had snared their oppressors. Influenced by his ideas, the PKK in Turkey eventually abandoned its struggle for an independent nation. It instead began working to develop a “bottom-up” democracy built upon neighborhood councils and rotating elected representatives, with quotas for women and ethnic and religious minorities. This model of self-governance quickly spread across the borders of Turkey to other parts of Kurdistan, including Rojava.

When the Syrian civil war broke out, the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, was forced to loosen his grip on the north and send his army to fight rebel forces elsewhere. Rojava’s geography was not ideal for staging a revolution, with a hostile Turkey to the north, land controlled by the Islamic State to the south, and a river border with war-torn Iraq to the east. Nevertheless, the Kurds in Rojava seized the opportunity to revolt against Assad’s regime. In 2012, the region declared its autonomy.

Rohani, a Dutch-born doctor, in front of the health clinic she runs in Serekaniye.

On the third day of our trip, we traveled to Serekaniye, one of the region’s largest cities, where we visited a health clinic run by WJAR, a key player in the women’s movement in Rojava. A group of women wearing black chadors arrived shortly afterward, accompanied by several young children. I recognized the center’s coordinator from the march. Originally from Holland, she went by the Kurdish name Ronahi (for security reasons, Westerners who come to Rojava to help the movement are given Kurdish names). We watched her at work, switching easily between Kurdish, Arabic, Turkish, and English as she talked to us, our interpreter, her staff, and the veiled women. She told us that people would walk for hours from the outlying villages to reach the women’s clinic.

Later, Ronahi took us through a local park and over some conspicuous mounds of earth to a simple building. It was a barracks for the YPJ—a women’s fighting force that is part of Rojava’s army. The women there had been fighting on the frontlines against the Islamic State. The mounds in front of the barracks, I learned, had been put outside to stop car bombs from driving in.

Inside, we were greeted by several young women who smiled shyly and invited us to sit. A woman with hair hanging down past her waist brought over a tray of teacups and sugar; another followed with a teapot. Ronahi, translating for us, asked them for permission to record our conversation. Two of the women declined—they said they had family in Turkey who could be at risk if their identity were uncovered—so we agreed to record only Ronahi’s English translation.

During the course of the next two hours, it became clear that the women, who called one another sisters, had developed the tightest of bonds. “We are one soul,” one soldier told us. I was also interested to learn that one of the women in their unit was Arab, not Kurdish. The YPJ soldiers told us war stories about the Islamic State. I was particularly struck by their claim that they would routinely find amphetamines on the bodies of the fighters they killed. “One time a man was so high on drugs, he wandered right into the frontline. He didn’t seem to know even where he was,” one woman told us, shaking her head slowly.

In their barracks in Serekaniye, YPJ soldiers in Rojava’s army tell war stories about their encounters with the Islamic State.

The leaders of the women’s movement in Rojava don’t call what they are doing “feminism.” They say they are simply reclaiming a lost “heritage”—a tradition of women’s empowerment that was lost centuries ago. Later, when I began reading Ocalan’s writings on gender, I recognized that these were his ideas. The advent of monotheistic religions had made goddess worship sacrilegious and turned women into slaves within the household, Ocalan argued. Capitalism had brought this oppression and objectification to another level. What was necessary for society to be free, he concluded, was an end to patriarchal power and violence—a movement to “kill the dominant male” (figuratively speaking)—and the establishment of independent political institutions of, for, and by women.

After Rojava broke away from Syrian rule, the movement mandated that at least 40 percent of representatives on its councils and committees be women. It set similar quotas for Arabs and Christians and established a number of women-only spaces and organizations, such as mala jin, or “women’s houses,” where women could go for help with issues relating to domestic abuse, forced and underage marriages, and polygamy—all practices that had been outlawed after the start of the revolution in 2012.

A representative at a women’s house we visited in Qamishlo, Rojava’s de facto capital, told us that the day before a woman had come in after being beaten by her father over a trivial matter: the unexplained presence of a dog in their family’s garden. “The father got angry and asked why was this dog there. And then he got more angry and hit her.” The women at the center decided to put the father in jail. “Of course we don’t want everyone put in jail,” the representative told us. “But sometimes you have seen the body—everything is blue. So he should sit there for some days to come back to his mind and realize that it’s not right to hit her.”

Although the Assad regime’s prisons are still in use in Rojava, they now house captured Islamic State fighters for the most part. The way the courts operate has changed, too. In Qamishlo, for instance, those arrested for crimes no longer go before a government judge, but instead face a panel of people from the community, who as a group decide on a fitting punishment—one that, in line with Rojava’s new principles, often does not involve jail time.

In Qamishlo, women sit and chat at a mala jin, or women’s house, where locals dealing with issues like domestic abuse, forced and underage marriages, and polygamy can seek help.

From my conversations with representatives of the Rojava movement, it seems that they see education as a particularly important strategy for women’s empowerment. In recent years, WJAR has opened a number of preschools in the region, with the aim of having a preschool and a health clinic in every neighborhood in every city. We visited Akademya Star, a women’s academy open to all regardless of age or ethnic background. Classes there are based on discussions and debates rather than lectures, and the topics covered include women’s history. “When you understand the system,” a representative from the academy told us, “you have the power to change it.”

Later, we met a Kurdish woman from Turkey named Nahide Zengin, who was working to set up the Greenhouse Project, an agricultural cooperative run by women from eighteen communes. Zengin said that the collective planned to grow fruit and vegetables without the use of chemicals. For several decades, the Assad regime used the whole of Jazira—Rojava’s largest canton—and most of the Kobani canton for pesticide-heavy wheat production. Other than for a few large private landholdings, the fields were state-owned. Most of the farmworkers were paid meager wages. Over the years, the trees in those areas were cut down, and their soil depleted.

Now cooperatives like the Greenhouse Project are trying to recover some of the local knowledge about small-scale, sustainable farming that has been lost over the years. Zengin said that their focus was on something more than just producing as much food as they possibly could. There was a social and political element to their work, too. Rojava aims to develop what the movement calls a “social economy,” with 80 percent of its economy based on the goods and services of cooperatives. “If we don’t give this to the society, then we’re going to be just like a company,” said Zengin, who lived in England for eleven years before coming to Rojava. “Then we’re not working for Rojava—we’re working for ourselves.”

Zengin told us that in England she had had her own company, a house, and a car. Unhappy with that life, she had given it all up to come to Rojava, she said. “I get up early, and … everything is very clear. Dirt, war—no problem,” she said. “Sometimes people think about where they are going to die. Well, I chose my place.”

In the greenhouses we saw little green shoots peeping out from rows of pots. Months after I left Rojava, I would see photos of the cooperative’s women showing off huge piles of the melons and courgettes they had grown.

Nahide Zengin left a comfortable life in England to help set up the Greenhouse Project, a women’s agricultural cooperative in Rojava.

Near the end of our trip, we visited a Yezidi refugee camp run by the movement. The Yezidi are ethnic Kurds who practise an ancient pre-Islamic religion related to Zoroastrianism. The Islamic State considers them the worst kind of infidels. The people in the camp, I learned, were the survivors of the 2014 massacre on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.

The United Nations has been providing the refugee camp with some supplies, but it cannot have an official presence there, the camp’s coordinator told us, given that nominally the Syrian regime controls the territory under international law. WJAR is running a health clinic there and organizing clothes-making workshops for the camp’s women. It has also established a school for children—many of whom, the coordinator noted, were dealing with trauma from the Sinjar massacre.

As we were driving away from the refugee camp, our guide told us that a friend of hers—a veteran fighter in the women’s army—had been among the first Kurdish forces to arrive in Sinjar and engage the Islamic State in combat. By the time they were able to rescue the Yezidi, however, thousands of them had already been beheaded, disemboweled, crucified, raped, and sold into sex slavery. Her friend, our guide said, is still traumatized by what she saw there.

Shortly before we left Rojava, Kimmie told us she was staying behind. Before our trip, she had planned to spend the next few years finishing her university degree and then starting her own NGO. But the experiences of the last two weeks had convinced her that Rojava was where she was really needed.

The day before Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, we exchanged an emotional goodbye at the border. Then Ali and I took a small boat back across the river to Iraq—the day before the border closed. Since then it has opened at times for a small amount of trade—five trucks per day being the last news I heard—but is often completely sealed.

In the year since I was in Syria, the Islamic State has suffered major losses on the battlefield. The ongoing sieges of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria by coalition forces—often led by Kurdish fighters—offer hope that the extremist group is on the verge of defeat. In Rojava, however, the situation is uncertain. Determined to stamp out a possible Kurdish state, Turkey invaded Syrian territory last August and began shelling Kurdish positions, while at the same time continuing to wage war against its own Kurdish population. In their mission to wipe out the PKK, Turkish troops have razed parts of many cities (such as the predominantly Kurdish city of Cizre), displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians, and allegedly committed war crimes.

I am still in regular contact with people in Rojava, and they tell me that the women’s movement, despite the danger, continues to thrive. Meanwhile, the idea of democratic confederalism is spreading beyond Kurdistan. As Kurdish-led forces retake more territory in Syria, some of the newly liberated cities and villages are setting up their own councils and communes. When the Islamic State and Turkey’s authoritarian regime fall—as all such oppressive states eventually do—women will rebuild their communities.

The post Women’s March appeared first on In The Fray.

Kevin Hart audiobook from Audible — I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons out now! (Exclusive Video)

Punchline Headlines - Tue, 06/06/2017 - 18:38

If you’re even a casual follower of Kevin Hart‘s comedy and, especially, his social media feeds, you already know the mega-comic is a bit of an inspiration junky. That is, he loves being inspired and inspiring others. Sometimes he inspires us by being shirtless— because he’s built like a goddamn NFL running back. Sometimes he inspires us by posting a photo of him standing next to a private plane or working out or sitting on a super fancy red car; or he posts a photo of himself standing next to a private plane holding the book I’m about to tell you about or hanging out with his wife, who is-not-in-the-least unattractive.

He’s got so much inspiration to give, it turns out, that mere mortal Instagram accounts and comedy stages just can’t contain the breadth of Hart’s sage-like summations of living and life. Enter: a book. Not just any book, mind you. It’s a book titled I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons, penned by — you guessed it — Kevin Hart.

Now, you book traditionalists are welcome to “read” the 400-page tome, which came out today.

Personally, I would much rather listen to Kevin Hart read me 400 pages.

To prove to you how much better — and more inspirational — listening (instead of reading) can be, we have lovingly procured an exclusive video from the folks at Audible, the proper swell organization responsible for the more listen-y version of I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons, in which we watch Hart gives advice to his 20-year-old self. I won’t give it away but you should know it has to do with his balls. So if ball talk offends you, maybe you should skip it and go right to the audio track below the video. Either way,  you are most welcome for these gifts we have bestowed upon you.


Here’s that audio-only clip we promised you. Enjoy!


Howie Mandel, Lena Dunham, Emma Stone and more share videos for #MyYoungerSelf campaign supporting mental health awareness

Punchline Headlines - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 15:34

For more than a decade now, Howie Mandel has been an open book about struggling with mental health issues, namely Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which, in his case, shows itself through an irrational fear of germs. But the comedian wasn’t always so forthcoming about his conditions. “There was always a stigma attached to mental health issues,” Mandel, who wasn’t diagnosed until he was an adult, once said. “I’ve always felt a little bit different and I always knew I wasn’t as comfortable with life as everybody else seemed to be. But I didn’t know what I could do about it. When I was a kid I didn’t know anybody who went to a psychiatrist.”

And that’s why, in the midst of Mental Health Awareness Month, Mandel is making sure young people know it’s ok to speak out if they think they might be suffering with any number of mental health conditions. The America’s Got Talent judge and Deal Or No Deal host has teamed up with the Child Mind Institute’s campaign, #MyYoungerSelf. The concept is simple yet powerful: Mandel, along with other celebrities like Jay Leno, Lena Dunham, Emma Stone and more, share a homemade video wherein they explain how they grew up dealing with mental illness or a learning disorder (another cause the Child Mind Institute addresses throughout their work). They then explain what they would tell their younger selves.

In the video below, Mandel admits, “I have a lot of mental health issues.” More importantly, though, he urges young people not to hide their conditions. “Don’t be quiet. Tell people. Tell people, like ‘How can you help me?’ Talk to anybody. Anybody! A friend, a doctor, a parent,” Mandel says. “Not everybody’s going to understand, not everybody has an answer, but since I spoke out about it, I’ve gotten a lot of coping skills and I’m doing pretty well. A lot better than I was doing when I was younger.”

Throughout the entire month of May the Child Mind Institute will post a new video each day from a celebrity. You can already check out videos from Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, Rachel Bloom, Lena Dunham, Wayne Brady and more.

“We are grateful to have so many notable figures participating in #MyYoungerSelf and speaking up about such an important topic,” said Dr. Harold Koplewicz, Founding President of the Child Mind Institute. “I know that their inspiring stories will help millions of families open up about their own mental health and learning disorders and seek out the help their children deserve.”


EXCLUSIVE FULL ALBUM PREMIERE: Scout Durwood – ‘Take One Thing Off’

Punchline Headlines - Mon, 05/15/2017 - 14:37

“I came up as a performer in queer nightlife, so a lot of what other pop songs were about didn’t resonate with me,” comedian, actress and singer Scout Durwood says about “Go Go,” one of the 19 tracks that make up her debut musical comedy album Take One Thing Off. After one listen of the entire album, however, one can argue the dearth of popular music easily embraced by the LGBTQ community is why Take One Thing Off exists. So much more than a set of goofy songs, Take One Thing Off is a collection of expertly crafted pop tunes – with help from acclaimed producer Dave Darling – that will bounce around your brains for days on end. It helps that Durwood’s pipes are on par or better than most of the disposable pop stars of 2017.

And that’s why Laughspin is proud to exclusively stream Scout Durwood’s entire album before it’s officially available May 19 through Blue Elan Records. So, sit back, check out our little Q&A with Scout, watch her amazing video for the title track and get to listening to her album!

Oh, and one more thing. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, you’re going to want to make it out to Take One Thing Off Live at The Hotel Café on Saturday, May 20 at 9 pm. Get your tickets now!


How would you explain the relationship between music and comedy in your life?
Comedy is my head and music is my heart. There is so much about the human condition I want to figure out and explain, and for that, I use comedy. Why are we here? What are we doing? Is any of this at all relevant? And whatever I can’t explain, I sing.

Is there some sort of comfort in putting out a comedy/music album as opposed to, say, a straight-up music album– in that, if people say “it stinks!” you can always, say, well, it’s JUST a comedy album so, what did you expect?
Ha! No way. The comedy tracks on this album give me way more anxiety than the music. There’s a bullet-proof-ness to singing where you can close your eyes and tune out the audience and really just be in it with the song. It’s harder to do that with comedy. Impossible, really. I’ve never imagined people would want to listen to what I have to say unless I was being funny, however, so it’s been my main focus in life for always. In a way, all of my years as a comedian were just a means to get me to a place where people would listen to me sing.

The video for “Take One Thing Off” is pretty amazing. Can you of explain the inspiration behind it?
Hell yeah. We had a bunch of ideas floating around, but Sammi Cohen and Sarah King who directed and produced the video, respectively, came up with the laundromat. They also decided to get a motorcycle into said laundromat, and it was one of the most incredible things I have ever witnessed I almost always perform with two male back up dancers, so I brought in Graham and Cory, and the rest was a big party that all fell into place. It’s super hipster and super queer and we had In ‘N Out for lunch. All the things that I love best!

The video shows a lot of hijinks…. did the party continue off camera as well?
Once that paint powder came out, it was game on. Graham, the dancer in white with the big ol moustache, got blasted in the ear with blue paint in basically our first shot, and from that point on, everyone was all in. We tested a bunch of the paint on our producer, so by the end of the day, no one in the crew was safe. My skin kept turning bight green from all of the paint in the air, so I was constantly wiping myself down with baby wipes. I was also incredibly sick at the time, and had been for over a week, so my face was super chapped from blowing my nose. I spent a huge chunk of the day peeling bright green skin flakes off of my face. Super sexy. And then after the shoot, we went out to dinner and totally forgot that we were still covered in paint. Jason, one of our dancers, had a friend from high school in town who came and Jason totally forgot until he was topless that his friend hadn’t seen him since he transitioned from female to male. It was a fantastic moment and everyone cheered. There was also a moment towards the end of the shoot where Sarah, our producer, very gently put it out there that we’d love to get some shots of people making out, and immediately a bunch of us were like, ‘Uh, yes please!’

How and where would you suggest people listen to this album?
Great question! I’ll start with my perfect world first. The album is a narrative, so pour yourself a large glass of wine, turn the lights down low, and have a one person listening/dance party to the album from start to finish. From there, pick your favorites and feel free to shuffle.




WATCH: Orange is the New Black trailer season 5 is here!

Punchline Headlines - Tue, 05/09/2017 - 12:24

Orange is the New Black returns to Netflix for season five on June 9! When we last left the ladies of Litchfield Prison, a riot sparked by Poussey’s death quickly escalates when the inmates gain control of the prison. Once they get a taste of power, chaos ensues through the halls of Litchfield. In real time and over the course of just three days, season five of Orange Is The New Black will leave the inmates’ lives forever changed as they are emboldened to fight for redemption, resolution and the respect they deserve.

About Orange is the New Black, in case you already didn’t know: Piper Chapman is a public relations executive with a career and a fiance when her past suddenly catches up to her. In her mid-30s she is sentenced to spend time in a minimum-security women’s prison in Connecticut for her association with a drug runner 10 years earlier. This Netflix original series is based on the book of the same title. Forced to trade power suits for prison orange, Chapman makes her way through the corrections system and adjusts to life behind bars, making friends with the many eccentric, unusual and unexpected people she meets.

Lewis Black: ‘The Rant is Due’ on Audible capitalizes on crankiness

Punchline Headlines - Mon, 05/08/2017 - 10:16

Lewis Black got America’s 70-year-old, 5’1”, perennial TV journalist Connie Chung to say “fuck”—a lot. Actually, one of the comedian’s fans repeatedly put the angry, four-letter word—amongst others—in her mouth. “I was never allowed to say that…my apologies to Edward R. Murrow,” she says after the first cheered utterance. This was the big closer at a New York recording of his new audio show Lewis Black: The Rant is Due where the Grammy Award-winning comedian performs diatribes submitted by his fans. Other guest readers on a recent night at Five Angels Theater, part of the 52nd Street Project, were Nurse Jackie’s Edie Falco and True Detective’s Michael Potts.

America is angry. Whichever side of the aisle they are on—or if they’re against the concept of aisles entirely and are shouting from outside the building—everyone in this country seems eager to vent their major gripes in obnoxiously long Facebook rants. Professional griper Lewis Black has volunteered to be America’s mouthpiece on his audio show, available exclusively on Audible Channels (curiously not called a “podcast” by the company). Black’s stand-up act has always ranted about incompetent politicians, Starbucks locations, and the moronic game of golf. In The Rant is Due, he takes America’s anger and adds in that quintessential Lewis Black rage.

In an unabashedly liberal city like New York, boos erupt when Black reads one rant about how Medicaid is for “lazy assholes.” He puts down the iPad to give more than his 2¢—a rant is due. He shakes mid-rhapsody as if he has idiot-induced Parkinson’s. Fans enjoy the classic hand gesture, head gyrations, and comical insight. This happens several times throughout the show, taking time to interrupt a person who is not even there with his hilarious take on the matter. He sprinkles in his retort not directed at the fans who wrote in but at the world.

Black is one of those comedy acts that, despite his transparent distaste for the Trump administration, attracts fans from all points of the political spectrum. Complaining is a bi-partisan pleasure. It’s a rare thing to pull off in 2017. Being apolitical draws in a similar political diversity, but even the recent #FireColbert trend proved that a silly and unoriginal editing gag can alienate 50 percent of the country. The Rant is Due brings all sides together to blow off some steam and save our friends and family members an unnecessarily long comment thread.

Lewis Black has always been angry. America is just catching up.

Lewis Black: The Rant is Due is available exclusively on Audible Channels, a premium audio show subscription service that comes with an Audible or Amazon Prime membership. Fans of Black can subscribe to the service, which offers a variety of audio shows, as a standalone offering for $4.95 a month.

Lahna Turner: How I Lost 500 Pounds (guest post)

Punchline Headlines - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 11:03

The following is a guest post by comedian and songstress Lahna Turner, who has just released the first ever comedy music and visual album. Titled LIMEADE, it’s available now on Amazon, YouTube and iTunes. For more info check out, lahnaturner.com.


When I was just 23 and straight out of college, I had the opportunity to travel through India with my Israeli boyfriend Gil who I had met that summer working on a kibbutz. We saw a lot of sad people during our travels in India but there was one woman we came across, a beggar, who didn’t have a nose. Every day for a week we would walk past her and I would whisper, “Gil, she doesn’t have a nose. There’s just two holes.” And Gil would go, “No, no, no, she has a nose. There’s a place that’s the nose.” Admittedly, there was a bit of a language barrier between Gil and I but he was really cute so it worked out.

I’ve thought of the woman without a nose a lot recently as I contend with the implosion and demise of my 10-year marriage. On the days when I don’t want to get out of bed, and there are plenty, I think, ‘Everything that I thought my life was going to be like is gone and I have no idea what I’m going to do.’ And then I remind myself, ‘But I have a nose and I will never not have a nose.’ So in spite of the multi-act shitshow that I’ve found myself starring in, I feel really lucky. I’ve even discovered some silver linings.

Before we go further, if you’re reading this looking for life-changing diet tips, I can’t help you. The 500 pounds I refer to in the title of this article is my ex-husband, standup comic Ralphie May, who you may know from Last Comic Standing or his many comedy specials like Unruly and Too Big To Ignore.

At first when I met Ralphie we started out as friends and eventually it turned into something more. I never thought I would date a comic, let alone a man that big, but I always thought Ralphie was very handsome and I loved him with all my heart.

Over the 4th of July weekend in 2006, we got married in Las Vegas by three Elvis impersonators. Why three? I have no idea. Maybe because it’s a magic number. Ralphie wore the biggest tux we could find and I wore a simple, chic wedding dress that a friend of a friend made for me at the last minute. It was a really fun wedding.

Two years after we got married, Ralphie and I had a daughter and two years after that, a son.

Then six years ago, Ralphie was hospitalized with pulmonary embolisms, which are blockages in the blood vessels of the lungs. The doctors saved his life by seconds. I really believe that I had actually watched him die but he pulled through. He came back to us and even managed to get back to doing shows. But he was never quite the same.
By this point you’re probably thinking, ‘Aren’t you a supposed to be a comedian? This is a fucking bummer! How’d you lose the..you know..500 lbs?’ Hang on, here we go…

On the Friday before Memorial Day 2015, I got served with divorce papers. I had no idea it was coming. I had just been on the phone with Ralphie about an hour before and I thought it was a productive call. I hung up and it was like ding-dong divorce papers.

And then I lost it. I really did. I was barely able to function.

I’m really not a spiritual or religious person. Ever since that trip to India where I saw so much suffering, I’ve believed that it would be really narcissistic to assume there’s something out there that’s keeping me okay. But something’s keeping me okay. I’ve had so many blessings come my way, like with my new music comedy album and visual album Limeade. My friend Joey G hooked us up with Full Sail University in Florida where we were able to shoot the videos with incredible production values. And I got to completely destroy that wedding dress while shooting Limeade. Even the sex shop where we bought dildos for the “Masturbate,” video gave us a free giant black dildo. The clerk said it was too damaged to sell but I didn’t see any flaws. As the old saying goes, “When life gives you limes get a dildo…”

For years, I was trying to force a man who didn’t want to get well to get well and juggling all these plates that were constantly crashing down. Now I feel like if I just work really hard and do the right things, work on myself and take care of my children, it’s going to be okay.

So that’s how I lost 500 pounds. As health regimens go, I don’t recommend it. For a long time, I thought my life was over. But as the days went by, the clouds slowly lifted and I’ve realized that maybe the bad things that happen to us are actually really good things. I’ve got my kids. I’ve got my health. I’ve got my songs and my audiences and friends who went above and beyond to help me bring Limeade to sick and twisted life. That’s a lot.

And I’ve got a nose.


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