Demi Lovato Tells Her Harrowing Story in “Dancing with the Devil”

By Terrance Turner

March 23, 2021

Two hours ago, “Dancing with the Devil”, a searing documentary about singer Demi Lovato, premiered on YouTube. The first two parts of the four-part documentary have been released today; the third and fourth installments will follow in coming weeks. In the film, Lovato explains the causes and events leading up to her near-fatal overdose in July 2018.

The doc begins with footage of Lovato’s 2018 “Tell Me You Love Me” tour, titled after her album of the same name. The footage was originally filmed as part of a documentary around the tour — a film that was never finished. Filming halted after her overdose.

“The US tour was absolutely a dream come true, obviously, professionally,” says former choreographer Dani Vitale. “But emotionally, it was miserable.”

Demi admits that she wasn’t being totally forthcoming in the film — “I wasn’t showing them what I was doing behind closed doors.” In a chilling moment, her mother Dianna de la Garza congratulates Demi on a great show, unaware of the turmoil behind the scenes.

“I think this was the best show you have ever done, and you know what? It’s just only going to get better from here,” her mother says, one month before Demi’s overdose. Demi was hospitalized on July 24th; the 2018 documentary was permanently shelved. Then she stepped away from the spotlight and all filming was halted…until now.

“This is the first time where we’re really telling the truth,” says Sirah, Demi’s best friend and former sober companion. And Demi Lovato does just that, with a series of searing revelations that expose the truth behind her near-lethal OD. 

“Any time that you suppress a part of yourself it’s going to, like, overflow at some point,” Demi says. “And that’s ultimately, like, what happened to me in a lot of areas of my life, and it was what led to my overdose, for sure.”

“Dancing with the Devil” began filming in spring 2020. Accordingly, we see a “Temperature Checkpoint” sign on the premises, along with masked crew members sanitizing the stations. Even Demi and her parents are shown wearing masks, as the project began filming just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning. Demi later remarks that it took until quarantine for her to confront her traumas.

Part of that “trauma work” starts with untangling her relationship with her late father. He was bipolar and struggled with alcoholism, which ruined his marriage and his relationship with Demi. “We had an estranged relationship, so we weren’t close. And growing up my whole life I longed for that relationship with him, and then I resented him because he was an addict and an alcoholic and was abusive to my mom,” Demi says. “I cut him out because I felt like, you know, it was causing more harm than good to have him in my life.”

“His death was very complicated, because we don’t actually know the exact day that he died,” Demi says in the film. “All we know is that by the time he was found, his body was too decomposed to have an open casket. He’d been laying there, I think, for about a week and a half. And during that was Father’s Day. So every summer now that rolls around, I spend it kind of thinking, ‘Was today the day that my dad died? Or is it tomorrow?’ And also knowing that by the time Father’s Day rolls around, he was just laying there rotting. And that was the fear that I always had for him is that he would end up alone. And he did. He died alone.”

Sadly, Demi Lovato found herself repeating the same behaviors as her father. “Mental health is something that we all need to talk about, and we need to take the stigma away from it,” an emotional Lovato says in 2018 concert footage. “Six years ago, I was drinking vodka out of a Sprite bottle at 9:00 in the morning, throwing up in the car. And I just remember thinking, “This is no longer cute; this is no longer fun, and I’m just like my dad.”

“I definitely think that she had some things that were underlying that she was trying to self medicate, just like I was trying to do when I was kicking Xanax. I was trying to self medicate,” says her mother, Dianna de la Garza. “You know, she was around for some of the abuse from my first husband, and sometimes I feel like that stayed with her for many years[…] I didn’t know that she probably needed to work with a professional to work through some of that.”

Demi’s mother Dianna de la Garza and stepdad Eddie de la Garza appear in the film.

“I also felt a lot of guilt over the years,” Demi says, “because I’ve been such an advocate for mental health. Yet here was my father who had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and then on top of that the disease of addiction, and I didn’t help him the way I would have helped other people — or the way that I’ve been preaching about. And that really ate up at me. But ultimately, I know that he was kind of too far gone at that point; he needed to realize that he needed help himself.” 

“Sobriety has to be your choice, and no one else’s,” her mother says. “If it is someone else’s choice for you, then it won’t last. I tried to get him to get help and I wasn’t able to make that happen; he just — he wasn’t ready.”

Demi Lovato inherited many of her parents’ issues — drug and alcohol addiction from her father, an eating disorder from her mother. As Demi explains: “My mom has dealt with substances and an eating disorder, so I didn’t know any different. Then I was put in beauty pageants, where it’s extremely competitive and it’s all about your looks and your talent. My self-esteem was just completely damaged from those beauty pageants. I remember actually making a pact with myself saying, ‘If I don’t win this pageant, I will never eat again.’ Then you put me in front of a camera and on stage, and it’s just like, of course I’m going to be super-competitive and try to be the best at everything that I do.”

In an effort to keep her demons at bay, Lovato surrounded herself with professionals who could help her stay sober and maintain a healthy relationship with food. But that created an environment in which she felt stifled and controlled. “My team has consisted of assistants, a wellness coach, a dietitian, nutritionist, therapist… I’ve got all these people in and out of my life. I feel like decisions have been made for me more so than I’ve made decisions for myself,” Demi says in the unreleased 2018 documentary footage.

Demi Lovato in a still from “Dancing with the Devil.” (Photo from Wonderland Magazine.)

“It wasn’t until the last few years that I really fully realized the impact that even disorders have had on her. We had to be very careful what we ate around her, which sounds insane. But maybe some control that she had with her last team was put in place to help her so she wouldn’t relapse in her eating disorder. But it totally backfired,” says her friend Matthew Scott Montgomery. “The control and restriction was way too toxic for her. She was miserable.”

“There were times I had to spend the night because she, like, had a cookie,” says former assistant Jordan Jackson. Former choreographer Dani Vitale adds, “I felt like I was always walking on eggshells no matter what: what I was eating around who, what we had in our dressing room, what kind of food…” 

“It was very intense. Everybody around her had to be drug-tested,” says Sirah. Jackson adds, “There were times where I just felt like, ‘She’s miserable’.”

In a telling moment from the 2018 doc, Demi complains about not feeling comfortable with her body after having gained a small amount of weight. She says that the costumes for the tour are an issue, as are the costume sketches: “I don’t wanna go onstage every night in things that are showy[…]Everything looks good on a sketch because it’s a 10-foot, 90-pound model with a five-inch waist.” 

“There’s just so much pressure as a female in the industry to look a certain way and to like, dress a certain way,” Demi says, her voice breaking, in the clip. “That s–t’s really triggering.”

In addition to the pressure from the industry, Demi felt enormous pressure to be sober — and be the poster child for recovery. Dallas Lovato recalls: “It was hammered into her head, ‘You have to be sober. You have to be this icon, this role model,’ that my sister never claimed to want to be in the first place.” 

Demi echoes that sentiment: “Because I’ve been so open and honest about the things that I dealt with, I felt like I had to be this perfect role model,” she says. Her sober companion adds, “I think to be the poster child for perfection and mental health and all these kind of things, it’s just such a dangerous slippery slope.” Matthew Scott Montgomery, her best friend, says that Demi’s next moves were about agency for herself, but he also describes them as “a major act of rebellion.”

The issues with food and control slowly gave way to a relapse: first with the eating disorder, then drinking, then drugs. The result was a spiral that nearly turned deadly.

“I started relapsing in my eating disorder,” Demi confesses. “I was already relapsing in it with over-exercising and extreme dieting, and I also had people around me that were really policing my food intake and the things that I was eating. I was miserable, and I, like, snapped.”

Demi Lovato began to unravel. Footage from a March 16th 2018 concert shows DJ Khaled emphatically celebrating Demi for marking six years of sobriety. “God bless you,” he says. “Don’t ever give up.” The audience cheers as Demi breaks into tears.

Demi relapsed a month after the show.

“I had a photoshoot, and I just remember being at the photoshoot thinking to myself: ‘Like, I don’t even know why I’m sober anymore. Like, I am so miserable; I’m not happy; I have all this stuff that I’m dealing with…’ I picked up a bottle of red wine that night, and it wasn’t even 30 minutes before I called someone that I knew had drugs on them. I’m surprised I didn’t OD that night.” 

“I ended up at a party. I just so happened to run into my old drug dealer from six years before and, like the odds of that happening was crazy. And he had like, a duffel bag, and I just went to town. I went on a shopping spree. That night I did drugs that I’d never done before. I’d never done meth before; I tried meth; I mixed it with molly, with coke, weed, alcohol, Oxycontin — and that alone should have killed me.” 

“It was only like two weeks before I was introduced to heroin and crack cocaine. I started using recreationally, and obviously you can’t do that with heroin before you become addicted to it,” Demi says. “It wasn’t until I went on a trip to Bali a few weeks later that I realized I had become physically dependent on it, and it was on that trip that I actually wrote ‘Sober.'”

In the poignant single, Demi sings, “Mama, I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore/And daddy, please forgive me for the drinks spilled on the floor […] I’m sorry that I’m here again, I promise I’ll get help/It wasn’t my intention, I’m sorry to myself.”

People within her orbit sensed what was going on. In a remarkable bit of foreshadowing, a blonde woman hugs Demi during the tour and counsels her. “Hey, be careful on tour,” she tells Demi in the 2018 clip. “I don’t know why, but I just like, felt like I needed to tell you that ever since I was at your house.” 

Okay,” Demi smiles. 

“Be careful,” the woman reminds her. 

“I’m always careful,” Demi responds. Indeed, she was careful — not to let anyone know what was really going on with her. But her sober companion soon found out the truth.

Sirah remembers a night at Demi’s house where Demi disappeared. Sirah went upstairs to the bathroom. “And she’s got tinfoil and she’s smoking… something. And so I walk over to her and I grab it and I’m like, ‘WTF are you up to, bro? Like, this is not it.” And she didn’t even notice I was there. And I was horrified and devastated. So I stayed there and just made sure she didn’t like, you know, kill yourself. The next day I just told her, “You need to go get help. I can’t do this anymore.” 

But help was a long way away. Demi informed her inner circle of her plans to resume drinking. Her cool, controlled demeanor belied the danger of that plan. “So when she had texted in 2018 and was talking about deciding to drink again,” says Matthew, “I remember driving to her house running by her side, and I expected her to be face down, ass up, passed out on the floor…. And she was kind of sitting in bed, very aware of the decision that she’d made, and then she was drinking and fine… until it wasn’t fine.”

By the time Demi went on tour, she was already not fine. “I went away, went on tour to Europe. I stayed clean, kind of — like, wasn’t doing drugs, but was drinking a lot.” In Amsterdam on June 19, 2018, she’s seen downing a glass of wine and demanding a shot. “I want to get f—-d up!” she yells. A shot is poured in her mouth. “More!” she insists, right in the face of the pourer. 

Demi remembers that the drinking eventually escalated to harder drugs. “When I came back to LA, after the tour, I picked up back where I left off, and I was very heavily using.” At the California Mid-State Fair on July 22, 2018, she begins performing ‘Sober’ and then pauses. “I forgot the words,” she admits, then turns and walks off stage.

The next day, Demi Lovato began a binge that would alter the course of her life. Demi remembers: “I went out to a friend’s party and none of my friends knew what I was using so I kept it very hidden from everyone. That is one thing that I was very good at, was hiding the fact that I was addicted to crack and heroin.”

“Demi is very good at hiding what she needs to hide,” her sister Madison says. “Demi’s good at making you believe that she’s okay,” adds her stepdad Eddie. But Demi’s spiral into dangerous drug use wouldn’t stay hidden for long.

 “I had told some friends, ‘Hey, I’ve been sober since I was 18; I want to try this drinking/smoking thing. I just want to see if I can handle it. And I’ve been stir crazy… and I want to see if I can do it. So to them, I wasn’t doing these hard drugs; I was just ‘normal’ again,” she said, using finger quotes. 

“I met up with some friends; we went to several different bars. We came back to my house, and around 5:30 in the morning, I said I was going to bed. But the reality was that I had called one of my dealers over.” 

At 11:22 a.m., on July 24, 2018, a call was made to 911. We can hear the 911 dispatch call in the documentary and that’s how Part One ends. 

DaBaby Headlines Release Party in Houston

By Terrance Turner

March 22, 2021

Last Sunday, rapper DaBaby was at the Grammys, performing “Levitating” with singer Dua Lipa (who won the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album) and his single “Rockstar” which was nominated for Record of the Year). This Sunday, he was in Houston, headlining not one but two single release parties. The day party was at Seaside Lounge (702 W.Dallas St.). The night show was at Cle Houston, located at 2301 Main St.

Upon arriving at the club, I enoucntered avirtual gridlock on Main. Traffic was at a virtual standstill, with cars bumper-to-bumper as they entered and exited the premises. It took over 10 minutes to park; vehicles lined the street and filled up the lot. One attendant waved me over to a parking lot adjacent to the club, despite the fact that the line of cars had spilled out into the street. He beckoned me to pull up, inching me closer and closer to the vehicle in front of me. I was nearly rear-ended when the car began backing out.

I drove up to a nearby lot just feet away, hoping to land a spot. I asked the attendant (clad in a black uniform with the Cle logo) how much it cost. $40, he said, adding that they were “overwhelmed” by the crowds. Were they ever. I ended up parking on the street at Space City (formerly known as Rich’s Houston).

I walked to the front of the club and waited in line with a mostly maskless group of clubgoers. (Some were in miniskirts and Daisy Dukes, despite the 55-degree temperatures.) How much would it cost to get in? “$80,” said one of the bouncers. “Turn around.” After frisking me, he informed me that the people up front had card readers. They did, but by the time I got there the price had dropped to $60. Was DaBaby inside? I asked. Was he onstage?

“We don’t know,” one woman said. “We outside.”

After paying, I made my way towards the entrance. Just outside the door was a blonde burlesque (?) dancer, twirling inside a pole with a circular ring at the top.

Inside, trap music blasted from the speakers as the mostly black crowd alternately watched and danced. The room was dark and hazy with smoke; it was sometimes hard to tell who was on stage. The chief source of light came from the sparklers carried by a group of young female employees (bottle girls?), a maskless group that lit the sparklers and carried them to various places throughout the club.

Some of the haze likely came from the sparklers and/or smoke machines. But some of it was organic: a handful of attendees walked by with blunts in their mouths. It wasn’t uncommon to spot a lighted cigarette or joint, either. Cle’s easygoing approach to smoking indoors also extended to mask-wearing. I observed roughly 150 people inside the club (likely an undercount); of those, five of them wore masks (including the author).

This isn’t the first time that Cle has flouted pandemic restrictions. In January, Cle Houston was one of three Houston nightclubs (along with Spire and Grooves) to have its liquor license suspended after the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission found them in violation of COVID-19 protocols. “All three businesses are accused of violating Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-32, which requires businesses which sell alcohol for on-premise consumption to comply with capacity limits as well as social distancing and facial covering requirements,” a press release stated.

As the clock rolled past 1:00 AM and then 1:30, my earlier question lingered: where was DaBaby? He finally materialized around 1:45 AM, sandwiched by a plethora of security and bodyguards. I thought he was there to perform; turns out that he was there for a single release party. The single was “Ice,” by rapper KayyKilo, who’s signed to DaBaby’s record label Billion Dollar Baby.

Born in Louisiana, KayyKilo moved to Houston in part to pursue music. She soon attracted notice from many — including DaBaby. “I came across Kilo [through] one of my potnas,” he said in an interview. “His name Money on the Mo; he a rapper. He just got out the feds like, last year. He shot me a DM and he like, ‘You gotta hop on shawty song,” DaBaby explains. (The song was “Bend It,” a provocative single that KayyKilo had released.) “He had sent me the video from her page, and when I went to the video it was like, a listening session that she had with Bay Bay — my potna Bay Bay, down in Shreveport, in the Dallas area.” (Hollyhood Bay Bay is a DJ and radio personality in Dallas, Texas.)

Impressed by her vibe — and the song “Bend It,” which he called “hard ‘den a mothaf—er” — DaBaby sent Kilo a DM, asking if she was signed to a label. She told him no. He offered to work with her, and Kilo flew to DaBaby’s recording studio in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. Now she’s signed to his record label — and rapping to sold-out crowds in Houston.

As evidenced from the videos, the club was packed. The overwhelming majority of those in attendance were not wearing masks. But with Spring Break coming to a close (and Gov. Greg Abbott allowing businesses to reopen 100%), nobody seemed to mind.

Oscar Nominations Announced

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

By Terrance Turner

March 15, 2021

Nominations for this year’s Academy Awards were announced this morning. In a 7 AM ceremony, actor & singer Nick Jonas and his wife, actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas, presented the nominees. As so often this year, the roster contains some surprising inclusions and several glaring exclusions. But the headline is that nine actors of color earned Academy Award nominations — the most ever in that arena.

Perhaps most surprising is the race for Actor in a Supporting Role, dominated by two films about unrest and civil rights in Chicago. Sacha Baron Cohen is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of activist Abbie Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago Seven. The film is based on a true story. According to People, “The Netflix film is based on the trial of eight anti-Vietnam War protestors — Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Lee Weiner, John Froines and Bobby Seale — who were charged with conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intention of inciting the riots that erupted at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, the trial was initially supposed to involve all eight men. But after being informed he could not have a lawyer of his choice, Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale was excluded. “Seale, after loudly disrupting the trial when he could not have the lawyer of his choice, was at first bound and gagged in the courtroom and then severed from the case for a later trial, which never occurred,” the Tribune says. (Actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen plays Seale in the film.) Cohen plays Abbie Hoffman, the leader of the Youth International Movement (or “Yippies”), who suggested a night of mass fornication during the convention and was arrested for public indecency.

Abbie Hoffman was arrested for public indecency for writing an expletive on his forehead. (Photo courtesy of FantasticMag.)

Also nominated for Best Supporting Actor is actor Daniel Kaluuya, for his work in “Judas and the Black Messiah”. Nominated against him in that category is actor LaKeith Stanfield, his co-star. Stanfield plays William O’Neal, who was arrested for being a car thief. He was offered a plea deal by the FBI: instead of serving time, he could infiltrate the Black Panther Party (a target of the FBI) and provide information on its dynamic leader Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya). O’Neal took the deal.

According to the Chicago Reader, “O’Neal was a Panther insider to the point where he was in charge of security for Hampton and possessed keys to Panther headquarters and safe houses, he was at the same time serving as an informant for the FBI. Among the information the teenaged O’Neal fed his FBI contact was the floor plan of Hampton’s west-side apartment.” That led to an FBI raid that killed Hampton at age 21.

Kaluuya’s performance as Hampton drew raves from critics: Entertainment Weekly wrote that “Kaluuya — alternately raw, tender, and incendiary — duly electrifies every scene he’s in.” The Austin Chronicle called it “the best performance of his career.” The L.A. Times said that “you can’t take your eyes of Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton,” calling him “an actor of boundless charisma and versatility.”

Daniel Kaluuya (left) and LaKeith Stanfield (right) in “Judas and the Black Messiah”. (Photo from Warner Brothers.)

Leslie Odom, Jr. is also a contender in this category for playing Sam Cooke in “One Night in Miami”. The film, directed by actress Regina King, dramatizes a 1964 meeting between Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali. The fateful encounter happened as Ali was preparing for a fight; he knocked out Sonny Liston to become heavyweight champion of the world. (Odom is also nominated for Best Original Song, for a song from the film that he co-wrote.)

The Best Supporting Actress category is also notable. Glenn Close is nominated (again) for her work in “Hillbilly Elegy”, joining Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”), Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”) and Olivia Colman (“The Father”). But the headline is actress Yuh-Jung Youn, nominated for “Minari” — a film about a Korean family who moves to Arkansas in search of the “American Dream”. According to Variety, Youn is the first Korean ever to be nominated for an acting Oscar.

For Best Actress, the nominees are historic. Viola Davis is nominated for playing the title role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (based on the play by August Wilson). This is her fourth Academy Award nomination — the most ever by a Black actress. (She was previously nominated best supporting actress for “Fences” and “Doubt” and as best actress for “The Help”.) This also makes her the first Black woman to be nominated twice for best actress. Viola Davis is the most nominated Black actress in history.

Joining her in that category is singer Andra Day, nominated for her performance in the titular role in Lee Daniels’ “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”. This is her first nomination for her first film! Other nominees include Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”), Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”), and Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”).

The race for Best Actor is a stunner. Per Variety, it’s the first time in Oscar history that the nominees haven’t been majority-white. Steven Yeun (nominated for “Minari”) is the first Asian American ever nominated for best actor in a leading role. Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) is the first actor of Pakistani descent ever nominated for an Academy Award. (He’s also the first Muslim to compete for Best Actor.) And sadly, Chadwick Boseman becomes the first actor of color to receive a posthumous nomination (for “Ma Rainey”). Gary Oldman (“Mank”) and Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”) round out the nominees.

In yet another historic first, two women are nominated for Best Director. Chloe Zhao becomes the first Asian woman ever in this category for her feature film “Nomadland.” It follows a woman who, after losing her job and husband, purchases a van and travels the American West. Also nominated for Best Director is Emerald Fennell, for “Promising Young Woman”, about a woman who avenges the rape of her friend. Rounding out the category are Thomas Vinterberg (for “Another Round”), David Fincher (for “Mank”, a story about the making of the 1941 classic “Citizen Kane”), and Lee Isaac Chung, who directed “Minari”.

In the Best Picture category, “Judas and the Black Messiah” makes history as the first film by an all-Black production team to be nominated for Best Picture. (One of the film’s producers is Ryan Coogler, who directed “Black Panther”.) As mentioned previously, two of the lead nominees for Best Picture concern 1960s political unrest in Chicago — “Judas” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” In “The Father”, Anthony Hopkins plays a man struggling to accept his dementia diagnosis and the ensuing memory loss, even as his daughter begins taking care of him. “Sound of Metal” follows a heavy-metal drummer beginning to lose his hearing.

Beyonce Makes Grammy History with “Black Parade”

Photo courtesy

By Terrance Turner

March 14, 2021

BREAKING NEWS: Beyonce is now the most decorated artist in Grammy history.

Just minutes ago, Beyonce won the Grammy for Best R&B Performance for her song “Black Parade”, which she co-wrote. With this win, she now has 28 Grammy Awards — more than any other artist, male or female. Grammy host Trevor Noah emphasized this historic moment after Beyonce’s name was called.

As the audience applauded her historic achievement, Beyonce sat with her hands over her (masked) mouth, stunned by the honor. Upon reaching the podium, she called the moment overwhelming. “This is so overwhelming,” she said. “I’ve been working my whole life, since I was nine years old. I just can’t believe this. This is such a magical night. Thank you,” she said.

But she also reflected on why she wrote the song. “As an artist, I believe our job is to reflect the times,” Beyonce said, noting that these times are especially difficult for so many. “I wanted to uplift, encourage, and celebrate all of the beautiful Black queens and kings that continue to inspire me and inspire the whole world.” She noted, “I know my daughter is watching tonight — my two daughters and a son…My daughter won her first Grammy tonight,” she beamed. (The award was for her appearance in Beyonce’s “Brown Skin Girl” video.) Beyonce thanked her children, her fans, and her husband (“my ROCK”) in her brief remarks.

“Black Parade” addresses Black and African culture, reparations, the COVID-19 pandemic, and police brutality (the latter two issues disproportionately impact Black people). “Ankh charm on gold chains, with my Oshun energy,” Beyonce sings, “or the Dashiki print”. (According to an analysis in Elle, ‘Ankh’ is a symbol deriving from Ancient Egypt, and ‘Oshun’ is the Nigerian Yoruba goddess of femininity, love, sensuality and fertility.)

According to the website for Black-owned clothing line D’Iyanu, the dashiki originated in West Africa and dates back as far as the 12th-13th century. It came into fashion in the United States during the 1960s as a symbol of Afrocentrism and Black pride. The lyrics also reference the universally recognized “Black Power” salute, which also become a Black pride symbol in the 1960s and 1970s. “Raise your fist in the air, show Black love,” Beyonce says.

The lyrics also reference civil rights and the protests that continue across this country in support of Black lives. “Trust me, they gon’ need an army/Rubber bullets bouncin’ off me/
Made a picket sign off your picket fence/Take it as a warning,” she continues. “Stroll line to the barbeque/Put us any damn where, we gon’ make it look cute/Pandemic fly on the runway, in my hazmat/Children runnin’ through the house and my art, all black.”

“Need another march, lemme call Tamika (Woo). Need peace and reparation for my people,” Beyoncé continues. “Tamika” is a reference to Tamika Mallory, a Black female activist who helped organize the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. (She also served as co-president of the 2019 Women’s March, according to the New York Times.) Reparations for slavery have been a long-held but never-fulfilled request from many Black activists.

“We got rhythm/We got pride/We birth kings/We birth tribes,” Beyonce sings. “Motherland, motherlands, drip on me/I can’t forget my history is herstory, yeah…Here I come on my throne, sittin’ high/Follow my parade.”

“Black Parade” was released on the historic Black holiday of Juneteenth, which originated in Beyoncé’s home state of Texas. The holiday celebrates the emancipation of slaves in 1865, as the Civil War was ending. On June 19, 1865, slaves in Texas learned that they were free, more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The song arrived just hours after Beyoncé unveiled a new “Black Parade” initiative on her website.

Displayed on the website is a dizzying, dazzling directory of Black-owned businesses. The categories encompass art and design, fashion and lifestyle, bars and restaurants. The song “Black Parade” benefits her foundation BeyGOOD’s Black Business Impact Fund, administered by the National Urban League, to support Black-owned small businesses in need. And it is this song, dedicated to her people, that helped Beyonce make Grammy history.

One Year After Shutdown, A Ray of Hope for the XFL

By Terrance Turner

March 12, 2021

Today marks one year since the XFL suspended its season due to COVID-19. That decision, which came one day after the WHO declared the virus a pandemic, effectively marked the end of sports as we knew it.

It was a devastating end to a magical ride that had really just started. The season was only five weeks old; the Houston Roughnecks team was in New York for a game when the decision was announced. It was the Roughnecks who had the XFL’s best record, still undefeated at 5-0. I was having the time of my life as a freelance reporter for the XFL, meeting NFL veterans Greg Olsen and Brian Peters and XFL stars like Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker. And then it all came crashing down.

But there may be a glimpse of hope for the XFL. Word broke this week that the XFL is in talks with the Canadian Football League (CFL). The league is working with XFL owners Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia and Redbird Capital on a possible collaboration. In a statement announcing the news, Garcia said:

“Since we first acquired the XFL, we have focused on identifying partners who share our vision and values on and off the field. A vision filled with opportunity, innovation and the highest level of entertainment value for the benefit of our athletes, fans and communities. The CFL has expressed that similar sentiment and jointly we recognize a great opportunity to build exciting innovative football experiences that make the most of each league’s unique strengths. I look forward to our continued discussions and we will update the sports community as we have more to share.”

XFL owner Jeffrey Pollack added: “We are honored and excited to be in discussions with the CFL. It’s clear through our early conversations that we share a passion for football, an expansive sense of possibility, and a deep desire to create more opportunity for players and fans across North America and around the world. Blending the CFL’s rich heritage with our fresh thinking, and the unique reach and experience of our ownership, could be transformative for the game.”

Significantly, former Roughnecks receiver Nick Holley was signed today by the Calgary Stampeders, a CFL team. Holley shined on the Roughnecks, notching 21 receptions for 267 yards and two touchdowns. His twin brother Nate was once a linebacker for the Stampeders. Nate was named Defensive Rookie of the Year before signing with the Miami Dolphins this year.

Fox Host Tucker Carlson Under Fire for Sexist, Racist Comments

By Terrance Turner

March 12, 2021

On Monday, International Women’s Day, President Joe Biden introduced the nominees who would be the second and third women to ever lead combatant commands. He spoke about the measures the military is taking: updating grooming standards, like allowing short ponytails, to make the environment for all forces more inclusive. He also appointed two female service members — Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost of the Air Force and Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson of the Army — to become four-star generals.

At that event, Biden said the military was undertaking “relatively straightforward work” to better reflect gender diversity within its ranks and retain female recruits, including “designing body armor that fits women properly, tailoring combat uniforms for women, creating maternity flight suits [and] updating requirements for their hairstyles.” That includes the efforts of Senior Master Sgt. Genevieve, superintendent of the 13th Reconnaissance Squadron, 926th Wing. According to the Air Force Times, Genevieve, whose last name has been omitted due to security concerns related to her job and mission, helped make maternity flight uniforms more available for pregnant Airmen members.

Instead of celebrating this change, Fox News host Tucker Carlson chose to mock it. “So, we’ve got new hairstyles and maternity flight suits. Pregnant women are going to fight our wars. It’s a mockery of the U.S. military,” he said. He added an anti-trans dig as he continued his monologue.

“While China’s military becomes more masculine as it’s assembled the world’s largest navy, our military, as Joe Biden says, needs to become more feminine — whatever feminine means anymore since men and women no longer exist,” Carlson said. “The bottom line is it’s out of control and the Pentagon is going along with it. Again, this is a mockery of the U.S. military and its core mission, which is winning wars.”

Carlson’s sexist comments drew a flurry of negative attention. One notable example was Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost both of her legs during a deployment in Iraq. (She became the first member of Congress to give birth while in office in 2018.)

“F-ck Tucker Carlson. While he was practicing his two-step, America’s female warriors were hunting down Al Qaeda and proving the strength of America’s women,” Duckworth tweeted. “Happy Belated Women’s Appreciation Day to everyone but Tucker Carlson, who even I can dance better than.”

In one viral clip, U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant Scott Stalker, the Senior Enlisted Leader of United States Space Command, said that Carlson’s opinion is “based off actually of zero days in the armed services.” He also called on the military to “get back to work” and said “let’s remember those opinions were made by an individual who has never served a day in his life.” 

Rep. Mikie Sherill, a former Navy pilot who is also a mom of four, also noted that Carlson’s comments aren’t informed by one second of military experience. She was joined by a number of other female military veterans:

Now, #CancelFox is trending amid blowback from Tucker Carlson’s comments, which he refuses to apologize for. (But then again, he also didn’t apologize for falsely claiming that Black people “didn’t build this country”. Or for defending Kyle Rittenhouse when he shot Kenosha protesters. Or for claiming that immigration “makes our own country poorer and dirtier and more divided.” Or for continuing to work for a network that helped spread the “big lie” that fueled January’s deadly Capitol riot.)

It is a sharp irony that the same right-wing commentators who thought Colin Kaepernick’s protests were “disrespectful” to the military stood by a president who called soldiers “losers” and “suckers” and moved a warship because John McCain’s name was on it. Or that they include and fund a man who clearly has nothing but contempt for female veterans.

Interesting.

UPDATE (April 9, 2021): Tucker Carlson is under new scrutiny after a week of inflammatory comments — this time regarding the Capitol riot and a bizarre “replacement” theory.

On Tuesday, Jan. 6, Carlson opened his show by marking three months since the deadly Capitol riot. But his comments obscured the truth of the event. “A mob of older peole from unfashionable zip codes somehow made it all the way to Washington, D.C.,” he said. “They wandered freely through the Capitol, like it was their building or something. They didn’t have guns, but a lot of them had extremely dangerous ideas. They talked about the Constitution, and something called ‘their rights’. Some of them made openly seditious claims. They insisted, for example, that the last election wasn’t entirely fair. The whole thing was terrifying, and then, as you’ve been told so very often, they committed unspeakable acts of violence.”

FACT CHECK: The rioters did have guns. According to NPR, “Federal prosecutors say that Christopher Michael Alberts of Maryland was arrested on Capitol grounds on the evening of Jan. 6 while carrying a Taurus G2c 9 mm handgun with one round in the chamber and a full 12-round magazine. He also allegedly had an extra magazine in his pocket and was carrying a gas mask, pocket knife and first-aid kit[…]

Lonnie Leroy Coffman of Alabama was also arrested that evening after law enforcement found two firearms on his person, as well as what a federal judge referred to as a “small armory” in his truck, which was parked near the Capitol. According to the court, the government found “a loaded handgun,” “a loaded rifle,” “a loaded shotgun,” “a crossbow with bolts,” “several machetes,” “a stun gun” and “11 mason jars containing a flammable liquid, with a hole punched in the top of each jar.”

Today, the Anti-Defamation League is calling for Carlson to go. In a letter to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, the league blasted Carlson for comments he made last night in a segment on his show. The offending comments (this time) concerned immigration and voting rights.

“I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true,” Carlson claimed.

Insisting that he wasn’t voicing the “replacement” theory that he is now accused of invoking, Carlson said that “this is a voting rights question. I have less political power because they’re importing a brand new electorate. Why should I sit back and take that? The power that I have as an American guaranteed at birth is one man, one vote, and they’re diluting it. No, they are not allowed to do that. Why are we putting up with this?”

The ADL called out Carlson in its letter to Scott: “Last night, in a segment on his program dealing with voting rights and allegations of voter disenfranchisement, Tucker Carlson disgustingly gave an impassioned defense of the white supremacist “great replacement theory,” the hateful notion that the white race is in danger of being “replaced” by a rising tide of non-whites.”

“In short, this is not legitimate political discourse. It is dangerous race-baiting, extreme rhetoric. And yet, unfortunately, it is the culmination of a pattern of increasingly divisive rhetoric used by Carlson over the past few years. His anti-immigrant rhetoric has embraced subtle appeals to racism […] Furthermore, Carlson has suggested that the very idea of white supremacy in the U.S. is a hoax, earning him plaudits from former Klansman David Duke and white supremacist Richard Spencer,” the ADL wrote.

“Make no mistake: this is dangerous stuff. The ‘great replacement theory’ is a classic white supremacist trope that undergirds the modern white supremacist movement in America,” the ADL said, charging that this same sentiment underpinned the deadly 2017 Charlottesville protest chants of “Jews will not replace us!” And the ADL highlighted a slew of other xenophobic and racially charged comments Carlson has made over the years.  

“Given his long record of race-baiting, we believe it is time for Carlson to go,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt says.

Stimulus Checks Arrive as Biden Marks One Year Since Pandemic Began

Photo from Reuters.

By Terrance Turner

March 11, 2021

Today marks one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. (The WHO defines a pandemic as “the worldwide spread of a new disease.”) The term, meant to describe an infectious disease that has spread across a country and/or the world, soon became familiar parlance for Americans. But it wasn’t then.

In fact, many across the country were unaware of what the word even meant — much less the sweeping scope of death and disorder that it would cause across the globe. That lack of knowledge fed inaction, which became commonplace under the Trump administration. It was the lack of awareness or action that spurred the WHO to make a declaration in the first place.

“WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” the WHO inspector general said on March 11, 2020. “We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.” 

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death,” the WHO chief said.

“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do,” the WHO chief said. “We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus.”

On Thursday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the United States’ top expert on infectious diseases, cast a somber look back at the past 12 months. “It was exactly one year ago this morning that I said, ‘Things are going to get much worse before they get better,’” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “But I did not realize in my mind even anything close to more than a half a million people having died in this country.”

It was also one year ago today that the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was canceled. For Houstonians like me, that was the first sign that something was truly wrong. It was the first-ever cancellation of an event that has gone on since 1931. But that event was just one of many to fall victim to the coronavirus.

This time last year, sports around the world came to a halt as a handful of elite athletes started to test positive for the virus. In the United States, over 20 million jobs vanished in just one month, the worst toll since the Great Depression. Food pantries have been swamped, schools have been disrupted, young people have grown anxious and depressedAmerican life expectancy fell by one year in the first half of 2020.

Now, a year later, the United States leads the world with total known cases and known deaths: The deaths of more than half a million people in the country have been linked to the virus, and more than 28 million people have been infected. Tonight, in remarks delivered live from the White House, President Joe Biden empathized with those Americans who have lost so much — their jobs, their houses, their loved ones.

“I know it’s been hard. I truly know. As I’ve told you before, I carry a card in my pocket with the number of Americans who have died from COVID to date. It’s on the back of my schedule. As of now, total deaths in America, 527,726. That’s more deaths than in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and 9/11 combined.

“They were husbands, wives, sons and daughters, grandparents, friends, neighbors, young and old. They leave behind loved ones, unable to truly grieve or to heal, even to have a funeral. But I’m also thinking about everyone else who lost this past year to natural causes, by cruel fate of accident or other disease. They, too, died alone. They, too, leave behind loved ones who are hurting badly.”

“The things we used to do that always filled us with joy have become things we couldn’t do and broke our hearts. Too often, we’ve turned against one another. A mask, the easiest thing to do to save lives, sometimes it divides us. States pitted against one another instead of working with each other. Vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans who have been attacked, harassed, blamed, and scapegoated.

“At this very moment, so many of them, our fellow Americans, they’re on the front lines of this pandemic trying to save lives, and still, still, they are forced to live in fear for their lives, just walking down streets in America. It’s wrong, it’s un-American, and it must stop.

“Look, we know what we need to do to beat this virus. Tell the truth. Follow the scientists and the science. Work together. Put trust and faith in our government to fulfill its most important function, which is protecting the American people. No function more important. We need to remember the government isn’t some foreign force in a distant capital. No, it’s us. All of us. We, the people.”

Biden said that Americans thrive when we come together for a common purpose, when we work together to overcome this virus. That echoed notes struck by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “To move past this pandemic, we must resolutely face these challenges head on and fully embrace the innovations, the new partnerships, and the resilience of our communities that have emerged from this crisis,” Dr. Walensky said Thursday in a statement on the W.H.O. anniversary.

Those communities need help to move forward. And it finally appears that help is on the way. But only after bitter debate did pass a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, which was signed into law by President Biden today.

Tonight, in his first prime-time address as president, Joe Biden addressed the bill’s many features. “And today, I signed into law the American Rescue Plan, an historic piece of legislation that delivers immediate relief to millions of people. It includes $1,400 in direct rescue checks, payments. That means a typical family of four earning about $110,000 will get checks for $5,600 deposited if they have direct deposit or in a check, a treasury check,” Biden said.

Biden had more good news for Americans in tonight’s speech.

I’m announcing that I will direct all states, tribes, and territories to make all adults, people 18 and over, eligible to be vaccinated no later than May 1. Let me say that again. All adult Americans will be eligible to get a vaccine no later than May 1. That’s much earlier than expected.

“And let me be clear. That doesn’t mean everyone’s going to have that shot immediately, but it means you’ll be able to get in line beginning May 1. Every adult will be eligible to get their shot. And to do this, we’re going to go from a million shots a day that I promised in December before I was sworn in, to maintaining, beating our current pace of 2 million shots a day, outpacing the rest of the world.”

Across the country, the seven-day average of daily new virus cases was 57,400 as of Wednesday — a decrease of 16 percent from two weeks earlier, according to a Times database, and a steep decline from the overwhelming crests earlier this year. But the number of new daily cases remains near the peak of last summer’s surge and is still too high for federal health officials, particularly given concerns about the spread of worrisome virus variants.

UPDATE (March 12, 2021): Today, in remarks that concluded at around 2:00 pm, the President followed up on previous comments in last night’s address. “Look, we know what we need to do to beat this virus. Tell the truth. Follow the scientists and the science. Work together. Put trust and faith in our government to fulfill its most important function, which is protecting the American people,” he said last night. Today, Biden reiterated that point and emphasized the need for truth-telling.

Biden noted that many lawmakers — “especially the ones that have been around a hundred years like me” — know about the erosion of trust in American government. He spoke of the need for Americans to have faith and trust in the government. That, of course, requires truth-telling. “There’s nothing the American people can’t handle if you tell them the truth,” Biden said. To that end, he repeated the revelation that he plans to travel the country with Vice President Kamala Harris (and their spouses) in order to inform Americans of the ways that the COVID relief bill will help them.

But he will also be working to implement the plan, the president added. “The devil’s in the details,” Biden said today. “It’s one thing to pass the American Rescue Plan. It’s going to be another thing to implement it. It’s going to require fastidious oversight to make sure there’s no waste or fraud and the law does what it’s designed to do.”

Meanwhile, stimulus checks included as part of the COVID-19 relief bill are now hitting people’s accounts. KTRK reported today that some checks are arriving in bank accounts via direct deposit. Others may receive the $1400 as early as tomorrow. For those without direct deposit, the checks will be sent through the mail.

Inside Oprah’s Revealing Interview with Harry and Meghan

Photo from Harpo Productions.

By Terrance Turner

March 7, 2021

Tonight, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sat down for a two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey. The conversation, broadcast on CBS, shed light on the couple’s highly publicized exit from the Royal Family. The two-hour interview unearthed some never-before-heard information — and some bombshell revelations.

The first hour featured the former Duchess of Sussex in a solo interview with Oprah. Visibly pregnant, Markle reminisced on her courtship with Prince Harry and her entry into the Royal Family. “I went into it naively,” she said. “I didn’t do any research.” In fact, she wasn’t even aware of the protocol that would be required when she met Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth. She was in the car with Harry when Meghan realized she would have to curtsy before the Queen, as required. Outside the building where they were to have lunch, Meghan practiced what she called ” a very deep curtsy” with Harry (and former Duchess Sarah Ferguson).

“Apparently I did a very deep courtesy — I don’t remember it,” Meghan said. “It was lovely and easy and thank God I hadn’t known a lot about the family — I would have been so in my head about it.”

The couple’s wedding in May 2018 was one of the most celebrated events of the year. But it wasn’t the couple’s actual ceremony. In footage recorded during Oprah’s visit to their home, Meghan revealed that she and Harry had a secret wedding before the official televised nuptials. “Three days before our wedding, we got married,” she said, explaining that the couple wanted their wedding to be a private intimate moment for them, as opposed to the glitzy pomp and circumstance of the royal wedding for the world.

But shortly after the ceremony, the British tabloids kicked into overdrive. The press coverage was enormous and unrelenting. Six months after the wedding, a story surfaced that Meghan had made Duchess Kate Middleton cry. In fact, the reverse was true, Meghan says. Duchess Kate had been upset about dresses for the flower girls; Meghan was stressed about wedding planning. Meghan ended up crying. She didn’t want to elaborate, out of respect for Kate (whom she says apologized with flowers). “She’s a good person,” Meghan said.

She had similar sentiments about Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen “has always been wonderful to me,” Meghan said. But, she cautioned, there’s family, and then there’s “The Institution” — the numerous staff and public officials who keep the monarchy running. It was the institution, it seems, that Meghan had the most trouble with.

Oprah noted that Meghan Markle entered the monarchy as an American, an actress, a divorcee, and a biracial woman. Was she concerned about that as she became a royal? Had she thought about the impact of being the first mixed-race member of the royal family? “I thought about it because THEY made me think about it,” Meghan responded. But she added that all those parts of her identity worked for her. “Thank God I’d had that experience,” she said. “I’d always worked. I’d always been outspoken — especially about women’s rights. “I’ve always been outspoken about woman’s rights, I mean, that’s the sad irony of the last four years is that I’ve advocated for so long for women to use their voice, and then I was silent.”

“Were you silent, or were you silenced?” Oprah asked.

“The latter,” Meghan answered.

But how was she silenced? “Everyone in my world was given very clear directive… to always say no comment. My friends, my mom and dad,” Meghan testified. She added that “it was always through the lens of ‘we’ll protect you’.” But she slowly realized that wasn’t the case. “I came to understand that not only was I not being protected but that they were willing to lie to protect other members of the family. But they weren’t willing to tell the truth to protect me and my husband.”

And that wasn’t the worst of it. The former duchess told Oprah that “there was very little I was allowed to do.” An example: she’d ask, “Can I have lunch with my friends?’ The answer from the institution: “No, you’re over-saturated. We think it’s best that you don’t leave the house.” But “I’ve left the house twice in four months. I am everywhere but I am nowhere.” She compared the experience to the lockdowns in 2020, spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The story about her supposed rift with Kate Middleton was a turning point, Markle said. But her pregnancy was a major tipping point. While then-Duchess Meghan was expecting her first child with Harry, things took an ugly turn. During her pregnancy, “that was when they were saying that they didn’t want him to be a prince — or princess; they didn’t know what the gender was — and saying that he wasn’t going to be protected,” she says today. In fact, there was even talk that the baby (the unborn son, Archie) wouldn’t have the protection of royal security.

It was this issue that produced perhaps the biggest bombshell of the night — so explosive that it shocked even Oprah. “In those months when I was pregnant — all around that time,” Meghan said, “we have, in tandem, the conversation of: he won’t be given security, he’s not going to be given a title, and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”

“What?” Oprah asked, her mouth open in shock. “Who is having that conversation with you?”

Oprah is all of us. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

“There’s a conversation with you–“

“With Harry,” Meghan interjected.

“–about how dark your baby is going to be?”

“Potentially, and what that would mean or look like,” Meghan answered.

“And you’re not going to tell me who had that conversation.”

“I think that would be very damaging for them,” Meghan replied.

Reaction on Twitter was explosive:

Things got worse from there. The relentless attacks from the British press (some of them racist and baldly untrue) combined with the strain of life as a working royal left the Duchess feeling isolated and lonely. When she went to “the institution” for help, she was told that they couldn’t help because she wasn’t “a paid member” of the monarchy. “I just didn’t see a solution,” she recalled. “I would sit up at night and I was just like, ‘I don’t understand how all of this [tabloid coverage] is being churned out. And again, I wasn’t seeing it,” she said. But “my mom or my friends and them calling me crying , like, ‘Meg, they’re not protecting you.’ And I realized that all of it was happening just because I was breathing.”

“I was ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry. But I knew that if I didn’t say it, then I would do it,” Markle said. “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.” She was having suicidal thoughts, she revealed. And when she went to “The Institution,” a group of people working for the Palace, to ask for help, she was rebuffed. Markle needed assistance with going somewhere to get mental health treatment. “They told me I couldn’t. They told me that it wouldn’t be good for the institution.” Meghan Markle was suicidal (while pregnant!) and the Institution told her there was nothing they could do.

And she wasn’t in a position to go it alone. “I couldn’t just call an Uber to the palace,” she explained. “My passport, my driver’s license, my keys — all of that was turned over. I didn’t see any of that anymore.” With few options, the Duchess turned to her husband. Prince Harry was seriously concerned about her welfare. But the same day she informed him of her spiraling condition, the two had an event at the Royal Albert Hall. He said, “I don’t think you should go.” She replied, “I can’t be left alone.” And so they went.

That moment led Meghan to a crucial insight. “You have no idea what’s going on for someone behind closed doors,” she told Oprah. “You have no idea — even the people that smile the biggest smiles, and shine the brightest lights, it seems.” The comments underscored what was clearly a moment of profound sadness.

Happily, when the former Duke of Sussex joined his wife for the interview, there were some moments of levity. When Prince Harry joined Meghan Markle for a joint interview, the two revealed that they’re having a baby girl! Their daughter is expected to arrive sometime this summer. This will be their second child — and their last. “Done,” Harry said. “Two is it,” Meghan confirmed.

With that established, the interview delved deeper into the couple’s exhaustively reported exit from the Royal Family. After repeated requests for help went unfulfilled, Harry and Meghan needed a breather. When Oprah asked him point-blank about the reason for the exodus, Prince Harry answered: “Lack of support, and lack of understanding.” The exit was portrayed as an impetuous decision that blindsided both the Queen and the royals at large.

“Did you blindside the Queen?” Oprah asked.

The answer was no. “I never blindsided my grandmother. I have too much respect for her,” Harry replied. “When we were in Canada, I had three conversations with my grandmother and two conversations with my father, before he stopped taking my calls.” Eventually, the prince took matters into his own hands, leaving the U.K. with Meghan and Archie.

They initially relocated to Canada, which is a Commonwealth country. (Queen Elizabeth is also Queen of Canada, by the way). The couple had hoped to continue their work in support of the monarchy there. But their security was removed, due to a “change in status”. Neither Meghan nor Archie had protection. But nor did Harry. “I never thought I would have my security removed because I was born into this, I inherited the risk,” he said. The removal of security deeply troubled Harry, whose late mother Princess Diana was hounded by the press (a factor in her untimely death). “My biggest concern was history repeating itself,” Harry said.

Meghan, on the other hand, was concerned about her husband. She says she wrote letters to the royals, asking them not to remove Harry’s security. “I see the death threats, I see the racist propaganda. Please keep my husband safe,” she recalls writing. But the pleas fell on deaf ears. And the racism inherent in the media’s treatment of Meghan also deepened rifts between Harry and his family.

“The family very much have the mentality of: this is how it is, this is how it’s meant to be, you can’t change it, we’ve all been through it. What was different for me was the race element,” Harry told Oprah. “That was the trigger for me.” He pointed out that 72 female members of Parliament signed an open letter criticizing the “outdated, colonial undertones” of press coverage of Meghan. “Yet no one in my actual family said anything over the course of three years,” he said. And when he and Meghan finally did become independent, it came with a cost.

The couple brokered a lucrative Netflix deal in September….because they needed money to support themselves. When asked about the Netflix and Spotify deals, the prince insisted that they hadn’t been strategic. “That was never part of the plan,” Harry said. “That was suggested to me by somebody else after my family literally cut me off financially.” How is he supporting himself? “I’ve got what my mum left me, and without that we would not have been able to do this,” Harry revealed.

Speaking of family, Harry’s relationship with this is…complicated. “I have a really good relationship with my grandmother,” he told Oprah. As for his father? “I will always love him, but there’s a lot of hurt that’s happened, and I will continue to make it one of my priorities to try and heal that relationship.” What about Prince William, his brother? “I love William to bits. He’s my brother. We’ve been through hell together.” But as for the relationship? Right now, they’re taking “space”, Harry said.

UPDATE (March 9, 2021): As the interview aired in Britain, it sparked a range of reactions throughout the country. Perhaps most notable was the response from the royal family. Buckingham Palace issued a statement, quoted by NBC News. “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan,” the palace said, breaking its silence more than 40 hours after the interview first aired in the U.S. on Sunday night. “The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately,” the statement added. “Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”

The British press, which was implicated heavily in the mistreatment of Harry and Meghan, reacted with great interest and activity. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “All the major British news networks and newspapers led with wall-to-wall coverage of the CBS special.” The Daily Mail, in particular, was frenzied in its coverage: after dismissing the interview as a “sideshow” in the days leading up to Sunday, the British tabloid dedicated over 20 stories to it.

The interview also drew the ire of Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan, who has written columns for the Daily Mail. Morgan has long been a critic of Markle’s; the two were initially friendly, but he claims she “ghosted” him. In 2018, he commented: “We had two hours in a pub. She had a couple of dirty martinis and a couple of pints. We got along brilliantly. Then I put her in a cab. And it turned out to be a cab that took her to a party where she met Prince Harry. And then the next night, they had a solo dinner together and that was the last I ever heard from Meghan Markle. And I have never heard from her again. Meghan Markle ghosted me.”

Even since then, Morgan has gone above and beyond to attack the former duchess. When she and Harry stepped away from royal duties in 2020, Morgan commented: “Only surprised it took her so long to get Harry to ditch his family, the monarchy, the military and his country. What a piece of work.” He later accused of Meghan of “doing huge damage to our Royal Family.” On Sunday night, he wrote: “This interview is an absolutely disgraceful betrayal of the Queen and the Royal Family. I expect all this vile, destructive, self-serving nonsense from Meghan Markle – but for Harry to let her take down his family and the Monarchy like this is shameful.”

But Morgan’s recent comments may have gone too far. On yesterday’s Good Morning Britain, Morgan landed in hot water over callous commentary. In response to Markle’s revelation about suicidal thoughts, Morgan said: “I’m sorry, I don’t believe a word she said — Meghan Markle. I wouldn’t believe it if she read me a weather report.”

Morgan’s comments drew widespread condemnation…

…including some from his own co-host. This morning, his Good Morning Britain co-presenter Alex Beresford laid into Morgan, accusing him of “trashing” Markel over a romantic rejection: “I understand that you don’t like Meghan Markle. You’ve made it so clear a number of times on this programme, a number of times. And I understand that you had a personal relationship with Meghan Markle — or had one — and she cut you off. She’s entitled to cut you off if she wants to. Has she said anything about you since she cut you off? I don’t think she has. But yet you continue to trash her.”

“OK. I’m done with this,” Morgan said, as he got up to leave. As Bereford protested, Morgan walked off the set, saying: “Sorry. You can trash me maybe, but not on my own show. See you later.”

Now, word has broken that Morgan is leaving the show permanently. ITV confirmed today that Morgan quit the “Good Morning Britain” program on Tuesday after making contentious comments about Meghan following her bombshell interview about the royal family. According to the Associated Press, “The U.K.’s media watchdog said earlier Tuesday that it was launching an investigation into the show under its harm and offense rules after receiving more than 41,000 complaints over Morgan’s comments about the Duchess of Sussex.”

Senate Passes COVID-19 Relief Bill

Photo courtesy of Senate Television (via AP).

By Terrance Turner

March 6, 2021

By a 50-49 vote, the Senate has passed President Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill.

The legislation, known as the American Rescue Act, passed around 11:30 am — without any Republican support. (Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, was absent for the vote because of a family emergency, according to NBC News.) Democrats advanced the package through the budget reconciliation process, meaning it did not require any Republican support to pass. However, that process prevented Democrats from including a provision to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour in the legislation. The Senate parliamentarian ruled last month that the wage increase could not be a part of the bill.

There was high drama on Capitol Hill as the legislation was prepared. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) sparked a minor panic yesterday when he expressed reservation about the unemployment checks. In the end, Democrats — with virtually no room for error — compromised to get his support. Instead of $400 a week through the end of September, the checks will be $300 a week through Sept. 6. After uniting against the bill, Senate Republicans forced dozens of votes overnight into Saturday on amendments in an effort to stall the process.

The bill’s passage came after a marathon session by lawmakers. According to the Associated Press, the Senate had been in session since 9 a.m. EST Friday. But after hours and hours of debate and negotiations, the $1.9 trillion bill passed. It next heads to the House for final approval. If that occurs, the bill will be signed into law by President Joe Biden, marking his first major legislative victory as president.

“This bill will deliver more help to more people than anything the federal government has done in decades,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said just before final passage. “This is the most progressive [legislation] in a generation,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The massive relief package provides $1,400 checks to Americans making up to $75,000 a year. For married couples who file their taxes jointly, both would qualify for the full amount if they make up to $150,000 jointly, per NBC News. (Couples would therefore get $2,800.) MSNBC’s Kyle Griffin adds that the package also includes an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit. Additionally, there’s a permanent increase of $130 million/year for child care assistance.

According to Axios, the bill’s highlights include:

  • Expanded federal funding for COVID programs, including $46 billion for testing and tracing; $7.6 billion for pandemic response at community health centers; $5.2 billion to support research, development and manufacturing of vaccines, therapeutics and other medical products; and $7.7 billion to expand the public health care workforce.
  • $1,400 stimulus payments for most Americans.
  • $128.6 billion to help K-12 schools reopen.
  • $350 billion in state and local aid.
  • $25 billion in aid to restaurants and other food and drinking establishments.
  • $19 billion in emergency rental assistance.
  • $7.25 billion in funds for Paycheck Protection Program loans.

In the wake of the successful passage of this legislation, many observers are thanking Stacey Abrams. After a narrow loss in Georgia’s governor race, Abrams launched Fair Fight 2018, a voting rights organization to promote fair elections around the country. Fair Fight encourages voter participation and educates voters about their rights. The organization raised $34.5 million in just 39 days from late October to the last week of November, funneling a large chunk of the money into helping Democratic candidates, per the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

It was Abrams’ efforts that helped re-enfranchise Georgia voters. Vox credited her with helping a record surge of Georgia voters to the polls in November. “Abrams’s group Fair Fight and other voting rights groups like the New Georgia Project have been putting a ton of effort into registering and turning out Black voters at high rates this year. And those efforts have been successful. The state has already hit record registration levels, with about 7.6 million voters registered. And since early voting started, more than 2.7 million voters have cast ballots — at least 1 million of whom were Black.”

That increase in Black voter turnout helped power the Democrats’ success in Georgia’s Senate elections in January. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff both won their races, defeating incumbent Republicans. Those two wins put the Senate at a 50-50 tie, with Vice President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote. This legislation would not have passed if not for those two seats in Georgia (and Abrams’ efforts).

Gov. Greg Abbott Announces Texas Will Open “100 Percent”

Photo courtesy of Twitter.

By Terrance Turner

March 2, 2021 (UPDATED March 3)

Today, Texas Governor Greg Abbott made a game-changing announcement.

In remarks delivered live from Lubbock, Gov. Abbott touted the state’s economy: “If Texas were its own country, it would still have the ninth largest economy in the world.” But due to the pandemic, he said, the economy has suffered. “Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end,” Gov. Abbott said. And then, he said:

“It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.”

“Everybody who wants to work should have that opportunity. Every business that wants to be open should be open,” the governor declared, adding that “we are in a completely different position” than when he issued an executive order last March. Back then, Texans didn’t even know what PPE was, he said. He highlighted the tests and therapeutics that have become available over the past year, as well as the protective measures citizens have adopted. “Texans have mastered the daily habits to avoid getting COVID. But most importantly,” he said, “in Texas and across the country, we now have vaccines — vaccines to protect Texans from COVID.” More than 5.7 million vaccine shots have been administered in Texas, he claimed.

Gov. Abbott further promised that “by the end of this month, every senior who wants a vaccine shot will be able to get a vaccine shot.” Hospitalizations in Texas are the lowest they’ve been in four months. The same goes for the positivity rate, he said. (According to the Associated Press, “the seven-day rolling average of positive tests has dropped to about 7,600 cases, down from more than 10,000 in mid-February.”) The number of active COVID cases are the lowest they’ve been since November, the governor claimed.

Gov. Abbott cautioned that the virus has not disappeared. But state mandates are no longer needed, he says. Today, he is issuing an executive order that rescinds most of the previous orders he issued. And Gov. Abbott took his already bold pronouncement one step further: “Effective next Wednesday, all businesses, of any type, are allowed to open 100 percent. That includes any type of entity in Texas. Also, I am ending the statewide mask mandate.”

Abbott stressed that personal responsibility is still necessary regarding the spread of COVID-19. Personal vigilance is crucial, he stated: “Each person has their own role to play in their own personal safety, as well as in the safety of others.” Nevertheless, he asserted that the statewide mandates are no longer necessary. Businesses are free to continue capacity limits for safety, he said, but the governor added that “people and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate.”

Abbott tempered his bold order with one caveat: if the positivity rate of counties and cities rises above 15% for seven straight days, a county judge may take action of mitigation strategies like a mask mandate. (Though it remains under 15%, the positivity rate is up 63% from October 2020: from 8.3% on Oct. 7 to 13.5% today, on March 2). However, nobody can be arrested, fined, or otherwise penalized for breaking rules on masks.

Texas is the latest (and largest) of the states to ease COVID-19 restrictions, as cases and hospitalizations drop. (North Dakota, Montana and Iowa have also lifted mask orders in recent weeks.) But the AP reports that only California and New York have reported more COVID-19 deaths than Texas. According to the New York Times, Texas has been averaging about 7,600 new cases a day recently, a figure that rebounded after a drop in February when testing was disrupted by a severe winter storm. It is among the top 10 states in recent spread, relative to the size of its population.

Significantly, Gov. Abbott delivered his remarks from a Mexican restaurant — on the 185th anniversary of Texas declaring independence from Mexico in 1836.

As you might have guessed, the move is sparking a lot of reaction. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a statement that reads, in part: “Taking away critical public health interventions that we know are working won’t make our community safer, nor will it hasten our return to normalcy. Quite the opposite: every time public health measures have been pulled back, we’ve seen a spike in hospitalizations […] With the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, we’re inching closer to the finish line of this pandemic – now is not the time to reverse the gains we’ve worked so hard to achieve. At best, today’s decision is wishful thinking. At worst, it is a cynical attempt to distract Texans from the failures of state oversight of our power grid.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner agreed, tweeting today: “Is the Governor’s statement today an attempt to deflect from the winter storm systemwide state leadership failure? Yes.” He made his feelings even clearer when speaking with reporters today. “I don’t feel defeated. I feel disappointed about the governor’s decision,” Turner said. He expressed frustration with the move, writing on Twitter: “Every time we start moving in the right direction the Governor steps in and sets us back and makes all of our jobs harder. He minimizes the sacrifices of people and businesses. I just don’t get it.” He also tweeted the following:

Mayor Turner and Judge Hidalgo sent Gov. Abbott a letter today that reads, in part: “Supported by our public health professionals, we believe it would be premature and harmful to lose adoptions of this preventative measure [mask-wearing]. Scientific studies have shown repeatedly that the widespread wearing of face masks slows down the spread of the virus.” The letter includes mask wearing as one of several activities (frequent handwashing and keeping physical distances of at least six feet) that can reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 cases in Texas have dropped dramatically since last month, according to ABC 13 Houston. However, hospitalizations for the virus have jumped by 59% (from 3,519 cases on Oct. 7 to 5,611 today). Deaths from COVID-19 have nearly doubled: from 119 on Oct. 7 to 227 deaths today. Tonight, on his show, journalist Anderson Cooper revealed that Texas has only vaccinated 6.8% of its citizens — one of the lowest rates in the country. (By contrast, neighboring New Mexico has vaccinated over 12% of the residents there.) Over 40,000 Texans have died from COVID-19, according to the AP.

Tonight, Dr. Peter Hotez appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 to discuss the problem. (Dr. Hotez is the Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, where he is also Director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.) When asked about the governor’s actions, Dr. Hotez didn’t mince words: “We’ve got some rough sledding ahead of us.” Dr. Hotez pointed out that the UK variant of COVID-19 is “accelerating” (and one of five variants in Texas, per ABC), meaning potentially greater transmission and mortality.

When Cooper asked why the vaccination rate is so low, Dr. Hotez noted that “we lost a week” due to the winter storm in February. But the doctor also pointed out that Texas is a massive state, with 30 million residents (some of whom live in remote areas, making them hard to reach). He also expressed confusion about the urgency behind Gov. Abbott’s decision. When asked directly by Cooper why Abbott made the decision, Dr. Hotez admitted he didn’t know. “I don’t understand the urgency,” he said, in part.

UPDATE (March 3, 2021): Reaction continues to pour in, and the governor’s decision was discussed today on The View. co-host Sara Haines pointed out that Texas has one of the worst vaccination rates in the country — trailed by only two other states. She questioned why Abbott insisted on both opening businesses and removing mask mandates.

On ABC’s “Eyewitness News” at 11 am, anchor Art Rascon highlighted the fact that, though the state mask mandate is gone, President Biden’s federal mandate remains in place. That means that anyone on federal property (including airports) is still required to wear masks. Furthernore, several Texas businesses reserve the right to require masks and refuse service to those who don’t comply. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo added that failure to comploy may incur criminal charges:

BREAKING: President Joe Biden has offered his first public comments on Gov. Abbott’s decision. “I think it’s a big mistake,” Biden said. “Masks make a difference … The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking.”