Residents in Puerto Rico and the Virgin islands, Houston and the Florida Keys talk about this years challenges shelter, electricity and good cheer to make the best of the holidays
For seven weeks in autumn, images of homes in ruins, trees stripped bare and people wading through floodwaters dominated the news as hurricanes devastated the American south and Caribbean.
The US had never been hit in one hurricane season by storms as strong as Harvey, Irma and Maria, according to modern records, and the areas hit hardest by those intense storms are still far from recovery.
In Houston and the Florida Keys, thousands of people still dont have homes. In Puerto Rico, full electricity services have not been restored and those that have power know it can go out at any moment. At least 200 people were killed on the US mainland in the storms and the death toll in Puerto Rico is expected to be hundreds of people higher than the 64 reported by the islands government.
Other islands in the Caribbean were also badly hit.
These catastrophic events unleashed death and destruction but also an outpouring of support from people with no connection to the regions affected. As the holiday season approaches, nonprofits leading the recovery continue to see significant donations that will help provide food, water and shelter to those still in need.
Three months since the trio of storms unleashed life-threatening rain and winds, the Guardian spoke with people on the frontlines of the recovery.
The Trump administration is peeling away rules designed to protect clean air and water, fueling a growing urgency around the struggle for environmental justice, say political leaders, academics and activists
The Trump administrations dismantling of environmental regulations has intensified a growing civil rights battle over the deadly burden of pollution on minorities and low-income people.
Black, Latino and disadvantaged people have long been disproportionately afflicted by toxins from industrial plants, cars, hazardous housing conditions and other sources.
But political leaders, academics and activists spoke of a growing urgency around the struggle for environmental justice as the Trump administration peels away rules designed to protect clean air and water.
What we are seeing is the institutionalization of discrimination again, the thing weve fought for 40 years, said Robert Bullard, an academic widely considered the father of the environmental justice movement.
There are people in fence-line communities who are now very worried. If the federal government doesnt monitor and regulate, and gives the states a green light to do what they want, we are going to get more pollution, more people will get sick. There will be more deaths.
Activists and some in Congress now view the blight of pollution as a vast, largely overlooked civil rights issue that places an unbearable burden on people of color and low-income communities.
Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, recently said: Civil rights have to include, fundamentally, the right to breathe your air, plant tomatoes in your soil. Civil rights is the right to drink your water.
If your children dont have access to clean air and water, all the ideals we preach in this country are a lie. Environmental justice must be at the center of our activism in our fight to make real the promise of America.
Last month, Booker unveiled new legislation, supported by a group of senators including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, that he said would help eliminate environmental injustice. The bill would require federal agencies to address the issue, force authorities to consider existing pollution when allowing new industrial facilities and hand individuals the power rto use the Civil Rights Act to sue over pollution.
Mustafa Ali, who helped create the Environmental Protection Agencys (EPA) office of environmental justice and worked there for 24 years, told the Guardian hes been alarmed by proposed EPA budget cuts and the federal governments heavily criticized response to the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico, which was struck by Hurricane Maria in September.
The long read: Davon Mayer was a smalltime dealer in west Baltimore who made an illicit deal with local police. When they turned on him, he decided to get out but escaping that life would not prove as easy as falling into it
On a humid summer day in 2004, Davon Mayer stepped out of his house on Bennett Place in the heart of Baltimore. Sixteen years old, Davon was short, plump and baby-faced, still more of a kid than an adolescent. Like many other boys in his neighbourhood, he had long since stopped going to school and was dealing drugs full-time.
On any other day, Davon would have been busy by this hour, trading vials of crack for cash on the pavement, keeping an eye out for the police. But this morning, he was on his way to meet with a narcotics detective named William King. Weeks earlier, the detective had arrested Davon after catching him selling drugs. He had taken Davon to the police station and then let him go, asking that Davon call him. When Davon failed to call, King had paid him a visit to let him know he wasnt playing around.
As Davon walked to a nearby strip mall where King had arranged to meet, his mind was weighed down by anxiety. What could a city detective possibly want from a small-time drug dealer such as himself? The only answer Davon could think of was that King wanted him to become an informant. The more Davon dwelled on that possibility, the more panicked he got. Where he came from, there was nothing worse than helping the police. To snitch on fellow drug dealers was to invite death.
He got to the malls parking lot and saw Kings pickup truck. King was sitting behind the wheel, dressed in sweatpants and a T-shirt. He asked Davon to get in the back seat and turned on the engine. I have been watching you, King said, as they drove around. I like the way you do business.
Growing up, Davons parents werent around much. His father, Marvin Bunk Nutter, spent much of his sons childhood in jail on robbery and murder charges. Davons mother, Tonya, spent some of those years in jail, too, for drug possession, and the rest on the streets, sustaining her crack addiction with prostitution. Davon reserved the word Ma for his grandmother, Norma, who had raised him, along with his sister and a cousin.
Norma was a small woman with a big presence, a matriarch to the entire block. She had fought her own battle with drug addiction when she was younger; at one point, her kids had been taken away by social services. When she finally overcame her addiction, she committed herself to discipline and order, toiling from morning till night to take care of her husband, a factory worker, and three grandkids. The entire block could be dirty and dishevelled but the front of 947 Bennett Place was always spick and span.
What Davon didnt know at the time was that Norma couldnt remain insulated from the world of drug dealing herself. Even though her husband earned enough for her to be able to feed and clothe the kids, she struggled to find the money to take care of their wants toys for Christmas, gifts on birthdays, an occasional afternoon out to the movies. And so she had to make a few bucks on her own. There were drug dealers in the neighbourhood who trusted Norma to keep their money safe for them, to provide a place where it wouldnt be stolen or discovered in a police raid. Dealers usually paid her a small amount for the service.
Heyer was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters after a white supremacist rally in Virginia now her mother has started a foundation
Recently, someone sent Susan Bro a T-shirt and a stack of bumper stickers that read Just be nice. She gave the shirt to her mother, who had always told her that: be nice. Bro has no interest in being nice, and she has no interest, just now, in forgiveness. Her 32-year-old daughter, Heather Heyer, was killed seven weeks ago when a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Nineteen other people were injured. The man charged with Heathers murder was a 20-year-old from Ohio who had demonstrated that day alongside a white nationalist group and had, a former teacher recalled, a longstanding fascination with Hitler.
At Heathers funeral, Bro refused to let any politicians speak. When it was her turn to address the crowd, I could have driven it to hate and vengeance, and I could have driven it to understanding and love and forgiveness and sweetness and light. And neither of those was what I wanted to say.
They tried to kill my child to shut her up, she said at the funeral. Well, guess what: you just magnified her.
After Donald Trump repeatedly blamed both sides for the violence in Charlottesville, Bro announced on Good Morning America, Im not talking to the president. You cant wash this one away by shaking my hand and saying Im sorry.
Think before you speak, she told the president of the United States.
Im just a waitress
Heather had been the kind of American who showed up often in articles about Trumps political rise: the great-granddaughter of coalminers, she had grown up living in a trailer in rural Virginia, in a family that has always, our entire lives, been on the bottom end of the middle class, with not much hope of rising above that, Bro said. To us, middle class is working class.
The school Heather attended, where her mother also worked, was overwhelmingly white, only 4% black, 1% Hispanic and less than 1% other races, Bro recalls. Heather had struggled to graduate from high school and had never gone to college. She had lived at home with her mother, clashing with her frequently, into her early 20s, and then worked as a waitress and bartender, before getting a job in 2012 working with bankruptcy clients as a paralegal. Five years into this job, she had not yet fully accepted that she might have career success. When she made a typo, or when a law firm colleagues college fraternity brother asked her out, she would say, reflexively, Im just a waitress.
Heather had been afraid of what Trumps political rise meant for America, and she had paid attention to him, long before her supervisor, a man who had studied political science, had taken him seriously. She was passionate about injustice, bristling when clients acted surprised or skeptical that the highly credentialed man running her bankruptcy division was black, and breaking down into tears of fury when a local sheriffs office posted on Facebook about its public seminar on the Muslim religion called Understanding the Threat.
Mirzakhani, who had breast cancer, died on Saturday, the university said. It did not indicate where she died.
In 2014, Mirzakhani was one of four winners of the Fields medal, which is presented every four years and is considered the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel prize. She was named for her work on complex geometry and dynamic systems.
Mirzakhani specialized in theoretical mathematics that read like a foreign language by those outside of mathematics: moduli spaces, Teichmller theory, hyperbolic geometry, Ergodic theory and symplectic geometry, the Stanford press announcement said.
Mastering these approaches allowed Mirzakhani to pursue her fascination for describing the geometric and dynamic complexities of curved surfaces spheres, doughnut shapes and even amoebas in as great detail as possible.
Her work had implications in fields ranging from cryptography to the theoretical physics of how the universe came to exist, the university said.
Mirzakhani was born in Tehran and studied there and at Harvard. She joined Stanford as a mathematics professor in 2008. Irans president, Hassan Rouhani, issued a statement praising Mirzakhani.
The grievous passing of Maryam Mirzakhani, the eminent Iranian and world-renowned mathematician, is very much heart-rending, Rouhani said in a message that was reported by the Tehran Times.
Irans foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said her death pained all Iranians, the newspaper reported.
The news of young Iranian genius and math professor Maryam Mirzakhanis passing has brought a deep pang of sorrow to me and all Iranians who are proud of their eminent and distinguished scientists, Zarif posted in Farsi on his Instagram account.
I do offer my heartfelt condolences upon the passing of this lady scientist to all Iranians worldwide, her grieving family and the scientific community.
Mirzakhani originally dreamed of becoming a writer but then shifted to mathematics. When she was working, she would doodle on sheets of paper and scribble formulas on the edges of her drawings, leading her daughter to describe the work as painting, the Stanford statement said.
Mirzakhani once described her work as like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out.
Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne said Mirzakhani was a brilliant theorist who made enduring contributions and inspired thousands of women to pursue math and science.
Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrk, and daughter, Anahita.
An energized Republican base kept Ossoff from accumulating a significant lead among early voters and doomed the hopes of the anti-Trump activists
Democrats fell short of a special election victory yet again on Tuesday when Jon Ossoff, long the best hope of Democrats to win a special election in the Trump administration, suffered a narrow loss to Republican Karen Handel in the Sixth Congressional District.
The race was the latest in a series of special elections in Republican seats where Democrats managed to deliver moral victories rather than actual victories as they proved unable to notch a major electoral win in the Trump administration.
With 100% of precincts reporting, Handel had 52.7% and Ossoff had 47.3%.
Sporadic downpours and flash flood warnings helped to put a damper on Democratic turnout in base precincts and on the hopes of progressives to thwart Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Combined with an energized Republican base that kept Ossoff from accumulating a significant lead among early voters, it doomed the hopes of the anti-Trump activists who made the first time Democratic candidate a minor political celebrity.
The runoff came after a first round of voting in April where Ossoff won just over 48% of the vote and Handel finished second in a splintered Republican field with just under 20% of the vote. However, Ossoff struggled to match that total as Handel consolidated the Republican vote in a traditionally conservative district in the northern suburbs of Atlanta andended up falling a percentage point short of his much hyped performance in the first round of voting.
Trump took to Twitter to hail the result as a personal victory Thank you @FoxNews Huge win for President Trump and GOP in Georgia Congressional Special Election.
The seat had been vacated by Tom Price when the former congressman joined Trumps cabinet to become secretary of health and human services and previously held by Republican stalwarts like Senator Johnny Isakson and former speaker Newt Gingrich. Although Price won by 23% in 2016, Donald Trump only narrowly won this wealthy, well-educated district by just over 1%.
Trumps narrow win sparked optimism among Democrats that the district, where nearly 60% of residents have a college degree, could flip as part of the political realignment around the presidents upset victory in 2016. Roughly $50m ended up being spent by both parties and allied groups in the race as it became the most expensive congressional campaign in the history of the United States.
However, while Democrats had motivated their base and won over skeptical Republicans, the conservative slant of district proved too much even for the nearly unprecedented resources that Democrats invested in the race, even flying in volunteers for last minute doorknocking as local television stations had been saturated by 30-second advertisements.
The two candidates took different tones in their election night speeches after the race was called. Ossoff, speaking to a distraught crowd in a packed ballroom, cast the race in historical terms. As darkness has crept across this planet you have provided a beacon of hope to people in Georgia and people in around the world, Ossoff told attendees. He cast the race in broader metaphysical terms. The fight goes on, hope is still alive, said Ossoff.
In contrast, Handel gave a far more traditional speech. She mentioned the obligation that came with being the first Republican woman elected to Congress from the great state of Georgia and cast herself an inspirational story, telling attendees anything is possible with hard work, inspiration, grit and people that believe in you. Handel also touched on policy priorities like finishing the drill on health care and lowering taxes including repeal of the estate tax.
Although the race had been cast a referendum on Trump an opinion the President seemed to endorse after the result had been reported both candidates awkwardly danced around his looming presence on the campaign trail. At Handels campaign events, Trumps name went unmentioned by the candidate and introductory speakers. Instead, there was constant refrain of attack on Ossoff for his ties to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and praise for previous holders of the seat like Price and Gingrich. Ossoff was regularly bashed for the amount of money he raised out of state, for having San Francisco values and, particularly, for the fact that he did not actually live in the district.
Handel, who suggested in the first televised debate of the campaign that Trump should use Twitter less often, told the Guardian in an interview on Monday that she didnt pay attention to the presidents use of social media. She said I am focused on my campaign, I have precious little time to be on Twitter. Several hours later, her campaign sent out a fundraising email signed by the former secretary of state with the subject line did you see what Trump just tweeted? after the President used his ubiquitous social media account to tout her campaign.
Ossoff has also been measured in his attacks on Trump in a traditionally Republican district albeit one that the president barely won in 2016. Instead, the lanky and measured political neophyte focused on banal and politically non-controversial issues like government waste and turning Atlanta into the Silicon Valley of the South and let the progressive anti-Trump enthusiasm of the Democratic base carry him.
Instead, he has focused on Handels stint as Georgia secretary of state as well as her brief stint with the Susan Komen Race For The Cure, a charity which combats breast cancer, where she led an effort to cut off the organizations funding for Planned Parenthood. The decision sparked a major controversy and funding was eventually restored and Handel had to resign from the non-profit.
In an interview with the Guardian, Ossoff slammed his opponent. Secretary Handels record as secretary of state is extremely weak perhaps because she was too busy preparing her next run for higher office to do her job. She quit her job early to run for higher office, as so many career politicians do. Her last significant private sector experience, her performance also lacked.
The issue of civility and the growing toxic nature of American political culture became an issue late in the race in the aftermath of the shooting of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise. Handel pointed to social media and journalism as reasons for the decline of civility in American society in an interview with the Guardian. Journalism is not journalism any more, said Handel. Ossoff stuck to broader themes, telling the Guardian, this is a deep rooted problem in American politics right now which is going to take work and bipartisan commitment to trying to heal wounds and focus on substance instead of fear mongering and slander.
Nationally, Democrats tried to spin the results. In a statement, Ben Ray Lujan, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said insisted there are more than 70 districts more favorable to Democrats than this deep-red district, and Ossoffs close margin demonstrates the potential for us to compete deep into the battlefield.
However, Republicans took a victory lap as Steve Stivers, the chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee, said in a statement Nancy Pelosi threw the kitchen sink at her, yet Karen still came out on top and ready to fight for Georgia in Congress. For all the Democrats bluster and despite pouring over $30 million into this race, I couldnt be more proud to help keep this seat in Republican hands.
Between the Comey testimony and the UK election, weve all been glued to our laptops and televisions. Heres what you might have missed
Between Comey news and UK election news, Im ready to never watch cable television or refresh my Twitter page ever again. As has been the case these last few months, there seems no end in sight to newly-and-daily breaking news.
But what I cant stop thinking about is Trumps reaction to the attack on London that left eight people dead. How in a moment when real leaders were urging calm, the US president was attempting to capitalize on a terror attack for his own racist legislation, and attacking the London mayor for … well, doing his job.
Just when you think youve bottomed out on the shame you can feel for this president, he reminds you that there is seemingly no end to how low he will go.
Glass Half Full
With all the surprises of the last few days, dont let this one sneak by you: a record number of women were elected in the UK last night, over 200. While the gender breakdown in parliament still needs work lets take this one as a win.
After watching this incredible video of a breast cancer survivor who went to Planned Parenthood when she felt a lump, Im at a full 10 out of 10 thinking about the cruelty of those who would defund the organization.
How Im making it through this week
Reading a great new novel by Natalka Burian a welcome and well-written escape that I desperately needed.
Sign up for The Week in Patriarchy, Jessica Valentis weekly email newsletter, which tracks whats happening in the world of feminism and sexism, from politics to pop culture.
Biopsies are seen as the best way of detecting the illness but they have traditionally often required invasive techniques
Researchers are developing tests that could make cancer detection so painless that it becomes part of routine check-ups, experts said, as new developments in such liquid biopsy technology were presented at the worlds largest cancer conference in Chicago this weekend.
Collecting tumor tissue through biopsies is considered the gold standard for diagnosing and treating cancer. However, necessary surgery is often invasive and sometimes unsuccessful.
That has fueled interest in technology that uses blood samples to examine bits of DNA shed into the bloodstream by tumors. The hope, researchers say, is to save patients the pain of surgery, monitor tumor growth to tailor treatment, and ultimately to save lives.
Its fair to say that if you could detect all cancers while they are still localized, you could diminish cancer deaths by 90%, said Dr Bert Vogelstein, a professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who co-authored a study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago.
But thats a theoretical figure. The available data suggests that its going to take quite a while, and there are a lot of obstacles to overcome.
Like all cells, cancerous cells shed DNA as they die. Tests in development examine these bits of DNA in the bloodstream, finding mutations in already diagnosed cancers or, experts hope, diagnosing cancer early.
Part of the challenge in developing such tests is scale. Pieces of DNA represent a tiny portion of a blood sample. Pieces of cancer DNA represent an even tinier sliver of all the DNA present in blood.
Pieces of genetic material, called cell-free DNA, are found in blood plasma. But plasma contains cell-free DNA from all over the body not just cancer. In some cases, cell-free DNA from cancer represents just 0.1% of all cell-free DNA, new research has found. That makes the search a needle in a haystack.
One of the studies presented at ASCO sequenced 100 times more data than ever before. Using such high-intensity sequencing, researchers from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center scanned regions of the genome up to 60,000 times to look for 508 specific genes.
Dr Pedram Razavi and his research team collected blood samples from 124 patients with metastatic breast, non-small cell lung or prostate cancer. Biopsies were collected to provide a baseline, and researchers also sequenced each patients white blood cells to rule out benign mutations.
In 89% of the patients, researchers identified at least one gene mutation. The highest success rates were for breast cancer patients, in whom researchers were able to find 97% of gene mutations.
Ravazi said simple tests to screen for cancer were a very long way from development, but the new research brought doctors one step closer. This is a promising first step in patients with metastatic DNA, he said, referring to advanced cancer patients.
Another abstract presented at ASCO took the opposite approach. US and Australian researchers at Johns Hopkins and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne screened 119 pancreatic cancer patients for just one mutation found nearly all pancreatic cancers.
Though only four patients had advanced cancer, researchers found cell-free DNA in all of them. In patients with stage two cancer, the largest group, researchers found cell-free DNA in 54.5% of 99 cases. Authors said tests showed promise for screening, and could help guide treatment.
One of the researchers, Peter Gibbs, said he could envision that within five years, people would receive tests that search for about 20 cancer gene mutations.
Its potentially very close by, said Gibbs. The potential impact on screening and prevention is huge.
She was one of the few women working in sound design during the 1970s and here she talks about a long career, from appearing on Letterman to how she ended up making the famous Coke noise
It might not seem so much of a stretch any more, but imagine spending your entire life in a tempestuous relationship with a machine. Not a sleek smartphone or tablet weve seen how that can escalate in Spike Jonzes Her. Instead picture a tapestry of tangled multicoloured wires, knobs and buttons, a bulky modular synthesizer otherwise known as the Buchla. Suzanne Ciani has spent much of her career testing the limits of one of these cumbersome instruments. So dedicated to its oscillating drones, burbles and bleeps did she become that has jokingly referred to the Buchla as her boyfriend. At times that affair was traumatic, she says now, down the phone from her studio in the Californian coastal enclave of Bolinas, sounding like both Marilyn Monroe and a Woodstock hippie. Technologys always very risky you never know when it might break.
Ciani is one of electronic musics earliest but lesser known pioneers, dubbed variously as the diva of the diode and Americas first female synth hero. This weekend shell be one of the recipients of the Moog Innovation Award at Moogfest, the synth brands celebration of electronic music and technology, alongside Devo and Brian Eno. Ciani, however, has been quietly innovating in various fields of music and sound design for nearly half a century. She was one of the few women on the frontline of electronic innovation in the 1970s, a five-time Grammy-nominated recording artist, a pioneer of the new age genre and the first solo female composer to soundtrack a Hollywood film. Brilliantly, she also invented Coca-Colas infamous pop and pour sound effect.
Today, however, she has returned to the Buchla, an instrument that it seems will always have her heart. Ciani was introduced to it by the inventor himself, Don, while she was studying music composition at the University of California in 1970. As the sleevenotes for one of her compilations put it, the Buchla was San Franciscos neck-and-neck contender to New Yorks Moog run by a community of festival freaks and academic acid eaters. Ciani soon established herself as a Buchla buff and moved to New York, when the Soho avant-garde circles were swirling at full tilt and she was living among musicians such as Philip Glass, Vladimir Ussachevsky and Ornette Coleman.
But choosing the Buchla as her other half came with its own unique set of complications. To watch her live performances is to see a graceful choreography of movements and yet the synth itself was bulky, would continually break and took years to get fixed, if it could be fixed at all. Travelling anywhere was particularly hazardous. Something can break on the airline, the luggage handle smashes your machine. You never know if youre going to have what you need to do the performance, says Ciani.
Not only was there all this unpredictability, but Ciani also had a hard time getting people to understand what she was doing in the first place. Electronic music was so alien that it posed a whole new world and language. Her live television performance, to an incredulous-looking David Letterman, in 1980, underlines how, even then, after Kraftwerk, her talents were seen as bizarre. Nobody even understood that the sound was coming out of the machine, it just didnt compute, she says. It was so unknown that the connection couldnt be made. Its like when they say when Columbus came across the ocean, that the Indians didnt even see the ship because they had no concept for ships.
Even the forward-thinking minimal classical milieu of the day didnt get it at first. Ciani sees a link between the emotionally affecting simplicity of her music and theirs but at the time it doesnt sound as if that understanding worked vice versa. In 1974 she met Philip Glass and put her Buchla in his studio for a period. We did electronic lessons for about a month or so, and in the end it just wasnt for him. Other composers were not as receptive. Steve Reich said, You should send all these machines to the moon and make them stay there! she laughs. Its so funny because Steve, in those days, openly hated electronic music instruments. And a couple of years ago I was at a big industry convention and a young fellow comes up to me. Hes an electronic musician, and he says, I think you know my dad? And I just laughed out loud. I said, Its poetic justice, that Steves son is an electronic musician.
As a recording artist, the Buchla also had its limitations. I went to all the record companies and I said, you know, give me a deal, Ciani remembers, and they said, What do you do?, and I said, I play the Buchla, and they say, Whats that?, and I said, Ill show you. But even a studio setup back then couldnt accommodate her Buchla or at least music execs couldnt get their head around the fact that she didnt need a band. They said, Why dont you sing?, Wheres the guitar?, Youre a girl, you know, You must sing, she continues. There was no opening for it, and thats how I got into commercials.
The advertising world, she says, was looking for something new; you want to be on the edge, you want to be different. The fact that they didnt understand it already intrigued them. So she started her own company, Ciani/Musica, which was almost completely unheard of for a female musician in those days. Essentially they did sound design, and much of it has been archived on the compilation Lixiviation on the British independent label Finders Keepers, whove been largely responsible for rereleasing Cianis work and bringing it to a wider audience in recent years. Notably, she added the electronic swoosh sound to Starland Vocal Bands Afternoon Delight and FX for a 1977 disco version of the Star Wars soundtrack, among the odd B-movie horror and kung-fu films.
Constituents heckle and boo Tom MacArthur, calling him a killer as 500 people gather for New Jersey event: I dont think Ill vote for him again
Tom MacArthur, the New Jersey congressman who has been celebrated in conservative circles for helping pass the Republican healthcare bill, came back down to earth with a bang on Wednesday night when he was booed, heckled and generally chastised during a nearly five-hour town hall meeting.
In Willingboro, hundreds showed up to lambast MacArthur, most fuelled by their congressmans intervention to revive the ailing American Health Care Act (AHCA).
MacArthur was branded a weasel, a killer and an idiot by constituents angry at his amendment to the bill, which would allow states to opt out of rules that protect individuals with pre-existing conditions from being charged more for healthcare coverage. This stipulation proved enough to satisfy the hard-right Freedom Caucus and the bill which would probably see millions of Americans lose their healthcare coverage passed the House on 4 May.
The majority of Republicans who voted for the bill are not holding public events this week, despite being on recess. Those who have dared face voters have been pilloried. Aware of this, MacArthur kicked off his town hall at 6.30pm with a promise to respond to every single question, for as long as it goes. He was still being quizzed by angry residents at 11.20pm.
More than 500 people had gathered outside the Kennedy Center in Willingboro, just across the Delaware river from Philadelphia. It was a lively and loud scene, a number of voters chanting, waving signs and generally causing a ruckus.
Our health matters more than Toms net worth, one banner read. A sign showed a picture of MacArthur with I took your healthcare written on his forehead. Another described MacArthur, a former insurance executive who was elected in 2014, as MacWeasel.
Claudia Storicks, a former nurse who has been on disability for the past two years, had travelled from Pemberton, New Jersey. She has diabetes and charcot foot a weakening of the bones caused by nerve damage and was using an electric scooter. She is insured under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama administration legislation the AHCA seeks to replace.
It was the only insurance that I could afford, she said. Ive been able to afford my medication and my doctors visits because Im on the ACA. Otherwise I probably would have lost my house and my foot.
Storicks voted for MacArthur in 2016 hes a businessman and I thought he had a good sense about taxes, she said but now described herself as very angry at the prospect of the ACA being repealed.
That would mean that my diabetes would get out of control, my foot would probably get worse, and Id probably end up in hospital and losing my house.
Medford, New Jersey, resident Jay Wilder, 72, was first in line. He arrived six hours early. Im really worried about pre-existing conditions because I dealt with it when I was going from my job before I had Medicare, he said.
Wilder had had a heart attack and said he couldnt afford healthcare. I just lived without healthcare, hoping that nothing would happen. It was very difficult because when youre 64 years old you start having health issues.
The anger outside the venue set the tone for the event itself. MacArthur walked out to Coldplays A Sky Full of Stars, and to a similarly tepid round of applause from the 250 people who had made it inside. The congressman smiled and offered his hand to a man wearing a green shirt, sitting in the front row. The man kept his arms folded and thrust his head away.
The four hours and 50 minutes that followed were no less hostile. MacArthur had asked constituents not to boo him but that proved to be in vain. People repeatedly told him he had blood on his hands.
A man who had received a kidney transplant feared what would happen to people like him under the AHCA. A resident whose wife had recovered from breast cancer was concerned that she would always have a pre-existing condition and did not want that to determine which state she lived in.
A woman had brought her two young children, one of whom had learning difficulties, and objected to them potentially being placed in a high-risk pool an aspect of MacArthurs amendment designed to assist people with pre-existing conditions, but which could lead to higher health insurance costs.
MacArthurs responses that only 7% of Americans were in the individual market, that people would not lose their insurance (the Congressional Budget Office, in its assessment of an earlier version of the bill, said 24 million would probably do so), and that there are loads of other people who dont agree with you did not placate the crowd.
Nor did his response to repeated chants calling for single-payer healthcare.
Government bureaucrats can be very dangerous when they have power to make decisions on peoples health, MacArthur said, prompting one woman to tell the congressman she would prefer that scenario than someone in an office of an insurance company making the same decisions.