Will Paul Ryan Lose His GOP Primary? Probably Not

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. responds to a question from the audience during a town hall at Georgetown University last month.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. responds to a question from the audience during a town hall at Georgetown University last month. Andrew Harnik/AP hide caption

toggle caption Andrew Harnik/AP

Over the weekend, Sarah Palin had a message for House Speaker Paul Ryan: You’re going to pay for not getting on board the Trump Train.

The GOP’s 2008 vice presidential nominee unleashed on her party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, saying, “his political career is over but for a miracle because he has so disrespected the will of the people.”

Palin is now backing the House speaker’s GOP primary challenger. But primary upsets remain rare and difficult to orchestrate.

That came in response to Ryan saying last week he wasn’t ready to endorse his party’s de facto presidential nominee just yet. Ryan hasn’t even ruled out endorsing Donald Trump down the line like former rivals Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham has. In fact, the two will meet later this week.

But Ryan’s initial hesitancy was enough for Palin to throw her support behind the Wisconsin Republican’s little-known primary challenger Paul Nehlen. Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, she predicted that Ryan will be “Cantored” — or ousted in a GOP primary, just like then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was in a major 2014 upset.

Is Ryan in danger? Not likely. Two years ago, Cantor was caught unprepared in primary challenge from college professor Dave Brat. It was a huge primary defeat; Cantor lost by double digits. In hindsight, observers said Cantor had lost focus on his Richmond districts and should have seen seeds of upset brewing as Tea Party activists took control in local GOP leadership. The low-turnout primary in an off-year election with no major races driving the top of the ticket didn’t help either.

Those seeds don’t seem to be sowed in Ryan’s district. For one, he’s in a state that went heavily for Ted Cruz, not Trump, in last month’s primary. The Texas senator carried Ryan’s district alone by nearly 20 points. And many conservatives in the state, including many influential talk radio hosts, are staunchly anti-Trump. Ryan comes back to his district frequently (one reason he had to be persuaded to take the job as speaker in the first place) and has $7.6 million in his campaign war chest. A recent Marquette Law School poll gave him a 76 percent approval rating among Republicans.

Palin’s own history in supporting primary challengers has been mixed. In fact, she didn’t back Brat until after he defeated Cantor.

In 2014, despite bluster from Palin and other Tea Party leaders, no sitting GOP senator lost a primary. Chris McDaniel came closest in Mississippi, but Sen. Thad Cochran prevailed in the GOP runoff after an incredibly personal and nasty contest.

Conservatives also didn’t succeed in knocking off now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky as Matt Bevin’s much-ballyhooed primary challenge fell short. Bevin did win the open governor’s race the following year. Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts survived a primary challenge, as did Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. A primary challenge against then-Speaker John Boehner never gained steam, either.

Democrats aren’t immune to intra-party turmoil, either. As NPR’s Greg Allen recently reported, progressives unhappy with Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz are pushing a primary challenger against the Florida congresswoman.

And as much as Trump’s rise represents an anti-Washington fervor, only one incumbent has lost a primary challenge so far this year — Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah, who is facing a 29-count federal indictment on charges of bribery and fraud.

There are plenty of primaries left this year (most states don’t hold their House and Senate primaries at the same time as their presidential contests), so there could still be incumbents ousted. But it’s not an easy task — as many as 95 percent of members of Congress are still re-elected.

Past upsets

In addition to Cantor’s ouster, here are some of the biggest recent past primary upsets:

  • Net Lamont over Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman: The party’s 2000 vice presidential nominee suffered a shocking loss in the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, who hammered Lieberman over his support for the Iraq war. But Lieberman mounted a comeback as an Independent candidate and won in November with a lot of help from Republican voters.
  • Mike Lee over Utah Sen. Bob Bennett: As the Tea Party wave in 2010 was beginning to swell, this three-term incumbent was among the first casualties. Conservatives took aim at Bennett over his support for the 2008 Wall Street bailout, and it worked. Now-Sen. Mike Lee maneuvered past Bennett at the state GOP convention and denied him a spot on the primary ballot at all.
  • Joe Miller over Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski: She was the only other incumbent Republican to lose a primary in 2010, but Murkowski’s political fate worked out much better than Bennett’s did. Even though she fell to the Palin-endorsed Joe Miller, she was able to win the general election as a write-in candidate.
  • Richard Mourdock over Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar: In 2012, conservative outside groups worked hard to boost state Treasurer Richard Mourdock over Lugar in the primary, and it worked. Some of Lugar’s wounds were self-inflicted, such as not maintaining a permanent residence back in Indiana. But Mourdock proved to be an uneven candidate who came under fire after saying in a debate that pregnancy resulting from rape was “something God intended to happen.” Mourdock lost in the general election to Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly.
  • Brad Wenstrup over Ohio Rep. Jean Schmidt: This Republican was the first incumbent to lose her primary in 2012 to podiatrist Brad Wenstrup, who targeted her over her votes to raise the debt ceiling. She had weak primary performances in the past, and with new district lines, she was especially susceptible post-redistricting.
  • Ted Yoho over Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns: This 2012 race also wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Yes, the district lines were new after redistricting, but the 12-term GOP incumbent had a high profile in the House from leading investigations into the Obama administration’s energy proposals and government funding of Planned Parenthood. Large animal veterinarian Ted Yoho argued Stearns had simply been in Washington too long, and even ran a TV ad of politicians throwing mud at each other in a pig pen. It worked — and Yoho upset Stearns by fewer than 800 votes.
  • Jim Bridenstine over Oklahoma Rep. John Sullivan: This Republican was another incumbent who was swept out in 2012 by Tea Party-backed Jim Bridenstine. The former Navy pilot was underfunded and flew under the radar until the upset, but Sullivan himself admitted he hadn’t taken the challenge seriously enough.

But primary losses aren’t an entirely new advent. According to the Brookings Institution, in 1992 (a post-redistricting year) 19 House incumbents lost primaries, the highest since 1946 when 18 House incumbents were ousted by their party’s voters. In 2012, a total of 13 House members lost primaries, though many were due to redistricting and reapportionment.

The year 1946 also had the highest number of Senate who lost their primaries, with six ousted. In 1980, four senators lost their primaries.

Some older notable upsets:

  • Carol Moseley Braun over Illinois Sen. Alan Dixon: The longtime Democrat suffered a stunning loss to Carol Moseley Braun, who hammered the senator for his vote to confirm Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. In the aftermath of the Anita Hill hearings, Moseley Braun became the first African-American woman (and still the only) to be elected to the Senate.
  • Dale Bumpers over Arkansas Sen. William Fulbright: The Democratic senator, who helped begin the international scholarship program that bears his name, was ousted in 1974. Then-Gov. Bumpers ran to Fulbright’s right and argued the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman wasn’t hawkish enough on foreign policy.

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Top Stories: Obama To Visit Hiroshima; Deadly Plains Tornadoes

Good morning, here are our early stories:

— In Historic Step, Obama To Visit Hiroshima Later This Month.

— Deadly Tornadoes Wreak Havoc Across The Great Plains.

And here are more early headlines:

German Police Allege Militant Stabs 4, Kills 1 At Train Station. (ABC)

U.S., European Defense Leaders Warn Britain Against Leaving E.U. (Independent)

Controversial Candidate Becomes Philippines President-Elect. (VOA)

Report: Turkish Border Guards Beat, Kill Syrian Refugees. (Human Rights Watch)

Flooding In Rwanda Has Killed Nearly 50 People. (Al Jazeera)

U.S. Says ISIS Leader Killed In Air Strike. (Washington Post)

Competency Case Against Media Titan Redstone Suddenly Ends. (New York Times)

Treasury Secretary Lew Visits Puerto Rico, Warns Of Debt Crisis. (USA Today)

900,000 Gallon Molasses Spill In El Salvador Kills River Life. (AP)

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The Empire State Building And The Art Of Trump's Deal

One of Donald Trump's most famous deals involved an effort to acquire control of the Empire State Building in the 1990s.

One of Donald Trump’s most famous deals involved an effort to acquire control of the Empire State Building in the 1990s. Freddie Scott/FlickrVision hide caption

toggle caption Freddie Scott/FlickrVision

Donald Trump says he can “make America great again” through his prodigious skills as a dealmaker, using them to reshape trade pacts, prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and stop illegal immigration.

His infamous effort to acquire control of the Empire State Building from some of New York’s most powerful real estate titans in the 1990s shows how aggressive he can be, the kind of people he’s willing to do business with and how he can still make money even when he loses.

“It was kind of like one member of New York real estate royalty taking on another member. It was something I had never seen happen before and haven’t seen happen since,” says Michael Cohen, tri-state president of Colliers International, a commercial real estate firm.

In the early 1990s, Trump was in one of his periodic rough patches as a businessman, having defaulted on $1 billion worth of debt during one of New York’s real estate downturns. Then one day his second wife, Marla Maples, happened to meet Kiiko Nakahara at a gym. Nakahara suggested she and Trump meet to talk about the Empire State Building, says Raymond Hannigan of the law firm Herrick & Feinstein. Nakahara was the daughter of one of Japan’s richest and most notorious men, Hideki Yokoi, who was widely thought to have ties to organized crime and was then doing time in prison.

Over the years, Yokoi had been rapidly buying up showcase properties in Europe and the U.S., among them the landmark art deco Empire State Building, says Hannigan, who was involved in the litigation over the building. Yokoi’s interests in the building were controlled by Nakahara.

But Yokoi made surprisingly little money out of the building. Previous owners had signed a very long-term lease with a firm controlled by two of New York’s most powerful real estate barons, Harry Helmsley and Lawrence Wien. Meeting with Nakahara, who knew little about Manhattan real estate, Trump proposed a time-honored New York strategy: the two of them would go to court to try to break the lease.

According to Peter Slatin, a hotel consultant and former journalist who covered New York real estate for publications such as Barron’s and The Wall Street Journal, Trump essentially told Nakahara, “What if we got rid of [the owners] and we take over the building? And you don’t have to do anything. I’m going to do all the work. I’m going to do all the heavy lifting.”

Nakahara, who’d later do prison time herself, decided that Trump, with his considerable experience in the city’s real estate industry, might be able to pull off what he proposed.

For Trump, the arrangement was a win-win, giving him an interest in the building without putting in any of his own money but allowing him to reap half of any extra value he could add to the property. If he succeeded in breaking the lease, he’d make a fortune.

“A great deal of money was at stake. I mean, being able to terminate the lease for this marvelous iconic building was worth not millions, billions,” says former New York State Supreme Court Judge Edward Lehner, who presided over the case.

To break the lease, Trump argued that the 102-story building had been mismanaged by Helmsley and Peter Malkin, Wien’s son-in-law. It was infested with rodents, Trump said, and the elevators didn’t work properly.

There was some truth to that, Slatin says: Despite its fame, the Empire State Building was not then seen as one of New York’s premier buildings, and its tenants tended to be small companies that couldn’t afford A-list buildings. But there was a widespread sense that the building’s problems weren’t as serious as Trump claimed, and his effort to break the lease shocked a lot of people. Cohen notes that many small investors owned shares in the Helmsley-Malkin operation that controlled the lease, and Trump’s gain would have been their loss.

“If he had won, the investors who’d been partners with Helmsley and the Helmsley heirs who were then managing the building would have been wiped out,” Cohen says.

As it happened Judge Lehner dismissed Trump’s suit, and his ruling was held up on appeal. In the years that followed, Trump waged a war of attrition against Malkin and Helmsley, using his fame as a platform to publicly criticize their management of the building.

Then, in 2002, Trump suddenly shifted gears and did the kind of deal he was famous for, by calling Malkin and offering to sell him his interest in the building. Why would Malkin and his partners want to buy Trump out, especially since his effort to break the lease had been notably unsuccessful?

“They know that two things can happen,” Trump told Mitchell Pacelle, author of Empire: A Tale of Obsession, Betrayal, and the Battle for an American Icon. “As long as we own the land, the building cannot be condominium-ized, which is a huge negative, because that’s what’s happening today. I don’t only mean for apartment, hotel and commercial.”

Trump’s interest in the building also made it difficult for Malkin and his partners to borrow against the building’s lease, Trump reasoned. The partners may also have simply been worn out by Trump over the years and eager to get him off their backs. A spokesman for Anthony Malkin, president and chairman of the Empire State Realty Trust, declined to comment.

Whatever the reasons, Malkin agreed to buy the building outright, for about $57 million, giving the partners total control over the property. In 2010, they spent $550 million to upgrade the building.

As for Trump, he walked away with half of the profit from the building’s sale, or about $8 million, according to a source. That was a lot less than he might have made, but a nice little profit nonetheless, considering that he had put no money into the building.

For a while, Trump also got to be associated with one of the most famous buildings in the world, and for someone who loves publicity as much as he does, that was no doubt a nice added benefit.

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Viking's Choice: Stephen Steinbrink, 'Building Machines'

Stephen Steinbrink.

Stephen Steinbrink. Hannah Klein/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Hannah Klein/Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Steinbrink’s unfussy imagery stays detached from meaning. That’s part of what makes his seven albums worth your time: In their lushly arranged pop songs, the listener can tie and untie Steinbrink’s vivid and unrelated images into something meaningful — or not. Even his new album’s title, Anagrams, suggests engagement through emotional and lyrical rearrangement.

The gingerly sweet “Building Machines” is deceptively simple, marrying an airy melody with dense instrumentation that recalls the solo work of The Sea And Cake‘s Archer Prewitt. Steinbrink is thoughtful about how he foregrounds and backgrounds sustained piano chords, smeared synths, crisp drums, intricate guitar work and his soft-rock vocal chill. The elements remain fluid from verse to verse, never bothering with a chorus and never needing one. After he sings, “You work building machines / Unraveling all they believe / I remember you from when I was small / The silence there was deafening,” the song builds to a bit of feedback that teeters on chaos, yet rides the gently swaying wave.

Anagrams comes out July 1 on Melodic and Bandcamp.

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'The Noise Of Time' Can't Drown Out Shostakovich

The Noise of Time

What role should art play in society, and who’s to say? These are just two of the questions Julian Barnes ponders in his slim but by no means slight new novel, which chronicles the tribulations of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich during his decades under the successive thumbs of Stalin and Khrushchev. Like his Booker Prize-winning The Sense of An Ending (2011), The Noise of Time is another brilliant thought-provoker which explores the costs of compromise and how much confrontation and concession a man and his conscience can endure.

Barnes, who has been called the “chameleon of British letters” for the extraordinary versatility of his output, channels the thoughts of a neurotic, dismayed Shostakovich through an interior third person point of view. His narrative, as elegantly structured as a concerto in three movements bookended by a resonant overture and coda, captures the strain of an innately Russian pessimist forced to toe the Soviet optimistic line in both his music and in public pronouncements he was compelled to sign as his own. The novel’s largely sympathetic portrait undercuts criticism of the composer’s capitulations to power by showing a man whose self-deprecations were harsher than those of his detractors. But in his defense, he also reminds naïve westerners of “the one simple fact about the Soviet Union: that it was impossible to tell the truth here and live.”

Shostakovich’s meditations highlight the ridiculous idiocy of tyrants and their minions who’ve perpetrated “a vast catalogue of little farces adding up to an immense tragedy.” After his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was denounced in 1936 on the front page of Pravda as “Muddle Instead of Music” and he was declared an “enemy of the people” — a virtual death sentence during the Great Terror — the composer waited fully dressed, bag packed, by his building’s elevator every night so that if he was hauled off by the NKVD his wife and infant daughter wouldn’t be disturbed. It’s a scene saturated in both dread and absurdity.

When “truth-speaking” is impossible, the beleaguered composer notes, “irony becomes a defense of the self and the soul; it lets you breathe on a day-to-day basis.” Barnes, no stranger to irony’s rich capabilities, sings its praises repeatedly, like a musical refrain. “In Jewish folk music, despair is disguised as the dance. And so, truth’s disguise was irony. Because the tyrant’s ear is rarely tuned to it,” he writes. Shostakovich wielded “screeching irony” in order to write the music he wanted between the bad movie scores he was compelled to produce. The final movements of his Fifth and Seventh symphonies were meant as a “mockery of triumph;” fortunately, those in power “heard only triumph itself.”

But irony has its limits. Forced to join the Communist Party and publicly denounce artists he admired, including Stravinsky and Solzhenitsyn, “You woke up one morning and no longer knew if your tongue was in your cheek.” Barnes comments memorably, “If you turned your back on irony, it curdled into sarcasm. And what good was it then? Sarcasm was irony which had lost its soul.”

Like The Sense of an Ending, this book is filled with many such penetrating, quotable lines. As Shostakovich strains against the edict to be heartwarming and “instantly comprehensible and pleasing to the masses,” he wonders, “What was the artist’s business with, if not the human soul? Unless the artist wanted to be merely decorative, or merely a lapdog of the rich and powerful.”

Later, required to test his students on Marxist-Leninist ideology, Shostakovich reacts to Lenin’s maxim — “Art belongs to the people” — emblazoned on a banner at the Conservatoire. He rails: “Art belongs to everybody and nobody. Art belongs to all time and no time. Art belongs to those who create it and those who savour it.” And then he crescendoes, ending on a high note that merits its own banner: “Art is the whisper of history, heard above the noise of time.”

Music was what Shostakovich “put up against the noise of time.” Barnes’ stirring novel about what is lost when tyrants try to control artistic expression leaves us wondering what, besides more operas, this tormented, compromised musical prodigy might have composed had he been free.

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What Kenya Can Teach The U.S. About Menstrual Pads

Faith Wanjoki of ZanaAfrica gives a lesson on how to use a sanitary pad in a classroom in Kisumu, Kenya. Her colleague, Catherine Onyango, sits by her side.

Faith Wanjoki of ZanaAfrica gives a lesson on how to use a sanitary pad in a classroom in Kisumu, Kenya. Her colleague, Catherine Onyango, sits by her side. ZanaAfrica Foundation hide caption

toggle caption ZanaAfrica Foundation

The United States is only just starting to get periods — or, at least, acknowledging that products for “that time of the month” aren’t optional for menstruating women.

In 40 states, plus the District of Columbia, pads and tampons are subject to sales tax. Earlier this year, when President Obama was asked why they haven’t been exempted like other necessities, he said, “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”

But there’s a movement to fight these taxes, and several states have eliminated them. Next up: New York, which has just passed a bill that’s awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

Meanwhile, one country is way ahead of the U.S. when it comes to understanding that pads and tampons shouldn’t be taxed.

It’s Kenya.

Kenya repealed its value added tax on pads and tampons back in 2004 to lower the price consumers pay. And since 2011, the Kenyan government has been budgeting about $3 million per year to distribute free sanitary pads in schools in low-income communities.

That’s not to say Kenya is an ideal place to get one’s period. Many Kenyan girls still don’t have access to sanitary products, so they use unhygienic materials like chicken feathers, cheap mattresses and newspapers to fashion makeshift pads, says Megan White Mukuria.

Mukuria is the founder of ZanaAfrica Foundation, which delivers health education — and sanitary pads — to help girls stay in school. A girl who is embarrassed to stain her uniform (or has an infection) is one who is likely to skip class and eventually drop out, Mukuria explains. UNESCO estimates that more than two million Kenyan girls need support in order to get menstrual hygiene products.

Nonetheless, Mukuria says Kenya should be proud of its progressive menstrual policies — which wouldn’t have been possible without political pressure. She gives a lot of credit to the country’s female leaders as well as the men who have taken on this issue. She cites the late Mutula Kilonzo, a former education minister, who recalled that during his childhood in the 1950s, he was always trying to keep up in school with one boy and one girl — until the girl got her period. She dropped out in seventh grade.

“He was angry about this. He missed the competition,” says Mukuria, noting that the experience made him want to do something about the issue, especially when it continued to be a problem more than half a century later.

Government involvement — along with the support of NGOs and media coverage — have noticeably improved the menstruation situation for girls in Kenya, says Catherine Onyango, who leads ZanaAfrica’s advocacy efforts. In the past few years, she’s even noticed a shift in the language people use around the issue. When talking about a sanitary pad, men used to call it “this thing that is used by women,” she says. But now, they’re not afraid of the word “pad.” Onyango says: “The way we discuss school books, we can discuss it.”

They can also celebrate it. WASH United, an international NGO dedicated to issues of water, sanitation and hygiene, launched Menstrual Hygiene Day in 2014. Kenya marked the occasion with a public event for thousands of schoolchildren. (You can read an account in this issue of Shared Sanitation, Hygiene, Information and Tales.)

As part of last year’s event, Kenya’s Ministry of Health announced it would create a national menstrual hygiene management policy. The plan was to have it completed in time for 2016’s Menstrual Hygiene Day — coming up quickly on May 28 — although it won’t quite be ready, says Beverly Mademba, who’s head of programming for WASH United’s Nairobi office. It’s taken longer than expected to finalize the draft document.

But the fact that such a policy is in the works at all is an important step, adds Mademba, who believes it will ensure that these issues won’t be viewed as a “passing fad.”

And the fact that the government has reached out to WASH United and other groups to help craft this policy is one of the best aspects of working on menstrual hygiene in Kenya, Mademba says. “When I need to check in on something, I just call the director’s office,” she says, referencing Dr. Kepha Ombacho, who has championed the menstrual hygiene cause within the government.

Despite all of this attention, everyone agrees there’s much more work to be done in menstrual hygiene in Kenya. Before the tax was repealed in 2004, Mukuria says, a pack of eight sanitary pads cost about $1.20. Now, it’s closer to a dollar — but that still puts them out of reach for most women. “More than half of the population lives on less than $1 a day,” Onyango says. To fathers — who typically control a family’s budget — these products are simply not a priority.

Mademba has spoken about the high costs with manufacturers, who complain that while finished products aren’t taxed, the materials used to make them still are. “So maybe that needs to be rethought,” Mademba says.

As for the program to distribute pads in schools, it hasn’t been nearly as effective as hoped, Mukuria adds, because there’s no structure in place to track what happens to the pads — or make sure they get to girls at all.

“Most of the problem is that teachers just steal them,” Mukuria says. “With schools that don’t have proper storage, it’s tough. Things just go missing.” When pads are kept in a secure place, that can lead to different concerns. Girls may then have to go each month to an intermediary, perhaps reluctantly. “It’s not uncommon to have a man in charge,” she adds. “At best, that’s humiliating.”

Mukuria’s take on the progress so far? “Kenya is good at adopting best policies. But implementation has been a challenge.”

What could help, she says, is international recognition of the problem. Mukuria notes that menstrual health is not directly mentioned in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals despite its connections with several of the agenda items (including gender equality and clean water and sanitation).

“It’s a basic human right to manage your body with dignity,” she says. In Kenya, the lack of sex education means girls are often shocked when they first get their period. Mukuria met one who thought she’d contracted Ebola, while Onyango tells the story of another who assumed someone had pricked her in the middle of the night.

“But even in the U.S., we have difficulty talking to girls about what’s happening in their bodies,” Mukuria says. And for the many Americans living in poverty, it’s tough to pay for sanitary pads or tampons — like other toiletries, menstrual hygiene products aren’t covered by SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

Conditions in Kenya are far from perfect, adds Gina Reiss Wilchins, CEO of ZanaAfrica Foundation. Still, there are lessons in what’s been accomplished.

“The country is prioritizing young women and girls,” she says. “If the Kenyan government can put pads in schools, why can’t the U.S. do that?”

Maybe it can. One promising sign for the future: In New York in March, 25 public high schools installed dispensers in bathrooms that give out free tampons and pads.

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Deadly Tornadoes Wreak Havoc Across The Great Plains

This image, made from a video taken through a car window, shows a tornado near Wynnewood, Okla., on Monday. A broad tornado capable of leaving "catastrophic" damage in its wake churned across the Oklahoma landscape Monday, prompting forecasters to declare a tornado emergency for two communities directly in its path.

This image, made from a video taken through a car window, shows a tornado near Wynnewood, Okla., on Monday. A broad tornado capable of leaving “catastrophic” damage in its wake churned across the Oklahoma landscape Monday, prompting forecasters to declare a tornado emergency for two communities directly in its path. Hayden Mahan/AP hide caption

toggle caption Hayden Mahan/AP

A series of tornadoes across the Great Plains on Monday killed at least two people and devastated multiple towns.

Homes were demolished, cars flipped over and trees stripped of their bark, according to wire reports.

Oklahoma was the hardest hit, though twisters also struck Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois and Arkansas, as tallied by the National Weather Service. More than 20 tornadoes were spotted, the NWS says.

The two reported fatalities were in Wynnewood and Connerville, both towns in southern Oklahoma, according to The Associated Press.

The AP spoke with residents across Oklahoma who described hunkering down for safety — in laundry rooms, truck stop showers and school saferooms — as the storms came close.

One man in Nebraska couldn’t make it to shelter — but was lucky, the wire service reports:

“Sandy Weyers, the director of the Cass County Emergency Management office, said a homeowner didn’t make it inside by the time the tornado arrived so he grabbed onto a tree and ‘rode it out.’ Weyers said the man suffered only cuts and scrapes, while the home was a total loss after the roof and four outer walls gave way.”

Storm chasers were drawn to the deadly spectacle. In one video, near Wynnewood, you can hear the chasers discuss their possible escape routes as debris drops on their car; in another, taken near Davis and Sulphur, the roar of the tornado is nearly deafening.

Oklahoma Storm Chaser YouTube

Earlier, over the weekend, Colorado was also struck by a series of tornadoes that damaged buildings and caused minor injuries; no fatalities were reported.

Those storms, too, attracted storm chasers — including a group who recorded 360-degree video as they approached the storm. (Click and drag to turn the camera toward the front.)

The Colorado twisters also served as a striking backdrop for one young couple’s prom portraits.

Charlie Bator, left, and Ali Jolie Marintzer pose for a prom photograph — with tornado — near Wray, Colo., on Saturday.

Charlie Bator, left, and Ali Jolie Marintzer pose for a prom photograph — with tornado — near Wray, Colo., on Saturday. Heidi Marintzer/AP hide caption

toggle caption Heidi Marintzer/AP

The AP says the photos were snapped from a safe distance, and that the prom itself was delayed to make sure there was no danger from the tornadoes.

There’s a “slight risk” of severe thunderstorms across the Great Plains today, including hail and high winds, according to the National Weather Service.

And Accuweather reports the threat of tornadoes might return on Wednesday; Missouri and Illinois may be in the bull’s-eye.

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11 Very Different Opinions About The New Radiohead Album

Thom Yorke, Phil Selway and Jonny Greenwood performing live in Sydney. Radiohead just released a new album, A Moon Shaped Pool.

Thom Yorke, Phil Selway and Jonny Greenwood performing live in Sydney. Radiohead just released a new album, A Moon Shaped Pool. Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

With the release of its ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead may finally have wriggled free once and for all from the expectation that it’ll save modern music. That’s likely fine with the band members, who never wore the mantle of rock gods lightly. We might not all agree, if we ever did, that it’s the most important band in the world, but what A Moon Shaped Pool makes clear is that Radiohead has built, in its 30 years, an audience that will ponder its smallest gestures.

And so, after A Moon Shaped Pool arrived on Sunday night following a week of gentle teasing, NPR Music’s staff gathered in our virtual town square (over Slack and email) to crow about its triumphs and — in at least one case — burn it to the ground.

Ann Powers: The first song that jumped out at me from the muddy lily pond that is A Moon Shaped Pool was “The Numbers.” It’s like an expansive blending of Neil Young’s “Old Man” with Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power” with some Eurodisco strings thrown in, and the most openly inspirational call to action on this album. I’m not the only listener to have identified a gospel feel in here; when Yorke gets almost melismatic on the phrase “The future is inside us,” it’s as close as he’s ever come to channeling his inner Beyonce. Upon hearing it, I immediately wished for a mash-up with Queen Bey’s Lemonade catharsis, “Freedom.”

Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool (2016, XL Recordings)

Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool (2016, XL Recordings) Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Yorke’s grown increasingly more soulful as a vocalist over the course of Radiohead’s career, though he still loves the flat affect that speaks for his inner android, even on “Desert Island Disk,” this album’s cautiously hopeful, post-breakup call for “different kinds of love.” Yet it’s obvious that in the five years since King of Limbs, the band has registered the rise of a new kind of soul music that as sonically experimental and emotionally unpredictable as its own twisted take on realness. Many are identifying A Moon Shaped Pool as more in line with the pastoral legacies of auteurs like John Martyn, but I’m also hearing Radiohead rise to the challenges put forth by Frank Ocean, who had fun sampling the band on his groundbreaking 2011 album Nostalgia, Ultra, or Janelle Monae’s pal Roman GianArthur, who stirred up a brew of D’Angelo and Radiohead ingredients on last year’s EP OK Lady. With its obvious acolytes like James Blake also showing a huge debt to the experimental side of soul, the band seems to be making sure that its hybrid sound acknowledges its roots in Afro-Futurism as well as on progressive rock’s dark-sided moon.

Mike Katzif: For close followers, the tracklist for Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool includes so many familiar songs, including “Desert Island Disk,” “Identikit” and “Burn The Witch.” But the most surprising entry on the track list is “True Love Waits,” a simple but stirring acoustic guitar live staple that’s been a fan favorite for more than 20 years — since the days of The Bends and OK Computer. As the final track on this long-gestating and brilliant album, it was worth the wait, partly for how it offers a glimpse into Radiohead’s mysterious creative process. In its new iteration, Radiohead reimagines it as a gorgeous and somber ballad, constructed from a minimalist four-note piano figure that poly-rhythmically cycles through the progression as if implying where the guitar strums used to be. Slowly, piano countermelodies, shimmering little sonics and ghostly strings begin to bloom in the corners of the mix while Yorke sings “Don’t leave…” It’s a stunning and moving final statement for an album that so masterfully blends politics and personal tragedy.

It’s possible some may decry the new version of “True Love Waits” as unnecessary George Lucas-grade retconning of something they love already; maybe it’s not the “real” version to them. That’s okay: The earlier version is still lingering out there. To me, the ability to hear Radiohead retrofit an older song methodically over two decades actually makes the band feel refreshingly human.

Robin Hilton: Think of the greatest rock bands of all time. Legends like Led Zeppelin or The Beatles, or even The Velvet Underground and The Sex Pistols. Now think of how completely drained those bands were after maybe ten years or less of making music. It’s a common progression for any artist — you simply run out of things to say or run out of new ways to say it, or in some cases the center can’t hold, the band implodes and whatever creative magic held it together quickly evaporates in the ether. Listening to the new Radiohead album, it’s easy to think there’s no logical explanation for how a band 30 years deep into its career could continue to make music pulsing with this much life, that still delivers wave after wave of sonic adventure and leads the mind into kaleidoscopic worlds. But never underestimate the power of acute loss and grief to move twitchy hands to make great art.

Framed and colored largely by the dissolution of Thom Yorke’s 23-year relationship with the artist Rachel Owen (they have two children together), A Moon Shaped Pool will go down as Radiohead’s most emotional, most heartbreaking and most beautiful album in a well-stocked catalog of dark but gorgeous set pieces.

In some ways A Moon Shaped Pool is a lot like Beck’s 2002 album Sea Change. Both are lushly produced, string-heavy albums built on mountains of deeply personal heartache. (Both were also produced by the visionary Nigel Godrich). Like Sea Change, A Moon Shaped Pool will also most likely polarize fans who either want the band to return to its early guitar-rock roots (Pablo Honey and The Bends) or prefer the more emotionally remote, dystopian mutterings of albums like OK Computer or Kid A. But also like Sea Change, A Moon Shaped Pool will ultimately be regarded as a triumph for a band that finds itself easing into quiet middle age, drawing from a well filled long ago with pennies, but no less inspired or cunning.

Lars Gotrich: I’ll start at the end. “True Love Waits”! Everyone’s favorite Radiohead rarity with a title confusing for ’90s Christian teens forced to sit through an abstinence program of the same name. The Napster-traded live cut was just Thom and an acoustic guitar, getting all emo before it became a ubiquitous verb. Many feels, such singalong. Now it’s just Thom and some middle-school piano noodling, sucking out every ounce of life, wrenching sadness from aimlessness.

And that’s what much of A Moon Shaped Pool — killing me without the hyphen — feels like: alt-rock grumps too embarrassed to make rock music again, or electronic experimentalists too bored to jump into the dance music underground, and just settling for something between with loads of string schmaltz. Tracks like “Decks Dark” and “Present Tense” could have been on OK Computer if instead making us give a damn about technology and death and isolation, OK Computer lulled us to sleep. The quiet motorik rhythm on “Ful Stop” is promising, but by the time Phil Selway gets to make something of it, Yorke’s already checked out, barely whimpering some diary scribblings, “Truth will mess you up.” Later on, “The Numbers” throws some Tim Buckley-like folk and soul into the mix — a quality heard on “Desert Island Disk” — giving Radiohead’s rhythm section their first real work in who knows how long, but never delivers on the climax Jonny Greenwood’s funky strings are desperate to suggest will come.

Patrick Jarenwattananon: I haven’t yet been able to put my finger on why I’m not as immediately moved by this record as previous Radiohead albums. Those of us who gathered in our friends’ basements in high school to devour Hail To The Thief communally because here was finally something that was definitely Art, but also Popular, and Widely Agreeable, and Cutting-Edge, and Generally Crushing It To The Point Of Elation — we still held some hope that Radiohead could be that for us again. Heck, barring that we’d have accepted a song or two that would make us dance to the apocalypse with Thom Yorke.

“You really messed up everything,” Yorke sings on “Ful Stop.” Well, no, that’s not my plaint. A Moon Shaped Pool is still an enveloping electroacoustic experience with characteristic attention to sonic detail. Yorke is still anxious about something or other; strangely, that’s still comforting to know. And the heavy presence of strings feels not just gestural but iterative, like a conscious effort to wear a new wardrobe in order to signal a change in the concomitant presentation of self.

So all this record (and its predecessor, really) means is that Radiohead has just gone back to being an occasionally interesting band. Pretty much every tune has some or several elements, from the percussive opening of “Burn The Witch” to the drowning piano suffusion of “True Love Waits,” which promises intrigue. But where does the simmer and heave boil over into a high-flying panic attack? Where’s the harmonic or melodic development? The moments of frenzy and subsequent catharsis? What’s left to distinguish this band from all the other polyphonic sprees who use both drum kits and drum machines? I’ll keep listening, but I’m not sure I’ll find the answers totally satisfying.

Jacob Ganz: I didn’t buy it at first. As my wife said when I told her A Moon Shaped Pool was supposedly Thom Yorke’s break-up album, “How would you know?” 2016-era Radiohead sounds as lost and forlorn as Radiohead from literally any other era, though perhaps not as angry as the time of “Fitter Happier,” when the songs were a brittle bunch of street corner prophets that fit the Fight Club-era, seriously-sheeple-won’t-you-pay-attention mold of the white man on the brink. (We are Jack’s solemn warnings about the mindlessness of humanity.) You know, back when the band was stretching its panic attacks into seven-minute multi-part freak-outs that did flaming barrel rolls through the stratosphere rather than letting them fly low.

By contrast, the gleeful propulsion in the the opening notes of “Burn the Witch’ reminded me of the first scenes of The Lego Movie, in which that movie’s hero and all his little plastic friends smile when they’re told to and get a genuine thrill from it. You can almost hear the sun shining and the grass growing, which makes the grinding discontent under the song’s surface more, not less, perverse.

What ends up being great about A Moon Shaped Pool is what’s great about all the other top-level Radiohead albums: There are so many different ways in. Ask me to pick a favorite song from The Bends, OK Computer, Kid A, Amnesiac or In Rainbows, and I’d have half a dozen different answers for each, depending on the day. (Pablo Honey, Hail to the Thief and The King of Limbs have, sadly, been reduced to unsurprising singles in my memory.) I still don’t love Thom Yorke’s lyrics, but over the last two days of rather intense listening — our humble chat room standing in for the release-day dash from morning classes to the record store and back to my dorm room for a group listening session/debrief with which I greeted Kid A in 2000 — quite a few musical doors have opened in this album for me: the way the descending piano hook in “Decks Dark” becomes the song’s swampy coda; the slowly-emerging guitar solo in “Identikit;” the massed vocals and strings in “The Numbers;” the pinched upper register Yorke hits in the still-crushing-after-all-these-years “True Love Waits,” which makes me wonder how long the band has been sitting on that vocal take. These bits sound good on loud speakers, great on headphones; if history is any judge, they’ll lead me deeper.

Tom Huizenga: You could always tell who wrote a song in the Lennon/McCartney partnership. It’s less obvious with Radiohead. Yet the latest album appears to lean heavily on Jonny Greenwood’s classical experience. Greenwood has long harbored strong taste for modern classical music. He was the one who, on Saturday Night Live in 2000, played the ondes martenot, an early electronic instrument associated with one of his idols, the French master Olivier Messiaen. The Radiohead guitarist is also a fan of Kryzsztof Penderecki, the Polish legend whose sonic innovations in string textures Greenwood emulates on the new album’s opener, “Burn the Witch,” and on his earlier orchestral piece, Popcorn Superhet Receiver.

In recent years, Greenwood has become visible as a film score composer (There Will be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice) and it appears his classical music sensibilities have infiltrated A Moon Shaped Pool more than usual. Nine out of the album’s 11 songs make room for either the London Contemporary Orchestra or a 13-member female choir, or both. Strings are sometimes deployed for color and effects. Near the end of “Daydreaming,” the glissandos and hiccupped rhythms mimic the backwards tape sounds heard earlier in the song. In “Glass Eyes,” strings play a larger role, emerging seamlessly from the muted keyboard and electronic introduction, blooming into shifting pools of sound, nearly overtaking Thom Yorke’s languid vocals. Even songs that do not sport the obvious classical trappings feel orchestrated. “Ful Stop” lays down a muted electro beat but as layers are added and interleave, the sound reaches a complex, and fascinating, canvas of sound and color.


Marissa Lorusso: Approaching A Moon Shaped Pool as a bona fide millennial means missing out on much of the real-time musical context of Radiohead’s long, impressive career. So for those of us who were toddlers when OK Computer did whatever Gen X’s version of metaphorically breaking the Internet is, Radiohead albums have come to represent something particular: It’s all about the experience — some might say the spectacle — of the release.

With In Rainbows and The King Of Limbs, Radiohead made us talk not just about the music but the medium of delivery. The digital-first, pay-what-you-want approach of In Rainbows seemed both revolutionary and almost too obvious for those of us raised on a steady diet of pirated albums and Myspace mp3s. The band used a purposefully ephemeral medium to garner excitement for The King Of Limbs, an environmental manifesto-laden, creepy-yet-beautiful newspaper called The Universal Sigh, available for free around the world, anachronistic and disposable. This time around it used blank space — via its erasure of its Internet presence — to do the promotion. Clearing your past from the Internet, only to reemerge with something new for fans to consume: That’s the creative, confounding, warping-technology-to-fit-its-needs side of Radiohead I know and love. Ok, so Radiohead’s sonic boundary-pushing is debatable on A Moon Shaped Pool. I’m glad to see the band stayed characteristically weird in the spectacle of its release.

Stephen Thompson: Two years ago, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke dropped a solo album called Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes with no advance warning; it just showed up, available for free download, for everyone to hear all at once. It happened to show up a moment or two after I’d stepped out of the office to run an errand, and in the time I was gone, the social-media chatter went from, “Whoa, there’s a new Thom Yorke record!” to “Meh, a new Thom Yorke record” to virtual radio silence. By the time I got back to my desk and learned of its existence, it felt as if it had already been digested and forgotten. That’s the most dangerous downside to releasing albums with little to no notice: that, for every Lemonade that merits weeks of thinkpieces and obsessively analytical repeat listening, there are drab also-rans like Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, which are forgotten practically the instant they arrive.

A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead’s first album since 2011’s lightly regarded The King Of Limbs, deserves a better fate: It’s a subtle, strange grower that often works in whispers, yet deepens with each successive pass. Yorke mines familiar thematic terrain on the new record, with its references to anxiety and panic, but there’s an especially interior quality to the songs that makes them feel personal. This is understated but powerful headphone music, suitable for full immersion.

Anastasia Tsioulcas: I can’t think about A Moon Shaped Pool without thinking about how Jonny Greenwood has evolved as a storyteller who, track to track, utilizes different timbres, instruments, harmonies and rhythms to amplify — or occasionally, provide something of a surprising counternarrative — to the songs’ other elements.

In some instances, those textures illuminate and amplify the emotional arcs of the songs’ melodies and lyrics. Think of the album’s first track, “Burn The Witch”: the brittle, rat-a-tat-tat chatter of the strings playing col legno — that is, with the wood of their bows, rather than with the hairs, which produces that very specific effect, one later joined, around the words “Abandon all reason/Avoid all eye contact,” by fluttering trills that telegraph not a sweet Baroque placidity, but instead a nearly palpable anxiety.

At times, it’s a super-saturated, nearly indulgent effect, as in “The Numbers” (previously referred to as “Silent Spring”). Cinematic strings arrive in formation to create impasto-thick lashes of sound that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the 1970s — with The Who, say, or Led Zeppelin. In “Tinker Tailer Soldier Sailor…” the strings drip like a honey glaze in a score that seems to derive its DNA partly from old Bollywood film scores and partly from the Sun Ra Arkestra; in “Glass Eyes,” the strings go Debussy-at-the-movies in a ballad of alienation. (It’s in “Glass Eyes,” too, that I feel Greenwood’s frequent side work as a film composer coming through most thoroughly — and most conventionally.)

But the sophistication of Radiohead’s textures on this album aren’t limited to classical instrumentation — similar impulses also underpin many, many of A Moon Shaped Pool‘s studio-produced sounds, like the warping, woozy and thoroughly manipulated vocals on “Daydreaming” and swirling in the panicky undercurrents of “Ful Stop.”


Otis Hart: Prior to “Burn The Witch” appearing online last week, Radiohead’s last official output was Jamie xx’s remix of “Bloom.” The track was the final 12″ record in a remix series for The King Of Limbs that asked electronic dance producers to position the longtime arbiters of acceptable eccentricity at the forefront of the underground’s vanguard. The roster looked like one of Thom Yorke’s much ballyhooed DJ sets, full of FACT-tipped emerging talent like Objekt and Anstam, but anchored by indie stalwarts Four Tet, Caribou and the aforementioned Mr. xx. The results bore another similarity to Yorke’s solo Serato gigs: this was dance music in theory only. The actual intent (it appeared at the time) was to let this younger generation of creative minds go crazy with the stems and perhaps stumble upon potential new directions for a band that long ago staked its reputation on sonic innovation.

The kids were all right — TKOL RMX 1234567 is arguably the equal of its source material — but it’s clear after listening to A Moon Shaped Pool that Radiohead opted to age gracefully. If Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and producer Nigel Godrich took inspiration from any single contemporary electronic artist, it’s the medium’s elder statesman, Brian Eno. None of Pool‘s 11 songs hinge on overtly electronic rhythms like Limbs‘ “Lotus Flower,” let alone its remixes. The synths and drum machines that do make an appearance merely color the silence, providing connective tissue between Yorke’s subdued voice and all manners of stringed instruments. We may yet see a remix project of A Moon Shaped Pool, but for now, its electronic production is a subtle success on an album surprisingly full of them.

Ann Powers: Here’s the dream I had after falling asleep to A Moon Shaped Pool: I was in a Western desert canyon, perched on a cliff protrusion not far above a river raging with foam. In the water, my companion (he looked a lot like Bucky, the Winter Soldier from the Avengers, my Mothers’ Day consumer treat) struggled to pry something from the hands of a shadowy pursuer. I leapt into the water and we swam against the stream. I thought we’d broken free. But we got caught in a circular current; suddenly I remembered what a weak swimmer I am. Our enemy was on our soggy heels. We weren’t going to make it, I knew. And yet — all that absorbed me was the glint of light on the water, the soft reds in the rock above us, the streak of a cloud across the pale blue sky. This was one of the most peaceful anxiety dreams I’ve ever had, a surfacing from the pitching fear of annihilation, into grace.

Radiohead has been refining an aesthetics of anxiety since Thom Yorke first displayed his many nervous tics on MTV with “Creep.” Nearly every already-published review of A Moon Shaped Pool dwells on the album’s balance of beauty and dread: In songs like the impressionistic, Brian Eno-esque “Glass Eyes” and the bossa nova-tinged “Present Tense,” band connects these two supposedly conflicting elements with more ease than ever before. Radiohead’s allure has always been connected to its focus on the rapturous aspect of apocalypse (whether personal, as in mental breakdown, or global, expressing specific views of impending ecological doom). This is the band’s great moral dilemma: Is it participating in the rise of formally exquisite end-times depictions — from The Walking Dead to the glut of dystopian teen-fantasy franchises — that may be not merely helping people cope with anxiety but accept it even when it signals larger issues against which we should act?

A Moon Shaped Pool, one of Radiohead’s most accessible and indeed beautiful works, could be heard as this kind of vehicle for complacency, or at least acceptance. Yet there’s another way of understanding anxiety — not via depictions of jarring panic attacks, as band’s last album, The King of Limbs, offered on tracks like “Feral” — but in capturing the individual give and take of coping, of feeling the preciousness of the world fully interconnected with its fragility, of knowing the truth that love arises inseparable from the knowledge that it can be — will be, eventually, mortally — lost. Longtime Radiohead fans have found this more subtle exploration of anxiety within the band’s music for a while. I think A Moon Shaped Pool reckons with it fully. That may make it a “mature” work, or for some, one that is not wide-ranging enough. But it takes me to the place where my dreams challenge me most — where I have to live, for better or worse — and helps me abide there.

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The Code Switch Podcast Is Coming! Get A Sneak Peek!

From left to right, standing: Reporter Karen Grigsy Bates, editor Tasneem Raja, news assistant Leah Donnella, producer Walter Ray Watson, editor Alicia Montgomery. Seated: Reporters and hosts Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji, reporters Kat Chow and Adrian Florido

From left to right, standing: Reporter Karen Grigsy Bates, editor Tasneem Raja, news assistant Leah Donnella, producer Walter Ray Watson, editor Alicia Montgomery. Seated: Reporters and hosts Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji, reporters Kat Chow and Adrian Florido Matt Roth/NPR hide caption

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You’ve been asking for it. We’ve been cranking on it. And now, it’s happening: the Code Switch podcast!

Check out the trailer and subscribe to our podcast so you don’t miss the first episode later this month!

So, what’s this podcast all about? All the stuff you come to Code Switch for: deeply reported, urgent, hard-to-pin-down stories about race and culture. Conversations about the messy ways our identities crash into everything else in our lives, whether we realize it or not.

What it’s like to be a black professor teaching white students about whiteness? What’s up with people of color and (not) camping? Are there rules for profiting off of another culture’s food? Those are a few of the questions we’re tackling right out of the gate, and we’d love to hear from you on what else to dig into. Hit us up: @NPRCodeSwitch.

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We’re journalists in the world, trying to make sense of this stuff like everyone else. Because this isn’t just the work we do — it’s the lives we lead. Sometimes, we’ll make you laugh. Other times, you’ll get uncomfortable. But we’ll always be unflinchingly honest and empathetic.

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