Tag Archives: top

Flashback 2014: Top albums of the year

Pop Album of the Year 

Taylor Swift — 1989

In her own words, 1989 is Taylor Swift’s first official pop album, and it leaves her country roots behind. So far it’s the only album released in 2014 to go platinum, and 1989 reached that million-mark in just one week. The key question from most pop fans was, “Is it really that good?” 

For the most part, the answer is, “Yes.” Working with Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin, his American counterpart Ryan Tedder, and rising star Jack Antonoff of fun. and Bleachers, 1989 is a blast of self-assured contemporary pop, that retains Swift’s knack for highly personal lyrics. 

Swift’s songs on 1989 occasionally stray from that formula (in “Bad Blood,” about her feud with Katy Perry, she especially goes for the jugular). But she’s at her best, as always, when singing about herself, especially on hit singles “Shake It Off” and “Blank Space.” Both are two of the catchiest pop melodies of the year; the first tells us all to ignore the “haters” as we move forward in life, and the second is an incisive exploration of her notorious romantic failures. 1989 is not only a distillation of the latest in contemporary hit music, it is the idiosyncratic work of today’s most successful pop artist. 

Honorable mentions go to two British singer-songwriters: Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. 

On his second full-length album, x, Sheeran has matured into a consistently likable pop artist, able to stretch in different musical directions while still maintaining his own distinctive voice. He dives into funky R&B with Pharrell Williams on “Sing,” and shows off his ingratiating sing-speak styling on “Don’t.” It’s his intimate ballad “Thinking Out Loud” that will have most mainstream pop fans swooning though.

Smith kicked off the year as the BBC’s choice for the top new artist of 2014. He first hit pop radio in the U.S. as the featured vocalist on Naughty Boy’s catchy dance-pop hit “La La La.” But audiences didn’t really understand what the BBC saw until Smith’s debut album In the Midnight Hour hit physical and virtual shelves. The LP is a beautifully melancholic collection of songs that focus on his haunting voice, best epitomized in his first solo hit, “Stay With Me.” 

Rock Album of the Year
u2 — Songs Of Innocence

It may have generated huge controversy with its free rollout to all iTunes customers, turning off many of the band’s otherwise devoted fans, but Songs of Innocence is U2 at the top of their game. 

The world’s greatest rock band took William Blake’s 18th century collection of poems about childhood, Songs of Innocence, as inspiration to create some of their most personal music. That doesn’t mean the songs are inaccessible. This is U2 after all, and the album is bursting with rock ‘n’ roll hooks.

Honorable mentions in this category go to the arresting St. Vincent and punk’s Against Me!.

On St. Vincent’s self-titled album, frontwoman Annie Clark anoints herself the quirkiest of rock superstars. She can shred with the best on guitar, but her song sensibility, while ultra-catchy, lies firmly outside the mainstream. 

Punk rockers Against Me! turned in one of the bravest albums of the year: Transgender Dysphoria Blues. In 2012, the band’s lead vocalist came out as transgender, changing her name from Tom Gabel to Laura Jane Grace. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a concept album inspired by Grace’s transition, about the emotional journey of self-discovery and evolution. Notably, it sacrifices none of the band’s trademark energy and in-your-face punk attitude.

R&B Album of the Year

Mary J. Blige — The London Sessions

Few would dispute Mary J. Blige’s status as a reigning queen of R&B. With a string of chart-topping albums released over the course of two decades, she doesn’t have to prove anything as an artist. Yet The London Sessions is her most consistently engaging work in nearly a decade, and perhaps some of the most adventurous in her career altogether.

The album got its start back in July, when Blige moved to London to work with some of the hottest young British songwriters and producers. Among her more memorable collaborations: the Naughty Boy-produced “Whole Damn Year,” Disclosure’s uptempo dance work on “Follow,” and “Therapy,” co-written with Sam Smith. 

Honorable mentions go to living legend Prince and rising talent Jhene Aiko. 

This year, Prince made up with Warner Brothers after nearly 20 years and released two new albums on the same day. The standout is the supremely funky Art Official Age. Some fans may see this as the long-delayed true successor to his glory days in the 1980s.

26-year-old Jhene Aiko very quietly heads into refreshingly fresh directions while respecting the past on her album Souled Out. The overall feel is a chilled, new age-influenced style of soul, but the intimate words are often frustrated and even angry in speaking about interpersonal relationships. This is an album for repeat listening, after which its many riches slowly emerge.

Texas congressman to battle Paul Ryan over key post

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to take over one of the most powerful committees in Congress could hit a snag when lawmakers return after the midterm elections.

Ryan, the Republican Party’s candidate for vice president two years ago and a representative from Wisconsin, has been telling colleagues for much of the past year that he wants to chair the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in the new Congress next year. The post could provide a platform for the Wisconsin Republican to launch a possible bid for president in 2016.

But Ryan has competition from a formidable opponent – Rep. Kevin Brady, a senior Republican from Texas.

Brady said that he plans to wage a “friendly” battle with Ryan for the job.

“I want to give my colleagues two good choices,” Brady said in a telephone interview. “Paul Ryan is a terrific leader and he’s a good friend.”

The Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction over the biggest economic issues facing the country – taxes, trade, Social Security, health care and social programs.

Brady’s candidacy could force Ryan to spell out his 2016 intentions as early as November, if fellow Republicans raise concerns that a presidential bid could be a distraction to such an important committee. House committee chairmen will be named during the lame duck session of Congress following the election.

If Republicans keep control of the House, committee chairmen will be nominated by a GOP steering committee led by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The full House Republican conference generally approves the nominees.

Brady is a nine-term incumbent and the second most senior Republican on the Ways and Means Committee. He chairs the panel’s health subcommittee.

“I’m prepared and qualified,” Brady said, adding that he wants to focus on tax reform, Medicare fraud and improving Social Security’s disability program.

Also important, Brady is part of the Texas delegation in the House, which boasts 24 Republicans, giving it a strong voice. Brady represents a solidly Republican district just north of Houston. He has a Libertarian opponent in the November election but there is no Democrat on the ballot.

Brady’s Republican-friendly district has given him time to help fellow Republicans with their campaigns this year. That will be his focus until after the election, Brady said.

Ryan is right behind Brady in seniority on the Ways and Means Committee. Ryan is now chairman of the House Budget Committee, but he must step down from the post because House Republicans impose term limits on committee chairmen.

When asked about the competition to lead the Ways and Means Committee, Ryan’s spokesman, Brian Bolduc, said, “Congressman Ryan is focused on his work at the House Budget Committee.”

As Budget chairman, Ryan has made a name for himself as the main architect of several conservative House Republican budgets.

Many of Ryan’s proposed spending cuts have never made it into law because of opposition from Senate Democrats and the Obama White House. But Ryan has gained a following, especially among conservatives, for his willingness to spell out difficult spending cuts.

On Ways and Means, the next chairman is expected to lead House Republican efforts to overhaul the nation’s tax code, which politicians of many stripes agree is too complicated. If House Republicans offer an alternative to President Barack Obama’s health law, the Ways and Means Committee could play a key role.

Also, Congress will soon have to deal with Social Security’s disability program, which is facing a potential financial crisis in 2016.

All these issues offer pitfalls as well as opportunities for the next chairman of the Ways and Means committee. And consensus will be hard to come by, especially in the current partisan atmosphere.

Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., currently chairs the committee. He is retiring at the end of the year.

Camp worked for years to build a consensus around the idea of overhauling the tax code – lowering tax rates for everyone while making up the revenue by scaling back credits, deductions and exemptions. But after Camp unveiled a comprehensive plan in February, it went nowhere, despite House Republicans claiming to champion the issue.

Brady said Camp did important groundwork on the issue, giving the next committee chairman a good head start on the issue.

Ryan budget plan would slash aid to poor

A budget plan stuffed with familiar proposals to cut across a wide swath of the federal budget breezed through the House Budget Committee this week, but its sharp cuts to health care coverage for the middle class and the poor, food stamps and popular domestic programs are a nonstarter with President Barack Obama.

The GOP-controlled committee approved the plan by a party-line vote after swatting away numerous Democratic attempts to ease its cuts. The plan by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the committee chairman and the party’s former vice presidential nominee, promises $5.1 trillion in cuts over the coming decade to bring the government’s ledger into the black by 2024.

The plan is a dead letter with the Democratic-controlled Senate and Obama, but gives Republicans a vehicle to polish their budget-cutting credentials in the run-up to fall midterm elections in which they’re counting on a big turnout from GOP conservatives and the tea party.

Ryan’s plan would wrestle the government’s deficits under control after a decade, relying on deep cuts to Medicaid, highway construction, federal employee pension benefits, food and heating aid to the poor and Pell Grants for college students from low-income families. It would eliminate health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act while assuming the government keeps $1 trillion worth of Obamacare’s tax increases, and retains a 10-year, $700 billion cut to Medicare that Democrats drove through in 2010 when passing the health care law.

Republicans say such tough cuts are required to take on deficits that threaten to sap the economy of its strength in coming years as government borrowing squeezes out savings and investment and spiraling costs of federal retirement and health care programs promise to swamp taxpayers. Ryan cited Congressional Budget Office studies that show curbing deficits and debt would lead to a healthier economy in the long term — and claims $74 billion in such macroeconomic effects to promise a balanced budget in 2024.

“Just as a weak economy can drag the budget into the red, a responsible budget can help propel the economy forward,” Ryan said. “If Washington is serious about helping working families — or serious about getting families out of work back to work — then it needs to get serious about the national debt.”

But Democrats cast Ryan’s plan as an all-out assault on the poor and working class. More than $700 billion in cuts to Medicaid over 10 years would force hundreds of thousands of seniors from nursing home care, for instance, while $135 billion cut from food stamps and other nutrition aid would increase hunger. Eliminating a mandatory funding stream for Pell Grants would mean fewer poor kids could dream of college, they said, while cuts to education, scientific research and NASA would harm U.S. competitiveness.

“This dog-eat-dog budget is nothing short of an assault on Americans struggling to stay afloat economically. It absolutely decimates safety net programs — like (food stamps) and Medicaid – designed to stop people from falling into deep poverty,” said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the budget panel.

The GOP’s top vote counter promised Wednesday that the Ryan budget would pass the House next week despite resistance from conservatives uneasy over higher spending for agency budgets in 2015, in line with a small-bore budget pact negotiated in December by Ryan and the head of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in December.

“It’ll pass,” promised Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California.

Under Congress’ arcane budgeting rules, the annual budget resolution is a non-binding blueprint that tries to set broad goals for follow-up legislation on taxes, agency spending and curbs on the growth of expensive benefit programs like Medicare, whose budgets go up every year as if on autopilot.

As such, the annual budget debate allows GOP lawmakers to go on record in favor of spending cuts big and small – whether it’s slashing Medicaid, cutting subsidies for farmers and Amtrak, or further cuts to domestic agencies like the Transportation Security Administration – without having to follow through with binding legislation.

So every spring, the House goes on record to eliminate taxpayer subsidies for money-losing flights into rural airports and cut community development grants to state and local governments, for example, only to have GOP appropriators scramble to replace them later on when adopting a binding spending bill.

Ryan’s budget brings back a now-familiar list of spending cuts: $2.1 trillion over 10 years in health care subsidies and coverage under the Affordable Care Act; $732 billion in cuts to Medicaid and other health care programs; almost $1 trillion in cuts to other benefit programs like food stamps, Pell Grants and farm subsidies. Hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts are not identified at all.

While repealing Obamacare’s benefits, the GOP plan relies on its tax increases and cuts to providers to promise balance, including reductions to private insurers under the Medicare Advantage program. Republicans have attacked Democrats for the Medicare cuts used to finance the health law.

The measure also reprises a proposal to dramatically reshape Medicare for future retirees, providing those who now are 55 or younger with a federal subsidy to buy health insurance on the open market.

Republicans say that makes Medicare sustainable with savings created by lower annual cost increases than traditional Medicare. Critics cite studies that predict the voucher-like plan would mean considerably higher out-of-pocket costs as it is phased in.

paul_ryan

Montana governor signs bill decriminalizing gay sex

An obsolete law deeming gay sex as deviant – akin to bestiality – was stricken from Montana code on April 18, prompting gay rights activists to say they hope that full legal equality may be close at hand.

When Democratic Montana Gov. Steve Bullock signed Senate Bill 107 decriminalizing gay sex, cheers erupted in the Capitol’s Rotunda. It had been 16 years after the state Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional and 24 years after gay rights activists began their fight to take government out of the bedroom.

“I am not going to speak too long because, frankly, the longer I talk, the longer this embarrassing and unconstitutional law stays on the books,” Bullock said.

The victory, though a powerful one for the gay community in Montana, is highly symbolic with no tangible benefits aside from striking the obsolete law condemning gay sex from Montana code. The outdated code has not been used to prosecute individuals for years. And previous efforts to offer gays and lesbians protection under the law, including a push to prohibit civil discrimination, have been thwarted by a GOP-controlled Legislature.

Rep. Jerry Bennett, R-Libby, said he holds no ill will toward gay people, but he and other Republicans opposed the legislation and similar efforts along religious lines. He added that there is a bi-partisan movement to “protect the family,” defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and gay rights efforts could have “long-term ramifications.”

“This isn’t over,” he said. “We will see a continual push for recognition of unions … for health insurance. All kinds of things will come out of this.”

The decriminalization bill passed the House on a 64-35 vote, and it cleared the Senate 38-11. In both cases, Republicans joined minority Democrats to advance the legislation, as gay rights activists hailed their success as a sea change within the GOP.

“In the past we’ve seen members of the Republican caucus say, I can’t stand with you because it will cost me my re-election,” said activist Jamee Greer, a lobbyist with the Montana Human Rights Network.

Gay rights activists are hopeful the bi-partisan effort is a catalyst for further change. They say that gay equality aligns itself with the fundamental libertarian values of privacy and a live-and-let live attitude pervasive in Montana – especially among Republicans who subscribe to a strong Libertarian undercurrent.

This year an effort to prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing and employment was tabled by a conservative House committee. That plan and another to legalize gay marriage remain priorities in future sessions, Greer said.

“As more and more LGBT people come out to their friends and their neighbors,” Greer said, “it’s going to be harder to discriminate against them.”

Wisconsin Republican’s campaign blacklists reporters

A Republican running to be Wisconsin’s schools superintendent has blacklisted five reporters he considers biased.

An internal memo from state Rep. Don Pridemore’s campaign says he will not call the five back or give phone interviews to them or their media outlets.

It names Mary Spicuzza of the Wisconsin State Journal, David Umhoefer and Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jack Craver of The Capital Times and Scott Bauer of The Associated Press. Craver provided a copy of the memo to the AP on March 17.

Neither Pridemore nor his spokeswoman, Tina Gorzalski, immediately returned phone calls from the AP seeking comment.

The memo was dated Dec. 21. Pridemore did not respond to multiple calls from the AP recently seeking an interview for a story previewing his race. The Hartford Republican is challenging incumbent Superintendent Tony Evers, who’s led the state Department of Public Instruction for four years. The job is officially a nonpartisan post.

“If the reporter requests an interview, they must submit their questions in a written form and they will receive a written response to only those questions we want to respond to,” the memo said. “These are all LIBERAL’s and have chosen to parse words, phrases and spin my responses to fit their agendas. If they continue to spin our written responses, they will be ignored in the future.”

The memo also said any dealings with the five and others should be tracked on a spreadsheet. It does not say what reporting, if any, landed them on the blacklist.

At a debate last week, Pridemore and Evers outlined very different visions for Wisconsin’s schools.

Pridemore backed GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed expansion of the state’s voucher system for private schools beyond Milwaukee and Racine, as well as his proposed freeze in public school spending.

Evers opposed both proposals and said he wanted to raise spending by $225 per student. The election is April 2.

Democrats’ bumpy road to Charlotte

When Democrats from around the country gather this coming week in Charlotte to nominate President Barack Obama for a second term, some may not feel completely at home despite the Southern hospitality.

While the party was eager last year to pick a convention city that would help it expand its foothold in the New South, the selection of Charlotte has been a source of consternation among key constituencies and uncertainty among Democratic strategists.

Gay rights activists, for example, plan to protest for same-sex marriage in a state where North Carolina voters easily passed a constitutional amendment banning it. Members of another key Democratic group, organized labor, intend to picket, too, in part because union leaders are unhappy Democrats picked a state long viewed as hostile to them.

Even North Carolina Democrats have found the state to be cooler lately, with Republicans winning control of the state legislature in 2010 and considered favorites to capture the governor’s mansion this year.

And if Democrats were hoping that North Carolina would provide a narrative to support the president’s case that the economy is on the rebound, they must be disappointed.

The state has an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent – one of the highest in the country. The Charlotte metro rate is even higher at 10 percent, making it more difficult to portray the city of 750,000 as on the cusp of recovery after its once-soaring banking industry tumbled.

“The plan was that Charlotte would allow them to give the message that the banks went down, but Charlotte is coming back, just like the country,” said Eric Heberlig, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Heading into next week, he added, “it’s harder to use Charlotte as the place for the national economic turnaround, driven by Obama economic policies.”

Democrats remain hopeful that the convention will help launch Obama to a repeat of his upset victories in North Carolina and neighboring Virginia in 2008. Polls show Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are running neck and neck in the Tar Heel state, where Democrats still have a comfortable edge in voter registration and voters have demonstrated a progressive streak.

“There are a lot of things in his favor,” said state Rep. Mickey Michaux of Durham, a Democratic convention delegate, citing Obama’s work to rescue the auto industry and lead military efforts to kill 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. He said North Carolina voters understand that Obama has been hamstrung by Republican obstructionists in Congress to improve the economy and that the president still “holds out our hope for what people want to see.”

Two years ago, Democrats had good reason to have North Carolina on their minds.

After all, North Carolina voters had handed Obama a narrow victory over Republican John McCain in 2008, the first for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Obama’s win was partly due to a strong showing in urban centers such as Charlotte.

But now, as nearly 6,000 Democratic delegates and tens of thousands of others head to North Carolina’s largest city, they may appreciate why one political analyst called North Carolina “an ambivalent state.”

And some of the national party’s main constituencies have not been shy about their displeasure with the more conservative politics of the host state.

Last May’s passage of the gay marriage ban, which was backed by evangelist and North Carolina icon Billy Graham among others, provided a dose of reality to liberal activists, revealing a gap between Obama and more socially conservative North Carolina voters. The day after the referendum, the president voiced his support for gay marriage.

The selection of Charlotte remains a sore point with unions, which gave $8.3 million toward the 2008 convention in Denver that nominated Obama. This time, many unions are refusing to financially support the convention because of North Carolina’s ban on collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers, which contributes to the state’s lowest-in-the-nation rate for organized workers.

The state’s political picture also doesn’t reflect the North Carolina of 2008, when Democrats retained their near-lock on legislative and executive branches, thanks in part to Obama’s coattails.

Two years later, economic concerns helped Republicans win control of the state Legislature for the first time in 140 years.

Things didn’t get any better for state Democrats this year. Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue decided against an uphill re-election fight, leaving the party scrambling to find a candidate. Then the executive director of the state party quit amid sexual harassment allegations, and the national party was unable to nudge aside state party Chairman David Parker, who had approved a settlement with the alleged victim, a party employee who alleged he was fired for speaking up.

But Democratic strategists say none of these issues will matter once the convention begins and the party starts delivering its message to voters.

“Those things may be headaches and may be bothersome but in the great scheme of things don’t matter,” said Gary Pearce, a longtime Democratic consultant in North Carolina who worked with former four-term Gov. Jim Hunt and ex-U.S. Sen. John Edwards. “They made a strategic decision early on that we want to go to North Carolina to send a signal that we are challenging Romney in what should be his home turf.”

Obama won the state in 2008 by more than 14,000 votes. But his success that year also camouflaged a statewide political climate that for decades has been inherently conservative at its base, but marked by a progressive element that grew out of the state’s prestigious university system and focused upon improving education.

During the civil rights era, North Carolina largely avoided the violence and official defiance of segregation that occurred in neighboring states. Political leaders sought to attract new business by promising to keep the peace. However, state voters repeatedly returned Republican Sen. Jesse Helms to Washington over three decades, even with his racially tinged campaigns.

While liberal voters in cities such as Charlotte or Chapel Hill can be expected to turn out for Obama, many registered Democrats in smaller towns such as Greenville and Goldsboro felt the national party left them behind years ago.

“There’s a loyalty to the Democratic Party,” said Kareem Crayton, a University of North Carolina law professor who studies issues of politics and race, “but that loyalty doesn’t necessarily extend to the national party.”

For now, North Carolina has the markings of a battleground state for its 15 electoral votes.

The TV airwaves have lit up with advertisements from both campaigns and super PACs in North Carolina, where at least $56 million worth of commercials have run so far. Both sides are investing heavily in voter-outreach and volunteer efforts.

“The Democrats in ‘08 did an exceptional job of registering voters and getting voters to the polls and the Republicans did a poor job,” said Republican state Senate leader Phil Berger, but “I suspect that what you’re going to see this time is both parties doing a good job of getting voters (out).”

The Republicans’ 20 or so “victory” campaign offices still fall short of the 40 Obama for America locations in North Carolina. The 2008 campaign never left the state, as Obama for America kept volunteers organized to push his agenda and support allies in local elections.

Obama’s “grassroots organization is connected to communities across the state in ways Romney’s campaign just cannot match,” said Cameron French, Obama’s North Carolina campaign press secretary.

And yet the increasing number of independent voters in North Carolina – 1.6 million today compared to 1.3 million at this time in 2008 – adds to the uncertainty over November’s outcome.

At first glance, “you probably would have thought this was the same state,” Crayton said. “It goes to show how much a slight shift (in) the politics can make a competitive state change.”

Notes from the RNC in Tampa

Republican officials, after calling a rain delay for Monday, released a revised schedule for their national convention this week on the Florida Gulf Coast.

The rain delay was forced by forecasts for Tropical Storm Isaac, which late last showed the storm developing into a hurricane with Tampa in its potential path.

As of early Monday (Aug. 27), with Isaac moving on a northwest path, not even severe tropical storm conditions had materialized in the area. But concerns were high for New Orleans.

For the schedule, go to http://www.wisconsingazette.com/breaking-news/republican-national-convention-releases-revised-schedule-due-to-rain-delay.html

***

Aug. 27, 9 a.m.

Charlie Crist endorsed Barack Obama in one of Florida’s best-read newspapers on Sunday. Now the former governor and former Republican will address the Democratic National Convention next week, according to CNN.

Crist, after serving as attorney general and governor of the Sunshine State, left the GOP and ran as an independent for the U.S. Senate, a race he lost to rising Tea Party star Marco Rubio.

In an op-ed published in the Tampa Bay Times on Aug. 26, Crist explained why he supports Barack Obama’s re-election over Mitt Romney’s run for the White House. The decision, in part, has to do with an extreme pitch to the right by an element of the Grand Old Party.

***

Aug. 26, 4 p.m.

The forecast was calling for weather to intensify in the Tampa Bay area with the approach of Tropical Storm Isaac in the Gulf of Mexico. Still, the RNC welcome party at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg is a go.

The event is set to begin at about 6 p.m., with about 20,000 delegates and reporters expected for Florida-flavored cuisine and Southern-style music.

The weather – high winds and heavy rains were forecasted – could keep away those who would need to reach the stadium via a bridge or a causeway.

Earlier, an outdoor RNC concert near the Tampa Bay Times Forum with Lynyrd Skynyrd booked as headliner, was canceled.

But Log Cabin Republicans meet-and-greet with gay delegates hosted by the organization’s Florida chapters was to take place at the Rusty Pelican.

***

Aug. 25, 7 p.m.

RNC arrivals check in, get credentials, collect swag bags

An estimated 50,000 people assembled over the weekend for this week’s Republican National Convention – which was delayed a day due to Tropical Storm Isaac.

Many attendees arrived to the Gulf Coast on Saturday, settling into their host hotels – Wisconsin delegates are staying at the Hyatt Regency Tampa – with their newly claimed credentials and their swag bags.

What’s the swag?

Not too sweet. The press bag contained:

• A magnet paper clip for the University of Tampa.

• A can coozie for the Tampa Bay Storm.

• Two University of Tampa brochures.

• A booklet called “The Patriots Essential Liberty Companion to Our Founders’ Wisdom” that opens with Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech.

• An “Official Guide to the 2012 Republican National Convention” from the host committee.

• “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness,” a book by Mitt Romney.

• Dark sunglasses.

• SPF 30 “Vote4Energy.org” sunscreen.

• A battery-powered hand-fan from Vote4Energy.

• Mints.

• A copy of Bay Pop magazine with a male-model cover and a cover feature on “The Young Delegates.”

• And the bag itself, which promoted Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

***

Aug. 25, 3 p.m.

The last of the barriers went up around certain buildings in downtown Tampa as officials prepared for the start of the Republican National Convention.

Barricades also were in place to close off streets running toward the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the convention was to take place, and the convention center, where the working press would be headquartered.

On the street, there were a few gawkers near the forum, delegates and press looking for open restaurants and law enforcement teams – mostly packs of khaki-clad state troopers, all of them armed, including some with rifles.

Law enforcement patrolled the downtown in packs on foot, in teams by bicycle and in cars and armored trucks.

***

Aug. 24, 6 p.m

Southern sound to dominate at the RNC

Organizers for the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., announced the entertainment lineup for the week.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said in a news release, “We’ve booked outstanding performers and world-famous acts. The convention attendees will be treated to special performances they will remember for a very long time.”

Delegates, dignitaries and the press will hear “everything from pop and rock to country and gospel,” he added.

Performers at the RNC include 3 Doors Down with the premiere of a new single “One Light,” as well as Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Oak Ridge Boys, Neal Boyd, Randy Owens, Jack Blades of Night Ranger, Taylor Hicks and BeBe Winans.

The house band is the GE Smith Band – Smith was a lead guitarist with Hall & Oates and a musical director of “Saturday Night Live.”

The schedule is:

Aug. 27: The Oak Ridge Boys, Conrad Oberg and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Aug. 28: Philip Alongi, Neal E. Boyd, Michael Lane Turner, Randy Owen, Jack Blades and 3 Doors Down.

Aug. 29: Ayla Brown, Beau Davidson, The Katinas and Danny Gokey.

Aug. 30: The Mighty Sound of SEVEN, Taylor Hicks, BeBe Winans and the Tampa Gospel Choir led by Marvin Winans Jr.

The GOP also is planning a welcome party for the press, politicians and delegates with multiple musical acts on Aug. 26 in St. Petersburg.

Outside the convention, protesters with Occupy the RNC have set up a number of benefit concerts at much smaller venues.

The Democrats have not announced a full entertainment lineup, but performers for the pre-convention party in Charlotte, N.C., in early September include Janelle Monáe, Jeff Bridges and The Abiders and James Taylor.

To be updated.

Follow WiG at the RNC 2012 in news updates on www.wisconsingazette.com, on Twitter at wigazette and on Facebook.

Activists push for Democratic plank on marriage

Gay rights advocates want the Democratic Party to include a marriage equality plank in the platform that will be adopted at the national convention in September.

The idea has the support of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Proposed platform language was circulated by the Freedom to Marry campaign on Feb. 13. Earlier, Freedom to Marry had announced its partnership with a coalition of U.S. mayors supporting marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

Freedom to Marry’s platform proposal reads, “We support the full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation, with equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law, including the freedom to marry. Government has no business putting barriers in the path of people seeking to care for their family members, particularly in challenging economic times. We support the Respect for Marriage Act and the overturning of the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and oppose discriminatory constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny the freedom to marry to loving and committed same-sex couples.”

President Barack Obama, who formally will be nominated to run for a second term at the convention in North Carolina and who leads the party, has said his view on gay marriage is “evolving.”

But the president does support overturning DOMA and has ordered the Justice Department not to defend the law in court. He also supports the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA, has opposed proposals to amend the federal Constitution to ban same-sex marriage and denounced “divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples.”

Within a day of circulating a “Democrats: Say I Do” petition, Freedom to Marry had contained more than 10,000 signatures for a marriage equality plank.

“A strong majority of Democrats and Independents support the freedom to marry, and standing up for all families is not just the right thing to do morally, it’s also right to do politically,” said Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson.

Four years ago, the party platform contained language opposing DOMA and supporting “equal responsibilities, benefits and protections.”

The 2004 platform opposed a Republican-pushed anti-gay marriage amendment and stated that marriage matters should be left to the states.

The Republican Party’s platforms have consistently endorsed DOMA and a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.

The 2008 platform stated, “Because our children’s future is best preserved within the traditional understanding of marriage, we call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage as a union of a man and a woman, so that judges cannot make other arrangements equivalent to it. In the absence of a national amendment, we support the right of the people of the various states to affirm traditional marriage through state initiatives.”

Of the four GOP candidates for president, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich support DOMA and an anti-gay marriage amendment. Ron Paul has said that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman, but that marriage also is an issue for the states.

Find the petition at 

http://www.freedomtomarry.org/page/s/democrats-say-i-do?source=FTMrotator.