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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 21, 2014

Mon Jul. 21, 2014 9:47 AM EDT

Two US Marines alongside two Japan Ground self-defense soldiers practice techniques at Kin Blue beach in Japan. (US Marine Photo by Cpl. Henry Antenor)

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"Country Funk Volume II" Is the Perfect Summer Soundtrack

| Mon Jul. 21, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Various Artists
Country Funk Volume II 1967-1974
Light in the Attic

Country FunkLike its predecessor, the beguiling Country Funk Volume II, 1967-1974 is a collection of rebels, reprobates and other outsiders blurring genres and donning different guises. Ranging from big names to cult favorites, this dud-free, 17-track romp captures Kenny Rogers in his pre-crooner, almost-psychedelic phase and the chameleon-like Bobby Darin (here billed as Bob) in his down-home hippie groove. R&B greats Larry Williams and Johnny Watson team up for freaky rock and roll, while Willie Nelson tries out his outlaw persona—and likes it. Elsewhere, former Byrd Gene Clark puts a rootsy spin on the Beatles, and sleepy JJ Cale mines a deep, soulful groove. And there's plenty more to dig on this scruffy, lovably offbeat set, which makes a perfect summer soundtrack.

Armed With a Backpack Studio and a Plane Ticket, Beat Making Lab Sows Global Activism

| Mon Jul. 21, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

In Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, fences as far as the eye could see were topped with barbed wire. Glass bottle shards protruded from concrete walls so that no one could scale them. Some buildings were even corralled by electric barriers. They resembled fortresses—all but one. "At Yole!Africa, the walls were completely bare. Students were sitting on them," recalls Pierce Freelon, one of the founders of Beat Making Lab.

Where can art happen? "The answer is 'anywhere and everywhere.'"

Beat Making Lab, a project that began in 2011 as a music production and entrepreneurship class at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, had morphed into an international expedition to teach kids how to make beats and set up makeshift studios for around the world. Yole!Africa, a Congolese Center for Art and Cultural Exchange, was their first stop. "When you came in, there were two concrete slabs where artists are dancing," Freelon adds. "You don't need a dance studio with hardwood floors, with windows and a ballet bar, to put in work and do dance. You can do it in the dirt."

They had come to lend that DIY mentality to an art-form not yet represented at Yole!Africa. With just a backpack full of gear—USB microphone, keyboard, laptop, MIDI controllers, headphones, and software—Freelon and BML cofounder, the producer/DJ Stephen Levitin (who has worked with the likes of Azealia Banks, Camp Lo, Mos Def, and Wale) set up shop in a storage room and launched their first two-week workshop. "In terms of where [art] can happen?" Freelon says, "the answer is anywhere and everywhere."

In 2013, the duo helped produce songs from a prison in Panama. They brought beat-making tools to the beaches of Fiji. They held sessions on the streets of Senegal and Ethiopia. Along the way, they documented their experiences and created videos for the songs their students created. Here's one from Ethiopia:

Before long, the project caught the attention of PBS, which signed on to help produce a web series. Season 2, which launches today, kicks off in Nairobi with the video at the top of this post. The beatmakers have taken a more political turn this time around. In Kenya, they partner with /The Rules (a "global movement to bring power back to people, and change the rules that create inequality and poverty around the world"), interweaving recording sessions with spoken word workshops led by Jamaican poet Staceyann Chin, and digital power-mapping workshops led by Ann Daramola (a.k.a. Afrolicious). The goal: to encourage participants to deploy art in the cause of activism.

“It was the ill-est thing ever," Freelon says. "Those same students who have been thinking about tax havens and queerness and patriarchy are now coming into our Beat Making Lab and making beats."

Freelon and Levitin hope to keep expanding into new territory. Up next on their wish list are Palestine, Israel, India, and China. "We left Kenya saying we need not ever go back to what we were doing in 2013," Freelon says. "From this time forward we are going to have a deeper, more intentional process."

Subscribe to BML's YouTube channel to see the story unfold.

Fast Tracks: Reigning Sound's "You Did Wrong"

| Mon Jul. 21, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

TRACK 5

"You Did Wrong"

From Reigning Sound's Shattered

MERGE

Liner notes: "Where have you been, my friend? I've been calling you for days," croons Greg Cartwright, comforting a heartbroken pal in this bracing garage-soul lament.

Behind the music: The Memphis multitasker has a slew of other bands on his résumé, such as the Oblivians and Compulsive Gamblers.

Check it out if you like: Retro floor-shakers like the Deadly Snakes and King Khan & the Shrines.

This review originally appeared in the July/August 2014 Issue of Mother Jones.

Film Review: "The Newburgh Sting"

| Mon Jul. 21, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

The Newburgh Sting

HBO DOCUMENTARY FILMS*

Drawing on a trove of covert FBI video footage, this well-argued doc offers a spirited defense of four men charged in 2009 with plotting to blow up Air National Guard planes and set off bombs outside Jewish community centers in the Bronx—a story first detailed in our 2011 investigation "The Informants." The men, occasionally observant Muslims from impoverished Newburgh, New York, some with prior convictions for drug dealing, thought they would make $250,000 for the job—a life-changing sum. But it was a setup. An FBI informant provided everything: the plan, the bombs and missiles, even a car to get them to the scene of the would-be crime. Like the defendants in similar stings, the men cried entrapment but were convicted anyway. Many viewers won't sympathize with men who seemed willing to kill civilians for a price, and fair enough. But footage of the Boston Marathon bombing near the end of the film begs the question: What kinds of threats are slipping through the cracks while the FBI spends millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours setting up a crew of street hustlers in the Newburgh ghetto?

*Correction: The original version of this review, which also ran in our 2014 July/August print issue, incorrectly identified the film distributor.

Quick Reads: "Unruly Places" by Alastair Bonnett

| Sat Jul. 19, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Unruly Places

Unruly Places

By Alastair Bonnett

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT

By now, given the pace of technology, you'd think every square inch of the planet's surface had already been discovered, scrutinized, and made accessible online. In this catalog of the world's forgotten, ignored, and phantom places, British geographer Alastair Bonnett shows us that our maps still hold plenty of secrets. Take Wittenoom, an asbestos-mining center turned ghost town in Western Australia that vanished from official records—but not from the face of the earth. Or the no man's land between Senegal and Guinea that is host to entire nationless villages. There's also Sandy Island, a South Pacific sandbar that existed on Google Earth until 2012—when an Australian expedition discovered that it never actually existed. The geography of the unknown has never been so comprehensible.

This review originally appeared in our July/August issue of Mother Jones. 

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David Vitter's Deportation Proposal Could Require More Planes Than There Are on Earth

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 6:31 PM EDT

David Vitter has had it with undocumented immigrants. "Enough is enough," the Republican Senator and Louisiana gubernatorial candidate tweeted on Friday. "I introduced a bill to require mandatory detention for anyone here illegally & get illegal aliens on the next plane home."

The legislation Vitter introduced Friday doesn't actually require all immigrants to be detained and deported. It mostly applies to child migrants, 70,000 of whom will make their way to the United States from Central America this year. Specifically, unaccompanied minors without asylum claims would be put "on the next available flight to their home countries within 72 hours of an initial screening."

But if we really tried to do what Vitter's tweet suggests—and why not? He's a senator!—it would entail increasing the nation's immigration detention capacity by a factor of 365. And flying all those immigrants home would require more planes than currently exist.

The math is simple. According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are 11 million people currently in the United States without permanent legal status, the bulk of them from Latin America. In 2011, the average flight to that region had room for 171.8 passengers. It would require 64,027 flights to move all those migrants. Unfortunately, there were only 7,185 commercial aircraft in the United States as of 2011, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, so the mass deportations might take a while, especially considering Tegucigalpa's Toncontín International Airport boasts "the world's trickiest landing."

Even if other nations chipped in, it'd still be a tough row to hoe. According to Boeing, there are only 20,310 commercial airliners in the world, although that figure is set to double by 2032, if we want to wait. 

These back-of-the-envelope calculations don't take into account other details, like the costs and logistics of finding and rounding up 11 million people. On the plus side, the amount of jet fuel required for Vitter's plan would be a boon for the oil and gas industry—one of Louisiana's largest employers.

The EPA Dithers While a Popular Pesticide Threatens Ecosystems

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 4:18 PM EDT

Ah, summer—the season when trillions of corn and soybean plants tower horizon-to-horizon in the Midwest. All told, US farmers planted more than 170 million acres in these two crops this year—a combined landmass roughly equal in size to the state of Texas. That's great news for the companies that turn corn and soy into livestock feed, sweeteners, and food additives; but not so great for honeybees, wild pollinating insects like bumblebees, and birds.

That's because these crops—along with other major ones like alfalfa and sunflower—are widely treated with pesticides called neonicotinoids. Made  by European chemical giants Bayer and Syngenta, these chemicals generate a staggering $2.6 billion in annual revenue worldwide—and have come under heavy suspicion as a trigger of colony collapse disorder and other, less visible, ecological calamities.

Friday Cat Blogging - 18 July 2014

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 2:55 PM EDT

In an awesome display of athleticism, Domino hopped into the laundry hamper this week. I was shocked. I didn't think she could do it. But I guess when you're motivated by the sweet, sweet prospect of snoozing among the delicate aromas of worn human clothing, you can accomplish anything. As for what she's looking at in this picture, I have no idea. Probably something in the cat dimension.

Iran's Oil Exports Have Fallen By Half Since Sanctions Were Imposed

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 2:09 PM EDT

If you're curious about the impact of economic sanctions on Iran, OPEC's newly-released 2014 statistical bulletin provides a pretty concrete look. As the tables below show, in just the past two years Iran's oil exports have fallen by nearly half and the rial has lost a third of its value. If you want to know why Iran is negotiating over its nuclear program, that's the story in a nutshell.

The whole report is here. Plenty of interesting little tidbits there for inquiring minds.