2011 - %3, May

Tiempo Libre: From a Rooftop to the Big Stage

| Mon May. 2, 2011 4:00 AM PDT

It all started with a coat hanger: "If they catch you, you have to pay," says Jorge Gomez. "We made our own antenna. We listened to everything." This isn't a description of a secret espionage effort. It's the story of how a Cuban teenager and his friends—now members of Gomez's timba band, Tiempo Libre—fell in love with American music. They rigged up a makeshift radio using a friend's military-issue guidebook and frequency map, the hanger, and some cable. This allowed them to listen to music banned during Cuba's "Special Period."

But catching Miami radio waves from their moonlit Havana rooftop wasn't the kids' only form of subversion. Many a night was dedicated to recording the songs of Michael Jackson; Earth, Wind, & Fire; Chaka Khan; and Gloria Estefan. "We recorded by night, and then in the morning we made parties. We had a six-hour recording," Gomez reminisces. "When there is a good thing, we don't sleep for days."

The island's weather didn't stop them either: "Some weeks, you would have the wind blow and be recording in the middle of a very huge shower in rain with an umbrella," he adds.

The three-time Grammy-nominated band eventually made it to Miami, where the musicians immediately feel at home among all the Cuban expats. "You can go anywhere and there is a Cuban. So you are living in Cuba with everything, but with no ‘Special Period,'" says Gomez. He admits there are some things he misses from home, like gossiping and playing dominoes in the old neighborhood, "the smell of the city," and the ability to just kick back. "Here it is only work, work, work," he laments.

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John Work III: The Man the Blues Forgot

| Mon May. 2, 2011 3:45 AM PDT

As the story goes, the folklorist Alan Lomax was traveling around Mississippi with his recording equipment in the summer of 1941 when he came upon the house of a blues singer named McKinley Morganfield. Lomax recorded a few tracks for the Library of Congress and moved on, later mailing Morganfield a check for $20 and two copies of the record. What Lomax couldn't have known at the time was that Morganfield, better known today as Muddy Waters, was to become one of the most famous blues singers of all time—the undisputed king of the electric Chicago sound.

Morganfield, along with Son House, went on to be known as one of Lomax's greatest discoveries. And while it may be true that without Lomax, we might never have heard of these artists, it's worth remembering that—despite what his own memoirs suggest—Lomax didn't actually discover either of them. That credit falls to a little-known black folklorist named John Work III, who died 44 years ago this month.

Did Wisconsin GOPers Forge a Dead Man's Signature in Recall Effort?

| Mon May. 2, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

Recall frenzy is sweeping through Wisconsin, with nine state legislators, Democrats and Republicans, targeted by activists and the state political parties in the aftermath of the uprising over Governor Scott Walker's anti-union "budget repair" bill. So far, efforts to recall GOPers are easily outpacing recall campaigns targeting Democrats, and so perhaps it comes as little surprise that Republicans were recently accused of using dirty tricks to boost their efforts.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, in the petition to recall Sen. Bob Wirch, one of the 14 Democratic senators who fled the state in February to block a vote on Walker's bill, the signature and address of "Bill Pocan" appear. Here's the problem: Bill Pocan, who happens to be the father of Democratic state Assembly member Mark Pocan, died twenty years ago.

The chairman of the campaign to recall Wirch, Dan Hunt, told the Journal Sentinel that the signature looks to be a forgery. Hunt, however, blamed the forged signature on Wisconsin Democrats, who he said were seeking to derail his efforts.

Democrats immediately waved off Hunt's accusation. The head of the State Senate Democratic Committee said Hunt had "been caught red-handed" and "need look no further than his own organization" for someone to blame for the controversy. Mike Tate, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said in a statement that "the Republican forgery of dead names on recall petitions represents a new low for Wisconsin. It is voter fraud at its most abhorrent and it must be investigated and explained."

Right now, Democrats have filed petitions to recall six Republicans in the legislature, while Republicans have filed three. What's even more impressive is that Democrats have far surpassed the number of signatures needed to trigger a recall election, even in traditionally Republican districts, which suggests that the ire of Wisconsin citizens could lead to a handful of sitting legislators getting the axe in the coming months. Meanwhile, the fate of Walker's "repair" bill, which would slash collective bargaining rights for most public-sector unions, remains in legal limbo, its fate uncertain.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 2, 2011

Mon May. 2, 2011 2:30 AM PDT

A team of engineers with Company C, Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, currently attached to 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd AAB, 1st Inf. Div., conduct military operations in urban terrain drills to clear a building during a training exercise, April 18, at Camp Taji, Iraq. The intent of the training was to re-familiarize the soldiers with the techniques and tactics involved in handling demolitions safely and efficiently in a stressful environment. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Molleigh Crotty)

Pakistan and bin Laden

| Sun May. 1, 2011 8:51 PM PDT

So the operation against bin Laden was apparently carried out solely by U.S. forces. Obama called President Zardari after the operation was over. And the best joint statement they could agree on afterward was that this was a "good and historic" day. Is it just me, or does it sound like maybe Pakistan wasn't exactly as thrilled about all this as one might hope?

UPDATE: Steve Clemons provides a different picture that suggests Pakistan was deeply involved in the operation. We'll see.

UPDATE 2: CNN emphasizing that operation was carried out "with the cooperation" of Pakistani government.