Blogs

Happy 75th Ginger Baker! British Drummer Carried Beat for Cream

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

If you've ever jammed to "Sunshine of Your Love" or "White Room" by Cream, spent time with the Blind Faith album, got down to Levitation by Hawkwind or listened to Public Image Limited's classic Album, then tip your hat to Mr. Ginger Baker, who turns 75 on August 19th, 2014.

To celebrate, Here are a few killer photos of Baker playing with Cream on the Dutch television show Fanclub.

F. van Geelen/Fanclub/Dutch Institute for Sound and Vision

And a more recent photo of Mr. Baker:

Peter Edward 'Ginger'' Baker is an English drummer, best known for his work with Cream. He is also known for his numerous associations with New World music and the use of African influences and other diverse collaborations such as his work with the rock band Hawkwind. David Levene/eyevine/ZUMA Press

Oh, and Bill Clinton and Tipper Gore also share a birthday today. Whatta party!

Advertise on MotherJones.com

How Much It Costs to Raise a Kid, in 4 Charts

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

A middle-income family with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend about a quarter of a million dollars in child-rearing expenses over the next 18 years, according to a new report from the USDA.

Costs such as housing, food, transportation, clothing, health care, child care, and education will amount to an expected $304,340 ($245,340 in 2013 dollars) for middle-income families, a 1.8 percent increase from last year's report. For each income bracket, costs will increase as the child ages:

Although households with incomes in the lowest third will spend less than half as much on child-related costs as higher income families, their spending will amount to a far greater percent of total income.

Housing is the highest child-rearing expenditure, amounting to 30 percent of expenses for middle-income, husband-wife families with two children. Raising a child is costliest in the urban Northeast and least expensive in rural areas.

USDA

The report notes that child-rearing costs have grown 24 percent since 1960, when a middle-income family could have expected to spend $25,230 ($198,560 in 2013 dollars). The USDA has also released an interactive calculator to help families estimate child-rearing costs based on type of household, number of children, location, and income.

The Government May Soon Send This Reporter to Jail. Here Are the Embarrassing Secrets He Exposed.

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
James Risen speaks at the University of California, Berkeley

The Obama administration has fought a years-long court battle to force longtime New York Times national security correspondent James Risen to reveal the source for a story in his 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. Risen may soon serve jail time for refusing to out his source. The fight has drawn attention to Obama's less-than-stellar track record on press freedom—in a recent interview, Risen called the president "the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation." But lost in the ruckus are the details of what Risen revealed. Here's what has the government so upset.

In State of War, Risen revealed a secret CIA operation, code-named Merlin, that was intended to undermine the Iranian nuclear program. The plan—originally approved by president Bill Clinton, but later embraced by George W. Bush—was to pass flawed plans for a trigger system for a nuclear weapon to Iran in the hopes of derailing the country's nuclear program. "It was one of the greatest engineering secrets in the world," Risen wrote in State of War, "providing the solution to one of a handful of problems that separated nuclear powers such as the United States and Russia from the rogue countries like Iran that were desperate to join the nuclear club but had so far fallen short."

The flaws in the trigger system were supposed to be so well hidden that the blueprints would lead Iranian scientists down the wrong path for years. But Merlin's frontman, a Russian nuclear scientist and defector then on the CIA's payroll, spotted the flaws almost immediately. On the day of the handoff in Vienna in winter 2000, the Russian, not wanting to burn a bridge with the Iranians, included an apologetic note with his delivery, explaining that the design had some problems. Shortly after receiving the plans, one member of the Iranian mission changed his travel plans and flew back to Tehran, presumably with the blueprints—and the note—in hand. Merlin did not wreck the Iranian nuclear program—in fact, Risen wrote, the operation could have accelerated it. 

In a sworn affidavit filed in 2011, and in a recently rejected appeal to the US Supreme Court, Risen has argued that his reporting served the public good. Published at a time when military action in Iran seemed possible, State of Fear revealed how much of the effort to gather information on Iran's nuclear capability was not just shoddy but dangerous—even, in the case of Operation Merlin, helping Iran get closer to building a nuclear weapon. 

The Bush administration did not see it that way. In 2008, Bush's Justice Department subpoenaed Risen, demanding that he reveal his source—or face jail time for contempt of court. After taking office in 2009, the Obama administration renewed the Bush-era subpoena and continued to try to identify and prosecute Risen's source. Justice Department staff believe they know who the source was—an ex-CIA operations officer named Jeffrey Sterling, who was previously an on-the-record source for Risen—but they want Risen to confirm their hunch and fill in a few details. In legal filings, Justice Department lawyers have called Risen a witness to "serious crimes that implicate the national security of the United States" and argued that "there are few scenarios where the United States' interests in securing information is more profound and compelling than in a criminal prosecution like this one."  

If Risen is called to court to testify but fails to show up or refuses to talk, he's likely to become the first reporter from a major news organization since Judith Miller in 2005 to be sentenced to jail time for refusing to divulge a source. (In 2006, journalist Josh Wolf was imprisoned for 226 days after refusing to comply with a federal subpoena for a video he took of a San Francisco protest.)

This story has been amended to clarify that Wolf, and not Miller, was the last journalist to be imprisoned for refusing to disclose a source.

Senator Jim Jeffords Died Today. Watch the Moving Speech He Gave Defecting From the GOP.

| Mon Aug. 18, 2014 8:55 PM EDT

Former Senator James Jeffords, who represented Vermont in Washington for 32 years, died Monday at the age of 80. He made history when, five months after George W. Bush was inaugurated with a deadlocked Senate in 2001, he left the GOP to become an independent and caucus with the Democrats, thereby handing Dems control of the upper chamber. He did it because "more and more" he found he could not "support the president's agenda." The GOP was no longer the party he grew up in. "Given the changing nature of the national party, it has become a struggle for our leaders to deal with me and for me to deal with them."

This was before the tea party, before Guantanamo, before Abu Ghraib, before so much of what we now think of when we think of Republican extremism.

Here is the speech he gave announcing his defection, on May 24, 2001. It's a reminder that the GOP didn't just up and start losing its marbles after Obama's election. It had been dropping them one by one for years.

 

 

It’s Like Yelp For Cops: Teens Make App To Rate Police

| Mon Aug. 18, 2014 7:01 PM EDT
An app created by siblings Ima, Asha, and Caleb Christian (shown with their brother Joshua) helps users track police behavior.

Three teens in Georgia just made a mobile app they hope will help prevent the next police shooting of an unarmed young person.

It's called Five-O, after the slang term for police, and it's the brainchild of siblings Ima, 16, Asha, 15, and Caleb Christian, 14, who live in a suburb of Atlanta. Here's how it works: After interacting with a cop, users open the app and fill out a Yelp-like form on which they can grade the officer's courtesy from A to F, check a box if they were verbally or physically abused, and add details about the incident. They can view ratings on other cops and police departments across the country, participate in community forums, and check out a Q&A titled "Know Your Rights."

Ima Christian says their parents encouraged them to think about how they could respond productively to incidents like Brown's death. "One of the things they really stress is that we focus on finding solutions," she told Mother Jones. "We really hope that Five-O will be able to give every citizen a voice when interacting with the police."

But the Christians say Five-O isn't just for outing bad cops; they hope it will help also highlight good policing. "We want people to be able to document if the police are very courteous or if they save your cat or something," Ima says.

"You’re never too young to learn, and you're never too young to make a difference," Caleb told Business Insider. A similar app made in London to track "stop and search" incidents earned a human rights award in 2012.

The siblings have been honing their coding skills since elementary school by participating in the MIT programs +K12, Scratch, and App Inventor, and they've also taken programming classes at Georgia Tech and Emory, all with encouragement from their parents. They've started their own app development company, Pine Tart, Inc., and they're currently working on two other projects: Froshly, which will help incoming college freshmen meet their classmates, and Coily, which will review hair-care products for black women.

Here's a preview of Five-O:

Pope Francis Backs Military Force Against Extremists in Iraq, Calls for UN Involvement

| Mon Aug. 18, 2014 6:06 PM EDT

President Obama's recent decision to use force against Islamic extremists in Iraq has drawn some unexpected support. The AP reported Monday that Pope Francis told reporters in response to questions about the US military intervention that "in these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor."

But Francis stopped short of endorsing specific military actions. "I underscore the verb 'stop,'" he added, according to the AP. "I'm not saying 'bomb' or 'make war,' just 'stop.' And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated." And he made clear that he wanted the international community—not just the United States—to decide how to combat the violence in Iraq:

"One nation alone cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor," he said, apparently referring to the United States. "After World War II, the idea of the United Nations came about: It's there that you must discuss 'Is there an unjust aggression? It seems so. How should we stop it?' Just this. Nothing more."

Two weeks ago, Obama ordered air strikes against the Islamic State—a terrorist group that now controls parts of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon—which at the time was threatening to seize control of of Irbil, the Kurdish capital. The group has waged a violent campaign against Iraqi religious minorities, stranding tens of thousands of members of the Yazidi sect in the mountains near Irbil without food or water. On August 8, the Islamic State seized the city of Qaraqosh, Iraq's largest Christian city, forcing thousands of Christians to flee, convert, pay a fine, or be murdered "by the sword," according to CNN. Many Iraqi Christians are Chaldeans, a branch of Catholicism.

The Vatican's support for the US intervention, which includes strikes by drones and piloted US fighter jets as well as humanitarian aid for the Yazidis, seems to be somewhat unusual. Just last September, Francis held a massive vigil urging the United States to refrain from engaging militarily in the conflict in Syria following massive chemical weapons attacks, which killed more than 1,300 people. Francis described war in 2013 as a "defeat for humanity," echoing the words of Pope John Paul II. In 2003, the Vatican condemned the US invasion of Iraq as a "crime against peace."

But, as the AP points out, "The Vatican has been increasingly showing support for military intervention in Iraq, given that Christians are being directly targeted because of their faith."

This article has been revised.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

What Do We Know So Far From Mike Brown's Autopsies?

| Mon Aug. 18, 2014 3:26 PM EDT
Daryl Parks, one of the Brown family's attorneys, points to a diagram showing the preliminary results of an independent autopsy.

Normally, it takes weeks to get the results of an autopsy. But today, St. Louis County medical examiner Mary Case announced that Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager who was killed by a policeman last weekend in Ferguson, Missouri, was shot in the head and chest multiple times. Here's the information we know about Michael Brown's death, and a little background on why autopsies usually take so much longer.

What have the autopsies found so far?
Three separate autopsies are in various stages of completion. The St. Louis County medical examiner's office announced on Monday that Brown was killed by multiple bullets to the chest and head. The office has not yet released information about the number or location of the bullets or their toxicology report. According to a confidential source reporting to the Washington Post, Brown's toxicology test found that he tested positive for marijuana.

The preliminary results of an independent autopsy arranged by the Brown family and performed on Sunday by former New York City Chief Medical Examiner Michael Baden found that Brown was shot six times: four times in his right arm, and twice in the head. One of the bullets entered the top of Brown's skull, indicating that his head was tilted forward when the bullet struck him and caused a fatal injury. According to Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing the Browns, the family wanted "an autopsy done by somebody who is objective and who does not have a relationship with the Ferguson police."

US Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Sunday that the Justice Department would conduct a third autopsy, because of "the extraordinary circumstances involved in this case and at the request of the Brown family." A department representative said the autopsy would take place "as soon as possible."

Why does it usually take so long to get autopsy results?
An autopsy itself usually doesn't take too long, but often, medical examiners will wait to release the results until toxicology tests, which analyze the presence of drugs, are also complete. Toxicology tests usually take several weeks, in part due to the chemistry involved and in part because there's often a backlog of tests. Coupling the release of the toxicology and autopsy results is standard practice because it gives a more complete picture of what may have happened during the shooting, says Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist and the author of Working Stiff: The Making of a Medical Examiner. Determining whether or not a person was under the influence of drugs "may help interpret a person's behavior and reaction time," she says.

What do toxicology tests entail?
A basic screening often involves using immunoassays to test blood and urine (from inside the body) for drugs, including alcohol, marijuana, and opiates. If a test comes back positive, then a lab will run more complex tests, like mass spectrometry, to determine the exact concentration of the drug. Melinek says that "negative results come back faster," and "the more drugs found in a person's system, the longer it takes because each has to be verified and quantitated." If Brown only tested positive for marijuana, the tests would only take a few days.

Was Brown's case slowed down by an autopsy backlog?
Autopsy backlogs do exist—last year in Massachusetts, for example, there were nearly 1,000 unfinished death certificates due to lack of qualified pathologists and state funding for toxicology testing. According to Suzanne McCune, a representative of the St. Louis County medical examiner's office, Brown's case was expedited through the system, as often happens for cases involving officers.

Medicare Advantage Might Not Be a Boondoggle Anymore

| Mon Aug. 18, 2014 2:20 PM EDT

I've written periodically in this space about the problems with Medicare Advantage. In a nutshell, it costs a lot more but provides very little in the way of additional services. It's really not much of a poster child for the benefits of program choice.

But wait! Apparently a big part of the problem with MA was the fact that people were allowed to switch in and out of their plans on a monthly basis. If they got sick, they could quickly switch into MA if that was a better deal for them. This obviously raised the cost of MA as sick people switched in to avoid the copays and other limitations of traditional Medicare.

However, that changed in the mid-2000s, when beneficiaries were required to choose a plan and stick with it for a full year. Austin Frakt provides the details of a new study:

By 2006-2007, health differences between beneficiaries in Medicare Advantage and those in traditional Medicare had narrowed....Also, in contrast to studies in the 1990s, more recent work finds that Medicare Advantage is superior to traditional Medicare on a variety of quality measures. For example, according to a paper in Health Affairs by John Ayanian and colleagues, women enrolled in a Medicare Advantage H.M.O. are more likely to receive mammography screenings; those with diabetes are more likely to receive blood sugar testing and retinal exams; and those with diabetes or cardiovascular disease are more likely to receive cholesterol testing.

That Health Affairs paper also found that H.M.O. enrollees are more likely to receive flu and pneumonia vaccinations and about as likely to rate their personal doctor and specialists highly.

So now things are a little murkier. MA still costs more than traditional Medicare, but only by 5-6 percent. And recent evidence suggests that MA beneficiaries might be getting enough additional benefit to justify that much extra money. It's still not clear that MA is worthwhile, but it appears now to be at least worth further study.

Most Songs are Three Minutes Long Because That's How Most of Us Like Them

| Mon Aug. 18, 2014 1:10 PM EDT

Kelsey McKinney asks today why popular songs are almost all 3-5 minutes long. The historical basis for this is obvious: 45 rpm singles hold about three minutes of music, so modern pop music was born in an era when technology limited songs to about three minutes or so. But what about more recently?

It makes sense to assume that since the basis of the three-minute song was the 78 and then 45 rpm single, then songs would become longer as technology evolved....But the length of songs had its biggest jump, according to this data, between the '60s and '80s, and very little has changed from the '90s to 2008, a time period when the technology of music changed drastically.

"What drives what is heard on the radio is an artist's desire to have their music hit the mainstream, and a record label's desire to profit from that," Steve Jones, vice president at the Canadian radio firm Newcap, told NPR....Jones is right. The length of a song on an album doesn't matter for anyone except for the artist and fans, but a song that hopes to make money and be played on the radio simply has to be a certain length. Either that, or radio stations will edit the song down to the standard, making it three to four minutes, just like the 45.

But this begs the question. Why do radio stations insist on three minutes? They don't run ads after literally every song, so it's not because advertisers demand it. The obvious answer is that this is, in fact, what most fans want.

The core explanation, I think, is that most popular music simply doesn't have the complexity to sustain itself beyond a few minutes. Both the lyrics and the melodies tend to be fairly simple, and after a few minutes they've exhausted their potential. Compare this to classical music and you see it more clearly. Most classical music is considerably more complex than your average pop song, but even so a single movement of a sonata or a symphony usually clocks in at no more than ten minutes or so. Opera arias—which developed in a pre-technological age and with much more patient audiences—are closer in length to modern pop songs, typically lasting 3-7 minutes.

Obviously there are exceptions to this. There are plenty of examples of longish pop songs, just as there are examples of classical pieces longer than ten minutes. But generally speaking, you need a fair amount of complexity to sustain these lengths, and that's not what most people want. They want simple and hummable, and that means not too long.

White Juries Are Not Kind to Black Defendants

| Mon Aug. 18, 2014 10:57 AM EDT

Alex Tabarrok passes along the results of a new study about the racial composition of jury pools and the resulting juries:

What the authors discover is that all white juries are 16% more likely to convict black defendants than white defendants but the presence of just a single black person in the jury pool equalizes conviction rates by race. The effect is large and remarkably it occurs even when the black person is not picked for the jury. The latter may not seem possible but the authors develop an elegant model of voir dire that shows how using up a veto on a black member of the pool shifts the characteristics of remaining pool members from which the lawyers must pick; that is, a diverse jury pool can make for a more “ideologically” balanced jury even when the jury is not racially balanced.

There is, of course, no de jure discrimination at work here. The law treats every defendant and every jury member the same. But that still doesn't mean everyone is treated the same. Far from it.