2014 - %3, July

The NFL Just Suspended Ray Rice Indefinitely. Why the Hell Did It Take So Long?

| Thu Jul. 24, 2014 7:52 PM EDT

Update (9/10/2014): The Associated Press is reporting that a law enforcement source claims to have sent a copy of the tape to the NFL in April. The source played a voicemail for the AP from an NFL number on April 9 confirming receipt. "You're right. It's terrible," the AP quotes the unidentified woman as saying.

Update (9/8/2014): Hours after TMZ released security video of Ray Rice punching then-fiancée Janay Palmer in a February incident in Atlantic City, the Baltimore Ravens announced today that they have terminated their star running back's contract, and the NFL announced that Rice has been suspended indefinitely.

After several journalists covering the NFL reported in July that the league had seen this first tape, and that it would be used in weighing Rice's punishment, the league and the Ravens reversed course, saying they never saw the tape until it was released today. As Deadspin's Barry Petchetsky wrote, "Whatever the case, it's almost certain that the NFL lied at some stage here, and that the league played a handful of its most loyal reporters in the process, suborning them into a smear campaign against a victim of domestic violence."

The news comes just as the league and the players' union are trying to hammer out a new NFL drug policy.

The National Football League handed Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice an unexpectedly lenient punishment Thursday following his offseason arrest for assaulting his fiancée back in February: a two-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Rice allegedly hit Janay Palmer (now his wife) so hard she lost consciousness—and then security cameras caught him dragging her out of an elevator in Atlantic City. Aggravated assault charges eventually were dropped against both of them (Palmer allegedly hit Rice, too), and the two later held a bizarre joint press conference addressing the whole incident.

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Let's Watch Stephen Colbert Make Fun Of Tim Draper's Stupid Plan To Split California Into 6 States

| Thu Jul. 24, 2014 11:24 AM EDT

In 2016, Californians will vote on stupid Tim Draper's stupid initiative to turn America's greatest state into six stupid (and deeply unequal) little states. The initiative will fail, and even if it somehow passes, the state legislature will never approve it, and even if it somehow did, Congress will never agree to it. So, this whole thing is stupid. Fitting then that famed ridiculer of stupid things Stephen Colbert had Draper on his show last night.

Colbert began by introducing Draper (a "Silicon Valley billionaire and evil stepdad in a Lifetime movie") and his stupid plan to the uninitiated:

Then "the riskmaster" himself came on. Watching Draper come off like a weirdo is entertaining enough, but the real money shot is when Colbert responds to Draper's promise that he has no future in politics: "so, you're just going to set the charges, blow it apart, and then say 'not my fucking problem'?"

Watch:

(h/t Valleywag)

Be Still, My Heart: Beyoncé As Rosie the Riveter

| Tue Jul. 22, 2014 2:54 PM EDT

On Tuesday, Beyoncé, a whisper of perfection in an otherwise cruel and inhumane world, posted this photo of her as Rosie the Riveter to Instagram.

Beyoncé has become somewhat of a feminist hero recently, putting overtly feminist lyrics into her songs, and making genuinely heartfelt public statements about women's rights. In January, she wrote an essay about income inequality. On the other side of the pop star aisle there is Lana del Rey who is more interested in Tesla and "intergalactic possibilities."

Quick Reads: "Do Not Sell at Any Price" by Amanda Petrusich

| Tue Jul. 22, 2014 5:00 AM EDT
Do Not Sell at Any Price

Do Not Sell at Any Price

By Amanda Petrusich

SCRIBNER

Once you get past the overexplaining of vinyl-era terms (gatefold album cover, etc.), Amanda Petrusich's first-person foray into the weird world of 78 rpm collectors is an engrossing romp that illuminates this cartoonish slice of nerddom so aptly portrayed in the movie Crumb. She catches the bug, too, embarking on a quest for 100-year-old Paramount blues 78s that takes her to flea markets and record swaps, although not, like one of her sources, to the bottom of the Milwaukee River. This obsession, Petrusich ultimately divines, is rooted as much in the (perhaps unattainable) sense of authenticity and passion crackling up from those vinyl grooves as in the earthly desire to own something rare.

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

The Way We Live Now

| Mon Jul. 21, 2014 10:05 PM EDT

Methinks someone on the EPA's social team is logged into the department's brand account on their iPhone...

If someone gets fired over this harmless mistake I will be genuinely outraged but I think it's ok for all of us to have a harmless chuckle.

Watch John Oliver Explain the Insanity of Our Prison System With Puppets

| Mon Jul. 21, 2014 3:45 PM EDT

The United States imprisons too many people for too long for too many things. As John Oliver summed it up last night, "We are doing a terrible job taking care of people that it is very easy for all of us not to care about."

Oliver outlines a few of the prison system's flagrant injustices:

  • African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of white people, despite similar levels of drug use.
  • Solitary confinement, which Mother Jones has covered extensively, is "one of the most mentally excruciating things prisoners can be subjected to." Yet when a senator asked the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons about the size of the average isolation cell during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this past February, the prison official had no idea, stalling awkwardly before making a wildly incorrect guess.
  • One in 25 prison inmates reported being sexually victimized in the past year, yet prison rape is culturally-acceptable joke material that crops up in pop culture regularly: from SpongeBob to Friends to Puss in Boots.
  • In an effort to cut costs, many states outsource food, health care, and even prison operations to private contractors. These cost-saving techniques have lead to maggot-infested food in Michigan prisons and 50 inmates dying in one 8-month stretch in Arizona.
  • Prisoner rehabilitation isn't exactly the system's focal point: Publicly-traded private prison giant Corporate Corrections of America (CCA) actually touted "high recidivism" as a reason private prisons are a "unique investment opportunity."

He closes the segment by recapping the horrors of the US prison system with mock Sesame Street puppets: The PBS show has recently made efforts to reach out to the 1 in 28 US children growing up with a parent behind bars.

The segment's bottom line: Prisoners are not treated humanely in the United States. They're viewed as a nuisance, a problem to be tucked away in a cell and never thought of again. But when nearly 1 in 100 American adults is behind bars, our broken system of mass incarceration is a human rights abuse that should not be ignored.

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"Country Funk Volume II" Is the Perfect Summer Soundtrack

| Mon Jul. 21, 2014 5:00 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 5:00 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 5:00 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 5:00 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.