Mixed Media

Pope Francis Will Officially Recognize Palestinian Statehood

| Wed May 13, 2015 11:59 AM EDT

The Vatican is set to sign a new treaty to formally recognize the state of Palestine. The statement was released by a joint commission of Vatican and Palestinian officials on Wednesday, and indicated an agreement had been "concluded," with an official signing to take place soon.

Though the Vatican has long hinted at supporting an official recognition, Wednesday's news signals the Vatican's first legal shift from recognizing the Palestinian Liberation Organization to the state of Palestine, according to the AP. In 2012, the Vatican applauded the United Nations' decision to formally observe a Palestinian state.

Shortly after the statement's release, Israel expressed disappointment in the Vatican's decision.

"This move does not promote the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct and bilateral negotiations," the Israeli foreign ministry said, according to the AP. "Israel will study the agreement and will consider its steps accordingly."

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This Is the Perfect Response to Fox's Racist Theory About Michelle Obama's Time at Princeton

| Wed May 13, 2015 11:07 AM EDT

Over the weekend, Michelle Obama delivered a passionate, candid commencement speech to the graduating class at Tuskegee University, Alabama, in which she addressed the daily slights of racism she has endured throughout her life. From Saturday's ceremony:

We've both felt the sting of those daily slights throughout our entire lives. The folks who crossed the street in fear of their safety, the clerks who kept a close eye on us in all those department stores. The people at formal events who assumed we were the help. And those who have questioned our intelligence, our honesty, even our love of this country, and I know that these little indignities are obviously nothing compared to what folks across the country are dealing with every single day.

It was a powerful speech, and naturally, the folks at Fox News were not happy. Fox News contributor Angela McGlowan on Tuesday suggested the speech was yet another example of the White House dividing the country on issues of race, asking, "Why didn't the first lady share the reason why she got into Princeton was probably because of Affirmative Action?"

"The reason why she became an associate at a law firm was probably because of diversity, they needed a woman—not saying that she wasn’t qualified—but they needed a woman, and a woman of color," she said.

Comedy Central's Larry Wilmore was not having it. In a segment on the Nightly Show, he fired back: "When a coke-snorting, alcohol-guzzling son of a CIA director DUI's his way into Yale and ultimately into the Oval Office because his daddy's was in both places, that's affirmative action."

George W., we hope you're watching.

Watch the full segment below:

 

More Americans Ditching Organized Religion

| Tue May 12, 2015 3:36 PM EDT

According to a new study published by the Pew Research Center today, the largest shift in religious demographics over the past seven years is in the number of Americans who don't affiliate with any religion at all. The study, which started in 2007 and surveyed more than 35,000 people, saw this group jump from 16.1 to 22.8 percentage points—with young, college-educated Americans being the most religiously unaffiliated:

While many U.S. religious groups are aging, the unaffiliated are comparatively young – and getting younger, on average, over time. As a rising cohort of highly unaffiliated Millennials reaches adulthood, the median age of unaffiliated adults has dropped to 36, down from 38 in 2007 and far lower than the general (adult) population’s median age of 46.4 By contrast, the median age of mainline Protestant adults in the new survey is 52 (up from 50 in 2007), and the median age of Catholic adults is 49 (up from 45 seven years earlier).

The findings had some disappointing news for Christians. While the number of people who identify with the religion has been waning for decades, the drop in the Christian population has been the sharpest of all in recent years with fewer Americans than ever before identifying themselves as Christians.

Pew

Other interesting details include: Religious intermarriage is up. Christians are getting more diverse. And Muslims and Hindus are seeing significant increases in their numbers. For more, head over to the Pew Research Center here.

The Pentagon Gave How Much Taxpayer Cash to the NFL?

| Tue May 12, 2015 1:32 PM EDT

For the last three years, the Department of Defense has forked over $5.4 million to 14 NFL teams to pay respect to service members during games. And while that's a small line in the behemoth Pentagon budget, at least one GOP senator isn't thrilled about it.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) criticized the "egregious and unnecessary waste of taxpayer dollars" on Monday after a weekend report by NJ.com found the Defense Department and the New Jersey National Guard paid the New York Jets $377,000 for in-game salutes and promotional activities at professional football games. The Atlanta Falcons received more than $1 million during that time, while the Baltimore Ravens raked in $885,000.  

"While it may be appropriate for the National Guard or other service branches to spend taxpayer funds on activities directly related to recruiting," Flake said, "giving taxpayer funds to professional sports teams for activities that are portrayed to the public as paying homage to US military personnel would seem inappropriate."

What did the National Guard get in return? From NJ.com's Christopher Baxter and Jonathan Salant:

The agreement includes the Hometown Hero segment, in which the Jets feature a soldier or two on the big screen, announce their names and ask the crowd to thank them for their service. The soldiers and three friends also get seats in the Coaches Club for the game.

[…]

Aside from the Hometown Heroes segment, the agreements also included advertising and marketing services, including a kickoff video message from the Guard, digital advertising on stadium screens, online advertising and meeting space for a meeting or events.

Also, soldiers attended the annual kickoff lunch in New York City to meet and take pictures with the players for promotional use, and the Jets allowed soldiers to participate in a charity event in which coaches and players build or rebuild a playground or park.

The Jets also provided game access passes.

Flake, who first highlighted the National Guard's spending as part of his #PorkChops campaign on wasteful spending, said his office had found "a number of advertising and promotion contracts between the Pentagon and professional sports teams in the MLB, NBA, NASCAR, Major League Soccer and the NCAA," according to the Hill.

Here's the full list of NFL teams that received DOD money, via NJ.com:

Cheater Punished

| Mon May 11, 2015 5:53 PM EDT

Don't do the crime if you can't...well, maybe just don't do the crime?

The NFL has suspended New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady four games for his role in deflating football for the AFC Championship Game, the league said in a statement Monday.

The Patriots will also lose a first-round pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2017 and have been fined $1 million.

(via ESPN)

Watch John Oliver Celebrate Mother's Day by Slamming the Hypocrisy of No Paid Maternity Leave

| Mon May 11, 2015 8:52 AM EDT

The United States is one of only two countries in the world that fails to offer mothers paid maternity leave—a shameful distinction we share with Papua New Guinea. As families gathered to celebrate Mother's Day yesterday, John Oliver took to Last Week Tonight to address the issue and show why current federal law allowing just 12 weeks of leave, all of which is unpaid and extremely limited, forces countless new mothers back to work or in jeopardy of losing their jobs.

"This is not how its supposed to work," Oliver said. "Mothers shouldn't have to stitch together time to recover from childbirth the same way that we plan a four-day weekend in Atlantic City."

Much of this problem is two-fold, Oliver explains, with companies refusing to offer paid leave packages and fearmongering lawmakers claiming any federal mandates to do so would only hurt businesses.

"You can't go on and on about how much you love moms but fail to pass legislation that makes life easier for them."

Watch the full report below:

 

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Shelby Lynne's Down-Home Country Music Is the Real Deal

| Mon May 11, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Shelby Lynne
I Can't Imagine
Rounder

Shelby Lynne shouldn't be hurried. Her earthy voice works best at a leisurely pace, indicating hard-won lessons of a world-weary heart as well as pleasures of the moment worth savoring. (Not surprisingly, one of her new songs bears the Zen-like title "Be in the Now.") The thoroughly satisfying I Can't Imagine features Lynne's usual brew of down-home country, unadorned R&B, plainspoken folk, and passionate gospel, but what it really sounds like is her own unique self. Like the great Tony Joe White (Lynne's spiritual kin), she's created a fresh and distinctive language out of these familiar sources, spinning tales of longing and fulfillment that never feel less than genuine.

Best Coast's "California Nights" Is an Enticing Combination of Angst and Beat

| Mon May 11, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Best Coast
California Nights
Harvest

Bethany Cosentino, the singer-songwriter half of Best Coast—multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno is her longtime collaborator—excels at existential distress encased in a bright candy shell. California Nights, the duo's fine third album, is a delicious brew of big pop melodies, yearning vocals that wouldn't be out of place in an old-fashioned girl group, and densely textured wall-of-sound production. While Cosentino's lyrics are often disarmingly simple and direct, along the lines of "I love you" and "I miss you," collectively they can hint at deranged obsession, as if a crazed romantic poet had picked up an electric guitar and started a band. Having once sung "Who Have I Become?" she continues her soul-searching ways here on the soaring "So Unaware," asking, "What is life/What is love/What's the meaning of it all?/Do I even care?/Or is it just that I am so unaware?" Add equally restless tunes like "When Will I Change?" and "Sleep Won't Ever Come," and you've got the most enticing combination of angst and beat to be found anywhere.

These Were the Most Popular Baby Names of 2014

| Fri May 8, 2015 3:42 PM EDT

Have you given birth to a human in the last year? If so, you very well may have bestowed onto said baby human one of the following monikers. According to the Social Security Administration, the agency tasked to tracked such data, these were the most popular baby names of 2014:

Social Security Matters

Judging by the list of popular girl names, it's apparent the allure of the Victorian-era is all the rage. Emma, Olivia, Abigail, Emily, Charlotte—Downton USA has basically written itself into production! But the list of popular boy names doesn't appear to fit into such period-defining molds. Can someone please explain this to me? I'm childless and lost.

This Is the Degrading Bullshit Nail Salon Workers Put Up With Every Single Day

| Thu May 7, 2015 3:29 PM EDT

Update, May 11, 2015: Following the Times investigation, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an emergency order to protect nail salon employees from health dangers and wage theft. 

Scoring a cheap manicure or pedicure, particularly in New York, is incredibly easy. After all, nail salons abound on seemingly every other city block and thus keep prices low in order to compete. It all comes at a steep price, however. The New York Times has published an in-depth investigation looking into the disturbing culture of exploitation, racism, and low-wages salon workers endure throughout the New York region. Here are the most shocking bits:

Some workers are paid as little as $1.50 an hour. In Manhattan, where the average price for a manicure is $10.50, salons compensate for such low prices by severely underpaying workers and oftentimes hitting employees with surprise charges just to work there. On slow days, some worker aren't even paid at all.

Among the hidden customs are how new manicurists get started. Most must hand over cash — usually $100 to $200, but sometimes much more — as a training fee. Weeks or months of work in a kind of unpaid apprenticeship follows.

Ms. Ren spent almost three months painting on pedicures and slathering feet with paraffin wax before one afternoon in the late summer when her boss drew her into a waxing room and told her she would finally be paid.

Race often determines how well a worker is paid.

Korean workers routinely earn twice as much as their peers, valued above others by the Korean owners who dominate the industry and who are often shockingly plain-spoken in their disparagement of workers of other backgrounds. Chinese workers occupy the next rung in the hierarchy; Hispanics and other non-Asians are at the bottom.

[...]

Many Korean owners are frank about their prejudices. "Spanish employees" are not as smart as Koreans, or as sanitary, said Mal Sung Noh, 68, who is known as Mary, at the front desk of Rose Nails, a salon she owns on the Upper East Side.

Workers are frequently subjected to physical abuse.

...the minichain of Long Island salons whose workers said they were not only underpaid but also kicked as they sat on pedicure stools, and verbally abused.

Salons rarely go punished because language barriers prove too difficult.

When investigators try to interview them, manicurists are frequently reluctant to cooperate, more so than in any other industry, according a Labor Department official involved who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not permitted to talk with reporters. "It’s really the only industry we see that in,” the person said, explaining that it most likely indicated just how widespread exploitation is in nail salons. "They are totally running scared in this industry."

In all, the story paints a deeply disturbing portrait of income inequality literally an arm's length away. To read the investigation in its entirety, head to the Times.