Category Archives: Stout

911 Is Practically Useless for Millions of People. Here’s Why.

Mother Jones

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When Julian Singleton called 911 about two years ago, it didn’t go well. It was the middle of the night and his 83-year-old wife, Bernice, had fallen and lay unconscious on the kitchen floor. The retired graphics art instructor wanted to call 911, but because Julian has been deaf his entire life, he knew that he first had to call a video relay service. Once connected, he would sign with an interpreter and the interpreter would then speak to the emergency call center in Maricopa County, Arizona. The responses then would be signed back to Singleton in a laborious process that could rob his wife of crucial minutes of care.

But Singleton still went through it. He had no other options. Once connected with 911, he remembers the operator peppering him with questions. “My wife is laying here on the floor,” he tells Mother Jones through an interpreter. “I can’t be answering these questions…So I gave up and hung up. I picked up my wife and took her to the hospital myself.”

Singleton is one of about 1 million people over the age of five who are functionally deaf. There are also 37.5 million adults who have some trouble hearing, according to the National Institutes of Health, and in the first nationally representative study, Johns Hopkins University estimates that 1 in 5 Americans who are at least 12 years old suffer from hearing loss so severe it could make communication difficult.

Those who cannot easily communicate over the phone—and this includes some people with autism, speech disabilities, cerebral palsy, and other conditions—face sometimes life-threatening barriers when trying to call emergency services at 911. The 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act guaranteed direct and equal access to emergency services, and a year later the Department of Justice established rules requiring call centers to be accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing. But this all occurred before cellphones became widely used and relies on an outdated technology known as TTY, or text telephone, in which two people who each have a keyboard communicate through phone lines.

“The old US Department of Justice regulations say all 911 centers must be accessible to use by TTY and voice-over,” Claude Stout, executive director of Telecommunications for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing, explains through an interpreter. “But the problem is, not many of us use TTYs anymore.”

That’s why disability rights lawyers have joined with deaf advocates in New York and Arizona—where Singleton is a plaintiff—to sue localities charging that emergency services are out of compliance with the ADA by not providing equal access to 911. In Arizona, two other residents and the National Association of the Deaf, a group that advocates on behalf of the deaf and hard of hearing, are suing the state, some cities, local governments, and government agencies. In New York, New York City is being sued as well as emergency service agencies in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island. Both lawsuits are calling on the courts to require call centers to adopt text-to-911 technologies. In a statement to Mother Jones, the National Association for the Deaf says it has “determined that litigation is necessary to effectuate a nationwide solution.”

Stout explains the failure to update the regulations from the early 1990s have left the deaf and those who cannot communicate easily over the phone dependent on others to access emergency care. He knows from personal experience. When Stout thought he was having a heart attack in 2011, he says he’s lucky he wasn’t alone. His colleagues in the office were around to drive him to the hospital.

Even though deaf people can reach emergency services through relay services, the many steps required in the process makes equal access impossible. “The average time is anywhere from three to eight minutes before we’re connected to the 911 center,” Richard Ray, an expert on the issue who works on improving accessibility and ADA compliance for the city of Los Angeles, explains through an interpreter. “Each second counts in those emergency situations.” This wait time is far from “functionally equivalent” to that of a hearing person as required by the ADA, Ray notes. The national standard established by the National Emergency Number Association requires 90 percent of 911 calls to be picked up within 10 seconds.

This isn’t a new problem, but disability advocates argue there is a simple solution: 911 call centers should be able to transmit and receive texts. “Texting to 911 should have been set up yesterday,” Ray explains. “We’re not in a situation where we can wait any longer.” Additionally, texting would provide another option for everyone to reach emergency services when calling might be unsafe, like during an ongoing break in.

One problem with adopting text-to-911 technology is structural. According to Kevin Murray, CEO of Mission Critical Partners, a public safety consulting company, and the former chair of the Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies, every new technology requires a workaround because the infrastructure at emergency call centers was developed in the 1970s and 1980s. While text-to911 can be added, it’s a complicated process. “Imagine you buy the latest 3-D TVs and LED TVs and you bought your home automation systems and you purchased all these advanced technologies,” Murray says, “but then you hooked them up to a pair of outside analogue antennas.” He notes that this is comparable to what is happening with 911 today because “there are no broadband connections that really tie these systems together.”

Call centers are regulated and funded differently depending on the state and jurisdiction, which means access to 911 depends a lot on where one lives. In some states, text-to-911 is available everywhere, but in other states it doesn’t exist at all or access can vary from county to county. Out of the nearly 6,000 call centers nationwide, fewer than 1,000 accept text messages. To ensure universal access, the federal government would have to start enforcing the ADA. Murray says the industry is out of compliance with the law and the current state of access is “an embarrassment to the industry and to the US as a whole.”

Some call centers are using workarounds to integrate text-to-911 into the outdated infrastructure, but there’s also another option: Next Generation 911, a new system that allows people to communicate with 911 digitally. Eventually the technology will allow people to send images to or even video-call emergency services. Some places, such as Vermont, have upgraded already, and public safety leaders are pushing for Next Generation 911 to be available throughout the country by 2020, but Murray says there’s no federal commitment or funding to implement the service and meet that deadline. Even without it, the jurisdictions that have adopted Next Gen have call centers that are funded locally.

Back in 2010, the Department of Justice announced plans to propose new rules to make emergency services accessible with modern technology and accepted comments on the matter for about six months. Disability advocates are hopeful the new administration will continue to move forward with the process and update the rules later this year, as previously scheduled by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice under the Obama administration. The division declined a request for comment from Mother Jones about next steps.

Real change may be forced by the courts. Both of the lawsuits seeking equal access to 911 are in their early stages, but Vargas, an attorney for the plaintiffs in Arizona, doesn’t believe arguments against the lawsuit will hold up. The judge has denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit, in which they argued call centers already provide adequate access and follow federal guidelines. “If I were a 911 provider that was not providing text-to-911 access, I would be calling a meeting tomorrow to make it happen because this is not a negotiable issue,” she says. “You cannot choose not to provide 911 access to people because of disability. It’s simply the most profound kind of discrimination.”

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911 Is Practically Useless for Millions of People. Here’s Why.

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Where DC Lobbyists Love to See and Be Seen

Mother Jones

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This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

Although it’s difficult to remember those days eight years ago when Democrats seemed to represent something idealistic and hopeful and brave, let’s take a moment and try to recall the stand Barack Obama once took against lobbyists. Those were the days when the nation was learning that George W. Bush’s Washington was, essentially, just a big playground for those lobbyists and that every government operation had been opened to the power of money. Righteous disgust filled the air. “Special interests” were much denounced. And a certain inspiring senator from Illinois promised that, should he be elected president, his administration would contain no lobbyists at all. The revolving door between government and K Street, he assured us, would turn no more.

Instead, the nation got a lesson in all the other ways that “special interests” can get what they want—like simple class solidarity between the Ivy Leaguers who advise the president and the Ivy Leaguers who sell derivative securities to unsuspecting foreigners. As that inspiring young president filled his administration with Wall Street personnel, we learned that the revolving door still works, even if the people passing through it aren’t registered lobbyists.

But whatever became of lobbying itself, which once seemed to exemplify everything wrong with Washington, DC? Perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn that lobbying remains one of the nation’s persistently prosperous industries, and that, since 2011, it has been the focus of Influence, one of the daily email newsletters published by Politico, that great chronicler of the Obama years. Influence was to be, as its very first edition declared, “the must-read crib sheet for Washington’s influence class,” with news of developments on K Street done up in tones of sycophantic smugness. For my money, it is one of the quintessential journalistic artifacts of our time: the constantly unfolding tale of power-for-hire, told always with a discreet sympathy for the man on top.

It is true that Americans are more cynical about Washington than ever. To gripe that “the system is rigged” is to utter the catchphrase of the year. But to read Influence every afternoon is to understand how little difference such attitudes make here in the nation’s capital. With each installment, the reader encounters a cast of contented and well-groomed knowledge workers, the sort of people for whom there are never enough suburban mansions or craft cocktails. One imagines them living together in a happy community of favors-for-hire where everyone knows everyone else, the restaurant greeters smile, the senators lie down with the contractors, and the sun shines brilliantly every day. This community’s labors in the influence trade have made the economy of the Washington metro area the envy of the world.

The newsletter describes every squeaking turn of the revolving door with a certain admiration. Influence is where you can read about all the smart former assistants to prominent members of Congress and the new K Street jobs they’ve landed. There are short but meaningful hiring notices—like the recent one announcing that the blue-ribbon lobby firm K&L Gates has snagged its fourth former congressional “member.” There are accounts of prizes that lobbyists give to one another and of rooftop parties for clients and ritual roll calls of Ivy League degrees to be acknowledged and respected. And wherever you look at Influence, it seems like people associated with this or that Podesta can be found registering new clients, holding fundraisers, and “bundling” cash for Hillary Clinton.

As with other entries in the Politico family of tip sheets, Influence is itself sponsored from time to time—for one exciting week last month by the Federation of American Hospitals, which announced to the newsletter’s readers that, for the last 50 years, the FAH “has had a seat at the table.” Appropriately enough for a publication whose beat is venality, Influence also took care to report on the FAH’s 50th-anniversary party, thrown in an important room in the Capitol building, and carefully listed the many similarly important people who attended: the important lobbyists, the important members of Congress, and Nancy-Ann DeParle, the Obama administration’s important former health care czar and one of this city’s all-time revolving-door champions.

Describing parties like this is a standard theme in Influence, since the influence trade is by nature a happy one, a flattering one, a business eager to serve you up a bracing Negroni and encourage you to gorge yourself on fancy hors d’oeuvres. And so the newsletter tells us about the city’s many sponsored revelries—who gives them, who attends them, the establishment where the transaction takes place, and whose legislative agenda is advanced by the resulting exchange of booze and bonhomie.

The regular reader of Influence knows, for example, about the big reception scheduled to be hosted by Squire Patton Boggs, one of the most storied names in the influence-for-hire trade, at a certain office in Cleveland during the Republican Convention…about how current and former personnel of the Department of Homeland Security recently enjoyed a gathering thrown for them by a prestigious law firm…about a group called “PAC Pals” and the long list of staffers and lobbying types who attended their recent revelry…about how the Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the gang got together at a much-talked-about bar to sip artisanal cocktails.

There’s a poignant note to the story of former Congressional representative Melissa Bean—once the toast of New Democrats everywhere, now the “Midwest chair of JPMorgan”—who recently returned to DC to get together with her old staff. They had also moved on to boldface jobs in lobbying, television, and elsewhere. And there’s a note of the fabulous to the story of the Democratic member who has announced plans to throw a fundraiser at a Beyoncé concert. (“A pair of tickets go for $3,500 for PACs,” Influence notes.)

Bittersweet is the flavor of the recent story about the closing of Johnny’s Half Shell, a Capitol Hill restaurant renowned for the countless fundraisers it has hosted over the years. On hearing the news of the restaurant’s imminent demise, Influence gave over its pixels to tales from Johnny’s glory days. One reader fondly recounted a tale in which Occupy protesters supposedly interrupted a Johnny’s fundraiser being enjoyed by Sen. Lindsey Graham and a bunch of defense contractors. In classic DC-style, the story was meant to underscore the stouthearted stoicism of the men of power who reportedly did not flinch at the menacing antics of the lowly ones.

Influence is typically written in an abbreviated, matter-of-fact style, but its brief items speak volumes about the realities of American politics. There is, for example, little here about the high-profile battle over how transgender Americans are to be granted access to public restrooms. However, the adventures of dark money in our capital are breathlessly recounted, as the eternal drama of plutocracy plays itself out and mysterious moneymen try to pass their desires off as bona fide democratic demands.

“A group claiming to lobby on behalf of ordinary citizens against large insurance companies is in fact orchestrated by the hospital industry itself,” begins a typical item. The regular reader also knows about the many hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by unknown parties to stop Puerto Rican debt relief and about the mysterious group that has blown vast sums to assail the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but whose protesters, when questioned outside a CFPB hearing, reportedly admitted that they were “day laborers paid to be there.”

You will have noticed, reader, the curiously bipartisan nature of the items mentioned here. But it really shouldn’t surprise you. After all, for this part of Washington, the only real ideology around is based on money—how much and how quickly you get paid.

Money is divine in this industry, and perhaps that is why Influence is fascinated with libertarianism, a fringe free-market faith that (thanks to its popularity among America’s hard-working billionaires) is massively overrepresented in Washington. Readers of Influence know about the Competitive Enterprise Institute and its “Night in Casablanca” party, about the R Street Institute’s “Alice in Wonderland” party, about how former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli came to sign up with FreedomWorks, and how certain libertarians have flown from their former perches in the vast, subsidized free-market coop to the fashionable new Niskanen Center.

There are also plenty of small-bore lobbying embarrassments to report on, as when a currently serving congressional representative sent a mean note to a former senator who is now an official at the American Motorcyclist Association. Or that time two expert witnesses gave “nearly identical written statements” when testifying on Capitol Hill. Oops!

But what most impresses the regular reader of Influence is the brazenness of it all. To say that the people described here appear to feel no shame in the contracting-out of the democratic process is to miss the point. Their doings are a matter of pride, with all the important names gathering at some overpriced eatery to toast one another and get their picture taken and advance some initiative that will always, of course, turn out to be good for money and terrible for everyone else.

This is not an industry, Influence‘s upbeat and name-dropping style suggests. It is a community—a community of corruption, perhaps, but a community nevertheless: happy, prosperous, and joyously oblivious to the plight of the country once known as the land of the middle class.

Thomas Frank is the author of Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? To receive the latest from, sign up here.

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Where DC Lobbyists Love to See and Be Seen

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Draft Registration Has Hurt American Men for Decades. Now It May Hurt Women, Too.

Mother Jones

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Every month, on the sixth floor of an office building in Arlington, Virginia, the employees of a mostly forgotten government agency practice sending you to war.

They gather in a windowless white-and-turquoise conference room for what feels like the world’s saddest, most ominous Pick 6 drawing. At the far end, ping-pong balls are racked up inside a pair of plastic drums, big, clear hexagons that sit on pedestals above industrial gray carpeting. One holds 366 balls, each blue and labeled with a different day of the year, including leap day. The white balls in the other drum are numbered 1 to 366. The lower the number, the likelier a young man will be told to pick up a rifle.

The workers drop the balls out of their racks and send them bouncing around the drums, lottery-style. After a minute, a woman plucks one out and reads off the date: September 1. Another worker double-checks and barks out the date a second time, over the whir of the drum fans. Off to the side, a TV screen keeps track of the drawing results, a Microsoft Office version of the NFL’s fancy draft ticker. Then two other employees repeat the process with a numbered ball. They pull 235; September 1 babies are probably safe.

This is all a dry run. An actual military draft would be broadcast live across the country, watched by the same mix of young men, frantic parents, and rubberneckers who tuned in to witness the lotteries held during the Vietnam War. The real thing hasn’t been held in more than 40 years, and virtually no one believes it will ever be held again. That hasn’t stopped the government from continuing to fund the 124-person Selective Service System to the tune of $23 million a year, saying the independent agency—whose sole function is to administer the draft—is needed in case we ever face another large-scale war. “We’re a very inexpensive insurance policy,” says Lawrence Romo, a stout 59-year-old former Air Force officer who’s now the agency’s director. Every American man between 18 and 25 still has to register for the draft or face the consequences.

Now women, finally allowed into front-line combat positions this year, may have to join them.

Failure to register is a felony. It can theoretically land you in prison for five years or cost you a $250,000 fine. Selective Service still sends lists of nonregistrants to the Department of Justice in case the government feels like prosecuting anyone. Prosecutions don’t occur during peacetime, Romo assures me, but “severe consequences” still lurk. Men who don’t register before age 26 can’t hold most federal jobs or get federal government student loans. Many immigrants who arrive in the United States before they turn 26 can’t become citizens if they don’t register. A majority of states even make registration a requirement to get a driver’s license. And once you’ve missed the deadline, there’s no going back. (In 2014, 12 percent of men ages 18 to 25 failed to register.)

No agency tracks how many people are cut off from college loans and other federal programs each year, but the potential scope is huge. Last year, just over 58,000 young men asked Selective Service for a “status information letter” that tells them whether they’re registered or if they’re exempt from registering. (The agency doesn’t track its answers.) Such letters are often requested when students are trying to figure out if they’re eligible to apply for federal loans, appeal aid denial, or seek federal government jobs.

Karen McCarthy, a senior policy analyst at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, calls linking federal loans to the draft a “whim of Congress to incorporate some kind of social agenda into the financial-aid eligibility process.” The federal student aid application, she points out, asks applicants only two specific questions about potential crimes: Did you register for Selective Service, and have you ever had a drug conviction? “We would love to see the Selective Service question removed entirely” from financial aid applications, she says.

But now the pool of registrants may be about to double. The Pentagon opened all of the military’s combat jobs to women in January, and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called on Congress to reexamine draft laws. House and Senate lawmakers have done so—and they have apparently decided it’s time for women to sign up for the draft as well. (Romo estimates that expanding his agency to register women will cost another $8 million a year and require 36 more employees.) First two Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee, both opposed to women in combat, pushed an amendment to the 2017 defense spending bill that required women to register, intending it as a “gotcha amendment” to prove that Democrats weren’t serious about allowing women to take combat jobs. The effort backfired when the measure passed their committee. And while the full House removed that language from its defense bill, the Senate this week passed its own version that requires women to start registering with Selective Service beginning in 2018.

The House and Senate now have to come up with a compromise version of the defense bill, and President Barack Obama has threatened to veto it because of a provision that bans closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Drafting women doesn’t sit well with opponents of Selective Service, including Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who has repeatedly introduced bills to kill the draft altogether during peacetime. He argues that the current system has “outmoded computers” and “inaccurate lists” and wouldn’t be effective even if needed. “I am not about to revise the Selective Service and say we should now take the other half of young people in America and subject them to the same stupid, unnecessary, mean-spirited, wasteful bureaucracy,” he says of including women.

The United States first conscripted soldiers during the Civil War and did so again for World Wars I and II. All three times, the draft went away when the wars ended. It wasn’t until the Cold War that the draft became a peacetime fixture. It remained in effect until the US military became an all-volunteer force in 1973. Only in 1980 did registration return, and the impetus was geopolitical brinksmanship. “President Carter decided that, given the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, we wanted to show our resolve—and that we would do that by registering,” says Bernard Rostker, then the head of the Selective Service agency and now a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation.

Despite once overseeing the process, Rostker argues that registration has always been pointless. Young men are required to keep Selective Service apprised of address changes, but few do. In 1982, just two years after draft registration had resumed, the US General Accounting Office (now called the Government Accountability Office) found that 20 to 40 percent of the addresses for 20-year-olds were outdated. The GAO pegged the number at 75 percent for 26-year-olds. In the event of an emergency call-up, Rostker says, a huge chunk of records would be useless.

Then there’s the question of whether draftees would even be helpful to the military. “The fact of the matter is we have a high-tech military,” Rostker says. “I don’t see us needing 600,000 untrained people. I don’t have any idea what the hell we would do with them.”

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Draft Registration Has Hurt American Men for Decades. Now It May Hurt Women, Too.

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13 Cartoon Portraits of Legendary Blues Artists

Mother Jones

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Before I read the author’s note, there was something that confused me about William Stout’s great new book, Legends of the Blues, due out May 7 from Abrams ComicArts (with an intro by music journalist Ed Leimbacher). Where were Memphis Minnie, Mississippi John Hurt, and Reverend Gary Davis, three of my personal faves? How could he overlook them? Also, why did the artwork feel so familiar, yet so different from other stuff I’d seen from Stout—an acclaimed comics, fantasy, and pop-culture artist and illustrator whose work you’ve undoubtedly seen. And then it hit me: Robert Crumb! This, as it turned out, was the answer to both questions.

Way back when, cartoonist Crumb, a blues and old-time music freak who has drawn his share of artists and album art (you can view some of them here along with our Crumb interview), created a series of 36 Heroes of the Blues trading cards. They included, among others, Memphis Minnie and John Hurt; Stout, an avid blues fan, had loved Crumb’s cards and didn’t want to replicate them. But the others were fair game. Rhino Records founder Richard Foos, a friend of Stout’s, ended up licensing Crumb’s portraits for a series of greatest hits CDs for Shout! Factory. And since Crumb had moved on to other stuff, Foos approached Stout to produce some additional ones in a style similar to Crumb’s.

That’s how it started. But after his assignment was complete, Stout kept it up. He was hooked. While recovering from cancer treatments, he cranked them out, imagining that he would produce a bunch of new trading-card sets. In the end, Denis Kitchen, another friend (and the guy who commissioned Crumb’s original cards) suggested that Stout make them into a book instead.

Legends… profiles a whopping 100 blues artists—many of them you’ll recognize and many you won’t. It’s a must for blues fans or even dabblers—although Stout cautions that purists might be upset by his inclusion of crossover artists. Hey, whatever. The format is simple: Each spread contains the artist’s vital stats; recommended tracks; notable tributes and covers by other artists; and a short, punchy mini-profile of each one. The book comes with a 14-track CD compilation, with some nice gritty old tunes from the likes of Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, and Rev. Robert Wilkins—I’m listening to it right now!

But the real treat is Stout’s Crumby (sorry) portraits. Colorful, evocative, playful, they pay homage both to the original cards and to the great musicians Stout came to admire. There’s the badass blues guitarist Robert Johnson, said to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his chops. Champion Jack Dupree, who made the unlikely leap from pro boxer to pro musician. The highly talented yet modest sideman Papa Charlie McCoy. And Lucille Bogan, notorious for her raunchy lyrics. The Crumb effect runs especially strong with certain portraits—for instance, Slim Harpo, whose tunes were covered by a who’s who of 1960s rock icons. Here’s the Stones doing Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips” way back when.

So, okay, I missed those few musicians, but I also learned about plenty of folks I’d never heard of—including a good number of blueswomen. And the poor chap had to crank out 100 portraits. You could hardly ask him to do more. Except that he did so anyway. By the end of Stout’s drawing marathon, he had produced 150 portraits, so maybe a sequel is in the cards. Talk about collecting ’em all!

The book’s cover features a young Muddy Waters, a.k.a. McKinley Morganfield (April 4, 1913-April 30, 1983). Instruments: guitar, vocals. A spiritual protégé of Son House and Robert Johnson, the prolific Morganfield got his nickname because he loved playing in the mud as a kid. Recommended tracks: “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” “Rollin’ Stone,” “Mannish Boy,” “She Moves Me,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” ” I Just Want to Make Love to You,” “I’m Ready,” “Got My Mojo Working,” “You Shook Me.”

Lead Belly, a.k.a. Huddie Ledbetter (January 1888-December 6, 1949). Instruments: accordion, fiddle, 12-string guitar, mandolin, piano, violin, vocals. Ledbetter, who served several stints in prison, once received a pardon after writing a song appealing to the governor. Recommended tracks: “Black Betty,” “Gallis Pole,” “Boll Weevil,” “New Orleans (Rising Sun Blues),” “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?,” “The Bourgeois Blues.”

Big Maybelle, a.k.a. Maybelle Louise Smith (May 1, 1924-January 23, 1972). Instruments: piano, vocals. Won a Memphis talent contest at age eight, and went on to record several Billboard hits. Recommended tracks: “Gabbin’ Blues,” “Way Back Home,” “My Country Man,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “St. Louis Blues,” “Blues Early Early.”

Blind Boy Fuller, a.k.a. Fulton Allen (July 10, 1907-February 13, 1941). Instruments: guitar, vocals. Began losing his sight during his mid-teens from ulcers due either due to snowblindness or to chemicals thrown in his face by an ex-girlfriend. Recommended tracks: “Rag, Mama, Rag,” “Truckin’ My Blues Away,” “Get Your Yas Yas Out,” “Step It Up and Go,” “Mamie,” “Rattlesnakin’ Daddy.”

Lucille Bogan, a.k.a. Lucille Anderson and Bessie Jackson (April 1, 1897-August 10, 1948). Instruments: accordion, vocals. Known for her bawdy lyrics about booze and sex. Recommended tracks: “Shave Em’ Dry” (explicit version), “B.D. Woman’s Blues” (B.D. stands for “bull dyke”), “Seaboard Blues,” “Troubled Mind,” “Superstitious Blues,” “Black Angel Blues.”

Slim Harpo, a.k.a. James Moore (January 11, 1924-January 31, 1970). Instruments: harmonica, vocals. Music was always a side job for Slim, whose tunes were nonetheless covered by, among others, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and the Yardbirds. Recommended tracks: “I’m a King Bee,” “I Got Love If You Want It,” “Rainin’ in My Heart,” “Baby Scratch My Back,” “Shake Your Hips.”

Robert Johnson, a.k.a. Robert Leroy Dodds (May 8, 1911-August 16, 1938). Instruments: guitar, vocals. Johnson was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil for tuning his guitar just so. The influential blues master has been covered by the likes of Cream, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones. Recommended tracks: “Crossroads Blues,” “Love in Vain,” “Have You Ever Been Lonely,” “Hellhound on My Trail,” “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues,” “From Four Until Late,” “Traveling Riverside Blues,” “Come On in My Kitchen.”

Mississippi Fred McDowell (January 12, 1904-July 3, 1972). Instruments: guitar, vocals. McDowell, who was actually born in Tennessee, divided his time between farming and music until he was “discovered” by folklorist Alan Lomax. Recommended tracks: “You Gottta Move,” “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “Good Morning Little School Girl,” “Jesus Is on the Mainline.”

Victoria Spivey (October 15, 1906-October 3, 1976). Instruments: organ, piano, ukulele, vocals. Spivey’s lyrics were sexually provocative and drug related; she retired from the music biz in 1951 to sing and play in church before returning to the stage in the 1960s, when she founded her own label, Spivey Records. Recommended tracks: “Dope Head Blues,” “TB Blues,” “Black Snake Blues.”

Clarence “Pine Top” Smith (June 11, 1904-March 15, 1929). Instruments: piano, vocals. Smith’s promising career ended abruptly when he was shot and killed during a dance hall ruckus. No photos of him exist, hence the shadowy face. Recommended track: “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie.”

Big Joe Turner, a.k.a. Joseph Vernon Turner Jr. (May 18, 1911-November 24 1985). Instrument: vocals. Turner’s voice was so big he could rock a gin joint without a mic. He became a hit machine during the early ’50s with several No. 1 hits. Recommended tracks: “Roll ‘Em, Pete,” “Honey Hush,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Flip Flop and Fly,” “Cherry Red,” “Wee Baby Blues,” “Midnight Special.”

Ethel Waters (October 31, 1896-September 1, 1977). Instrument: vocals. A sought-after vaudeville performer and nightclub singer who then scored on Broadway and in Hollywood, Waters became the second-ever black actor to be nominated for an Oscar. Recommended tracks: “Heebie Jeebies,” “Am I Blue?,” “Down Home Blues,” “Shake That Thing,” “Maybe Not at All,” “Black Spatch Blues,” “Midnight Blues,” “Jazzin’ Baby Blues.”

Reverend Robert Wilkins (January 16, 1896-May 26, 1987). Instrument: guitar, vocals. In 1935, deeply upset by violence at a party he was playing, Wilkins quit secular music to become a minister and an herbalist. Recommended tracks: “That’s No Way to Get Along,” “Rolling Stone.”

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13 Cartoon Portraits of Legendary Blues Artists

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This Genius Babysitter Created a Simple Game That Will Make Every Kid a Feminist

Mother Jones

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My friend Emily Stout is an actress in New York who baby-sits on the side. She created a game to play with little Sal, age 9, and it is so great that I have to share it with you. (Also what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t use it to point to your friends when they do something cool?)

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New favorite babysitting game:Every historical woman you can name earns you 10 seconds of Candy Crush. Each round…

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(if you can’t read that post, here’s what it says:)

New favorite babysitting game:

Every historical woman you can name earns you 10 seconds of Candy Crush. Each round lasts one minute.

Round 1 with Sal Liebman, age 9:

Sal: “Ummmm…..okay okay.

1) Harriet Tubman who invented an underground tunnel to free slaves, okay

2) Amelia Earhart, first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic Ocean, ummmm

3) Ann something, Ann something, Annie Mary? The first woman on Ellis island!

4) okay okay, umm, her name is Melba I think? Melba and she was the first African American trombone player in a symphony, like a real symphony, uhhhh

5) ugh this is hard, this is hard, can I do someone I know? Okay, my mom, one of the scientists at Columbia who watches yeast in the nighttime and the daytime…. Does that count?”

Me: “Is she a smart woman changing history?”

Sal: “Yeah…?”

Me: “Yeah, it counts.”

Sal: “Okay, one more and I get a full minute. Ahhh!! This is so hard! It’s hard cause I can only think of men right now!”

Me: “….whose problem is that?”

Sal: “Please can I have a whole minute?? Please?!”

Me: “No way if you can’t name me another lady! There are hundreds!”

Sal: “Uh, uh, okay, um, UM, Emily Stout, the best babysitter in the whole world with the silliest laugh and nicest person with so many fun things and games?!?”

Me: “…………………alright, yeah you got it.”

As one of the commenters put it on her post, “you’re doing the lord’s work.” Amen.

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This Genius Babysitter Created a Simple Game That Will Make Every Kid a Feminist

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Before Taylor Swift and Shania Twain, There Were Sara and Maybelle Carter

Mother Jones

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The original Carter Family trio. Courtesty Argot Films

How big a deal was the Carter Family? Well, even if you’re just a casual music fan, you’ve heard (and sung) some of their staples, songs such as “Can the Circle be Unbroken,” “Keep on the Sunny Side,” and “Wabash Cannonball.” And if you sing a snippet from the Carter’s “Will You Miss Me Me When I’m Gone,” your teenagers may well start singing along—they’ll know it from the Pitch Perfect movies, although the “Cups” version actually originated with the obscure British group Lulu and the Lampshades.

But this barely scratches the surface, as we learn in The Winding Stream: The Carters, the Cashes, and the Course of Country Music. Directed by Beth Harrington—whose last doc, Welcome to the Club: The Women of Rockabilly, was nominated for a Grammy—the Carter film explores the hardscrabble origins and enduring legacy of America’s original supergroup.

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Before Taylor Swift and Shania Twain, There Were Sara and Maybelle Carter

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Police Say the Biggest Pot Raid in Years Wasn’t Really About Pot

Mother Jones

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There were helicopters, SWAT teams, and nearly 100,000 marijuana plants yanked out of the ground, but last week’s massive raid in Northern California’s rugged Emerald Triangle was not your father’s pot bust. Carried out by county law enforcement with no help from the DEA, it targeted private landowners—and not just because they were growing pot, police say, but because they were illegally sucking some 500,000 gallons of water a day from a section of the nearby Eel river that is now stagnant and moss-ridden.

In short, the cops say this was as much a water raid as a pot raid. One certainly could imagine, in this era of evolving attitudes toward marijuana, a shift in enforcement focus toward environmentally problematic grows on steep wooded hillsides or above sensitive salmon streams in an increasingly dry climate. These are not isolated issues: Among the growers targeted in last week’s raid, according to the Lost Coast Outpost, were members of California Cannabis Voice Humboldt, a group working to bring growers into compliance with state and federal environmental laws.

A leading advocate for Northern California pot growers scoffs at the notion that the raid was environmentally motivated. “This isn’t about the environment; this is about business as usual,” says Hezekiah Allen, director of the Emerald Growers Association. Allen challenges the authorities’ water use estimates, pointing out that the extensive reservoirs discovered at the grow sites could be eco-friendly ways of storing winter runoff for use during the summer growing season. He also questions the value of criminal raids at a time when the California Water Board is drafting a system of water-use permits and civil fines for pot farmers.

“There are 2,200 un-permitted water diversions for wine grapes in the Central Valley,” he points out, citing a state report, “so I am curious when we are going to see the sheriff show up and chop down un-permitted vines. If we are agnostic about what the crop is, the same crime should lead to the same activity. That is all we are asking, just to be treated like any other crop.”

Yet if state and local officials are to be believed (they did not respond to requests for comment), the raid suggests that even the most eco-conscious Emerald Triangle growers could face a reckoning once California (probably inevitably) legalizes cannabis and starts subjecting pot farms to agricultural inspections. Even with the the best land-use practices, many Emerald Triangle farms likely draw too much water from sensitive mountain streams and headwaters. Growers may find that it’s cheaper and more eco-friendly to relocate to the Central Valley.

Or why stop there? Cannabis, indigenous to moist river valleys in Central and South Asia, uses about six gallons per day per plant. That’s more than many other thirsty crops, such as cotton, which uses 10 gallons per plant for the entire growing season. Which suggests that cannabis should be grown somewhere wet—somewhere other than California.

Allen doesn’t see that happening. He argues that cannabis farming in the Emerald Triangle can be sustainable when farmers cultivate drought-tolerant Kush varieties from Afghanistan, and irrigate entirely with rainwater stored in tanks onsite. After all, no crop offers a greater financial yield per gallon of water. “If we step back and take a look at this industry and the jobs that it creates, California cannot afford not to grow cannabis in the 21st century,” he says. “It’s one of the most adaptable, resource-efficient ways of generating revenue on small farms.”

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Police Say the Biggest Pot Raid in Years Wasn’t Really About Pot

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Bees are addicted to pesticide-laden junk food, too

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Bees are addicted to pesticide-laden junk food, too

By on 27 Apr 2015 3:20 pmcommentsShare

We don’t always do what’s good for us, especially when it comes to food. That kale smoothie? Not really feeling it, thanks — but that trough of french fries? Maybe I’ll just have one.

Like us, bees have trouble making the healthiest choices, according to a new study, published in Nature. In fact, they may prefer food that is laced with common agricultural pesticides: When choosing between two samples of sugar syrup in this experiment, both honeybees and bumblebees showed a preference for the neonicotinoid-laced sample. Here’s more from Science Daily:

“Neonicotinoids target the same mechanisms in the bee brain that are affected by nicotine in the human brain,” [said Geraldine Wright, lead scientist on the study]. The fact that bees show a preference for food containing neonicotinoids is concerning as it suggests that like nicotine, neonicotinoids may act like a drug to make foods containing these substances more rewarding. “If foraging bees prefer to collect nectar containing neonicotinoids, this could have a knock-on negative impact on whole colonies and on bee populations.”

Jane Stout, Professor of Botany and Principal Investigator in the School of Natural Sciences at Trinity College Dublin, said: “Our findings imply that even if alternative food sources are provided for bees in agricultural landscapes where neonicotinoid pesticides are used, the bees may prefer to forage on the neonicotinoid-contaminated crops. Since neonicotinoids can also end up in wild plants growing adjacent to crops, they could be much more prevalent in bees’ diets than previously thought.”

In short, bees cannot be trusted to control their own intake of unhealthy foods, even when there’s better fare available. Sound familiar?

Are bees ‘hooked’ on nectar containing pesticides?

, Science Daily.



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Bees are addicted to pesticide-laden junk food, too

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This New Country Blues Compilation Is the Best Kind of History Lesson

Mother Jones

Various Artists
The Rough Guide to Unsung Heroes of Country Blues
Rough Guide

There are any number of ways to approach this fine 24-track compilation of performances from the ’20s and ’30s. First, it’s an intriguing history lesson, showing how ragtime, jazz, folk, and other styles were blended to create the music that would ultimately become the blues. If that seems too much like eating your vegetables, instead consider it an exploration of the roots of more celebrated artists. The Lovin’ Spoonful covered Henry Thomas’ “Fishing Blues,” while Cream updated Blind Willie (Joe) Reynolds’ “Married Man Blues” and Muddy Waters turned Hambone Willie Newbern’s “Roll and Tumble Blues” into a landmark of the genre.

It’s easy to imagine the Stones cribbing from any of these songs. But the best way to appreciate The Rough Guide to Unsung Heroes of Country Blues is on a strictly musical level. There’s infinite variety and subtlety to be found in the artful singing and inventive acoustic guitar playing of the men—and a handful of women, including the elusive Geeshie Wiley—represented on this excellent set. Start with Lane Hardin’s spooky “California Desert Blues,” or practically any other song, and prepare to be hooked.

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This New Country Blues Compilation Is the Best Kind of History Lesson

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Why Is BP Funding America’s Most Notorious Climate Change Denier?

Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

One of America’s most powerful and outspoken opponents of climate change regulation received election campaign contributions that can be traced back to senior BP staff, including chief executive Bob Dudley.

Jim Inhofe, a Republican senator from Oklahoma who has tirelessly campaigned against calls for a carbon tax and challenges the overwhelming consensus on climate change, received $10,000 from BP’s Political Action Committee.

Following his re-election, Inhofe became chair of the Senate’s environment and public works committee in January, and then a month later was featured in news bulletins throwing a snowball across the Senate floor.

Before tossing it, the senator said: “In case we have forgotten—because we keep hearing that 2014 is the warmest year on record—it is very, very cold outside. Very unseasonal.”

The BP PAC is funded by contributions from senior US executives and company staffers who sent in contributions to the PAC totaling more than $1 million between 2010 and 2014. Over the same period the committee paid out $655,000 to candidates, with more than 40 incumbent senators benefiting.

Yet, BP and Dudley have long called for world leaders to intervene and impose tough regulatory measures on the fossil fuel industry. Publishing its 98-page research paper, Energy Outlook 2035, last month, BP warned: “To abate carbon emissions further will require additional significant steps by policymakers beyond the steps already assumed.”

Dudley has personally given $19,000 since June 2011 to the BP PAC—very close to the $5,000-a-year maximum allowable by law. Although Dudley is a resident of Britain, he is eligible to give via the BP PAC because he is a US national.

While the sums channeled to Inhofe’s campaign represent only a small proportion of the BP PAC’s election spending and the senator’s own campaign funds, they show how unafraid the committee has been to spread its donations to the most controversial candidates. According to the BP PAC website, it financially supports election candidates “whose views and/or voting records reflect the interests of BP employees.”

Records suggest Inhofe’s 2014 campaign was a funding priority for the BP PAC, ranking as one of the top recipients of committee funds when compared with disbursements to other serving senators.

This was despite Inhofe’s senate battle not being a close one. His opponent, Matt Silverstein, who Inhofe beat comfortably in last November’s midterms, had a tiny campaign war chest by comparison.

BP was asked whether it was appropriate for the PAC to make campaign contributions to such a vocal opponent of action on climate change, or for Dudley to be contributing towards such payments.

In a statement BP replied: “Voluntary donations by staff to the BP employees’ political action committee in the US are used to support a variety of candidates across the political spectrum and in many US geographies where we operate.”

“These candidates have one thing in common: They are important advocates for the energy industry in the broadest sense.”

It added: “BP’s position on climate change is well known and is long-established. We believe that climate change is an important long-term issue that justifies global action.”

The company declined to comment on Dudley’s own donations.

PACs exist in the US where companies and trade unions cannot give directly to the campaigns of those running for office. Instead funds are pooled from staff—often senior executives—into a PAC, and disbursed by a committee board, often in a manner sympathetic to the company’s lobby and other interests.

Other US oil industry leaders, including Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson, make contributions to their own corporate PACs—money which in many cases can then be traced to Inhofe and other climate-skeptic politicians.

But Tillerson and other peers have not been as outspoken as BP and Dudley in calling for state intervention to tackle climate change, making the BP boss’s links to Inhofe campaign finance more controversial.

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Why Is BP Funding America’s Most Notorious Climate Change Denier?

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