Charles Bradley On World Cafe

Charles Bradley.

Charles Bradley. John Vettese/WXPN hide caption

toggle caption John Vettese/WXPN

  • “The World (Is Going Up In Flames)”
  • “Changes”
  • “You Think I Don’t Know (But I Know)”
  • “Ain’t It A Sin”

Charles Bradley isn’t exactly reviving soul music — the rest of us are just catching up with how he has always sung. The soul singer, who’s originally from Brooklyn, saw James Brown on stage at the Apollo in 1962 and was transfixed. After years of make-ends-meet jobs across the country, Bradley moved back to New York and began professionally impersonating Brown under the name “Black Velvet.” That’s where Daptone Records co-founder Gabriel Roth discovered the singer, who put out his first album with Daptone in 2011 to much acclaim.

The soul on Bradley’s new album, Changes, is all his own. In this session, he tells his story and performs at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. Watch a live performance video of “Changes” below.


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Zimbabwe Pardons Thousands Of Prisoners Because Of Overcrowding, Food Shortages

In this 2014 photo, prisoners are closely guarded at Chikurubi Maximum Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe. According to state media, at least 200 male inmates were freed from this prison as a result of President Mugabe's pardons.

In this 2014 photo, prisoners are closely guarded at Chikurubi Maximum Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe. According to state media, at least 200 male inmates were freed from this prison as a result of President Mugabe’s pardons. Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP hide caption

toggle caption Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has pardoned thousands of inmates to make room in the country’s overcrowded, cash-strapped prisons.

The move is “set to decongest national prisons and promote better living conditions,” the state-run Herald reports. But as Reuters notes, this also comes as “prisons struggle to feed inmates due to lack of funding from the government.”

Mugabe’s pardons apply to at least 2,000 inmates, according to the Herald, including all juveniles “irrespective of the graveness of their crimes” and “all convicted female prisoners except those on death row or serving life sentences,” The newspaper adds that one women’s prison outside Harare is now “literally empty,” aside from two inmates serving life sentences.

Amnesty also applies to those sentenced to life in prison before 1995, those serving sentences of less than 36 months, those who are terminally ill and those convicted of stealing livestock. But the Herald reports that inmates convicted of “murder, treason, rape, armed robbery, sexual offences or violence driven offenses” were not pardoned.

“Our 46 prisons nationwide are overpopulated. We have a holding capacity of 17 000, but we have been holding over 19 000 prisoners,” Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service spokeswoman Priscilla Mthembo tells the Herald.

Food shortages have fueled conflict inside prisons. As Reuters reports, “Five prisoners died in March 2015 after being shot by police in a protest over food shortages, which turned violent as some of them attempted to break out of jail.”

NPR’s Gregory Warner tells our Newscast unit that Mugabe has tried mass pardons before to make room in prisons:

“In fact, the last mass pardon in Zimbabwe was just two years ago, in 2014. Then also about 2,000 prisoners were released to alleviate the same problem: massive overcrowding and food shortages that have led to inmates dying of malnutrition. So why have prison populations shot up again so quickly? In part, bureaucracy. A study last year said a third of Zimbabwe’s prisoners had not faced trial. So while convicts get released, those simply accused of a crime languish — and starve.”

Before the last mass pardon, a 2013 report from the U.S. Embassy in Harare describing dire prison conditions says scores of prisoners died as a result of “nutrition-related illnesses.” Here’s more from the report:

“Between January and late November, over 100 prisoners died in custody due to nutrition-related illnesses induced by food shortages and other natural causes. Poor sanitary conditions contributed to disease, including diarrhea, measles, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS-related illnesses. Lighting and ventilation were inadequate. There were insufficient mattresses, warm clothing, sanitary supplies, and hygiene products. Prisoners had no access to clean water.”

As Gregory notes, one group is “conspicuously absent” from those pardoned: “political prisoners who’ve challenged the 36-year reign of the 92-year-old president.”

Zimbabwe’s food shortages extend beyond prison walls, as the Two-Way has reported:

A farmer walks on his parched land in Chivi, Zimbabwe, in January.

A farmer walks on his parched land in Chivi, Zimbabwe, in January. Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP hide caption

toggle caption Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

“The region is facing a severe drought that has taken a toll on food harvests. According to UNICEF, 37 percent of households in Zimbabwe are hungry. The dry conditions have “decimated” livestock. In February, the situation prompted Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to declare a state of disaster.”

The blistering drought recently prompted the country to put some of the wild animals in public reserves up for sale.

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Peter Thiel's Support Of Gawker Lawsuit Prompts Debate Online

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal attends a press conference at the 2014 Web Summit on November 6, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland. (Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal attends a press conference at the 2014 Web Summit on November 6, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland. (Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

Gawker CEO Nick Denton is challenging Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel to an “open and public debate.”

Thiel, a billionaire, revealed this week that he funded Hulk Hogan’s $140 million lawsuit against Gawker, after one of Gawker’s websites revealed in 2007 that he was gay.

It’s a story about Silicon Valley taking on media. Here & Now‘s Robin Young speaks with Slate’s Julia Turner about what it says about privacy in the Internet age.


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Taylor Swift, Aryan Goddess?

Taylor Swift, a pop star who is extraordinary for reasons entirely unrelated to white nationalism.

Taylor Swift, a pop star who is extraordinary for reasons entirely unrelated to white nationalism. Taylor Hill/FilmMagic, Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Taylor Hill/FilmMagic, Getty Images

So, this is happening: some white supremacists have anointed Taylor Swift an “Aryan goddess,” claiming that she secretly espouses far-right beliefs and is waiting for Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency to make her true views known.

For the record, Swift has no affiliation with any white supremacist groups. She has never publicly made any white supremacist remarks, nor has she ever been accused of making them in private. There is no reason to believe she has any interest whatsoever in any of this.

So where did it come from? Vice’s women-centered website, Broadly, did a deep dive into the history of the Swift-neo-Nazi fantasy and its satirical roots; it’s worth a read if you’re interested. They quote Andre Anglin, who’s behind the Daily Stormer website, lauding Swift’s “sculpted Aryan form,” as well as the community manager of the Taylor Swift for Fascist Europe Facebook page, who praised Swift’s “Nordic blood,” and the fact that she’s not “having gang-bangs with colored gentlemen,” as reasons for her adoration.

In other words, it seems, the criteria for Aryan goddesses boil down to this: Swift is white, she looks white, and she hangs out with mostly white people.

Swift’s whiteness has been scrutinized before. Buzzfeed made a quiz about the all-white “boyfriends” in her music videos. In 2014, Jezebel wrote an article urging Swift to befriend a black person — two weeks later, they celebrated the fact that she had seemingly added two to her roster (Beyonce and Jay Z). In September, our friends at Goats and Soda yikes’d at her “Wildest Dreams” music video, which is set somewhere in Africa but contains roughly zero black people.

Again, to state the obvious: none of this means, or even remotely suggests, that Taylor Swift is into white supremacy.

To state what might be slightly less obvious: none of this is even slightly remarkable.

Most white people in the United States spend most of their time with other white people. A 2014 study from the Public Religion Research Institute showed that for every 91 white friends a white person has, they have one black, one Latino, and one Asian friend. Neighborhoods across the country are, and stay, segregated. In 2016, public schools in the United States are still being federally mandated to desegregate. This isn’t a Taylor Swift thing. It’s a housing segregation/workplace diversity/general American history thing.

That is to say, it’s entirely possible as a white person in this country to not interact with people of color in any meaningful way, ever. And not just possible. Fairly likely. Pointing out that a white person chills with other white people isn’t pointing out some extraordinary trait or behavior. (Nor is it a terribly compelling condemnation or rebuke.)

As we’ve seen time after time, individuals can have the most progressive views possible about race and still live in a world that is veritably drenched in segregation. The fact that Taylor Swift operates, at least publicly, in predominantly white spaces, doesn’t really suggest anything notable about her politics.

It does, of course, suggest something notable about ours as a country. But that is a conversation for another time.

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Doctors Without Borders Evacuating Key Syrian Hospital Amid ISIS Offensive

People gather their belongings Friday as they leave a refugee camp because of an Islamic State offensive near Azaz, Syria.

People gather their belongings Friday as they leave a refugee camp because of an Islamic State offensive near Azaz, Syria. Anadolu Agency/Getty Images hide caption

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ISIS is making gains near Syria’s border with Turkey, seizing a string of villages and trapping tens of thousands of civilians, according to Doctors Without Borders and a Syrian monitoring group.

The offensive has forced Doctors Without Borders to evacuate a major hospital outside the strategically located town of Azaz.

It’s the closest the Islamic State has come to Azaz since the militants were pushed out at the beginning of 2014, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. They say the push has cut off an important rebel supply route between Azaz and the town of Marea, an opposition stronghold to the south toward Syria’s embattled largest city, Aleppo.

The aid group, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF, announced Friday that it is evacuating the Al Salamah hospital because of the ISIS offensive, leaving behind a basic team with a doctor and nurses.

“We are terribly concerned about the fate of our hospital and our patients, and about the estimated 100,000 people trapped between the Turkish border and active front lines,” Pablo Marco, the aid group’s operations manager for the Middle East, said in a statement. “For some months, the front line has been around seven kilometers away from the hospital. Now it is only three kilometers from Al Salamah town. There is nowhere for people to flee to as the fighting gets closer.”

#Syria: Around 100,000 displaced persons in Azaz area now under IS offensive. Al Salamah hospital evacuated #NotATarget

— MSF International (@MSF) May 27, 2016

#Syria: There is nowhere for people to flee if frontline gets to Al Salamah town. Civilians and hospitals are #NotATarget

— MSF International (@MSF) May 27, 2016

Al Salamah is just north of Azaz, along Syria’s border with Turkey. According to Doctors Without Borders, the hospital is the largest of its six medical facilities in Syria: “Its services include an operating theater, emergency room, pediatric care, in- and out-patient departments, and maternal care.”

NPR’s Alison Meuse, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reports that as a result of the Islamic State’s territorial gains, “the rebel-held area north of Aleppo has been severed in two.” At least 30 rebel fighters and nine civilians have been killed during the offensive, according to the monitoring group.

Photos published Friday by Turkey’s Anadolu Agency show displaced Syrians frantically gathering their belongings from tents as they flee the fighting.

The Guardian recently described Azaz as “ground zero of the war for the north of Syria.” It’s a key gateway into the country that has recently seen Russian airstrikes and offensives from many other players in Syria’s conflict.

As The Associated Press explains, “Syrian rebel factions in Azaz, and its border crossing of Bab al-Salama, have separately come under fire from the extremist IS group, pro-government forces and the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces.”

As the Two-Way has reported, a deadly airstrike hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo in April, killing at least 50 people.

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Is Virginia Health Insurer's Decision To Drop Bronze Plans An Omen?

A subsidiary of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield in Virginia won't offer an insurance plan on the lowest tier of the marketplace next year.

A subsidiary of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield in Virginia won’t offer an insurance plan on the lowest tier of the marketplace next year. Morgan McCloy/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Morgan McCloy/NPR

News that a subsidiary of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield will stop selling bronze-level health plans on the Virginia marketplace next year prompted speculation that it could signal a movement by insurers to drop that coverage level altogether.

The reality may be more complicated and interesting, some analysts said, based on a look at plan data.

Bronze plans provide the least generous coverage of the four metal tiers offered on the insurance marketplaces, paying 60 percent of benefits on average, compared with70 percent for silver plans, which are far more popular.

During the 2016 open enrollment period, 23 percent of marketplace customers signed up for a bronze plan, compared with 68 percent who chose silver, 6 percent who picked gold and 2 percent who chose a platinum plan.

Next year, the CareFirst BCBS subsidiary Group Hospitalization and Medical Services will no longer offer bronze plans on the Virginia marketplace, and bronze plan members will be moved into silver plans, said a spokesperson for the insurer. The company will continue to offer bronze plans on other exchanges, however.

The decision spurred some health policy analysts and health law critics to question whether other insurers would follow suit. Part of that reasoning had to do with the health law’s risk adjustment provisions. In the program, individual and small group insurers that enroll sicker, generally costlier members receive payments from insurers that enroll healthier, less costly members. Since bronze plans may attract healthier people, insurers may stop selling them to avoid risk adjustment program payments, some argue.

Between 2015 and 2016, the number of bronze plans offered on the marketplaces increased less than 1 percent, while the number of silver plans grew by 2.9 percent, according to data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

It’s too soon to say whether CareFirst’s shift signals a trend in insurers pulling back from the bronze metal tier, said Katherine Hempstead, who leads RWJF’s work on health insurance coverage. But even if that happens, it’s unclear that the effect on consumers would be negative.

Bronze and silver plans may become more similar as time passes, Hempstead said.

Insurers have some wiggle room in designing plans. Although bronze plans must pay 60 percent of costs on average, they can range from 58 to 62 percent. Likewise, every silver plan doesn’t have to pay exactly 70 percent of costs on average, a plan can pay from 68 to 72 percent. Issuers can design plans that pay at the low or high end of these ranges and still meet the criteria for a bronze or silver plan.

An analysis of the premiums for bronze and silver plans in census regions across the country reveals that average prices for the two types of plans moved toward each other slightly between 2015 and 2016, Hempstead said. In addition, looking across all regions the highest priced bronze plan was significantly more expensive than the cheapest silver plan in each region in 2016.

A recent analysis by the actuarial firm Milliman found that while people who purchased silver plans tended to get those with lower premiums, those turning to bronze plans chose the more expensive options. “Many issuers found it difficult to develop [bronze] plans that were palatable to consumers and in the bottom portion of the metallic level range,” the report concluded.

“It’s interesting if the industry standardizes itself,” Hempstead said, “and what if the most common plan becomes a sort of bronzy silver?”

Please contact Kaiser Health News to send comments or ideas for future topics for the Insuring Your Health column.

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Songs We Love: Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band, 'Was Dog A Doughnut'

Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band

Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

At some point in the 1960s, steel drum (a.k.a. pan) music became the Caribbean equivalent of cheesy Vegas lounge tunes: something only an ill-dressed tourist might fancy during a cruise ship port o’ call. And true, there’s probably a thousand bad pan covers of “Yellow Bird” out there, but the tradition is unfairly maligned. Not only are steel drums themselves a marvel of do-it-yourself ingenuity — they were originally created from oil drums left behind by American naval ships in Trinidad — but their unique, pearly sound is as recognizable and evocative as surf guitar tremolo or a Hammond B3 wheeze.

For 10 years now, Hamburg’s Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band has used that insta-island vibe to remake classic soul, funk and hip-hop songs. The band’s debut album, 55, includes covers of everything from 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” (which originally used a steel drum sample) to Dennis Coffey’s blistering b-boy hit “Scorpio.” However, perhaps the most surprising track is the cover of Cat Stevens‘ “Was Dog A Doughnut.”


55 Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Originally recorded in 1977, “Was Dog A Doughnut” is now regarded as a pioneering electro song, given its extensive use of synthesizers and early drum machines. Bacao’s approach is a technological inversion, replacing beat boxes with a drum kit and letting the steel drum sit where Stevens’ synthesizers once were. Yet, for all those changes, the pan sound is what allows Bacao’s cover to sustain the weird grooviness of Stevens’ original. Even nearly 40 years later, it’s still not clear what the question “Was Dog A Doughnut?” means, but you can rest assured that the Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band keeps it funky.

55 is available now on Big Crown.

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41 Secret Service Staffers Disciplined For Accessing Private Files On Congressman

Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, listens to testimony during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on May 17. Last year, dozens of Secret Service employees improperly accessed files on Chaffetz.

Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, listens to testimony during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on May 17. Last year, dozens of Secret Service employees improperly accessed files on Chaffetz. Drew Angerer/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Forty-one employees of the Secret Service have been disciplined for improperly accessing data about Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the secretary of Homeland Security said Thursday.

Secretary Jeh Johnson says the employee responsible for leaking that private information to the press has already resigned from the Secret Service.

The incident in question happened last year — one of a series of scandals that embarrassed the Secret Service, the agency charged with protecting the president, among other duties.

As we reported at the time:

“Agents were found to have improperly accessed, shared and potentially released an unsuccessful 2003 Secret Service job application of Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, according to a government report.”

“It says that the agents’ actions stemmed from a desire to discredit Chaffetz, who was heading investigations of scandals inside the Secret Service.”

Johnson now says Chaffetz’s files were accessed approximately 60 times, and that most of those occasions violated privacy laws.

After investigating 57 Secret Service employees, 41 people will be disciplined — with punishments ranging from a letter of reprimand (for one employee) to suspensions without pay for up to 45 days.

“The one individual found by the Inspector General to have disclosed the private information to an outside source, The Washington Post, has resigned from the Secret Service,” Johnson said.

He said there was no evidence that the director or deputy director of the service deserved to be reprimanded.

Johnson said he was “appalled” by the incident, which “brought real discredit to the Secret Service.”

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Carrie Rodriguez: Tiny Desk Concert

May 27, 20169:00 AM ET

Carrie Rodriguez has been many things: a classically trained violinist turned American fiddler, a duet partner to veteran songwriter Chip Taylor, a successful and popular solo artist in her own right. On occasion, those roles have allowed her Mexican-American roots to bubble to the surface — perhaps in a line sung in Spanish, or through a reference to a classic mariachi song.

On her new album Lola, Rodriguez’s bi-cultural life blossoms into a spectacular collection of stories and songs, several of which she included in this Tiny Desk concert with guitarist Luke Jacobs.

Lola is available now. (iTunes) (Amazon)

Set List
  • “I Dreamed I Was Lola Beltrán”
  • “Llano Estacado”
  • “Noche De Ronda”

Producers: Felix Contreras, Niki Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Kara Frame; Production Assistant: Jackson Sinnenberg; Photo: Brandon Chew/NPR.

For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.

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