Why People With Disabilities Want Bans On Plastic Straws To Be More Flexible

It was a hot day at the zoo when Jordan Carlson’s son, who has motor-planning delays, got thirsty. “We went to the snack bar and found out they had a ‘no straw’ policy,” Carlson says. “It was a hot day and he couldn’t drink.”

Their only option was to leave the park and look for a business that sold drinks with a straw. Without one, her son can’t drink beverages. At home they use reusable straws and she tries to keep some on hand when they leave the house, but “I’m human and sometimes I forget,” Carlson explains. People with disabilities have to be much more conscious of what businesses and communities offer, Carlson says.

On social media, many people are ecstatic about the crush of cities and businesses pledging to ban plastic straws once and for all. Ever since a video showing a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nose went viral, campaigns like #StopSucking for a strawless ocean have gained considerable traction. Seattle this month implemented a citywide ban on plastic straws, Starbucks announced on Monday that it will phase out the use of plastic straws by 2020, and many other municipalities and businesses are likely to follow suit. As one Twitter user posted, “My waiter asked ‘Now, do we want straws OR do we want to save the turtles?’ and honestly we all deserve that environmental guilt trip.”But for many people with disabilities, going without plastic straws isn’t a question of how much they care about dolphins or sea turtles; it can be a matter of life or death.

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There are many alternatives to plastic straws — paper, biodegradable plastics and even reusable straws made from metal or silicone. But paper straws and similar biodegradable options often fall apart too quickly or are easy for people with limited jaw control to bite through. Silicone straws are often not flexible — one of the most important features for people with mobility challenges. Reusable straws need to be washed, which not all people with disabilities can do easily. And metal straws, which conduct heat and cold in addition to being hard and inflexible, can pose a safety risk.

“Disabled people have to find ways to navigate through the world because they know it was not made for us,” says Lei Wiley-Mydske, an autism activist who has autism herself. “If someone says, ‘This does not work for me,’ it’s because they’ve tried everything else.”

“Also, what if you decide on the spur of the moment to go have a drink with friends after work but forgot your reusable straw that day?” adds Lawrence Carter-Long, communications director for the national Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. “[That] doesn’t leave a lot of room for spontaneity — something nondisabled folks get to largely take for granted.”

On social media, many people have responded to claims that people with disabilities need plastic straws by asking what people did before plastic straws were invented. “They aspirated liquid in their lungs, developed pneumonia and died,” says Shaun Bickley, co-chair of the Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities, a volunteer organization that’s supposed to advise the city council or agencies on disabilities issues.

How much plastic straw and stirrer pollution is out there? Scientific estimates vary. One report suggests they make up more than 7 percent of the plastics found in the U.S. by piece. By comparison, the same report found plastic bottle caps alone accounted for nearly 17 percent. But straws make up a much smaller percentage of pollution by weight.

Environmentalists have latched onto a figure stating that Americans use over 500 million plastic straws every day — a number that was derived from phone calls made by a 9-year-old boy in 2011. Despite its frequent repetition, there’s uncertainty over the accuracy of that figure.

In a post detailing how the plastic straw became the cause du jour for those who love the oceans, Dune Ives, executive director for the Lonely Whale Foundation, wrote, “We found plastic water bottles too endemic, plastic bags already somewhat politicized, and no viable alternative for the plastic cup in ALL markets.” So they chose plastic straws, a “playful” alternative and a “‘gateway plastic’ to the larger and more serious plastic pollution conversation.”

Most of the plastic in the ocean does come from land, says Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. She notes that because plastic breaks up into smaller and smaller particles, it can be hard to tell what it used to be in some cases.

“Straws are maybe not the biggest source of either plastic pollution or disposable plastic we consume, but they’re in there,” Hoover says.

And for many people who want to consume less plastic, she saysstraws are low-hanging fruit.

Yet in general Hoover says that she’s wary of outright bans on things. “I personally think we as a country use way too many disposable water bottles. That said, there are times when I’m caught somewhere, don’t have a reusable bottle, and want the option to have water and not a sugary drink.”

“They key is breaking habits,” Hoover says. “Is something a habit because you truly need it or because you got used to doing it that way?”

Carter-Long says he’s sympathetic to environmental concerns about plastic pollution, but any public policy aiming to reduce the use of straws needs to make accommodations for people who might need them. Ideally, he says, “each restaurant owner [would] follow their own conscience, maybe keep a stockpile of plastic straws in their store rooms for people to use who need them.”

A spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities confirmed to NPR that the city’s new plastic straw ban does include a waiver allowing restaurants to give disposable, flexible plastic straws to customers who need them for physical or medical reasons. But Carter-Long and Bickley say there doesn’t seem to be widespread awareness of the exemption.Bickley says he asked over a dozen Seattle chain restaurants – including McDonald’s and Chipotle – “if they had plastic straws available for people with allergies or need, and they told me no.”

And just because an exemption is written into law doesn’t mean businesses will comply, even if they know about it. “So many businesses try to get around already ignoring things with ADA [the Americans With Disabilities Act] until someone says, ‘I need a ramp or wider hallway or ramp in bathroom or Braille menu,’ ” says Jordan Carlson. “Sometimes you need to bring a lawsuit just to have your voice heard.”

Although Bickley serves on a commission that is supposed to advise Seattle’s city agencies on disability issues, he says no one consulted the group before passing the plastic straw ban.

Dianne Laurine, who lives in Seattle, has cerebral palsy, is quadriplegic and has no use of her extremities. “She is old enough to remember a time before plastic and everybody just used rubber straws,” Laurine’s caretaker, Bill Reeves, says on her behalf, since she has a severe speech impediment.

“They ended up being disgusting, hard to clean. The advent of plastic in the 1950s changed her life,” Reeves says.

When asked what it felt like when the straw ban went into effect without consulting those with disabilities, Laurine audibly repeated one word, “Awful. Awful. Awful.”

“You’re putting this burden on disabled people to come up with a solution. You’re not asking companies that manufacture straws to come up with a version that works for us,” autism activist Wiley-Mydske says. “You won’t even take the bus instead of driving your car somewhere,” she says, adding, “How many of you are willing to die for the environment?”

Toronto Artist Melvin Elray Releases Soulful Single, ‘Scars’

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Toronto-based R&B/Soul artist Melvin Elray drops a soulful offering called “Scars,” a joint from his latest album, 5th Lane.

As soon as the beat drops, you’ll get Prince and D’Angelo vibes as the groove saunters along and Melvin whips out his falsetto. And it’s understandable why: Elray is inspired by Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder, and OutKast with an undying love of Hip-Hop and R&B. You can hear it all on his amazing album, 5th Lane, which you can stream here.

August Alsina Opens Up About His Addiction To Pills on Jada Pinkett Smith’s ‘Red Table Talk’

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It’s been a few years since August Alsina’s health scare when he passed out into the crowd in 2014 in New York during a concert that left him in a coma for three days. It was later revealed he had liver disease in a 2017 interview with actress Jada Pinkett Smith, whose family (more or less) took him in and helped him during hard times.

Now, on Jada’s online show “Red Table Talk,” August spoke more about his health struggles, this time about his addiction to Percoset pain pills. Along with Jada, August opened up to Jada’s mother Adrienne Banfield Norris and her sister-in-law Ashley Marie about his addiction. August says his drugs-of-choice were alcohol and marijuana during the early stages of his career, but his dependence on percosets began after his 2014 coma.

During the “Red Table Talk” sit-down, it’s revealed August was taking six percocets a day, but he didn’t think he was addicted because he wasn’t acting like the drug addicts he knew growing up, i.e., pawning the house and car for drugs. August credits Jada for inspiring him to beat his pill-popping habit.

Watch the emotional chat below:

Childish Gambino Takes Over Summer With New Songs, ‘Summertime Magic’ and ‘Feels Like Summer’

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Following his woke-trap song/video “This Is America,” Childish Gambino (a.k.a. Donald Glover) drops two chill, breezy tunes to christen the summer season: “Summertime Magic” and “Feels Like Summer.”

Both songs are co-written and co-produced by Gambino and Ludwig Goransson (the same folks behind “This Is America” and Gambino’s single “Redbone” from his 2016 album “Awaken, My Love”), and both summer anthems feel like a glass of lemonade and an ice cream cone on a sunny day, mixed with cool breeze and a hammock.

Listen below:

Michele Roberts on N.B.A. Competitive Imbalance: Don’t Blame the Players

Michele Roberts has heard the complaints about the N.B.A.’s best team, the Golden State Warriors, signing an All-Star. She has heard the whining about the league’s best player, LeBron James, moving westward in the first week of free agency. She has seen fans and pundits proclaim the league isn’t competitive enough, and has watched the blame for that land on the doorstep of the National Basketball Players Association and its decision three years ago to reject a league proposal to prevent the limit on player salaries from rising faster than ever before.

After keeping quiet for a week, Roberts, executive director of the players’ union, fired back over the weekend. In a series of emails, she rejected the idea of blaming the players’ decision on the issue known as cap smoothing as nonsense. General managers and coaches may want to blame the players for their teams not being good enough to contend for a championship, she said, but they have no one to blame but themselves.

“Frankly, I have been amused by the chatter suggesting that smoothing — or more accurately the failure to smooth — has now become some folks’ boogeyman de jure,” Roberts said in an email. “While we haven’t yet blamed it for the assassination of MLK, some are now suggesting that it is responsible for all that is presumably wrong with today’s NBA.”

“Needless to say, I beg to differ.”

First, for those not fluent in the N.B.A.’s collective bargaining agreement, a bit of background is in order.

In October 2014, the N.B.A. signed a new television agreement that nearly tripled the amount the league received annually for its national television rights, to $2.66 billion from $930 million, beginning in 2016. The salary cap, which limits the amount each team can spend on players, is tied directly to league revenue. So, in 2016, the first year under the new agreement, the salary cap increased by $24 million, to $94 million, about the same amount it had risen the previous 11 years combined.

The N.B.A. knew this was going to happen, and executives believed a gradual increase of the salary cap was preferable. So the league in 2014 proposed artificially depressing the salary cap for the 2016-17 season. Instead of a sudden rise in the cap, the league offered to provide the players with a lump-sum check that they could divide themselves. That way, teams would not end up signing players to inflated contracts merely because those players had the good fortune of becoming free agents in the summer of 2016.

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“Under the concept we discussed, the total salaries paid to players in the aggregate each season would not have changed, but smoothing would have allowed for steadier, incremental Cap increases, instead of a one-year spike,” an N.B.A. spokesman, Mike Bass, wrote in an email.

In February 2015, union representatives from each team unanimously rejected the N.B.A.’s proposal. Roberts said two economists retained by the union concluded players would be worse off under the plan. It has long been accepted wisdom among sports unions that getting every player the highest possible salary is very good for all players.

So, in the summer of 2016, unspectacular players such as Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Ian Mahinmi and Timofey Mozgov all signed contracts worth tens of millions of dollars. Those deals have proven to be poor investments for their teams. With two years left on their contracts, Noah and Deng are all but out of the league, and Mahinmi and Mozgov are little-used substitutes receiving starter money.

During that same summer, the Golden State Warriors — just off a Game 7 upset loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the N.B.A. finals — had enough salary cap space to sign free agent Kevin Durant, and enough space the summer after to retain Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Without the salary cap spike, that would have been impossible unless all three took significant salary cuts.

Flash forward to last week, when the Warriors, fresh off their third championship in four seasons, signed the All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, and James decided to join the Los Angeles Lakers. With the smoothing issue once again at the center of the debate over how the N.B.A. became so lopsided, Roberts decided she had heard enough.

Agreeing to artificially lower the salary cap “offends our core,” Roberts wrote. “It would be quite counterintuitive for the union to ever agree to artificially lower, as opposed to raise, the salary cap. If we ever were to do so, there would have to be a damn good reason, inarguable and uncontroverted. There was no such assurance in place at that time.”

She called the concept fundamentally unfair to players. Many of them had been preparing for the expected spike well before the television deal was signed by agreeing to contracts that allowed them to become free agents in 2016.

Also, Roberts explained, instead of artificially depressing the salary cap, the league could have proposed advancing television money into 2015 and increasing spending. But it didn’t want to “in part because teams weren’t expecting an early Cap increase,” Roberts wrote.

“Just the same way that they shouldn’t be faulted for seeking to meet teams’ expectations,” she added, “folks should recognize how important we felt it was to meet the reciprocal expectations felt by the players.”

She dismissed the idea that the 2016 spike had caused a soft market this year. “We opened free agency with 9 teams that had significant Cap room, in excess of $10 million each,” she wrote. “Frankly, before the spike, that’s about as healthy of a start as we’ve ever had.”

Roberts believes the Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Lakers will all challenge the Warriors, and the young Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets, as well as “a host of other teams are not conceding a damn thing this season.” There have always been dominant teams in the N.B.A. — as there have been in baseball, she pointed out, wh

cap — and they come in cycles.

“We exist to enhance the lives of the players — to provide them with freedom, opportunity, job security and economic wealth,” she wrote. “We actually believe we can provide it all — all these things, plus competition. The fact that one of the 30 teams, at this moment in time, is having its own moment, doesn’t trouble us or make us question the merits of our system.”

Roberts knows that since 2016 whispers have percolated through the league that she rejected cap smoothing because it was the first major decision of her tenure, which began in 2014, and she wanted to avoid the perception that the league could strong-arm the new union director.

Citing her long and bruising legal career as a trial lawyer for some of the country’s most prestigious law firms, she said she would have embraced smoothing if the union’s independent experts had recommended it.

“I stopped making decisions (especially potentially bad ones) to ‘make a statement’ or ‘prove something’ well before I passed the bar,” she wrote.

With rising television ratings and revenues suggesting the N.B.A. is stronger than ever, Roberts is fairly certain who should shoulder the blame for any team that struggles because they signed bad deals.

“I get that there are folks who believe that some of the contracts executed post the smoothing rejection were too large,” she wrote. “I vehemently disagree as I am sure do the players that negotiated those contracts. However, if that’s the beef folks have, take it up with the GMs that negotiated them. The argument that we gave teams too much money to play with is preposterous.”

Two-thirds of people banned from BART are black — and agency isn’t asking why

Two-thirds of the people BART banished from its property last year were black, and a committee the agency set up to monitor potential civil rights violations in the unique exclusion program isn’t scrutinizing the racial disparity.

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BART banned more people from the system in 2017 than in previous years in an effort to protect riders and employees. Agency officials say the use of these prohibition orders — which last from one month to a year — has paid off.The program, though, is booting black people from trains and stations at far higher rates than others, raising concerns about racial profiling.Of the 315 people barred from the Bay Area’s backbone transit system last year, 209, or 66 percent, were identified by police officers as black, according to BART data. Fifteen percent were identified as white and 12.5 percent as Latino.

A 2015 BART survey of weekday customers, the latest available, found that 12 percent were black, 44 percent were white, 23 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander, and 18 percent were Hispanic.

Down and Out in San Francisco, on $117,000 a Year

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The threshold for classifying a family as “low-income” in the Bay Area is the highest in the nation — and no surprise…..

It’s beyond laughable that a one-bedroom apartment can sell for $1.5 million in San Francisco — and get multiple offers within a day. Or that dumpsters sport satirical “for rent” signs. Or that the asking price for a side order of brussels sprouts at many restaurants is $16.

Beyond laughable because such stories pass like a Bay Area breeze in the city named for a pauper from medieval Assisi. But the latest assessment of the out-of-reach quality of one of the world’s great places to live came as a real jolt:

A family of four earning $117,000 a year is now classified as low income in the San Francisco area. This threshold, used to determine eligibility for federal housing assistance, is the highest in the nation — and no surprise.

Once upon a time in the American West, the most exclusive places — Sun Valley, Aspen, Lake Tahoe, the San Juan Islands in Washington State — were known as “golden ghettos,” an imperfect term used by trendy demographers.

But now the entire West Coast, from San Diego to Vancouver, British Columbia, is a string of gilded megalopolises. These are the tomorrow cities, the tech cities, the cities of the young and educated. And each of them is struggling with a prosperity crisis that threatens the very nature of living there.

A New Yorker would say, “So what, get used to paying through the nose to live in a tiny space on limited land.” Manhattan, Brooklyn and now Queens have seen it all. But people on the West Coast, perhaps naïvely, are not ready to say, “Fuhgeddaboudit.” Not yet. With varying degrees of success, they are fighting for the soul of their cities.

Residents of San Francisco are troubled by the same things that we are in my hometown, Seattle — the homeless and the high cost of living. The issues are linked, but not entirely.

“Walking the streets of San Francisco can be a frightening, demoralizing, even unhealthy experience for residents and tourists alike.” This commentcame not from the medical association that just pulled its convention because its members no longer feel safe in a city of 7,500 homeless people. It came from the woman just elected mayor of San Francisco, London Breed.

Raised in poverty, and the first African-American woman chosen to lead the city, Breed has vowed to remove homeless encampments within a year. There is nothing compassionate or financially sound in spending $250 million a year on homeless services that still leave thousands sleeping on the street.

In order to do the other thing that Breed wants to do, build more housing of all kinds, she has to secure the social contract. That is: Can people accept more crowded neighborhoods, in a city that is already the second most densely populated among big cities in the nation, if they feel that elected leaders do not have a decent plan — or a clue?

As Breed notes, San Francisco has created only one home for every eight new jobs between 2010 and 2015. She may not be ready to utter a hard truth that some residents already have: that not everyone who wants to live there can.

In Seattle, the nation’s fastest-growing city for this decade, the social contract is nearly broken. The city used to be run by creative problem solvers. Now, an ideologically driven City Council dreams up new things to anger residents while seeming to let the homeless have the run of the place.

The latest backward move was a tax on jobs — quickly repealed after a citizens’ revolt. While the council was trying to target Amazon, the city’s biggest private employer, the tax would have also hurt grocery stores and family-run businesses, as if they had caused the homeless crisis and spike in real estate.

An unholy alliance of socialists and developers threatens to destroy the city’s single-family neighborhoods with a major upzoning — further disrupting trust between residents and politicians. If the intent is to make Seattle more affordable, this approach has failed. The city has built more new units of housing over the last five years than in the prior half-century. And yet Seattle continues to lead the nation in home price increases.

Vancouver has taxed speculation, hitting foreign buyers and those who own homes that sit empty. Prices have stabilized somewhat. But the globalization of the housing market is a problem more particular to British Columbia.

No matter what you hear anecdotally, people will continue to move to the West Coast. The City of St. Francis has seen far worse than the present crisis. More than half the population was homeless after the 1906 earthquake. But by midcentury, it was the American city, birthplace of the United Nations.

We need a new urbanism. For all the grumping about how great the cities facing the Pacific used to be, they can be greater still if the bright minds now trying to “disrupt” a grilled cheese sandwich can focus on the biggest challenge of this generation. We know what doesn’t work. The task is to find a creative mix of solutions that do.