At the beginning of this month, the White House announced that President Obama commuted the sentences of 214 federal inmates. Today, it was announced that 111 more people will have their sentences shortened, bringing the total for his presidency to 673 total commutations.

The president's 325 commutations for the month of August is the largest number ever granted by a president in a month, and in a year within the past century, according to the White House.

Of the president's 673 commutations, more than one-third—232—of them were serving life sentences.

These commutations are part of the president's clemency initiative, which allows prisoners who are in federal prison to apply for commutations as long as they served at least 10 years of the sentence, no significant criminal history and good conduct in prison, among other things, according to the website.

White House Counsel Neil Eggleston wrote on the White House blog:

We must remember that these are individuals—sons, daughters, parents, and in many cases, grandparents—who have taken steps toward rehabilitation and who have earned their second chance. They are individuals who received unduly harsh sentences under outdated laws for committing largely nonviolent drug crimes, for example, the 35 individuals whose life sentences were commuted today. For each of these applicants, the President considers the individual merits of each application to determine that an applicant is ready to make use of his or her second chance.

Gospel music star Kirk Franklin recently sat down with music superstar Pharrell Williams and radio DJ Scott Vener on the Beats 1 radio show OTHERtone to discuss religious beliefs, and the discussion went in an interesting direction.

Pharrell talked about why he thinks so many people have an aversion to religion in the first place. Essentially saying that he believes that some people don’t have capacity for religious belief:

I don't think the church gives enough credence to, like, science … There are departments in your brain for everything that you think. All of your thoughts come from your brain, that tissue, that muscle … and there's a part where it falls under religion. And there are certain people that just don't have that.

Pharrell then said that he suggests that people learn each other’s beliefs, even if it takes some unconventional methods to get them to read scripture:

I think a cool way to bring people together is to say, ‘Look, you don’t have to look at it in a religious or faithful way. Read it as a text.’ Replace the word ‘God’ with ‘the universe’ and it starts to make more sense, to you … Now, I know that there's power in that word [God]. I've experienced it. I've seen it. But everyone has their journey, and not everyone is going to believe

If you have a difference of opinion, I think it’s smarter for me to understand your difference of opinion, than to not know at all, and we’re always just mortal enemies and we don’t want to talk. I think the easy way for us to like get to know each other is to share each other’s beliefs and our difference and get to know them and to understand them.

Vener suggested using pop culture and works of curated art, music and literature to help communicate these types of ideas to unbelievers or people with deeper questions.

Franklin said that he sees a new wave of artists coming up that are challenging people to think about God and faith saying, “People are hungry, they’ve just been to some dirty restaurants.” Along with noting Kanye’s "Ultralight Beams" and the “gospel moments” in Chance’s new mixtape, Franklin even gave a shoutout to Lecrae as one of the artists pushing people to have deeper conversations.

Later in the interview, Pharrell says that he was raised listening to gospel, and talked about the impact that growing up in a spirit-filled church had on him later in life. “I just remember, like, the fire that you’d see in church. But because I was around it, i just thought everyone had experience that … Everyone’s seen people catch the spirit. Everybody’s seen, you know, when the spirit runs through the church.”

The whole interview is a fascinating look at Pharrell’s background, and Franklin's views on faith and music. And, even though not all Christians will agree with all of Pharrell’s believes or perspectives, the interview offers an interesting look at the upbringing and worldview of one of music’s biggest names. Discuss

Coldplay posted a clip to Twitter, taken at a concert last night in Denver where they closed “The Scientist” with a verse from one of Gene Wilder’s best known musical comedy’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The comedy legend died yesterday at the age of 83.

Pure imagination indeed ...


Just days after releasing their first new song in three years, indie rock legends Jimmy Eat World, have dropped another track from their upcoming album Integrity Blues. The record was produced by Justin Meldal-Johnsen, known for his work with acts including Beck, M83, Paramore, Tegan and Sara, The Naked and Famous and a ton of others.

The record drops on Oct. 21, but you can hear the latest single, “Sure and Certain,” right now. Discuss

Last night, Late Show host James Corden took a few minutes to remember comedy legend Gene Wilder, who died yesterday at the age of 83. There’s been a lot of remembrances and reflections on his many films, but Corden decided to tell a short, personal story that really humanized Wilder.

Not only did Wilder take an interest in asking about Corden’s family when they first met, but he was also gracious even when declining a show appearance.

“He was just this magical person, and he made everyone around him feel this incredible feeling of joy.”

You can watch it below. Discuss

The Associated Press is reporting that the Islamic State has buried thousands of people in at least 72 mass graves, with the number set to increase as ISIS's territory gets smaller.

As areas become free from ISIS control, people are able to uncover the mass graves that are only covered with a thin layer of dirt in the first place.

AP found 17 mass grave locations in Syria—one had hundreds of bodies of a tribe that ISIS basically exterminated in their takeover. Sixteen graves were found in Iraq in areas still too dangerous to excavate.

The number known so far is more than 15,000 people killed and buried in the holes dug by bulldozers.

Satellite technology allowed AP to find other mass graves including one at the Badoush Prison in June 2014 with 600 inmates based on the way the land in the area looks. Discuss