The 2012 election, Republican politics and conservative media.
While riding the subway the other day, I overheard a mother and daughter discussing the police. The two of them had just boarded the train after witnessing an officer stop a young man whom the officer believed didn’t pay the fare. Apparently, the young man had explained to the subway booth attendant that he didn’t have any money, and the attendant took pity on him and let him through. The young man became defensive when the police officer didn’t believe his story.
The mother, a black woman who looked to be in her 50s, was upset about the interaction she witnessed. “As a police officer, you should be out trying to catch people doing murders and robberies, not things like hopping the turnstile,” she kept saying. “I feel like they’re just picking on these kids.” The daughter, also black and probably in her 30s, had a different view: “They’re doing their job. They know enough to know which kids are the ones coming on the train stealing iPhones. Not paying the fare is the beginning of mischief. These kids are bad,” she said.
“These kids are bad” isn’t solely the opinion of that one woman I overheard on the train. And as such it wasn’t surprising to read the findings of this Quinnipiac University poll that shows that 57 percent of black voters support “broken windows” policing. It’s one reason why folks like President Obama and the Rev. Al Sharpton can go before black audiences and, as The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart argues, “air the dirty laundry” of black America and receive rapturous applause. “These kids are bad”—and if we don’t set them straight early on, the thinking goes, they’ll be worse adults. Even given the adversarial (at best) relationship between black folks and the state, many black Americans still view police as part of the solution.
It’s important to note, though, that this particular poll surveyed registered voters. As Kristen West Savali points out at The Root, “Older black people are more likely to be registered voters than younger black people, and in populations most affected by police brutality—low-income, black communities—access to a landline or cellphone is not assured.” She adds: “When reading these results, one also has to take into consideration the disenfranchisement restrictions placed on black voters on parole.” In other words, the people not as likely to face police harassment are the ones who support a crackdown on so-called “quality-of-life” crimes.
Fact is, black people can also be complicit in upholding the system of racism, having internalized the idea of black criminality and inferiority. Consider that during the 1980s, at the dawn of the crack epidemic, the War on Drugs had the support of many black activists. They saw it as a means of cleaning up their neighborhoods; in reality, it was a way of creating a new racial caste system through mass incarceration.
I understand where the impulse comes from. We look around our neighborhoods, witnessing despair and desperately wanting a solution. But the police aren’t it. They are not disciplinarians. They are agents of the state whom we have authorized to use force, often with impunity, against mostly black youth. But when you believe the answer to “these kids are bad” is police intervention, and then don’t take into account what those interactions often entail—harassment and disrespect, sometimes violence—you’re damning those children even further. Instead of pushing for more police intervention, while simultaneously chastising black youth for their behavior (much of which is not, or should not be, criminal), we need to find the political will to invest in the things that actually work. Affordable housing, recreation, education, food security. These are things that will build the type of neighborhoods and communities we want to see.
Even if we were all to concede that “these kids are bad,” more policing won’t make them any better.
>Read Next: How Trayvon Martin launched a new black youth movement.
As New Yorkers bustled along Eighth Avenue at lunchtime on Thursday, fast-food workers proudly marched off the job. And unlike most days, when workers quietly shuffle burgers over a fluorescent-lit counter, the protesters sat solemnly on the street under the glaring sun, waiting to be rounded up by police.
“What we’ve started and what we’ve become—it’s the same idea, but it’s branched out,” said Shantel Walker, who works as a shift manager at Papa John’s for $8.50 an hour. Standing with the crowd across the street from a McDonald’s, she said it was her sixth strike since joining the movement. “So [our] strength is growth.… We’re so proud of each other.”
Thursday’s protests hit about 150 sites, including Chicago, Detroit and other cities, reportedly leading to several hundred arrests. Unions and community activists joined the workers, holding up “#strikefastfood” signs and chanting “I believe that we can win.” Nearly two years since their mobilization began with about 200 workers in New York, the ruckus on Eighth Avenue indicated that fast food workers are following through on their pledge at their national convention in July, amplifying their two key demands: a $15 hourly wage and a union.
Now that the fast-food worker campaigns, backed by institutional support from SEIU, have evolved into a global phenomenon, with protests from São Paulo to Auckland, from Wendy’s to Starbucks to Sukiya beef bowl, no one knows exactly where the movement is headed next. But Thursday’s main message was that fast food workers’ plight represents the extreme inequality that plagues communities across the country.
Jeanina Jenkins, a McDonald’s worker from St. Louis, joined the New York protests in solidarity and declared: “We all need the same things: to put food on the table, a roof over our heads, and clothes on our backs.… The math doesn’t work on $8 an hour. So we’re here doing whatever it takes to win $15 an hour and union rights so the math does work.” Jenkins was one of several St. Louis area workers who chose to protest outside their hometown out of respect for the ongoing unrest in Ferguson.
As the campaign has exposed stories of extreme hardships besetting workers, who often earn less than $9 per hour—getting shorted on pay, relying on food stamps, living in homeless shelters—the protests have helped push the $15 wage demand to the center of economic policy debates.
Seattle passed a compromise bill for a $15 minimum wage earlier this summer. Similar initiatives are underway in San Francisco and Los Angeles. New York’s legislature is weighing a $13 state minimum wage, and New York City officials seeking to set their own wage floor of $15 per hour. According to NBC News, “13 states and 10 county and city governments have increased their minimum wages during 2013 and 2014.”
For unions like SEIU, which provides funding and organizing support for the protests in an effort to engage non-union workers, the movement has helped springboard other campaigns to raise wages through local policy initiatives and in other low-wage sectors.
The activists and workers at Thursday’s rallies were joined by SEIU home healthcare aides, representing another service industry wracked by poverty wages. Labor groups at other low-wage retailers like Walmart have also included the $15 wage demand in their campaigns for better working conditions. Some retailers have even gone the other direction, touting relatively high wages as part of their social branding.
Even Uncle Sam has gotten called out as a poverty-wage employer. Following strikes and protests by low-wage federal contract workers, President Obama in February signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for contract workers to $10.10 from $7.25—a rare bright spot in a Washington agenda that has fixated on tax cuts for the rich and welfare cuts for the poor.
Still, despite the protests’ symbolic political value, the fast-food sector itself has not seen specific material gains, like a sector-wide wage hike. This is in large part because the industry runs on decentralized franchise operations, which impedes centralized organizing. So the question remains as to what kinds of tangible gains these workers, or the union backing them, can expect from their organizing in the long term, without major restructuring of the industry.
But one achievement is that the movement has put the powerful restaurant industry lobby on the defensive. McDonald’s and restaurant business groups have dismissed the movement as a union-coordinated public-relations gimmick and warned that $15 wages (which comes to roughly $31,000 a year) would damage the industry.
The industry’s fear of a $15 wage reveals the potency of the demand: just high enough to seem idealistic, but still within political reach—and wholly reasonable, given the fact that at current wage levels in fast food, about half of the sector’s workers are getting by on public assistance.
The second demand of the fast food workers, getting a union, is an even trickier issue than raising wages due to the industry’s decentralized franchise ownership model. However, workers recently got a legal boost when they got approval to bring unfair labor practices charges against McDonald’s as a joint employer. This could open a new avenue for workers to challenge the company as their boss, thus moving toward recognition as a single national labor force.
Although the convoluted, bureaucratic process of forming a union remains a tremendous challenge in this precarious workforce, workers are generally becoming more organized and militant. Moreover, two years ago, $15 an hour for fast-food workers would have seemed like a utopian fantasy; the realm of possibility has broadened with each wave of strikes. That might be the biggest victory so far: the sense of confidence that workers have won as the movement has emerged at the foreground of a national discussion on inequality.
And for some, the energy of the movement could be subtly changing the atmosphere at work already. “We got respect now,” said Walker, describing what she sees as a changing attitude in how her workplace is run. Before the protests began, she recalled, “the disrespect was high, the pay was low. Now, there’s still something there, but they understand that I’m standing up for what I believe. And I’m making it known.”
Read Next: Michelle Chen on New York Unions
“By NATO’s own rules, Ukraine cannot join NATO, [because it is] a country that does not control its own territory,” Nation contributing editor Stephen Cohen said to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, addressing speculation that Ukraine will join NATO after it signed a cease-fire deal with pro-Russian rebels. Cohen went on: “You have to meet certain economic, political and military criteria to join NATO. Ukraine meets none of them…. most importantly, Ukraine is linked to Russia not only in terms of being Russia’s essential security zone, but it’s linked conjugally, so to speak, intermarriage. There are millions, if not tens of millions, of Russian and Ukrainians married together. Put it in NATO, and you’re going to put a barricade through millions of families. Russia will react militarily.”
Go here please to read my column this week, on why firing David Gregory won’t actually change Meet the Press.
Click here to jump directly to Reed Richardson.
I don’t have much this week. I saw Jorma Kaukounen at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett last weekend, where he was joined on acoustic guitar by the great Barry Mittelhoff and G.E. Smith. The room was so crowded (and I am so old) despite the $85/$100 cover that I had to sit on the floor in the back corner near the merch table for most of the show, so I couldn’t see. But I could hear. And Jorma has not lost a beat at 72. And the crowd was most appreciative and engaged. Generally I prefer electric Hot Tuna, but when you hear “Hesitation Blues” and “I Know You Rider,” played so exiquisitely in so intimate a room, it feels churlish to complain and I so won’t.
A couple of recommendations: I reviewed the first volume of Country Funk when it came out a couple of years ago. There’s a volume two now, “Country Funk Volume II 1967-1974,” from Light in the Attic, with newly re-mastered, featuring cuts by Bob Darin, Thomas Jefferson Kaye, Willie Nelson and more. It’s a nice package with a comic with story by Jessica Hundley along with Jess Rotter's illustrations and the music is mostly stuff you won’t find anywhere. My favorite is “Rising Sign” by Jim Ford, who Sly Stone once called ''the baddest white man on the planet,” but it’s all kinda interesting and fun
Also I wanted to add my voice to all those recommending the new collection of long short stories and novellas by Stephan Zweig under the title, The Collected Stories of Stephan Zweig. It’s 720 pages of pure surprise and I’m grateful to the Pushkin Press for bringing it out and helping me to figure out why I’ve been hearing that name for so many years, and finally delving in. You won’t regret it you do too.
Beltway to Obama: More Fear, Please!
By Reed Richardson
There really is a pathology that lurks within our elite media discourse when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. At the root of this pathology sits a well-cultivated neurosis about our country’s esteem, its place (rank) in the world. This insecurity, in turn, breeds an almost incessant neediness for displays of machismo and dominance and aggression from our political leaders. And precisely because the U.S. military serves as the biggest hammer in the world, it has become all too easy for lazy members of the media in this country to view every crisis overseas as a stubborn nail in need of some swift flattening.
In other words, ours is a nation where patience and diplomacy have fallen out of favor among an establishment that is now far more interested in rapid response and confronting the latest mortal enemy with “kinetic action” (the kind that involves Hellfire missiles, carrier groups, and, ultimately, an infantry division or three). The unrestrained id version of this mindset—via, naturally, Fox News—can be viewed here . As a result, our cable news talk shows and national op-ed pages have developed debilitating case of selective listening, one that tunes out context and deliberation in foreign policy discussions and only really tunes in when it’s being warned what to be afraid of.
But what happens when the president doesn’t reflexively indulge in saber-rattling hyperbole? When he doesn’t take every excuse to deploy our vast arsenal of weaponry? When doesn’t reliably offer up fear-based Pavlovian signals for the pundits? Well, as the past week demonstrated, the establishment freaks out.
Take, for instance, this jingoistic op-ed by John McCain and Lindsey Graham that the New York Times took it upon itself to run. At this point, McCain and Graham have so consistently beat the drums of war for so long I think of them as the Charlie Watts and Ringo Starr of the Senate’s war hawks. The notion that this pair would offer up any insights beyond ‘Bomb Country X now’ is silly, and yet the Times gave them a platform.
After knocking around Obama for “reactive half-measures” and endowing the brutal jihadist group Islamic State with everything but evil superpowers, Graham and McCain made this it-would-be-funny-if-it-weren’
That didn’t stop the Washington Post ’s Dana Milbank from writing his own hyperventilating column . Pivoting off of a Russian-inflamed civil war in Ukraine and another grisly beheading by the brutal jihadist group Islamic State, Milbank also appears confounded by Obama’s lack of tough-guy histrionics. His column’s lede perfectly captures his up-is-down thinking: “President Obama is not worried. And that is unnerving.”
Of course, it’s not that Obama isn’t worried. On multiple occasions, and again at the Baltic Summit this week, the president expressed his concern about the alarming advances of the Islamic State and Russia’s revanchist strategy of fomenting unrest in its neighbor. What’s unnerving to Milbank is that Obama isn’t matching the level of outrage of the establishment’s conventional wisdom. To help maintain this ruse, Milbank notably omits any mention of the steps Obama has already taken in response to these crises— a wave of tough economic sanctions on Russia and an ongoing campaign of limited airstrikes on IS positions in Iraq. Nor, apparently, does Milbank read his colleague at the Washington Post , Walter Pincus, who has some great behind-the-scenes reporting on the alliance building that the administration has undertaken across the region to box in IS and ultimately defeat the group.
To Milbank and his Beltway compadres, though, it is Obama’s leadership specifically that is lacking. Exhibit A: the president’s damning public admission last week that the US “didn’t have a strategy yet” on dealing with IS inside Syria. To say that one day and then turn around the next and reassure Americans that they’re safer than ever before amounts to “happy talk” per Milbank. However, if you set aside the outrageous boogeyman-type coverage that predominates in the most of the press, you find that, again, Obama is right .
What’s more—and this is important—there’s been a wholesale inversion of how the establishment defines hubris and overconfidence. No doubt, Obama owns his share of ill-advised military misadventures, among them a futile “surge” in Afghanistan and a misguided faith in a morally repugnant and counterproductive drone policy. But it’s only when he chooses a relatively cautious approach to a foreign threat like IS that he gets branded a naïve and dangerously optimistic president a la Bush. Eleven years ago, what constituted dangerous “happy talk” from the White House looked very different and took a staggeringly higher toll, but it took years for the Beltway pundits to come out of their defensive crouch and figure this out.
This reminder of Bush’s dreadful legacy would no doubt be considered a cheap partisan shot by the National Journal ’s Ron Fournier, a bust of whom will no doubt one day adorn the Newseum’s “Both Sides Do It” installation. Right on cue, Fournier’s column this week predictably flays Obama for a lack of leadership, which admittedly isn’t much of a surprise since he writes a version of this same column at least once a month . (This stubborn lack of editorial creativity on the part of Fournier long ago reached the point of easy parody.)
As you’d expect, Fournier takes the same shots at Obama that the rest of the Beltway centrists crowd. He claims Obama’s “dithering” helped “spawn the ISIS wave,” but presents no proof of this bold assertion. In a clever bit of no-win logic, he dings the president for dismissing ISIS as a junior-varsity level threat last year, and then dings Obama again for ignoring a group that he said wasn’t a threat in the first place. And the Fournier shakes his venerable head at Obama for being “incapable of leading anybody to a solution.”
So what should have Obama done differently in Syria a year ago to fix everything, one might ask? (I mean, besides striking a courageous diplomatic deal that rid that nation of its chemical weapons, a success Fournier conveniently omits.) Or, for that matter, what might that “solution” to the region’s sprawling sectarian unrest have looked like? Ah, but the answers to these questions are an intellectual burden that Fournier never even attempts to carry. He just knows leaders lead by leading, through leadership. And Obama ain’t one of them.
Like Milbank, Fournier, in his zeal to complain, minimizes the actions Obama currently is taking to stop IS’s spread in Iraq in order to further fixate on the president’s rhetoric :
“Despite ordering airstrikes against ISIS targets, Obama doesn't seem to agree that Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq pose an unprecedented threat to America.”
Fournier can’t even give Obama credit for actually doing something without couching it in as a backhanded insult. Also note he isn’t even brave enough to say whether he approves or disapproves of the airstrikes, wants more or less of them or anything else. Again, actual policy isn’t Fournier’s cup of tea. So instead he just moves on to quibble over Obama’s refusal to say IS represents an unprecedented threat, one he later characterizes as “existential.” Needless to say, this is goddam ridiculous. By definition, every new threat is unprecedented, which is to say nothing about how we should respond to it. More obviously, it is 100% wrong to imply IS will ever threaten the very existence of the United States. Yet this over-the-top language is what simple-minded Beltway critics seem to value more than anything else in a president.
Indeed, at times, this need for a good-guy, bad-guy foreign policy narrative can fully overwhelm a pundit’s journalistic instincts. Case in point, this atrocious Frank Bruni column , where the very headline gives the game away: “Obama’s Messy Words.” In it, Bruni practically begs for the president to shovel ominous scaremongering and saber-rattling braggadocio at the press.
For example, Bruni seems baffled by Obama’s perfectly innocuous observation that the current threat from IS pales in comparison to the one posed by the old Soviet Union. He simply cannot engage with the rational conclusions one might draw from it. “Set aside the question of how germane the Cold War example is,” Bruni says, right before reciting a list of IS’s grisly depredations. The point of this scare tactic? To infantilize the press and the public: “[T]he last thing that you want to be told is that it’s par for the historical course, all a matter of perspective and not so cosmically dire. Where’s the reassurance — or the sense of urgency — in that?”
Again, grok what Bruni is saying here as a member of the press—to paraphrase Col. Nathan Jessup: “I can’t handle the truth.” Personally, I think this country is better served with a president who exercises a little more circumspection and candor before massively overreacting to the foreign enemy du jour . After having just recently concluded a decade of mismanaged, unnecessary war, don’t we deserve a commander-in-chief that maintains his composure, instead of uttering outrageously provocative, off-the-cuff statements that only make matter worse and that he later regrets? (Sad to say, our current Vice President clearly shares the same affliction .)
But Bruni doesn’t stop there. Sounding like some soulless corporate image consultant who enables rather confronts the powerful, he practically recoils at Obama’s acceptance of rather tepid limits on U.S. power.
“He’s adopted a strange language of self-effacement, with notes of defeatism, reminding us that ‘America, as the most powerful country on earth, still does not control everything’; that we must be content at times with singles and doubles in lieu of home runs; that not doing stupid stuff is its own accomplishment.
“But that doesn’t make it the right message for the world’s lone superpower (whether we like it or not) to articulate and disseminate. That doesn’t make it savvy, constructive P.R.
“Message.” “savvy.” “P.R.” Gack.
That any journalist would express a desire to essentially be manipulated instead of told the truth, however banal it may be, is chilling. To read the whole thing is to get a sense that Bruni was emotionally lashing out at the president, channeling the entire Beltway’s disgust at his unwillingness to stick to the normal U.S. foreign policy script. But it was his absurd “notes of defeatism” remark that made clear the media establishment has now fully bought into the idea that Obama’s presidency, much like the tail end of Jimmy Carter’s, is mired in a kind of intractable malaise. Unable to get any actual legislation through the Republican House, the only thing left that Obama actually could do was start another war somewhere. And here he’s not even keen to do that. What a failure.
This “malaise” narrative—and the myths that surround it—actually plays a key role in the foreign policy pathology I spoke of at the beginning. As Rick Hertzberg reminds us, the “crisis of confidence” speech he helped Carter write in 1979 [excerpted here ] never actually mentioned the word “malaise.” (That term was attached to it after the fact.) Nor was it the disaster that history tells us it was. In fact, Carter’s speech was quite popular . His approval numbers shot up 11 points overnight and the White House received an outpouring of positive mail. It was only after Carter clumsily sacked most of his Cabinet in the days that followed that elite opinion turned against him and the speech, and eventually the public’s disapproval followed as well. And while on one hand, that moment foreshadowed the end of Carter’s political career, Hertzberg argues that the speech and its aftermath also had a long-lasting ripple effect on the relationship between the president and the press.
“The speech was a truthful and prescient diagnosis of what was wrong with the country and what in many ways continues to be wrong with the country,” Hertzberg says, looking back. “A side effect was the discrediting of candor about unpleasant truths and the enshrinement of ‘optimism.’”
This “optimism” is not the hard-earned optimism that Carter spoke of at length in that same speech 35 years ago. Nor is it the measured, look-at-the-big-picture optimism that Obama stands accused of falling victim to today in dealing with Russia and the Middle East. Instead, the prevailing ‘optimism’ that has reigned over our foreign policy establishment for the past few decades—with disastrous results—is that of Reagan and of Bush. It’s a flawed American Exceptionalism that operates a de facto foreign policy of violence driven by a never-ending plague of manufactured threats. This pathological insecurity is all about pursuing vengeance abroad rather than justice, choosing condemnation of enemies over cooperation with allies. But perhaps the greatest danger of all is when it convinces the American public and the press that the most frightening thing we have to fear is when our leaders tell us the truth.
I agree with you, but want to bring something to your attention.
The established mass-media (NYT, WaPo, etc.) are so strong that they are able to make the public believe lies. I lived in Finland before and during the Iraq war and could see how the U.S. public was led to believe that Saddam Hussein was connected with the 9/11 and had WMD, but at that time at least the European media was not 100% following the USA's line. Since then a lot has changed.
USA and EU mainstream media now work in unison. Even people like you believe that Assad used chemical weapons, although there are very serious investigators who show otherwise—it's simply an old and forgotten story. The propaganda jumps to any new "facts" to justify whatever new war needs to be fought.
The MH17 [airplane downing] was used to justify sanctions against Russia. This wasn't so long, but it seems the issue is forgotten by those who used it and now they are pushing for new ways to escalate the conflict, although there are serious doubts that the initial reports, which were true - it looks like the Ukrainian army might have something to do with it, but nobody reverses the sanctions - there can be only push for more...
To me it is clear that some people decide to make Ukraine a NATO member and would do anything to achieve their goal.
All the best fighting with the strong propaganda machine!
Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form
The campaign to lift the veil on secret corporate campaign donations hit a milestone on Thursday. More than 1 million comments have been submitted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission calling for a requirement that corporations disclose political spending to their shareholders—ten times more than for any other rule-making petition to the SEC, according to the Corporate Reform Coalition.
“Investors want to know how their money is being spent,” Tim Smith, director of shareholder engagement at the firm Walden Asset Management, said at a press conference outside the SEC in Washington. A sign over his right shoulder read, “Your money is being invested in secret. Why is the SEC doing nothing?”
Campaign finance reformers have long been pushing for the rule, which the SEC was slated to consider in 2013. But Mary Jo White, who took over as head of the agency that year, removed the proposal from the SEC’s agenda. The agency claims to be swamped with other regulations related to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act and other legislation. But shelving the corporate disclosure rule was a win for business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Republicans, who’d strongly opposed it.
“At a minimum, the SEC should closely consider a rule like this—rather than turning its back on investors’ interests because of Republican objections,” said Robert Jackson, a Columbia University law professor who was one of the initial petitioners for the rule in 2011. “The SEC is an independent agency. They are charged with protecting investors, not politicians.”
The agency is expected to issue a new regulatory agenda this fall. Supporters of the disclosure rule hope the SEC will revisit it in light of what they called “unprecedented” public support.
The point of requiring corporations to disclose their political donations is twofold. First, it’s intended to protect investors, which is the SEC’s responsibility. Shareholders “understand that they have a right to know if the company they invest in is spending money on controversial political causes,” said Lisa Gilbert, the director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Project.
Secondly, reformers hope that disclosure will help stanch the flow of secret money in elections, which has increased dramatically since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United. A critical assumption in the majority’s ruling was that “prompt disclosure of expenditures” would allow shareholders to “determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits.” But without a mechanism to ensure that companies are truly transparent about their political spending, the Court’s faith in “the procedures of corporate democracy” is just wishful thinking.
Even without much transparency there are still examples that illustrate how a company’s political spending can run counter to its shareholders’ best interests. In 2010, Target caused an uproar by donating $150,000 to an anti-gay gubernatorial candidate in Minneapolis. In the following days, its shares declined by more than 3 percent, while those of its competitors rose.
The renewed push for transparency in corporate political spending comes at an appropriate time: according to a Huffington Post analysis, dark-money groups have already spent $142 million on candidate ads in the past twenty months. Unlike Super PACs, these “social welfare” or 501(c)(4) nonprofits are not required to disclose their donors. And unlike labor unions, corporations in most states are not required to report the money they spend in elections. The result is that in many cases shareholders and the public have no way to know which corporations are donating, to whom and how much.
“This rule is squarely within the authority and the responsibility of SEC,” said Demos counsel Liz Kennedy, pushing back on a claim made by the rule’s opponents, who argue that campaign finance regulations are solely the provenance of the Federal Elections Commission. “They have clear statutory authority to regulate in the protection of not just investors but also in the public interest, as well as to require the kind of corporate disclosure that shareholders would need to make informed decisions.”
Fifteen senators, including Elizabeth Warren and Robert Menendez, along with seventy members of the House of Representatives, contributed to the 1 million comments.
Read Next: Zoë Carpenter analyzes Marco Rubio’s speech at the secret Koch brothers billionaire summit.
Don Berwick is making a vital point about the need for progressives to expand the discussion about healthcare reform.
Democratic and Republican strategists, and the candidates who let campaign consultants frame their range of opinion, are still engaging in picayune debates about the strengths and weaknesses of the Affordable Care Act.
But Berwick, who for seventeen months headed the Medicare and Medicaid programs under President Obama, isn’t getting lost in the political weeds. He’s blazing a trail in the direction of what ultimately must be done—pushing at the constraints of the conversation and offering an illustration of why it is so important for progressives to get specific about the need for a “Medicare for All” fix.
Mounting an admittedly uphill campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor of Massachusetts, Berwick says, “I want us to be the first state in the nation to adopt single-payer health care—Medicare for All. With that one change, we can improve care and reduce costs for families and businesses. We can free up resources that will add tens of thousands of jobs all over Massachusetts. Single-payer health care— let’s lead.”
Berwick does not raise this issue casually. A Harvard Medical School graduate who practiced medicine serving low-income families before founding the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement, advised the World Health Organization and was so well regarded for his advice and counsel on improving Britain’s healthcare system that he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
But being one of the best thinkers and doers in the area of healthcare reform does not always bring rewards. During his tenure as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Berwick was a key player in implementing some of the best components of the Affordable Care Act, including initiatives “ensuring that young people can stay on their parents’ health plans until the age of 26, kids with preexisting conditions can no longer be denied the care they need, and insurance companies are subjected to new levels of transparency.”
Yet, as Berwick’s campaign now notes, “The toxic politics of Washington cut short Don’s time there. Right-wing pundits attacked his commitment to equality and health care for all. Glenn Beck labeled him the ‘second most dangerous man in America.’ Senate Republicans vowed to filibuster his confirmation. In the face of the same Republicans who blocked Elizabeth Warren’s confirmation to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Don was forced to step aside after only seventeen months leading Medicaid and Medicare.”
The experience did not sour Berwick on the fight for healthcare reform.
But it did cause him to refocus his considerable energies.
The physician returned to his home state of Massachusetts and began preparing for a gubernatorial run in which he has argued that the states can and must lead on real healthcare reform.
To that end, he says, he wants to build on the leadership role Massachusetts has taken on reform to make Medicare for All a reality.
“I know from my first-hand experience in Washington guiding the early implementation of the Affordable Care Act that all eyes in the nation are on Massachusetts. Champions of real health care reform are crossing their fingers for us to succeed; opponents are hoping for us to fail. It is crucial that we lead, and show the rest of the nation that treating health care as a right, not a privilege, is sensible and successful public policy,” explains Berwick in a statement on his website.
It is time to find a way to get to yes on a single payer system in Massachusetts. The complexity of our health care payment system adds costs, uncertainties, and hassles for everyone—patients, families, doctors, and employers. On day one, I will appoint a multi-stakeholder Single Payer Advisory Panel to investigate and report back within six months on how Massachusetts moves to a single payer health insurance system like Medicare for all.
Massachusetts is not the only state where single-payer healthcare reform is being placed in the agenda. In Vermont, Governor Peter Shumlin and his legislative allies have made significant progress on the issue. And they are not alone.
Last month’s “Organizing for Healthcare Justice in the Age of Obamacare” strategy conference in Oakland, California, brought together Labor Campaign for Single Payer, Healthcare NOW! and the One Payer States group, as well as members of Physicians for a National Health Program and leading figures in National Nurses United, the California Nurses Association, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and other labor groups. At the conference, much of the discussion was about state-based initiatives in Vermont, California, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and other regions of the country.
In Massachusetts, Berwick says the work that has already been done in the state to extend access to health care creates an circumstance for developing a single-payer system. His arguments are strong in this regard. But it will take leadership to take the next step, which is why Berwick entered the gubernatorial race.
As next week’s primary approaches, he’s trailing two primary foes, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Massachusetts Treasurer Steven Grossman, both of whom have more resources and party connections. While his poll numbers have improved some as the September 9 primary approaches, Berwick is behind. Yet, if the measure of a campaign is the extent to which it shifts the discourse, Berwick’s run has already been a success: He’s at the table, as a candidate who is getting a serious hearing, participating in debates and in many senses framing the discourse.
After a June debate, an analysis for WBUR radio noted that Berwick “seems to be shifting the conversation, at least at this early stage, further to the left.”
In particular, explained the WBUR report, “Berwick seems to be adjusting the conversation… on the issue of a single-payer health care system.”
The other candidates are still more cautious on the issue. But Grossman is now saying that he wants to lead a “conversation” on single-payer—arguing, “You’ve got to build a consensus in our society around any dramatic societal change.” And while Coakley says “We’re not ready to go to single-payer yet,” she adds, “I don’t rule it out ever.”
But as the Massacusetts race steers toward a close, Boston Globe columnist Alan Wirzbicki writes: “This lackluster Democratic primary wouldn’t have been the same without [Berwick]. The only doctor in the race has added some needed fiber to the Democratic diet during this year’s gubernatorial campaign. His single-payer health proposal has forced his opponents to engage in a substantive discussion of health care costs…”
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“The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.”—Arundhati Roy
We don’t normally put “ESPN broadcaster” and “civil resistance” in the same sentence, but that is exactly what is happening at the self-proclaimed World Wide Leader in Sports. A group of high-profile broadcasters and reporters are saying that they will heed the requests of Native American tribal councils over the dictates of the National Football League and refuse to say the racial slur that brands the Washington football team.
Now we have ESPN’s Tom Jackson, Lindsay Czarniak, Keith Olbermann, Lisa Salters and even Mike Tirico, the play-by-play voice of its top-rated Monday Night Football, who have said that they either will not use the name or, in Tirico’s case, will use it as little as possible. (Czarniak, who comes from the DMV and was a local sportscaster, is a particularly powerful name on this list. As she said to Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitch, “I prefer not to use the name. If it is offensive to someone and if we know that, that’s all we need to know.”) To this I would add what may be the best article I have ever read about the need to change the name by veteran sportswriter Steve Wulf, which just happened to appear on ESPN.com.
Another act of quiet civil resistance is seen in what has happened to the franchise’s merchandise revenue. The months leading up to the NFL season usually mean a spike in sales in their assorted brands. The league as a whole saw a modest 3 percent rise in this revenue during the last financial quarter. Not great, but hardly a crisis. Washington’s sales? They plummeted 35 percent. In an NFL that pools its merchandizing money, this could mean pressure on Dan Snyder to change the name from the one group he’s always had in his corner: other owners.
Not surprisingly the person hired to clean up behind team owner Dan Snyder, team spokesperson Tony Wylee, got out his burgundy-and-gold shovel and said it had nothing to do with people’s not wanting to wear something increasingly identified as “racist.” He said to CNN, “Unfortunately, team performance on the field is a major factor in the apparel business, and a 3-13 season doesn’t do much to help sales. However, we are working hard to improve that record and we look forward to the season opener this weekend.”
There are two rather glaring problems with this argument. First of all, the team has been largely terrible for the last twenty-two years, making the playoffs only four times, without its merchandise sales dropping 35 percent. In fact, the brand was so powerful, it was always one of the top sellers in the NFL despite the mediocre on-field product. Second, if the team does “turn it around” and advance deep into the playoffs, it will only bring more publicity, more protest, more pressure and more opportunities for Dan Snyder to be on camera. The bright lights are simply not his friend. In Washington, DC, a football town if there ever was one, not buying the jersey, refusing to fly the flag from your car and basically not being an unpaid advertiser for this brand constitutes an act of civil resistance.
Like many people in this area, I have cheered for this team. I also once had a gig analyzing games as a fill-in anchor on Comcast Sports Net and never gave a great deal of thought or inquiry into the history of the name or how it affects people in the twenty-first century. I started looking into it more after a young girl of Native American ancestry saw the logo on a media folder in my bag and asked me fearfully why “the man’s head had been chopped off.” To paraphrase Arundhati Roy, once you know the history and hear the voices of those who have to live with the way these images define their lives and their place in this country, it is extremely difficult to pretend you haven’t. Or as Cris Collinsworth, the NBC football analyst, said last October, “I have to admit, as I was watching the game Sunday night and I was saying the word Redskins, in my brain it was coming out red skin. And there was something about that that just didn’t feel right.” Dan Snyder is wrong. The truth, despite what he says, is not on his side. Despite his belligerence, he will lose. Because once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
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In a previous post, we discussed the use of technological aids in solving crossword puzzles, and even went as far as suggesting a few possibly useful tools. One of our regular solvers expressed shock at this, and declared that he would never stoop to such measures. We respect his choice, but as for us, we do not see this as a matter of principle: while we rarely use software to solve a standard American cryptic, we have no qualms about seeking digital help when struggling with a British puzzle.
This is because we have little experience with those puzzles, they use a fair amount of British knowledge we lack and they encompass a much greater variety of cluing styles. The alternative (admittedly not the end of the world) would be to leave many such puzzles unfinished, and thus to miss an opportunity to learn something. Yes, we could just look up the answers, but for some reason that does not seem to be as fun as using technology to generate possible solutions.
In any case, the subject of this post is the use of computers in crossword construction. We know and admire constructors (Trip Payne, for one) who create their diagrams mostly by hand. Perhaps we could do so too, but we have not tried. Instead, we use software to help us.
Our process is more or less as follows. First, we decide on some seed entries. These are entries that are necessary to the theme of the puzzle, or just words or phrases for which we have a good idea, or the germ of an idea, for a clue. We enter these in an empty diagram. In the case of a themed puzzle, we try to place these entries symmetrically. This determines the placement of several black squares. We then choose the location of the remaining black squares, keeping these criteria in mind: the diagram should be well connected, average word length should not drop too far below seven, there should not be huge black islands, and every word should have about half its letters checked, never less. The software helps ensure that the resulting diagram is symmetric.
The final step is of course to fill the rest of the diagram. Up to this point, the software was merely a way to record our ideas, but from here on out, it becomes a participant in the process. The application makes suggestions for what words fit in each location, while taking into account possibilities for the crossing words and in fact the filling of the whole diagram. The words are rated by the program as more or less desirable, based on various criteria. Virtuoso users of the software keep enlarging their word lists, and adjusting the ratings of words. We are not virtuosi.
We usually add one word at a time into the grid. This often involves backtracking, for example if a decision we made earlier led to overly obscure entries, or too many plurals, or words we have used in a recent puzzle. Sometimes the software fails us, and access to other word lists gets us out of a tight spot. This machine-human collaboration eventually leads to a filled grid, and we can start writing clues. Needless to say, our cryptic clues are written entirely by human beings and we have zero interest in outsourcing this to a machine!
What applications do we use, you ask? Crossword Compiler for half of our puzzles, and CrossFire for the other half. They each have their strengths. The former seems to be the standard among many crossword constructors, and includes the ability to create bar diagrams. Unfortunately, it is only available for Windows. The latter is not as full-featured, but it can be used on a Mac.
Have you lost all respect for us? Let us know in the comments. This week’s cluing challenge: SOFTWARE. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.
The New York Times used an incendiary phrase to describe the beheading of another American reporter in Syria. It was, the newspaper said, an “apparent murder.” The Times simply repeats the assertion of President Obama, who denounced the event as “the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist.” Perhaps it was. But popular American outrage at the barbaric killing and political voices demanding forceful retaliation reveal profound national hypocrisy.
If killing an individual American the jihadists identify as an enemy is murder, then how should we describe the American drone attacks that single out Islamic leaders for execution? For that matter, how do we differentiate the clandestine raids staged by US Special Forces in foreign lands when those soldiers in black capture and kill human targets secretly selected by American intelligence?
The American definition of “murder” in the midst of war now seems to depend upon the technical methodology for the homicide, not the deliberate intentions of the killers. Beheading is barbaric. High-tech bombing picking off individual “bad guys” is okay. In fact, US leaders claim to be conscientiously selective, though the innocent bystanders killed by drones are dismissed as “collateral damage.”
The distinctions between us and them may satisfy American public opinion—but killing is killing. Either way, “bad guys” end up dead. The Islamic State forces seem to recognize the bloody irony. Indeed, they have taunted the American goliath with the comparison. The masked executioner who killed Stephen Sotloff by cutting off his head delivered his video message in English: “Just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”
Knives or bombs, either way the people are dead. The Islamist relish for gore is disgusting, of course, but it actually captures the profound contradiction that confronts the awesome military power of the United States. If Americans can clear their heads of American innocence, they might realize that our overwhelming advantages in armed force and technological wizardry has led our country into a trap. We are vulnerable because our presumption of unconquerable superiority leads us deeper and deeper into unwinnable military conflicts. Our adversaries in the Middle East and elsewhere seem to understand this.
Here is the fallacy of Goliath’s power. The singular technological might of US forces remains beyond question but has now been trumped by low-tech adversaries fighting Goliath with deadly persistence. When the Cold War ended two decades ago, American warriors claimed an obligation to police the world in defense of peace and democracy. If it chose, the United States could bomb the bejesus out of any troublemaker anywhere in the world. Usually, the threat alone was sufficient to avoid real conflict.
US military planners even encouraged the notion that we Americans could fight casualty-free wars by simply overwhelming smaller adversaries with relentless bombing campaigns. Remember the one that subdued Serbia in the late 1990s? Remember the “shock and awe” strategy that made for short, quick victory in Iraq? Or the easy conquest of the Taliban in Afghanistan? The armchair warriors are now demanding more of the same in Syria, Iraq or wherever (to his credit, President Obama is trying to tamp down political thirsts for yet another war in the Middle East).
But underdog nations and rogue armies have figured out a guerrilla strategy that uses small-gauge resistance in explosive ways—absorbing lots of losses itself (suicide bombers) but frustrating Goliath with effective, bloody surprises (roadside bombs that kill or maim our uniformed troops). The biggest surprise of all was the tragedy of 9/11—a profound shock that sowed deep fright in American culture and fueled rearmament as the US response. The enemy was dubbed “terrorism.” All available means were employed to crush it, wherever it might lurk.
America’s effectiveness was crippled from the start by this misperception. Portraying our enemies as a bunch of bearded freaks and fanatics driven by insane religious dogma effectively masked the geopolitical realities driving resistance and disorder. People have various reasons to take shots at the superpower and some are indeed crazed. But the United States is not an innocent in the world. One of the motives for resisting our power is a longing for self-determination, upholding nation and faith, culture and independence, seeking their own definitions of what matters most in life. Goliath rejects some of these longings and attempts to impose control over them. That is an important part of what feeds the conflict.
Goliath has all the best weapons. But this is what jihadists have figured out: the enemy does not have to win the war. They just have to keep bleeding Goliath one way or another till the superpower grows weary and wants out. To accomplish this, they keep baiting proud and powerful Goliath—creating upsets and horrors that persuade the superpower to wade still deeper into the big muddy. That was the futile script the United States pursued in Vietnam. It is the new battle cry we are hearing now from the armchair hawks.
Let’s bomb the Syrians until they cry uncle. If that doesn’t work, send in the soldiers in black and mercenaries working for killer corporations. If that doesn’t do it, then send thousands of the troops in uniform, more drones, more missiles, more armored personnel vehicles filled with young Americans who will provide fresh targets for the roadside bombs and suicide bombers.
This is the political question now bearing down on the US military.
Will its leaders have the courage to resist the pressure for big interventions? Will the political leaders resist the war hawks and avoid another bloody disaster? One can hope this round will be different, and I do hope that governing elites will resist the usual reflexes of go-to-war Goliath. The orthodox American policy is that if challenged, the United States must go to war to prove itself, to show the world it is still Superman and willing to shed blood and treasure to defend that franchise.
That seems so obviously wrong, we might think the nation is sure to resist a repeat of old tragedies. But there is one more powerful reason why the failed status quo of American power may endure. If the leaders of the country back off and accept a more rational and modest view of our world power, an ugly question will surface for resentful discussion. If those previous military adventures were mistaken, driven by hubris and wrong understandings, then why did all those young soldiers die? What purpose did their sacrifices have? Why were so many innocent others killed or maimed? This is the question American leaders cannot bring themselves to face.
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On the last night of the Koch brothers’ secretive donor retreat in June, wealthy conservatives sat down to the “Immigrant Experience” dinner, as it was dubbed internally. Usually Charles Koch delivers “the final battle cry,” a Koch operative told the audience. But this year the closing speech was given by a special guest: Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida and prospective 2016 presidential candidate.
An audio recording of the event, obtained by The Undercurrent and reported exclusively here, reveals that what Rubio offered was less a battle cry than a safe homage to the American Dream, laced with anecdotes of ordinary people being crushed by big government: the person “trying to start a business out of the spare bedroom,” who can’t afford to “hire all the lawyers and lobbyists in Washington” to help him skirt regulations; the single mother who can’t afford a professional degree because Democrats keep “pouring money into a broken and stagnant higher education cartel.”
Rubio said little to surprise or offend. (A full transcript is here.) Still, the event illustrated the close relationship between the senator and the Koch brothers, who gave more money to Rubio in 2010 than to any other candidate for national office outside of their home state, Kansas. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed Super PAC, was one of the groups that gave Rubio cover from the political blowback that followed his endorsement of the Senate’s immigration reform bill. In turn, Rubio has supported the Kochs’ agenda by spreading skepticism about climate change science and by advocating for other antiregulatory policies that would boost the Kochs’ bottom line. He is one of only five senators who have earned a perfect score for their voting record from AFP.
As the billionaires dined, Rubio served up the right’s favored explanation for poverty. “I know for a fact, and so do you, that perhaps the leading cause of poverty in America today is the breakdown of communities and American families,” he said. He complained that the tax code “punished family life” and condemned safety net programs “that punish people and keep them from getting married”—presumably a reference to tax penalties incurred by some married couples.
“We need to help families with the cost of living, and that means healthcare,” he said vaguely, before immediately moving on to a curt dismissal of the Affordable Care Act: “I’m not going to spend a lot of time preaching to this choir about Obamacare.”
Rubio critiqued his own party lightly for its public relations strategy:
The problem we’ve had on the right for too long is we have not shown people how our principles of limited government and free enterprise apply to the challenges of the 21st century. And so why I’m so proud to endorse candidates like Cory Gardner [who is running the Senate in Colorado], and Joni Ernst [Iowa], and Tom Cotton [Arkansas], is because they fully understand the need that our country has to restore this agenda…. perhaps more than anything else that I think we have failed to do is to convince people that big government doesn’t hurt the people who have made it.
Rubio didn’t articulate many specific policy points, but he did highlight his education reform agenda, which includes a school vouchers and changes that, purportedly, would make higher education more “accessible”:
There’s all sorts of ways to learn in the 21st century—masters online courses, community colleges. You should be able to get credit for life experience and work experience. You should be able to package all these things into the equivalent of a degree, but we can’t because only accredited colleges can give degrees. And guess who accredits colleges? The accredited colleges…who don’t want any competition from anyone else.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for an overhaul of the way that the United States accredits postsecondary schools. But proposals advanced by Rubio and other Republicans would allow states to gut quality controls for higher education—which aren’t very strong to begin with, as the rise of predatory for-profit colleges illustrates.
That would be a win for people seeking to extend corporate influence via academia—namely, the Koch brothers, who have funded a variety of efforts to place libertarian ideology in high school and college curriculum. Spreading the free market gospel would be much easier, and cheaper, for the Kochs if they could simply offer their own accredited courses—which students could pay for with federal loans—instead of having to endow faculty positions at traditional universities. (This isn’t that far-fetched: in 2013, the Florida legislature opened the door for the state’s universities to award credit for courses developed, taught, and graded by corporations.)
Rubio also attacked the president’s directive to the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants. “I promise you, though, what this president just did by executive order is going to raise her electric bill,” Rubio said, referring to a Florida woman named Christine whose “utility is very coal dependent.” While there’s plenty of debate about how the rule will affect consumers, aggressive carbon regulation certainly would hurt the Kochs, whose empire is built on a carbon footprint that is by one estimate 100 million tons a year.
Ironically, one thing Rubio said nothing about during “The Immigrant Experience” was immigration reform. Rubio was introduced by César Grajales, the South Florida field director for the LIBRE initiative, a Koch-funded campaign to attract Latino voters to the GOP. Rubio’s former campaign manager, Jose Mallea, is the group’s national strategic director. LIBRE reaches out to Latinos by offering social services, such as free tax preparation, health checkups and a GED course. But the effort is really focused on selling conservative ideology—or, as Grajales put it in his introduction, giving Hispanics “access to the truth.”
LIBRE appears to believe that Hispanics need “truth” more than healthcare or relief from a broken immigration system. Instead of pressing Republicans for comprehensive immigration reform, which LIBRE claims to support, the group has spent millions on ads attacking Obamacare supporters. Meanwhile, Latinos are more likely to be uninsured than any other group in the US, and they’ve lagged behind others in enrollment in the new insurance exchanges.
Charles Koch wrapped up the evening by thanking “Marco” for “all he’s doing to try to preserve and enhance our free society.” He spoke about the need to build a movement “of people who will act or are dedicated to act, who don’t just give lip service, but are willing to dedicate themselves to our free society, and to making it better and better, whatever the cost to them personally.”
He went on,
And this is absolutely critical because to me what’s going to determine the future of this country is the balance of people who are willing to act to affect the future of this country. And if the majority of those people are collectivists, we are doomed. So we have to be much more aggressive in identifying, recruiting, educating, and mobilizing those people who will be willing to act on behalf of our free society.
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