In an observant post last week, the blogger Braze noted one of the difficulties with using Spoonerisms as the basis for cryptic clueing. A Spoonerism—in which the corresponding sounds of two words are swapped, for example to render “The Lord is a loving shepherd” as “The Lord is a shoving leopard”—is a well-established genre of wordplay, and possibilities for using them abound.
The problem, as Braze pointed out, is that there’s no way to flag a Spoonerism without explicitly invoking Spooner—which instantly gives the game away. He’s absolutely right. We’ve been searching for years for some alternative indicator for a Spoonerism, but with no success. In fact, every clue we’ve ever published that was based on a Spoonerism mentioned Spooner himself.
(Spoonerisms are so named after the Rev. William Spooner, a famously absent-minded Oxford professor who—like Yogi Berra after him—had many more malapropisms attributed to him than are likely to be genuine. A favorite Spooner anecdote, unrelated to Spoonerisms, has him preaching a long Sunday sermon, taking his seat, and then remounting the pulpit to add, “Every time I mentioned Aristotle, I meant St. Paul.”)
Here are a couple of examples from the files:
EASY CHAIR Spooner’s tacky first-born gets a comfy seat (4,5)
RUB NOSES Spooner’s point: flowers kiss on the tundra (3,5)
NEW DEAL Roosevelt’s program, as expected: genuflect to Rev. Spooner (3,4)
But Spoonerisms are only one example of a whole range of wordplay that goes beyond the standard typology of anagrams, reversals, charades and so on. It’s not uncommon for us to come across a bit of wordplay that fits more easily into the world of Will Shortz’s weekly NPR challenge, which comes with explicit instructions (“Take an eight-letter name, then delete one letter and reverse the remainder…”) than the more elliptical style of cryptic crosswords.
Just recently, for instance, we had a puzzle that included the word FIRMWARE. The clue was based on the observation that if you swap the last letters of FIRM and WARE you get FIRE and WARM—a sort of non-phonetic last-letter Spoonerism variant. There’s no obvious way to flag that, so we wound up simply describing the process, albeit somewhat cryptically:
FIRMWARE Permanent programs can heat up if terminals are interchanged (8)
Another example was this clue, based on a very specific letter substitution:
VISCOUNT Aristocrat’s price markdown, initially reduced by 99% (8)
Again, there is no specific name for this kind of wordplay, and so the constructor can do no more than suggest how it works. The result, as the Rev. Spooner might say, is a cladistic Sioux.
What do you think about Spoonerisms and other unusual wordplay? Please share here, along with any quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.
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“Rick,” a Facebook friend writes, “curious to see what you make of the old debate (which may have some new evidence, see Galbraith II) re JFK and Vietnam. Would we have gone or stayed if JFK lived? Or was he the fervent Cold Warrior some paint him as? (My dad marched in his inauguration, and was almost killed six or seven years later.)”
The argument that John F. Kennedy was a closet peacenik, ready to give up on what the Vietnamese call the American War upon re-election, received its most farcical treatment in Oliver Stone’s JFK. It was made with only slightly more sophistication by Kenneth O’Donnell in the 1972 book Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, in which the old Kennedy hand depicted the president telling him, “In 1965, I’ll become one of the most unpopular presidents in history. I’ll be damned everywhere as a Communist appeaser. But I don’t care. If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have another McCarthy red scare on our hands, but I can do it after I’m elected.” O’Donnell also claimed that in an October 2, 1963, National Security Council meeting, after debriefing Robert McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor on their recent trip to Saigon, “President Kennedy asked McNamara to announce to the press after the meeting the immediate withdrawal of one thousand soldiers and to say that we would probably withdraw all American forces from Vietnam by the end of 1965. When McNamara was leaving the meeting to talk to the White House reporters, the President called to him, ‘And tell them that means all the helicopter pilots, too.’ ” Promptly, wrote O’Donnell, McNamara double-crossed the president, giving the reporters merely a prediction of the end of America’s war, not Kennedy’s prescription of the end of America’s war: McNamara merely said they thought “the major part of the the U.S. task” would be completed by the end of 1965, nothing about the president’s intention to complete the task by the end of 1965.
O’Donnell was seeing the world through Camelot-colored glasses. As the historian Edwin Moise demonstrates in A Companion to the Vietnam War (2002), NSC minutes are a matter of record, and the notes show the president himself approving a statement that was only a prediction that things would be over by the end of 1965, framed merely as the observation of Taylor and McNamara. (“They reported that by the end of this year, the U.S. program for training Vietnamese should have progressed to the point where 1,000 military personnel assigned to South Vietnam can be withdrawn.”)
Now, on the broader claim that Kennedy truly intended to end the war by the end of 1965, things get more interesting, and that’s where the case recently made by James K. Galbraith, son of the famous Kennedy hand and economist John Kenneth Galbraith, comes in. As he put it categorically in a letter to The New York Times, “President Kennedy issued a formal decision to withdraw American forces from Vietnam.” Is that true? Only literally, which in the end adds up to mostly nothing.
Kennedy, of course, was the first president to send soldiers to Southeast Asia, 16,732 of them, supposedly as mere “advisers,” but many of them actually combatants. As Kennedy had told famously told The New York Times’s James Reston late in 1961 after the failure at the Bay of Pigs and the erection of the Berlin Wall, “Now we have a problem in making our power credible, and Vietnam is the place.” And a damned good place, his military men kept telling him: early in his third year as president, his Vietnam commanders reported that “barring greatly increased resupply and reinforcement of the Viet Cong by the infiltration, the military phase of the war can be virtually won in 1963”—an opinion he continued hearing repeatedly. That’s important context, for whether JFK’s plans on what to do in Vietnam were contingent on military success in Vietnam—as opposed to cutting and running even if that meant leaving the country to the Communist insurgency—is key to this debate.
As Edwin Moise notes, though, “President Kennedy also read much more pessimistic evaluations. These were written mostly by civilians—some by officials in the State Department, others by journalists like Malcolm Browne and David Halberstam. Kennedy did not openly commit himself to either the optimists or the pessimists.” What he did do was insist publicly that he would never cut and run. July 13, 1963: “We are not going to withdraw from that effort…. we are going to stay there.” September 2: “I don’t agree with those who say we should withdraw. That would be a great mistake.” September 26: “We have to stay with it. We must not be fatigued.”
And what of privately? Bug-out plans were indeed drawn up. Galbraith points to an October 4 message from General Taylor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Program currently in progress to train Vietnamese forces will be reviewed and accelerated as necessary to insure that all essential functions visualized to be required for the projected operational environment, to include those now performed by U.S. military units and personnel, can be assumed properly by the Vietnamese by the end of calendar year 1965. All planning will be directed towards preparing RVN forces for the withdrawal of all U.S. special assistance units and personnel by the end of calendar year 1965.” (Galbraith himself adds the emphasis.) “Execute the plan,” the memo continues, “to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963…”
Noam Chomsky ably took on this claim by pointing out that the withdrawal plan in question, labeled NSAM 263, included language Galbraith conveniently omits, for instance, “It remains the central object of the United States in South Vietnam to assist the people and Government of that country to win their contest against the externally directed and supported Communist conspiracy. The test of all decisions and U.S. actions in this area should be the effectiveness of their contributions to this purpose.” And that supporting texts included phrases like “without impairment of the war effort,” and that “what furthers the war effort we support, and what interferes the with the war effort we oppose,” and “our actions are related to our fundamental objective of victory.” Moises points to language in minutes from the October 2, 1963, NSC meeting: “President Kennedy indicated he did not want to get so locked into withdrawal plans that it would be difficult to cancel them if the war did not go so well after all.”
In other words, whether John F. Kennedy’s formal decision would be carried through in the interim between October 1963 and January 1966 was contingent on what happened in the future. One day this summer I issued a formal decision to go the beach. Then it rained. And so I did not go to the beach.
And as anyone who knows anything about the Vietnam War knows, the people funneling intelligence to the president were alarmingly adept (“the military phase of the war can be virtually won in 1963”) at claiming the sun was shining when it actually was pouring down rain. In fact, when it came to America’s military prospects there, it was winter in Seattle just about all the time. But tomorrow was always going to be sunny, if you asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The best evidence that this “formal decision” by JFK lacks forecasting power is the actual outcome of phase I of that selfsame formal decision: to remove 1,000 soldiers from Vietnam by the end of 1963. Only 432 were actually removed by the end of 1963 (“although,” writes Moise, “some sources give lower figures,” and even that may have merely been the result of shifting deployment schedules). Sometimes war is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.
And that’s not because there was a new president by the end of 1963, at least if you trust Galbraith, who cites as clinching his argument (though it actually proves his argument is wrong) that a December 11, 1963, memo noting that the plan to withdraw 1,000 soldiers was still in force, “with no reference to the change of commander in chief.” Through the rest of 1963, in other words (Galbraith’s words), America’s Vietnam policy was still Kennedy’s, not LBJ’s. The policy, as articulated two days before Kennedy’s death by Henry Cabot Lodge, America’s ambassador to Vietnam: “We should continue to keep before us the goal of setting dates for phasing out U.S. activities and turning them over to the Vietnamese…. We can always grant last-minute extensions if we think it wise to do so.”
Finally, consider context. We all know how the Cold War worked: Republican claims about “losing China” motivated a generation of Democrats into pants-pissing fears about not looking tough enough on the reds. Writes Moise, “It is hard to believe that Kennedy as a man who had spent so much effort cultivating an image of machismo and youthful vigor would not have cared about being thought a Communist appeaser.” He observes, with subtly and sharp historical acumen, “It is not at all unusual in Washington for people to write plans based on a ‘best-case’ scenario. It also seems possible that when Kennedy based plans on the optimists’ projections, he was using this as a way of putting pressure on senior military officers to be realistic in their reports. They might be less inclined to write inflated claims of progress if they were clearly told that such claims would be treated as justifications for troop pullouts.”
He concludes archly, “To have reached a firm decision to withdraw, so long in advance, he would have to have felt that no possible new development, between 1963 and 1965, might create a prospect of an acceptable outcome of a continued struggle. To have thought the situation was such an unmitigated and unmitigatable disaster, he would have had to think that most of what was being said about he Vietnam War in the National Security Council was nonsense, and that his top military and foreign policy advisors were fools or liars. If he felt that, he did an extraordinary job of concealing it.” I agree wholeheartedly.
So what would have happened in Vietnam had JFK lived? Let the man who knew him best have the last word. Asked in 1964 whether America would have “go[ne] in on land” if the South Vietnamese were about to lose, Bobby Kennedy answered, “Well, we’d face that when we came to it.”
Part II of this series considers whether JFK’s assassination influenced the passage of LBJ’s sweeping social reforms.
Charlotte Hays, the conservative writer and director of cultural programs at the anti-feminist Independent Women’s Forum, has a new book out, titled When Did White Trash Become the New Normal? A Southern Lady Asks the Impertinent Question. A broadside against the moral and aesthetic failures of the lower orders, it’s a fascinating work, not for what it says but for what it represents. It’s a sign that at least some on the right are abandoning the NASCAR-fetishizing Palinesque faux-populism of recent decades for a more overt style of class warfare.
A chapter on the foreclosure crisis and crushing student debt, for example, is called “White Trash Money Management.” “There are, I thus adduce, two keys to not being White Trash: having a job and paying your bills on time,” Hays sniffs. “The first is getting more difficult in this economy, but it is still White Trash to go on disability if you aren’t positively unable to lift a finger.”
Hays’s work is saturated with that particular kind of right-wing smugness born of the conviction that one’s willingness to express common prejudices is a sign of free-thinking audacity. What’s interesting is where it’s directed—not at liberals or their sacred cows, but at fat, broke, ordinary Americans. “We look like hell as a nation, and fat people bear a large brunt of responsibility for this,” she writes. “I can remember when going to New York meant seeing beautiful, pencil-thin people in stylish clothes on Fifth Avenue. Where are they now? The other day I saw a fat guy in polyester in my favorite New York restaurant.” Heaven forfend! She’s so delighted with her description of diabetes as “the talismanic White Trash disease” that she uses it twice.
This marks quite a change from the dominant conservative style of the last two decades. Until recently, the modern right defined itself in opposition to caricatured elitists—particularly fashionable New Yorkers. Think of the Club For Growth’s famous anti-Howard Dean commercial, with the earthy old couple decrying the candidate’s “tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, volvo-driving, New York Times–reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving left-wing freak show.” Tom Frank’s hugely successful What’s the Matter With Kansas? was all about this sort of ostentatious down-home shtick. “In the backlash imagination, America is always in a state of quasi-civil war,” he wrote. “[O]n one side are the unpretentious millions of authentic Americans; on the other stand the bookish, all-powerful liberals who run the country but are contemptuous of the tastes and beliefs of the people who inhabit it.”
This style, obviously, hasn’t entirely vanished from the right, but lately a bit of overt disgust towards those unpretentious millions has crept in. Or maybe crept out—if conservatives once tried to keep their contempt for hoi polloi behind closed doors, Mitt Romney–style, now they’re displaying it proudly.
You can see it in the growing prominence of Fox’s Stuart Varney, who got his own show on Fox Business Network in 2011. When he’s not giving interviews about his love of juicing and his many estates, Varney specializes in sneering at the poor in an impossibly posh English accent. (“Many of them have things,” he once said. “What they lack is the richness of spirit.”) Then there’s Charles Murray, who, taking a break from theorizing the innate inferiority of African-Americans, turned his attention to inequality among white people in last year’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010. That book argued, among other things, that a “decay in industriousness” among working-class white men, not decay in the labor market, is a major factor in our country’s growing class divide.
And now we have this nasty little book, which has received favorable coverage in National Review, The Washington Times and The Weekly Standard. Writing in the latter, Judy Bachrach called it a “plaintive tract…. a serious political one, in fact.” In a sense, Bachrach is right. Hays’s flip dehumanization of struggling people does have a serious purpose. It’s becoming increasingly hard to ignore inequality’s ravages or to blame them on gay marriage or snotty university professors. Conservatives find themselves faced with a choice: either acknowledge that our economic system is failing the American people, or deride the American people for failing our economic system.
Hays opts for the latter. Her book’s message is essentially the same as Murray’s: Americans are falling behind because they are lazy and dissolute. She even mocks the idea that full-time work alone should be enough to escape poverty. The colonists at Jamestown and Plymouth, she writes, “knew you had to work full time—and then some—and maybe still do a little starving.”
In some ways, it’s nice to see right-wingers drop their everyman act and be forthright in their defense of traditional hierarchies—at least they’re being honest. Still, as La Rochefoucauld famously said, “Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.” Hays’s book shows us what it looks like when ugly, vulgar ideas are displayed without shame. Maybe we’d be better off with at least a pretense of decency.
Michelle Goldberg on why liberals need to kick Alec Baldwin to the curb.
The war in Afghanistan has lasted twelve years, making it the longest in American history. Despite the unpopularity of the conflict, President Obama is working with the government of Afghanistan to formulate a new security deal that would leave US troops in the country for at least a decade more—without the approval of Congress.
A bipartisan group of senators, led by Senator Jeff Merkley, are planning to introduce an amendment to the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would slow down the President’s plans to turn a 12-year conflict into a twenty-three-year war. The amendment “expresses the sense of the Senate” that President Obama should seek congressional approval no later than June 1, 2014 for any extended presence in Afghanistan. As The Nation’s George Zornick points out, although the amendment isn’t binding, a debate in Congress could “mirror the debate over intervention in Syria earlier this year—where congressional support never materialized.”
The Democratic leadership may not let the Senate vote on this crucial amendment. Join us in calling on Senate majority leader Harry Reid to bring Senator Merkley’s amendment up for a vote. Our elected representatives must have a say in whether we prolong the war in Afghanistan. Then, to amplify your voice, call the Senate majority leader at 202-224-3542 and tweet at him @SenatorReid.
Earlier this week,The Nation’s George Zornick reported on Senator Merkley’s plan to introduce this crucial amendment.
On the twelfth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! spoke to Malalai Joya, an activist and former member of the Afghan Parliament who has argued forcefully against a continued United States military presence in her country.
Florida Congressman Trey Radel, who has wisely determined that he does not want to become an American version of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, says he will take a leave of absence from the US House of Representatives to address his penchant for cocaine.
“I’m struggling with this disease, but I know that I can overcome it,” explains the conservative Republican.
Fair enough. The congressman wants to finally deal with an addiction problem he says he’s struggled with “on and off for years.” And there is every reason to wish him well as he does so.
But it would be good for Radel and his colleagues to note that he has identified his challenge as a disease, not a bad habit.
That’s a very different line than was taken by the House Republicans Caucus (of which Radel has been an enthusiastic member) when the chamber this year gave voice-vote approval to an amendment that allows states to require drug-testing of food stamp recipients. Why would they seek to penalize victims of what the congressman says is a disease? Why would they go after the neediest Americans in what Congressman Jim McGovern—the House’s most ardent advocate for nutrition programs—with a “degrading and mean-spirited” approach?
Why, in general, is there a rush to penalize Americans who are in need far more aggressively than Radel, a former television reporter who was elected to Congress last year with the backing of Tea Party groups that have made it a priority to promote crackdowns on recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
Radel’s penalty for an admitted purchase of cocaine from an undercover agent will be a year of supervised probation.
He will not lose his job, or the benefits that will allow him to overcome his disease. He even suggests that he wants to “continue to serve.”
Radel seems to be safe from the worst ravages of the drug war. He's getting a chance to "overcome" his problems.
But Americans who are not members of Congress continue to be harmed. Shouldn't they get the same chance that Radel has gotten?
§ The number of people behind bars for drug law violations rose from 50,000 in 1980 to more than a half of a million today—an 1100-percent increase.
§ Drug arrests have more than tripled in the last 25 years, totaling more than 1.63 million arrests in 2010. More than four out of five of these arrests were for mere possession, and forty-six percent of these arrests (750,591) were for marijuana possession alone.
§ Arrests and incarceration for drugs—even for first time, low-level violations—can result in debilitating collateral consequences for an individual and their family. A conviction for a drug law violation can result in the loss of employment, property, public housing, food stamp eligibility, financial aid for college, and the right to vote—even after serving time behind bars.
And Radel’s House Republican Caucus just led the fight to make it even harder on people suffering from what the congressman identifies as a disease—or for people who simply engage in recreational marijuana use—to get by.
There are lots of calls for Radel to step down.
But wouldn’t it be better for him to get his treatment and come around to the realization that penalizing and punishing people who use drugs is a bad policy? Wouldn’t it be better if he recognized, as a participant in future policy debates, that this bad policy is too frequently applied in a “new Jim Crow” manner that sees people of color and low-income Americans face far harsher penalties than wealthy and politically connected white folks?
Radel could be a leader in backing legislative proposals would change not just policies but the broader debate about how to end a failed “drug war.” So, too, could more members of a House Republican Caucus that still errs too frequently on the side of punishment of those in need rather than common sense.
Some Republicans have already come around. There’s bipartisan support for some of the soundest legislative proposals. But the support has not been sufficient to get the House moving on what the Drug Policy Alliance identifies as essential reforms, such as:
§ The Safety Valve Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate by Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and in the U.S. House by Representatives Robert “Bobby” Scott, D-Virginia, and Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky. The bills would allow federal judges to sentence nonviolent offenders below the federal mandatory minimum sentence if a lower sentence is warranted. (Notably, Radel is a co-sponsor of this measure. Unfortunately, he’s one of just 18 House members—15 Democrats, 3 Republicans—who are now on board.)
§ The Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced in the US Senate by Senators Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, and in the House by Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, and Bobby Scott, which would lower mandatory minimums for certain drug law violations, make the recent reduction in the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity retroactive, and give judges more discretion to sentence certain offenders below the mandatory minimum sentence if warranted. (Ten members—7 Democrats and three Republicans, but no Radel—are backing this measure.)
§ The Public Safety Enhancement Act, introduced in the US House by Congressman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Bobby Scott, which would allow certain federal prisoners to be transferred from prison to community supervision earlier if they take rehabilitation classes, saving taxpayer money while improving public safety.(Seventeen House members—12 Democrats and 5 Republicans, but no Radel—are backing this measure.)
These pieces of legislation represent vital steps in the right direction. Ultimately, however, the first step is to recognize that Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs” has failed and that it is absurd to continue to respond to that failure with an unreasonable and unequal regimen of penalty and punishment.
Zoë Carpenter describes how inequality is “literally killing America.”
Meet the new occupation: same as the old occupation! Or pretty much: not as many troops, not as many dead and wounded every week, but still. In the new US-Afghanistan accord—which may or may not be ratified early next week by President Hamid Karzai’s Loya Jirga, and which may or may not be signed until some in mid-2014—the United States will be able to maintain as many as nine military bases in Afghanistan. In addition, American troops and US contractors can go in and out of Afghanistan without visas. And neither the troops nor the contractors will be subject to Afghan law.
In a hilarious statement of his priorities, Karzai said: “We want the Americans to respect our sovereignty and laws and be an honest partner. And bring a lot of money.” The delegates to the Loya Jirga laughed, said The New York Times.
The Afghan foreign ministry released draft text of the accord, which (among other things) codifies that the United States must continue to finance Afghanistan’s ragtag security forces indefinitely, or at least through 2024, saying “the United States shall have an obligation to seek funds on a yearly basis to support the training, equipping, advising and sustaining of” the Afghan forces.
According to The Washington Post: “The United States can maintain up to nine bases, and American troops and support contractors will be able to enter Afghanistan without having to obtain a visa.” Karzai said that as many as 15,000 foreign troops could remain in Afghanistan through 2024. Of those, it’s expected that less than 10,000 would be American troops, including Special Forces units that, under the terms of the accord, will be able to conduct night raids against targets suspected of terrorism. And the bases can be used, presumably, for launching drone attacks against targets in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The government of Afghanistan gave in on a critical US demand, that American troop and contractors not be subject to Afghan law. That was a deal-breaker in the talks with Iraq, when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki rejected a similar US demand. Says the Afghan text of the US-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement, in rather convoluted language:
Afghanistan, while retaining its sovereignty, recognizes the particular importance of disciplinary control, including judicial and non-judicial measures, by the United States forces authorities over members of the force and of the civilian component. Afghanistan therefore agrees that the United States shall have the exclusive right to exercise jurisdiction over such persons in respect of any criminal or civil offenses committed in the territory of Afghanistan. Afghanistan authorizes the United States to hold trial in such cases, or take other disciplinary action, as appropriate, in the territory of Afghanistan.
The text adds: “Passports and visas shall not be required. Such personnel shall be exempt from Afghan law and regulations on registration and control of foreign citizens.”
Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, is pushing a proposal on Capitol Hill to require that the continued occupation of Afghanistan, even if ratified by a US-Afghan accord, be endorsed by Congress. That’s an interesting idea, but despite strong public disapproval in polls for continuing the war in Afghanistan in any form, it’s far-fetched to think that Congress would disapprove the pact.
Read Bob Dreyfuss’s take on how diplomacy with Iran is straining US-Israel relations.
Today’s top—though belated—media criticism comes from Erik Wemple from The Washington Post. He dissects the long-lamented but until now much-overlooked blending of ads and coverage within Mike Allen’s fabled, overrated, “Playbook” morning tip sheet (and e-mail newsletter) at Politico. Allen, a former Post reporter, has been one of the chief Politico staffers since its beginning.
One can only cheer when Wemple observes early on in his lengthy piece, “It’s about time that Politico’s Allen got his due as a native-advertising pioneer.”
Other media commentators are now responding and I’ll chart their reactions (and any Allen reply) below at the end of my piece. Jonathan Chait at New York magazine has tweeted, for example: “The ethical disaster most journalists would define as a firing offense is, for Mike Allen, a job description.” And he’s written this. Andrew Sullivan’s headline declared, “Mike Allen, Busted.” Seveal wags have retitled the Wemple piece, “SLAYBOOK.”
So what’s native advertising?
One of the hottest issues in journalism today is “native” advertising, the tricks that publishers deploy to elide the domains of journalism and advertising. BuzzFeed has sustained gray-bearded criticism for its boundary-defying listicles. The Atlantic earlier this year ran a native ad from the Church of Scientology that inflamed its audience and prompted an apology and a review of Atlantic procedures for approving ads. Forbes, The Washington Post and the Huffington Post are also experimenting with this approach to funding journalism.
Until now, Allen’s alleged transgressions, well-blended as they are—for example, ads from the US Chamber of Commerce plus outsized coverage of its work and views—have never been catalogued. Wemple took the time and summarizes:
A review of “Playbook” archives shows that the special interests that pay for slots in the newsletter get adoring coverage elsewhere in the playing field of “Playbook.” The pattern is a bit difficult to suss out if you glance at “Playbook” each day for a shot of news and gossip. When searching for references to advertisers in “Playbook,” however, it is unmistakable. And its practitioner is expanding the franchise.
Beyond the Chamber…
Another big name that’s gotten a healthy dose of earned media from Playbook is BP, a company that has faced quite a challenge in image-conscious Washington, thanks to the 2010 oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon rig leased by the company. In recent months, BP has blanketed “Playbook” with ads hyping the company’s status as “America’s largest energy investor.” The free BP mentions authored by Allen tell a similar story.
Then there are examples involving Goldman Sachs and other big-business entities, along with Allen’s going out of his way to show some love for Sheldon Adelson and so on. Allen and Politico chief John Harris refused interviews for the piece. Wemple:
In rejecting a sit-down discussion, Editor-in-Chief John Harris said the premise “is without merit in any shape or form.” Without an interview, it’s impossible to judge Allen’s motivations. For example, does he write nice things about the chamber because he wants more advertisers or because he feels their agenda doesn’t get fair play in other outlets? Did he publish those BP plugs because he thought they were newsworthy or because he’s got a friend at the company?
As noted earlier, Andrew Sullivan has weighed in at his popular blog, The Dish.
Dish readers know what I think of “native advertizing” and “sponsored content.” If it’s an advertorial, just call it and clearly label it an advertorial! Full disclosure and transparency are essential. The rest is whoredom, not journalism. When a journalist becomes a copy-writer for big advertisers giving him or his publication money, and does not clearly disclose the conflict of interest, he or she has ceased to be an independent journalist and joined the lucrative profession of public relations.
Read Erik Wemple’s evisceration of Mike Allen’s Playbook and make up your own mind. But to my eyes, it reads like a meticulously researched tale of at least the appearance of blatant corruption.
Glenn Greenwald has tweeted that the Wemple piece shows “how Mike Allen reaches new lows in renting out his journalism to the highest corporate bidder.” Clara Jeffery, Mother Jones editor: “Wemple’s story codifies what many have suspected: Lack of a moral core at center of Politico.” Jay Rosen: “At issue: what is an ad and what is news?”
And this from Nick Confessore, political reporter for The New York Times: “Near absence of
@ErikWemple’s story on my Twitter feed a pretty good testament to how much of D.C. officialdom sups at Mike’s table.” David Carr, media writer at the Times: “Playbook reads different through the prism of @erikwemple’s eye-popping story. Brutally good content analytics.”
But Philip Bump at The Atlantic’s Wire muses: “Not to detract from Wemple’s piece, but anyone unaware of Playbook’s cloying obsequiousness clearly doesn’t actually read Playbook.”
Michael Serazio explores the troubled waters of sponsored content in the digital age.
Oh, the drama of it all! New York Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, facing a 211-game suspension and the effective end of his career, chose to display a unique defense strategy at his arbitration hearing. He slammed down his hands and shouted, “This is ridiculous!” Then the three-time MVP leveled what is being described as a “stream of profanities” at Major League Baseball’s chief operating officer, Rob Manfred. After all of this, baseball’s last great diva topped it off by storming the hell out with a promise to never return.
The official word from A-Rod and his small army of lawyers was that he was enraged that league commissioner Bud Selig would be neither present at his hearing nor required to testify. Whether this was in fact a case of spontaneous combustion or ham-handed choreography, it was mere dinner theater compared to what happened next. A-Rod then journeyed to the last locale in New York City where his word is sacred and his character is above reproach: the radio studio of Sports Radio WFAN’s Mike Francesa.
In the forty minutes that followed, we were treated to the spectacle of what it sounds like when someone who has led a remarkably charmed life suddenly perceives himself to be Jean Valjean, the honest man being mercilessly persecuted by powerful people enflamed with vengeance. In A-Rod’s mind, his Javert, the man with a “vendetta” who “hates [his] guts”, is even more frightening than a singing Russell Crowe: 80-year-old Commissioner Bud Selig.
There is the old expression that a liberal is a conservative who has been to jail. A-Rod, who supports Republican political candidates like an honorary Koch brother, was a born-again radical in Mike Francesa’s radio booth, raging against “injustice”, and railing against “the system.” Mike Francesa backed him up, saying, “This is not about a rogue player. It is about a rogue sport.”
What was remarkable about the interview is that it was possible to be disgusted by his self-serving sense of victimization, to remember the lies he told to the face of Katie Couric, to roll your eyes at the tenderly asked questions of Mike Francesa and still agree with the overwhelming thrust of what he was saying. The most honest part of A-Rod’s interview was when he said to Francesa that people on the street stop him and say, “I hate your guts and you’re being railroaded.”
You could not find a more dubious messenger, but the message is not necessarily wrong. Major League Baseball promised mountains of evidence that Alex Rodriguez was not only prescribed performance-enhancing drugs by Anthony Bosch’s Biogenesis clinic but also “obstructed justice” by attempting to buy evidence from Bosch and keep witnesses from testifying. Yet all evidence of this that we have seen thus far is rooted in the testimony of Bosch himself. A-Rod’s team alleges that Anthony Bosch has been paid as much as $150,000 by Major League Baseball for his testimony, along with promises that he would not be prosecuted by the Florida attorney general’s office for distributing contraband pharmaceuticals. There are witnesses who have come forward to say that, yes indeed, Major League Baseball brought out the checkbook to acquire his allegiance.
“Vendetta” is a strong word, but Rodriguez is probably right that Bud Selig looks at him and licks his chops. The 211-game suspension is in flagrant violation of the collective bargaining agreement with the union, but MLB is determined to push this through. This is Selig’s opportunity, one year before his own announced retirement, to look like someone who helped clean up the sport. The same Bud Selig who sat on his hands and looked the other way during the go-go steroid 1990s; the same Bud Selig who along with his fellow owners became unimaginably wealthy as the balls went flying out of the park; the same Bud Selig who has been subject to withering books, news exposés and documentaries about why he chose to do nothing as locker rooms became all-you-can-inject pharmacies, wants A-Rod’s pelt to be part of his legacy. Instead of “Bud Selig, steroid enabler,” he becomes the man who stood up to the union and cleaned up the game.
Meanwhile, here is Alex Rodriguez, the speed bump on the way to Bud Selig’s retirement, on Mike Francesa’s radio show sounding like Norma Rae, saying that he will fight this to very end. “I have no regrets,” he said. “It’s the system that is wrong.” He may be right, but waging and winning a fight against Major League Baseball would require an outpouring of solidarity from his fellow players and trust that this is not all a self-serving smokescreen. Solidarity and trust: for all his hundreds of millions of dollars, these are two things he has never been able to attain. A-Rod may try to sell himself as baseball’s Jean Valjean, but that may be beyond even his own dramatic powers.
Dave Zirin takes a look at A-Rod’s Maryland slums.
According to a nationwide study conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLESN), 90 percent of LGBTQ students report hearing derogatory language or experience some type of verbal bullying, and more than 50 percent experience some kind of physical harassment or assault. LGBTQ students are five times more likely to cut class or skip school because they feel unsafe, while 28 percent will drop out of school altogether because of bullying. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer youth are five times more likely to attempt or commit suicide than their straight peers, while trans youth are nine times more likely.
In 2011 the “It Gets Better” campaign became a national phenomenon. Thousands of people—from celebrities like Lady Gaga to ordinary high school students—produced video messages of support for LGBTQ youth struggling with bullying. The decision of so many to show their solidarity with LGBTQ youth, and the way in which the “It Get’s Better” campaign helped catapult the issue of bullying and suicide into the national spotlight, is a major advance for the LGBTQ movement.
But we can’t leave the responsibility of ending anti-LGBTQ bullying and youth suicide on the shoulders of the victims. By telling LBGTQ youth who are experiencing violence and struggling with suicide that it’s their responsibility alone to overcome and survive these struggles, without also highlighting the many ways in which our education system, politicians and the government are systematically failing to address these problems, we run the risk of blaming the victims, and leaving the biggest bullies—politicians and school officials—off the hook. Message of support to LGBTQ youth are a beautiful sign of solidarity, but alone they are inadequate to deal with the depth and scale of the crisis at hand.
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Creating schools that are safe places for LGBTQ youth and affirming to people across the sexual and gender spectrum requires addressing the problem on multiple levels. Being a teenager is tough enough. Being a gay teenager is even tougher. Having slurs like faggot hurled at you in the hallways, getting spat on after school, having your head bashed into a few lockers, and being forced to fend off upperclassmen who try to beat you up are just a few examples of what I had to put up with as a gay teen. Homophobia took it’s toll on me; in my early teens I struggled intensely with suicide, depression, and low self esteem. Thankfully, with the help and support of friends, family, and supportive LGBTQ youth organization, I got through it. These are the sorts of organziations that need to be supported. On a micro level, educators and student allies can play a role in making schools a welcoming space for LGBTQ students by calling out anti-LGBTQ bullying, taking time to discuss LGBTQ issues in the classroom, and supporting LGBTQ students when they work to address these problems.
At the same time, teachers and students are highly limited in their ability to make a difference in their schools and the lives of LGBTQ youth as long as school districts and state and federal agencies fail to take the necessary steps to address the problem on a structural, policy-wide level. While many school districts and states refuse to adequately address anti-LGBTQ bullying, some have adopted programs to address these problems but lack the resources necessary to seriously implement the far-reaching measures required. This is especially true for schools in lower income communities, which are disproportionality made up of students of color and lack the same resources as their wealthier, whiter suburban counterparts.
Given the pervasiveness of anti-LGBTQ bullying and youth suicide, far-reaching changes are required to make schools a safe and affirming place for LGBTQ youth. This includes measures such an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, sexual health classes that address LGBTQ issues, more on-site social workers and counselors, anti-bullying and suicide prevention educational programs for students and faculty, and the necessary funding required to adequately implement these programs. In addition to creating safe schools, community organizations such as BAGLY and FIERCE are also important to providing affirming and empowering outlets for LGBTQ youth.
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Often, the problems of anti-LGBTQ bullying and suicide are narrowly discussed as a problem of insensitive bullies. Normally, punitive measures like suspensions, expulsions and, in some extreme cases, criminal prosecutions are the focus of solutions put forward by public officials. Generally, little help is offered to those who have been victimized and few policies that could transform the larger structural factors which allow bullying to flourish in the first place are ever even contemplated.
Ending anti-LGBTQ bullying and the damaging—even life-threatening—mental health issues it produces does not need to include increasing incarceration. Holding bullies accountable by requiring them to undergo LGBTQ educational programs and providing them with counseling does more to eliminate bullying and creating an LGBTQ-inclusive environment in schools than simply punishing perpetrators with suspensions or prison sentences. Transforming our schools has to be the aim of our efforts.
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Only a decade or two ago, one would be hard-pressed to find more then a handful of politicians willing to address anti-LGBTQ bullying. But now, elected officials are talking publicly about these issues. Even President Barack Obama made an “It Gets Better” video. This sea change in official discourse is undoubtedly due to years of grassroots activism by parents, students and educators.
While many politicians are now quick to lend their support to issues such as gay marriage and anti-bullying campaigns, few are actually willing to seriously push for the necessary policy changes to address the range of problems affecting LGBTQ young people, in and outside of schools. Even the rare few who do, like Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, fail to allocate the necessary resources and funding to adequately deal with the problem.
Too often, the same Democratic politicians who are willing to speak at LGBTQ events, solicit LGBTQ votes, take LGBTQ donations and advocate for LGBTQ equality are the same officials complicit in cutting funding for the very programs that LGBTQ youth depend on. The lives of LGBTQ young people are not playthings to be tossed around for political capital. As people who want schools that are safe and affirming places for LGBTQ students and hope for a future where no young person will ever feel like death is a better option then living, we have a responsibility to hold politicians accountable to their rhetoric. We are best positioned to do this when we organize with others to build grassroots movements that are less concerned with befriending the political establishment and courting corporate sponsorship, and more focused on doing whatever it takes to pressure those in power to implement the wide-reaching changes required to end the range of problems facing queer youth once and for all.
Only a few miles separate the Baltimore neighborhoods of Roland Park and Upton Druid Heights. But residents of the two areas can measure the distance between them in years—twenty years, to be exact. That’s the difference in life expectancy between Roland Park, where people live to be 83 on average, and Upton Druid Heights, where they can expect to die at 63.
Underlying these gaps in life expectancy are vast economic disparities. Roland Park is an affluent neighborhood with an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent, and a median household income above $90,000. More than 17 percent of people in Upton Druid Heights are unemployed, and the median household income is just $13,388.
It’s no secret that this sort of economic inequality is increasing nationwide; the disparity between America’s richest and poorest is the widest it’s been since the Roaring Twenties. Less discussed are the gaps in life expectancy that have widened over the past twenty-five years between America’s counties, cities and neighborhoods. While the country as a whole has gotten richer and healthier, the poor have gotten poorer, the middle class has shrunk and Americans without high school diplomas have seen their life expectancy slide back to what it was in the 1950s. Economic inequalities manifest not in numbers, but in sick and dying bodies.
On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders convened a hearing before the Primary Health and Aging subcommittee to examine the connections between material and physiological well-being, and the policy implications. With Congress fixed on historic reforms to the healthcare delivery system, the doctors and public health professionals who testified this morning made it clear that policies outside of the healthcare domain are equally vital for keeping people healthy—namely, those that target poverty and inequality.
“The lower people’s income, the earlier they die and the sicker they live,” testified Dr. Steven Woolf, who directs the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. In America, people in the top 5 percent of the income gradient live about nine years longer than those in the bottom 10 percent. It isn’t just access to care that poor Americans lack: first, they are more likely to get sick. Poor Americans are at greater risk for virtually every major cause of death, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes. As Woolf put it, “Economic policy is not just economic policy—it’s health policy.”
Tracing health disparities back to their socioeconomic roots adds context to growing calls for pro-worker policies like raising the minimum wage and providing paid sick leave. Lisa Berkman, director of Harvard’s Center for Population and Development Studies, presented a range of evidence indicating that policies supporting men and women in the labor force—particularly low-wage and female workers—lead to better health for themselves and their families.
The experts also identified education as a “key lever” for improving health outcomes, as education is closely linked with economic mobility and in turn, health. The mortality risk has risen for less educated women in recent years, while diabetes death rates are three times higher among Americans without a high school diploma than those who graduated. With 22 percent of American children living in poverty, several witnesses pointed to the expansion of early childhood education as policy that would have a profound effect on the nation’s health.
Witnesses also highlighted the importance of the social safety net to shield families from the adverse health effects of poverty. As Republicans and Democrats alike contemplate billions of dollars of cuts to the food stamp program, nearly 50 million people, or nearly one in six Americans, face “food insufficiency.” Hunger has particularly severe health effects for children, leading to a higher risk of learning disabilities, conditions like anemia and asthma, and increased hospitalization.
Many other wealthy countries have a more robust buffer for poor families, which helps to explain why America’s health statistics are so much worse. (The fact that the United States has higher poverty rates and greater inequality than our peers has a lot to do with it, too.) “Our relative investment in those social programs, social services, is striking,” said Woolf. “We are an outlier in the proportion of our dollars we spend on healthcare relative to those social programs, whereas the countries who spend much more on social programs than on health care are the ones that are living longer.”
“And presumably saving money on healthcare as well,” interjected Sanders, raising another important point: the social and economic programs that promote individual health could have profound effects on healthcare spending and the economy overall. “When you hear statistics about low-income people having much higher incidences of diabetes, which is costing this country hundreds millions of dollars, then to my mind the answer is to invest to prevent diabetes, to prevent other illnesses, rather than just spending more than any country on earth trying to treat these illnesses,” Sanders told me after the hearing.
Woolf noted that it is chronic diseases like diabetes, which are correlated with socioeconomic inequality, that are driving up the cost to the government of programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Overall, policymakers underestimate the costs of not prioritizing preventative care, and underestimate the long-term benefits of social spending programs.
“The social and economic policies that the government has developed over the years that may be health-promoting, aren’t counted as being health-promoting,” explained Berkman. “We don’t think about that in the benefits side of the equation. We only think about them in terms of short-term economic turnaround or employment or labor when in fact the spillover to health may be enormous.”
Once it becomes clear that the determinants of health and illness are in neighborhoods, schools and worksites, Berkman pointed out, a wealth of policy solutions present themselves. The problem is in the politics.
“With the Republicans controlling the House and wanting to cut virtually every program that advances human health in this country and well-being, it’s going to be a very tough struggle,” Sanders told me when I asked him about the prospects for advancing policies discussed in the hearing.
“What you heard today was the apex of a great philosophical divide, in that what we are saying is that if you invest in the children, if you invest in the environment, if you invest in education, if you invest in decent housing, not only do you create people who are healthier and happier, but you end up saving money.” The House, he noted, would prefer to cut nutrition and education. “We’re living on different planets in terms of what the debate is about.”
In states with mandatory minimum sentencing, a nonviolent offense—like stealing candy—can land you in prison for life. Liliana Segura reports.