In recent posts, we discussed the views of (London’s) Sunday Times cryptic crossword editor, Peter Biddlecombe, on definitions: the possibility of cryptic clues in which the definition is at neither the beginning nor the end, and the validity of defining by example. Today, we conclude this series with Biddlecombe’s ideas about compound anagram clues.
We offered a basic introduction to anagrams in this post. Later, we presented our thoughts about anagram aesthetics. But anagrams are one of the mainstays of cryptic construction, so there is yet more to say!
Normally, in US cryptics, anagram fodder is expected to be in one consecutive string, perhaps interrupted by spaces. That constraint makes anagram clues both easier to spot and easier to solve: If you’re looking for a seven-letter answer, you search through the clue for a seven-letter string that might be the anagram fodder, then look on either side of it for a plausible anagram indicator. Thus, anagrams can offer a good entry point into the puzzle. They are a beginner’s friend, and in a tough puzzle they are every solver’s friend.
Nonetheless, an experienced solver may enjoy a break with those expectations, and appreciate the opportunity to discover anagram fodder that is broken up into two or more chunks. Biddlecombe gives these examples:
Slope: garden with it is dodgy (8)
This clue disguises the anagram fodder by requiring us to convert “garden with it” into “garden, it.”
(The answer is GRADIENT.) Because the cryptic reading of such a clue is entirely consistent and logical, we can see no objection to this sort of structure—other than the fact it’s not done (or not done much) in the US. And as readers of our blog and solvers of our puzzles probably know by now, that would not be a convincing argument to us.
Bacon and ham sandwich initially prepared in carriage (6, 3)
This time, the anagram fodder is “bacon,” “ham” and the initial S of “sandwich,” giving us HANSOM CAB.
Again, the cryptic reading for this clue does work, so we don’t see that as a reason to reject it. What makes it debatable, perhaps, is that “sandwich initially” requires an extra step: translate the phrase to an S, and add that to the fodder before anagramming. However, this is such a straightforward step that we are perfectly willing to accept it. We have not used this sort of clue in the past, but we might in the future.
One final example from Biddlecombe:
Awful meal, zero marks—it may make folk take to the street (5,5)
Here, we have to convert zero to O before combining it with “meal” and “marks” to make SMOKE ALARM.
Something normally not allowed is the “indirect anagram,” which requires you to correctly interpret a definition for all or part of the fodder.[…] You might ask whether “zero = O” […] isn’t also indirect. It is, but the replacement is a familiar one and only affects one letter of the fodder.
To us, this is a borderline case. There is no indicator that we are looking for a one-character replacement for “zero,” and given US cryptic tradition, the result is quite difficult. If we came up with a clue along these lines, we might try it out with our test solvers first to gauge whether it is acceptable.
How do you feel about compound anagram clues such as the above? Please share your thoughts 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.
And here are three links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where you can ask for and offer hints, and where every one of our clues is explained in detail.
The voices of family members of those killed by the NYPD have been surprisingly absent from recent organized calls for police accountability. On May 10, family members who have lost loved ones to the NYPD will come together at Police Plaza in lower Manhattan with elected officials, community leaders and grassroots organizations to call for police accountability and changes to how cases of police killings are handled. The group of mothers is also asking artists to create music dedicated to the parents of those killed by the NYPD. (Instructions here.) Check out the Justice Committee site and learn how you can join and support its efforts to redress and reform police violence against minority populations in New York City.
Serious, public explorations of the United States’ drone policy are uncommon in Washington, to say the least—but on Wednesday the Congressional Progressive Caucus held a hearing on Capitol Hill that was remarkable for its breadth and critical approach to current policy. The thrust of the hearing was to ask the administration to both limit the scope of its drone strike policy and be transparent about what it is doing.
Here are four of the most compelling bits of testimony from the proceeding:
(1) In the video above, Yemeni human rights activist Baraa Shiban spoke directly to the very real toll drone strikes are taking in his country. He said:
Another reason strikes are more damaging than the US realizes is that, while the US may not be acknowledging or discussing dead civilians, Yemenis are.…
The farmers from Sabool showed us videos of people pulling charred bodies from the wreckage. They were scarcely recognizable. But besides the horror of it all, one thing struck me about the footage I watched. In it, you could see many Yemeni farmers gathered around the carnage filming exactly the same thing.
This is how stories of US injustice percolate through Yemen. Terrible images like those I saw can take on a life of their own. US aid reaches these areas rarely, if ever.… This is not a pointless popularity contest for America. Every lethal mistake the US makes is kerosene for an insurgency. And it all comes at a critical time for Yemen.
(2) Adam Baron, a freelance journalist based in Yemen, expanded on how civilian casualties from drone strikes are providing a useful recruitment tool for extremist groups, and drew on his reporting there:
For the civilians under the crossfire, anxieties provoked by fears of another ‘mistake’, continue to fuel distrust and resentment against the US and Yemeni governments, rather than against AQAP. In some areas, AQAP has managed to reap the benefits from such sentiments. The situation in al-Baydah is particularly telling. In a recent military offensive, swaths of tribesmen in the area opted to fight the government on the side of Al Qaeda, rather than cooperate with US forces to push the militants out.
“Some tribesmen are fighting the army even more than Al Qaeda is,” a contact from the area told me at the nascence of the winter military push. “People are angry about drone strikes and condemn foreign intervention. Al Qaeda has really been able to build popular sympathy.”
(3) Naureen Shah, the acting director of the Columbia Law School Human Rights clinic, addressed in her testimony the importance of establishing routine investigations of civilian casualties from drone strikes—both to comply with international law but also to dignify the concerns of local communities. She stressed these investigations must be public and transparent:
Moreover, established systems to investigate war crimes and serious violations of the laws of war would build legitimacy into the Administration’s position that drone strikes are conducted in compliance with international humanitarian law. Adequate investigation systems would address some of the concerns of cooperating governments and help allay the international community’s concerns.
Secret or unacknowledged investigations would likely be insufficient to address the moral dimensions I have identified. Secret investigations cannot provide dignity and a sense of justice to communities impacted by drone strikes. Secret investigations do not provide answer to widely publicized reports of particular cases of civilian casualties from drone strikes, which cause the United States to lose credibility on the world stage and appear deaf to criticism. Whereas the results of investigations can ordinarily be aggregated and systematically analyzed to determine the validity of pre-strike estimates and intelligence, secret investigations may not serve this function.
(4) Eight members of Congress entered into testimony a letter they sent President Barack Obama, demanding further clarification of the legal justifications behind drone strikes. It read, in part:
The information from the Justice Department meme leaked on February 4, 2013, in the context of an increasing devolution of accountability, transparency and Constitutional protections in US counterterrorism operations, leaves us deeply concerned about what appears to constitute overly broad authority language….
These are vague legal boundaries that raise the risk of the executive branch authorizing the deaths of American civilians otherwise protected by the Constitution and appear to effectively vitiate due process of law without meaningful oversight or accountability….
As you state in your recent State of the Union address, “we must enlist our values in the fight.” We ask, therefore, that you follow through with your commitment to engage with Congress to ensure that the ways in which we target, detain, prosecute, and kill suspected terrorist are consistent with the commands of our Constitution, including our system of checks and balances.
We strongly urge you to release the documents requested in this letter for the reasons articulated above.
Read George Zornick on the GOP’s Working Families Act—and why it’s a hoax to attract women voters.
House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton, right, has hired several former lobbyists to his staff. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite.)
In January shortly after being sworn into office, Congressman Rodney Davis, a freshman Republican who eked out a win with a margin of less than a thousand votes in Illinois last year, announced that he had received several plum committee assignments. His legislative portfolio includes subcommittees that oversee commodity regulations, nutritional programs, biotechnology, and, most importantly, the 2013 Farm Bill, which sets agriculture policy for the next five years.
One of his first steps in office? Davis hired Jen Daulby, the director of federal affairs for Land O’Lakes, one of the largest producers of milk and cheese in the country, to be his chief of staff. Disclosures show that just months ago, Daulby led a Land O’Lakes lobbying team that worked on the Farm Bill, genetically modified foods labeling, rules concerning pesticides and hazardous dust, and the new commodity regulations enacted by President Obama’s financial reform law, Dodd-Frank.
What a match.
In other words, Daulby’s past lobbying portfolio perfectly reflects the new responsibilities for Davis’ committee assignments, where he will have wide sway over policy. A former Monsanto lobbyist with previous experience on Capitol Hill for several other lawmakers, Daulby is one of many staffers who rotate back and forth between public service and influence peddling.
On Monday, The Nation posted an investigation of the “reverse revolving door” in Congress, by which lobbyists hired as senior-level congressional staffers receive substantial exit bonuses or other financial rewards from their employers shortly before they assume their new Congressional positions.
In Daulby’s case, Land O’Lakes provided a parting gift of a $35,772 bonus (in addition to her 2012 bonus) in the first few weeks of January. The Davis-Daulby story isn’t all that unusual.
The members of Congress who hire former lobbyists are often outspoken supporters of legislation also heartily endorsed by their new staffers’ previous employers.
Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), chair of the Homeland Security Committee, hired IBM lobbyist Alex Manning as his cybersecurity subcommittee staff director this year. On behalf of IBM last year, Manning worked to pass the Cybersecurity and Information Sharing Effectiveness Act (CISPA), legislation that provides broad powers to the government and to private corporations to gather private Internet user data. The ACLU—which has rallied against CISPA along with EFF, and many other civil liberties groups—called the bill a “flagrant violation of every American’s right to privacy.”
IBM, which sent nearly 200 executives to Washington to advocate on behalf of stronger cyber security laws like CISPA, has been one of the bill’s strongest supporters. CISPA passed the House in April. Representative Randy Hultgren (R-IL) recently hired Katherine McGuire, a CISPA-supporting lobbyist for the Business Software Alliance, as his chief of staff. Hultgren voted for the bill that passed last month.
Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), who is in his second term as chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has a long history of employing lobbyists to staff his committee. When he gained the gavel after the midterm elections, Upton hired Gary Andres, a lobbyist for UnitedHealth Group and other corporate interests, as his staff director. In 2012, Upton announced that America’s Natural Gas Alliance lobbyist Tom Hassenboehler would be his new chief counsel to a subcommittee that oversees environmental regulations. As DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn noted, Hassenboehler is a climate change denier who worked in previous years to block cap and trade legislation. Disclosures show Hassenboehler was paid by his former employer, a trade group for fracking and natural gas companies, to lobby on a number of environmental regulations, including EPA rules concerning fracking.
This phenomenon isn’t new. In the beginning of the last Congress, at least thirteen freshman lawmakers hired lobbyists as their chiefs of staff. The chiefs of staff for Senators Ron Johnson and Marco Rubio even came from the same lobbying firm.
How, exactly, are these lobbyists-turned-staffers influencing policy? While it is difficult to discern what goes on behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, it is part of the job description of lobbyists-turned-staffers to help lawmakers draft legislation, and the bills they produce reliably include big giveaways to corporate interests. Representative Davis’ office did not respond to a request for comment about his new chief, former Land O’Lakes lobbyist Jen Daulby. But in March, Davis signed onto a bill currently pushed by Land O’Lakes to roll back federal oversight of pesticide use.
Read Lee Fang on the reverse revolving door of bonuses for executives headed to congressional positions.
Andrew Cuomo has proposed restricting third parties from placing candidates on their ballot lines without primary elections. (AP Photo/Mike Groll.)
Rahm Emanuel was right: A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Following the arrest of a leading state senator last month, which confirmed every New Yorker’s worst suspicions about the depths of our state’s corruption problem, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has a rare opportunity to push common sense reforms to get money out of our politics. But, instead, he's seized the moment to push a “reform” that would leave our state’s politics even more dominated by the wealthy and well-connected.
As I noted last month, Cuomo has endorsed a legal change that would hamstring New York State’s third parties, including the Working Families Party, a savvy and steadfast counterweight against the power of big business and its backers in both parties. The WFP has been able to maximize its leverage here because, unlike most states, New York allows fusion voting: third parties can endorse a worthy candidate who’s also running on the Democratic or Republican Party ballot line, and place that candidate on their own line as well. Or, if neither candidate deserves their support, third parties can run their own candidate against them. Strategically deploying that option has helped the WFP become a force to be reckoned with. (Just look at Connecticut, another fusion-voting state: After a victory he literally owed to the votes he’d racked up on the WFP ballot line, Governor Dan Malloy quickly and aggressively pushed through a major WFP priority, the country’s first statewide paid sick leave law.)
The WFP’s grassroots base has either led the charge, or provided heavy artillery, for nearly every economic justice victory our state has seen over the past decade. So it should come as no surprise that now, like its agrarian populist third party forebears, it faces an elite-backed backlash.
Now, to be fair to the Governor, he did not propose eliminating fusion voting entirely. Instead, he just called for banning the leaders of third parties from placing candidates on their ballot line without holding primary elections. But that's little comfort.
Imagine a scenario in which, say, a billionaire mayor who’s also a media baron decides he wants as many ballot lines as possible and floods the zone with misleading ads in an effort to scoop up the WFP’s ballot line, the Conservative Party’s, and any other line on offer. Given the name recognition advantage of incumbents and major party nominees, and the broken state of campaign finance, it’s not so hard to imagine. Cuomo’s proposal would strip third parties—which exist in large part as bulwarks against betrayal by Democrats and Republicans—of the right to do quality control on their own candidates. (Keep in mind that the leaders of the WFP are themselves elected by a committee elected by registered WFP voters.) What’s at issue here isn’t the right to run for office—anybody, Cuomo included, can run in the Democratic or Republican primary. It’s the chance for minor parties—a key vehicle for bringing new voices and neglected issues into the process—to choose how best to wield leverage against a broken system.
That’s a system that Cuomo can do more to fix. As I noted last month, fusion voting is not what ails Albany (note that the scandal Cuomo has been citing involves a senator’s alleged efforts to buy his way onto the Republican ballot line, not the WFP’s); none of New York’s thirty corruption scandals over the past decade have involved fusion voting.
What we do need is serious campaign finance reform, a goal that Cuomo has pledged support for (including recently) but has sometimes failed to back with the political muscle we know he’s capable of. While the Governor was sitting on his hands as the Democratic Party was maneuvered out of a senate majority, the WFP was successfully carrying reform champion CeCe Tkaczyk to an underdog victory.
I appreciate that Andrew Cuomo cares about important social liberal causes like marriage equality, but I wish he were equally invested in economic equality. If he were, he would be joining arms with the Working Families Party to pass clean elections, not making their vital work even more difficult.
Read Katrina vanden Heuvel on Barney Frank, who sees an opportunity to shift federal spending away from the military and put it into programs that help Americans.
(Flickr/Public Affairs Office, Fort Wainwright)
Last weekend, I had the great joy of being a judge at the 2013 DC, Maryland and Virginia Louder than a Bomb teen poetry slam competition. For those who don’t know how Louder than a Bomb works, area high schools organize teams who perform in front of an audience of family, friends, fans and, of course, the other competing poets. It’s raucous, intense, and when the emotional weight of a poem connects with a crowd, the adrenaline can suck the air out of a room.
As I was watching these young people unfurl their intense emotional discourses, the sportswriter in me began to ponder what was truly radical about the proceedings. It wasn’t the content of the poems as much as the content of the event itself. Like any great athletic contest, I was seeing the feel of competition push participants to new heights. I saw teams bonding, playing off one another, and working together like one of those Wade-to-LeBron-to-Wade-to-LeBron fast breaks. But I also witnessed an atmosphere that was genuinely supportive, cooperative, and spoke to the best angels of that oft-abused trope known as “sportsmanship.” As I watched this unfold, I asked myself, “Why can’t youth sports be like this?” Yes, it’s true that some teams are fun, some children have terrific experiences and access to youth sports should be universal. But overall, youth sports, to quote my neighbor’s 11-year-old kid, “straight sucks.” Why do 70 percent of kids quit youth sports by age 13? Why do parents get so unbelievably nasty? Why, and this is the most serious point, can it turn suddenly violent?
The day I was judging poets, a soccer referee in Utah, Ricardo Portillo, died a week after being punched in the face by a 17-year-old player because he didn’t like a call that Portillo made on a corner kick. Ricardo’s daughter Johana Portillo told the Associated Press, “Five years ago, a player upset with a call broke his ribs. A few years before that, a player broke his leg. Other referees have been hurt, too.”
What in the blue hell is going on here? I spoke with Joe Ehrmann, former NFL player, pastor and founder of Coach for America. Ehrmann has devoted his life to fighting this societal tide and making youth sports and coaching a positive experience for children. He said to me, “My belief is that while youth sports originated to train, nurture and guide children into adulthood many programs/coaches are using them to meet the needs of adults at the expense of kids. Sports should be a tool to help children become whole and healthy adults who can build relationships and contribute as citizens, but the social contract between adults protecting and providing for the needs of children [instead of their own needs] is broken.” (My emphasis.)
This idea that youth sports has become something that fulfills the needs of adults as opposed to children was backed up by a statistic sent to me by Mark Hyman, author of the highly recommended book, Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports. He wrote me, “Approximately half of all reported youth sports injuries are the result of overuse”—caused by kids starting too young in sports, specializing in one sport too early, and training too intensely. “Before the adult-supervised era of kids’ sports, there were no overuse injuries.” (My emphasis.)
Mark wrote another book, also highly recommended, called The Most Expensive Game in Town: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today’s Families. This book, for me, is a Rosetta stone for understanding why youth sports have become so unbearable for so many.
Organized sports in this country are now a trillion-dollar business—as one marketer says, “from the womb to the tomb.” This is not an exaggeration. There are companies that make videos with names like Athletic Baby and Baby Goes Pro. There are gymnasiums for newborns with an eye on getting them to the pros. There are personal trainers for babies as young as six months. Poor and working-class families of every ethnicity have long seen sports as a ticket out of poverty. But now the financial crunch is on middle-class families as well. Their goal is less the pros than, in an era of $50,000 tuitions and crushing student loans, a college scholarship. Parents see their children as competing against other boys and girls, from the time their kids are big enough to pick up a ball. But to even get in the scholarship pipeline, unlike in decades past, playing for your school is not enough. You need to be a part of a traveling team. You need to have the right equipment. As the overwhelming majority of families are now headed by two working adults, you need to have parents willing to sacrifice scarce leisure time or work hours to attend games. As Mark Hyman describes, these families are not wealthy. Instead, they’re making an investment that needs to pay off, which creates a powder keg of pressure on very young kids.
I asked John Carlos, the great 1968 Olympian, who has also worked as a guidance counselor in public schools for over two decades, why youth sports are so toxic for so many. He said, “The problem is the system. It’s a system where everyone wants to get over on kids. Yes, the parents make these bad choices, but when you’re in that kind of cesspool, all you can really see is… you know. You know what you see in a cesspool. It’s like a kid can’t just be a kid anymore.”
That last line is the key. Profiteering and childhood, whether we are talking about youth sports or charter schools, are a toxic mix. It’s creepy enough that the representatives of big business are oozing around the playground and judging youth sports as an underdeveloped “opportunity.” It’s time to get their priorities off the playing field and fight for space so kids can be kids. If we can link this to a movement of fighting for price controls on college tuitions, that will be music to many a parents’ ears.
In America’s schools, resistance is growing to high-stakes testing. Read David Kirp’s take.
Meet the takers: They took over their factory, they took on their bosses, they took the initiative to form a worker cooperative and today they’re taking the wraps off a brand-new worker-owned company: New Era Windows. It opened May 9 in Chicago.
The workers in this story are members of the same workforce who, when they received word that their plant was about to be closed with no notice at what was then the Republic Windows and Doors factory in 2008, occupied their plant and became a cause célèbre in a grim winter of mass layoffs. When they were laid off again in early 2012, by a second owner, they decided, as Apple would say, to “think different.” With encouragement from their union, the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE), and The Working World, a progressive investment group that helps co-operative start-ups internationally, they formed a company, “New Era LLC.” New Era is 100 percent owned by workers and now, at last, open for business.
“We decided to make a co-op because we were tired of our life being in someone else’s hands,” window maker Melvin “Ricky” Macklin told GRITtv the day before the opening.
“When [Republic] closed we felt like it was the end of our lives…but we realized, we’re not nobody,” added co-worker/owner Armando Robles, president of the union local, UE 1110.
It hasn’t been easy. Last year the New Era team had to fight for several months even to be allowed to bid on the factory. After that came contract negotiations and a move to a cheaper new location. To save on expensive moving costs, workers shifted the equipment from their old plant, themselves, in eighty tractor trailer loads.
“There have been times that we weren’t sure that we were going to be able to get New Era off the ground,” recalled Macklin. “You need investors. Well, we didn’t have a lot of people knocking on the door to give us money.”
That’s where The Working World stepped in.
“We have to remember, it still has a long way to go,” says The Working World’s Brendan Martin. But the only way the company has been able to get launched in less than a year, he says, is because of the potential unleashed in the process of launching a cooperative. “If this were looked at by normal investment institutions, they’d have assumed it would cost $2-5 million to open a business like this. It’s been less than a million and the only reason for that is because that other $2-3 million of value has been brought by the workers.”
A day before the opening, workers were putting the final touches on the plant, showing the fire inspector around and thinking about the work ahead of them. With just twenty worker-owners currently employed, the factory space looks large. Will they get enough orders to fill it? They are confident (and they passed the fire code inspection).
The former owner of Republic Windows and Doors didn’t go bankrupt. He’s still operating a factory in town. New Era is small by comparison. As Martin put it, “They don’t have all the inside connections; they don’t have all the backroom buddies.”
On the other hand, they don’t need a massive profit margin to be viable, and they live in a community that needs good, modern windows.
“Now more than ever they need support,” says Martin. Among other clients, they’re hoping that housing cooperatives and other cooperative businesses will choose to buy their windows from New Era in solidarity. “It’s not just about financial support, but it is about customers,” he says.
Becoming owners brings with it new responsibilities and work. GRITtv asked the workers if they’re nervous:
“In opening up this plant we have learned we are so much more than what we thought we were,” Macklin said. “In opening up this plant we’ve done our own electrical work, we’ve done the plumbing work. And all we thought was we were just window makers.”
You can read more about the journey to New Era here, here and here and watch GRITtv’s 2009 discussion of worker takeovers with Naomi Klein, Avi Lewis and UE organizer Leah Fried here. For more information on New Era, go to newerawindows.com.
Why did fast food and retail workers strike yesterday in St. Louis? Read Annie Shields’s report.
Fast food workers strike at a Jimmy John’s in Soulard on Wednesday, May 8. (Photo from Ben Zucker)
Fast food and retail workers in St. Louis, Missouri, walked off the job Wednesday in the third major strike of its kind in recent weeks. The walkout came after a citywide fast food and retail workers strike in New York on April 4th and another in Chicago on April 24.
Workers at Jimmy John’s in the Soulard neighborhood were the first to walk out in a surprise strike, and employees at a McDonald’s in north county followed Wednesday evening. Organizers anticipated that workers at at least thirty restaurants, including Wendy’s, Hardee’s and Domino’s, would join in additional walkouts on Thursday. Like strikers in New York and Chicago, the St. Louis workers are calling for a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. The current hourly minimum wage in Missouri is $7.35.
The “STL Can’t Survive On $7.35” campaign is being spearheaded by the organizing group St. Louis Jobs With Justice. And while a living wage is a central demand of the campaign, Missouri Jobs With Justice director Lara Granich says that at organizing meetings, the most common complaints have to do with issues of dignity. Workers overwhelmingly express that they’re not being treated with respect by their employers. Rasheen Aldridge, a striking Jimmy John’s employee, described the disparaging treatment workers in his store are subjected to in a video for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch“We’re treated like crap basically. It’s almost like new-day slavery.”
Angela Harrison, a McDonald’s employee striking on Wednesday, echoed that sentiment. “We want respect, and we want fifteen and a union, and that’s not too much to ask for.” She said that even workers who had been physically hurt on the job or burned by equipment were not treated properly. “We want simple things, like the first-aid kit to be fully stocked all the time.” Harrison also pointed to the lack of sick days as an issue she’d like to see resolved. Right now she has to choose between coming to work sick, putting customers at risk or missing out on pay.
Harrison, who first learned about the plan to strike less than two weeks ago, has worked at McDonald’s for three and a half years, yet makes only $7.75 an hour—just fifty cents more than the wage she started at. She says that pooling her money with her boyfriend’s is the only way to make ends meet, and often that’s not even enough. “Sometimes we have to choose between paying the phone bill and buying groceries. We shouldn’t have to do that.”
Harrison had never participated in a strike before Wednesday, and said that it was knowing there was so much community support behind the strikers that helped her make the decision to walk out. Organizers have committed to helping workers get their jobs back in case of retaliation.
With the fast food industry growing twice as fast as the rest of the economy, improving working conditions and raising wages for these workers is even more urgent, Granich says. “These are the jobs of tomorrow, so we need to work together as a community to make them family-friendly. And that’s not only about wages, but also sustainable hours, a voice on the job, healthcare coverage—all these things really matter.”
Mark Sanford. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)
Mark Sanford’s comeback bid was never so audacious as America’s political gossip columnists would have us believe.
Yes, the conservative Republican once boomed as a presidential prospect, before drawing national headlines in 2009 when it turned out that he had not gone missing on the Appalachian Trail but had instead snuck off to visit a woman friend in Buenos Aires. Yes, revelations about the affair led to his resignation as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, to his being censured by the South Carolina General Assembly after a State Ethics Commission investigation into allegations that he had misused state travel funds and to his divorce from a popular South Carolina politico.
But Sanford had a prominent name, an easy-going style and a carefully crafted message about forgiveness and redemption. He was, as well, an on-message conservative. That got him through a competitive Republican primary and a not-so-tough Republican runoff for his old US House seat, which had come open when Congressman Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, was appointed to the US Senate.
Once he had the Republican nomination, the numbers were on his side.
Even though he stumbled several times in his special-election race against an able and well-financed Democrat, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, Sanford won Tuesday with a solid 54-45 majority. Colbert Busch was competitive. In a district that gave Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney an eighteen-point advantage over President Obama last fall, she came within nine points this spring.
That’s not bad for a Democrat running in a congressional district that, in various incarnations, has been sending Republicans to Washington since 1980.
But Sanford still enjoyed the advantage that most winners of congressional races in the United States have. He was nominee of the party that the district was drawn, with painstaking attention to collecting all the Republican and Republican leaning support that could be found on the South Carolina coast, to support.
Partisan redistricting—not just classic gerrymandering but a variety of structural factors—assures that the vast majority of congressional districts in the vast majority of states produce predictable results. Even if the candidate of the dominant party is flawed, even if a challenger has financial advantages, FairVote executive director Rob Richie reminds us that “partisanship is the dominant factor in determining election outcomes.”
Another reform group, Common Cause explains, “For decades partisan wrangling has led to gerrymandered redistricting maps, collusion among the major political parties to create safe Congressional and state legislative districts, and the packing and splitting of concentrations of voters to weaken or strengthen their influence to gain partisan advantage.”
Common Cause notes, correctly, that the circumstance is growing worse, explaining that “advances in information and mapping technology has enabled a level of precision in district drawing that in effect, enables legislators to choose the voters they wish to represent and makes it difficult for voters to hold their elected officials accountable.”
There’s always been gerrymandering, but we are not at a place where the general process of drawing and redrawing district lines has become definitional: If a district is drawn to elect Republicans, it almost always elects Republicans. If a district is drawn to elect Democrats, it almost always elects Democrats.
Money is influential, personality is a factor.
But nothing comes close to redistricting when it comes to defining the results of elections.
“In 2010, Democratic incumbents went 139 and 0 in the most Democratic districts but were swamped in Republican districts,” notes Richie. In 2012, “Democrats won 176 of the 177 most Democratic districts, but Republicans didn’t need to win a single Democratic-leaning seat to keep their majority.”
This is the structural reality that shapes our politics.
And it shapes the governing that extends from that politics. Almost everything about what’s happening now in Washington can be linked to the design of our congressional districts, and to the elections that shape the House of Representatives.
“On Nov. 6, Democrats won the most votes in contested House races,” explains Richie. “FairVote’s post-election analysis of partisan voting trends suggests an underlying national preference toward Democrats of 52 percent to 48 percent. (If there had been no incumbents and each party had run a candidate in every district, the Democrats would have won 52 percent of the votes.) With a comparable edge in 2010, Republicans gained sixty-four seats to take the House. But this year, winning a House majority would have required a much bigger swing toward Democrats, as much as 55 percent of the vote, a historical high.”
This brings us back to Tuesday’s special election in South Carolina’s 1st district. Colbert Busch’s capable campaigning—or, perhaps, Sanford’s imperfect campaigning—resulted in a significant swing by voters to the Democratic column. But the district was designed to withstand a significant swing.
In 2012, the Democratic nominee took just 29 percent of the vote. Colbert Busch took 46 percent. So, in what was probably a best-of-all-worlds scenario for the Democrats, their candidate raised the party’s percentage of the vote by almost sixteen points. But she needed a swing of more than twenty-one points.
What happened in South Carolina will keep happening there and in the vast majority of American congressional districts for so long as those districts are drawn to advantage one party or the others.
Groups such as Common Cause argue for a host of redistricting reforms that make sense in a democracy including the creation of independent commissions to conduct redistricting and the establishment of strict criteria for how districts must be drawn.
FairVote’s Richie argues for going even further.
“The best way to remove the structural unfairness inherent in the current House of Representatives is to get rid of winner-take-all elections,” Richie argues in a recent report (written with Devin McCarthy). “FairVote has a plan to do just that, grounded in our Constitution and American electoral traditions. The first requirement is an act of Congress. The more ambitious plan would be for Congress to prohibit winner-take-all elections in all states that elect more than one House Member. A more modest step would be to repeal the congressional mandate for states to use single-member districts that was established in a 1967 law.”
FairVote’s proposes building a new model for electing members of Congress. They’d like to see American states follow the model of countries around the world and move to a system of proportional representation, in which “existing congressional districts would be combined into multi-seat ‘super districts’ of between three and five members, in which members would be elected using fair-voting systems—American forms of proportional representation based on voting for candidates.”
That’s a smart proposal that would result in a far-more representative Congress.
As such, it will be hard to enact—as, frustratingly, are even the most simple redistricting reforms.
But Americans who favor representative democracy don’t have a choice. Along with all the reforms that are needed—overturning Citizens United, eliminating the Electoral College, establishing a constitutionally defined right to vote—working to make congressional elections genuinely competitive is necessary to curing what ails the political process.
And it sure beats trying to come up with deep and meaningful explanations for why Mark Sanford is headed back to Congress. This one isn’t complicated. It’s structural.
John Nichols is the author (with Robert w. McChesney) of the upcoming book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America. Hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “a fervent call to action for reformers,” it details how the collapse of journalism and the rise of big-money politics threatens to turn our democracy into a dollarocracy.
A Syrian rebel stands atop rubble outside Damascus. (Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah.)
Is history repeating itself? As I noted earlier this week here, The New York Times, as it did in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, seems to be promoting (if a little less strenuously) some kind of dramatic US intervention in Syria, based on WMDs. Once again we’ve seen overheated front-page news stories, based on slim evidence, and columns by Thomas Friedman, Bill Keller and others. And, again as in 2003, the newspaper’s editorials express caution.
Also in a replay, reporters for McClatchy’s DC bureau are expressing sensible skepticism (back in the day the outfit was still owned by Knight Ridder) about evidence of WMDs, in this case, the Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical agents against the rebels.
One of the reporters in those much-hailed, in retrospect, Iraq stories is still at it on Syria: Jonathan S. Landay. His Knight Ridder editor Clark Hoyt moved on (including a gig as public editor at the Times), and so has one of his chief colleagues, John Walcott. Warren Strobel moved to Reuters, the excellent Hannah Allam, former Middle East bureau chief and now based in DC, remains. Landay highlighted caution about new evidence at least as far back as April 26.
When I was editing Editor & Publisher we were one of the few mainstream news outlets to highlight the Knight Ridder team (for the full story see my book, So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits and the President Failed on Iraq). Later I appeared on Bill Moyers’s show with Walcott and Landay. Basically, they got the Iraq WMD story right because, unlike virtually every other major media outlet, they relied on experts outside the usual old-boy network of Pentagon, CIA, military and congressional sources.
I hope to chat with Landay and Allam and maybe others in the days ahead, but for now, consider yesterday’s McClatchy story by those two plus Matthew Schofield. It is quite at odds with the tone and substance of much of the New York Times coverage. It’s almost a response to it.
Despite rising calls for some kind of increased US military involvement in Syria, scant evidence exists, at least in public, that Syria’s vicious civil war has breached President Barack Obama’s “red line” on the use of chemical weapons.
In the ten days since the Obama administration notified Congress that it suspected, with “varying degrees of confidence,” that chemical weapons had been employed in Syria, no concrete proof has emerged, and some headline-grabbing claims have been discredited or contested. Officials worldwide now admit that no allegations rise to the level of certainty.
Yet political rhetoric on Syria has overtaken actual evidence in a high-stakes Washington debate that’s increasing pressure on Obama to lend more military support to the rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.
On Monday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-NJ, alluded to chemical weapons as he proposed a measure to provide limited arms to the rebels, asserting that Assad’s regime “has crossed a red line that forces us to consider all options.”
That assertion, however, appears far less certain than it did only a week ago. British, French and Israeli experts who expressed more confidence in their assessment than the Obama administration had in its judgment have in recent days qualified their positions, said Greg Thielmann, a former State Department intelligence analyst now with the Arms Control Association, a private organization that provides analysis of weapons issues. “That should make everyone suspicious,” he said. “And the reality may be lot more complicated.”
Thielmann added, “Do you really risk going to war without knowing who has used what and in what circumstances?”
Existing evidence casts more doubt on claims of chemical weapons use than it does to help build a case that one or both sides of the conflict have employed them.