Once upon a time, the term “government job” was not synonymous with boondoggles, corruption or the perennial “waste, fraud and abuse.” During the New Deal, the state proudly created jobs and spent public money as a vital intervention to check the excesses of market capitalism. Today, the public is disgusted with both fiscal policy and the free market. Yet some advocates are pushing for a re-priming of the pump, with an executive order that would uplift millions of workers by pulling federal purse strings.
According to a new report by Demos, the White House could immediately improve the working conditions of the country’s low-wage workers with a strong executive order that establishes model labor policies at workplaces linked to federal programs. These policies could in turn promote greater equity for the private-sector labor force as well. The proposal—a set of rules that ensure decent labor standards and protect collective bargaining rights—could affect 21 million people nationwide.
Demos proposes executive actions the White House could take right now without having to go through Congress. In recent months, President Obama has moved ahead of the legislature with executive measures that strengthened anti-discrimination protections and raised the wage floor for low-wage contract workers.
Advocates, along with some progressive members of Congress, hope the White House builds upon the earlier pro-worker measures by enacting a more comprehensive framework for improving working conditions. The proposed “Good Jobs Executive Order” is far from radical, though. It would simply codify crucial workplace protections: the right to collectively bargain, to a living wage and comprehensive benefits, solid regulations on wages and hours as well as health and safety rules. And finally, it would compel workplaces to set reasonable limits on executive salaries to prevent the massive wealth imbalance that pervades corporate America: ‘Limiting executive compensation to fifty times the median salary paid to the company’s workers.”
The proposed executive order would target the “federally supported workforce” workers whose income is supported by a federal contract or direct federal payment—which includes workers for federally contracted production of goods and services, Medicare and Medicaid-related services, “Concessions and leasing arrangements in federal facilities, parks, and other properties,” and existing infrastructure and welfare programs.
(Courtesy of Demos)
This labor force, which is about 14 percent of all private-sector workers, is 70 percent female and nearly half people of color—workers who have been hit hard by the recession, benefit particularly from anti-discrimination protections for public sector workers, and have historically been economically marginalized in the private sector.
Despite the relentless conservative attacks on social programs over the years, federal purchasing power remains huge, according to Demos: “Across the two major categories of government purchasing—contracting for public goods and services and health-care purchasing through Medicare and Medicaid—federal spending totals about $1.3 trillion, and total revenues of federally-funded employers are about $2.2 trillion, or roughly 9 percent of gross output in the economy as a whole.”
At the same time, private employers and pro-business lawmakers have been steadily eroding labor protections during the “recovery,” opening further opportunity for Washington to check patterns of inequity through workforce policy.
The proposed order would seed pro-worker policies that could extend to private-sector jobs as well—for instance, adopting company-wide collective bargaining policies both for contract and for non-contract projects, “not just those directly performing federal work.” This would build on other policies that used federal investment to spur reform, like bans on segregation in Medicaid-funded hospitals. (Of course, federal contract policy can also be wielded in regressive ways—as in no-strike pledges brokered between unions and the government as a condition of securing work.)
Some of the measures are already solidly in place in some states and localities—such as paid sick leave or occupational safety standards. And instead of costing Uncle Sam, these measures tend to yield significant returns on government investment. Demos projects that implementing good jobs standards would “raise the wages of nearly 8.3 million workers comprising the lower-paid half of the federally-supported workforce.”
Implementing the Good Jobs policies would actually lead to fiscal savings, according to the report. Bigger paychecks mean those workers require less in welfare subsidies like food stamps, and the government would absorb extra tax revenue. Additionally, proposed measures to limit executive salaries at big firms and cut subsidies for CEO pay could also save billions, while narrowing the pay gap between the highest—and lowest—ranked workers. These savings would collectively bring more than $20 billion into federal coffers, which is “enough to entirely offset the federal government’s share if it were responsible for 60 percent of the policy’s cost or less.”
On balance, Demos says, “we will see additional GDP growth of about $31 billion annually along [with] more than 260,000 additional jobs.”
And the group notes that some benefits fall outside their calculations, like the peace of mind of having paid family sick leave in case a child falls ill, or the sense of dignity that comes with organizing fellow workers for a fair contract.
Ultimately, these policies shouldn’t have to be tacked onto a government contract; they should come automatically with every job in any public or private workplace. Historically, workers have relied on the federal government to spearhead vital worker protections through contracts with private firms, from banning segregation to supporting unionization. But the Good Jobs plan might go one step beyond: Washington’s expansion of collective bargaining could encourage further local labor activism at the grassroots. Once an executive pen sets workers in motion, many will be spurred to assert their rights at work on their own—ensuring that good jobs are no longer the exception but the new rule.
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Scott Walker, an ardent Ronald Reagan fan from his youth, was never likely to follow Reagan’s footsteps to the White House. The Wisconsin governor lacks his hero’s way with words, skill for crossing lines of partisan and ideological division (especially within the Republican Party) and confidence on the national campaign trail.
Yet Walker has wanted to believe in the possibility so badly that he has spent the two years since his 2012 recall election win positioning himself as a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He penned a campaign book, Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge, which was so transparent in its ambitions that Glenn Beck’s The Blaze refers to it as “the prototypical book about someone running for president who doesn’t want to come out and actually say that he is running for president.” He jetted off to Las Vegas to to try and impress Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, but Adelson missed the Wisconsinite´s speech. He even persisted in making the rounds nationally after polls showed that his enthusiasm for presidential politics did not sit well with the Wisconsin voters he must face in a November re-election bid.
But with the release of documents in which Wisconsin prosecutors allege Walker helped to engineer an expansive “criminal scheme” to coordinate efforts by conservative groups to help his recall campaign—by circumventing campaign finance laws—Walker’s presidential prospects look less realistic even than those of his mentor, scandal-plagued New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
The headlines in Wisconsin Thursday were damning:
“John Doe prosecutors allege Scott Walker at center of ‘criminal scheme’”
“Prosecutors accuse Walker of running ‘criminal scheme’”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker participated in a “criminal scheme” to coordinate fundraising for the Republican in response to efforts to recall him and state senators from office, local prosecutors argue in court documents released Thursday.
Walker, his chief of staff and others were involved in the coordination effort with “a number of national groups and prominent figures,” including Karl Rove, says special prosecutor Francis Schmitz.
“[T]he evidence shows an extensive coordination scheme that pervaded nearly every aspect of the campaign activities during the historic 2011 and 2012 Wisconsin Senate and Gubernatorial recall elections,” Schmitz wrote in a December motion, on behalf of five attorneys from some of the state’s most liberal counties, just now unsealed by an appellate court judge.
Even worse for a governor who has already had to try an explain away highly controversial emails from former aides, as well as the investigations, prosecutions and convictions of aides, appointees, allies and campaign donors, are the actual details of the documents that were ordered unsealed by Federal Appeals Judge Frank Easterbrook.
“The documents include an excerpt from an email in which Walker tells Karl Rove, former top adviser to President George W. Bush, that (veteran Wisconsin Republican operative R.J.) Johnson would lead the coordination campaign. Johnson is also Walker’s longtime campaign strategist and the chief adviser to Wisconsin Club for Growth, a conservative group active in the recall elections,” reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state’s largest paper.
The May 4, 2011, e-mail to Rove read: “Bottom-line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin. We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like 9 congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities).”
Walker, who is certainly no stranger to controversy, claimed Thursday that he had been vindicated by judges who have restricted—and even attempted to shut down—the “John Doe” investigation into political wrongdoing. But other judges have sustained the inquiry.
Walker allies argue that he is the victim of a “witch hunt” organized by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and other top prosecutors, who they allege are out to silence conservatives and harm Republicans. Chisholm is a Democrat, but he is also a respected prosecutor who has gone after Democrats and worked with Republicans.
Lawyers for targets of the probe are fighting to shut it down and, in this unsettled and uncertain post–Citizens United period with regard to state and national campaign finance laws, they believe they will succeed.
Attempts to halt the probe, which have been cheered on by advocates for a no-holds-barred “big money” politics, are part of a broader strategy to gut remaining campaign-finance laws. One way to super-charge the influence of major donors and corporate interests is to undermine bans on coordination between candidates and their campaigns with “independent” groups that operate under different and more flexible rules for raising and spending money during a campaign.
“If you don’t have restrictions on coordination, then the contribution limits become meaningless,” Paul S. Ryan, the senior counsel for the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center, explained. Ryan told Politico that without the restrictions, a donor “could max out under the limits [for donating to a candidate], but then you could also just say to the candidates, ‘Hey give me an ad script and we’ll walk down to the TV station and do this ad for you.’”
But even if the probe is prevented from going forward, the documents that have now been released—in combination with the February release of 27,000 pages of e-mails from the seized from the “secret e-mail system” computers of a former Walker aide who has been convicted of political wrongdoing—paint a picture of a governor whose political style does not say “statesman.”
There is no question that Walker is a hero to some Republicans, and to some conservatives.
But Republicans and conservatives who want to win back the White House have to be realistic enough to recognize that Walker has a paper trail that is unlikely to read well on the 2016 campaign trail.
In fact, if the Wisconsin polls that have Walker tied with Democratic challenger Mary Burke are to be believed, Walker might have trouble getting past the 2014 election.
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This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
It’s World Cup season. But far from the favelas of Brazil, another drama is playing out in the annals of international soccer.
In an effort to bolster its global status, Israel has placed a bid to host the 2020 European Championship, known as Euro 2020. That means that one of the world’s largest international soccer tournaments might be coming to Jerusalem.
Hosting mega sporting events is an increasingly popular way for countries to build a positive international image, but it can also provoke criticism—as seen in Brazil, where the eviction of impoverished residents to make way for stadiums has prompted massive protests, as well as in Qatar, where the preparations for World Cup games have led to worker deaths and labor unrest. Israel, which has been accused of violently targeting Palestinian soccer players, is no exception.
Sports and Politics
The Euro is one of the world’s most competitive international soccer tournaments, second only to the World Cup. The winner is crowned the best national team in Europe, home to some of the strongest sides in international soccer. As the Arab boycott has precluded Israel’s participation in the Asian Confederation, Israel has been considered part of Europe’s soccer confederation since 1994.
To celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the tournament, UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, has decided to depart from tradition. Rather than hold the tournament in one host nation as usual, UEFA has decided to choose thirteen host cities throughout the member countries. In September UEFA will select these cities from the existing nineteen bids. That makes Israel, which hosted the UEFA Under-21 European Championship in 2013, a strong contender.
But the Palestinian Football Association and Palestinian solidarity activists have already raised opposition to Israel hosting the tournament. A recent letter in The Independent—signed by Desmond Tutu and Alice Walker, among others—called for UEFA to leave Jerusalem off the list of host cities as long as “Israel continues to perpetrate its devastating military occupation of the Palestinian territories, flouts international law, totally disregards UN resolutions, and imprisons hundreds of Palestinians, including children, without charge.”
We like to believe that during large sporting events, like the Olympics or World Cup, political conflicts should take a backseat to what happens on the field—politics and sports, some say, don’t mix. But for Palestinian soccer players, separating the realms has proven impossible.
Since FIFA recognized the Palestinian national soccer team in 1996, Israel has mixed politics and sports in a lethal way, targeting Palestinian players, coaches and facilities. In ruthless attacks largely unreported in the United States, Palestinian footballers have been arrested, maimed and killed by the Israel Defense Forces. Thanks to Dave Zirin of The Nation, many of these incidents have been reported to wider audiences.
The most recent incident was last February’s brutal shooting of two young players, Jawhar Nasser Jawhar and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, at a checkpoint in the West Bank. Both players were severely injured, with one reportedly suffering ten bullet wounds to his feet—a strong indication that the Israeli soldiers knew that the teenagers were footballers and targeted them accordingly. When they attempted to return from Jordan, where they had received medical treatment, they were arrested without charge—a practice known as administrative detention.
These young players are hardly the only Palestinian soccer players to languish in administrative detention. Goalkeeper Omar Khaled Abu Rouis and talented striker Mohammed Sadi Nimr were arrested in 2012. Another national team star, Zakaria Issa, was jailed for allegedly being a member of Hamas in 2003. Sentenced to sixteen years, he was released after nine years because he had a terminal illness. The most famous incident of unlawful detention is the story of Mahmoud Sarsak, who was jailed for over three years. Despite never formally being charged with a crime, Sarsak was unable to communicate with friends and held in solitary confinement for much of his time in prison. After a three-month hunger strike Sarsak was released, but only after his plight came to the attention of FIFA and the world players’ union, FIFPro.
Other players have also fallen victim to violence. During Operation Cast Lead in 2008–09, three soccer stars, including one national team player, were killed within seventy-two hours of each other by Israeli missile strikes on their homes. Other attacks have targeted Palestine Stadium in Gaza, which was destroyed by Israeli forces in 2006, only to be rebuilt with FIFA funding after the international soccer association found that the attack was “without any reason.” Israeli explosives leveled the stadium once more in 2013, when the IDF again claimed that missiles were being fired from the field. FIFA has pledged to rebuild the stadium yet again.
Despite these hardships, the Palestinian team continues to play. Or at least, it tries to. The team has traditionally recruited players from the diaspora due to the difficulty Palestinians face in getting permission to leave the occupied territories. In 2007 the team was even forced to forfeit its first-round World Cup qualifier in Singapore after eighteen players were refused permission to travel by the Israeli government.
These incidents are not random, but suggest a concerted effort to target one of the prominent symbols of Palestinian nationhood: the national soccer team. By preventing the Palestinian team from participating in matches abroad or maintaining a stadium for home games, Israel is purposefully undermining Palestinian national pride and unity.
Politics by Other Means
Sports reflect political realities. But like any cultural institution, they can become tools for political agendas and violence. Like the soccer riots in post-Mubarak Egypt or the famed 1969 soccer war between El Salvador and Honduras, problems arise when soccer becomes a continuation of politics by other means.
The reflection of politics in soccer, however, adds meaning to the richest moments the game has to offer. In Spain, the annual meetings between Real Madrid and Barcelona, known as El Clasico, can’t be fully comprehended without an understanding of the symbolic importance of FC Barcelona in Catalan autonomy and the importance of Real Madrid to the Franco regime (a story Franklin Foer explains in his excellent book How Soccer Explains the World). Likewise, the Falklands Crisis of 1982 adds context to the 1986 Argentina victory over England, a famous international match known for Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God.”
Perhaps one day, Israel and Palestine will meet on the pitch in a legendary rivalry informed by politics and history. The game would be bitter, tackles would be hard and perhaps a few inappropriate chants would emanate from the stands. But that would be a vast improvement over the indefinite detentions, shootings and unwarranted destruction of facilities Palestinian footballers endure today.
Until that day, Israel must be held responsible for its actions. If UEFA selects Jerusalem in September, the choice can only be seen as an implicit endorsement of these tactics.
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—Hélène Barthélemy focuses on the criminal justice system, activism and culture.
“Still In Bed,” by Elliott Colla. Jadaliyya, June 13, 2014.
While many are discussing the fact that we should not be listening to the war hawks that led to the catastrophe of 2003, other errors from the past are being replicated, notably the uncritical trust in the dubious sources relevant to ISIS, most of which are authenticated by its very enemies. This excellent article by Elliott Colla reminds us that when relevant to warfare we should be skeptical of reductive narratives put forth by the military-literary complex and by the media. Beyond war-mongering, as Chelsea Manning discussed in the NYT, the practice of embedded journalism makes war reporting fundamentally biased. Informed by the lies that surrounded the first Iraqi invasion (WMD!) or, more recently, the doubts shed by Seymour Hersh on the chemical attacks in Syria, we should know, by now, that when in war, we know nothing.
—Summer Concepcion focuses on race, gender and criminal justice.
"Delinquent youth more likely to die violently as adults, study says," by Mary MacVean. The Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2014.
Is all hope lost for delinquent youth? So suggests this recent study conducted at Northwestern University's medical school. According to researchers, there are three risk factors during adolescence that predict violent death up to age 34: alcohol use disorder, selling drugs and gang involvement. The gist of the issue lies within the economically-disadvantaged communities from which delinquent youth typically come. In other words, how can the criminal justice system work to better prevent these youths from recidivism?
—Erin Corbett focuses on national security and reproductive rights.
“Is Bowe Bergdahl worth five Taliban prisoners?” by Andy Worthington. Al Jazeera, June 16, 2014.
Many have questioned the legality of exchanging five Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo for Bowe Bergdahl, specifically because Congress was not notified 30 days prior to the swap. Some critics of the exchange concluded that Bergdahl “should have been abandoned, because of claims that he was a deserter,” even before the army launched an investigation into his disappearance. Worthington points out the irony to such a response, “as the only other place where men are routinely judged and condemned without having been charged or tried is Guantánamo.” Overall, this piece complicates the story by first reminding us of the AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force), which allows the President to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those he determines responsible for the attacks on 9/11. Worthington suggests, however, that as the war in Afghanistan comes to a close, holding Taliban prisoners is no longer justified under such a law and that, most importantly, “time is running out for the US to maintain that it has the right to continue to hold prisoners at Guantánamo indefinitely.”
—Victoria Ford focuses on African-American identity, feminism/womanism and the arts.
"Tenure is Not the Problem," by Richard D. Kahlenberg. Slate, June 13, 2014.
The conversation about equal education opportunities for communities of color has changed from directly improving conditions in "concentrations of poverty," to an urgent (yet still necessary) topic: teacher tenure laws. On June 10, the Vergara v. California court decision deemed "state teacher tenure and seniority protections as a violation of the rights of poor and minority students to an equal education." But as Richard Kahlenberg questions, are teacher tenure laws truly the ill of these fated urban schools? And what exactly are the advantages and disadvantages of them? While the court decision makes it easier to get rid of poor-performing teachers, Kahlenberg argues that keeping great teachers in low-income schools comes first from policymakers "promoting economic integration." What states like California need, then, are cases that directly challenge overwhelming de facto economic and racial school segregation that (artificially and premeditatedly) continues to exist in urban public school systems across the nation.
—Douglas Grant focuses on labor and income inequality, gender politics and American politics.
“The Teaching Class”, Rachel Riederer. Guernica, June 16, 2014
When we think of those who toil in higher education, we see only the leafy campuses and tweeds and intellectual ferment; we don’t see the adjunct professors barely scraping by, often without health insurance or any sense of job security. Rachel Riederer challenges those stubbornly held assumptions, showing us that we don't see the attention and care to students' work that is lost due to the uncertainty that hangs over an adjunct lecturer's career. Complaining about—or even explaining—work conditions is often seen as a supremely ungrateful act. That's what stills dialogue—exactly what is, at the very least, most in need.
—Hannah Harris Green focuses on South Asian Culture and Politics, and Sexual Assault.
“Reppin Your Hood: Zabān, Pehchān and Pakistani Rap,” by Hamzah Saif. Ajam Media Collective, May 5, 2014.
In his profile of two Pakistani rappers, Hamzah Saif of the Ajam media collective adds a chapter to the story of international hip hop. The genre began as a space for the voices of marginalized African American communities in the United States, and artists around the world have since found that they can use rap to express unsung stories, and in the case of rapper Shahzad Meer, unsung languages. “When you arrive in Thatta, the ricksawallah (rickshaw driver) has an Urdu song playing, maybe a Punjabi song, maybe even an English song, but never a Sindhi song. What has happened to the rich musical tradition of Sindhi?” says Meer, explaining why he raps in Sindhi, a language that has lost its status in modern Pakistan, where Urdu is privileged over other dialects.
—Alana de Hinojosa focuses on immigration, race and racism, Latin@ identity and feminism.
“‘But you’re basically white, right?’: I’m Latina and I don’t speak Spanish,” by Julie M. Rodriguez. Salon, June 16, 2014.
Late last month, Nate Cohn at The New York Times published a controversial article that claimed that the large number of white-identifying Latin@s signals a process of racial assimilation similar to that of Italian and Irish descendants. Despite the waves of criticism (which included revealing that their claim was based on a unpublished report), the Times stood by his piece—which essentially strove to put Latinidad in a U.S. colonialist identity box. The problem is, Cohn was asking all the wrong questions.
Here's the thing: Latin@ identity is shifting epistemologies about race, ethnicity, identity and language. This week Salon published an article that speaks to how utterly unperceptive this article is. The author, a third generation Latina, argues that her inability to speak Spanish does not exclude her from her Latina identity—despite the fact that she is told she is "basically white." Instead, she says, her experience as a non-Spanish, light skinned speaking Latina in the U.S. opens new ways of thinking about Latin@ identities that fall outside of the Census and its little boxes. And it's not because she's suddenly "assimilated" (whatever that means). Just take a look at the trending #WhatLatinosLookLike hashtag and you'll get the picture.
—Crystal Kayiza focuses on the African diaspora,immigration, Black Feminist thought, and police brutality.
“‘Not going to lie down and take it’: Black women are being overlooked by this president,” by Brittney Cooper. Salon, June 17, 2014.
During his two-term presidency, Obama has dedicated a portion of his agenda to addressing the immediate needs of minority groups, including LGBTQ communities and young black men, the focus of his recently announced "My Brothers Keeper" program. However, the racial justice agenda under the Obama administration is a male one and displaces the complex identity of many black women. In her article, Brittney Cooper critiques Obama's marginalization of his single largest voting demographic. Cooper notes, "no executive orders, no White House initiatives and no pieces of progressive legislation" have been introduced to address the hardships that black women face. From prison reform to affirmative action, few items on the racial justice agenda directly address the immediate needs of black and brown women in the United States. "What has become apparent is that President Obama’s personal understanding of racism is deeply tethered to his position as both black and male," Cooper states. By only placing value on the "absent black father" and the disconnected black male youth, patriarchy continues to displace the vital role that black women and girls play in sustaining the black community. By "…missing the irony that his lack of father did not prevent him from ascending to the presidency," Obama equates black success to male success. What Cooper resolves is that it is vital to recognize racial oppression in its many forms—not solely as an examination of white supremacy, but an intersectional critique of masculine discourses. Because, as history has shown, from the highways of Selma to the hallways of the White House, black mothers, daughters, sisters and partners refuse to be left behind.
—Agnes Radomski focuses on labor, mass incarceration, the war on drugs and the military industrial complex.
“Iraq Everlasting,” by Frank Rich. New York, June 4, 2014.
The fallout from the 2003 invasion of Iraq continues in the form of an Al Qaeda offshoot known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. As ISIS advances into cities in northern and central Iraq, spreading devastation in its wake, much has been written about Iraq’s tragic legacy and how it came to be. The blame has largely rested on those who beat the drums of war, neocon hawks in the Bush administration and in the media. But Frank Rich reminds us: “History will look back at the liberal and conservative hawks alike as having flunked the biggest judgment call of their time.” In “Everlasting Iraq,” Rich refers to a short fictional (but also non-fictional) novel written by the late Michael Hastings. Hastings' book, The Last Magazine, “tells the story of the run-up to the Iraq War from a perspective that many of his colleagues would like to forget or suppress.” Hastings book describes a liberal media that “cheered on the war with a self-righteous gravity second only to Dick Cheney’s.” As we continue to reflect on the tragedy that is Iraq, let’s hope we all learned our lesson, conservatives and liberals alike.
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Some time ago we discussed a style of cryptic crosswords in which the words are separated by bars between the squares, instead of black squares. About once or twice a year, we use this format in The Nation. As we mentioned back then, bar-diagram puzzles offer more intersections between across and down entries, and are usually accompanied by a title and some written instructions. Thus they provide a good environment for trickery beyond mere cryptic cluing. Such puzzles are often called variety cryptic crosswords.
We occasionally engage in variety cryptic trickery in some of our themed puzzles. When we do, we reveal the nature of the gimmick in one of the clues. Because of the greater number of unchecked letters in a block diagram, we must keep the complexity of the gimmick manageable. If you thirst for greater challenges along these lines, here are some sources of variety cryptics:
• The Enigma, the monthly publication of the National Puzzlers’ League (NPL), includes one or two cryptics in each issue, most of them variety cryptics. They are edited by Guy Jacobson (Xemu), who took over from us when we got the Nation job. For a selection of the best cryptics from our fifteen years as Enigma cryptic editors, download this book.
• The Wall Street Journal features a monthly variety cryptic of unparalleled wit and creativity by the royal couple of US cryptics, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon.
• Harper’s includes a monthly variety cryptic by veteran constructor Richard Maltby.
If you like the idea of always having cryptics to solve, wherever and whenever, and if you also own an iOS device, you would enjoy the Puzzazz app. In a past post, we discussed the ways in which it is an ideal platform for electronic cryptic solving, as it provides extraordinary hints to beginner solvers, and it allows hand-written input. Since then, the app has improved dramatically from an already impressive start. Puzzazz supports all kinds of variety cryptic quirks, including bar diagrams, solver-entered bars, a wide geometric range (concentric circles, hexagons, multiple grids, etc.), pictures in clues, numbers instead of letters, drawings on the completed puzzle, and much, much more.
This flexibility is demonstrated dramatically in the new e-book Cryptic All-Stars, a collection of forty-five variety cryptics by thirteen constructors (including Roger Wolff, Mark Halpin, and nine other members of the NPL, including, ahem, Joshua Kosman). In addition, the third e-book of 20 Nation cryptics just came out on Puzzazz—another reason to get the app!
This week’s clueing challenge: DEVICE
To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.
This morning on the Senate floor Mitch McConnell lit into President Obama for having withdrawn American troops from Iraq, in light of the recent ISIL chaos. This was in addition to McConnell’s criticism of Obama’s announcing a pending withdrawal from Afghanistan, “placing substantial trust in…diplomacy,” and ending “CIA interrogation and detention programs.” McConnell said that “once again, [Obama has] announced Step A without thinking through the consequences of Step B” and has “always been a reluctant commander in chief.”
Dick Cheney couldn’t have delivered the speech any better himself. McConnell also said yesterday that Obama should “act quickly” to stop ISIL in Iraq, but “the Kentucky Republican stopped short of saying what U.S. assistance to Baghdad should look like.” Cheney and Bill Kristol probably have about 100,000 boot-wearing suggestions on that one, though McConnell isn’t ready to rule that in or out.
However, just four short years ago, McConnell had a much different take on America beginning its withdrawal of troops from Iraq. As Obama pulled out the last remaining combat troops and signaled a final withdrawal ahead, McConnell saw this as an opportunity to lavish praise on President… Bush.
Republicans say their party should be credited for bringing about this milestone.
“It makes it easier to talk about fulfilling a campaign promise to wind down our operations in Iraq when the previous administration signs the security agreement with Iraq to end our overall presence there,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said today. “By adopting the Bush administration’s plan for winding down the war and transitioning security responsibilities to the Iraqi military over time the President has enabled us and the Iraqis to build on the gains our troops have made.”
Of course, Mitch McConnell is a coldly strategic political actor if anything, so it’s difficult to take any of his statements at face value without factoring in whatever power move is in his head at the time. Staying on the subject of Iraq for this point, look no further than his actions in the fall of 2006, as Iraq was in chaos and the public increasingly wanted to get the hell out of there. At the time, McConnell was busy publicly calling Democratic advocates of withdrawal a bunch of cut-and-runners and appeasers. But in the White House, according to Bush’s autobiography, the political animal McConnell was calling for a withdrawal to begin—not because it was the right thing to do, but because it would help the GOP win elections.
In his autobiography, “Decision Points,” former President George W. Bush describes a Sept. 2006 meeting with McConnell in the midst of a tough time in the Iraq occupation and an upcoming mid-term election. According to the former president, McConnell urged him to bring some troops home from Iraq to lessen political risks, as the Democrats looked ready to take seats from the Republican Party. Mr. Bush rebuffed McConnell’s request—and the Republicans did receive a “shellacking” by the voters.
On Sept. 5, 2006, as part of his political maneuvering, McConnell said, “The Democrat[ic] leadership finally agrees on something—unfortunately it’s retreat,” referring to a letter from Democrats calling on Mr. Bush to reduce troop levels in Iraq.
After the book was published, McConnell said that he did not recall that conversation. Fortunately, Dick Cheney’s autobiography came out the next year to refresh his memory, where he stated that ten months after that meeting with Bush, McConnell was still privately and hypocritically advocating the withdrawal of troops from Iraq—to save his own skin in his own re-election race:
As dinner broke up, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walked over to me. Mitch had been one of the most concerned of the Republicans. He was up for reelection and had suggested to the president that he needed to begin a withdrawal in order to avoid massive defection of Republican senators. “Dick,” McConnell said, “I may have been wrong. Tell the president that I think we may well be able to win these votes and hold the Senate Republicans for the month of July.” That would get us through to the August recess and into September, when Dave Petraeus and Ryan Crocker were scheduled to testify. That was all we needed.
To paraphrase from McConnell this morning, it’s like he publicly announced support for Position A while simultaneously expressing support for Position B in private.
McConnell now finds himself in another tight re-election race with his career on the line, and another crisis in Iraq. So what’s a political animal to do? McConnell always feels comfortable ripping Obama as a treacherous failure—as he did on the Senate floor today—but he has to know that voters in Kentucky are not clamoring to get in the middle of another sectarian war in the Middle East. That’s likely why he’s making vague statements about “acting quickly” with no detail, and suggesting that Obama is free to act without congressional approval.
His opponent this fall, Alison Lundergan Grimes, stated flatly that she does not support boots on the ground in Iraq, and seems unlikely to budge from that position. And unlike McConnell, Grimes is not shedding any tears about the fact that America will soon pull out of its other unpopular and seemingly pointless war in Afghanistan.
Going forward in the campaign, I can only be certain of two things about McConnell’s position on Iraq: he will criticize Obama’s actions no matter what the president does, and no one can be certain that Mitch even really believes what he’s saying.
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Dave Zirin appeared on MSNBC last night to comment on yet another round of protests and tear-gassing in Brazil. Yesterday in Porto Alegre, Brazilians marched against FIFA’s draining of public coffers, arguing that the $11 billion World Cup budget should go towards alleviating poverty. When the government agreed to host the games, Brazil was experiencing an economic boom, but now a recession has hit the country. FIFA was indifferent to the economic change: “They say, you made your commitment, and we want to see your skin in the game regardless of how your economy is doing. And that’s what I think fueled a lot of the anger Brazilians feel,” Zirin explained to MSNBC’s Ari Melber.
—Hannah Harris Green
My Brother’s Keeper, the $200 million public-private initiative spearheaded by President Barack Obama in February aimed at improving the quality of life for black and Latino boys, is notable because it’s the only time Obama has used the office of the presidency to directly address issues of racial injustice. That’s also part of why it has come under so much scrutiny.
As I said when it was first announced, I believe My Brother’s Keeper is admirable but deeply flawed. That the president sees the life outcomes of black and Latino boys as a personal responsibility he is willing to exert some presidential power over is to be commended. However, My Brother’s Keeper is steeped in the respectability politics that has been central to President Obama’s rhetoric surrounding black people. This program lacks an institutional analysis of racism and the legacy of white supremacy. It puts the onus on communities ravaged by centuries of racist public policy to undo damage they did not cause through education, mentorship and “hard work,” as if the barriers to accessing these things do not persist. It is insulting, in the face of this country’s history, to place the blame for the outcomes of racism on those victimized by it.
Moreover, this program gives me pause because it is gendered in a way that suggests the lives of these boys and young men matter more than girls and young women of color.
Yes, it’s true that black and Latino boys are disproportionately affected by issues such as incarceration rates and joblessness. When considering that, a program aimed specifically at them makes sense. And maybe I would be singing a different tune if I believed My Brother’s Keeper actually had the capacity to address those injustices.
As it stands, I simultaneously do not believe My Brother’s Keeper to be adequate for the young men it seeks to help and that it is unconscionable to leave young women out. If My Brother’s Keeper is going to be the racial justice initiative that President Obama stakes his legacy on, as flawed as it already is, it cannot also repeat the mistake of acting as if women of color are not also affected by racism.
The reason more than 1000 women of color and 200 black men came together to sign two letters asking for the inclusion of girls of color in My Brother’s Keeper (full disclosure: I am one of the signees) is not that anyone believes this particular initiative is the initiative to end all racism and suffering. It’s because racial justice movements of the past have consistently relied on the talent, skills, blood, sweat, time, money and silencing of women. They have fought diligently in the service of justice, only to be told that their specific concerns were either unworthy of attention or too divisive to be taken seriously.
This can’t be permissible at the grassroots or presidential level. Our girls matter, just as our boys matter. They matter to us, they matter to one another, they matter to this country. We can’t keep sending the message that they don’t.
Read Next: Gary Younge on the truth about race in America
To mark New Jersey’s 350th anniversary, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce is polling state residents about what they believe has been the state’s greatest achievement. Among the choices: such things as the invention of the light bulb and the phonograph, new antibiotics, solar panels, condensed soup and salt water taffy. But if the Democratic leaders in the state legislature continue to hold firm in their opposition to Governor Chris Christie’s raid of the state pension fund to balance New Jersey’s budget then the state’s greatest accomplishment may turn out to be the Democrats determination to protect a decent set of benefits for the middle class.
And if they do continue to fight against Christie’s wrecking-ball attack on the benefits of state workers, it would cripple Christie’s argument that he should be the 2016 GOP standard-bearer because he knows how to work across the aisle to enact harsh budget cuts.
Yesterday the state senate president, Stephen Sweeney, said the Senate would not go along with Christie’s pension grab. Instead, Sweeney and the Senate majority leader, Loretta Weinberg, unveiled a tax plan alternative. They proposed higher taxes on people earning more than $500,000, a one-year suspension of several business tax breaks and grants, and the imposition of a surcharge on corporate taxes, raising nearly $1.6 billion for fiscal 2015. In announcing the plan, Sweeney said it would maintain the pension payments promised, keep state borrowing costs down by keeping up the state’s credit rating and maintain the other key services that the state provides:
Also a matter of fairness is that this plan will make the full pension contribution that the governor promised. We must keep that promise. Staying true to the promised payments is also a matter of financial integrity. Abandoning the promise will cost more in higher interest rates and lower credit ratings. This plan is not only a matter of fairness and responsibility with pension payments, it is really about the full range of government services and opportunities, including such things as property tax relief, college affordability, public schools, law enforcement, transportation and many more priority needs. We have to maintain the state’s commitment to all New Jersey residents by meeting all of our commitments.
It was Sweeney, a protégé of political boss George Norcross, the businessman power broker who controls Democratic politics in South Jersey, who was instrumental in initially helping Christie ram a harsh state employee pension deal through the legislature in 2011, cutting benefits, increasing employee payments and raising the retirement age. In exchange for this, state funding for the pension fund was to be dramatically increased to improve its long-term solvency. But in May Christie ripped up the agreement when tax revenues fell short of estimates, forcing him to come up with money to balance the budget this year.
Now Sweeney wants to run for governor when Christie leaves and he knows he can’t do that without union and state employee backing. As Christie Watch has reported, about a dozen unions, including the New Jersey Education Association and the Communications Workers of America, along with those representing police, firefighters and other public sector workers, filed suit to stop Christie’s pension scheme. A larger coalition, including community, environmental and other activist groups, has been demonstrating and lobbying against Christie’s actions.
The Sweeney-Weinberg plan was applauded by these unions, who have called for similar tax increases.
Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, said, “the only winners in Chris Christie’s economy are millionaires and Wall Street CEOs. The Senate President is presenting a plan that puts the middle class first, and forces the wealthy that have benefited so much under this governor to pay their fair share,” Wowkanech said.
But Christie, again attacking “out of control pension and benefit costs,” reiterated his refusal to raise taxes, calculating that it would doom his chances of getting the GOP presidential nod in 2016:
“The governor has been emphatic that he will not raise taxes on already overburdened New Jersey taxpayers suffering from one of the harshest tax structures of any state in the country,” said a Christie spokesman, Kevin Roberts, responding to Sweeney’s announcement today.
A state judge will hear the union lawsuit on June 25. Yesterday the board of the largest state pension plan, the Public Employees’ Retirement System, representing over 400,000 active and retired workers, also voted to sue the governor on the pension issue.
More than 10,000 public workers had sent letters to the pension board urging it to take action. The head of the board, Thomas Bruno, a retiree and former official of the Communications Workers of America, said the board had a fiduciary duty to demand the pension payment. But three board members, representing Christie and the state treasurer, recused themselves.
Yesterday too the state attorney general filed a court brief in answer to the union lawsuits. It argued that while the 2011 pension reform legislation provided a contractual right to the pension payments, the contract is with the legislature, not the executive branch. And, Christie’s lawyers argued, the decision to stop the pension payment is justified because the state budget crisis is unprecedented and the governor has a legal charge to balance the budget.
Sweeney’s tax plan could speed through the Senate next week, in time for the court hearing on the lawsuit against Christie’s plan June 25. But even if it passes the Assembly in time to be a key part of the budget for next fiscal year, Christie is likely to veto it, as he has done several times with the “millionaires tax.” But legislative leaders are talking about placing it before voters as a ballot initiative.
It may not be possible because of legal technicalities to have the measure go to voters until 2015. Which is the same year that Christie, if he decides to run for president, will go before the nation’s Republican primary voters.
Read Next: New Jersey unions in revolt against Christie’s attack on pensions
Under mounting pressure from lawmakers and immigrant rights groups, Border Patrol officials on Wednesday finally let reporters visit two processing facilities where hundreds of unaccompanied migrant youth are being detained.
Some 900 children are being housed at a former warehouse in Nogales, Arizona, which was recently outfitted to handle an unprecedented surge of mostly Central American child migrants across the US-Mexico border. Another facility in Brownsville, Texas, is holding around 500 children, double its intended capacity. The Los Angeles Times described conditions there as “overcrowded and unsanitary.” CBP is required by law to turn over any migrant children to the Department of Health and Human Services within seventy-two hours of detaining them. Officials at the Nogales and Brownsville facilities told reporters they are struggling to meet this requirement.
Earlier this month, the White House requested $2 billion to handle the surge of migrant youths, which President Obama has declared an “urgent humanitarian situation.” US Customs and Border Protection reports that around 47,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border since October 1, 2013, nearly double the amount of last year. A majority of the migrant children arrived from Central American countries, seeking refuge from rampant violence or hoping to reconnect with family members already in the states.
CBP officials took reporters on highly controlled tours of the Brownsville and Nogales facilities, in which visitors were prohibited from bringing cellphones and sound recorders, or speaking with any of the children. Only two photographers, one for each facility, were allowed to bring a camera. Here are some of their photos:
Some 900 unaccompanied children are being held at a converted warehouse in Nogales. Border Patrol officials set up the Arizona facility after a similiar processing center in Texas ran out of space. (Reuters/Ross D. Franklin/Pool)
Female detainees sleep in a holding cell. According to The New York Times, children held at the Nogales facility are allowed just forty-five minutes of outdoor time a day. (Reuters/Ross D. Franklin/Pool)
Child detainees are escorted to make phone calls. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Child detainees wait to use a portable restroom, as a World Cup match plays on a suspended television. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
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