All it took was a recording of Donald Sterling insulting Magic Johnson in a derogatory manner for the twenty-four-hour news world to stop on its axis. Now imagine if Donald Sterling—in all of his paranoid, racist fervor—had an army at his disposal and bombed Magic Johnson in his home, killing him in his sleep.
If such a scenario sounds like hacky Phillip K. Dick fan fiction as written by Mike Lupica, then you have not been paying attention to the dystopian, genocidal panorama in Gaza, where no one is safe. You are unfamiliar with the name Ahed Zaqout
Ahed Zaqout was a 49-year-old sportscaster and television host in Gaza, a national sports voice for a people without a nation. Two decades ago, he was a soccer star: the midfielder for the Palestinian national soccer team. On Wednesday, he was killed in his bed by the bombs of the Israeli Defense Forces.
As Gaza sports journalist Khaled Zaher told Reuters, “Palestine has lost one of its best players, he may have been the best midfielder we ever ”
Why the IDF was “defending” itself against Zaqout is a mystery. He was no Muhammad Ali, using sports to advance any kind of political cause. He was that most conventional and familiar of person in sports: the ex-star jock turned broadcaster. But in Gaza, what we may see as conventional can become political. Zaqout was someone whose voice, sharp wit, and trenchant analysis was a source of joy and escape for a people under constant siege. Providing escape to the trapped of Gaza was in and of itself a political act.
Was Zaqout actually targeted, or did he die in yet another pitiless IDF bombing of civilians? If we believe Netanyahu and his defenders—that the reports by journalists and the United Nations of indiscriminate mass killings are a fabrication—then it is worth asking, Why did Ahed Zaqout have to die?
Based on the description and reports of the bombing, it is doubtful that his was a pinpoint assassination. Far more likely, Zaqout was a victim of Netanyahu’s mania for total war—a mania that makes my earlier Donald Sterling comparison frankly insulting to Mr. Sterling. But if he was in fact targeted, it would be yet another example of the ways in which Israel has attacked the soccer community of Gaza as a way to choke any respite or relief that the people could possibly possess.
Soccer is about people feeling a sense of collective joy and hope. It creates scenes, like the ones in earlier this year—it feels like a lifetime ago—of thousands of people on the Gaza beach celebrating the ascension of their national team.
Attacking soccer is about attacking these very national aspirations. It’s the inhumane act targeting a collective expression of humanity.
Currently FIFA is debating sanctions against Israel’s membership in the organization because of formal accusations that it has used state violence to stunt the Palestinian national team
Ahed Zaqout should be a part of this debate. Whether Zaqout was targeted or was caught up in an indiscriminate killing should be irrelevant to FIFA. One of their own was killed, and that has to count for something.
A critical voice in this debate is FIFA’s European President Michel Platini. Platini has been sharply critical of Israel yet also has championed the staging of tournaments there over international objections. Platini was also once a great player for the French national team. In a 1994 friendly match between France and the Palestinian national squad, Platini played across a fair-haired whippet named Ahed Zaqout. Perhaps he will remember his name as this debate moves forward.
I know it is stunning to think that FIFA could be any kind of force for social justice, but unlike the United Nations, the United States can’t unilaterally block FIFA’s decisions. And unlike the United Nations, FIFA could do something that would have teeth and that people across the world would actually notice. Perhaps in the face of the bloodshed in Gaza and in the memory of Ahed Zaqout, it will send a message that a country that imprisons another has no place in the world of international sports. If the politicians won’t act, then perhaps the world of sports must. After all, even Magic Johnson just cancelled an event in Jerusalem.
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The Republican leadership is furious that the media keep talking about their plans to impeach Barack Obama, and the GOP knows who’s injecting this false idea into the talking heads: Barack Obama.
Even as he led the House in the unprecedented step Wednesday of voting to sue a POTUS, House speaker John Boehner insists that all this talk about impeachment is “coming from the president’s own staff, and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill.” Why? Because they’re trying to rally their people to give money and to show up in this year’s election. We have no plans to impeach the president. We have no future plans,” Boehner emphasized. “Listen, it’s all a scam started by Democrats at the White House.”
And although any alert reporter knows it’s Boehner’s protest that’s the scam (a dozen or so Republican congressmen have openly called for Obama’s impeachment; White House spokesman Josh Earnest named some of them, including Representative Steve King of Iowa and Steve Stockman of Texas, earlier this week), some in the corporate media nevertheless sniff a chance to deploy false equivalencies once more.
Chuck Todd, for example, said on Morning Joe, “I think the White House ought to be embarrassed at how they’re trying to play it. Boehner, the idea that he’s saying, Oh, we’re not talking impeachment. The lawsuit, please. That’s about placating the impeachment caucus in his own party. This is sort of an embarrassing moment for Washington. The leaders of both parties here, they’re driving away people from the polls. They’re driving people away from politics. This is cynical, it’s ugly, it’s disgusting.”
This pox-on-both-your-houses rant ignores the two houses’ very different dimensions. Calling for impeachment when no grounds for it exist and responding to those calls by raising funds to beat the impeachment-wingers at the polls are not equally cynical. It’s true that Democrats are exploiting GOP calls for impeachment to raise ire and money—several million dollars so far. And good for them. Why, in the age of Citizens United, shouldn’t they? “It would be malpractice if they didn’t do it,” Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart said on Hardball.
The Republicans’ inability to throw their base red meat without sane people noticing drives them into high-dudgeon denial. Hilariously so. On Tuesday, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said, “Republicans, conservatives, not talking about it. Only Democrats. It’s to gin up the base before November.” He said this even though, just days earlier, as Media Matters points out, Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano appeared on F&F “and counseled the GOP to impeach the president, which Napolitano claimed would ‘focus his attention immediately.’”
Fox is also trying to gloss over the impeachment soap opera coming from some of its other contributors, like Allen West and, most famously, Sarah Palin. Yeah, but those are just has-been fringers, not to be taken seriously, centrists point out. Chuck Todd even mocked Josh Earnest for listing pro-impeachment officials currently in office. The White House spokesman, Todd said, was “sitting at the podium trying ticking off names of—oooh-oooh—look at Republicans that want impeachment.”
But look who’s wagging the dog here. According to a CNN/ORC International poll, 57 percent of Republicans say they support impeaching Obama. And Representative Steve Scalise, the new House majority whip, wouldn’t put impeachment off the table when Chris Wallace asked him about it three times. (It was a fascinating example of getting hoisted on your own talking point: each time Scalise refused to rule out impeachment, he blamed Obama for keeping the issue alive.)
For the record, John Boehner won’t take impeachment off that increasingly crowded table either.
Worse, Boehner is ignoring the top GOPer who “started” it: himself. The notoriously weak speaker set this latest round of impeachment talk in motion by bringing the lawsuit against Obama to the floor in the first place. The idea of this “impeachment lite” was to let his Tea Party masters vent their Obama hatred in a way that it would squelch talk of actual impeachment. The Republican leadership knows the issue could backfire on them during the 2014 elections, just as it did when the GOP impeached Clinton in 1998 and lost five House seats that year they previously had in the bag.
But rather than cool impeachment fever, the lawsuit has in fact heated it up by giving extremists in the House another way to question “responsible” Republicans’ true commitment to the cause. At least four of the five conservatives who voted against the lawsuit did so because they think it’s a weenie version of impeachment.
Here’s the bottom line: Boehner responded to impeachment talk from his right wing by filing a lawsuit. Yet when Democrats responded to that same impeachment talk from the same right wing, Boehner claims that it doesn’t exist—and if it does, the Dems are behind it.
We’ve seen this political blame-the-victim game before. Republicans from Glenn Beck to Karl Rove blamed Obama for keeping the birther issue alive by not releasing his long-form birth certificate as soon as they demanded it. (When he did, the Trump-led crazies received a very public pie in the face.) Last October, Republicans with presidential ambitions, like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, blamed Obama for the government shutdown, even though they both voted for it and maneuvered around their leadership to make it happen. It’s worth recalling that before the shutdown went down, Boehner insisted that it was going nowhere—just as he now swears that impeachment ain’t gonna happen.
Making the GOP bear some responsibility for the crazy in their ranks is the real purpose behind the spotlight Democrats are shining on the right-wing fever swamps. The media’s “both sides do it” reflex obscures the real meaning of this particular charade. Chris Matthews, I think, has it right: he’s been saying the right wants to delegitimize this president (more than they did even Clinton), to put an “asterisk” by his name in the history books so they can pretend that a black man was never really the president of the United States.
If Republicans win the Senate in November, then we’ll be hearing more a lot more about impeachment, no matter how much John Boehner says otherwise.
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This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org
In a move that smacks off censorship, Republic Report has discovered that a telecom industry-affiliated lobbying group successfully persuaded an African-American news website to remove an article that reported critically on the groups advocating against net neutrality. The order to delete the article came from the website’s parent company, a business partner to Comcast.
Last Friday, I reported on how several civil rights groups, almost all with funding from Comcast, Verizon and other Internet service providers, recently wrote to the Federal Communication Commission in support of Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan, which would create Internet fast lanes and slow lanes, an effective death of net neutrality. That piece was syndicated with Salon and The Nation, and several outlets aggregated the article. For a short period, NewsOne, a news site geared towards the African-American community, posted the piece along with its own commentary.
Then, the NewsOne article with my reporting disappeared.
If you Google the term ‘MMTC NewsOne,’ the NewsOne article (“Civil Rights Groups Blocking Efforts To Keep Internet Fair?”) still appears in the result list, though if you click it, it’s been deleted from the web. Luckily, the Internet cache still has a copy.
According to discussions with several people at NewsOne, including an editor there, the decision to take down the article came from corporate headquarters. NewsOne editor Abena Agyeman-Fisher told Republic Report, “The company didn’t feel it was appropriate to have up and we were supposed to take it down.” NewsOne is owned by Radio One, a company with a 50.9 percent stake in a business partnership with Comcast, known as TV One.
NewsOne was also contacted by a lobbying group called the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), an organization that has gained infamy for frequently mobilizing black, Latino and Asian-American groups to advocate on behalf of telecom industry-friendly positions, including recent big media mergers. On Monday, according to an attendee at an MMTC conference, MMTC vice president Nicol Turner-Lee referred to my reporting as a “digital lynch mob.” Turner-Lee, who resigned her previous position at a nonprofit after allegations of financial impropriety, reportedly claimed that minority organizations that support Title II reclassification—the only path for effective net neutrality after a court ruling in January—are not “true civil rights leaders.”
Contacted by Republic Report, MMTC president David Honig confirmed that he reached out to NewsOne, and also stood by Turner-Lee’s comments from earlier this week. Asked about the “digital lynch mob” comment, Honig e-mailed us to say, “I stand with Dr. Turner Lee’s assessment of the various hit pieces written by you and others. She spoke in the vernacular of the movement to which she has devoted her life, and is referencing the divide and conquer tactics used for decades to undermine the civil rights movement.” Regarding the claim that no “true civil rights leaders” support reclassification, Honig replied, “she was correct. Not one of the leaders of the major national civil rights membership organizations has endorsed Title II reclassification.”
In fact, many civil rights groups and activists support reclassification and strong net neutrality protections. Reached by Republic Report, the organizations were livid about MMTC’s insults and the decision by NewsOne to retract its story.
“MMTC is not the arbiter of who is and who is not a true civil rights group,” says Jessica Gonzalez, vice president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which represents a broad coalition in support of net neutrality through reclassification. “For them to claim anyone who supports reclassification is not a true civil rights group is just laughable. We have gone to the mat for our community for decades.”
“It’s disturbing that an online news site would remove a story just because its owners and their allies might not like it,” said Joseph Torres of Free Press, the co-author of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media. “This smacks of corporate censorship. A news organization shouldn’t be hiding the facts about the Net Neutrality debate because its corporate owners and their allies disagree with a journalist’s reporting. This is exactly why we need Net Neutrality. We don’t want to live in a world where Comcast or AT&T gets to decide which side of the story you see.”
Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, wrote to Republic Report to say, “I’m scared for our journalists, especially those that use the Internet to share their stories. When corporate or 20th century civil rights organizations silence the voices of journalists trying to simply report on the biggest first amendment issue of the 21st century, it only clarifies why we need strong rules that prevent censorship and discrimination on the Internet.” Cyril’s organization is a national organizing and training center for media rights that counts organizations such as Color of Change, Presente.org and others in its advocacy network.
NewsOne was not the only outlet lobbied by MMTC. The blog Field Negro was also contacted by MMTC’s David Honig, a longtime pro-telecom industry operative who told Field Negro that “no one disagrees about the desirability of an open Internet,” and argued that net neutrality activists are somehow equivalent to white liberals who support gentrification.
In reality, Honig has waged a multi-year war against efforts to build an open Internet, and the groups in his network continually shift the goal posts to ensure ISPs are allowed to discriminate based on content. For instance, one of the groups that has collaborated with Honig, the Japanese American Citizens League, told the FCC in 2010 that net neutrality would “do more harm than good” and that they “remain unconvinced that there is a need for this type of regulation.” Well, in Honig’s latest letter on behalf of the Japanese American Citizens League, net neutrality is needed, but only if adopted through FCC Chairman Wheeler’s terms, which is to say, with Internet fast lanes and slow lanes.
The arguments keep changing. The only thing that stays consistent is the money and the ISP-friendly policy. Comcast, a major opponent of net neutrality, is a big sponsor of both the MMTC (which has received around $350,000) and the Japanese American Citizens League. Honig’s board of advisors includes Joe Waz, an executive who has led Comcast’s policy outreach.
Asked about the MMTC-organized civil rights group letters against net neutrality and ensuing controversy, Professor Todd Gitlin called them the “closest thing I can imagine to a political quid pro quo,” explaining, “The evidence they offer on the proposition that minorities would benefit in employment, in access, in the rejection of reclassification is nil. It’s a lot of huffing and puffing built on the gullibility of the reader.”
He added, “the fact NewsOne saw fit to delete a report that they previously posted without any claim that anything was mistaken in the report tells you something about their commitment to open discourse.”
Jeff Cohen, an associate professor of journalism at Ithaca College, also commented on the NewsOne decision. “Just as corporate cash can corrupt civil rights groups, this incident shows how corporate power can corrupt and censor the news.”
Advocates for strong net neutrality argue that the rule is necessary so ISPs do not squelch out minority viewpoints with slower speeds. ISPs, on the other hand, say they can be trusted. If just the debate around net neutrality is any guide, large media corporations seem willing to suppress unfavorable news content. “If this happens now,” says Cayden Mak, the New Media Director of 18MillionRising.org, an Asian-American advocacy group, “imagine how difficult it will be to criticize internet providers and their allies without strong Net Neutrality rules.”
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Around the world, the ubiquitous Golden Arches are often paired with the barely fathomable proclamation: “Billions and Billions Served.” But that boast may now be a bit of a liability, thanks to this week’s ruling by the National Labor Relations Board General Counsel.
General Counsel Richard Griffin Jr., prosecutor for unfair labor practice claims at the NLRB, ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s is a joint employer of its vast workforce, sharing liability alongside its thousands of franchisees nationwide. This is very unwelcome news for the fast-food giant, because even though the corporation proudly takes credit as the purveyor of an astronomical volume of Big Macs, it has always sloughed off responsibility as an employer of an equally enormous number of impoverished and exploited workers.
The ruling authorizes dozens of complaints under the National Labor Relations Act that have been brought by McDonald’s workers. If the joint-employer designation is upheld, it would enable workers to hold the company to account for violating workers’ right to take collective action, and parallel allegations against McDonald’s as an employer in other pending lawsuits. This could ultimately advance the workers’ efforts to forge a union contract across many McDonald’s branches.
There have been 181 cases involving McDonald’s since November 2012—the time that a small group of fast-food workers staged a demonstration in New York and kicked off what would become a global campaign for workplace justice. The General Counsel stated that while some cases had been thrown out and another sixty-four were still being investigated, there were “forty-three cases where complaint has been authorized,” and depending on how those cases play out in hearings, “McDonald’s franchisees and/or McDonald’s, USA, LLC will be named as a respondent if parties are unable to reach settlement.”
If the NLRB ultimately rules in these cases that McDonald’s did crack down on or otherwise retaliated against or intimidated the workers as they demonstrated and staged sporadic wildcat strikes, the company could face penalties for labor violations. More importantly, no longer would McDonald’s be able to cast blame on individual franchisees for poor working conditions. Liability would go straight to the top, which has always been the target of the chief union supporting the campaign, SEIU.
There could also be a domino effect for similar cases involving multiple employers or contractors operating underneath large firms seeking to cut labor costs. As we’ve reported before, temp labor and other contingent workers face myriad obstacles in holding a parent company legally liable for labor abuse.
The new ruling may encourage workers to place the responsibility for various aspects of their bad jobs (which typically start at $9 an hour) squarely at McDonald’s doorstep, and perhaps even find common ground with franchise operators, who essentially are not mom-and-pop entrepreneurs, but more like sub-managers for a brand.
McDonald’s has vowed to fight the ruling. McDonald’s Senior Vice President Heather Smedstad told The New York Times that the company was ultimately not responsible for wages and working conditions, and that “this decision changes the rules for thousands of small businesses, and goes against decades of established law.”
But progressive labor experts say the designation of McDonald’s as a joint employer is not a mistake but a corrective for decades of corporate impunity, in which the company cheated workers and left franchisees holding the bag.
Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel of the National Employment Law Project, told reporters on Tuesday that the ruling recognizes the extraordinary power that a company like McDonald’s exerts as a supra-manager of its many semi-autonomous outlets and the frontline workers in the kitchen and counter workers. “[C]orporations that exercise sufficient control over their franchise operations cannot feign ignorance or disclaim responsibility for the illegal acts that happen in their stores,” she added. “Especially when these acts flow from the business model that McDonald’s… imposes.”
And if the huge McDonald’s workforce gets to negotiate the terms of its labor with a fast food behemoth, and one of the country’s largest unions is intervening as well, they might strike a deal of unprecedented proportions. Catherine Fisk, a law professor at University of California, Irvine, tells The Nation via e-mail that with franchisees and McDonald’s no longer able to mutually deflect (and thus both avoid) blame:
Having McDonald’s Corporation at the bargaining table will probably help the workers in some respects: The franchisee won’t be able to say, “Gee I’d love to pay you $15 an hour and eliminate the irregular and very short part-time work schedules that you hate, but I can’t because if I raise wages or change my staffing I won’t make enough profit to be able to meet my financial obligations under my franchise agreement with McDonald’s Corp.”
McDonald’s, in turn, might face more direct pressure to raise pay scales, expand benefits, or loosen financial pressures on franchise operators on the retail end. In theory, with enough public pressure, the firm might even be pushed, or shamed, into shaving a bit off its profit margin to increase frontline wages.
It is not clear yet whether the politics between McDonald’s and its franchisees on the one hand, and SEIU and the workers on the other, will yield a full-fledged union. But fast food campaigners see the ruling as a validation. Kendall Fells, organizing director with the advocacy group Fast Food Forward, told reporters, “This campaign is ultimately about McDonald’s coming to the table and negotiating with these workers—$15 an hour and a union contract. And at some point, McDonald’s has to make a decision on if it makes sense to keep fighting these workers, or does it make more sense to come to the table.”
Yet workers may now face an unprecedented political challenge in their organizing, if workplace disputes will automatically implicate McDonald’s as a whole. Workers won’t just be sitting across the table from the local manager, but from one of the biggest players in the global food industry.
For now, fast-food workers are gearing up for the long game. At the NLRB, they are only seeking to defend their basic right to speak out against their boss without fear. And now at least, they will be able to name exactly who the boss is.
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With due respect to congressional Republicans who want to hold President Obama to account for supposedly exceeding his executive authority, and to congressional Democrats who want to hold House Republicans to account for failing to live up to their legislative responsibilities, members of both parties should be focusing now on the question of how to hold the Central Intelligence Agency to account.
CIA officials on Thursday acknowledged that agency operatives spied on computers that were being used by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staffers who were using to prepare report on an investigation of “enhanced interrogation” techniques and related detention issues. An inquiry by CIA Inspector General David Buckley determined that five CIA employees, two lawyers and three information technology specialists obtained access to what was supposed to be a secure network for the Senate staffers.
The CIA says agency employees “acted in a manner inconsistent with the common understanding” of how the agency and the Senate are supposed to communicate.
The translation from Colorado Senator Mark Udall adds clarity: “The CIA unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers.”
CIA director John Brennan has apologized to Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and the ranking Republican on the committee, Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss.
But if Congress is to maintain meaningful oversight over the federal intelligence agencies, the need for a meaningful response to what Senator Patrick Leahy describes as ” a very dark chapter in our nation’s history” cannot be lost amid the usual flurry of internal inquiries, official apologies and “expressions of concern.” As Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, says, “We’re the only people watching these organizations, and if we can’t rely on the information that we’re given as being accurate, then it makes a mockery of the entire oversight function.”
King is right. But what, then, is the appropriate response?
Udall argues that Brennan should resign. “This grave misconduct not only is illegal, but it violates the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of powers,” says the Colorado Democrat. “These offenses, along with other errors in judgment by some at the CIA, demonstrate a tremendous failure of leadership, and there must be consequences.”
Holding the head of the agency to account is one element of accountability. But the shuffling of those in leadership positions is only a part of a reassertion of the oversight function outlined in the Constitution. As Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, says, there must be a signal that it is “absolutely unacceptable in a democracy” for an intelligence agency to break into Senate computer files and to try to point fingers of blame at innocent Senate staffers.
Christopher Anders, the senior legislative counsel in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, says the matter should be referred to the Justice Department for investigation.
“It is hard to imagine a greater threat to the Constitution’s system of checks and balances than having the CIA spy on the computers used by the very Senate staff carrying out the Senate’s constitutional duty of oversight over the executive branch. It was made worse by CIA Director John Brennan’s misleading the American people in denying any wrongdoing,” explains Anders. “These latest developments are only the most recent manifestations of a CIA that seems to believe that it is above and beyond the law. An uncontrolled—and seemingly uncontrollable—CIA threatens the very foundations of our Constitution.”
A Justice Department inquiry is appropriate.
Ultimately, however, it becomes vital for the Senate to reassert its own authority.
That’s what happened in the 1970s. As the Senate’s own history recalls, “In 1973 the Senate Watergate committee investigation revealed that the executive branch had used national intelligence agencies to carry out constitutionally questionable domestic security operations. In 1974 investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published an exposé in The New York Times uncovering a CIA domestic spy operation in violation of the agency’s charter that had been ongoing for more than a decade. Former CIA officials and some lawmakers, including Senators William Proxmire and Stuart Symington, called for a congressional inquiry.”
Senate leaders tapped Idaho Democrat Frank Church to lead an investigation that would—after “holding 126 full committee meetings, 40 subcommittee hearings, interviewing some 800 witnesses in public and closed sessions, and combing through 110,000 documents”—produce a 1976 report that concluded, “Intelligence agencies have undermined the constitutional rights of citizens, primarily because checks and balances designed by the framers of the Constitution to assure accountability have not been applied.”
Acting on a Church Committee’s recommendation, the Senate in 1976 approved the establishment of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. It’s responsibility was to provide “vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States to assure that such activities are in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
The Intelligence Committee should do just that.
As the senior member of the Senate, Judiciary Committee chairman Leahy says, “Congressional oversight of the executive branch, without fear of interference or intimidation, is fundamental to our Nation’s founding principle of the separation of powers. The CIA’s misconduct threatens the institution of the Senate and its role in ensuring the proper oversight of our government.”
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If and when Governor Chris Christie announces his 2016 presidential bid, one thing is certain: a primary focus will be on education. And when Christie talks about education, he means undermining teachers unions, ending tenure for teachers, closing and consolidating schools, replacing traditional public schools with for-profit charter schools, privatization and more. That’s what he’s done in Newark, and that’s what he bragging about when he travels around the country—including, as reported below, in two recent speeches, one to an elite gathering of wealthy Wall Street types and one to the Aspen Institute.
In New Jersey, the battleground between Christie, on one hand, and teachers and parents, on the other, has centered on Newark, the state’s largest city, where schools have operated under state control since 1995. As described in a detailed piece in The Nation by Owen Davis, in countless pieces in Bob Braun’s Ledger, and as a central focus of the Jersey Jazzman blog, since taking office in 2009 Christie has extended and expanded state control of Newark’s school, ordering a dramatic reorganization of the school system under the direction of Cami Anderson, the Christie-appointed superintendent of schools in Newark. Her plan, One Newark, called for firing hundreds of tenured teachers, closing numerous public schools and replacing them with charter schools. Opposition erupted immediately, sparking walk-outs, demonstrations, marches and angry school board meetings, and it led to Anderson’s firing five principals who spoke out against her policies. The anger was pivotal in the election of Ras Baraka in May as Newark’s new reform mayor. Baraka, a public high school principal and strong opponent of Christie’s education plans, ran against Shavar Jeffries, a strong charter school proponent, as Christie Watch detailed on May 14:
While Baraka was backed strongly by New Jersey’s Working Families Alliance, the teachers union, the Communications Workers of America and the rest of organized labor, lots of money from Wall Street, hedge funds and the wealthy charter school movement poured into Newark on behalf of Shavar Jeffries, Baraka’s opponent in the race.
Despite the opposition at home, Christie is promoting his education ideas to potential Republican backers and financiers of his 2016 campaign. On July 16, surrounded by the big guns of the hedge fund industry, Christie was in his element when he keynoted the CNBC/Institutional Investor “Delivering Alpha” conference. In interview format with CNBC’s John Harwood, Christie made clear that a key focus of a possible presidential campaign would be a reformed education system that “promotes competition”:
We have an educational system in this country now that puts the comfort of the adults (the teachers) before the children. The fact is, there are ineffective teachers all across the country, protected by the tenure system, [which is] the essence of anti-competitiveness.… You should have merit pay across the country and they should get paid more if they are good. And we shouldn’t have a system that allows bad teachers to be guaranteed a job for life.
Christie played to the audience of mostly alpha-type billionaire hedge fund managers who see education as a $600 billion or more emerging market, including John Paulson, Lee Ainslie and Stan Drackenmiller, who attended this one-day event at New York’s luxury hotel, the Pierre. Christie, whose gubernatorial campaigns were heavily funded by this very same hedge fund crowd and who now relies on the big bucks of David Tepper, a New Jersey hedge fund mogul and educational activist, for his current privitization projects, told the audience that “it’s wrong to say government needs to spend more money on education.” He then described how New Jersey spends what he considers to be an outrageous amount of $17,700 per pupil on average on K to 12 education.
Then, on July 24, in Aspen, Colorado, speaking along side a handful of other Republican governors on a panel organized by the Aspen Institute, Christie spoke more bluntly about the needs to not only make major corporate reforms to education but to drastically weaken if not destroy the teachers’ unions as a prerequisite for instituting other education reforms. Claiming that Newark has made “some really significant progress” under Christie’s changes, and falsely denouncing Baraka as former principal of the “worst-performing high school in Newark,” Christie bragged arrogantly that he himself is “the decider” when it comes to Newark’s schools: “To say that [Baraka] is opposed to these reforms would be an understatement.… If you looked at his campaign in Newark, it was as if he was running against me, not against Shavar Jeffries, who was his opponent, and in the end, though, the good news is this. He came in to talk to me about his agenda and said he wanted to speak to me about the education system in Newark. And I said to him, Listen, I’ll listen to whatever you have to say, but the state runs the school system, I am the decider, and you have nothing to do with it.”
And Christie went on to gloat to the Aspen group that he reappointed Cami Anderson literally one day before Baraka took office: “And the second person he was running against beside me, other than Shavar Jeffries, was Cami Anderson, who was the state-appointed superintendent of schools there. Her contract was expiring on June 30 of this year. He was being sworn in on July 1. So on June 30 I extended her contract three years.”
Back in New Jersey, opposition to Christie’s Newark plan is growing. A rank-and-file caucus strongly opposed to Christie’s efforts, the Newark Education Workers (NEW), won a majority of the executive board of the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) last year. “The NEW Caucus has developed student leaders, reached out to parents and the broader community,” Brandon Rippey, chair of the Caucus told Christie Watch. Rippey is a veteran social studies teacher at a Newark public high school considered by New Jersey Monthly to be among the best in the state. Rippey believes the “refusal of the NTU and other teacher unions to strike is holding them back.” One of the parent groups involved is the Newark Parents Union, led by Frank Adao, who is organizing meetings and protests. It includes several dozen parents and has 2,300 Facebook followers. Adao is hopeful Baraka will be able to wrest control of the schools back from the state, he told Christie Watch. “I am hoping that we get back local control of our schools, [not] to destroy public education rather than rebuild.” Adao said the group was going to invite Christie to a town hall meeting in Newark. But “if that doesn’t work, we will take it to the next level and go to him in Trenton to rally.” Since taking office in 2009, Christie has held 125 town hall gatherings, including one this week at the seaside resort of Belmar, but none in Newark.
At the Belmar event, one Newark student leader, Kristin Towkaniuk, rose to ask Christie to come to Newark. Towkaniuk, a 17-year-old who heads the Newark Students Union, led a walkout of 1,000 students this past spring opposing One Newark, despite, she told Christie Watch, threats of disciplinary action from school officials, and one principal who chained his school’s doors closed. At the meeting she asked Christie when he would come to Newark to hear what his constituents there have to say about One Newark. Christie’s arrogance, even to a student, shocked many: “The answer is, I’ll do my town halls where me and my staff think are the best places for me to do the town halls. If one of them turns up in Newark, I hope you show up and you get to ask a question that’s better than the one you just asked.”
Bob Braun, who wrote for The Star-Ledger for fifty years, and now has his own popular blog, issued a call to arms to Newark politicians and leaders:
It is time for Newark to decide what it wants. Either it will aggressively demand fulfillment of the promise of equal educational opportunity for all children, or it will stand back and watch the city become a hierarchical system of charters for the most promising and warehouses for the children who need public education the most. It is up to you, Ras Baraka. You can lead the fight or you can compromise.
Unfortunately for the city, and New Jersey, few Republican primary voters who will go to the polls in 2016 live in Newark.
In our last post, we discussed different ways to reference single letters, but we did not address what may be the most common way to refer to a single letter: as an abbreviation.
There are many ultra-standard abbreviations in cryptic clues, such as “club” for Y, “time” for T, “love” for O (zero in tennis,) “quietly” and “loud” for P and F (in music), “university” for U. We try to minimize our use of those clichés, but we often break down:
BYLAW Bawl uncontrollably about club’s rule (5)
HOT SPOT Photos distorted by time in radioactive location (3,4)
IDIOM I’d love to go inside—I’m getting a foot in the door, for instance (5)
PAVERS Quietly maintains street crews (6)
STUFFY Filthy locale outside university, very loud and poorly ventilated (6)
Many cryptic constructors use name for N, but we don’t think we’ve seen this outside of cryptics. Another abbreviation that seems to be common, but only within cryptic puzzles, is “new” for N. One could conceivably justify that because it is common in state abbreviations, but in that case why not use J for Jersey or M for Mexico?
Frank Lewis, our predecessor at The Nation, was fond of using “point” for “cardinal point”: N, E, W or S. However, we usually specify which one we are talking about:
SMIDGEN Between south and north, fly a little bit (7)
EERIE Spooky Eastern lake (5)
He also frequently used “number” to refer to Roman numerals. Again, we try to be more specific:
BLACK LUNG Fifty in rear, fifty in front of retreating antelope with disease (5,4)
As a policy, we prefer everyday abbreviations such as these:
• cold for C, hot for H (on faucets)
• salt for S, pepper for P (on shakers)
• left for L, right for R (on earphones)
• ace for A, king for K, queen for Q, jack for J (on playing cards)
However, for variety, we sometimes resort to more specialized and less well-known abbreviations:
• bishop for B, knight for N (chess)
• losses for L, error for E (sports)
• variable for x or y, irrational for e (math)
Alas, while the latter bring some variety to the puzzle, they are guaranteed to irritate some solvers who are not familiar with them. Our apologies: one person’s familiar is another person’s obscure. There’s nothing we can do about that.
Finally, somewhere in between familiar and specialized are many abbreviations we feel ambivalent about, such as the ROY G BIV abbreviations for the colors of the rainbow. And sometimes we disagree between ourselves: one of us looks askance at Y or N for “yes” or “no,” while the other thinks they’re perfectly fine.
As a solver, what abbreviations do you feel are acceptable?
This week’s cluing challenge: INITIALS. 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
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• 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.
On Wednesday, Christie Watch followed the New Jersey governor to an idyllic, beachside pavilion in Belmar, New Jersey. Under crystal blue skies and amid soft, cool ocean breezes, Chris Christie held the 125th in his long-running series of town hall meetings. But you could tell that the governor’s heart wasn’t in it. Beleaguered at home, dealing with a budget crisis and a faltering New Jersey economy, engaged in a statewide confrontation with teachers, police, firefighters and other state employees over Christie’s plan to slice and dice public pensions, and still dogged by Bridgegate, there’s little doubt that the governor would like to leave New Jersey behind and get started on his 2016 presidential campaign—for which, if he decides to run, he’ll probably resign sometime next year and leave New Jersey’s problems to his successor. Indeed, today the governor is in New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state, whose feisty, independent-minded voters hold the key to Christie’s presidential future.
At Christie’s last town meeting, July 22 in Long Beach, the governor found himself facing a formidable, silent protest by 200 police and firefighters angry over’s Christie’s intent to conduct another round of pension and healthcare benefit cuts later this year. So, too, on Wednesday in Belmar Christie found himself facing a healthy contingent of protesters, mostly teachers and other state workers, among the 400 or so who showed up to see the governor. Holding signs and placards, talking to reporters, singing songs—including one specifically written for the occasion by the Solidarity Singers, a pro-union group—the protesters dominated the audience, interrupting Christie’s patter, asking tough questions during the Q&A session, and mostly dominating the event’s ambience. Riffing on Christie’s latest theme, “No Pain, No Gain,” Carol Gay, president of the Industrial Union Council of New Jersey, said, “We’re here because we don’t think our pain should be Christie’s gain.” Like many in the crowd, Gay was angry that earlier this year Christie reneged on a deal to make the full, promised payment toward New Jersey’s public pension plan’s solvency. “He’s trying to make public workers the scapegoat for his mistakes,” she said.
“He’s screwing with all of our pensions. He’s basically trying to get rid of it,” said a correction officers with eight years on the job, who asked that his name not be used. “Morale is suffering. There are guys who don’t know if they’ll be on the job in five or ten years.”
During the event, part of a series of such meetings along the Jersey Shore this summer to build support for what Christie promises will be sharp cuts later this year, a teacher in the audience asked Christie to reassure her that teachers won’t face draconian reductions. “We negotiated those benefits,” she told the governor. “We took low salaries all these years because we knew we could count on a pension when we retire.” But Christie was unmoved, during a back-and-forth exchange. Pressed to guarantee that the state would follow through on its commitments, Christie said: “I can’t.… If I were to guarantee [that], I’d be lying. The money is not there, and it will not be there.” By the end of the summer, he said, he’ll announce the outlines of his plan to deal with the problem. To make sure his audience got the point, he raised the threat of the state pension system’s going “bankrupt” and New Jersey’s ending up like Detroit.
That’s Christie’s message, not so much to New Jerseyans but to Republican primary voters, especially the ultraconservative and Tea Party types who are suspicious of Christie’s right-wing bona fides. And it might be working, at least according to some early polling, including a CNN poll this week that found Christie leading the pack among potential GOP 2016 candidates, though in a crowded field of nine rivals. Pretending that Bridgegate, the scandals involving corruption and self-dealing at the Port Authority, and charges that the Christie administration used recovery aid from Hurricane Sandy as blackmail against Hoboken’s mayor are all in the past, Christie is traveling the country, visiting as many as two dozen states, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and he’s setting fundraising records for the RGA by appealing to his real base, the über-wealthy, hedge fund managers and Wall Street. Indeed, on Monday night, according to a story by Heather Haddon of The Wall Street Journal, Christie spent the evening at a “thank-you party” with 140 big-money donors, including his chief backer, Home Depot’s Ken Langone, along with hedge fund wheeler-dealer Paul Singer and financier Lewis Eisenberg, plus New Jersey developer Jon Hanson, whose role was recently spotlighted in a Christie Watch series on Christie’s involvement in the controversial American Dream megamall at the Meadowlands.
Christie, of course, is hoping that New Jersey’s lagging economy and the pension crisis doesn’t go with him to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina—except as a foil for him to show Republican how tough he is against unions and state workers. But thoughtful critics have challenged the very premises of Christie’s pension-slashing fervor and even State Senate President Steve Sweeney—a former Christie ally, who is thinking himself about running for governor if and when Christie resigns—said in an interview with the Star-Ledger that the “end game” of Christie’s pension campaign is “to make himself the darling of the national political scene again.” Sweeney is angry because back in 2011 he worked alongside Christie to enact painful pension and health-care benefit cuts, in exchange for which the governor promised to make regular payments into the pension fund—only to find, in 2014, that Christie reneged on the payments and is demanding that the state legislature enact even more cuts. As Sweeney told The Star-Ledger:
The labor people were not on my side when I did the previous reforms, but my comments were ‘I have the payment guaranteed.’ Now you know what I have? I have nothing.… So how do I go back to people in good faith and say ‘trust me this time.… I’m going to double-pinky swear it will work this time?’
At Wednesday’s Belmar event, the outrage over Christie’s pension antics was palpable. Susan Twidle, a teacher and member of the Freehold Regional Education Association, said the she attended the event to register her concern over Christie’s refusal to make the promised pension payments and over his demonizing of teachers:
He talks about shared sacrifice, but he’s not sharing. I had to take a second job. I almost feel like I have to defend myself, when I talk to people, that I’m a teacher. … We’re paying $700 more per month, per family [since the 2011 deal] and in exchange he started to make payments into our pension fund, but this year he didn’t make the payments. … He’s going on tour like he’s a rock star, without even saying what he’ll do. It’s the death knell for unions, and it’s happening across the country.
Before the event got underway, the Solidarity Singers performed for the crowd, signing a ditty called “Chris Christie” written by Tom Bias, a printer who lost his job at age 60 in 2010. Bias said that he wrote the words to music from an old Oklahoma country swing song called “Roly Poly, Daddy’s Little Fatty.” That was an inside joke, he said, since the song itself doesn’t refer to Christie’s weight problem. One verse:
Treats the teachers like fools
And wants to close down Newark schools
He hurts working families that way.
Chris Christie, Jersey’s old big bully—
Imagine if he’s president some day.
In August of 1884, the French navy attacked Tonkin, the Northern part of what we today call Vietnam. The area happened to be under Chinese control, but expansion-minded French colonial authorities sought to ensure freedom of access for French traders.
“The story of French action in Tonquin is a story of gross cruelty and fraud,” an essay in The Nation of October 23, 1884, declared.
Published without a byline, the article—a review of a book about the French in Indochina—was written by Robert Durie Osborn, a recently retired lieutenant colonel in the English army in India (described by an author in 1901 as “a red-hot Radical and a perpetual thorn in the side of the Indian Government”). The French campaign, he wrote in The Nation, was nothing short of horrific: “Towns were bombarded, and all prisoners taken in action were shot or hanged without a touch of pity or compunction.”
Beyond its cruelty, Osborn continued, the war was—for the French—neither winnable nor worth winning: “The revenues of the republic…are not in a condition to bear the burden of a distant and costly war.” Even if France did manage to come out of it with a semblance of victory—peace with honor, perhaps?—
it will be with her resources so exhausted and her military strength so impaired that for many a year after she will be in a measure effaced from the politics of Europe. That the possession of Tonquin will be the source of any profit to France, few can anticipate who know the unfortunate result of French colonial enterprises hitherto.
* * *
Almost exactly eighty years after the French assault on Tonkin, and fifty years ago this weekend, the United States navy reported that its ships had been attacked some miles off the shore of North Vietnam, in the gulf that bears the old French protectorate’s name. Provocatively, the US ships were patrolling in areas where South Vietnam was conducting active operations against the North, prompting the latter, quite understandably, to perceive the Americans as participants in the hostilities. Torpedo boats approached within a few nautical miles of the USS Maddox, which responded with warning shots. The subsequent firefight killed four North Vietnamese sailors, destroyed several of their boats, and lightly wounded an American ship and a plane.
Two days later, American ships again reported that they were under attack and for hours fiercely maneuvered and fired at North Vietnamese boats, two of which they claimed to have sunk. As it turned out, the American ships had only been picking up radar signals from their own equipment, chasing phantoms as Don Quixote had combated windmills. Regardless, President Lyndon Johnson seized on the incident as a pretext for bombing North Vietnam and drastically escalating American involvement in the war. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing such action passed on August 7, 1964, with only two senators objecting: Wayne Morse of Oregon, a frequent Nation contributor, and Ernest Greuning of Alaska, managing editor of this publication in the early 1920s.
“The excessive retaliatory action the President saw fit to order brings us closer to the brink of World War III,” The Nation’s editors glumly observed in the next issue. “He laid all the blame on the North Vietnamese and took no account of the fact that there had been prior South Vietnamese and American provocation to match any that we suffered.”
The issue also contained an essay by John Gange, a professor at the University of Oregon and a former State Department official, titled “Misadventure in Vietnam: The Mix of Fact and Myth.” A brief history of American involvement in Indochina since the French defeat at Dienbienphu in 1954, Gange’s report also bears within it warnings of what would indeed doom the US campaign from the start: the impossibility, the immorality, the stupidity of the mission, the utter waste of resources and lives.
Gange then assailed the myth known as the “domino theory,” the linchpin of American foreign policy during most of the Cold War:
Stay tuned for future Back Issues posts about The Nation’s coverage of the Vietnam War.
Curious about how we covered something? E-mail me at email@example.com. Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.
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The Ku Klux Klan doesn’t want to leave all the immigrant-hating to gun-toting militias and US congressmen. The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is calling for a “shoot-to-kill” policy at the border. Robert Ray of Al Jazeera America caught up with two such “knights” in North Carolina, and asked if the policy would apply to child migrants.
The “wizard” hemmed and hawed for a moment, then said: “If we pop a couple of ’em off and leave the corpses laying on the border, maybe they’ll see we’re serious about stopping immigrants.”
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