A missing person poster for Amanda Berry, one of the three kidnapped women found alive in Cleveland. (Reuters/John Gress.)
In just the last few days, we’ve seen a series of news stories involving violence against women. The violence comes in different forms—physical, psychological, financial—and from different quarters—a former school-bus driver in Cleveland, the NRA convention in Houston, the military, Congress—and so it’s not surprising that the media, as usual, are delivering these stories as unrelated incidents. But arriving almost simultaneously, these tales of misogyny should jolt us all to connect the dots and to shine an unblinking light on the violence against women that’s always there, just below the surface.
The story of the three Cleveland women who were found alive after being held captive (and, by all accounts, raped, beaten and bound) in a neighbor’s house for ten years is the most shocking. The suspect, Ariel Castro, 52, reportedly let them outside only twice in all that time. Michelle Knight was 20 when she disappeared in 2002, Amanda Berry had been reported missing in 2003 when she was 16, and Gina DeJesus vanished at age 14 in 2004 on her way home from school. Berry’s mother died in 2006 of what friends say was “a broken heart” less than two years after a psychic on The Montel Williams Show told her Amanda was dead. DeJesus’s mother believed her daughter had been sold into the sex trade. On Monday, Berry and her 6-year-old daughter (possibly fathered by Castro) escaped with the help of neighbors Charles Ramsey and Angel Cordero. The other women came out shortly after. Berry and DeJesus are now home, while Knight remains in the hospital.
As this story unfolds, it will serve as fascinating cable TV filler: We’ll learn more of the horrific details and get to know the victims, their friends and families, and the suspect; we’ll urge neighbors to keep a closer eye on each other; and hopefully we’ll learn why the police didn’t follow earlier leads. But this shouldn’t be treated as just the latest incredibly sad and sensational crime story, as if it were devoid of social and political context—or unrelated to the other news of anti-women violence that accompanied it this week.
When I first saw the photo of a freed Amanda Berry with her sister and daughter, and tried to imagine the women’s unimaginable captivity, I couldn’t get another set of images out of my mind—that of “The Ex,” a target mannequin that squirts blood when you shoot her. “The Ex” (variously called “The Ex-Girlfriend” and “Alexa”) is a large-breasted white woman, her clothes party ripped off, blood dripping from her mouth down her cleavage, and she was sold with other “bleeding zombie targets” at the NRA convention in Houston last weekend. A target mannequin that looks like Obama painted green (one happy customer calls him “Barry” in a video that has been removed) also made the news. Buzzfeed reported that the NRA asked the vendor, Zombie Industries, to remove it from display, but it continued to be sold, a reminder of the racism that fuels the pro-gun paranoia. But the NRA didn’t object to displaying “The Ex,” and she still appears on the company’s website, where one commenter writes, “This Zombie Bitch is awesome, reminds me of a girl I knew in High School.”
Here is “The Ex”:
And here she is after getting shot up:
Up until yesterday Amazon was also selling the $89.99 product. (“Great for a bachelor party!” read the only five-star review. “This was a very original, cool way to kick off a bachelor party for a firearm enthusiast, such as myself.”)
Noting that “‘The Ex’ shooting target turns violence against women into a joke and promotes the idea that men should want to kill their ex-wives or ex-girlfriends,” the activist group Ultra Violet petitioned Amazon to stop selling it. In less than 24 hours, 63,000 people signed and “The Ex” was gone.
A similar, if real-life, ex target was Grimilda Figueroa, the former wife of kidnap suspect Ariel Castro. Castro was accused of beating Figueroa, breaking her nose twice, knocking out a tooth, dislocating her shoulders and threatening to kill her and their children, according to a filing in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court. The filing also said that Castro “frequently abducts [his] daughters and keeps them from mother/petitioner/legal custodian.” [UPDATE re misogynists and mannequins, from AP: Castro kept a life-sized, wigged mannequin around to scare Figueroa and others. He'd sometimes drive around with it, and he once told a young nephew of his: "Act up again, you'll be in that back room with the mannequin."]
Figueroa’s brother, Jose Figueroa, told RadarOnline that in 1996 Grimilda and her children with Castro fled from him to a battered women’s shelter. “If she stayed with Ariel, he would have killed her,” Jose said. “She had gone to the hospital and called the police many times but they never did anything.” (Grimilda remarried and moved out long before Castro allegedly kidnapped the three women; she died of cancer last year.)
If Jose Figueroa’s account is accurate, his sister may have saved her life and her children’s, as so many abused women do, by finding refuge in a women’s shelter. But, as we learned this week, men who abuse women will be able to corner them even more easily: The sequester is cutting some $20 million of funding for women’s shelters and protection programs over the next year.
Like all sequester cuts that don’t involve airplane delays, the cuts to shelters are not making the national news, but they are locally. From KSL.com in Utah:
Julee Smith, the director of Your Community Connection in Ogden, said she works with people every day who are running from violent situations. She said many abuse victims need a place to stay, and due to the lack of funding, she has had to start turning them away,
“We literally had a lady call, she had four children and begged to get in our shelter,” Smith said. “She said, ‘I have 45 minutes to get out.’ And we said ‘We’re sorry, we don’t have any room.’ And then the police call and say that she has been abused again.”
Tim Murphy of Mother Jones cites other shelters and domestic violence programs that are being reduced or completely eliminated in Louisiana, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Oregon and other states. “The projections are bleak,” he writes.
Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) office estimates that 70,120 fewer domestic violence victims will have access to recovery programs and shelters; 35,900 fewer people will get help obtaining non-shelter services such as restraining orders and sexual assault treatment. Cuts to programs related to the Victims Against Crime Act will hurt another 310,574 people.
This increased danger to women has been made possible by the same pols, mostly Republicans, who are too scared of the NRA to pass an expansion of background checks, checks that would block sales of guns to anyone convicted of domestic violence, among other crimes.
And you know that big-shock Pentagon report released Tuesday that estimates 26,000 sexual assaults took place in the armed forces in 2012, a 37 percent increase over 2010? The report that also said fewer than 10 percent of the sex-assault cases end with a conviction at court-martial, while 62 percent of victims who dare to report an assault are rewarded with retaliation?
Well, expect those stats to get worse. The sequester is putting on hold Department of Defense plans to hire 829 “sexual assault response coordinators.” Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Ray Odierno told the Senate Armed Forces Committee last month that sequestration will hurt efforts to reduce sexual harassment and assault in the Army in many ways, from “slowing hiring actions to delaying lab results, which hinders our ability to provide resolution for victims.”
Of course, as we also learned this week, the value of some of those sexual assault response coordinators is questionable to begin with. On Sunday, Lt. Col Jeffrey Krusinski, the chief of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, was arrested in a northern Virginia parking lot for sexual assault. A police report says that Krusinski, 41, was drunk and had grabbed a woman’s breast and buttocks. She fought him off, and his mug shot has the cuts to prove it.
While millions of men worldwide and the institutionalized male establishment at large still believe it’s their right to subjugate women, let’s not leave the impression that only women are victims. In the Pentagon report above, an estimated 13,900 of the 1.2 million active duty men said they had experienced some form of sexual assault in the past year (a far smaller portion than the active duty women). About a quarter of the victims of non-family child abductions are boys. And from 1994 to 2010, about four in five victims of intimate partner violence were female, according to the Bureau of Justice stats. But that leaves one in five victims to be men.
As if to prove the exception to the female-victim rule, there’s Jodi Arias. She was found guilty yesterday of first-degree murder of her ex, Travis Alexander. It was a particularly gruesome murder, with a heavy sexual backstory. A media circus, led by CNN’s sister channel HLN, has been making ecstatic noises over the trial’s every salacious detail.
When the Cleveland story broke Monday, it was hard to tell if HLN resented it for overshadowing the climax of its Jodi Arias witch-burning or welcomed it as a replacement now that the Arias show is winding down.
But instead of another media circus over the story in Cleveland, let’s see if the media and its audience—that is, all of us—can more seriously address the violence against women that is woven into our culture and that politicians in Washington threaten to make worse.
While the Senate moved quickly to end furloughs that were causing air traffic delays, most of the sequester's effects continue, under-reported and unseen, Leslie Savan writes.
This past March, a Philadelphia man named Christopher Knafelc jumped onto the train tracks at a local SEPTA station to save a man who had fallen off the platform and into harm’s way. His story quickly became a tale of heroism and redemption; Knafelc, it turned out, was a “recovering drug addict with a long rap sheet,” according to the Associated Press, a man who “often wondered if he was a good person.”
The answer was yes: Knafelc’s act of bravery meant he could hold “his head a little higher, viewing the good deed he did, and the praise that followed, as another sign that he is on the right path in life,” according to the AP. “It did help reinforce that I’m a good person,” Knafelc said. “I questioned that a lot because of my colorful past.”
This past included charges of theft, a DUI and child endangerment. But the media narrative was clear and feel-good. Knafelc’s act of heroism had redeemed him, proved his worth to society. “It’s amazing,” a transit worker told reporters. “This incident may be the start of really good things for him.”
Knafelc, who is white, is not nearly as well known as Wesley Autrey, the African-American “Subway Samaritan” who in 2007 achieved instant fame after he saved a 20-year-old film student on the train tracks in Harlem. Unlike Knafelc’s case, in which no train was pulling into the station, Autrey saw the lights of an oncoming train and nevertheless, threw himself over the man, lying in a drainage ditch as train cars passed over them. It was an extraordinary act of courage; Autrey was showered with praise and gifts; Donald Trump presented him with a check for $10,000 and saluted him in the pages of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People issue. He was even an honored guest at George W. Bush’s 2007 State of the Union Address, where he received a standing ovation.
It probably didn’t hurt that before he was hailed as a hero in such official quarters, Autrey was a “modest, hardworking construction worker” and Navy veteran who strived to be a parent to his kids, unlike his own father. “The world looks at black men as deadbeat dads,” he told New York magazine. “But that’s not me.”
But what if it was? What if it turned out that Autrey had a rap sheet like Knafelc’s? Worse, what if it turned out that he had a history of violence and had done time in prison for hurting people? Would “convicted felon” have trumped “hero”? Would he still have been welcome at the White House?
It took just one day for Charles Ramsey, the black man who helped save Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight from a ten-year living nightmare in a Cleveland home, to go from hero to “hero” in the press. “America is embracing the hardworking dishwasher,” the New York Daily News reported on May 8, calling him “America’s hero neighbor.” The next day, the Daily News headline read, “Cleveland ‘hero’ and Internet celeb Charles Ramsey has a criminal past.”
The new narrative turned on revelations that Ramsey is “a convicted felon whose rap sheet includes three separate domestic violence convictions that resulted in prison terms,” as the Smoking Gun revealed on Wednesday afternoon. As word spread and people considered the unfortunate “irony” that this man had committed violence against his wife, adulation turned toward disappointment, hand-wringing and bemusement. (“Perhaps, one might think, it’s unwise for a brand to want such a man as a spokesperson,” Time’s Brad Tuttle wrote in a post about a previously discussed McDonald’s endorsement.) Blog posts were hastily updated; others were written to maintain that he was still a hero, regardless of his past. “The fact that a convicted abuser intervened to stop abuse is a good thing, not a scandal,” Joan Walsh argued at Salon, while also leaving open the possibility that “more details may yet emerge to complicate Ramsey’s character.” (It would be “shameful,” she wrote, if it turned out that he knew anything about his neighbor’s crimes and stayed silent.) At Poynter, the episode was a lesson in “the dangers in lionizing someone at the heart of a breaking news event too soon.”
Behind the backlash against Ramsey was right-wing Cleveland radio host Dave Ramos, who first posted links to his Cuyahoga County criminal profile under the headline: “Hometown ‘Hero’: This Story Stinks.” Ramos insisted that the public was “being fooled” by Ramsey’s portrayal in the press and was determined to set things straight. (Never mind that he had no confirmation that the record he posted actually belonged to the correct Charles Ramsey—that was just a lucky guess.)
To Ramos, it was apparently intolerable that a man that looked, talked and acted like Ramsey could possibly be hailed as a hero. He didn’t bother trying to conceal his racism, citing dubious “sources” who told him that “Ramsey appeared on a local TV station accompanied by an entourage of more than a dozen men, would not budge from the TV station’s green room, and had to be escorted off of the station’s property by police.” In other words, he is not only criminal at the core, he is threatening and generally obnoxious. “He couldn’t freaking speak English!” Ramos said on Twitter, after boasting that he was the first to break the story about his criminal record.
But few seemed as eager to publicly revel in the exposure of Ramsey’s past, even commenters on Ramos’s website. Comments at the Smoking Gun were largely angry and indignant, demanding to know why anyone felt compelled to dig up dirt on a man whose actions were admirable, regardless. On Facebook, the Daily News reported, Ramsey’s ex-wife posted old photos of her former husband, writing, “Ok so for the record ppl do change and you shouldn’t hold the past against someone. The (main) thing is Charles Ramsey did a good deed and those girls are safe.”
Speaking on his own behalf, Ramsey told TMZ that his past actions “helped me become the man I am today and are the reason why I try to help the community as much as I can,” words that one blogger dismissed as a “valiant effort to put a positive spin on some despicable actions.” It makes sense that such a response might come off as self-serving; too many are willing to forgive domestic violence if it is committed by somebody whom people want to love and admire—see celebrities and sports heroes—and the blunt tools offered by the criminal justice system have proven woefully ineffective in addressing domestic violence.
But the question of whether Ramsey is or is not a hero—a term he himself rejects—is ultimately not the most helpful or important, especially when we recall that all those we like to call “heroes” are, in fact, flawed human beings, even if those flaws are never exposed. As a fixed category, the notion of a “hero” applies to very few people in the American imagination—mainly to those who put on a military uniform—and a man like Charles Ramsey fits much more neatly in the public mind into a different fixed category—not just “felon,” with all its permanent implications, but “criminal,” a label automatically assigned to black men. In particular, the notion that black men who have committed violent acts cannot change and should be forever defined by that violence is what fuels our harshest prison policies. If there’s any value in the current debate over Ramsey’s “checkered past,” to me, it is that so many people are daring to suggest that a man who went to prison for a series of violent crimes can be more than that; that people are more than the worst things they have ever done.
Nowhere is this concept more absent than in our criminal justice system, which has lengthened sentences, foreclosed on parole and made pardons a near impossibility. Although the problem of mass incarceration has entered the public consciousness, thanks largely to the excesses of the drug war, the harshest penalties for violent crime (or those labeled “violent” because of any number of aggravating factors) continue to go unquestioned. For anyone who takes prison reform seriously, or is aware of the aging prisoner population, this should be a problem. “The reality is that close to half of the national growth in imprisonment since 1980 consists of increased punishment for ‘violent’ crime,” Berkelely law professor Jonathan Simon has written. “If we are to cut into that growth, and just as importantly, permanently reduce the public appetite to punish drug users and other non-violent prisoners, we need to revisit the policies that send so many to prison for so long.”
But even criminal justice reformers, for understandable reasons, tend to shy from taking on punishments for people who commit violent acts. Legislation across the country is aimed primarily at “nonviolent offenders.” Anti–death penalty activists focus largely on innocent people sent to death row—while widely pushing the next-most-punitive penalty, life without parole, for the guilty. Even behind bars, prisoners serving life without parole have less programming and are less eligible for compassionate release. When it comes to those who commit violent crimes, our most punitive instincts still rein.
Race has everything to do with this. Fear of black criminality continues to drive permanent punishment, based on the idea that African-Americans are less capable of rehabilitation or redemption. So African-American kids are given life sentences at a staggeringly disproportionate rate. So Assata Shakur finds herself on the FBI’s Most Wanted List forty years after the crime for which she was accused, based on the claim that she represents a threat to public safety. So Texas prisoner Duane Buck faces execution date after execution date in part because a state psychologist told jurors that, as a black man, his potential for “future dangerousness” was higher. I recently sat in a Memphis courtroom as a white prosecutor pointed at a black man whom he hoped to send back to death row, imploring jurors not to be fooled by the “well-dressed, well-groomed” man before him. “Not quite the same as he was back then!” he cried, triumphantly, pointing at a sixteen-year-old mugshot of the defendant, confident that the dark image of him in a hoodie would look threatening enough to scare the jury. You can put a black man in a suit, in other words, but underneath it he is still a criminal.
Some criminals, like some heroes, are allowed to be complex, as we are reminded in the wake of mass shootings committed by white men who are immediately scrutinized for signs of mental illness. Confusion and debate over what Ramsey really is—criminal or hero (or jolly Internet meme)—shows how little complexity we afford people like him. It may have taken an extraordinary action, the saving of three white girls, to make him worthy of people’s collective empathy—and it’s certainly likely that if his criminal record included, say, first-degree murder that this empathy would largely evaporate. But if we more broadly applied the logic of legions who have lept to his defense as a changed man, if we started thinking that more people might be worthy of a second chance, we might start to change the conversation around prisons and sentencing.
Every day behind prison walls, inmates—some elderly, some caring for them—wonder, like Christopher Knafelc, if they, too, are “good” people; if they, too might have contributed something to the world if they had been given the chance to try again. Charles Ramsey did. Can we dare to imagine that there are many others like him?
Youth activists from across Florida are rising up to defend a pushed-out high schooler from Polk County. Read more at StudentNation.
Students from around the country demand coal divestment at Brown University. (Kevin Proft/ecoRI News.)
Students from New York to Boston rallied May 3 with Brown Divest Coal activists on Brown University’s main green, demanding that President Christina Paxson and The Corporation of Brown University vote on whether to divest the college’s $2.5 billion endowment from the 15 largest coal companies in the United States during an upcoming May 23 meeting. Rally organizers provided the 150 attendees with symbolic orange ballots to cast into the “smokestack” of the ballot box, a miniature coal-powered plant made from a cardboard box with a big X on its side.
Before casting their ballots, many students explained why halting climate change mattered to them. “If we do not take action, one billion people will be displaced by climate change by the end of the century,” Brown University freshman Tammy Jiang said. “We cannot let that happen.”
A student from Tufts University voiced frustration that colleges with huge endowments are investing in the fossil-fuel industry. “Those investments are undercutting our ability to create a livable society," he said.
Lucy Bates-Campbell, a Brown University senior, cast her ballot while cradling Roxy, her pet dog. Most animals will not be immune to climate change, Bates-Campbell said, so we need to help protect the animals that can’t protect themselves.
The theme of unity among divestment activists was present throughout the rally. “All divestment campaigns are interconnected,” said a student from New York’s Columbia University. “We are here for a rally at Brown, and we need you to be at Columbia’s rallies.”
Nick Katkevich, representing the University of Rhode Island’s new fossil fuel-divestment campaign, said his group will build capacity during the summer, then work with Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design to push for divestment on Rhode Island campuses next fall. URI’s campaign will be coordinated with students at Rhode Island College and Community College of Rhode Island, because all three schools share one endowment.
The rally regularly broke into chants about climate change and divestment. Hand-painted cardboard signs were abundant. After casting their symbolic ballots, the students marched across the green to the administration building, where Paxson’s office is located. Two Brown Divest Coal representatives were sent to request that Paxson address the crowd; Paxson declined.
Before the rally ended, Brown University junior Dara Illowsky held up a handmade sign with Paxson’s office telephone number painted on it. “I want you all to take out your phones and add this number to your contacts,” she said.
Rally organizers asked each attendee to call the president soon and tell her their views about divesting from coal.
On April 29, Divest RISD transformed from a relatively small college divestment movement to a high-profile campaign attracting attention from 350.org’s Bill McKibben and “This American Life’s” Ira Glass, who will feature the group on an upcoming program.
As previously reported, Emma Beede, leader of Divest RISD, took a top-down approach when establishing RISD’s divestment campaign. Before rallying student support, Beede and a handful of student volunteers met with RISD’s faculty, administration and financial decision makers to introduce the concept of fossil-fuel divestment.
After securing unanimous support from the faculty and experiencing opposition from the board of trustees, Beede began asking the student body to get involved. Despite what Beede described as “a lack of an activist culture at RISD,” Divest RISD has caught on among students.
During Divest RISD’s April 29 Day of Action some 150 students gathered on the “RISD Beach,” between Waterman, Benefit and Angell streets, then marched to RISD’s administration downtown building on Washington Street.
About and hour prior to the rally, Beede and 10 Divest RISD members marched into RISD President John Maeda’s office. According to Beede, Maeda wasn’t there, but the students informed his secretary that they wouldn’t leave the president’s office until the board of trustees agreed to hear Divest RISD’s case during its May 17 meeting.
Beede said she and her fellow protestors then contacted the hundreds of people who signed the Divest RISD petition to bring attention to the sit-in and encourage them to join.
The sit-in lasted 24 hours, during which the participants met with administrators and the president. After securing a chance to make the case for fossil-fuel divestment at the upcoming meeting, the protestors vacated the president’s office.
RISD’s sit-in was the first of its kind for the fossil fuel-divestment movement that has been spreading throughout the country since last summer.
At semester’s end, many leaders involved with campus divestment campaigns will graduate.
Nathan Bishop of Brown Divest Coal graduates this month. He will move home to Chicago and start applying to law school. Bishop wants to work on climate-change policy and legislation.
Bishop said he will stay involved with the fossil fuel-divestment movement. He plans to join Chicago’s divestment campaigns, and continue helping with Brown Divest Coal in some capacity.
Beede, leader of Divest RISD, is also graduating. Beede’s future plans depend on where she finds a job, but she said she will continue to call for divestment regardless of her geographic location. She said she will get involved in local campaigns and continue to help with Divest RISD.
According to student leaders from Brown, RISD and URI, each divestment campaign will concentrate on building capacity this summer. Jiang said she and others activists from Brown Divest Coal will attend a summer conference in New Jersey to learn and share strategies with other campus divestment campaigns.
Brown Divest Coal activists expect The Corporation of Brown University to vote in favor of divestment from coal later this month, after which the campaign will expand its demands to include divesting from the rest of the fossil-fuel industry.
Divest RISD activists will present at the May 17 board of trustees meeting. Divest RISD hopes to secure a vote from the board on divestment during its October meeting, according to Beede, who said Divest RISD has freshman, sophomores and juniors ready to continue the campaign after she graduates.
Meanwhile, URI, CCRI and RIC’s campaign is in its fledgling stages, and will aim to gain traction during the fall semester. Stay tuned.
Immigrant detainees are patted down at a detention center in Broadview, Illinois. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)
As lawmakers begin to offer largely draconian amendments to the Gang of Eight’s proposed immigration reform legislation, Vice President Biden has announced that he hopes the bill will pass by the end of the summer. Because deportations haven’t been suspended, that means that some one million people may be deported between January and August of this year—the time between which the bill was introduced and may finally be endorsed by Congress. All of those deportees will first make their way through immigrant detention, where some will face death before deportation.
Arizona houses five immigrant detention centers—and illustrates the conglomeration of public and private interests that make up this detention system. Four of those centers are located in Florence, with another about a half-hour drive away in Eloy. One is run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, another is managed in a jail by a local sheriff’s office and three are privately owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Because immigrant detainees are facing civil—not criminal—cases, detention centers are, by definition, not punishment. But conditions suggest that this particular type of captivity is indeed penalizing.
CCA’s Eloy Detention Center has long been under scrutiny for what human rights advocates say are conditions that lead to nearly a dozen deaths in less than a decade. Suicide is not a new phenomenon in this facility, but two recent apparent suicides in the course of just three days are once again drawing attention to Eloy. Twenty-four-year-old Elsa Guadalupe González, originally from Guatemala, had been detained at Eloy since March 20. Authorities say that on April 28, a fellow detainee found that she hanged herself. Forty-year-old Jorge Mario García Mejía, also originally from Guatemala, arrived at Eloy on March 22, and authorities said he also hanged himself, on April 30. ICE says it’s looking into the apparent suicides.
Guatemala is demanding an exhaustive investigation. Spanish language press is reporting that foreign affairs officials have stated that two people dying two days apart in apparent suicides in one detention center sounds a serious alarm. And although the US has responded that it will take the apparent suicides seriously, not everyone is convinced. One Guatemalan government official, Alejandra Gordillo, says that she’s worried that the deaths won’t be investigated, and that what may appear to be two suicides may in fact be “racist acts against Guatemalan migrants.” But whether the deaths are the result of coincidental suicides or something more sinister is unclear, since Eloy operates without independent supervision and federal authorities have not been very forthcoming about previous dubious deaths at the center.
Two of the eight authors of the Senate’s immigration bill hail from Arizona—where, aside from targeting immigrants through the use of racial profiling, the hodgepodge system of detention puts people’s lives in jeopardy at an unnecessarily high cost. Detention Watch is calling for Senators McCain and Flake to shut down Eloy and release detainees before more tragedy strikes.
In recent posts, we discussed the views of (London’s) Sunday Times cryptic crossword editor, Peter Biddlecombe, on definitions: the possibility of cryptic clues in which the definition is at neither the beginning nor the end, and the validity of defining by example. Today, we conclude this series with Biddlecombe’s ideas about compound anagram clues.
We offered a basic introduction to anagrams in this post. Later, we presented our thoughts about anagram aesthetics. But anagrams are one of the mainstays of cryptic construction, so there is yet more to say!
Normally, in US cryptics, anagram fodder is expected to be in one consecutive string, perhaps interrupted by spaces. That constraint makes anagram clues both easier to spot and easier to solve: If you’re looking for a seven-letter answer, you search through the clue for a seven-letter string that might be the anagram fodder, then look on either side of it for a plausible anagram indicator. Thus, anagrams can offer a good entry point into the puzzle. They are a beginner’s friend, and in a tough puzzle they are every solver’s friend.
Nonetheless, an experienced solver may enjoy a break with those expectations, and appreciate the opportunity to discover anagram fodder that is broken up into two or more chunks. Biddlecombe gives these examples:
Slope: garden with it is dodgy (8)
This clue disguises the anagram fodder by requiring us to convert “garden with it” into “garden, it.”
(The answer is GRADIENT.) Because the cryptic reading of such a clue is entirely consistent and logical, we can see no objection to this sort of structure—other than the fact it’s not done (or not done much) in the US. And as readers of our blog and solvers of our puzzles probably know by now, that would not be a convincing argument to us.
Bacon and ham sandwich initially prepared in carriage (6, 3)
This time, the anagram fodder is “bacon,” “ham” and the initial S of “sandwich,” giving us HANSOM CAB.
Again, the cryptic reading for this clue does work, so we don’t see that as a reason to reject it. What makes it debatable, perhaps, is that “sandwich initially” requires an extra step: translate the phrase to an S, and add that to the fodder before anagramming. However, this is such a straightforward step that we are perfectly willing to accept it. We have not used this sort of clue in the past, but we might in the future.
One final example from Biddlecombe:
Awful meal, zero marks—it may make folk take to the street (5,5)
Here, we have to convert zero to O before combining it with “meal” and “marks” to make SMOKE ALARM.
Something normally not allowed is the “indirect anagram,” which requires you to correctly interpret a definition for all or part of the fodder.[…] You might ask whether “zero = O” […] isn’t also indirect. It is, but the replacement is a familiar one and only affects one letter of the fodder.
To us, this is a borderline case. There is no indicator that we are looking for a one-character replacement for “zero,” and given US cryptic tradition, the result is quite difficult. If we came up with a clue along these lines, we might try it out with our test solvers first to gauge whether it is acceptable.
How do you feel about compound anagram clues such as the above? Please share your thoughts here, along with any quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.
And here are three links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where you can ask for and offer hints, and where every one of our clues is explained in detail.
The voices of family members of those killed by the NYPD have been surprisingly absent from recent organized calls for police accountability. On May 10, family members who have lost loved ones to the NYPD will come together at Police Plaza in lower Manhattan with elected officials, community leaders and grassroots organizations to call for police accountability and changes to how cases of police killings are handled. The group of mothers is also asking artists to create music dedicated to the parents of those killed by the NYPD. (Instructions here.) Check out the Justice Committee site and learn how you can join and support its efforts to redress and reform police violence against minority populations in New York City.
Serious, public explorations of the United States’ drone policy are uncommon in Washington, to say the least—but on Wednesday the Congressional Progressive Caucus held a hearing on Capitol Hill that was remarkable for its breadth and critical approach to current policy. The thrust of the hearing was to ask the administration to both limit the scope of its drone strike policy and be transparent about what it is doing.
Here are four of the most compelling bits of testimony from the proceeding:
(1) In the video above, Yemeni human rights activist Baraa Shiban spoke directly to the very real toll drone strikes are taking in his country. He said:
Another reason strikes are more damaging than the US realizes is that, while the US may not be acknowledging or discussing dead civilians, Yemenis are.…
The farmers from Sabool showed us videos of people pulling charred bodies from the wreckage. They were scarcely recognizable. But besides the horror of it all, one thing struck me about the footage I watched. In it, you could see many Yemeni farmers gathered around the carnage filming exactly the same thing.
This is how stories of US injustice percolate through Yemen. Terrible images like those I saw can take on a life of their own. US aid reaches these areas rarely, if ever.… This is not a pointless popularity contest for America. Every lethal mistake the US makes is kerosene for an insurgency. And it all comes at a critical time for Yemen.
(2) Adam Baron, a freelance journalist based in Yemen, expanded on how civilian casualties from drone strikes are providing a useful recruitment tool for extremist groups, and drew on his reporting there:
For the civilians under the crossfire, anxieties provoked by fears of another ‘mistake’, continue to fuel distrust and resentment against the US and Yemeni governments, rather than against AQAP. In some areas, AQAP has managed to reap the benefits from such sentiments. The situation in al-Baydah is particularly telling. In a recent military offensive, swaths of tribesmen in the area opted to fight the government on the side of Al Qaeda, rather than cooperate with US forces to push the militants out.
“Some tribesmen are fighting the army even more than Al Qaeda is,” a contact from the area told me at the nascence of the winter military push. “People are angry about drone strikes and condemn foreign intervention. Al Qaeda has really been able to build popular sympathy.”
(3) Naureen Shah, the acting director of the Columbia Law School Human Rights clinic, addressed in her testimony the importance of establishing routine investigations of civilian casualties from drone strikes—both to comply with international law but also to dignify the concerns of local communities. She stressed these investigations must be public and transparent:
Moreover, established systems to investigate war crimes and serious violations of the laws of war would build legitimacy into the Administration’s position that drone strikes are conducted in compliance with international humanitarian law. Adequate investigation systems would address some of the concerns of cooperating governments and help allay the international community’s concerns.
Secret or unacknowledged investigations would likely be insufficient to address the moral dimensions I have identified. Secret investigations cannot provide dignity and a sense of justice to communities impacted by drone strikes. Secret investigations do not provide answer to widely publicized reports of particular cases of civilian casualties from drone strikes, which cause the United States to lose credibility on the world stage and appear deaf to criticism. Whereas the results of investigations can ordinarily be aggregated and systematically analyzed to determine the validity of pre-strike estimates and intelligence, secret investigations may not serve this function.
(4) Eight members of Congress entered into testimony a letter they sent President Barack Obama, demanding further clarification of the legal justifications behind drone strikes. It read, in part:
The information from the Justice Department meme leaked on February 4, 2013, in the context of an increasing devolution of accountability, transparency and Constitutional protections in US counterterrorism operations, leaves us deeply concerned about what appears to constitute overly broad authority language….
These are vague legal boundaries that raise the risk of the executive branch authorizing the deaths of American civilians otherwise protected by the Constitution and appear to effectively vitiate due process of law without meaningful oversight or accountability….
As you state in your recent State of the Union address, “we must enlist our values in the fight.” We ask, therefore, that you follow through with your commitment to engage with Congress to ensure that the ways in which we target, detain, prosecute, and kill suspected terrorist are consistent with the commands of our Constitution, including our system of checks and balances.
We strongly urge you to release the documents requested in this letter for the reasons articulated above.
Read George Zornick on the GOP’s Working Families Act—and why it’s a hoax to attract women voters.
House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton, right, has hired several former lobbyists to his staff. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite.)
In January shortly after being sworn into office, Congressman Rodney Davis, a freshman Republican who eked out a win with a margin of less than a thousand votes in Illinois last year, announced that he had received several plum committee assignments. His legislative portfolio includes subcommittees that oversee commodity regulations, nutritional programs, biotechnology, and, most importantly, the 2013 Farm Bill, which sets agriculture policy for the next five years.
One of his first steps in office? Davis hired Jen Daulby, the director of federal affairs for Land O’Lakes, one of the largest producers of milk and cheese in the country, to be his chief of staff. Disclosures show that just months ago, Daulby led a Land O’Lakes lobbying team that worked on the Farm Bill, genetically modified foods labeling, rules concerning pesticides and hazardous dust, and the new commodity regulations enacted by President Obama’s financial reform law, Dodd-Frank.
What a match.
In other words, Daulby’s past lobbying portfolio perfectly reflects the new responsibilities for Davis’ committee assignments, where he will have wide sway over policy. A former Monsanto lobbyist with previous experience on Capitol Hill for several other lawmakers, Daulby is one of many staffers who rotate back and forth between public service and influence peddling.
On Monday, The Nation posted an investigation of the “reverse revolving door” in Congress, by which lobbyists hired as senior-level congressional staffers receive substantial exit bonuses or other financial rewards from their employers shortly before they assume their new Congressional positions.
In Daulby’s case, Land O’Lakes provided a parting gift of a $35,772 bonus (in addition to her 2012 bonus) in the first few weeks of January. The Davis-Daulby story isn’t all that unusual.
The members of Congress who hire former lobbyists are often outspoken supporters of legislation also heartily endorsed by their new staffers’ previous employers.
Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), chair of the Homeland Security Committee, hired IBM lobbyist Alex Manning as his cybersecurity subcommittee staff director this year. On behalf of IBM last year, Manning worked to pass the Cybersecurity and Information Sharing Effectiveness Act (CISPA), legislation that provides broad powers to the government and to private corporations to gather private Internet user data. The ACLU—which has rallied against CISPA along with EFF, and many other civil liberties groups—called the bill a “flagrant violation of every American’s right to privacy.”
IBM, which sent nearly 200 executives to Washington to advocate on behalf of stronger cyber security laws like CISPA, has been one of the bill’s strongest supporters. CISPA passed the House in April. Representative Randy Hultgren (R-IL) recently hired Katherine McGuire, a CISPA-supporting lobbyist for the Business Software Alliance, as his chief of staff. Hultgren voted for the bill that passed last month.
Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), who is in his second term as chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has a long history of employing lobbyists to staff his committee. When he gained the gavel after the midterm elections, Upton hired Gary Andres, a lobbyist for UnitedHealth Group and other corporate interests, as his staff director. In 2012, Upton announced that America’s Natural Gas Alliance lobbyist Tom Hassenboehler would be his new chief counsel to a subcommittee that oversees environmental regulations. As DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn noted, Hassenboehler is a climate change denier who worked in previous years to block cap and trade legislation. Disclosures show Hassenboehler was paid by his former employer, a trade group for fracking and natural gas companies, to lobby on a number of environmental regulations, including EPA rules concerning fracking.
This phenomenon isn’t new. In the beginning of the last Congress, at least thirteen freshman lawmakers hired lobbyists as their chiefs of staff. The chiefs of staff for Senators Ron Johnson and Marco Rubio even came from the same lobbying firm.
How, exactly, are these lobbyists-turned-staffers influencing policy? While it is difficult to discern what goes on behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, it is part of the job description of lobbyists-turned-staffers to help lawmakers draft legislation, and the bills they produce reliably include big giveaways to corporate interests. Representative Davis’ office did not respond to a request for comment about his new chief, former Land O’Lakes lobbyist Jen Daulby. But in March, Davis signed onto a bill currently pushed by Land O’Lakes to roll back federal oversight of pesticide use.
Read Lee Fang on the reverse revolving door of bonuses for executives headed to congressional positions.
Andrew Cuomo has proposed restricting third parties from placing candidates on their ballot lines without primary elections. (AP Photo/Mike Groll.)
Rahm Emanuel was right: A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Following the arrest of a leading state senator last month, which confirmed every New Yorker’s worst suspicions about the depths of our state’s corruption problem, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has a rare opportunity to push common sense reforms to get money out of our politics. But, instead, he's seized the moment to push a “reform” that would leave our state’s politics even more dominated by the wealthy and well-connected.
As I noted last month, Cuomo has endorsed a legal change that would hamstring New York State’s third parties, including the Working Families Party, a savvy and steadfast counterweight against the power of big business and its backers in both parties. The WFP has been able to maximize its leverage here because, unlike most states, New York allows fusion voting: third parties can endorse a worthy candidate who’s also running on the Democratic or Republican Party ballot line, and place that candidate on their own line as well. Or, if neither candidate deserves their support, third parties can run their own candidate against them. Strategically deploying that option has helped the WFP become a force to be reckoned with. (Just look at Connecticut, another fusion-voting state: After a victory he literally owed to the votes he’d racked up on the WFP ballot line, Governor Dan Malloy quickly and aggressively pushed through a major WFP priority, the country’s first statewide paid sick leave law.)
The WFP’s grassroots base has either led the charge, or provided heavy artillery, for nearly every economic justice victory our state has seen over the past decade. So it should come as no surprise that now, like its agrarian populist third party forebears, it faces an elite-backed backlash.
Now, to be fair to the Governor, he did not propose eliminating fusion voting entirely. Instead, he just called for banning the leaders of third parties from placing candidates on their ballot line without holding primary elections. But that's little comfort.
Imagine a scenario in which, say, a billionaire mayor who’s also a media baron decides he wants as many ballot lines as possible and floods the zone with misleading ads in an effort to scoop up the WFP’s ballot line, the Conservative Party’s, and any other line on offer. Given the name recognition advantage of incumbents and major party nominees, and the broken state of campaign finance, it’s not so hard to imagine. Cuomo’s proposal would strip third parties—which exist in large part as bulwarks against betrayal by Democrats and Republicans—of the right to do quality control on their own candidates. (Keep in mind that the leaders of the WFP are themselves elected by a committee elected by registered WFP voters.) What’s at issue here isn’t the right to run for office—anybody, Cuomo included, can run in the Democratic or Republican primary. It’s the chance for minor parties—a key vehicle for bringing new voices and neglected issues into the process—to choose how best to wield leverage against a broken system.
That’s a system that Cuomo can do more to fix. As I noted last month, fusion voting is not what ails Albany (note that the scandal Cuomo has been citing involves a senator’s alleged efforts to buy his way onto the Republican ballot line, not the WFP’s); none of New York’s thirty corruption scandals over the past decade have involved fusion voting.
What we do need is serious campaign finance reform, a goal that Cuomo has pledged support for (including recently) but has sometimes failed to back with the political muscle we know he’s capable of. While the Governor was sitting on his hands as the Democratic Party was maneuvered out of a senate majority, the WFP was successfully carrying reform champion CeCe Tkaczyk to an underdog victory.
I appreciate that Andrew Cuomo cares about important social liberal causes like marriage equality, but I wish he were equally invested in economic equality. If he were, he would be joining arms with the Working Families Party to pass clean elections, not making their vital work even more difficult.
Read Katrina vanden Heuvel on Barney Frank, who sees an opportunity to shift federal spending away from the military and put it into programs that help Americans.
(Flickr/Public Affairs Office, Fort Wainwright)
Last weekend, I had the great joy of being a judge at the 2013 DC, Maryland and Virginia Louder than a Bomb teen poetry slam competition. For those who don’t know how Louder than a Bomb works, area high schools organize teams who perform in front of an audience of family, friends, fans and, of course, the other competing poets. It’s raucous, intense, and when the emotional weight of a poem connects with a crowd, the adrenaline can suck the air out of a room.
As I was watching these young people unfurl their intense emotional discourses, the sportswriter in me began to ponder what was truly radical about the proceedings. It wasn’t the content of the poems as much as the content of the event itself. Like any great athletic contest, I was seeing the feel of competition push participants to new heights. I saw teams bonding, playing off one another, and working together like one of those Wade-to-LeBron-to-Wade-to-LeBron fast breaks. But I also witnessed an atmosphere that was genuinely supportive, cooperative, and spoke to the best angels of that oft-abused trope known as “sportsmanship.” As I watched this unfold, I asked myself, “Why can’t youth sports be like this?” Yes, it’s true that some teams are fun, some children have terrific experiences and access to youth sports should be universal. But overall, youth sports, to quote my neighbor’s 11-year-old kid, “straight sucks.” Why do 70 percent of kids quit youth sports by age 13? Why do parents get so unbelievably nasty? Why, and this is the most serious point, can it turn suddenly violent?
The day I was judging poets, a soccer referee in Utah, Ricardo Portillo, died a week after being punched in the face by a 17-year-old player because he didn’t like a call that Portillo made on a corner kick. Ricardo’s daughter Johana Portillo told the Associated Press, “Five years ago, a player upset with a call broke his ribs. A few years before that, a player broke his leg. Other referees have been hurt, too.”
What in the blue hell is going on here? I spoke with Joe Ehrmann, former NFL player, pastor and founder of Coach for America. Ehrmann has devoted his life to fighting this societal tide and making youth sports and coaching a positive experience for children. He said to me, “My belief is that while youth sports originated to train, nurture and guide children into adulthood many programs/coaches are using them to meet the needs of adults at the expense of kids. Sports should be a tool to help children become whole and healthy adults who can build relationships and contribute as citizens, but the social contract between adults protecting and providing for the needs of children [instead of their own needs] is broken.” (My emphasis.)
This idea that youth sports has become something that fulfills the needs of adults as opposed to children was backed up by a statistic sent to me by Mark Hyman, author of the highly recommended book, Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports. He wrote me, “Approximately half of all reported youth sports injuries are the result of overuse”—caused by kids starting too young in sports, specializing in one sport too early, and training too intensely. “Before the adult-supervised era of kids’ sports, there were no overuse injuries.” (My emphasis.)
Mark wrote another book, also highly recommended, called The Most Expensive Game in Town: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today’s Families. This book, for me, is a Rosetta stone for understanding why youth sports have become so unbearable for so many.
Organized sports in this country are now a trillion-dollar business—as one marketer says, “from the womb to the tomb.” This is not an exaggeration. There are companies that make videos with names like Athletic Baby and Baby Goes Pro. There are gymnasiums for newborns with an eye on getting them to the pros. There are personal trainers for babies as young as six months. Poor and working-class families of every ethnicity have long seen sports as a ticket out of poverty. But now the financial crunch is on middle-class families as well. Their goal is less the pros than, in an era of $50,000 tuitions and crushing student loans, a college scholarship. Parents see their children as competing against other boys and girls, from the time their kids are big enough to pick up a ball. But to even get in the scholarship pipeline, unlike in decades past, playing for your school is not enough. You need to be a part of a traveling team. You need to have the right equipment. As the overwhelming majority of families are now headed by two working adults, you need to have parents willing to sacrifice scarce leisure time or work hours to attend games. As Mark Hyman describes, these families are not wealthy. Instead, they’re making an investment that needs to pay off, which creates a powder keg of pressure on very young kids.
I asked John Carlos, the great 1968 Olympian, who has also worked as a guidance counselor in public schools for over two decades, why youth sports are so toxic for so many. He said, “The problem is the system. It’s a system where everyone wants to get over on kids. Yes, the parents make these bad choices, but when you’re in that kind of cesspool, all you can really see is… you know. You know what you see in a cesspool. It’s like a kid can’t just be a kid anymore.”
That last line is the key. Profiteering and childhood, whether we are talking about youth sports or charter schools, are a toxic mix. It’s creepy enough that the representatives of big business are oozing around the playground and judging youth sports as an underdeveloped “opportunity.” It’s time to get their priorities off the playing field and fight for space so kids can be kids. If we can link this to a movement of fighting for price controls on college tuitions, that will be music to many a parents’ ears.
In America’s schools, resistance is growing to high-stakes testing. Read David Kirp’s take.