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Lesson Learned: High School Hoops Team Disinvited From Tournament Over ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Shirts

“I Can't Breathe” T-shirt

This is the shirt that earned Mendocino high school a disinvitation from a high school basketball tournament. 

Eric Garner’s last three words as he was being choked to death by Staten Island police officers was “I can’t breathe.” Those words have since become one of the iconic slogans of not only the #BlackLivesMatter movement against police violence but of our times. These three words were seared into a much broader national and international consciousness after they were worn in pre-game warm-ups by some of the most well-known athletes in the United States. But it wasn’t just the LeBron Jameses and Derek Roses of this world who wore the “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts on the court or on the field. A host of high school and college teams, far from the public eye (and in places as diverse as Berkeley and Colorado Springs) took those words to the court in a show of solidarity. Now one of those high school teams is paying the price.

The Mendocino boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, located in Northern California, were disinvited from the Vern Piver Holiday Classic basketball tournament this weekend because they had worn the shirts before a game on December 16. Fort Bragg high school (an institution with a black population of 1 percent) told Mendocino that they would not be allowed to play unless every player on the boy’s team and girls’ team refused to wear the shirts. The boys’ team was reinstated after every player but one agreed to this condition. That one very brave holdout is staying at home. As for the girls’ team, only a couple said that they would even consider not wearing the shirts with almost the entire team standing strong. They will not be fielding a team.

Principal Rebecca Walker of Fort Bragg issued a written statement on Friday explaining their position, in which she said, “To protect the safety and well-being of all tournament participants it is necessary to ensure that all political statements and or protests are kept away from this tournament.… We are a small school district that simply does not have the resources to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff, students and guests at the tournament should someone get upset and choose to act out.”

Keep in mind that up until now, there have been no reported incidents before any game, high school college or professional, in response to the players’ wearing the shirts. And we should ask: What kind of a message it is for a principal to send to young people that actually caring about the world and being educated on issues is somehow something that should be maligned and censored, if not outright punished?

As the father of one of the Mendocino players said to the Associated Press, “It doesn’t take a lot to suppress the exchange of ideas when you put fear into it.”

The stand that many of these players are taking teaches a far more important than a school giving a lesson in bullying. Mendocino High School deserves our support as well as a clear signal that they are not alone. We should let them know that their community should be proud of every player, especially on the girls’ team, for giving a damn.

If you want to call Fort Bragg High School and register your disappointment, the number is (707) 961-2880.

If you want to call Mendocino High School and show them some love, the number is (707) 937-5871.

Homecare Worker Protections Thwarted in Court

The front line of today’s labor struggles isn’t the factory floor but the kitchen table: many of the most vocal labor campaigns came from the home healthcare workers who support people with disabilities and seniors. These professional carers have joined in the “Fight for 15” protests, led union organizing campaigns and scored a major win in Washington with an expansion of federal labor protections to home healthcare jobs. But the movement for labor rights at home got thwarted in court this week. A federal judge ruled against the pending regulation, deciding that the Obama administration had overstepped its authority when the Department of Labor extended minimum wage and overtime standards to homecare workers hired for by private agencies.

The ruling by the Washington, DC, district court vacates a specific provision that would broadly expand protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to workers hired by “third-party” employers to serve private households. Though the key expansions of the rule remain intact, the legal snafu indicates the complexity of securing even the most basic rights for this historically marginalized sector.

The new federal regulation would close a loophole in the FLSA that exempted “companionship” workers, who provide basic support services to seniors and the infirm. An earlier Supreme Court ruling effectively left it up to the Labor Department to clarify which homecare or direct-care workers are entitled to minimum wage and overtime standards. An extensive rulemaking process subsequently led to the new regulation that built on the demands of a coalition of labor, community and healthcare advocacy groups.

But the district court sided with industry groups, including the Home Care Association and International Franchise Association, which argued the rule change was an overreach that circumvented congressional authority. The judge also warned that the rules, as written, would “have a destabilizing impact on the entire home care industry,” and services would suffer.

But to homecare workers, the regulations represent a long-overdue step toward equity for a labor force fraught with poverty wages and harsh working conditions. Contrary to the stereotype that homecare workers are acting merely as “elder sitters,” today’s homecare aides, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), take on specialized tasks like “medication management, range-of-motion exercises, blood pressure readings, vital signs monitoring, and routine skin and back care.” The Obama administration’s rulemaking was designed to make federal regulations reflect the seriousness of their work.

While the court’s ruling does interfere technically with the third-party provision, the new rules are largely still set to go into effect on January 1. The Labor Department told BusinessWeek that it “strongly disagrees with the district court’s opinion.” Meanwhile, the court’s decision will likely have little impact in practical terms, because the other provisions of the regulation ensure that workers with third-party employers still qualify for overtime and minimum wage as long as they are performing serious care duties that are more extensive than just “companionship,” as defined by the Labor Department.

The new regulation could affect about 2 million workers, and will build upon numerous state laws that already ensure state-level wage and hour standards, which in some cases are more stringent than the FLSA. In Illinois, for example, homecare workers are covered by the state’s $8.25 minimum wage standard as well as overtime rules for work weeks exceeding forty hours.

There is a sixty-day window for appeal, and it’s unclear what further litigation might emerge. But regardless, the core of the rulemaking will go forward. To actually avoid the new regulations, NELP General Counsel Catherine Ruckelshaus tells The Nation, “a third-party agency still has to prove that the worker isn’t performing covered duties in order to take the exemption. So most workers are still going to be covered.”

But the deeper political debate will continue over the role of the government in regulating the domestic work sector.

In NELP’s view, the industry’s attempt to thwart the White House’s reform reflected an ideological resistance to state regulation, rather than concern over the potential impact on businesses, particularly given the fact that many homecare agencies are already complying with state labor laws.

“The for-profit agencies and the International Franchise Association have just been against these rules from the beginning, and they’re doing everything they can to try to block them, and this is one example.”

The entire history of the federal labor law regime, in fact, is one of excluding certain groups of workers deemed to be undeserving of social protection. Originally, both domestic workers and home health aides were shut out of minimum wage laws. Forty years ago Congress moved to broaden the law to cover domestic workers, but left the companionship exemption. The historical barriers are interwoven with deep patterns of gender and racial bias: “hired help” was typically done by poor women of color and was considered separate from “real” waged work. Today, sadly, that framework persists, and the district court ruling reflects the stereotype of a mere “companion” hired to provide casual assistance. In reality, she’s providing life-saving care, but typically only earns a poverty-level income, often depending on welfare benefits to survive. Meanwhile, the homecare industry is booming, as seniors and people with disabilities are opting to live in their communities, instead of institutions, and receiving more individualized care at home.

The White House’s new rule is a watershed for the domestic workers movement, which has fought on nationally and globally for equal labor protections and union rights. But the next phase in improving labor conditions—collective bargaining and union rightsfaces still more legal battles ahead, particularly from anti-union “right to work” advocates.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn undermined the ability of the Illinois home healthcare workers’ union, an SEIU local, to finance itself through collecting fees. But SEIU continues to push for unionization nationwide, having won solid contracts and wage hikes in Illinois, and recently demonstrated the potential of mass organization with an historic union vote in Minnesota.

Dismantling the companionship exemption folds into the evolution of the homecare movement, which has elevated the vocation from the margins of “women’s work” to the forefront of the community health infrastructure. And the law is finally catching up with an overlooked vanguard.

After the Death of Two Cops, Right-Wing Media Demonize #BlackLivesMatter Protests

Former mayor Rudy Giuliani (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

For much of the right-wing media it was payday. Two New York City cops were murdered by a troubled gunman who had allegedly suggested on social media that he’d kill cops to avenge the deaths of unarmed blacks by police—and that was all some of the rightward press needed to finally justify attacking Mayor Bill de Blasio and the entire #BlackLivesMatter movement without restraint.

For the New York Post in particular this has been a moment of sweet revenge. During the 2013 mayoral campaign, the Post continually red-baited the left-leaning de Blasio, warning that his opposition to police stop-and-frisk practices would plunge the city’s crime rates back to those of the 1970s (so far, it looks like the city’s become safer). But the Post failed to stir the required hysteria and de Blasio won election handily. But now, with PBA president Pat Lynch accusing both anti–police-brutality protesters and the mayor of having "blood on the hands,” and with police turning their backs on de Blasio when he entered a Brooklyn hospital to pay his respects to the slain officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, the Post can seem—if you’re not looking closely—to be vindicated.

It’s running cover headlines like “Shamed mayor begs New Yorkers to save cops,” and letting ridiculous invective run loose. “Like most radicals with no real-world experience,” columnist Michael Goodwin wrote of de Blasio, “he assumes the way to fix things is to first smash them into pieces. That’s what he’s doing to New York.” No real-life experience? Smash NYC to pieces? Whatever he’s talking about, it doesn’t matter. The details get swept up by the fury.

The national media smell blood, too, and that’s encouraging them to take bolder moves than usual. Bill O’Reilly interrupted his vacation to call into The O’Reilly Factor and demand that de Blasio resign. Joe Scarborough, who had been railing for weeks against the protesters, the Rams players who supported them, and anyone who chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot” did something Monday he almost never does: he made a direct-to-camera speech; it amounted to an I-told-you-so that “these assassinations were too predictable.”

And of course the usual suspects are all over Fox: former mayor Rudy Giuliani keeps insisting that the largely peaceful (exceptions below) protests that de Blasio rightly allowed wouldn’t have occurred on “my streets” (as if the streets didn’t belong to the public). Former NYPD detective and Fox contributor Bo Dietl has been shouting nonstop about “comrade” de Blasio” and advising him to “take his wife...and go back to Cuba and live there.” (De Blasio and Chirlane McCray’s honeymooned in Cuba in 1994.) Former New York City Police commissioner Bernard Kerik joined in the bloody-hands demands that de Blasio resign. “I personally feel that Mayor de Blasio, Sharpton and others like them, they actually have blood on their hands.” (Fox doesn’t mention it, but Kerik had to resign from the Giuliani administration and was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to eight felony charges in 2010.)

The resignation meme is no longer confined to Fox. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked a guest last night whether de Blasio should leave office. (The answer was “yes.”) As long as people, even if it’s mostly media people like O’Reilly, are putting it out there, it’s a legit question, but you rarely hear a cogent argument for just why he should resign. For losing the respect of some of the police? (For all we know now, most may actually support de Blasio.) For allowing the protests to take place? (De Blasio called for them to cease until after the funerals of the two slain officers, a plea many protesters have ignored.) For even sympathizing with the protesters?

The anger is such that de Blasio’s foes are begrudging a black kid from getting the sound and classic advice to be careful about how he acts around police, advice de Blasio said he’s given to his 17-year-old biracial son, Dante. Former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly has been all over TV denouncing de Blasio’s public statement as a terrible breach. The right is acting as though the murders of the two police officers nullify every problem with every police force in the US. Suddenly, it's dicey to question law enforcement.

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This is a far cry from how conservative media cover the stories of right-wing, anti-government cop-killers.

From Eric Frein, who allegedly shot and killed a Pennsylvania state trooper, which set off a manhunt this fall to Glenn Beck fan Richard Poplawski, who fatally shot three Pittsburgh police office in 2009 to the assassinations in June of two local policemen in a Las Vegas restaurant by Jerad Miller (who had hung with the Clive Bundy crew) and his wife Amanda, the right’s coverage of anti-government cop murderers has been sparse at best. As Eric Boehlert writes of the Miller case:

Raw Story reported that Miller “left behind social media postings that show his concerns over Benghazi, chemtrails, gun control laws, and the government’s treatment of rancher Cliven Bundy.” And according to an NBC News report, the shooter had talked to his neighbor about his “desire to overthrow the government and President Obama and kill police officers.”

Fox News primetime hosts Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity both ignored the shocking cop-killer story the night after it happened; Megyn Kelly devoted four sentences to it.

This stands in sharp contrast to how Fox and friends have covered the Brooklyn killings, says Boehlert, by leaning “heavily on assigning a larger cultural and political blame.” Yet…

Fox News has routinely paid very little attention to breaking news stories that feature right-wing, or anti-government, gunmen….

And critically, when they have touched on those deadly attacks, Fox talkers have stressed that it’s not fair to blame politics. Note that in 2013, after racist skinhead Michael Page started killing worshipers at an Oak Creek, WI., Sikh temple, and then murdered a police officer, Fox’s Andrea Tantaros stressed that the killing spree was an isolated event that didn’t have any larger implications. “How do you stop a lunatic?” she asked. “This is not a political issue.”

Progressives have been trying again and again to point out that protesting police brutality is not the same as protesting the existence of police, much less calling for their death. (After Fox host Brian Kilmeade painted Jon Stewart as anti-police, Stewart came back with: “By the way, jackass, you can truly grieve for every officer who’s been lost in the line of duty in this country, and still be troubled by cases of police overreach. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive.”)

The tens of thousands of New York protesters have been overwhelmingly peaceful. It is true that some marchers in New York were chanting “What do we want? Dead cops!” about a week before the December 20 shooting of Ramos and Liu. But as the Daily Beast writes, “Evidence from photos, video, social-media posts and interviews suggests it was a single group, desperate to ‘turn up the anger’ at otherwise-peaceful protests.”

At a Monday press conference, after a reporter repeatedly asked de Blasio about the violent rhetoric, the mayor rather uncharacteristically, lashed out at the media. “It was wrong, it’s nasty, it’s negative,” he said. “They should not do that. But they, my friend, are not the majority. So stop portraying them as the majority.”

As if actual calls for “dead cops” weren’t disgusting enough, some in the media are so intent at portraying protesters as violent that they’re putting words in their mouths. Over the weekend, Fox TV affiliate WBFF in Baltimore was found to have deceptively edited footage of a Washington, DC, march to make it sound as if protesters were shouting “kill a cop.” As Gawker pointed out, the actual chant was: “We won’t stop, we can’t stop, ‘til killer cops, are in cell blocks,” but on WBFF it became: “We won’t stop, we can’t stop, so kill a cop.” (Al Sharpton had attended that march, and TPM found that “YouTube videos of the misinterpreted chant contain labels such as “Sharpton’s ‘Go Kill A Cop’ March.”)

WBFF said it was an “error” and apologized on-air to Tawanda Jones, who had led the nonviolent chant. She is the sister of Tyrone West, who died in police custody in 2013. Jones confronted the station, saying, “The interesting part that really gets to me is, where you guys edited it and stopped—like, how could that be a mistake?”

“Once you play that whole thing, you would know that’s not something that’s being said,” she added.

The station didn’t quite come up with an answer.

Making One’s Mark

We usually eschew end-of-clue punctuation, even when we manage to have a clue that is a bona fide sentence, as in this example:
   EMIGRANTS  They have moved away from streaming illegally (9)

One exception is the exclamation point; as is standard in American cryptic usage, we generally use that to indicate an &lit clue. But the more common exception is the question mark. At the end of a clue, it can indicate quite a few different things. Sometimes it signals a jokey or punny definition (either the main one or the second part of a double-definition clue):
   ANDROCLES  Mythical bird, originally living in a mountain range with amateur

   veterinarian? (9)

   DEMOCRATIC PARTY  A pretty rad comic playing the blues? (10,5)
   GREAT DEPRESSION  Economic catastrophe in the Grand Canyon? (5,10)
   HARD TIMES  1854 novel in the print edition of a newspaper? (4,5)

Sometimes it indicates a heteronymic reading of the entry:
   ANTIQUITY  In olden times, a health club that won’t let you give up? (9)
   HATRACK  Something you might see in the front hall or hear on a sitcom? (7)

It might flag a reading that is far-fetched or unexpected:
   ASSESSES  Rates female donkeys? (8)
   COOPERATION  Teamwork in making barrels? (11)
   DEMEANING  Shameful process of making people nicer? (9)

…or even absurd or ridiculous:
   ACTIVIST  Militant whose favorite part of a Shakespeare play is the penultimate section? (8)
   BUCOLIC  Rural ailment afflicting infants at a New England school? (7)
   CORONATION  Installation of a sovereign in Chad or Oman? (10)
   FOREARMED  Prepared, like, half an octopus in the sound? (9)
   HAMBURGER  One who encourages second choice for pork as a fast-food standard? (9)

A question mark could reveal that we suspect someone out there will object to a clue they will deem, well, questionable:
   FREE THROW  Worth undertaking after a foul? (4,5)
   DETERGENT  Barman’s cleanser? (9)
   GOLDENEYE  Objective: refuse to be heard in a thriller about a duck? (9)

In short, all you can conclude from a question mark is that “something is going on here.” Or not! Sometimes a question mark is just a question mark:
   CROSSWORD  Sorcerer, half looking back at weapon: “You’re wasting your time with

   this?” (9)

This week’s cluing challenge: INTERROGATE. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

Dickens Was Right: the Real War on Christmas is the War on the Poor

British actor Albert Finney as Scrooge (AP Photo/Staff/Dear).

These are Dickensian times, when charity is rationed by politicians and pundits callously dismiss the poor as a burden best forced by hunger to grab at bootstraps and pull themselves upward.

Charles Dickens wrote of such times in 1843.

But surely he would have recognized 2014, a year that began with the Congress of the wealthiest nation in the world locked in debate over cutting funds for nutrition programs that serve those who are in need. The cuts were approved and, as the year progressed, so there came the announcements that tens of thousands of Americans would no longer have access to food stamps.

Food stamp cuts in a land of plenty are just one measure of the cruelty of the moment. There are also the threats to cut benefits for the long-term unemployed and to restrict access to welfare programs, which come even as Congress delivers another holiday-season “wish list” to the banking behemoths that have figured out how to crash economies and still profit.

Dickens captured the essence of our absurd times more than a century and a half ago with his imagining of a visit by two gentlemen, “liberals” we will call them, to a certain conservative businessman:

“Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe,” said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list. “Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?”

“Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years,” Scrooge replied. “He died seven years ago, this very night.”

“We have no doubt his liberality is well-represented by his surviving partner,” said the gentleman, presenting his credentials. It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits. At the ominous word “liberality,” Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigor, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when want is keenly felt, and abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned— they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides— excuse me— I don’t know that.”

“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.

“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned.

So Dickens began A Christmas Carol, a book very much in keeping with the radical tenor of a time when the world was coming to recognize the truth that poverty and desolation need not be accepted by civil society— or civilized people. The language employed by Scrooge was not a Dickensian creation. Rather, Dickens engaged in a sort of reporting on the political platforms and statements of those who opposed the burgeoning movements for reform and revolution that were sweeping through Europe as the author composed his ghost tale.

Ultimately an optimist, Dickens imagined that spirited prodding from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future would change Scrooge— just as there are those today who imagine that a bit more enlightenment might cause even the most predictable plutocrat to reconsider his disdain for the unemployed, the underemployed and the never employed.

In Scrooge’s case, a little otherworldly pressure did the trick.

After his unsettling Christmas Eve, the formerly conservative businessman hastened into the streets of London and rather too quickly for his own comfort approached one of the two liberals:

“My dear sir,” said Scrooge, quickening his pace, and taking the old gentleman by both his hands. “How do you do. I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was very kind of you. A merry Christmas to you, sir!”

“Mr. Scrooge?”

“Yes,” said Scrooge. “That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you. Allow me to ask your pardon. And will you have the goodness”— here Scrooge whispered in his ear.

“Lord bless me!” cried the gentleman, as if his breath were taken away. “My dear Mr. Scrooge, are you serious?”

“If you please,” said Scrooge. “Not a farthing less. A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favor?”

Dickens tells us Scrooge was frightened into such humanity, But also that he was filled with delight as he prepared to open his wallet in order to “make idle people merry.”

The poor were suddenly the miser’s business.

And, notes Dickens: “He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.” Indeed, “it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

So it is in this season, as it was in the winter of 1843. The debate goes on, in much the same language Dickens heard more than a century and a half ago. The poor are still with us, as are the Scrooges. We’d best bless them all, with hopes that one day we will, all of us, keep Christmas well.

The Day the Troops Refused to Fight: December 25, 1914

Christmas Truce 1914

The Christmas Truce as depicted in The Illustrated London News in January 1915. (The Illustrated London News)

100 years ago, on Christmas Day, 1914, in the middle of World War I, British and German soldiers put down their guns and stopped killing one another. The terrible industrial slaughter had already taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men. But on that day, thousands of troops climbed out of the trenches in France and Belgium, sang Christmas carols, and exchanged food, gifts, and souvenirs. They traded German beer for British rum. They even played soccer. It’s a unique event in the history of modern warfare.

It’s unique in another way. Those who fought in wars—“the fallen”—are regularly remembered and honored, but remembering and honoring those who refused to fight is pretty much unheard of (except for commemorations sponsored by pacifist and anti-war groups). And yet, this season, the Christmas Truce of 1914 is being commemorated officially, especially in Europe, with a wide variety of government-sponsored memorial events.

“It’s quite remarkable,” Adam Hochschild said in an interview—he’s the author of seven books, most recently the award-winning history of WWI, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914–1918. “The Christmas Truce has always been marked unofficially. But this year every school in the United Kingdom received a packet of materials about it—photos, eyewitness accounts, student worksheets. There’s a children’s competition in Britain to design a memorial to the Christmas Truce, and one of the judges was Prince William. In Belgium a memorial soccer field was inaugurated, the British and German ambassadors came, and they are holding a soccer tournament in memory of those Christmas Truce soccer games, with youth teams from Britain, Germany, France and Austria.”

Perhaps most amazing is the three-minute TV commercial running in Britain, featuring a high-budget reenactment of the truce, where, after a soccer game, a British soldier trades a chocolate bar with a German soldier. “It’s from the supermarket chain Sainsbury,” Hochschild said. “The commercial is for a commemorative chocolate bar. The proceeds from this chocolate bar will go to the Royal British Legion, the official veterans’ organization. It’s another kind of official commemoration of this startling outbreak of peace.”

What is it about this refusal to fight that makes it safe to be officially commemorated? “I’m curious about that,” said Hochschild, who wrote about the Christmas Truce for TomDispatch. “First of all, the Christmas Truce only lasted for a day or two. The war in its full fury resumed very quickly—and went on for another four years.

“Also the Christmas Truce did not represent a breakdown of military discipline. It was sanctioned by officers on the scene. Officers as high-ranking as colonels came out to greet their counterparts from the other side in no-man’s-land.”

Hochschild points to one additional factor: “Commemorating anything these days can be big business. First World War tourism in northern France and Belgium is a huge industry. In Belgium alone, the government of the Flanders region is investing $41 million in new tourist facilities for this four-year commemorative period. That’s not counting private investment. I’m sure they are thinking, ‘if we can add a few peace sites to the existing war sites, so much the better.’”

The other profit-making industry that’s gotten involved is professional soccer. “It’s a huge business,” Hochschild says, “particularly in Europe. Five of the ten most valuable professional soccer teams in the world are in Great Britain, and it’s no accident that the trade association for professional soccer is one of the groups financing this packet of information going to all the British schools. The European soccer association is sponsoring the tournament in Belgium.”

But there are no official celebrations of many other events where soldiers refused to fight in World War I—the more radical and subversive acts. Hochschild lists several of these acts—of fraternization, desertion and even mutiny—that occurred later in the war: In the spring of 1917, after the Russian revolution, photos show Russian and German troops celebrating and dancing together in couples; on the Eastern Front, a million Russian soldiers deserted and simply walked home, and German soldiers began deserting in 1918; and in 1917, hundreds of thousands of French soldiers refused orders to attack. “These folks should all be celebrated,” Hochschild says, “because they helped bring the war to an end.”

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Finally, Hochschild says, we ought to celebrate the anti-war leaders who opposed the war from the beginning and paid a heavy price: in Germany, Rosa Luxemburg spent more than two years in prison for opposing the war; in Britain, Bertrand Russell served six months in a London jail for his anti-war advocacy. And in the United States, Eugene V. Debs was imprisoned for urging resistance to the draft; he was still in the Atlanta federal penitentiary in 1920, two years after the war ended.

Now the US government is planning an official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. It’s being organized by the Pentagon, which has declared the purpose to be “to thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War…for their service and sacrifice.” But more than 1,000 people have signed a petition insisting that “no commemoration of the war in Vietnam can exclude the many thousands of veterans who opposed it, as well as the draft refusals of many thousands of young Americans, some at the cost of imprisonment or exile.” Anti-war activists “are the real heroes that period,” Hochschild says, “and we have to be sure to remember and celebrate them.”

 

Read Next: Why no one remembers the peacemakers

The Change in Cuba Policy Is a Nod to Reality

American and Cuban flags on balcony

American and Cuban flags hang side-by-side on a balcony in Old Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba is a decision to recognize reality. For fifty years, the United States has pursued a policy that has failed. The embargo hurt the Cuban people it claimed to help and bolstered the regime that it intended to undermine. The effort to isolate Cuba has been increasingly isolating the United States both in the hemisphere and across the world. And as the president concluded, “I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.” To believe that would be, as Albert Einstein taught us, the very definition of insanity.

The best evidence that this change was long overdue was provided by the hysterical and incoherent reactions of its opponents. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a potential presidential contender, embraced the initiative, making an indisputable comment about the embargo: “If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn’t seem to be working.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) replied that Paul “has no idea what he’s talking about.”

Rubio argued that the United States gets nothing in return for normalization: no free elections in Cuba, no free press, no democratic progress of any sort. But while we don’t know what the product of the new opening will be, we do know that the half-century of the embargo hasn’t produced free elections or a free press in Cuba either. By making Cuba David against Goliath, the US embargo provides the regime a rationale for its internal crackdowns while elevating its stature across the hemisphere and the developing world. Normalizing relations with Cuba enables the United States to advocate for individual liberty, without being seen as a bully trying to club a small neighbor into submission.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Why Is No One Talking About the NYPD Shooter’s Other Target?

Shaneka Thompson

Shaneka Thompson (Facebook)

New York City’s police commissioner is laying blame for the Saturday shooting of two of the city’s police officers at the feet of protesters participating in #BlackLivesMatter actions. Patrick Lynch, the head of the police union, claimed there’s “blood on the hands” of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who, Lynch has said, didn’t do enough to disavow and put an end to local protests.

None of this is surprising, unfortunately. The tragic killing of two officers by an emotionally and psychologically unstable shooter is being used to further the political goals of an establishment that’s been challenged through effective, largely nonviolent protest. Despite that movement’s focus on the criminal justice system as a whole, from policing to the role of district attorneys and the grand jury system, police leadership and rank and file are using this moment to claim victim status, ramping up rhetoric and participating in symbolic moves such as officers and union leaders turning their backs on de Blasio during a public appearance over the weekend.

What’s equally predictable and disappointing is the near-erasure of Shaneka Thompson from the story of Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s shooting spree. Thompson is the 29-year-old ex-girlfriend whose Maryland apartment Brinsley entered before shooting her in the stomach and leaving her to scream for help. “I can’t die like this. Please, please help me,” she is reported to have shouted as she banged on a neighbor’s door. According to news reports, Thompson is a health insurance specialist with the Veterans Administration and an Air Force reservist. Brinsley took her phone with him as he headed north to New York, using it to post self-incriminating rants to Instagram before killing Officers Ramos and Liu and, finally, himself.

Thompson is hospitalized and was, as of Sunday, in critical but stable condition. She is also the latest in a series of women who have been brutalized by men whose violence only became notable when they took on targets deemed more important, more relevant to a national or international debate already in play. On Monday Muna Mire, a former Nation intern, noted on Facebook similarities between Thompson and Noleen Hayson Pal, slain ex-wife of Man Haron Monis. Monis is the gunman behind the sixteen-hour standoff in an Australian café that earlier this month left three people (including him) dead. He had a history of violence against women and at the time of the café attack was out on bail on charges including dozens of counts of sexual assault. He had also been charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, with whom he had a custody dispute. He allegedly conspired with a girlfriend, who then set Pal on fire and stabbed her eighteen times. To frame that hostage crisis as one simply driven by religious fanaticism leaves out a key element: Monis seems to have been quite sick and is alleged to have used women’s bodies as a place to target that sickness.

Monis had been charged with these crimes recently, but he wasn’t due back in court until February. This past weekend, Baltimore police started tracking Shaneka Thompson’s phone, which Brinsley had in his possession, around 6:30 am, less than an hour after she was shot. According to The New York Times, they knew Brinsley’s whereabouts, but didn’t contact New York police until after noon. They faxed a wanted poster to a Brooklyn precinct just after 2 pm.

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There may well be legitimate reasons why law enforcement could not have apprehended Brinsley earlier, even though they knew his whereabouts as he traveled north from Baltimore to New York. But in both this case and the Sydney incident, there seem to have been assumptions that public safety was not at risk despite the allegations and evidence of violence against women. Why does the threat level and stoking of public fear skyrocket when a madman is thought to be tied to an ideology that’s generally hated in the mainstream—anti-police sentiment or Islamic fundamentalism—but not when that madness has threatened a woman’s life or safety?

Salamishah Tillett raised a similar question during the trial of George Zimmerman, who had been accused of molesting a cousin as a child and of abusing a former fiancée before killing Trayvon Martin. As Tillett wrote, “Zimmerman’s attorneys successfully argued that those acts were inadmissible or irrelevant. But these accusations offer us other truths: that violence against girls and women is often an overlooked and unchecked indicator of future violence.”

It’s predictable that some opponents of police reform want to use Brinsley’s shooting spree to discredit and mischaracterize the #BlackLivesMatter movement and any politician who hasn’t tried to stamp it out. Let’s not go an equally predictable route and ignore that a woman bore the brunt of Brinsley’s instability first, before he went on to commit the type of crime that media and law enforcement consider worthy of their full attention.

Read Next: Dani McClain on why #BlackLivesMatter actions aren’t stopping

Thank Postal Workers by Fighting to Save the Postal Service

USPS van

(Elvert Barnes, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Postal workers, mail handlers, letter carriers and rural carriers will process and deliver more than 15.5 billion packages, letters, and parcels this holiday season. It’s intense, demanding, long-hours, late-night and weekend work that keeps the promise of a robust national Postal Service outlined in Article 1 of the United States Constitution.

There is something profoundly wrong—not to mention profoundly absurd—about the notion that any federal official would abandon that promise and the workers who keep it.

Yet that is precisely what is happening. Even as United States Postal Service employees get the job done, with a better track record of care and efficiency than private competitors, the postal service itself is under attack. Pressured by extreme demands from Congress and hamstrung by outdated restrictions on how it can operate, the USPS faces financial challenges that are real—but those challenges can be addressed with relative ease. Unfortunately, instead of taking steps to ease the burden it created (with a 2006 requirement that the service prefund retiree benefits for the next 75 years), Congress ignored the issue. The House and Senate passed a “CROmnibus” spending bill packed with giveaways to Wall Street, big banks and big corporations and then quit town.

Congress failed to take what the unions representing postal workers identify as the most necessary immediate step to aid the postal service: initiation of “a one-year moratorium on a reduction in service standards and plant closings.” Congress also failed to reach an agreement on a stand-alone postal bill.

Now, argue American Postal Workers Union leaders, “The situation is urgent because the lower service standards are scheduled to take effect on Jan. 5. In addition to disrupting the lives of thousands of postal employees whose work assignments will be changed, the reduction in service standards will slow mail throughout the country and virtually eliminate overnight delivery of first-class mail. It also will set the stage for the closure of 82 mail processing plants.”

That’s a view shared by other major unions that have been working with APWU—the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association—to save the postal service. The unions have won strong support from community groups across the country, from national groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and from responsible members of Congress—51 senators and 178 representatives have backed a moratorium on closures and cuts.

Yet Congress continues to fail Americans who rely on the service and the communities that will be rocked by the planned closures.

“It’s an outrage,” says APWU president Mark Dimondstein. “Eight years after Congress ginned up a fake financial crisis for the Postal Service, its members still refuse to take even the smallest steps to prevent a major hit on this great national treasure.”

The fight is not done, however.

The Postal Service still has genuine advocates in Congress—led by Senators Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, John Tester, D-Montana and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, and House members Pete DeFazio, D-Oregon, and Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin—who are fighting to prevent closures and cuts. When Congress returns in January, it could still intervene. And the USPS could, and should, delay devastating assaults on the USPS infrastructure and on the workers who maintain it.

Help The Nation to raise $150,000 by 12/31 and to keep delivering our progressive reporting to over 500,000 readers every week.

“We strongly urge the USPS to delay implementation of any mail processing consolidations until feasibility studies are completed and there has been adequate time for public comment and consideration of those comments,” a bipartisan group of senators wrote in a December 1 letter to Postal Service officials. “Completed feasibility studies should include service standard impacts worksheets based on the revised service standards expected to be published on January 5, 2015. There is no reason that the USPS cannot delay its consolidations to provide time for the public to see and comment on the service standard worksheets. It is only fair to allow the process to unfold in this way, and the USPS gains little by deciding to continue the consolidation process on its current, arbitrary timeline.”

The senators are right.

The United States Postal Service is an American treasure that we should all appreciate this holiday season.

For Americans who hope to appreciate the service next holiday season, however, now is the time to thank postal workers by fighting to save the Postal Service.

 

Read Next: John Nichols on what Bernie Sanders and Dwight Eisenhower have in common

Postal workers, mail handlers, letter carriers and rural carriers will process and deliver more than 15.5 billion packages, letters, and parcels this holiday season. It’s intense, demanding, long-hours, late-night and weekend work that keeps the promise of a robust national Postal Service outlined in Article 1 of the United States Constitution.

There is something profoundly wrong—not to mention profoundly absurd—about the notion that any federal official would abandon that promise and the workers who keep it.

Yet, that is precisely what is happening. Even as United States Postal Service employees get the job done, with a better track record of care and efficiency than private competitors, the postal service itself is under attack. Pressured by extreme demands from Congress and hamstrung by outdated restrictions on how it can operate, the USPS faces financial challenges that are real—but those challenges can be addressed with relative ease. Unfortunately, instead of taking steps to ease the burden it created (with a 2006 requirement that the service prefund retiree benefits for the next 75 years), Congress ignored the issue. The House and Senate passed a “CROmnibus” spending bill packed with giveaways to Wall Street, big banks and big corporations and then quit town.

Congress failed to take what the unions representing postal workers identify as the most necessary immediate step to aid the postal service: initiation of “a one-year moratorium on a reduction in service standards and plant closings.” Congress also failed to reach an agreement on a stand-alone postal bill.

Now, argue American Postal Workers Union leaders, “The situation is urgent because the lower service standards are scheduled to take effect on Jan. 5. In addition to disrupting the lives of thousands of postal employees whose work assignments will be changed, the reduction in service standards will slow mail throughout the country and virtually eliminate overnight delivery of first-class mail. It also will set the stage for the closure of 82 mail processing plants.”

That’s a view shared by other major unions that have been working with APWU—the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association—to save the postal service. The unions have won strong support from community groups across the country, from national groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and from responsible members of Congress—fifty-one senators and 178 representatives have backed a moratorium on closures and cuts.

Yet Congress continues to fail Americans who rely on the service and the communities that will be rocked by the planned closures.

“It’s an outrage,” says APWU president Mark Dimondstein. “Eight years after Congress ginned up a fake financial crisis for the Postal Service, its members still refuse to take even the smallest steps to prevent a major hit on this great national treasure.”

The fight is not done, however.

The Postal Service still has genuine advocates in Congress—led by Senators Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, John Tester, D-Montana and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, and House members Pete DeFazio, D-Oregon, and Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin—who are fighting to prevent closures and cuts. When Congress returns in January, it could still intervene. And the USPS could, and should, delay devastating assaults on the USPS infrastructure and on the workers who maintain it.

Help The Nation to raise $150,000 by 12/31 and to keep delivering our progressive reporting to over 500,000 readers every week.

“We strongly urge the USPS to delay implementation of any mail processing consolidations until feasibility studies are completed and there has been adequate time for public comment and consideration of those comments,” a bipartisan group of senators wrote in a December 1 letter to Postal Service officials. “Completed feasibility studies should include service standard impacts worksheets based on the revised service standards expected to be published on January 5, 2015. There is no reason that the USPS cannot delay its consolidations to provide time for the public to see and comment on the service standard worksheets. It is only fair to allow the process to unfold in this way, and the USPS gains little by deciding to continue the consolidation process on its current, arbitrary timeline.”

The senators are right.

The United States Postal Service is an American treasure that we should all appreciate this holiday season.

For Americans who hope to appreciate the service next holiday season, however, now is the time to thank postal workers by fighting to save the Postal Service.

 

Read Next: John Nichols on what Bernie Sanders and Dwight Eisenhower have in common