Every Halloween, when Al and Tipper Gore lived at 1 Observatory Circle, they threw a costume party for journalists and staffers. Ted Kennedy's office Christmas Parties were famous for his Santa Claus impersonations. Even the Cheneys opened the doors of their house to cocktail parties where journalists were sometimes invited. Journalists of a certain rank -- a rank higher than mine -- are often invited to State Dinners. The White House brings in anchors and correspondents to brunch with the president before the State of the Union addresses. So the decision by Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden to throw a summer hootenanny on their front lawn is part of a long tradition of convivial commingling.
Accepting a few hours worth of hospitality from the Bidens may be just that -- a chance for families to get together and enjoy each other's company. The main attraction, aside from the Vice President and his family, were the rides for kids, the face painting, and the moon bounce. The adults chit-chatted on the upper part of the lawn while the kids -- journalists' kids, Biden's family, the children of White House officials -- chased each other around with water guns. It was a nice way to spend a hot Saturday afternoon.
But these aren't ordinary afternoons, and the very idea that a journalist would accept a slice of watermelon from the Vice President strikes many a critical activist as criminally insane -- an example of the cozy relationships that exist between journalists and their sources, an example of how the oppositional role of the press has been compromised by people in power.
Well, yes. The relationships can be cordial, occasionally cozy, and they can simultaneously be professional and skeptical. Indeed, has there ever been a time when journalists and the political establishment have been MORE skeptical about each other?
I take this argument to heart: journalists worthy of the name ought to be on duty 24 hours a day, and in an ideal world, any opportunity to interact with administration officials should be an opportunity to grill those officials on any range of subjects. Journalists, if they're good for anything, should use whatever access they have to consistently and relentless pressure powerful interests. We're at war; the government is detaining people indefinitely; there's a huge oil spill in the gulf; there are better things to do.
But a bunch of really good, hardened, news-breaking, interest-accountable holding reporters are in fact able to share more comfortable moments with people they cover. For the record, the event was paid for by the Democratic National Committee, not by taxpayers. There was no additional Secret Service presence needed, so I don't think the afternoon produced any hidden costs to the government.
Am I fatally compromised?
Well, I walked out of the Naval Observatory Saturday afternoon. I carried a view of the Vice President I hadn't before seen, a few tips from senior administration officials about a variety of subjects, a wet shirt from Rahm Emanuel's water gun, and that's about it.
Perhaps that warm feeling will lead me to somehow subconsciously cover the vice president less aggressively. Actually, in writing about the event, which was on the record, I may never get an invitation to one again. And that's OK. I know readers are interested in these types of things, and I think there is some value in sharing how one journalist rationalizes them, even if it will only serve to make critics more angry.
This was an experience, a chance to catch up with sources, a chance to observe the Vice President in his natural element, a chance to see the chief of staff interact with his family, a chance to kibitz with other journalists. We did talk about Helen Thomas.
My self-identity as a journalist has evolved from the days when I used to see myself as a neutral arbiter between equal parties. I trust the government less than I did. Two weeks ago, I wrote about a Defense Intelligence Agency intelligence facility and the way in which its operators may be circumventing restrictions on interrogations. I wasn't rounded up and thrown into jail. I had some rough conversations with senior administration officials. And then I shared a beer (well, not really, because I don't drink) with those same officials. I'm working on a follow-up to the DIA story. I continue to believe that the White House political operation is tame. I continue to believe that Iraq is much less stable than it appears to be. I'm still fairly certain that health care will wind up costing taxpayers more than current estimates project (although with less of an impact than doubters believe).
“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the Far West Side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.
The host read these words for the audience, and when she finished she turned to the subject of my body, although she did not mention it specifically. But by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.
New data shows that students whose parents make less money pursue more “useful” subjects, such as math or physics.
In 1780, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, in which he laid out his plans for what his children and grandchildren would devote their lives to. Having himself taken the time to master “Politicks and War,” two revolutionary necessities, Adams hoped his children would go into disciplines that promoted nation-building, such as “mathematicks,” “navigation,” and “commerce.” His plan was that in turn, those practical subjects would give his children’s children room “to study painting, poetry, musick, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelaine.”
Two-hundred and thirty-five years later, this progression—“from warriors to dilettantes,” in the words of the literary scholar Geoffrey Galt Harpham—plays out much as Adams hoped it would: Once financial concerns have been covered by their parents, children have more latitude to study less pragmatic things in school. Kim Weeden, a sociologist at Cornell, looked at National Center for Education Statistics data for me after I asked her about this phenomenon, and her analysis revealed that, yes, the amount of money a college student’s parents make does correlate with what that person studies. Kids from lower-income families tend toward “useful” majors, such as computer science, math, and physics. Those whose parents make more money flock to history, English, and performing arts.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
One reason for the continued resistance to the Affordable Care Act is a badly distorted narrative of how it became law.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s remarkable 6-3 decision in King v. Burwell saves the Affordable Care Act from evisceration, although Obamacare will undoubtedly face a continuing pattern of guerrilla attacks from Congress, the courts, and Republican governors and state legislatures. Still, as many observers have pointed out, the core elements of the plan, including the exchanges, the subsidies, the individual mandate, the expansion of coverage in family plans to children 26 and under, and the elimination of lifetime limits and of preexisting conditions as bars to coverage, are almost certainly here to stay.
This is, of course, a huge victory for President Obama. But the passage, implementation, and ratification of Obamacare continue to be plagued by a widespread belief that it was tarnished by the way it was proposed and debated. A raft of reporters, commentators, and politicians argue that the president made a huge mistake in taking up healthcare at the beginning of his term, before building relationships of trust with Republicans, and then compounded that error by jamming it through quickly without any Republican input or efforts to find common ground.
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
Chicago has seen a double-digit increase in the percentage of kids graduating from high school. Skeptics say educators and kids are manipulating the numbers—but does that even matter?
Desiree Cintron’s name used to come up a lot during “kid talk,” a weekly meeting at Chicago’s North-Grand High School at which teachers mull over a short list of freshmen in trouble.
No shock there, says Desiree now, nearly three years later.
“I was gangbanging and fighting a lot,” she says, describing her first few months of high school. “I didn’t care about school. No one cared, so I didn’t care.”
Had Desiree continued to fail in her freshman year, she would have dropped out. She is sure of that. It was only because of a strong program of academic and social supports put together by her teachers that she stuck it out. Desiree pulled up a failing grade and several Ds. She gave up gangbanging and later started playing softball. She connected with a school determined to connect with her.
The unwillingness of the former secretary of state to take questions from the press contrasts sharply with Jeb Bush’s marked affinity for public disclosure.
Howard Kurtz reported on Sunday night that the Hillary Clinton campaign has decided to open itself to more press interviews. Kurtz quoted the campaign’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri: “By not doing national interviews until now, Palmieri concedes, ‘we’re sacrificing the coverage. We’re paying a price for it.’”
Meanwhile Jeb Bush chatted July 2 with the conservative website, the Daily Caller. The Daily Caller interview broke an unusually protracted no-interview period for Bush. It had been more than two weeks since he appeared on the Tonight show with Jimmy Fallon. Bush spoke that same day, June 17, to Sean Hannity’s radio show and ABC News. Five days earlier, he’d spoken to Germany’s Der Spiegel—altogether, five interviews in the month of June. That brought his total, since the beginning of February, to 39, according to the Bush campaign.*
The show reveals what happened to Ray, while Bezzerides and Woodrugh investigate the mayor, and Frank indulges in some amateur dentistry.
Orr: More than a third of the way into this season of True Detective, I’d say that the two best scenes so far were adjacent ones, albeit ones in consecutive episodes: the last scene of episode two—the man in the bird mask appearing out of nowhere, the stunning (apparent) death of a principal character as the radio plays “I Pity the Fool”—and the first scene of tonight’s episode: Ray and his father in the bar, and yet clearly someplace else altogether, someplace otherworldly. “Where is this?” Ray asks. His dad replies, “I don’t know. You were here first.” Is this Ray’s dying vision? Is he a ghost who will watch the season unfold from beyond the grave?
In Sunday’s referendum, voters firmly rejected Europe’s plan to bail out the country’s economy. What’s next?
Updated on July 5, 2015 4:57 pm
On Sunday, Greek citizens took to the polls in a controversial referendum asking them whether they support a plan calling for continued economic austerity in exchange for debt relief. Their answer—with more than 70 percent of the votes counted—was a resounding “no.”The outcome means that next steps for the nation, which has fallen into arrears with the IMF and imposed capital controls to prevent a run on the banks, is largely uncertain. According to reports from Reuters, the country may next attempt to secure financing by asking for more emergency funding from the European Central Bank.
The referendum—which had asked Greeks to vote “yes” or “no” on a proposal from Eurogroup leaders to extend financing to the deeply indebted country— was called for by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras amid meetings of Eurozone leaders trying to come up with a deal to allow the country to avoid default. The call for the referendum effectively ended those discussions.