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January 25 2014


Abbevs & The Like: How Web-Words Are Crossing Over

In recent years, a new set of words have emerged — words like totes, meaning ‘totally’; adorbs for ‘adorable’; and LOLs  for ‘laugh-out-loud’. These words have become so prevalent, they have their own name: abbrevs (short for ‘abbreviations’).

You might think that abbrevs are used exclusively online or in texts by middle schoolers. However, these words are also being increasingly documented in oral speech by speakers of all different ages. LOLs, for example, is pronounced lawlz, lowlz, or lulz and is accompanied by a conspicuous lack of genuine laughter. My research (1) investigates these abbrevs. What are they, where did they come from, and why are they so popular?

First things first, how does one make an abbrev? Typically, the word of choice is clipped, or truncated after the stressed syllable, as in prob < probably, but never probab. Then, for some, but not all, an -s suffix is added, resulting in probs.

Abbrevs can be a bit more complicated than that, though. Sometimes vowels are deleted, as in adorbs < adorable. Some words vary as to where exactly the clipping occurs, like obvi, obvs < obviously. Aside from clippings, abbrevs may also be acronyms (LOLs) or contractions (forreal(s), freal(s) < for real). Yet another group of words tend to be reduplicated, or repeated. Consider cray-cray < crazy and a word impressively both clipped and reduplicated: inappropro < inappropriate.

While abbrevs may seem quite modern, many of these processes are centuries old. Tote, from ‘total’ or ‘totally’ can be seen as early as 1772 (2) and the acronym OMG ‘oh my God!’ appears in 1917 (3). This particular abbrev phenomenon seems to derive from a diminutive, a word formation that denotes smallness in size and often other qualities like endearment or intimacy. English has numerous diminutives, like -ski (brewski, broski) and -sie (tootsie, footsie). A diminutive that involves clipping and an -s suffix results in names like Babs < Barbara, cited as early as 1900 (4). This process continues today, as seen in Prince William of England’s nickname Wills. What distinguishes modern abbrevs is that they affect not just names, but also adverbs and interjections.

The rise of abbrevs at the same time as the rise of the internet may not be completely unrelated. Certainly, the character limit on Twitter or the need to text rapidly on cell phones could result in an increase of acronyms and abbreviations (though words like cray cray are in fact longer than their original counterparts). Some studies (5), however, suggest a possible different factor: the need to mark nonverbal communication through text.

Whereas writing in the past was largely done by one person in a letter or novel, modern media allow us to have written conversations in real time. This certainly explains the creation of emoticons and, perhaps, the popularity of Snapchat, which allows users to attach a face to their message. As for abbrevs, these new adverbs and interjections may allow us to mark both endearment to our friends and also those pesky gestures we can’t get across with usual writing. Isn’t that totes cray cray?

– Kenneth Baclawski, Jr.

Kenneth is a first-year PhD candidate student in linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.


1. Baclawski, Kenneth, Jr. “A Frequency-Based Analysis of the Modern -s Register- Marking Suffix.” Poster presented at the Linguistic Society of America Annual Meeting, Portland, Oregon, January 6, 2012.

2. Miller, D. Gary. 2014. English Lexicogenesis. Oxford University Press.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Biber, Douglas & Susan Conrad. 2009. Register, Genre, and Style. Cambridge University Press.

For further research on abbrevs, see NPR’s All Tech Considered.

January 24 2014


Behind The Scenes And On Stage For #OnPointNOLA

Though most of you reading this heard the On Point Live! broadcast from New Orleans on Friday, Jan. 23, the lucky few hundred of you in the greater New Orleans-area with tickets to the event heard the hour on Thursday.

Our primetime live event included an applause-ready audience, some absolutely lovely live jazz music from Edward Anderson, Eileina Dennis and Josh Starkman and a truly riveting conversation on America’s coastal wetlands and coastal communities in a time of rising sea levels.

Photos from the Event and the Tour of the New Orleans Coastal Wetlands (Courtesy Janet Wilson, WWNO)



View this gallery on Flickr »


January 23 2014


Mandatory Sentencing: Victims Speak Out

Our Jan. 22 hour discussed the national struggle around how to justly sentence violent juvenile offenders. For many years, courts handed down mandatory life sentences without hope of parole to young adults who had committed a crime before the age of 18.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled such sentences should no longer be mandatory and that such sentences should be considered cruel and unusual. The court felt children’s brains were still developing and that judges should be empowered to make a judgment on a case by case basis. But what they didn’t tackle was the more than 2,500 inmates, living out life sentences without parole for crimes committed as juveniles. Did the rule apply to them? It’s a question that many states have been struggling to answer in the year since.

An important voice in the conversation is that of a victim’s family — the people who lost a love one at the hands of these offenders, who could now be facing re-sentencing hearings, and even a lifetime of parole hearings. During our hour, heard from three people who had lost someone at the hands of a juvenile offender in our hour today. All three offenders were sentenced to the mandatory life without parole, but in the wake of these new decisions, that all may change.

PAUL DOWNING “He knew right from wrong, and there’s nothing that could justify, what he did.”

Janet Downing, who was murdered in 1995 by a 15-year-old neighbor. (Courtesy the Downing Family)

Janet Downing, who was murdered in 1995 by a 15-year-old neighbor. Janet is pictured here in the fall of 1990.  (Courtesy the Downing Family)

On July 23rd, 1995, Janet Downing, a 42 year old mother of four, was murdered in her Somerville, Mass. home. The perpetrator, Edward O’Brien, who was 15 years old at the time of the murder, stabbed Downing 98 times.  A family friend and neighbor, O’Brien had lived much of his life across the street from Janet Downing. A little more than two years later in October of 1997, O’Brien was found guilty of first degree murder and automatically given the mandatory sentence – life without parole.

This past Christmas Eve, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that such mandatory sentencing would no longer be allowed in compliance with a ruling by the Supreme Court in 2012. As a result, the state announced that it would begin looking back at all of its juvenile life without parole sentences and holding new sentencing hearings.  Janet’s son, Paul testified in his mother’s murder case when he was barely older than his mother’s killer. He and his family must now prepare themselves for the possibility that O’Brien will be resentenced in the coming months. Paul, now 35, joined us during our hour.

Tom Ashbrook: What do you think of this ruling that would mean a reconsideration of the life without parole sentence of your mother’s murder, Edward O’Brien?

Paul Downing: It’s definitely reopening a wound for the entire family. It’s a very scary thought that this person possibly could be among us again. It’s… it’s not going very well with a lot of us. For a lot of people that supported us.

TA: It was a terrible murder, you were neighbors, his grandfather had been chief of police in your town – Somerville. He was only 15. A big boy, 6’4”, 250 lbs., 260 – but even for all that – he was only 15. I mean, is it a matter of justice, vengeance, what Paul, that he should be in prison for the rest of his life? When you think about this case, do you think, well maybe, maybe he’ll change over 20, 30, 40, 50 years?

PD: There’s nothing to excuse what he did. My mother suffered over 90 stab wounds, and it was an extreme atrocious act. From someone she knew very closely. Whether his brain was developed, or not at that point, he knew right from wrong, and there’s nothing that could justify, what he did. There’s just nothing to excuse it.

TA: have you heard exactly what might happen now? What will happen with the Massachusetts high court ruling?

PD: We’re currently in limbo. My family won’t know more till about June? I would say? Where he may be up for parole at that time. So yes, he has the ability to appeal his case, and who knows where he might go with the direction of how he might get himself out. And the thought of that – it’s very terrifying.

TA: Resentencing means getting back into all of that, and it was clearly terrible. But what about – you’re older now; he’s older now, what about someday when he’s 50 years old, when he’s 60 years old, 70 years old, maybe even 80 years old? At which point you may think – well it was terrible, but that’s a lot of time, let’s say enough.

PD: If I can get my mother back, then maybe – I’d say okay, it’s alright. But you know I’m sorry, a life was taken, a person is never going to exist again. My mom will never be alive, so fair is fair. You did what you did. You get to live still. Don’t forget that.

SEAN AYLWARD: “the cruel and unusual punishment here is to victims and their families, not to these convicts.”

In 1992, Beth Brodie was a 15-year-old high school cheerleader in Groveland, Mass. That November, Richard Baldwin, 16, beat her to death with an aluminum baseball bat.

In 1994, Baldwin was convicted of first degree murder – with the mandatory sentence of life without parole.

Like Edward O’Brien, Richard Baldwin’s case falls under those up for resentencing in Massachusetts. Beth’s family and friends are outraged that the perpetrator of such a violent crime would have the hope of parole available to them.

Beth’s brother, Sean Alyward. called us to share his sister’s story and his feelings about the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision.

Sean Alyward: She was 15, he was 16, and she did not pursue a romantic relationship with him and he took offense to that. Throughout the course of a day, in conversations with her mutual friend, he drove to the home of a mutual friend with a baseball bat, and lured her to the home – and then bludgeoned her to death.

TA: We will remain always sorry for that whole story, how are you thinking about the Supreme Court ruling now Sean, and what ought to happen with the killer of your sister?

SA: Well what the family cannot understand is the retroactivity behind this, and I have heard the arguments in the last few minutes about it. But had the states still abided by death sentences laws, what would we do then? How far back do you go and where do you draw the line? To bring this back up and strip victims’ families of their rights or solace that they may have found since it happened, is just tragic. It’s not right; the cruel and unusual punishment here is to victims and their families, not to these convicts.

TA: It’s an absolutely heinous crime. There’s no question about it, but what about the notion of redemption over time Sean? Your sister was 15, she deserved to live, this was a 16 year old boy who did a terrible thing, what about the idea that over many years, a) there’s punishment and b) the human brain is not fully developed at 16 – there’s room for redemption – how do you think about that Sean?

SA: We’ll her brain wasn’t fully developed either, if this is the argument, yet she knew the difference between right and wrong. She didn’t do anything wrong.  She was a saint. She recognized that this was not somebody she wanted to have a romantic relationship with. So in his eyes, the proper thing to do here is take somebody’s life? That’s just simply not fair, so why should he experience any of the rights and freedoms that she could have used up to this point.

TA: Sean, do you know what process is now underway?  The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled on this so presumably resentencing will come to this – do you have a sense of how that will unfold Sean?

SA: We’re actually preparing for the parole now. Preparing with District Attorney Blodgett  and he’s been very proactive in this, and he’s been very supportive. He’s got probably the best attorneys from his office working on our parole hearing. But it’s just unfortunate that my family is going to spend the rest of our lives preparing for these (hearings) because even if he is denied parole in this first hearing, he’s going to be up for parole in whatever the court sees is fair. Whether it’s three or five or even ten years, (we’ll be) constantly preparing for this parole.

I think the argument here should be left open for the judges in these cases. Take the mandatory out but leave (life without parole) as an option, cause in some cases these guys need to go away without the option of parole.

Jeanne Bishop and her sister, Nancy, in Scotland in 1990. Nancy was killed later that year. (Courtesy Jeanne Bishop)

Jeanne Bishop and her sister, Nancy, in Scotland in 1990. Nancy was killed later that year. (Courtesy Jeanne Bishop)

JEANNE BISHOP: “This sentence is merciless. It freezes in time forever something someone did at a very young age.”

But there are those who have lost love ones who have decided to support the Supreme Court’s ruling.

In April of 1990 Nancy Bishop Langert and her husband Richard were murdered in their Winnetka, Illinois home just outside of Chicago. Nancy was just 25 and pregnant with the couple’s first child.  In her last moments, she left a message for her family – a heart, and the letter “U,” scribbled out in her blood.

Six months after that night, 16 year-old David Biro was arrested for the murder. He was sentenced to life with no chance of parole. Jeanne’s family was overcome with relief.

Nancy’s sister Jeanne, has spent more than 20 years since working as a public defender with Cook County (which includes the city of Chicago.) Through her work, and her faith, she decided that her sister’s killer deserves the change of hope, redemption, and mercy that comes with knowing parole is possible.

Jeanne joined us during our hour to share her sister’s story and how she came to this conclusion.

TA: do you support the Supreme Court in saying, let’s leave open a chance for redemption or not?

Jeanne Bishop: I do support that Tom, and I do because I believe that any kind of mandatory sentencing for adults or juveniles ignores the unique circumstances of the facts of the case, of the characteristics of that person. I just don’t think we can take a cookie cutter approach. And I also have to say in my own case, the young man who killed my family members received a mandatory sentence for killing my sister and her husband, but he received a discretionary life sentence for killing their unborn child. With the respect to the mandatory sentence, my family was not even allowed  to do a victim impact statement at sentencing because there was not aggravation and mitigation hearing, there was no possibility for us to have input into the sentence.
TA: how has your attitude about that sentence evolved over the years if it has? Were you satisfied at the beginning, were you happy to see him put away for life, mandatory – If it’s changed why? How?

JB: When he was sentenced my mother turned to me and said, “We’ll never see him again,” and I was glad of that. I wiped him off my hands like dirt. And over the years having worked as a public defender, seeing the clients that I have up close, and seeing my own thinking on things evolve, and having children, young  men – boys of my own, to realize that this sentence is merciless. It freezes in time forever something someone did at a very young age. People do have the capacity for remorse – to rethink what they’re doing. And that’s true in the case of the person that took my sister’s life. He started out remorseless – denying the crime. He took the stand and blamed it on someone else. But when I got in touch with him now that he is age 40, he wrote me a 15 page letter, apologizing, confessing to the crime and kind of tracing the arch of his thinking on his crime.

January 21 2014


Confused About Net Neutrality? Brian Fung’s Got You Covered

Our Jan. 21 hour explored the tricky, technical world of Internet Service Providers and net neutrality, which to many listeners sounded like a lot of acronym soup and technical mumbo-jumbo. We think it’s an important concept to understand — especially after a D.C. Federal Appeals Court struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s long-standing position on web access.

That’s why we’re glad that Washington Post technology policy reporter Brian Fung was able to so expertly lay out the details of the ruling, and what comes next for the F.C.C. Take a listen, and sound informed at your next dinner party or tech policy conference (if you’re into that kind of thing).

Fung explained why people are making a fuss around this court case.

“One reason is that the Internet is obviously a major platform for innovation, and what happens to Internet policy could potentially determine a lot of how the Internet develops and what services we get down the road….What we could be looking at here is looking at services that charge you more for different uses or applications of the Internet. For example, Verizon could charge you a fee for watching, you know, Netflix over the Internet a different fee than it would charge you for say, using email. And what that could also mean is that you could chop it up and slice it up in different ways. So Verizon could start selling you a package of services, and those packages could be priced at different rates and consumers would have to pay for the services they were providing…In the court oral arguments, Verizon’s lawyer said if it weren’t for the net neutrality rules, they would absolutely be looking into these alternative business models.”

But wait, you might be saying. Why do people care so much? Fung said that net neutrality may have already been a part of your web experience without you even realizing it.

It’s been a central part of the Internet– that you should be able to access whatever content you see fit and have that traffic be treated equally no matter where you are or what plan you’re on. Now that could be treated completely different. You might have a situation where you’re trying to watch Netflix, and Netflix may have signed a preferential deal with one service provider, and on the other hand you try to watch Hulu, and Hulu  may not have signed any similar deal, and so that company gets thrown to the wayside….It’s not clear to me that it would be in companies’ interest to do that necessarily. Judging by the outcry that’s already taken place as a result of the net netutraliy decision, from public advocates , I think that companies that serve Internet would have a very hard time trying to block services outright. What you might see instead is much more, I don’t want to say sneaky, but much more subtle ways of routing internet traffic from place to place.

So, you might say now, what can the F.C.C. do to prevent this big change? Quite a lot, Fung said.

There are a couple of ways they could approach this at this point. The simplest way at this point that people have been pointing out is for the F.C.C. to simply classify Internet providers as similar to utilities that the F.C.C. regulates, which includes phone companies and wireless companies and so on. Doing that would allow the F.C.C. to get around the ruling in a totally legal manner, but that would be politically fraught, and so not a whole lot of people see a lot of promise in that approach…Another option would be to simply ask the D.C. Circuit Court to rehear the case, a process that would require a vote by all the judges on the court. And given that President Obama has been trying to put more judges on the court, presumably Obama’s nominess would be friendly to the Democratic agenda of his current F.C.C., so if you kind of imagine it as a party line kind of thing, you might see more judges voting in favor for a rehearing, and then that in turn would increase the chances that the F.C.C. would get a favorable outcome, kind of  like a do-over for the F.C.C.”

But the pro-con argument for net neutrality is not necessarily as bifurcated as “Democrats v. Republicans,” Fung cautioned.

“In some sense, it does fall along party lines if you imagine Republicans to be sort of representative of business, and industry players have very much been supported by Republicans in the part, than you could sort of see this as part of the issue. But on the other hand, matters of the Internet , and Internet policy are often transcendent of partisan politics. You have civil libertarians on the one hand who both come from the realm of libertarian politics as well as conservative and Democratic politics as well.”

So is it really curtains for net neutrality? Fung has a few ideas.

“At this point, it’s very hard to say. The F.C.C. chairman Tom Wheeler has said he intends  to take action on this. He’s suggested, although hasn’t said outright that he intends to appeal the decision. And whether that happens will  take place over the next sort of several months.”

And regardless of what happens, the arguments against net neutrality will continue apace, he said.

“Verizon has been the most vocal, most outspoken business fighting against net neutrality rules. The general argument has been that net neutrality rules aren’t strictly necessary, that a lot of businesses have done a lot to make sure that the Internet stays open to begin with,so this is kind of a solution looking for a problem. There’s consumers who potentially lose out quite a bit on this ruling.”

And still, Fung cautions, there’s more to come in the case.

“This battle isn’t over yet. There’s still gonna be quite a lot that the F.C.C. can do and probably will do in the coming months so I wouldn’t say that this is all over…There’s an argument that at the margins, giving companies the ability to charge other companies for different service for access to subscribers would harm innovation and would prevent start ups from growing and help keep incumbents on top. The argument there is basically, if I’m Netflix and I’m trying to reach a consumer, say Verizon’s consumer, and Verizon is charging me, Netflix, for the right to access that Verizon subscriber, that’s an extra charge that Netflix can pay that  a smaller start up may not be able to pay.”

For more clarity on the net neutrality issue, we highly recommend the work of the fine folks at WNYC’s On The Media, who have covered this story in depth longer than anybody else out there. We also recommend this helpful flow chart from the liberal media watchdog organization, Media Matters, who do as good a job as anybody explaining why you might want to care about net neutrality.

What do you make of the net neutrality debate? Is there something to be concerned about here? Or will Internet Service Providers continue to leave things as open as they’ve been? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Tumblr and @OnPointRadio.

January 17 2014


Olympians Jason Brown And Mikaela Shiffrin Get Ready For Sochi

We were so thrilled our Friday Jan. 17 show featured two U.S. Olympians on their way to the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.

Figure skater Jason Brown, the first male singles skater to make the U.S. Olympic team since 1976, and Mikaela Shiffrin, an Alpine skier and the current Slalom World Cup Champion, called in to our broadcast to give us a taste of their journey to Olympic glory.

Alpine Skier Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin joined us first. She talked about her exciting recent victory in the World Championships, and explained how her training regimen is going in Reiter Alm, Austria.

“I’m really excited. The race went well, it was a pretty big margin of a win and I was just excited to get some of my good skiing on the course so it was really fun. We’re training quite a bit, cause we have a little bit of break in races right now. But really part of the biggest training for Sochi is the racing, and being able to to you know, let your skis go and really compete well in the races versus just training well. Some athletes find it really difficult to train well and then race well at the same time. Right now, the biggest training and the biggest benefit that I’m getting is just racing and trying to get my good skiing out there.”

Shiffrin is a loose, easy skier with a gentle touch. She explained where that attention came from.

“I’ve been working really the past few years on trying to be really loose, because ever since I was little I’ve always put a lot of emphasis on my technique so I;m solid on my skis but the past few years i’ve been working on  having the good technique but also letting my skis go and really not holding back at all. i tend to think of myself as a pretty relaxed skier but also disciplined with my motions.”

The politics and protests surrounding the games haven’t phased Shriffin, she told us.

“We have a pretty small team here, so we’re pretty kind of isolated from everything. Obviously I’ve seen everything that’s going on and of course I’d rather compete in a place that’s familiar to me, I’d love to race in the United States, because it’s home and I feel safe there. I also know that everybody who goes into organizing the Olympics are trained to deal with these kind of difficult situations, and I’m just really excited to go race. I feel, right now going into the Olympics, that they have a handle on things and my job is to just go in and ski as fast as I can.”

Shiffrin’s races are toward the end of the Alpine events in the Sochi Games’ calendar. She explained how she’ll stay fresh for her event as the games open early next month.

“Well you know what actually what we’re doing — I’m racing the giant slalom and slalom, and you’re right they’re the last two Alpine racing competitions and they’re only I think  two days apart. So what we’re gonna do is fly into Sochi a little bit later, so we’ll spend about I think a total of nine or ten days there, but we’re not gonna be there the entire time so we can utilize the  training in Austria before the games.”

Our guest, Los Angeles Times deputy sports editor John Cherwa, called Shiffrin the winter equivalent of American swimming phenom Missy Franklin, a star of the 2012 London Games. The two young American athletes have been in touch as the Sochi games approach.

“She has been really supportive, and we were tweeting a little bit this summer and going into the season. I’m very flattered by that comparison because I love the way she handles herself with media and with her sponsors, and whatever she’s doing. Whenever you hear about Missy, it’s always positive and she’s always smiling. And she’s 17, 18 years old and working so hard and having success, and I think it’s a really good lesson to be learned that she’s obviously having a blast, and whatever pressure is on her isn’t affecting her because she’s winning and loving it and that’s kind of the mentality I like to take.”

While some athletes might be concerned about protests or safety in Russia, Shiffrin said her main focus is her sport.

“Most of this for me, I’m really trying to just stay focused on my sport. Most of it is, ‘Just don’t worry about, they’re trained to handle this kind of thing. And  your  job is go in and try your best  to win a couple of medals, and that’s that.’ And that’s the really the whole point of the Olympics, is friendly competition with pretty much every country in the world. We all go in and we’re a ll competing for those medals and it’s a story that we hopefully can try and tell our grand kids someday. And so that’s really my vision of the Olympics is making it as amazing an experience as possible.  For most of the athletes, there’s of course there’s some athletes who want to take a stand one way or the other, but I don’t feel that it’s my job to do that.”

Shiffrin also talked about the admittedly strange choice for a sub-tropical resort city like Sochi to host the Winter Games, and how that would affect her skiing.

“It’s a little bit funky there, but I’m really excited to go see what the conditions are. We were trained there a little bit last February — it was kind of your average spring conditions, a little bit sugary snow, we had to put salt on the snow to harden it up, but I had some of my best training conditions out of the entire season last year. I’m really excited. I think it’s gonna be fair, it’s gonna be an awesome competition.”

Figure Skater Jason Brown

Figure skater Jason Brown took the country by storm when an incredible video of his routine at the US Skating Championships last Sunday hit the web. He went “viral,” so to speak, and he joined us from Colorado Springs to tell us about how it feels to have his childhood Olympic dreams finally coming true.

“You know the first Olympics that I saw was 2006, that I saw live, in my living room with my parents. I think that’s when it first became a dream of mine. But it still wasn’t something that I thought was gonna be a reality. And looking back at it now, I would have never guessed that this would be what is going on. I always try to stay in the moment and so the moment came and I can’t even believe where I am right now.”

Brown talked about what went through his mind as he skated in his championship routine this month.

“I’ve been working so, so hard this year, training harder than I have ever have because it is such a taxing program. I’ve done so much endurance training, and I  moved to Colorado, so I’m in altitude now. I think that that training so hard and doing section after section every day, I went out there and that’s how I trained it, the program and I couldn’t ask for anything more than just to out and do my program as I’ve trained. And that’s how I’ve been training and so I couldn’t ask for anything more, and after that, everything else is out of my hands — what the judges do, how everyone else skates, and then I ended up in second. I honestly can’t even wrap my head around it yet.”

Brown talked about his preparations for Sochi, and a time two years ago when he skated in a program in the future Olympic Arena.

“Earlier this year, we have watched videos, we have a team camp in the summer that they showed us videos and we talked to a bunch of people that are gonna be there. I was fortunate enough to go to Sochi about two years for the Junior Grand Prix final. it was a junior test event that they had, kind of a like a test event. So I’ve actually gotten to go and skate in that rink. I cant even believe that I’m going back. I loved it, that was my first time I’ve ever been to Russia. The fans were amazing, the culture is so incredible, just from the architecture to the people to…they had one of the competitors’ parties a Russian dance group come in. The way they brought the culture into the event was truly spectacular and just to be in a Olympic rink with my coach was something that I can’t even put into words. And I can’t even believe that I’m going to be going back there in at an Olympic games.”

Brown also talked about his love of dance, and his decision to remain out of the political debate swirling around the games.

“I was always a skater, but I love to dance. I guess if you count putting on shows that my sister choreographed when I was three or four, that counts as dance so dance came first, but I started off as a skater…I definteily dont completely agree with [the Russian political situation], but I’m really trying to focus on my training everyday and doing what I do everyday and trying to represent my country the best that I can.”

The Sochi games will be the first to feature a new “team figure skating’” event, the participants in which have not yet been determined, Brown said.

“I have no idea, they are talking about it and it is something that is up for discussion about who’s gonna compete where, but the skaters haven’t been given any information about who’s gonna compete, who’s not gonna compete, but I don’t know when I’ll find out. But  it’s definitely an event that it would be such an honor and a privilege to be a part of, the first team event in the Winter Olympics Games for figure skating.”

Brown told us that his main goal when skating is to just stay on his feet and deliver for the audience.

“All I was thinking a bout was, ‘Just go out there and do what you trained.’ There’s nothing else I could do, I couldn’t ask to be better than I trained, I just wanted to go out there and skate the way I’ve been training and just skate the program that me and my coach have seen every day, that me and my coach have worked on all year.  That was my main focus and that was all I could think about, and that’s just what I went out and did . I’ve never been more prepared for an event and I just went out and tried to stay on my feet, fight for everything and just perform for the audience, because there’s nothing that I  love to do than to skate for them and to skate for them.”

We’re so proud of both of these young American Olympians, and we wish them the best in the upcoming Sochi Olympic Games! The games begin on February 6, and continue through February 23. Watch out for Jason and Mikaela on the ice and slopes of Sochi soon!

January 16 2014


Latest From Cairo: ‘The Vote Was About Everything But The Constitution’

Our Thursday, Jan. 16 hour on the latest constitutional referendum in Egypt tracked the progress of a country torn by protests and political instability ever since the spontaneous 2011 uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak.

The constitutional referendum this week, written largely by the Egyptian military currently running the country, is said to have garnered as much as 98% percent in favor during two days of voting. McClatchy Newspaper’s Middle East bureau chief Nancy Youssef joined us from Cairo to break down the Egyptian mood, meaning and future.

She explained that the “yes” vote was a prediction even before voting finished.

“That was the presumption even before the balloting count began because the media campaign was so aggressive, urging people to vote, that voting yes was a reaffirmation of the 25 of January Revolution in 2011, a reaffirmation of what they call the second revolution on June 30th, the one that lead to Mohamed Morsi’s ouster. And frankly, there was a feeling that, those who voted no there was a fear at least that they could face arrest, and they certainly were silenced in terms of posting campaign posters and outwardly urging people to vote no. And so, the assumption has always been that this would go forward and the initial count puts the approval as high as 98 percent.”

The vote was also seen as a referendum on the powers and leadership of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, an unannounced but highly favored front-runner in the future presidential campaign in the country.

“That’s right. And also that it’s a sort of a count, and a referendum on General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Minister of Defense, the de facto leader of Egypt, the one who announced Morsi’s ouster and the suspension of the Morsi constitution. He’s the presumed front-runner for the still unannounced presidential elections here and so this vote was in a sense about everything but the constitution. About where Egypt is, the state of the military, on Sisi and for some, the sort of death knell for the Muslim Brotherhood and its vision for Egypt. “

The new constitution is a far cry from broad-based popular democracy, Youssef pointed out.

“In fact, the new constitution allows the current Minister of Defense, Sisi, to remain in office for eight years. regardless of who is elected president. And so it begs the question of what would happen if he did run, certainly it suggests that he would have a say in terms of who would become the Defense Minster if he became president and it really reaffirms the military’s grip back on the governance of this country. I think what’s confusing for so many people is this is essentially the use of a democratic process to affirm the return of a quasi police state.”

The referendum gave big numbers to the “yes” side, but it hardly a popular cause, Youssef said.

“I can tell you, Having been here for two years and having covered several elections, that anecdotal the polling stations were not as full as they once were, the ballot boxes were not as full as they once were and the process was not as transparent as it had been in the past, where we had thousands, sixteen thousand monitors in the past, we had a fraction of that number this time. It certainly felt different in the sense of a transparent, open process where there was suspense, if you will. This time, everybody went in knowing the results. And the only question was how many people would come out to vote and how big the margin would be in favor of the constitution. That said, the government position is that the turnout was higher this time than it was during the 2012 vote for the Morsi constitution, with no real independent monitors consistently at the polling stations, there’s no real way to question or validate that number”

The next round of elections still hasn’t been scheduled, but much of the political climate in the country remains on edge.

“We’re still waiting to find out, there’s been some discussion about whether there would be  parliamentary elections or presidential election first. I should note that Sisi’s remarks — [that he would run for President if the people asked him to] that you mention I think were a week ago — are very reminiscent of General Abdel Nasser’s comments, who was the first president of Egypt after the overthrow of the King, he took office in 1954 and he used that language as well. And it’s important because one of the things that Sisi has been trying to do, and the military has been trying to do is to remind Egypt of a time when the military had liberated them, had brought them freedom and an independent state. And so it’s very interesting when you go to places like Tahrir Square, you’ll see posters featuring Sisi’s picture and alongside of it is Nasser’s picture and not Mubarak’s, and so that language of that and in line with that love that many people here have for Nasser. We don’t know when elections will be. We expect an announcement in the next few weeks about that. The original announcement when the Morsi government was overthrown was that we would have elections by February. It doesn’t seem that we’re on the schedule to do that, but you never know in Egypt.”

How do you read the new constitution in Egypt? Is the troubled country finally on a path to established plural democracy? Or stuck in a military-controlled vortex?

Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Tumblr and @OnPointRadio.


On Point Staff Picks Our Favorite Olympic Sports

Admit it:  when the Olympics roll around,  you imagine yourself up on the podium, a shiny medal around your neck, bouquet of flowers in your hand, and  the national anthem playing to a cheering crowd.

The On Point Team shares a list of the Olympic sports, if only in our dreams, will land us on the podium. *Talent is not a factor in our selections.

Tom Ashbrook: Slalom and Super G

Karen Shiffman:  Ice Dancing

Dean Russell:  Biathlon

Eileen Imada:   Speed Skating

Kat Brewer-Richardson:  Snowboard Half Pipe

Jim Keisling:  Hockey

Nick Andersen: Curling

Sam Gale Rosen: Ski Jumping

Julie Diop: Pairs Skating

January 13 2014


Vermont’s Gov. Peter Shumlin: ‘We’re Losing The Battle’

On Monday, Jan. 13, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) joined us to explain just why he spent his entire state of the state speech this month focused on what he called a crisis “of great concern to [his] state’s future” — the abuse of opiates and heroin. It was a moving and remarkable speech that sent many national observers spinning.

During our hour, Gov. Shumlin also stressed how opiate and heroin addiction is more than just a Vermont problem. You can listen to and read the text of Gov. Shumlin’s On Point comments below.

You can also turn to some resources from our guest Caleb Banta-Green, a research scientist and epidemiologist at the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington, for abuse counselling, advice and treatment.

 - National Institute Of Drug Abuse: Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction

- PresecribeToPrevent.org

- StopOverdose.org

“Well really the challenge with this disease is we won’t talk about. Families won’t talk about it, those obviously who are addicted are scared about talking about it, and politicians certainly don’t want to talk about it. And you know, Vermont is a place where we have the most extraordinary quality of life int eh country. We trust each other, we take care of each other, we know each other. And I just felt that it was time for me to use my role as Governor to talk about an issue that does threaten our quality of life and that has solutions if we’re willing to have the courage to address them.

“Like so many other states obviously we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of folks being convicted of dealing heroin and other opiates, we have sen a huge increase in the number of folks who are actually ready for treatment but for whom we don’t even have treatment capacity because their numbers are growing so large. And we’ve seen an increase in crime as a result of people’s need to steal their addiction and stealing to do it.

“Really when you see the story of those who are addicted, and you listen to them it breaks your heart. And you know, these are folks, I’ve got young kids I pointed out in the speech one example of an incredibly brave young man, grew up on his dairy farm, we’ve got a lot of farms in Vermont. Very loving family, very hard working family. Got offered Oxycontin during exams at  10th grade in high school. Became an addict hard and fast. Turned into a full-blown heroin crisis as it so often does. And you know these are lovable, extraordinary people who have a health care addiction, an addiction that is a health crisis now. And I just felt that when you hear the stories, and you realize that these are our kids, these are our neighbors, you gotta address it.

“If we think that there’s not a link between F.D.A- approved opiates like Oxycontin and our heroin challenge in America, you know we’re fooling ourselves. The fact of the matter is, over a decade ago we approved Oxycontin, we hand it out with great exuberance, and once you become addicted to that now, the economics are such that the pills, the Oxycontin on the street, is more expensive than heroin on the streets. My economic challenge, forgetting our hearts for a minute and just thinking with our heads, is that you can buy a bag of heroin in cities south for six, five, four bucks a bag and it sells here for $30 bucks a bag. So you can do the math — there’s a huge economic incentive for dealers to come into our state and other rural states around us, to sell this stuff at a great profit, get folks hooked and build up a clientele. So, we’re fighting a battle that is certainly related to our approval of F.D.A. approved opiates, then leads to cheaper options like heroin once you get addicted. I know we’re talking about the most extraordinary beautiful state in the country, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think that this isn’t happening in all the other 49 states. We’re losing the battle, and my point is, we have to come up with a better way of dealing with it. We can’t arrest our way out of this challenge. We’ve got law enforcement here in Vermont that’s better than anywhere, extraordinary United States’ attorneys, prosecutors and the rest. If we continue to think that we’re can just solve this with just law enforcement alone, we’re gonna lose the battle.

“Tom, it’s really important to remember that this affects all income categorizes, and all families, regardless of income. Now obviously, a lack of hope and a lack of opportunity is more likely to drive you to this kind of addiction. But listen, I’ve got this problem in my areas where we’ve got low incomes folks living, and where we’ve got this problem in areas where I’ve got high income folks living. It can affect anyone. And the interesting thing is, since I’ve raised this issue across the state, I just left my local Chamber of Commerce, Champlain Chamber here in Burlington. You know every time now I go into a crowd of 60-70 people, I have at least three or four that come up to me and say, ‘Thank you, my son’s addicted, my daughter’s addicted. This is our problem, these are our kids, and it affects all incomes.’”

“I have no doubt in my mind that when we chose to legalize opiates in pill form as we see in Oxycontin and in other pain killers, we made a decision to make opiates available in ways that we hadn’t in the past. And if we think that’s there’s not a link between F.D.A.-approved and what people are buying on the streets, then we aren’t looking at reality.

“We all know that there are a lot of reasons that drive addictions. And we’ve always had addiction challenges, whether it’s with alcohol or anything else. I think what’s changed is, that we really do treat opiates through F.D.A. approved drugs as if it’s an option that should be made available for almost any pain or discomfort. And if we’re gonna do that, we have to accept the fact that opiates are extremely addictive. It’s apparently a high that is like no other. And I believe that this epidemic is being drive by a government approach to pain killers.

“It doesn’t work. We continue to lose the ‘War on Drugs’ and at some point you gotta pause and say, ‘What are we doing wrong?’ Here’s what I think we’re doing wrong. With opiates, you have a very small window to convince people that treatment is a better option that addiction. You know, folks are addicted to opiates are the best deniers and the best liars that you’ll ever meet. And the bottom line is, it’s when the blue lights are flashing , when you’ve been busted, when you’re down and out, that you’re most likely to go to treatment. And in Vermont, and the most other 49 states if they’re like Vermont, our court system is not set up to deal with that moment of opportunity. So what we’re gonna try do here is move our judicial system so that our prosecutors have a third-party independent assessment that figures out whether you’re an addict — someone that we should be disappointed in perhaps,  angry at perhaps, but not fearful of — or whether you’re someone we should fear. If you’re someone we should fear, we’re gonna put you through the old court system and lock you up. If you’re someone that we might be mad at or disappointed in but think you can be treated, we’ll offer you treatment right there. And if you agree with it, and then you comply with it, we’re gonna spend the money to follow you closely and give you the services just like heart disease, kidney disease, any other health care challenge, then you’ll never go through the court system.

“You know this is not a cheery subject to talk about. So no one’s saying ‘Hey thanks for being so cheery, Governor!’ But this is what they are saying, they’re saying ‘Listen, we recognize that we have this problem in our community, probably in every area of the country, but I’m pleased that we have the commitment from all of us to work together to come up with a solution to what is a health care crisis and stop the denial.’”

Do Gov. Shumlin’s comments on opiate and heroin addiction ring true in your community? Have you seen what addiction can do? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Tumblr and @OnPointRadio.


January 10 2014


Two On Point Staff Millennials Reflect On Our Show About Them

During our much-rescheduled and really fascinating Jan. 10 hour on how the Millennial generation is “searching for meaning” rather than personal gratification — as is far too frequently reporting — our host Tom Ashbrook made the very astute point that he’s surrounded by Millennials all the time: in his home during the holiday season, at work every day, during his staff meetings.

So what did some of those On Point millennials make of an hour of radio meant to encapsulate and define their personal experiences? Associate producers Nick Andersen, (24), and Kat Brewer, (29), had a conversation about how their experiences differ coming of age on either side of the recession, and how the generational category still ultimately binds them in a broad cohort.


NICK: So, I have to be honest at the start here. I was a little afraid when we booked this hour all the way back in early December that we’d steamroll over some of the nuances of this whole “what do Millennials want?’ conversation that plays out so incessantly in a lot of media outlets. But I think we did a pretty good job asking larger questions about what our generation actually does and wants and hopes for, rather than prescribing fixes to our so-called “narcissistic” tendencies. Plus, Emily Esfahani Smith used social media usage as indicative of a larger Millennial hope to stay connected and interact with friends with loved ones. I tweet a lot, so that made me feel better about my life and choices.

KAT: I thought it was a very fair look at our generation, both our positive and negative attributes.  I also think we did a good job at talking about the diversity in millennials, especially the older vs. younger ones.

I often joke with the under 25 members of our staff that I didn’t have YouTube and Twitter in college and when I joined Facebook you could only have one  photo of yourself, but there are big way in which my life was very different than younger Millennials. I feel so lucky to have graduated in 2007 in a relatively good job market. I had almost a year and a half to get on my feet before the economic crisis of late 2008. If I’d been in the classes of 2009 through 2012, I would have been having regular panic attacks about my student loan debt, not getting a job, and the whole world falling apart. Graduating college is scary enough without a recession. Did you have any panic attacks?

NICK: The recession of 2008 hit when I was in my first semester of college — weeks after I enrolled, really — and I spent the four years after that freaking out. I was terrified that every choice I made was wrong, that all of my passions and interests were a waste of time, that my college degree would merely make me an over-qualified unemployed person or unpaid intern. I realized listening to our show today that your Millennial experience could be so different mine for the very reason that you didn’t have to wait to enter the job market while all these think pieces proliferated in the media about how lazy or self-interested or poorly-educated you were. Was it weird for you to see our “generation” under a microscope as you moved through the first part of your career? Did those criticisms ever make sense or ring true to you?

KAT: Early media pieces about Millennials really didn’t ring true to me at all. For the same reason HBO’s “Girls” doesn’t [Except for that line from the nurse: "you couldn't pay me to be 24 again," that is totally true], because I have been surrounded by thoughtful, smart, aggressive young people who have accomplished incredible things. Maybe because I spent my first five years out of college in Washington DC, which was and still is doing much better economically than the rest of the country, but I have been endlessly impressed by my co-millennials, in technology, in their nonprofit work, in politics and in business.

One way that I’m jealous of younger millennial is their political experience. I have a totally crackpot theory that everyone is defined in a small or big way by the first election they can vote in. Mine was Bush vs. Kerry. No matter what your political inclinations are [as a journalist, I am completely unbiased] I think we can all agree that that election was not a high moment in the political conversation: we were in the middle of two wars and it was the first election since 9/11 and the nation was still dealing with that. Plus, let’s be honest, Bush and Kerry were both pretty boring. And maybe I would have always been a big political cynic, but I prefer to blame the Bush/Kerry election. I hope younger Millennials know how lucky they were to come-of-age politically in the 2008 election. Which was endlessly fascinating, from the rise of Barack Obama, to the fall of Hillary Clinton, to Sarah Palin.

NICK: I’ve definitely thought about that political aspect, and known from my first ballot that I would never have as exciting and interesting a presidential campaign as the first one I voted in. Those were my first chances to vote, and since both campaigns really tried to engage with young people (or at least made token efforts at such), it felt like my voice mattered, even if it didn’t. I was a reporter for my college paper in North Carolina, and I got to interview lots of folks working for both campaigns, candidates for state office, now-U.S. Senators (Kay Hagan, whose daughter had dropped out of school to work her mother’s campaign) — it was thrilling and a totally once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. I know that all those people who canvassed and debating and worked on those campaigns, my Millennial cohort — they’re political junkies for life.

I really liked what our guest, Darrell Kinsel, said about being creative. Our caller made the very astute point that not all Millennials are artists, and Darrell noted that is our responsibility as a generation to be innovative and creative. Of all points in our hour, that’s one I can get behind and agree with.

KAT: I don’t know what our artistic voice is yet, as a generation. I just really hope it isn’t “The Jersey Shore.” Maybe we are the first generation without a singular voice, because everyone has their little niche websites and favorite bands. And the more I think about it, I kind of love that we are the generation that has embraced a cultural “long tail.”

I also loved our military callers. Millennials were the majority of the soldiers on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those are our peers and they certainly don’t deserve the labels “lazy” or “entitled” that often get throw at our generation, and they often get left out of the Millennial conversation.


What do you make of the “Millennial Generation”? Are  you a Millennial? Did our hour speak true to you?

Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Tumblr and @OnPointRadio.

Tags: Blog Entry

January 09 2014


Updates On Vaccination Rates In Colorado; Anti-Vaccine Advocates Speak Out

There are few topics in public health that are as controversial or attention-grabbing as the ongoing debate over vaccination rates and vaccine policy. When our Jan. 9 hour looking at a growing state-by-state pushback against the anti-vaccine movement  hit the airwaves, our phones lit up with people on both sides of the debate.

Parents, pediatricians and registered nurses alike called in to tell us their own experiences with vaccination, while our Facebook, Twitter and comment feeds burst open with heated debate as to whether or not state governments have the right to require families to vaccinate their children.

In Colorado,  proposed new state regulations have required just that. The state, with one of the higher rates of voluntary immunization opt-out, is exploring possible enforcement mechanisms to increase public participation in vaccine campaigns, especially among students in the public school system.

Reporter Michael Booth of The Denver Post gave us a great run through of the state’s domestic politics around immunization.

“Colorado has gone at this on a couple of fronts right now. We did this about a year and a half ago, two years ago. Where they saw that flu obviously is a big problem every year in every state. And they went after it by saying that up to in this following year 90 percent of people who came in contact with people at health facilities — whether it’s a hosptial or a nursing home, — across the board have to be immunized.

There was some controversy about that. Some nurses and other people ho work in those studies did not like being told what they had to do in order to keep their job, but Colorado was pushing ahead on that and saying that it’s clear that people who are vaccinated against flu viruses every year are much better protection for public health, and that in public heath situations in medical situations, those are the very people who should understand that and those employees should be immunized.

Now since then we have continued to have outbreaks of pertussis-whooping cough in Colorado and many other states major spikes in that in the last couple years and now as you’ve seen and as you mentioned, measles outbreaks that are very worrisome to people because measles was really one that was supposed to have been conquered a long time ago.

So now in Colorado and some other states there is talk of tightening up this form that people have that they can, when their kids go to school, say that they don’t want vaccinations, and their kids are exempt from it. This is a very simple process in Colorado — you just sign a form that says you have some personal objection — can be religious, it can really just say ‘Personally I disagree with it or I don’t like it.’ And your kids can still go to public school.

And the way that Colorado and other states are going about it is talking about, ‘What can we do to make that system more difficult?’ If five or six percent of kids are showing up at school without proper vaccinations and getting exemptions, that’s when you start getting to this problem; that’s not whole herd immunity, that’s not enough people to protect us from future outbreaks. So how can we make it, inform those parents and make it more difficult for them to just opt-out. And one of the ways to do that is to make it,  my phrase has been informed dissent.  So that before you make that dissent from what the customary practice is, you have to go through an education process. So that a doctor a public health official person, a nurse would sit down and explain to you why public health officials believe that vaccination is important, how it protects the general public and protects your own child,. And then you could sign the form but you would have to go through that education process first.”

Booth also explained how having a seemingly overwhelming but not universal number of vaccinated citizens can still affect public health.

“That’s the map that you don’t want to stand out on, but we do in Colorado. Depending on which study you’re looking at, somewhere between about five and six percent of students are coming with the exemption, without the vaccinations or at least without proper proof that they on the schedule that public health officials want them to be on.

Now  five or six percent may not sound like that much, you might say ninety five percent of anything must be some kind of public policy success. But the way it works in epidemiology and in medicine is that people come in contact with so many other people that that one person or that small group of people makes a big difference in things like vaccinations in these kind of highly communicable illnesses.”

Booth told us about how diverse the groups of people pushing against vaccination schedules truly can be in practice.

“So we talked to many people and talked to many doctors and nurses who talk to a lot of people, they’re the ones meeting the parents on the front lines coming in and hearing what their objections are or what their thinking is. It’s not just one group of people or one political or social ideology that we’re talking about. I think that people often assume that it’s people who are very distrustful of the government, maybe from a conservative point of view, more Libertarian who might consider homeschooling their kids, do not want to be involved in all of the public schedules of things that they feel is required of them. And there certainly is that group of people in Colorado, and in some of the other states. But there also is in Colorado, a significant group of people who might have a more left-leaning ideology who are very well informed, who have thought about things like genetically-modified foods and what they’re putting into their bodies in other way and they have decided that they feel that that they are risks to vaccinations, that it’s better to expose their children to the diseases that are out there and have them build up their own immunities.

What drives doctors and nurses crazy is they are often latching on to old and very discredited information about dangers of the vaccines themselves and the immunization process themselves. There was a study that was done that claimed there might be a link between the increase of reports in autism in kids to vaccination. And that has been thoroughly discredited over and over again since then, but doctors tell us many times that what they hear very frequently as parents come in us that particular study, it sticks in people’s heads and they’re trying to figure out how to change that dialogue.

It happens in Boulder, CO, also an affluent area, a highly-educated area. I’m sure you would find that reflected in other areas that might not be your first candidate in the other states that are highlighted on this map. So I don’t think that there is just the one pattern. Economically another aspect of this is there really shouldn’t be much of an economic reason in terms of whether it’s affordable or not to avoid vaccinations. We’ve pushed now school clinics so deep into the process of medicine and health care in America, both through things like private health care foundations in Colorado and in other states.  Obamacare put a lot of money into bolstering school clinics. And now there are a lot of communities where not just the students but their families are getting a significant amount of their health care through the school. And that’s a great way for public health officials to make contact and give out free or reduced prized vaccinations and try to figure out if the people they’re seeing having the full schedule. There is an infrastructure available to make sure that his push can happen. Now you gotta deal with the laws and rules in place that make it too easy for people to back out.”

And despite the public health infrastructure and rules, there will always be public pushback against this kind of government instruction, Booth noted.

“There will always be pushback on this, when the government comes through and says, ‘We think this it’s important that you do something and now we’re going to make it even more of a requirement  or we’re going to make it a higher penalty if you font do it.’ There will always be the pushback that it’s government arrogance, they shouldn’t have the right to tell me what to do. They are assuming they know better than I do when it’s my children. And that’s certainly understandable. But I think on the other hand that some public health officials are feeling their muscles a bit more in terms  of dealing with these problems. They’re not just gonna sit back and let the problem get worse. They’re taking steps like requiring the health workers to get flu vaccines and now they’re’re considering this step in Colorado and other states, saying ‘We understand, but the whole point of  public health is to protect the public when the public doesn’t always understand the situation or have time to deal with it.’ They sometimes have to follow mandates when the mandates have been proven to improve the overall health of the population.”

What’s your take on the public health arguments in the ongoing vaccine debate? Have you seen the return of forgotten illneses in your community as more and more people opt out of mistrusted vaccine campaigns?

Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Tumblr and @OnPointRadio.

Your Tweets From The Hour

January 08 2014


War On Poverty At 50 Draws Many Eyes

Our Jan. 8 hour marking the 50th Anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of a ‘War On Poverty’ in America featured a variety of takes on the not-so-ceremonial date remembering the former President’s call to end American poverty in a generation.

LBJ didn’t totally wipe out poverty, of course — the latest figures peg American poverty at roughly 15 percent of the total U.S. population, give or take a few points. And that rate is controversial – Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic says we’re wrong to even consider the poverty rate as a mark of economic growth and individual wealth in this country. His colleague, Derek Thompson (a regular on our sister program Here & Now) says the 15 percent rate nevertheless shows we haven’t ‘won’ the war on poverty.

Professor Michael Katz of the University of Pennsylvania  offered up this fast and fantastic read on the War on Poverty’s legacy for the Oxford University Press’ blog.

In the U.S. News & World Report, Danielle Kurtzlebeen points out that 15 percent figure probably misses around six million impoverished Americans, a figure getting a wide work out in academic circles. The very concept of “who counts as poor in America” gets a much-needed write-up in the PBS NewsHour Business Desk by Simone Pathe.

For a more numbers-wonkish approach to poverty rates in America, our guest Melissa Boteach’s work as part of a team at the Center for American Progress is as good a read as any for the history and context of the poverty debate today. A companion report by the C.A.P. on economic opportunity and the social safety net is also a fine read.

A Columbia University study on the poverty line, changes in poverty rates and supplemental insurance policies is a dense but fascinating read for any piqued by our conversation on this anniversary day. And a buzzy New York Times piece by sometimes-On Point guests Annie Lowery and Ashley Parker on efforts by national Republican Party leaders to reclaim fighting poverty as a main political issue in this midterm election year caught our eye this morning as we prepared for the broadcast.

Our suggestions are far from exhausting — on big national policy anniversary days like today, the wealth of media coverage can be overwhelming. Instead, we hope our suggestions offer a nice place to start as you read up on the nitty-gritty details of an issue that’s difficult to grasp.

We want your suggestions, too: what did you read or watch or hear today about the War On Poverty that really made sense to you? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Tumblr and @OnPointRadio.

January 07 2014


News On The Ground From Baghdad

It can be hard to find a reporter in Baghdad these days. Long gone are the days of the American-led war, when every important international news source had a well-staffed Baghdad bureau, filled with on the scene reporters, local fixers and translators.

So we were very fortunate to have Reuters’ Suadad Al-Salhyan experienced Iraqi reporter, join us during our Jan. 7 hour on the growing crisis in that country’s Anbar province. She gave us a clear-eyed view of the situation in Fallujah.

“We are facing different situations in Ramadi and Fallujah in whole at this time. We have jihadist militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), we have tribal fighters and and at Fallujah, we have a small group from other insurgents, like Ansar al Dine and other small groups. They were breaking into other small groups outside Anbar, but they joined the groups together in Fallujah.”

Al-Salhy also noted that it’s hard to tell just where many of these militant groups in Anbar came from — or if they spilled over from the ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria.

“We cannot say specifically, they just came a few days ago. This part has witnessed many operations and attacks during the last few weeks. ISIS was trying to build its own state on the ground this time by launching high profile attacks on the border towns which belong to Iraq. So we have no idea how many specifically, but we are talking about hundreds of high profile, well-trained militants who cross the border from Syria.”

That surge of militants has fully occupied the city of Fallujah, al-Salhy said.

“Fallujah is still under siege today. The central government kept sending forces to reign in the attacks in Anbar province. There’s fighting in Ramadi, and in Fallujah they’re expecting a big battle will erupt any minute. But there’s no fighting in Fallujah — and even the shelling that was launched by the Iraqi army into the northern part of Fallujah was stopped this morning, when the tribal leaders in Ramadi and Fallujah made a deal with the central government to try to convince the militants to leave the city. In return, the army has not been allowed to enter the city and attack the militants inside the city. There will be talks in the next few days. Right now, they are not planning on launching any attacks targeting Fallujah.”

Reports that some of the weapons used by the Iraqi government have come from Iran, traditionally an enemy, can’t be verified, al-Salhy said.

“We have no evidence that Iranians are involved. But we know that for sure, the Russians are involved for sure. They came out of purchases that Iraq made in the last year — helicopters, Russain helicopters are definitely taking part at this time and because of this it seems like Iraqi are making great progress in Anbar at this time.  Against ISI, they destroyed many big camps that Iraqi troops couldn’t reach since the US troops left Iraq.”

And although the fighting and armed conflict is a mere 40 miles away from the capital in Baghdad, the central government and the people who work for it in the city aren’t worried, al-Salhy said.

“To be honest, no [people in Baghdad are not worried]. Already, it’s as thought it was known and it was expected. Already in the last few months Al Qaeda was showing up every time and planning high profile attacks against the local government in Anbar, in Ramadi and Fallujah and the towns along the Iraqi-Syrian border. And everybody was expecting it was a matter of time, the government hadn’t done anything to treat it. So it wasn’t a big surprise when they took control over the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. They were just waiting for a suitable time to announce their control over these cities.”

During a chaotic and important time in Iraq, we’re grateful to reporters like Suadad Al-Salhy for helping to keep us and our listeners informed on what’s going on.

January 06 2014


Our Long Holiday Podcast Nightmare Is Over

Greetings! For many of you reading, this will be your first day back on the job after a leisurely two week or so holiday break. Welcome back to your desk!

As many of our listeners noted on Facebook, Twitter and in emails, the rebroadcast episodes from the last two weeks haven’t been appearing on their web pages on our site. We checked with the WBUR tech folks, and they determined that came from a missed compatibility issue between our new audio players (which are really great) and the structure of our site at large. That quirk has been fixed, so all the audio lives again on rebroadcast episode pages (like our two hours on this Monday, January 6).

The other issue we got a lot of feedback on during the holiday was the missing podcast upload for those same missing rebroadcasts. That gap had a lot to do with the way our NPR parent people scoop up the audio of our episodes and put them out into the digital ether for iTunes and other podcast subscription services. Seeing as the audio for our rebroadcasts wasn’t getting posted, it seems that the scooping-up process didn’t happen. Many of our listeners around the world depend on that podcast to keep up with On Point. During the rebroadcast holiday intercession, they weren’t able to do that and for that, we are deeply, deeply sorry.

The good news is that, after a quick fix, audio for rebroadcasts is now displaying correctly on our website just as it does for new broadcasts.  The bad news is that we still do not have a solution for including rebroadcasts in our podcast feed.  We won’t burden you with the technical specifics, but rest assured, we are working to find a solution for this issue.  In the meantime, in order to listen to a rebroadcast, you will need to visit the On Point website and either listen online or download the mp3 manually. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

– Nick Andersen | On Point Web Producer

Tags: Blog Entry

December 24 2013


Your Christmas Stories

When we asked for your best Christmas stories a few weeks ahead of our Christmas Eve storytelling hour, we weren’t necessarily sure that you’d deliver.

But deliver, you did. Your funny, touching and altogether beautiful collection of stories moved all of us here at On Point in a big way, and we’re grateful that our listeners are so willing to share these quiet parts of their lives with us.

We’ve collected your stories here, and we hope you enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of the On Point production process. Without you, we’d have no show, especially on shows like this one. Thanks, and Merry Christmas!

Your Christmas Stories


“Christmas 1997, and I am a 21 year old sailor on the USS George Washington, it’s my first time having Christmas at sea. In late Nov. I had gotten an enormous box from my mom, that said, “do not open till Dec 1st.”So on December 1st I open it up, and inside this enormous box are all of these smaller boxes, wrapped in Christmas paper and with a date on it. The first one is this little 12 inch plastic and wire Christmas tree that I put up in my work center. And for the next several days the boxes are these little tiny ornaments my mom had made to decorate the little tree. And then it’s chocolate covered cherries which we always used to eat at home after decorating the tree. And it goes on and on like this until Christmas day – all these things our family shared at Christmas time —- And then the box for Christmas day, I open that up, and it has even more wrapped boxes inside – my Christmas presents from my family. So there I am in the middle of the Arabian Gulf, thousands of miles from home – And my mom sent me Christmas. She sent Christmas to me. And so even though I missed my family that year, that will always be the best, the best Christmas that I’ve ever had.”


“My most memorable Christmas was 1997. I was in the Navy station in Norfolk and for the first time I wasn’t going to be spending the holiday with my family. But some Navy buddies and I left work early on Christmas Eve and we went to one of the dive bars just off base. And by early evening, we had gotten to the bottom of several pitchers of beer when all my friends left to go home to their families. And I didn’t have anything better to do than just stay in the bar. So, um, I woke up Christmas morning all alone. I had a rotten hangover and just a terrible cold, and I cried and I cried and I felt so sorry for myself. And then later in the afternoon the door bell rings-it rang, and it was the FedEx guy. And I couldn’t even imagine how much it must cost to send a FedEx package that arrives on Christmas Day?!? But anyway I opened it up, and it was Al Green’s greatest hits and it was sent from a guy who was in the creative writing class I took a couple of nights a week, and he’d never spoken to me before and I have no idea how he got my address. But it was the greatest gift I ever got – because someone completely unexpected had gone to so much trouble to let me know that I was thought of – and I spent the rest of that day  dancing to ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and the rest of Al Green’s awesome songs, counting my blessings. And I will always remember that.”


“It was a very cold Christmas Eve, 1944, Syracuse, New York, I was 14 years old. The star on the flag in the window of our house was a star for my brother and my brother in law. My sister who was married and three months pregnant and living with us and her husband was flying B-25s in England. My brother enlisted in the Navy at age 17 and was on an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic, we hadn’t heard from them, either boy for a while, and we were very concerned. We came home from Mass and it was very very late. Mom and Dad had gone to bed and I was sitting alone in the living room under the tree wishing so much my brother were there with me like old times. As i climbed the stares for bed I thought I heard his sharp whistle. I thought it must just be my wish to hear it again. I walked up the stairs over to the window, the street light was on and as I looked out I heard the whistle again, and over there was my brother in his Navy pea coat and white sailor uniform looking up at the house. Then I heard my mother call “What was that I just heard?” I screamed “He’s home!” My Dad was on his feet, slippers on and we all headed down to the front door. My brother had made it home. He had made the train and taken a cab up to the end of the street, and he had gotten into Syracuse via train and the taxi let him off at the corner, because he wanted to walk a short distance and surprise us. And he sure did, and it turned out to be probably my very best Christmas.”


“My story is in Schellsburg, Pennsylvania, where I am currently the pastor of the church. I was adopted by some parishioners for Christmas morning the first Christmas I was here, and that has become a wonderful tradition. And in 2009, when my parents were visiting and spending Christmas for the first time with my family in many, many years because it’s hard for a pastor to get away – not only did they invite us to come down to their house, they had gifts for my parents and stockings and it was really quite a wonderful experience, and I’m going back there this year with three people that have become a part of my extended family in the past 6 months. It’s really been quite wonderful.”


“I’m a nurse, two Christmases ago I was working from 7 am to 7:30 pm on Christmas day, and my family, being the amazing family they are, decided to move Christmas to the day after Christmas, so that I could celebrate with all of them. And I will never forget driving home on Christmas night, even though everyone else had celebrated Christmas and the presents had all been unwrapped and people were basking in their Christmas dinner comas. I was driving home from work and I knew that I still had Christmas ahead of me. And I was so grateful for my family and the way they rearranged their schedule and they chose to make Christmas special even for me. Even though it was not your typical Christmas and it ended up being a delightful day. It’s a very simple story but it’s one I don’t’ think I’ll ever forget, and we get to re-enact it this Christmas since I’m working again this year.”


“It was a Christmas Eve many decades ago, I was 7 and my brother was 5. We were in our beds talking about what Santa might bring us. I had this overwhelming urge to look out the window to see if I could see a sleigh and reindeer in the sky, but I didn’t want Santa to think I was spying. I told my brother that maybe we should go to the window to look for Santa. I told him to sit up in his bed, thus, to my way of thinking, if Santa was watching he would notice my brother doing this first. As soon as he sat up i sat up, I told him to put his feet on the floor, and I did the same. I told him to stand up, little brothers are easy to manipulate. Finally I went over to the window and saw a bright red glow two blocks away. I flew to my bed, pulled the covers over my head, then my brother started crying, saying ‘Now Santa won’t bring us any toys!’ The next morning It was a great relief to see stacks of presents under the tree. The following summer it was a hot night with no breeze and I couldn’t sleep. Looking out my window I was shocked to see the ‘Santa Glow’ again. I called my brother over: ‘There’s Santa again!’ My brother looked out the window and looked at me in disgust, saying, “That’s the red neon sign over at the Moose Lodge.”


“My Dad did 30 years in the military. Thanks to the Lord above I did 10, I’m now medically retired. My lovely wife and my beautiful 10 year old and all that. I used to live in Richmond, Virginia before my dad went off to the Vietnam war, ’68-’69, and my grandparents were there, they were in Richmond, Virginia on Maggie Walker Avenue, which is subsequently where other cousins were on that same street. Anyway, my Christmas story is that I always believed about the flying reindeer. And so in our little house in Richmond, Virginia way back in the day when I was in grade school, I probably was like six, seven, eight, somewhere around there, and this was probably in the late ’60s, early ’70s. I looked out my window because I wanted to see if I could see Santa Claus and the reindeer. And so all night long before Christmas on Christmas Eve, I kept looking out the window. Finally, I saw what I thought looked like maybe Santa Claus’s sleigh, maybe the reindeer walking around. Well next day when I woke up, the house was full of Christmas presents. You know our preverbal Christmas tree with the light that reflected the different colors. I figured Santa Claus must have come there, the reindeer must have been walking around in my yard and all, and so I got all them wonderful presents. Of course I know now as my daughter would say you should be believing in Santa Claus, and whether you believe in Santa Clause or not, it’s not that that much matters in all that. Christmas is from the heart.”


“In 1976, I was in my first experience of parish ministry. I went to be the assistant minister in San Francisco, and my Christmas story is about my first Christmas Eve services, which was interrupted by a person who styled himself as Jesus Christ-Satan. He entered the church, which was dark, lit by hundreds of candles, and came jingling up the aisle in long robes, his arms full of things, he had a bull whip, which he cracked on the chancel of the church. He had a dog under his arm who was howling, because he was holding it next to a tambourine, which was jingling. But most disturbingly, he had a can of gasoline. He had come to burn down the church and set the service on fire. And so my story is about how in the course of this service I managed to wrestle the gasoline from him, hand it to the sexton who ran off with it, and as I awaited the expectation of help coming, I managed to keep him suppressed by telling him he could speak at the end of the service. Later at the end of the congregation, he got up on the pulpit and started haranguing the congregation, so we ended early.”


“Last year I went to Vegas to help a friend and we drove to Palm Desert, and I did something I never even thought I would be able to do in my 40 years. Last year, just before Christmas I met Barry Manilow, I’ve wanted to do that since I was five years old.”


“Christmas 2009, I knew I was going to be without friends or family that Christmas, but I was bound and determined to have a great day for myself with all the fixings. Had my chops set for a spectacular turkey dinner, not to mention the turkey sandwitch the next day, it was going to be a solo Christmas but I was going to make it a good one. And I worked a long day Christmas Eve, and I came home really done in. A few friends came by, and after they left I took my recently bought turkey out of the fridge to get it ready to pop into the oven next morning . But as I opened the plastic wrap, I knew there was something terribly wrong. The reek of putrid poltry vapors was indescribable. This turkey must have been left over from Thanksgiving, or something, and gotten in with the Christmas turkey. It was only just after seven so I packed up this offensive turkey in five plastic bags and drove it to the supermarket to see if I could switch it for another. Of couse, the market was closed, there were no cars in the parkinglot no one around, but the store was still all lit up and I had a speck of hope there might be a guard or someone who would take pity on me. I walked up to the store and knocked and knocked on the window, but sadly not a creature was stirring. It’s hard to describe standing by yourself holding a bag of rancid turkey looking in at a huge brightly lit supermarket knowing your Christmas plans were dashed. as I walked back to my car, which was easy to find for once, hauling my plastic bag sack, I looked up to a beautifully clear starry-lit sky and I was overcome with a gush of self-indulgent tears and loathes of self pity. Pathetic, but slowly like the Grinch, a thought occured. Two days before a dear fun-loving friend of my family age 62 had died unexpectedly. And I thought, my friend will never again have the opportunity to be with the warmth of family, to have a brilliant new idea, to laugh and laugh, to suffer the pain of aging, to talk with a friend until things are right, to misbehave, to joke, to work much too hard, or to come home beaten and have his plans dashed. Or to look to up to a beautifully clear, starlit sky for whatever reason. So appreciate well.”


“My mother’s very first Christmas in the United States, being born in Greece, and having a very favorite Christmas carol, and then coming to the United States and hearing this song on the radio and saying ‘Hey they stole our song!’ And the song was ‘Silent Night’ but she only knew it as a Greek song as a child….and the sad truth is my mom just passed away this past week, and I knew how much she loved Christmas and loved this song, so I thought I’d share it with you.”

A listener also wrote in to suggest we listen and share the Vermont Public Radio story of “Favor Johnson,” told yearly on the main public radio affiliate in the state of Vermont. (We talked about that story during our planning meetings for this hour, Doug. Thanks for the great suggestion!)

Thanks to all our listeners for their lovely Christmas tales! We’re glad you were able to be a part of the On Point Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone, and thanks for listening!

December 23 2013


Jonathan Turley: Polygamy Case ‘A Victory For Morality’

Jonathan Turley, a well-regarded lawyer, legal scholar and professor of law at The George Washington School of Law, represented the Brown family of Utah in a recent court case in that state arguing for the family’s right to practice polygamous co-habitation. He joined us on our Dec. 23, 2013 show looking at a case that many see as the effective de-criminalization of polygamy.

Turley explained some basic legal definitions in the complicated case:

“People have been prosecuted under this since the 1950s…There is no cohabitation clause anymore, that was struck down, the court did what we suggested. Utah now has a conventional bigamy law…Many people are confusing bigamy with polygamy. Bigamy is having multiple marriage licenses. That’s a crime that is committed almost exclusively by people who hold themselves as monogamists. It is not a crime that is generally committed by polygamists who traditionally have one marriage license and the rest are spiritual marriages. So what Utah has now is it says that anybody, regardless of the structure of your family, with more than one license can be prosecuted. We have no problem with that. Polygamy is legal. In the same way that homosexual was decriminalized in Lawrence v. Texas. It is now legal to be plural in a family. Polygamy does not mean having multiple marriage licenses, it means having a plural family.”

Turley also cheered the recent ruling as a “victory for morality.”

“Reynolds in my view is one of the most infamous decisions the court has ever handed down. It was filled with rather racist and hateful statements directed against Mormons. The language the courts used was clearly to denounce what it considered to be an amoral practice that it associated with Africa and Asia. It’s an opinion that I recommend that people read, because it’s truly horrific.  It’s astonishing that it has never been overturned. In fact, it is the foundation for what are called morality laws. The most interesting aspect of Judge Waddoups’ opinion is it shows a clean break from our long history of morality laws that banned everything from fornication to adultery to cohabitation.  These are laws in which the majority simply criminalizes things they consider to be fundamentally immoral. This case represents part of a trend in which we’re moving away from those laws and in my view we’re a better nation for it. I happen to think that the Sister Wives’ case is a victory for morality in the sense that it lets every family follow its own faith and values so long as they don’t harm others. For me that’s a victory for morality, and it’s also a victory for privacy. In fact, I think this has a lot more to do with privacy than it does with polygamy.”

Turley further explained the fundamental differences between violation of privacy and legal proof of harm as the underpinnings to both 2003′s Lawrence v. Texas ruling and the current Sister Wives’ case.

“This law violates both the due process clause, which goes to Lawrence v. Texas, but he also ruled that it  violates the free free exercise of religion under the First Amendment. As to Lawrence, we argued that this case is really indistinguishable. There’s a difference between the criminalization of a consensual relationship and the recognition in terms of a marriage. This is very similar to Lawrence, and in the same way that before Lawrence, states could criminalize homosexual relationships. This did the same for people in polygamous unions or relationships. That’s the reason after Lawrence, homosexulaity could not be criminalized, it was legal and we still have the question of whether you want to recognize same-sex marriage. The same is true with polygamy, that it’s no longer criminalized, it is legal to have a polygamous family. We did not ask and we do not intend to ask for the legalization of multiple marriage licenses.

Although I support same-sex marriage, Lawrence does not dictate that states have to recognize same-sex marriage, this does not dictate that the states have to recognize plural marriage. These are two different issues in terms of criminalization  – one goes to the privacy of the home and the other goes to what a state is required to do under equal protection.”

What do you make of the Utah judge’s ruling that polygamous co-habitation should be legal? Do you see legal justifications but moral slippage? Is Turley right? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Tumblr and @OnPointRadio.

December 17 2013


The GOP’s ‘Manchurian Candidates’ And Other Thoughts

Our Nov. 17 conversation with Michael Needham of the influential conservative political group Heritage Action and former Ohio Congressman Steve LaTourette took a close look at the state of the Republican Party as different sides of the party’s base struggle for control of the dominant narrative.

Needham, whose group is credited by some for pioneering the government shutdown as a way to defund and repeal the Affordable Care Act, spoke of the “bold, conservative ideas” that were helping the Republican Party, while LaTourette, a former Congressional ally and close friend of House Speaker John Boehner, accused Needham’s group of helping move the party toward “fratricide.”

Michael Needham On “The Reality” Of The Republican Grassroots

“I think the Speaker was being absurd there. Look the Republican Party is at it’s best when it’s the party of Ronald Reagan: standing for limited government, free enterprise, people who want to start business or go to their jobs and come home to their family. I think that many Republicans woke up in 2001, thought that President Bush had won an election, thought that it was gonna be a continuation of what Ronald Reagan did for the countr,y and were surprised to find that K Street had taken hold of the Republican Party. And now there’s a sense from I think many members of Congress that we’re back in control, we’re gonna kinda let the good good times roll, K Street will continue to call the shots, and the grassroots aren’t taking it anymore. And I think that we are one way that they’re having a voice in Washington, but there’s many other ways, and it’s the reality of the world we live in today.”

Steve LaTourette On The Heritage Action ‘Fratricide’

Heritage Action is not the Republican Party. And I do in fact care deeply about the Republican Party, as I’m sure he does, but  the fact of the matter is that his group, Club for Growth, Freedom Works have engaged sort of in this fratricide, and they’re not going after, with the same vigor, Democrats, who I think get zero or less than zero on their scorecards. And instead they’re inciting inter-party violence in primary elections and threatening to make the Republican Party regional, marginalized party that can have a slim majority in the House of Representatives but never again elect a President of the United States. And you know, cause some candidates to blow up in Senate races — the witch in Delaware, and Mr. Mourdock in Indiana and in other places. And you know, Speaker Boehner’s frustration was, you know, I think he’d had enough. The government shutdown was a stupid strategy. Anybody that mapped it out and said, ‘Well President Obama all of a sudden is going to sign a piece of legislation giving up on what you could argue what was the biggest and only accomplishment of his Presidency.’  I mean that’s just crazy. And to sell it that way to people and to ask them to send you money to fight the fight and support Senator Cruz, that’s what I think has the Speaker frustrated and I think he’s right to be frustrated.”

Michael Needham On How The Heritage Strategy Is Working

“It’s funny to kind of unpack that statement.  What everyone is saying today, is that they’re happy that Speaker Boehner shot us down last week because we’ve had too much control of the House, we’ve had too much influence and now he’s putting us in our place.  A year ago the Republican Party was seven points under water on the generic Congressional ballot. Today, they’re three points over water.  If you’ve improved by ten percentage points with the face of the party being the bold conservatism of Ronald Reagan and the commitment to the free enterprise system that Ted Cruz has, maybe that’s something that we should repeat. We know what happens when big entrenched interests run the Republican Party. And we saw it 2006, we saw unfortunately with this claim in 2012 that if we just didn’t stick our neck out, we didn’t make ourselves the issue, that the people would rebel against Obama and Mitt Romney would get to the finish line, and it didn’t work. Republicans are at their best when they stand for those values that make our country great.”

Steve LaTourette On Why The GOP Doesn’t Control The Senate

“We just want to be Republicans. We want to co-exist with Heritage Action, we want to co-exist with Club For Growth, we want to co-exist with the Ttea Party, we see the Tea Party and the conservative bloc of the Republican Party of being an important part of the Party…that’s the point. We want to be left alone. And you don’t see center-right Republican organizations, like mine, going out and actively recruiting candidates to wipe out or attack or defeat in Republican primaries more conservative candidates. But consistently that’s going on, particularly on the Senate side, and I would argue if it wasn’t for the efforts of these folks, we would have as a party functional control of the Senate, over fifty votes. But that’s been denied to us by Sharon Angle, Richard Mourdock, Todd Akin, the witch in Delaware, and on and on and on.”

Steve LaTourette On ‘Manchurian Candidate’ Conservative Republicans

“That reference of his, that we’re gonna get in the face, and knock the snot out of groups like his, and Club for Growth that continue to put these Manchurian Candidates that are not electable against center -right Republicans, who are good Republicans. These groups have no imprimatur to define who’s a good Republican and who is not a good Republican. And there’s a reason we don’t have one representative in New England, we’ve gone from like 12 to three in New York, and it’s not because we don’t have Republicans. It’s because we don’t have Republicans who can win elections based upon some of the principles that some of the Republicans in other parts of the country have.”

Michael Needham On How Conservative Candidates Are Helping The Republican Party’s Mission

“If we’re going to be fair, it’s the Tea Party, it’s the anti-establishment wing of the Republican Party that is responsible for Marco Rubio being the Senator from Florida.That’s responsible for Ted Cruz — who was outspent twenty-to-one — being the Senator from Texas, who was given a primetime spot at the GOP convention because he’s an exciting new face for the party. That’s responsible for Nikki Haley being the Governor from South Carolina — when she was the number four choice behind an attorney general, a Lieutenant Governor and a sitting Congressman of the D.C. establishment — being the exciting new face of the Republican Party down in South Carolina. In general, when the Tea Party or when the anti-establishment wing of the Republican Party  loses, they still go out they work for the establishment candidate that won, they show up at the polls. When it’s the moderates who take their balls and consistently go home. So when Lugar loses to Mourdock he refuses to endorse. Charlie Crist loses to Marco Rubio, and he changes parties and becomes a Democrat. Linc Chafee loses and he changes parties and becomes a Democrat. Lisa Murkowski loses, and she runs a write in campaign.”

Steve LaTourette On Expanding The Republican Party Beyond ‘Angry Old White Guys’

“If you look at the results of 2012, President Obama should not have been reelected with unemployment where it was. And the fight and the discussion is, and I know Michael has an opinion on this, but the fight within the party is, they would argue, it’s because we weren’t conservative enough, and we weren’t bold enough and so forth and so on. I would argue, that in order to win a national election, you need more than angry 57 year-old white guys in South Carolina and below the Mason Dixon line. and you have to attract other voters that don’t necessarily hue to some of the the messages. Ted Cruz’s message is fine in Texas, Rubio’s fine in Florida. They don’t play so well in Massachusetts. When I got here, we had two Republicans, Peter Blute and Peter Torkildsen, from Massachuseets. We had two in Maine, we had two in New Hamsphire, We don’t have any anymore.”

What do you make of the Republican Party’s internal struggle? Is it as divided as it sounds? Angling for national control? Angry for no reason? Better off than it seems? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Tumblr and @OnPointRadio.

December 16 2013


Chris Herbert Explains Why Rents Are Headed Skyward


Our Monday, Dec. 16 hour on the perilous state of the American rental market hit a lot of relevant real estate topics, but we thought guest Chris Herbert of the Joint Center For Housing Studies at Harvard University had the clearest explanation as to why rents are rising:

“Well, I think it’s a basic question of supply and demand. When you have that many more renters coming into the market looking for housing, and the supply of housing isn’t responding as quickly as it might, that’s gonna push rents up, even if incomes are low. There’s that many more people out there competing for that housing and it will help rents go up.

[Our housing stock] hasn’t shrunk. It’s a question of whether it’s owner-occupied or renter-occupied, and one of the things we did see  meeting that demand was a huge shift of single family homes from the owner occupied stock into the rental stock. SO between 2007 and 2011 we saw three million housing units switch tenure. So that certainly helped.”

Herbert was a lead author on the 2013 JCHS report, “America’s Rental Housing: Evolving Markets and Needs,” which is worth a read if you have the time. Are your rents on the rise? Have you seen the larger market forces at play in your own city, town or apartment building? Was Jimmy McMillan of the Rent is Too Damn High Party in New York right? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Tumblr and @OnPointRadio.

December 13 2013


On Point Wants Your Christmas Stories!

On Christmas Eve we’re airing an hour of Christmas stories – and we’d love to hear yours. Your story of that Christmas episode, or drama, or joy, or interaction that you’ll never forget. We’ll share a bunch on air, and online.

Call us at (617-353-0683) by December 20th  with your Christmas story for On Point. We can’t wait to hear. And Happy Holidays!

On Point associate producer Stefano Kotsonis – a Christmas baby himself — shared our first story.

The first thing to be said about my first Christmas story, just so you, dear reader, can judge the accuracy of my reporting, is that I was there, but didn’t know it.

It was Christmas 1956 in New York City.  My father was a skinny young doctoral student in his early 20s with a cigarette always in his mouth, his mouth still full of the heavy consonants of his mother tongue Greek.  My mother was living La Vida Bohemia with him, excited by New York and life, while her stern Greek father and Scottish mother were up in Montreal, completely unaware she was living with a Greek boy not commensurate, they believed with the with the well-placed marriage befitting her looks and brains.  (Only a young ship-owner would do.)  And they were still weeks away from learning that their daughter was about to give birth to a child.

From their telling, it sounded like a fun, but also burdened, poor Christmas.  My father’s younger brother had just arrived from Greece and was staying with them.  A good thing, but also tense.  My mother and here didn’t share much in the way of English or Greek.  The apartment was cramped.

Still, they got a small turkey and planned a stuffing.  They bought a pint-sized can of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce.

They never got to sit down to that Christmas feast, though, because my mother went into labor.

Those three kids, my mother, father and uncle, so much younger than I am, raced to a midtown hospital. And after some hours and a lot of discomfort and, knowing the times, probably too much medication, my mother bore me.

My parents kept the can of cranberry sauce to remember the Christmas day their family began.  And raised me with all the stories you’d expect of being their little Christmas present, and the forgotten Christmas dinner.

In the years that followed, my family moved a lot –to Upstate New York, New Jersey and then Athens, Greece.  And the can of cranberry sauce came with us, unmarked but for the old, yellowing ‘50s-era Ocean Spray label among the other cans and bottles on our cupboard or pantry.

Many years later, it is summertime, a hot late afternoon in Athens.  Late 1970s –I am post high school and pre-college.  We are sitting around the dinette table chatting when suddenly we hear a boom or a loud pop, or something in that range.  “What the–?” I got up and strode to the pantry.  The walls, the ceiling  and shelves were covered in a red goo.  We stood there perplexed –till I spotted the old can of cranberry sauce, torn open by that cranberry sauce gone bad.”

We’ll collect all your stories and share them, on our site and on air on Christmas Eve. Share soon, and thanks!

December 12 2013


On Point Staff’s Favorite Books Of 2013

This past year was a big one in books, and the On Point staff was lucky enough to read a good number of the year’s literary offerings. Beyond the daily hustle and bustle of our program, here’s a list of On Point’s favorite books of 2013. Hope you find a great read to tide you over through the holiday season, or find something big and deep to start off your 2014 with a literary bent.

– The On Point Staff

“Sweet Tooth” By Jeff Lemire

I’m going to cheat a bit with my pick for best book of the year, in that it’s actually a comic book series that ran from 2009 until 2013 – but that means the final collected edition came out this year. So it’s the first year you can go to your local library/bookstore and read the whole run. Anyway, I nominate “Sweet Tooth,” by Jeff Lemire, published by Vertigo. Most basically, it’s a story about a boy with antlers trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic America – after a mysterious plague has wiped out the majority of the population. The quote I’ve seen frequently used to describe the series – though oddly never attributed to any particular person – is “Mad Max meets Bambi.” I’ll buy that, but I’d call it even more like the work of Cormac McCarthy (of “The Road,” “Blood Meridian,” and a lot more), both in setting, and its portrayal  on the kind of savagery that crisis can bring out in people. In a way though, “Sweet Tooth” presents a response to the kind of rock-hewn hyper-masculine heroes that Cormac McCarthy tends to produce. There’s a focus on the importance of empathy and community  as well –  not to mention that “Sweet Tooth” also includes female characters , unlike a lot of the McCarthy canon. Jeff Lemire both wrote and illustrated “Sweet Tooth,” with some help from guest artists like Nate Powell (the terrific graphic novelist who worked with Congressman John Lewis on “March”).  The art style is sketchy without sacrificing detail – genuinely beautiful, with influences from sources as varied as zombie movies and Inuit mythology. My one criticism of Sweet Tooth is simple: it’s too short, and wraps up too quickly at the end. But that’s no real reason not to enjoy the ride. (And in the world of comics, there’s always an opening for more to come down the road.) – Sam Gale Rosen


“The Twelve Tribes Of Hattie” by Ayana Mathis

Ayana Mathis debut novel, “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie,” follows the incredible story of Hattie Shepherd and her family surviving in the rocky 20th century. Each chapter is centered on one of Hattie’s descendants (eleven children and one grandchild,) and shows the struggling, steadfast matriarch through their eyes.  At her youngest - Hattie is a 15 year old girl – fleeing the stifling segregation of 1920′s Georgia – young, strong, full of hope and determined to find something better for herself in the North. As the book develops we hopscotch back and forth through time, watching as Hattie’s marriage and expanding family ware her away. It’s not a new story – it’s no suprise it’s hard being a mother of eleven, a woman with a no-good, deadbeat husband, or a young black girl escaping her southern roots – but what makes this novel worth your time is Mathis’ writing. Hattie comes through so clearly – you can feel the pain, the hatred, the love, and the faith her family feels toward her. Your heart is tugged along as Hattie perseveres through disappointment, loss, and the trials of life – and emerges at the other end – still standing. — Emily Alfin Johnson


“MaddAddam” by Margaret Attwood  

Ten years ago, when Margaret Atwood first penned her prize-winning novel “Oryx and Crake,” I doubt she thought that, from there, she’d build a trilogy. For starters, in that first novel, she ended the world. But the brilliant woman who built her name on deep and dark works of speculative (science, if you must) fiction like “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Blind Assassin” has a gift for exploring and re-exploring the inner conflicts of our human cultures and experiences.MaddAddam – the finale of her series – embodies that gift. While “Oryx and Crake” told the “last man on Earth” story and “Year of The Flood” – her second – explored the best and worst of hippiedom and religion, “MaddAddam” acts as an origin story. The Earth, redux. After a world overrun with unfettered violence, child porn, corporate greed, and climate chaos ends, another world begins with new, bio-perfected people. Humanoids designed to feel no sexual jealousy; to eat nothing but leaves. “MaddAddam” is the story of them and the birth of their beliefs. It is the story of a people who understand only goodness, coming to grips with evil, still lingering from old world indulgences. Atwood has a magnificent handle of the technologies of our very real world – and she plays out their potentials for the most positive and negative results. It is, ultimately, a sad story. Filled with love and loss; science and warning. And it is one worth reading.* – Dean Russell 

*[Conflict of Interest Disclosure: Yes, it’s true. Margaret Atwood did reportedly refer to me as “cute” when she visited WBUR. And yes, this probably did skew my voting for Best Book of 2013. Deal with it.]


“And The Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Husseni 

I was stuck on a long bus ride in France with my two young children, without any kids’ books or toys.  They were getting bored, so out of desperation, I offered to read them a book I had in my bag, “And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Husseini.  I had not read the “The Kite Runner,” and had little idea what “And the Mountains Echoed” was about.  The book opens with a magical folk tale for children, about a boy captured by a div, an ogre-like creature.  My son was riveted from the first page.  It took about ten minutes of half-listening before my daughter too slid over.  And together we read and read, until the folktale, and the bus ride, ended.  That folk tale was just the beginning of a book that sweeps across continents and generations and kept me rapt until the very end.  – Kat Brewer 


Lawrence in Arabia:  War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Scott Anderson

Ask any journalist or historian:  The art of telling a story about the real world is inherently flawed.  The writer has to give it a narrative thread, a pace, and in the process, has to pare away a lot of the details that are, in the real world, an inseparable part of the story.  (I like to say that a story is like a water glass you hold in your hand –whereas reality is that glass smashed on the ground…all shards you can never put together perfectly, complex, confusing.)  And that is why I enjoyed Scott Anderson’s account of T.E. Lawrence’s time in Arabia.  Lawrence’s story is the story of World War I as it played out in the Middle East.  Anderson folds in several other characters (mostly overlooked by history) who crossed paths and bureaucratic swords with Lawrence and served other nations:  a German diplomat and spy, an American oilman and spy, a Romanian-born agronomist who was an ardent Zionist and, yes, a spy.  Anderson gives the reader a great gift:  the tools to understand for him/herself how it must have been.   He manages to pull the story apart into a thousand pieces and still keep you turning the pages.  In the process, he gives you a great deal more insight into the stories you thought you knew.  It’s not that his story shatters the accepted narratives, it’s that he undergirds them with much, much more nuance.  The reader will recognize human nature (as plain and familiar as workplace intrigues and everyday snafus) as a key component of the chaotic events of the days that built the tangled Middle East we see today. – Stef Kotsonis 


“The Silent Wife”  by A S .A. Harrison 

My best read of 2013 is “The Silent Wife,” a novel by A.S. A. Harrison. Jodi is a tightly wound psychologist. Her longtime partner Todd is a builder with a soaring libido, with a 20-something girlfriend who happens to be the daughter of his best friend. It’s clear from the beginning that Jodi and Todd’s world is about to crack wide- open. This isn’t the kind of storyline that usually sucks me in. But this one did, and I couldn’t put it down. The book begins with a look at the perfect couple. They live in a swanky condo, make cocktails before dinner, and take turns walking the dog. Looks, as they always say, are deceiving.  He drinks too much. She obsesses about her weight. Both are terrified of commitment and have never married.  They keep secrets from each other. Harrison exposes those secrets with the caring skills of a psychologist. Slowly, page by page, she goes deep into their psyches: Jodi’s unloving parents; Todd’s  bumpy childhood.  What emerges is a portrait of a couple that was psychologically destined to come together, and ultimately fail. My own feelings about Jodi and Todd changed throughout the book. I found myself empathizing with Todd’s limitations and wishing Jodi could have picked a healthier partner.  I judged them both harshly, then gently. Every page was an emotional page-turner. Nothing could have prepared me for the shocking ending. In the months since I’ve read the book, I’ve gone over it many times in my mind.  I found myself thinking about Jodi and Todd, and a lot about human nature: What are we capable of when pushed to the limit?  A.S.A. Harrison shows us that the answer is: everything. A.S.A. Harrison died must months before the book was published. “The Silent Wife” was her debut novel. She was 65 years old. – Karen Shiffman 


“The Flamethrowers” by Rachel Kushner 

It feels a little like cheating to put “The Flamethrowers” on a list of the best books of 2013, since nearly every other list I’ve seen this month includes it among the finer titles of the year. But it makes sense, because Rachel Kushner’s tense, tightly-wound novel truly is a remarkable piece of fiction. It follows the story of Reno, an unlikely “land artist” who gets caught up in the heady world of New York City’s art scene in the 1970s. She falls in love — kind of — with the wealthy son of an Italian manufacturing titan, and then everything falls to pieces. “The Flamethrowers” is the kind of deeply researched, elegantly crafted historical fiction that pulls you in and makes you eager to learn more about the real-life people who inspired the events described therein. Curious about modern art? Like fast cars? Find 20th century American and European political protest movements interesting? This is the book  for you. It’s also full of absolutely beautiful, knock-out sentences that could light anybody up. — Nick Andersen 


Melissa Atkins Wardy On How To Shop Smart

Our Dec. 11 hour on girls, boys and toys was a fascinating discussion on gender and marketing. Guest Melissa Atkins Wardy, CEO of online clothing and toy company Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, offered a great list of where and how to shop this holiday season. 

With all the talk about gender stereotyped and sexualized toys, families may be wondering where CAN we shop and find healthy, respectful toys? Here’s my list, with my top tip being: your local, independent toy store.

Here is what I recommend:
1. Shop at your local, independent toy store. They are more likely to carry items made by small businesses and most importantly they put a ton of research and care into toys that will stimulate and entertain the young child. There are never pink aisles or blue aisles. Toys are grouped by category or interest and many toys are award winners and eco-friendly. The staff is usually knowledgeable and friendly and knows what to do when  you say, “I’m looking for a gift for an eight year old who likes science and moths.” Everybody wins!
2. Hunt down specific toys on Craigslist or Ebay. If you are someone who plans ahead, rummage sales in the summer are great places to find toys at great prices. Your kids won’t notice it didn’t come in a box.
3. Shop at your nearest museum or children’s museum gift shop. These can be gendered, but for the most part are focused on learning.
4. Books. Done.
5. Scientific Explorer makes some cute science kits. You’ll see these in stores and some are gendered, but online there is a great selection.
6. What about an experience gift — like a membership to a museum or trip to the aquarium? We’re headed to the Shedd and the Field Museum after Christmas.
7. I like toys that get kids active, like bikes, stomp rockets, sports equipment, and seasonal toys like snow shoes, sleds, and igloo block makers.
8. I babysat for a family who once gave their kids a series of cardboard boxes nestled in each other like matryoshka dolls and in the smallest box was tape, box cutters, string, markers, and scraps from the crafting drawer.
9. Tool box, with real tools. Every kid needs one.
10. Here is a list of some of my favorite places to shop at:
- Melissa Atkins Wardy
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