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The First Look Mess

[ 15 ] October 31, 2014 |

I never really understood what Pierre Omidyar was doing with his non-Intercept project, which seemed to involve hiring interesting writers and not letting them write anything. Now we know:

Matt Taibbi, who joined First Look Media just seven months ago, left the company on Tuesday. His departure—which he describes as a refusal to accept a work reassignment, and the company describes as a resignation—was the culmination of months of contentious disputes with First Look founder Pierre Omidyar, chief operating officer Randy Ching, and president John Temple over the structure and management of Racket, the digital magazine Taibbi was hired to create. Those disputes were exacerbated by a recent complaint from a Racket employee about Taibbi’s behavior as a manager.

The departure of the popular former Rolling Stone writer is a serious setback for First Look in its first year of operations. Last January, Omidyar announced with great fanfare that he would personally invest $250 million in the company to build “a general interest news site that will cover topics ranging from entertainment and sports to business and the economy” incorporating multiple “digital magazines” as well as a “flagship news site.”

One year later, First Look still has only one such magazine, The Intercept.

It’s obviously hard for an outsider to judge. It obviously wouldn’t be the shock of the century if Taibbi had gender-related management issues, and it certainly sounds like the meddling from upper management was intolerable:

Taibbi and other journalists who came to First Look believed they were joining a free-wheeling, autonomous, and unstructured institution. What they found instead was a confounding array of rules, structures, and systems imposed by Omidyar and other First Look managers on matters both trivial—which computer program to use to internally communicate, mandatory regular company-wide meetings, mandated use of a “responsibility assignment matrix” called a “RASCI,” popular in business-school circles for managing projects—as well as more substantive issues.

Ugh. Hopefully Alex Parene will be employed by someone who’s actually paying him to write things soon.

Vote Suppression Laws Suppress Vote

[ 22 ] October 31, 2014 |

How about that — racially discriminatory poll taxes have the effect of stopping eligible voters from voting:

A Texas voter ID law considered to be one of the most restrictive in the country is doing exactly what Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned it would do: stopping Americans from voting.

A disabled woman in Travis County was turned away from voting because she couldn’t afford to pay her parking tickets. An IHOP dishwasher from Mercedes can’t afford the cost of getting a new birth certificate, which he would need to obtain the special photo ID card required for voting. A student at a historically black college in Marshall, who registered some of her fellow students to vote, won’t be able to cast a ballot herself because her driver’s license isn’t from Texas and the state wouldn’t accept her student identification card.

There are plenty of stories like this coming out of Texas in the early voting period leading up to Election Day. Texas’ tough voter ID law, signed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011, requires voters to show one of seven types of photo identification. Concealed handgun licenses are allowed, but college student IDs are not, nor are driver’s licenses that have been expired for more than sixty days.

Republicans will stop at nothing to stop imaginary voter fraud, except anything that might affect significant numbers of Republican voters.

The Roots of a Disaster

[ 52 ] October 31, 2014 |

Path dependence in Mississippi:

Where they existed, public services were sparse and utterly segregated. Anything public had to be kept separate from blacks, or degraded, if that wasn’t possible. To get a sense of the scale of white resistance in Mississippi, consider this: During the civil rights movement, white supremacists built a network of state and private agencies to wreak havoc on black activists with surveillance, economic reprisals, and extreme violence. One of them was the Mississippi Citizens Council, and it, writes historian Joseph Crespino, “[P]oliced a white racial authoritarianism that ran roughshod over the civil and political rights of white and black Mississippians both. Because of the Council’s influence, no place in the United States … came closer to resembling the repressiveness of apartheid South Africa than did Mississippi.”

More than a half-century later, and all of this is dead. But the ideas and culture it built are not. And why would they be? For nearly a 100 years, Mississippi was a white supremacist police state. Of course this made a mark on its culture. Of course these ideas of exclusion—and specifically, of racial hostility to outside interference and public goods—are still embedded in the structure of its politics.

Today, Mississippi is politically polarized along racial lines. Whites are Republicans, blacks are Democrats, and the former controls state politics. Public investment isn’t just disdained, it’s attacked as racially suspect.

Which makes it all the more awesome that one of our two major parties is currently organized around the principle of bringing the Mississippi Miracle to the rest of the country.

Look, You Can’t Pretend To Care About Trivial Problems Without a Lot of Abuse Directed Almost Exclusively At Women

[ 48 ] October 30, 2014 |

Shorter Christina Hoff Summers: “It’s about ethics in gaming journalism.”

Easy For You To Say

[ 31 ] October 30, 2014 |

Since Michelle Martin’s excellent essay produced expected victim-blaming reactions, it’s worth noting that Anna North is also excellent on the question of why victims of this kind of abuse feel they can’t come forward:

“Each of the women accusing Ghomeshi cite the case of Carla Ciccone as a reason they desire anonymity. Last year Ciccone wrote an article for the website XOJane about a ‘bad date’ with an unidentified, very popular Canadian radio host whom readers speculated to be Ghomeshi.

“In the days that followed, Ciccone received hundreds of abusive messages and threats. An online video calling her a ‘scumbag of the Internet’ has been viewed over 397,000 times.”

In her 2013 XOJane piece, Ms. Ciccone writes that a man she calls Keith, who “has a successful radio show in Canada,” repeatedly tried to touch her when they went to a concert together, even after she asked him to stop.

Those who speak up about sexual harassment or violence have long been subject to public scrutiny and criticism. But an onslaught of online abuse and threats has become a strikingly common response to women’s public statements — see for instance the threats Anita Sarkeesian and others have received when they speak publicly about misogyny in video games.

Brianna Wu, a game developer, details her harassment in an essay at XOJane, describing death and rape threats as well as threats to her career:

“They tried to hack my company financially on Saturday, taking out our company’s assets. They’ve tried to impersonate me on Twitter in an effort to discredit me. They are making burner accounts to send lies about my private life to prominent journalists. They’ve devastated the metacritic users’ score of my game, Revolution 60, lowering it to 0.3 out of 100.”

Of the effects of this abuse, she writes:

“I woke up twice last night to noises in the room, gasping with fear that someone was there to murder me. I can barely function without fear or jumpiness or hesitation. I’ve been driven from my home. My husband says he feels like he’s been shot.”

It’s easy for armchair warriors who aren’t in this kind of vulnerable position to demand courage from others. Easy, and wrong, and deeply offensive.


A Partial Defense Of Martha Coakley

[ 35 ] October 30, 2014 |

Brother Pierce makes two eminently fair points here. First of all, while there’s no excuse for a Democrat losing a statewide election for federal office in Massachusetts, Republican governors have been more the exception than the rule in the Bay State. So, it’s entirely possible that she’s running a decent campaign this time in a way she didn’t in 2010; Charles says she is and I’m obviously in no position to contradict him.

In addition, none of my previous snark should be construed as an argument that Democrats should abandon Coakley or reflect any sympathy for the Globe endorsing her opponent. As Tomasky said in re: the 2000 campaign:

Second, some voted for Nader because they just weren’t inspired by Gore personally. Fine. But it should be obvious today that a candidate’s personality is one of the last things serious people ought to be thinking about…And that’s only the stuff you hear about. In every agency of government, at every level, there are political appointees who are interpreting federal rules and regulations and deciding how much effort will really be put into pursuing federal discrimination cases, for instance, or illegal toxic dumping. These are the people who are, in fact, the federal government. The kinds of people who fill those slots in a Democratic administration are of a very different stripe than the kinds who fill them during a Republican term, and the appointments of these people have a bigger effect on real life than whether Al Gore sighs too heavily or speaks too slowly.

Yes, yes, the stakes are lower in a state election. But a lot of people get hurt when Republicans are in charge of enforcing laws even if a Democratic legislature can limit the statutory damage.

“Do you know about Jian?”

[ 63 ] October 30, 2014 |

To follow up on my earlier post on prominent ex-CBC radio host and twelfth-rate topical songwriter Jian Ghomeshi, there are now 8 women who have accused him of sexual assault and/or harassment. Should he be criminally prosecuted, he is entitled to due process and the formal presumption of innocence. But the idea that all 8 of these women are lying is too absurd to be worth a moment’s consideration outside that context. In addition, his less-than-frivolous lawsuit would be comical if it weren’t so obviously designed to intimidate his victims under a legal shield.

For your must-reading, I present Melissa Martin’s essay:

Still, the follow-up question, then, the one I keep seeing asked: if so many people knew, why didn’t anyone stick their neck out to stop it?

My question is: would you?

Would you, if you had nothing besides stories that weren’t yours, little things you’d seen, a million tiny red flags that quietly added up to make you feel unsafe? Would you, if sticking your neck out meant publicly taking on one of the most influential people in the Canadian media landscape, someone with more money than you, more lawyers, more protection from his fame? Would you, if you knew that with a few carefully maneuvered cocktail meetings, a few woe-is-me turns of phrase, this person could quietly ensure that you didn’t work in that big town again?

Oh, please. “You see, officer, there was just something about the way he pressed himself against her back, about the way her body tensed and she tried to step away from that… and then my friend asked if I knew about Jian…”

No, no you wouldn’t stick your neck out there. Besides, there was nobody really to listen, nobody to tell it to.

But, really, read the whole thing.

That Kind of Luxe Just Ain’t For Us

[ 38 ] October 30, 2014 |

Should the Mariners ever get to a World Series, I hope it’s not against Madison Bumgarner and Bruce Bochy. (Pedro against Cleveland in 1999 is the analogy that came to mind while it was happening, and still seems appropriate.) Congrats to the Giants.

My initial reaction, in absence of a decent replay, was that Gordon should have tried to score, particularly given that Perez was pretty much drawing dead (I’m surprised he laid off even 2 of the relentless parade of balls Bumgarner smartly threw him.) But I was wrong; he made the right play. I also agree with Jeer9 that the positioning of Juan Perez that allowed him to get what looked like a sure base hit off Aoki’s bat was an underrated huge play in the game.

Game 7

[ 113 ] October 29, 2014 |

Let’s hope it’s good. The Bumgarner question is particularly interesting; since I’m rooting for Kansas City I hope he doesn’t get into the game with a lead.

Purge the Voters of Color!

[ 83 ] October 29, 2014 |

Why, it’s almost enough to make me think that Republican vote suppression has nothing to do with “fraud”:

But this doesn’t explain the Republican-led push to end or limit same-day registration (condemned by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a “trick”) and early and weekend voting, procedures used most by minorities, black Americans in particular. Nor does it explain an incredible effort just uncovered by Al Jazeera America that could shift the direction of the midterm elections.

According to a six-month-long investigation conducted by Greg Palast for Al Jazeera, “voting officials in 27 states, almost all of them Republicans, have launched what is threatening to become a massive purge of black, Hispanic, and Asian-American voters. Already, tens of thousands have been removed from voter rolls in battleground states, and the numbers are set to climb.”

Specifically, officials have a master list of 6.9 million suspected “potential double voters.” And in Virginia, Georgia, and Washington the lists are “heavily over-weighted with names such as Jackson, Garcia, Patel, and Kim,” all common to Democratic-leaning minority groups.

The process for checking those names, a computer program called Crosscheck—touted by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a vocal supporter for voter identification—is incredibly inaccurate. “The actual lists,” notes Al Jazeera America, “show that not only are middle names mismatched, and suffix discrepancies ignored, even conflicting birthdates are disregarded. Moreover, Crosscheck deliberately ignores any Social Security mismatches, in the few instances when the numbers are even collected.”

Given the tight races in Georgia and other battleground states, even a small number of false positives could turn the tide of an election, giving a strong advantage to Republican candidates for statewide and congressional offices.

Well, it worked for them in 2000, so why stop?

A Disgrace Even By Roberts Court Standards

[ 48 ] October 29, 2014 |

The effects of John Roberts re-writing the ACA’s Medicaid expansion are felt in Mississippi:

Even the law’s vaunted Medicaid expansion, meant to assist those too poor to qualify for subsidized private insurance, was no help after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out. Bryant made it clear Mississippi would not participate, leaving 138,000 low-income residents, the majority of whom are black, with no insurance options at all. And while the politics of Obamacare became increasingly toxic, the state’s already financially strapped rural hospitals faced a new crisis from the law’s failure to take hold: They had been banking on newly insured patients to replace the federal support for hospitals serving the uninsured, which was set to taper off as people gained coverage. Now, instead of more people getting more care in Mississippi, in many cases, they would get less.

“We work hard at being last,” said Roy Mitchell, the beleaguered executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, when we met in Jackson. “Even a dog knows the difference between being tripped over and being kicked.”

This reflects an infliction of pain and suffering and death than was eminently avoidable. If you’ll forgive me for reiterating, it’s nearly impossible to overstate how terrible this decision was. It would be one thing if this denial of access of medical care to millions of people was enforcing some explicit constitutional provision, but it wasn’t. If this judicially invented limitation at least protected some meaningful individual liberty interest it might be a little more understandable, but it doesn’t. At best, the lives of millions of people have been made worse — with consequences up to and including death — in order to prioritize inferential states’ “rights” over human rights.

But here’s the kicker: Sebelius does not even provide any significant protection for state autonomy. Congress remains free to create a Medicaid program that requires everyone up to 138% of the federal poverty line to be covered and makes all Medicaid funding contingent on meeting these conditions.  It simply would have to structure it by formally repealing the previous Medicaid and replacing it with “Medicaid II: The Quest For Ron Paul’s GOLD,” thus evading the Supreme Court’s newly minted requirement that existing funding can sometimes be made contingent on accepting new conditions and sometimes can’t and we’ll let you know ex post facto whether this completely arbitrary line has been crossed. Congress can pursue identical means with identical ends; the ACA’s constitutional Medicaid expansion is not different in any substantive way whatsoever from the hypothetical constitutional Medicaid II. The state interest being protected here doesn’t even rise to the level of being trivial.

The fact that so much misery was created for so little should permanently shame the justices who voted for it. It’s judicial review at its least defensible.


[ 25 ] October 29, 2014 |

As it happens, Frank Bruni’s tenure as an op-ed columnist  (not to mention his tenure as a reporter) is an excellent rebuttal to the assertion that once you eliminate tenure you will then eliminate mediocrity.

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