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The Rolling Stone Mess

[ 188 ] December 7, 2014 |
  • While the it was grossly irresponsible of Rolling Stone to start the piece with specific allegations it apparently made almost no effort to corroborate, it’s also worth noting at this point that we don’t know about whether or not “Jackie” was sexually assaulted.  It has not been proven to be a complete hoax.
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Today in Police Violence

[ 56 ] December 7, 2014 |

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Seattle cop handcuffs a drunk black woman and throws her in the back of a police car. She tries to kick at him. He punches her in the face and breaks her orbital bone. Seattle’s city attorney urges charges to be pressed as the cop committed a clear felony. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg refuses. Cop goes scot free. Woman spends four days in jail because the cop says she assaulted him and messed up his jaw, even though he was determined to have no injuries after an examination. The charges against the woman were dismissed.

This is not the first time Satterberg has refused to charge a police officer for violence against a person of color. In 2011, he refused to charge a Seattle police officer for shooting and killing a Native American woodcarver, saying the law protected the police with few exceptions.

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Happy Bertha-Day!

[ 126 ] December 7, 2014 |

I’ve written before about one of the most ill-conceived infrastructure projects in the country currently–a plan to build a deep bore tunnel under downtown Seattle so highway 99 (currently an elevated freeway as functional as it is unacceptably dangerous) can, theoretically, bypass downtown Seattle efficiently. If this project managed to be completed on time and under budget, it would not come close to justify the project; it will be useless for a majority of users of the viaduct today, as its most common use is to get to and from downtown. Given that the technology in use was experimental–the kind of tunneling machine they’d be using had never been used for a tunnel this size before, and the condition of the soil so close to Puget Sound raised serious concerns–the odds of a such an outcome were, already quite slim for such megaprojects, were surely slimmer than usual for this one.

It was a year ago that “Bertha” the tunneling machine stopped working, around 1019 feet into her planned 9270 foot journey. Since that day, the news about Bertha has been, alternatingly, vague, implausible optimism and alarming admissions that reveal how uncertain the future of this project actually is.  From January to April, we went from “Bertha will start drilling again next week” to “We plan to begin drilling again in March 2015, once we dig a vertical pit to access the machine so we can fix it.” Various theories about why Bertha stopped working were presented as fact, only be to later be revealed as mere speculation. In April, the plan was to complete the new tunnel to Bertha by September, conduct repairs over the Winter, and resume boring in March. It’s now December, the tunnel to Bertha is only 60% complete. This has yielded an admission that drilling might not resume in March–we might have to wait until April for that. As grim as the news is, it’s actually quite lucky the machine broke down where it did, as a Popular Mechanics article reported:  “To be honest, if Bertha was going to break down anywhere, that’s about the best possible place it could have happened on the job—they’ll get her fixed,” Amanda Foley, North American editor of Tunnelling Journal, told me in an email.” Further alone, she’ll be under skyscrapers; access of the sort that’s being attempted now will become difficult to impossible. This raises the stakes a great deal for fixing whatever is wrong with it, of course–it’s not at all clear how the project could be completed if it gets stuck again further down the line. David Kroman has a well done account of Bertha’s (first?) lost year.

The point of all this, of course, was to produce an alternative to the unsafe viaduct freeway. Damaged by a 2001 earthquake, it’s a another Cypress Street waiting to happen.  Which is what makes Bertha’s anniversary news –that the segment of the viaduct near the vertical tunnel sunk and additional 1.2 inches in two weeks in November alone particularly alarming. Earlier this year WSDOT told the council that the viaduct’s sinking over an additional inch may cause serious safety concerns. So the WSDOT spokesman’s line here–“don’t worry, everything’s safe, and we’re going to try and figure out if it’s actually safe ASAP” isn’t terribly reassuring.

One of the many ironies is that this project is a direct consequences of the viaduct’s unsafe condition; other than that it’s an ugly-but-highly functional piece of infrastructure. In addition to being the worst available option for replacing the viaduct’s functionality (a cut and cover tunnel and a surface replacement+enhanced transit option would have served far larger percentages of the population of vehicles utilizing the viaduct today), it was the worst available option for safety as well, as both of those project would have enabled the viaduct to be torn down sooner. The failures of the project to replace it are both ensuring it’ll probably remain up longer, while quite possibly making it less safe in the interim.

Transit advocates are often accused, absurdly, of engaging in a “war on cars”. If we were indeed committed to such a war, I’m not sure we could have come up better with anything than this. The overruns will likely cannibalize WSDOT’s budget, including all manner of road repair and construction projects (some of which are necessary and useful) for the foreseeable future. If, as appears increasingly likely, the viaduct must be shut down before the tunnel is ready, transit will become even more crucial for accessing downtown, and far fewer cars will be able to do so with any efficiency at peak travel times.  Meanwhile, Sound Transit’s tunneling project for light rail, using well established, off the shelf tunneling technology and conservative cost estimates, chugs along ahead of schedule and under budget, and Seattle just voted itself a tax increase to fund more bus service.

 

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Politics of the New Gilded Age

[ 65 ] December 7, 2014 |

There’s a reason that corporations love state regulators and state politicians–they can easily buy them for cheap. Such is the politics of the New Gilded Age, when politicians are as openly for sale as they were in the first Gilded Age. The energy industry is just openly purchasing Republican attorney generals, especially in fossil fuel heavy states like Oklahoma. Companies write the bills and lawsuits, their hacks submit them without even bothering to change the wording:

The letter to the Environmental Protection Agency from Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma carried a blunt accusation: Federal regulators were grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in his state.

But Mr. Pruitt left out one critical point. The three-page letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying.

“Outstanding!” William F. Whitsitt, who at the time directed government relations at the company, said in a note to Mr. Pruitt’s office. The attorney general’s staff had taken Devon’s draft, copied it onto state government stationery with only a few word changes, and sent it to Washington with the attorney general’s signature. “The timing of the letter is great, given our meeting this Friday with both E.P.A. and the White House.”

Mr. Whitsitt then added, “Please pass along Devon’s thanks to Attorney General Pruitt.”

The email exchange from October 2011, obtained through an open-records request, offers a hint of the unprecedented, secretive alliance that Mr. Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general have formed with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year.

The whole story really goes into detail on how beholden these politicians are to the energy capitalists. Only a real citizen movement to retake our democracy will stop this from continuing. We did it a century ago in the Progressive Era that ended the first Gilded Age. We can do it again. But we have a long ways to go.

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Martin Litton, RIP

[ 7 ] December 7, 2014 |

The great environmentalist Martin Litton has died. A radical within what was traditionally a pretty conservative Sierra Club, Litton allied with David Brower to lead the fight to save Dinosaur National Monument from the Echo Park Dam in 1956, a key moment in the rise of American environmentalism. He continued fighting for untrammeled wilderness throughout the rest of his very long life (married for 72 years!). His particular love was the Colorado River and Grand Canyon. That’s a fight that continues to be fought today as some want to turn the Grand Canyon into Niagara Falls.

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Trenchant Historical Commentary on Eric Garner’s Murder (II)

[ 17 ] December 7, 2014 |

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Thurgood Marshall:

Although the city instructs its officers that use of a chokehold does not constitute deadly force, since 1975 no less than 16 persons have died following the use of a chokehold by an LAPD police officer. Twelve have been Negro males […]

It is undisputed that chokeholds pose a high and unpredictable risk of serious injury or death. Chokeholds are intended to bring a subject under control by causing pain and rendering him unconscious. Depending on the position of the officer’s arm and the force applied, the victim’s voluntary or involuntary reaction, and his state of health, an officer may inadvertently crush the victim’s larynx, trachea, or hyoid. The result may be death caused by either cardiac arrest or asphyxiation. An LAPD officer described the reaction of a person to being choked as “do[ing] the chicken,” in reference apparently to the reactions of a chicken when its neck is wrung. The victim experiences extreme pain. His face turns blue as he is deprived of oxygen, he goes into spasmodic convulsions, his eyes roll back, his body wriggles, his feet kick up and down, and his arms move about wildly[…]

The training given LAPD officers provides additional revealing evidence of the city’s chokehold policy. Officer Speer testified that in instructing officers concerning the use of force, the LAPD does not distinguish between felony and misdemeanor suspects. Moreover, the officers are taught to maintain the chokehold until the suspect goes limp, despite substantial evidence that the application of a chokehold invariably induces a “flight or flee” syndrome, producing an involuntary struggle by the victim which can easily be misinterpreted by the officer as willful resistance that must be overcome by prolonging the chokehold and increasing the force applied. In addition, officers are instructed that the chokeholds can be safely deployed for up to three or four minutes. Robert Jarvis, the city’s expert who has taught at the Los Angeles Police Academy for the past 12 years, admitted that officers are never told that the bar-arm control can cause death if applied for just two seconds. Of the nine deaths for which evidence was submitted to the District Court, the average duration of the choke where specified was approximately 40 seconds.

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Officially Sanctioned Hippie Punching

[ 43 ] December 6, 2014 |

Just because you are a police officer doesn’t automatically mean you support the racist killing of black people by your co-workers. There are some Bunny Colvin types out there. Including in St. Louis. But the official disapproval of standing with people fighting against racist law enforcement officials is really strong. In the protests over Eric Garner’s murder going unpunished, a single fire fighter in Providence appeared before the protests in a window and raised his fist in solidarity. This was filmed. He was punished while the firefighters openly mocking the protestors were not. Providence journalist Steve Ahlquist is responsible for the coverage. He’s sad and angry that it led to the punishment of the firefighter.

Commissioner Paré recognized the humanity of the action immediately. It was the sincerity of the gesture and the humanity expressed that made a silhouette with raised fist so dangerous. For the system to work, one side must be strong, powerful and monolithic and the other side must be weak, compliant and diverse. When the strong show tenderness and tolerance or the weak demonstrate strength and solidarity, the system strains to breaking, and punishments must be meted out.

I feel sad that my footage has caused the firefighter censure and official punishment. Commissioner Paré says the firefighter should have remained neutral, but were the disdainful looks or dismissive chuckles of other figures in the windows neutral? Dismissive attitudes also lack neutrality, yet it never occurred to me or the protesters to note such attitudes, because they are common. It seems neutrality is only neutral when it serves those in power.

If in the future I film police officers at protests laughing or taking a dismissive attitude towards the activists, will Commissioner Paré take them to task for their lack of neutrality? Perhaps the police should wear helmets to hide their emotions and mask their humanity. No one can see the tears of a stormtrooper as the trigger is squeezed.

Neutrality über alles.

If this kind of enforced anti-protestor mentality exists among firefighters, imagine the peer pressure among the police.

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Dead Horses in American History (XV)

[ 26 ] December 6, 2014 |

A reader sent this to me, to which I give thanks.

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This is the cover of the February 12, 1898 issue of Harper’s. Thanks to Google Books, the greatest invention since indoor plumbing. You can buy a print of it here. Or you can buy it and give to me as a gift.

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The Price of Poverty

[ 108 ] December 6, 2014 |

Being poor is horrible for so many reasons. Among them is that life’s little inconveniences for the non-poor can be utterly devastating. Getting sick and missing a couple of days of work means you can lose your apartment. The car breaking down destroys your life. Linda Tirado, from her new book on living in the New Gilded Age:

It is impossible to be good with money when you don’t have any. Full stop. If I’m saving my spare five bucks a week, in the best-case scenario I will have saved $260 a year. For those of you that think in quarters: $65 per quarter in savings. If you deny yourself even small luxuries, that’s the fortune you’ll amass. Of course you will never manage to actually save it; you’ll get sick at least one day and miss work and dip into it for rent. Gas will spike and you’ll need it to get to work. You’ll get a tear in your work pants that you can’t patch. Something, I guarantee you, will happen in three months.

When I have a few extra dollars to spend, I can’t afford to think about next month—my present day situation is generally too tight to allow me that luxury. I’ve got kids who are interested in their quality of life right now, not 10 years from now.

Here’s the thing: we know the value of money. We work for ours. If we’re at 10 bucks an hour, we earn 83 cents, before taxes, every five minutes. We know exactly what a dollar’s worth; it’s counted in how many more times you have to duck and bend sideways out the drive through window. Or how many floors you can vacuum, or how many boxes you can fill.

It’s impossible to win, unless you are very lucky. For you to start to do better, something has to go right—and stay that way for long enough for you to get on your feet. I’ve done well in years that I had a job I didn’t mind terribly and that paid me well enough to get into an apartment that met all the basic standards. I’ve done less well in years where I didn’t have steady work. The trouble’s been that my luck simply hasn’t held out for long enough; it seems like just when I’ve caught up, something happens to set me back again. I’ve been fortunate enough that it’s rarely compounded, and I’ve stayed at under sea level for short periods instead of long-term. But I’ve stared long-term in the face long enough to have accepted it as a real possibility. It’s only an accident and a period of unemployment away.

Of course, the rich will say that Tirado and others are just lazy. Sure. No one knows work like poor people. Because they do it, and a lot of it, whenever they can.

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Academic Integrity and Union Busting at the University of Oregon

[ 64 ] December 6, 2014 |

As I discussed awhile ago, the teaching assistants at my alma mater, the University of Oregon, were discussing going on strike over the university’s refusal to provide them paid sick leave. In response, the university threw academic integrity out the window and threatened to allow students to have their current grade be the grade for the course and encouraged professors to give scantron finals. Well, the TAs did go on strike and the university has moved forward with its plans. For one, the university is threatening TAs (or GTFFs as they are called in Eugene) on foreign visas with deportation if they strike. That’s a pretty low blow.

The faculty union has come out in support of their TAs. Here is its statement:

Today, the University of Oregon administration escalated its tactics against the striking graduate employees that will have profoundly negative implications for undergraduates.

The College of Arts and Sciences decreed unilaterally that final examinations and end-of-term assignments will be optional in graduate-assisted courses taught in the Departments of Linguistics, Philosophy, and Ethnic Studies.

If the GTFF strike continues after Dec. 12, the Associate Dean for Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences will assign all grades in the affected courses, based on only a portion of the graded assignments and tests listed in course syllabi. In the Department of Philosophy, the department head and all graduate instructors have been removed as instructors of record. More departments may suffer a similar fate.

This course of action threatens to damage the mentorship between teachers and students, relations of trust among colleagues, and between the university community and the administration. It also interferes with the ability of teachers to do what they do best: to educate students. This harms students who hoped to improve their grades with end-of-term writing assignments and final examinations.

The apparent goal of this attack is to break the GTFF and not, as the administration insists, to maintain “academic continuity.”

Every effort by faculty members and the university senate to deal with the problem of assigning grades during the strike in a manner that upholds the professional integrity of teachers and the expectations set out in course syllabi has been rejected.

Furthermore, because the administration has declared final examinations to be optional, grades will not have the same value for all students.

Such callous disregard for academic freedom and the welfare of students forces faculty and students between a rock and a hard place. Rather than work with faculty to create meaningful options for grades to be delayed, the administration has chosen to compromise the integrity of undergraduate education at the University of Oregon.

I have a bit more information. I was forwarded an e-mail from the Associate Dean of Humanities, Judith Baskin. At the request of the person who sent it, I have redacted the course name this e-mail applies to. It reads as follows:

Dear Students,

I am responsible for ensuring that you receive a timely grade for
the work you have done in [COURSE NAME].

On the Academic Affairs website
(affairs.uoregon.edu/academic-continuity [1]) the Provost has advised
that students in courses taught or supported by GTFs may be given the
option to forgo the final assignment/exam and take their current grade
in the course.

Please be advised that should the GTFF strike continue to Dec. 12, I
will enter the grade you achieved in [COURSE NAME] up to December 1 as
your approximate grade for Fall term. This grade will be based on the
grading information given to me by your Instructor. If you wish you
may accept this grade as your final grade. In that case, you need
not complete any further work for this course and the grade I entered
will not be altered.

* If this is your preference please send me an email to that effect
(jbaskin@uoregon.edu) by date XXXX. Be sure to include your name,
student number, and the course number and name; you may include your
understanding of what the final grade would be. I regret that,
given the large number of courses with which I am working, I cannot
give you the grade I will be entering at this time but I assure you
that it will be based on the information your Instructor supplied for
work competed as of Dec. 1.

*

* OR

*

* You have the option to complete the final exam / assignment as
described on your course syllabus and/or by your Instructor. You may
submit that work either to the Department of [BLANK] or electronically (if this was your Instructor’s
preference) by the date and time assigned by your Instructor. At such
time as your work is graded, the approximate grade will be replaced by
a grade based on all your course work, including the final
assignment/exam. If you have any questions, please feel to email me
(jbaskin@uoregon.edu) or contact me via Blackboard.

Judith R. Baskin, Philip H. Knight Professor of Humanities

Associate Dean for Humanities, College of Arts and Sciences

So there you have it. “You may include your understanding of what the final grade may be.” Great! Tell me you are getting an A and then I don’t have to bother looking it up. And why even bother taking a final? Just go celebrate the Ducks’ victory at Rennie’s! (a local bar) Now this is some academic integritude!

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Should the Disruptive Silicon Valley Overlords Be Welcomed?

[ 252 ] December 5, 2014 |

This isn’t the most important topic, but rather than make this point again and again in comments I thought I’d make it here. Before that, read Weigel and Fisher and Heer’s twitter essay. And now, to set up my discussion, the always-smart Pierce:

So, no, contra Chait, and even though the magazine unquestionably has regained a lot of its lost quality, especially in its actual reporting, I think the notion that The New Republic is “an essential foundation of American progressive thought” is a ship that sailed a long time ago. Everybody I know who wrote for him thought Frank Foer was a terrific editor, and I’m sure he’ll land somewhere, as will the enormously gifted writers he seems to have nurtured, if they choose not to play in Hughes’s sandbox. (There cannot be a 2016 presidential campaign without Alec MacGillis. I simply won’t allow it.) I am as sure of that as I am that Chris Hughes is going to make a complete hash of the magazine he bought as a chew toy. At least this form of malpractice will be less likely to kill people in distant lands. I guess there’s that.

I don’t disagree with any of this, precisely. Certainly, if this was The New Republic in 2003 I wouldn’t really care that it was effectively ending; I don’t care about its brand. But, to me, the regained quality of the current publication is more relevant than what it was publishing in the 90s or early 2000s. It’s crucial that of his list of the magazine’s sins, only Jeffrey Rosen’s (utterly disgraceful) Stotomayor hatchet job dates from after 2004. (UPDATE: And, yes, as a commenter rightly points out, the awful treatment of Scott Beauchamp by Foer.)  Rosen is a somewhat special case; while he does some good work, especially recently, he has consciously seen himself as preserving the tradition of Frankfurter and Bickel, which is problematic because this tradition is massively overrated. (My only objection to Robert Cover’s classic summary of Frankfurter is that it’s unfair to Bobby Murcer, who while no Mantle or DiMaggio was an underrated player in the end.) At any rate, while Rosen’s contrarianism was typical of TNR 15 years ago it was an outlier now, and was in remission even in Rosen’s own work.

The issue can be thrown into sharp focus by Freddie deBoer’s outright gleeful response to the coming of the Silicon Valley hatchet men. My question: which, specifically, of Jonathan Cohn, Isaac Chotiner, Julia Ioffe, John Judis, Alec MacGillis, Noam Scheiber, Jason Zengerle, Rebecca Traister, Brian Beutler, Rebecca Leber, Alice Robb, or Danny Vinik were producing a “warmongering racist antileft trashpile?” deBoer surely can’t be making a guilt-by-association with past editors argument, given that he’s directly cashed paychecks from the former TNR editor responsible for promoting The Bell Curve, “No Exit,” and Camille Paglia. The thing is that gutting TNR is not going to affect the people responsible for TNR’s past warmongering and racism in any way. The only Iraq War bootser who’s leaving is Wieseltier, who’s going to be just fine, and whose writing will not be mourned but his back of the book will be. The careers of Andrew Sullivan and Betsy McCaughey and Charles Murray and (the now repentant anyway) Peter Beinart and Mickey Kaus and Robert Kaplan and Marty Peretz and Michael Kinsley and all of the Kagans will proceed as they were. Michael Kelly, as best as this blog can determine, will remain deceased. The only people losing anything year are some talented journalists who have been doing some very impressive work, and readers who seem likely to be losing one of the increasingly small number of spaces that pay for good political writing.

Many commenters seem to be squaring the circle by just assuming that the departed will easily be able to find similarly good jobs that will allow them to do serious work rather than produce clickbait. I hope this is right, but it seems to involve a faith in the meritocracy of the journalistic marketplace better suited to The New Republic circa 1998 than our actually existing world circa 2014. Serious political journalism has generally been a loss leader. For all its sins, I don’t see how turning the magazine into another traffic-chaser under the aegis of a CEO who speaks Meaningless Buzzword and apparently lacks the attention span to read more than 500 words at a time is a good thing.

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Trenchant Commentary on Eric Garner’s Death

[ 19 ] December 5, 2014 |

Richard Pryor on police killing black people with choke holds.

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