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NAWIC

[ 21 ] March 1, 2015 |

A couple weeks ago, Miriam and Elisha attended a National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) builder’s workshop at their elementary school.  For me, this offered the opportunity to drop them off for an hour and drink in peace.  For them, it meant a chance to enter a school-wide competition with a lot of their friends, as well as to play with Legos.  Neither Miriam nor Elisha are huge Lego builders at this point, although they enjoy playing with things that are already built.  We’ve had a bit more success with Lincoln Logs, which I was surprised to discover still existed.

Each kid received a few Legos, a sheet of aluminum foil,  a piece of string, and instructions to build a project related to the construction industry. Parents were excluded from the cafeteria in order to ensure that the kids worked on their own. There was a lot of variance in how long it took the kids to finish; many were more interested in playing in the gym downstairs than in building. The kids were allotted about forty-five minutes; Miriam took 35, and Elisha was one of the last in the school to conduct an exit interview with the judges.

Initially, Elisha explained to me that she had built a milk machine. This didn’t seem to have much relation to the construction industry (her sister built a mountain), and so I pretty much wrote off her chances.  When we were allowed in the exhibition room, she showed me her entry, and it was hard to tell precisely what it was.

10846075_10155145391210265_3278727000891471822_nAnd so I was surprised when the judges announced that Elisha had won first place in her age group (K-1), and even more surprised when they announced that she had won the overall competition.

Turns out that Elisha’s had thought through her entry in more depth than I had imagined.  She had initially intended to build a giraffe, but decided that it was too difficult and would take too much time.  The backup, a “milk machine,” was actually a milk processing plant, with the foil representing a big pond of milk, the string a pipeline, and the blocks the various stages of processing and distribution.  At the end of the picture you can see crumpled foil being sent out on trucks for delivery.

The engineers in attendance found this explanation particularly compelling.  After raining a variety of gift certificates on Elisha, one of the judges tried to explain the terms “mechanical engineering” and “electrical engineering.” I don’t think that she was paying any attention, having decided that the biggest achievement of the evening was outdoing her sister.

For her part, Miriam’s initial reaction was not positive.  She was irritated that she hadn’t won, and more irritated that her sister had won.  But she held it together; no falling apart. This was a respectable disappointment, focused not on the judges or the structure of the competition, but on an unhappiness that she hadn’t done better.  Over the next few days her attitude evolved, and her sister’s victory became a point of pride in conversation with people outside the family.

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Memorializing Slavery

[ 107 ] March 1, 2015 |

The fact that a wealthy white man would buy an antebellum Louisiana sugar plantation and turn it into a no punches pulled museum on slavery, the first museum dedicated wholly to slavery in the United States (the U.S. has the Holocaust Museum despite no appropriate museum dealing with its own genocidal projects) is remarkable and an obvious must visit the next time I am in the area.

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This Day in Labor History: March 1, 1936

[ 16 ] March 1, 2015 |

On March 1, 1936, Boulder Dam (both prior and later known as Hoover Dam) was turned over to the federal government for operation. Examining the labor of its construction is a useful window into conditions of work during the early years of the Great Depression.

The dream of damming the Colorado River went back to the nineteenth century. Ever since John Wesley Powell’s 1869 expedition down the river, Americans had saw the water resources of the Colorado River as potentially fueling the growth of an American empire in the desert southwest. As California rapidly grew in the early 20th century and as Arizona and other western states became first tuberculosis treatment sites and then tourist and residential attractions of their own, the need for water grew. A big dam on the Colorado River could provide electricity and regulated water for agriculture though much of the Southwest. The ideal site was Black Canyon on the Nevada-Arizona border.

The employment needs of the Great Depression brought new interest in building the dam. President Hoover responded poorly to the Depression, but the building of Hoover Dam was a useful public works project, even if it did not put a meaningful dent in the nation’s economic problems. Plus whatever credit you might want to give Hoover for even this, the dam was authorized during the Coolidge administration. The government contracted out for its construction with Six Companies. This single company was a conglomeration of building companies that merged to attract the winning bid. The builders had a concrete reason to get the dam built quickly–they would be charged for every day they were late. This would lead to the exploitation of workers and unsafe working conditions. This started with a 2 1/2 year deadline to divert the river.

The dam was authorized in 1928 and construction started in 1930. Doing something as profound as diverting the Colorado River in a tight canyon would require remarkable engineering and a lot of workers. There were 21,000 total workers on the building of the dam over the years. At its peak, over 5000 were laboring on it. If one job experience ties these workers together, it was the heat. The Lower Colorado River is scorching hot. Black Canyon is one of the hottest areas of the United States. In the summer, temperatures reach 120 degrees. Yet in the winter, it can be bitterly cold. Workers made 50 cents an hour, with more for skilled labor. Workplace dangers were ever-present. Blasting through rock to divert the river kept lives at risk. Carbon monoxide was a huge problem. Electrocution was something workers always had to worry about.

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Building Hoover Dam

Entering into this situation was an IWW organizer named Fred Anderson. By the early 1930s, the IWW was a shell of its former self, having never recovered from the oppression of the World War I, changing ideological, political and cultural conditions, and the infighting that destroyed the remnants of the union over the class war prisoner releases in the 1920s. But in isolated circumstances when workers had no other options, the IWW could cause problems for employers. Anderson didn’t make all that much headway with the workers because they were fearful of IWW radicalism and of losing their jobs. Some of the workers had also previously dealt with IWW actions in Idaho (which is probably the state the Wobblies were most relevant in during these years) and had disliked the confrontational strategies of the union. But the companies were scared of Anderson and he, as well as seven other Wobblies, was jailed in Las Vegas on vagrancy charges, which long were used against any working person challenging labor exploitation.

But Anderson’s work and increasing dissatisfaction on the job did lead to workplace organizing and on August 7, 1931, when Six Companies reassigned some tunnel blasters to lower paying work, workers went on strike not only to get those workers their jobs back, but in protest against the working conditions. They demanded clean and cold water and flush toilets and that Six Companies obey the mining laws of Arizona and Nevada. They also wanted a safety officer placed at each tunnel in order to help save workers’ lives. This was pretty risky given it was 1931 and Las Vegas had thousands of people desperate for jobs in a society where Hoover was not doing anything to employ the masses. The bosses rejected all of these demands outright and an appeal to the Secretary of Labor failed as well. The strike collapsed, achieving nothing immediately. But it did convince Six Companies to start providing better water and toilet facilities and to speed up the construction of worker housing, which had lagged significantly and which had forced workers to live in tents in the scorching desert. Interestingly, in the strike, the workers openly distanced themselves from the IWW or any organized union. A strike committee member told a reporter, “We wish to make it plain that the strike has nothing to do with the IWWs or the United Mine Workers. It is a matter distinctly among the workmen on the project. We’re not Wobblies and don’t want to be classed as such.”

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The 1931 strike

The contract with the government only required the Six Companies hire citizens and no “Mongolians,” i.e., Chinese. The first 1000 workers hired were all white. This led the Colored Citizens Labor and Protective Association of Las Vegas to protest in 1931. Caring only about getting the dam built in time to avoid the financial penalties, Six Companies wanted to do nothing that would make workers angry and impede construction. So it made work at the dam de facto white to create racial solidarity and ensure continued work. Finally, 24 African-Americans were hired to work in the gravel pits on the Arizona side of the river, which was the hottest and hardest labor on the project. But African-Americans could not break into these jobs with any more success than this. They also could not live in worker housing and so had to travel over the bad road to their homes in Las Vegas back and forth each day.

The hardest and most dangerous labor took place in the blasting of the tunnels. Ninety-six workers died total on the job, although sometimes death tolls are listed as high as 112 if those who perished before the dam started construction are included (such as those exploring the canyon doing preliminary work). Of those, 46 died of carbon monoxide poisoning, but they were classified as deaths from pneumonia in order to avoid workers’ compensation claims.

The dam was handed over to the federal government two years ahead of schedule. Six Companies would go on to build dams across the West, including Bonneville and Grand Coulee. To what extent not speeding up work and ensuring safer working condtions would have saved workers’ lives will never be known.

This is the 134th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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FattyGate

[ 80 ] February 28, 2015 |

I think it will come as a shock to no one that a movement as misogynistic and transphobic (and, oh yeah, craaaaazy racist) as GamerGate also places A LOT of stock in fat-shaming. Hey! Did you know that all women who oppose GamerGate are fatty-fat-fat non-gamers?

Well, they are.

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“Because I Will Sign a Right to Work Bill, I Could Personally Have Defeated the Nazis”

[ 94 ] February 28, 2015 |

At one time, I was really worried about Scott Walker becoming president. But with each passing day, it’s increasingly clear that this is a person not ready for prime time. Instead, this is Sarah Palin in a tie. Just one of many examples:

In response to a question from an audience member at at the Conservative Political Action conference earlier in the evening, Walker brought up the massive protests in Wisconsin in 2011 over a law he signed stripping public-sector unions of their power to collectively bargain.

“I want a commander-in-chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threat from radical Islamic terrorists do not wash up on American soil. We will have someone who leads and ultimately will send a message not only that we will protect American soil but do not take this upon freedom-loving people anywhere else in the world,” Walker said. “We need a leader with that kind of confidence. If I can take on a 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”

Following the remarks, the National Review’s Jim Geraghty wrote that he took no pleasure in defending the union protesters, but that Walker gave a “terrible response” to the Islamic State question. A spokeswoman for Walker’s political committee later sent Geraghty a statement downplaying the governor’s mention of the protesters.

“Governor Walker believes our fight against ISIS is one of the most important issues our country face,” the statement to Geraghty from Walker spokeswoman Kristen Kukowski said. “He was in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS. What the governor was saying was when faced with adversity he chooses strength and leadership. Those are the qualities we need to fix the leadership void this White House has created.”

In an interview with Bloomberg Politics’ Mark Halperin and John Heilemann after the CPAC speech, Heilemann gave Walker a golden opportunity to deny that he was equating violent extremists with union protesters.

“You’re not actually comparing ISIS terrorists to the protesters in Wisconsin, right?” Heilemann asked him. “You’re not trying to make that comparison in either direction, that the protesters are equivalent to terrorists or that the terrorists are equivalent to protesters?”

“Not by a landmine — by a landslide out there difference, a Grand Canyon-sized difference,” Walker replied. “My point was just if I can handle that kind of pressure, that kind of intensity, I think I’m up for the challenge for whatever might come if i choose to run for President.”

I guess his strategy is to say as many crazy things as possible to win the Republican nomination and then assume the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson will buy him the job with hundreds of millions in negative ads. But there’s way too much he can’t walk back here and thinking about this man facing Hillary Clinton in a debate makes me laugh. Of course, it’s entirely possible his strategy could work.

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin and International Conceptions of Race in America

[ 2 ] February 28, 2015 |

Interesting essay on the influence of the racial stereotypes in Uncle Tom’s Cabin on German conceptions of American racial issues.

For Jim O’Loughlin, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a popular artefact through which changing concerns about race and nationhood can be understood, because it served as an ‘agent of cultural change for almost one hundred years.’[xi] Since this novel and its adaptations became one of the early examples for the mass circulation of popular culture, this is almost as true internationally as it is in the United States. But the process whereby Uncle Tom’s Cabin was brought to international audiences meant its racist stereotypes were not necessarily accompanied by the original novel’s redeeming feature – its antislavery message. The international cultural memory of American history presented Uncle Tom’s Cabin continues to rely on such stereotypes, which are damaging because of their clichéd contemporary familiarity.

A sense of disconnect therefore exists between the historical evaluation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the contemporary willingness to use ‘Uncle Tom’ as a politicised rhetorical device. A historical lens enables readers to at once understand the novel as a flawed product of its time and an important agent of social change. Stowe’s personal commitment to antislavery went hand in hand with the dissemination of racist stereotypes that were nonetheless common in nineteenth-century America, but the contemporary reiteration of such stereotypes in America and abroad is not an innocuous mistake. History is intrinsic to making any meaning of the phrase ‘Uncle Tom’, so those who mobilise it understand its racist legacy. This does not overlook the historical foundations of such epithets, but in fact shows a willingness to mobilise a history of chattel slavery and racial hierarchy for political gain.

As David S. Reynolds writes, ‘We may hope for a time when America is, in President Barack Obama’s phrase, “beyond race,” when we can erase the negative usage of Uncle Tom because it is inapplicable to social reality.’ Yet Obama himself perhaps most prominently continues to experience the legacy of nineteenth-century popular culture in a way that debunks the myth of a post-racial America. The recent Sony hacks, where executives speculated over whether Obama would like films such as Django Unchained (2012) and 12 Years a Slave (2013), the latter based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 slave narrative of the same name, show how history and popular culture are very much linked to the expression of racism in America.[xii] The Uncle Tom’s Cabin phenomenon, the success of which was intrinsically linked to the expansion of mass culture across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, demonstrates the degree to which national prejudices can be naturalised, rather than critiqued, through international circulation. When transported beyond the United States, the racism within American popular culture has subsequently been used to undermine a president beyond American borders. Uncle Tom’s Cabin remains at the locus of the referential network upon which this political rhetoric continues to be built.

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De-tenuring

[ 47 ] February 28, 2015 |

A disturbing proposal out of Tennessee. In response to continued decreases in state funding of higher education, the Board of Trustees has announced cost cutting and revenue raising plans that are terrible for both students and faculty but fairly expected. And tacked on is something very weird and upsetting:

Tenure and post-tenure review process: To be conducted by UT System Administration and with involvement by the Faculty Council, to look at awarding of tenure, post-tenure compensation and enacting of a de-tenure process.

A de-tenure process? First, what on earth does that have to do with the funding crisis? The answer is of course nothing but a university shock doctrine, with the Board using financial problems in order to gain power over professors. What would call for the loss of tenure? It’s unstated at this time, but one assumes the answer is anything that a provost or professor doesn’t want professors to say would be one likely category.

More here as the war on faculty continues.

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Profiles in rent-seeking: College athletics edition

[ 175 ] February 28, 2015 |

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The athletic directors and the commissioner of the Big 10 conference are very, very, very concerned about putting the education of their unpaid quasi-professional athletes students who participate in extra-curricular activities first. Very concerned. How concerned? This much:

“While we are comfortable generating multiple ideas about an ‘education first’ approach to intercollegiate athletics in the twenty-first century, we won’t go it alone on any of these matters,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in the statement. “We look forward to working with our colleagues in the NCAA Division I governance structure, and to exploring a broad exchange of ideas from both inside and outside of intercollegiate athletics.”

ESPN.com had previously reported that the Big Ten had begun internal discussions about making all or some freshman athletes ineligible, a measure that would have the greatest effect on the current one-and-done climate in college basketball.

Delany, who was getting paid just $1.8 million by the conference two years ago, and who is strongly opposed to college football and basketball players having their salaries raised from their current level of $0.00, was walking back those reports, since even the rumor that the conference was considering such a proposal was already being used against the conference’s football and men’s basketball teams (the two sports that make all the money) by coaches from other, less educationally-serious conferences.

But the conference is very serious about education. How serious? This serious:

Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said he believes in the NCAA policy that prohibited freshmen participation before a 1972 reversal.

“I, for one ,as a Big Ten AD, am tired of being used as a minor league for professional sports,” Burke said. “What was right for the NCAA in the first 70 years of its history, maybe we ought to go back and say, ‘What’s changed?'”

Among Big Ten leaders, he said, a consensus exists to “get education back on the proper platform.”

What’s changed? Oh it is a deep and abiding mystery. Or is it?

Gaze upon my balance sheets, ye mighty, and despair:

Salary of Michigan athletic director Don Canham in 1980 (Canham at this point was the most successful AD in the country, having transformed Michigan’s athletic department into the most profitable revenue-enhancing in all of college sports): $54,000

Salary of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler in 1980 (Schembechler had the highest winning percentage of any college football coach during the 1970s): $105,000

You can multiply these numbers by 2.87 to account for inflation.

Salary of Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon in 2014-15: $900,000 base, $175,000 in deferred comp, up to $200,000 in performance bonuses.

Salary of new Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh: $7,000,000.

Brandon won’t be collecting any performance bonuses this year, as he pulled off the astonishing feat of doing such an atrocious job that he got several hundred students to march on the university president’s house demanding he be fired, which he subsequently was. He will collect several million dollars in severance pay, however, because The Market. (An amusing account of some of his follies can be found here). My favorite detail of Brandon’s contract is that he and his wife got the free use of dealer-provided cars, with the dealers paying not only for the cars, but for registration and license plates, while the university was left on the hook for insuring the vehicles, as well as for the cost of “routine oil changes.” (BTW Brandon is the ex-CEO of Domino’s Pizza, and had, conservatively speaking, a net worth well into the tens of millions of dollars, before he took a job with a seven-figure salary that also covers the cost of routine oil changes for his free cars).

And Brandon wasn’t even in the top quarter of Big 10 AD pay last year, as the athletic directors at Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin were all pulling down more than one million dollars in base pay alone.

Those salaries in turn pale in comparison to the $3.24 million being paid two years ago to what might — might — be the highest-paid law professor in the land, Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams (Williams also has an appointment on the Vanderbilt law faculty, which should provide a soft landing if the Commodores’ football team’s current streak of five four three two one zero good football seasons in a row should ever be broken. Williams’ salary is largely a product of the sweetheart deals administrative grifter extraordinaire Gordon Gee put in place before he high-tailed it out of Nashville).

Williams was in the news yesterday when he announced that Vanderbilt’s basketball coach Kevin Stallings wouldn’t be suspended, after he was caught advising one of his student-athletes that he would “fucking kill you” if his on-court deportment did not improve posthaste. (To be fair, Stallings explained to ESPN afterwards that his stated intention to kill his own player was merely a figure of speech, and should not have been taken literally.)

In the light of all this, Burke can perhaps be forgiven if he feels that the half million dollars he’s getting paid to be Purdue’s AD this year, not counting up to another $120,000 in “performance bonuses,” is practically a vow of poverty. On the third hand a cynic might point out that Burke has suckled unmolested at the increasingly engorged teat of big time college athletics for the 22 years he’s held his current position, and that he’s seen his own stupendous salary go up by 50% over the past six years alone.

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Foreign Entanglements: More ISIS!

[ 3 ] February 28, 2015 |

On this episode of Foreign Entanglements, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and I talk ISIS:

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SEK vs. ENT

[ 72 ] February 27, 2015 |

SEK needed to go to an ENT because his right ear is on the fritz. So he went to VERY YOUNG ENT’s office in Prairieville, Louisiana, which may or may not have any bearing on what follows.

VERY YOUNG ENT: (looking at — but not reading — SEK’s medical file) This is a really thick file you have here.

SEK: I do what I can.

VERY YOUNG ENT: (putting down file) So what seems to the be the problem, man?

SEK: My right ear is on strike.

VERY YOUNG ENT: (puts otoscope in SEK’s ear) Whoa, dude, how do you hear anything out of this?

SEK: I don’t at the moment.

VERY YOUNG ENT: I mean, what about ever?

SEK: What about ever what?

VERY YOUNG ENT: What about how do you ever hear anything out of it? It’s like your ear canal is upside down, man.

SEK: It’s not ideal.

VERY YOUNG ENT: And what’s up with your eardrum?

SEK: (looking longingly as his unread medical history) There’s a —

VERY YOUNG ENT: Giant hole in it, man. How’d that happen? I mean —

SEK: Tubes. Many sets of —

VERY YOUNG ENT: You don’t need to tell me. That’s giant — like, giant. How are we even having this conversation?

SEK: (resisting to the urge to say, “What conversation?”) With effort.

VERY YOUNG ENT: No doubt, man, no doubt. So it’s not infected, it’s just —

SEK: Weird?

VERY YOUNG ENT: Very weird. Let me look something up. (leaves)

And that’s where SEK’s story ends, at least for the moment, because SEK is still in the room where the VERY YOUNG ENT left him. After about 30 minutes SEK got so bored sitting in the room that he took out his laptop and wrote this.

SEK isn’t sure whether the VERY YOUNG ENT is coming back, or even if the VERY YOUNG ENT’s offices are even open anymore.

The rest of the story is available at Facebook because sorry, that’s just where people “live-blog” stuff now.

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Making Any Art Form More Inclusive Will Probably Only Improve It

[ 39 ] February 27, 2015 |

Amanda Marcotte has a good rant over at Raw Story about how nobody is going to stop game developers from making sexist games. That’s true and I think that’s good–people should be allowed to make sexist games. And games that don’t acknowledge the existence of people of color and LGBT folks. That’s fine. Now, while acknowledging that, it’s important to keep in mind that when you make these sorts of myopic, exclusionary games, you are not guaranteed an audience for them. Aww, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant for a whole ‘nother day and people who don’t understand what censorship is aren’t reading this blog anyway.

For awhile now I’ve had conflicted feelings about my body of work (as an artist). Looking through my gallery, I can’t help but notice that all my models are young, thin, and white. I also manipulate my models quite heavily. It’s an odd sort of manipulation–I’m not making them prettier, I’m making them weirder mostly. I’m playing with proportion, I’m making their heads too big, their waists too small, their shoulders too narrow, their dresses impossibly voluminous. I’m painting their faces to make them look, uh, creepy-glamorous, I guess.  I have every right to use models that are young, thin and white. I have a right to play with proportion the way I do. I have every right to do my weird take on glamor make-up. But if someone wants to offer a critique of my art based on the observations I just made, it will only help it if I listen.

Lately I’ve been pushing myself to change things up a bit, to create the mood I’m after without relying so heavily on my old tropes. I’m exaggerating proportions less. The piece I’m working on now features models slightly younger than I’m used to working with so I’ve decided not to distort their faces or bodies–at all. I simply wasn’t comfortable taking liberties with younger models and was worried about the message I’d send if I’d gone “all in” as I normally do. Do I view this as a limitation? No, not at all. It’s a challenge, and a fun one at that. I’ve already got my workarounds all mapped out, so there will be no magic missing from my canvas in the end. This has got me excited about working with models of color (although they are distressingly hard to find at my hunting grounds) and and of size. Making my art more inclusive is not going to hurt it, it’s going to help it, and it’s going to make me a better artist with more interesting body of work.

To be clear, I have every right to use any sort of model I want and manipulate her how I choose. However, if I make my art exclusionary I will *purposely* be taking money out of my own wallet. Since I’m not a moron, I happily choose diversity. Here’s to challenging myself and giving everybody a choice and acknowledging the existence of a wider range women. This is a good, healthy development that’s going to spur creativity, not stunt it.

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King Art of North Carolina

[ 20 ] February 27, 2015 |

Art Pope’s rule as King of North Carolina continues with the closing of centers on North Carolina campuses that deal with social and ecological issues:

The full UNC Board of Governors met in Charlotte this morning and voted unanimously to close three academic centers.

The centers ordered to close are: the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at UNC Chapel Hill; the Center for Biodiversity at East Carolina; and the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at NC Central.

Board of Governors leadership denied that politics played a role.

Dozens of students and others attended the Board meeting and protested the decision. Several spoke out during the discussion and were removed from the meeting. Board Chair John Fennebresque eventually had to recess and move the meeting to another room as protestors shouted and chanted outside the door.

Not political?

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors, which consists almost entirely of Republican appointees, opted Friday to disband the think-tank run by Gene Nichol, a law professor and former Democratic congressional candidate from Colorado.

About two-dozen activists demonstrated against closing the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which was created to help launch John Edwards’ presidential campaign. Some protesters were told to leave and led out by UNC-Charlotte campus police.

State university leaders moved to a smaller room, allowing in board members, reporters and staffers and leaving protesters to chant outside.

Nichol has acidly criticized the policies advanced by McCrory and Republican lawmakers. In one 2013 opinion essay, he compared McCrory to 1960s-era segregationist Southern governors because of his support for tougher election laws. Subsequent newspaper opinion pieces included the disclaimer that Nichol doesn’t speak for UNC.

Nichols swiftly responded to the decision, saying in an email to The Associated Press that it was an effort to punish him as the center’s director “for publishing articles that displease the Board and its political benefactors.”

Right.

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