Friday, March 23, 2018

Pacific Standard, 10 Years

As I'm sure I've mentioned a time or two in the past, I recommend subscribing to Pacific Standard magazine. It's now 10 years old, and its anniversary issue has some great stuff in it.

First, there's a long read called My brother, a white nationalist. It's about Josh Damigo, whose brother Nathan founded Identity Evropa and got a lot of attention when he punched a woman at a Berkeley protest last year. It's a nuanced look at where the two brothers came from, how they became different, and what it's like for your family members to create and shield hate.

In the Postcards from America feature, PS asked 52 writers—who are either from one of the states (plus D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands, chosen to represent the territories) or currently live there—to write a short dispatch, often covering something we outsiders don't know. Minnesota's, for instance, was a hopeful piece about what the writer sees as a silver lining from the 2016 election: white people realizing they have to challenge racism. I'm not totally sure I've seen that happening at scale in my part of Minnesota, but I hope he's right.

My favorite dispatch was from the great Charles C. Mann, describing the current state of the New England Town Meeting in his home city of Amherst, Massachusetts:

Our government is a descendant of the storied New England town meeting, in which the colonists gathered en masse to pool their expertise, weighing tradeoffs as they created a new way of life in a new place. Now expertise and compromise seem increasingly beside the point, and way too much of our town meeting is spent fighting to reclaim a vision of the past.

Amherst is growing rapidly—over 13 percent since 2000. But the town has been stubbornly preoccupied with preserving its long-ago rural character, mostly by acquiring open space and fighting development. My wife, an architect, briefly volunteered for the town’s planning committee. Having experience with the construction industry, she pointed out that the nigh inevitable result of locking up land would be artificial inflation of the price of housing, which in turn would make our town unaffordable for working people and people on fixed incomes. She was accused of being a “tool of the developers.” Today about a third of the town is open space—and rents are amazingly high.

Like every modern U.S. town, Amherst must navigate through a horribly complex legal, regulatory, and technological landscape. Hardly anyone has more than a fraction of the required expertise. As a result, people at town meeting make choices based on gut feelings about right and wrong, regardless of whether those impulses are conflicting. I still love living here, but I worry that we are becoming ungovernable.
This sounds very familiar to me, as a layperson who attempts to be involved in issues of sustainable transportation, housing, and economic development in St. Paul. I think Mann has put his finger on a key problem: the challenges we face require expertise, but citizen input is also needed, and the two are perhaps inherently incompatible.

My last favorite thing from the issue isn't posted online. It's the final page, called "One Last Decade: How the world has and hasn't changed" since our first issue. A couple of facts from that list:
  • 60 percent of registered Latino voters turned out in the 2006 midterm elections. Only 48 percent turned out in the 2016 presidential election. We all know turnout in general is consistently higher in presidential elections than mid-terms. PS doesn't say it, but clearly these statistics reveal suppression of Latino votes.
  • There were 27 natural disasters between 2005 and 2008 that caused $1 billion of damage (including Katrina). There were 48 between 2014 and 2017. 
  • The Immigration and Naturalization Service budget in 2002 was $6.2 billion. It was broken up into three separate parts of the newly creative Homeland Security department after September 11. The combined budgets of the three agencies—ICE, CBP, and Citizenship and Immigration Services (the one you never hear about in the news)—is $28.8 billion. 
  • As of 2008, the world needed to retire 11,000 coal-fired power plants to keep carbon emissions constant. As of 2015, five times as many coal-fired plants were built as were retired.
All comparative dollar amounts given are adjusted for inflation.

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