Archive for February 2017
Elizabeth Kolbert reviews an interesting book in the New Yorker:
In 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.
Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten
As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office—the scores were fictitious. The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.
In the second phase of the study, the deception was revealed. The students were told that the real point of the experiment was to gauge their responses to thinking they were right or wrong. (This, it turned out, was also a deception.) Finally, the students were asked to estimate how many suicide notes they had actually categorized correctly, and how many they thought an average student would get right. At this point, something curious happened. The students in the high-score group said that they thought they had, in fact, done quite well—significantly better than the average student—even though, as they’d just been told, they had zero grounds for believing this. Conversely, those who’d been assigned to the low-score group said that they thought they had done significantly worse than the average student—a conclusion that was equally unfounded.
“Once formed,” the researchers observed dryly, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.”
A few years later, a new set of Stanford students was recruited for a related study. The students were handed packets of information about a pair of firefighters, Frank K. and George H. Frank’s bio noted that, among other things, he had a baby daughter and he liked to scuba dive. George had a small son and played golf. The packets also included the men’s responses on what the researchers called the Risky-Conservative Choice Test. According to one version of the packet, Frank was a successful firefighter who, on the test, almost always went with the safest option. In the other version, Frank also chose the safest option, but he was a lousy firefighter who’d been put “on report” by his supervisors several times. Once again, midway through the study, the students were informed that they’d been misled, and that the information they’d received was entirely fictitious. The students were then asked to describe their own beliefs. What sort of attitude toward risk did they think a successful firefighter would have? The students who’d received the first packet thought that he would avoid it. The students in the second group thought he’d embrace it.
Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs,” the researchers noted. In this case, the failure was “particularly impressive,” since two data points would never have been enough information to generalize from.
The Stanford studies became famous. Coming from a group of academics in the nineteen-seventies, the contention that people can’t think straight was shocking. It isn’t any longer. Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed (and elaborated on) this finding. As everyone who’s followed the research—or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today—knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?
In a new book, “The Enigma of Reason” (Harvard), the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question. Mercier, who works at a French research institute in Lyon, and Sperber, now based at the Central European University, in Budapest, point out that reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context.
Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.
“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.
Consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. Of the many forms of faulty thinking that have been identified, confirmation bias is among the best catalogued; it’s the subject of entire textbooks’ worth of experiments. One of the most famous of these was conducted, again, at Stanford. For this experiment, researchers rounded up a group of students who had opposing opinions about capital punishment. Half the students were in favor of it and thought that it deterred crime; the other half were against it and thought that it had no effect on crime.
The students were asked to respond to two studies. One provided . . .
Apparently many men were not raised right. Sam Levin reports in the Guardian about Tesla.
A female engineer at Tesla has accused Elon Musk’s car company of ignoring her complaints of “pervasive harassment”, paying her a lower salary than men doing the same work, promoting less qualified men over her and retaliating against her for raising concerns.
The allegations of AJ Vandermeyden, who still works at the celebrated electric car manufacturer, paint a picture of a hostile work environment dominated by men where inappropriate sexual behavior is tolerated and women face numerous barriers to advance their careers.
Vandermeyden, 33, shared her story with the Guardian at a time when Silicon Valley is reeling from the explosive allegations of former Uber engineer Susan Fowler. In a viral blogpost, she alleged that management and HR dismissed her complaints about documented sexual harassment and sexism, protected a repeat offender because he was a “high performer” and suggested that women in the company were not as skilled as men.
Offering a rare public account of discrimination from a tech worker who remains employed at her company, Vandermeyden said her dedication to Tesla motivated her to advocate for fair treatment and reforms – despite the serious risks she knows she faces for going public.
“Until somebody stands up, nothing is going to change,” she said in a recent interview, her first comments about a discrimination lawsuit she filed last year. “I’m an advocate of Tesla. I really do believe they are doing great things. That said, I can’t turn a blind eye if there’s something fundamentally wrong going on.”
Vandermeyden began at Tesla in 2013 and was eventually promoted to a manufacturing engineering position in the general assembly department, which consisted mostly of men and where she was paid less than male engineers whose work she directly took over, according to her complaint.
It was common for her to be the only woman in meetings with 40 to 50 men, she said on a recent morning, seated in the living room of her family’s house in San Carlos, the city where Tesla was founded, located across the bay from its current factory in Fremont.
Currently, all chief executive positions are held by men at Tesla, and out of more than 30 vice-presidents, only two are women, she added.
“It’s shocking in this day and age that this is still a fight we have to have.”
Vandermeyden said that when complaints arise at Tesla about workplace issues or inequality, the response is often: “‘We’re focused on making cars. We don’t have time to deal with all this other stuff.’”
Tesla, founded in 2003, has gained international recognition for its battery-powered vehicles and “autonomous” driving technology, promoted by Musk, the ambitious entrepreneur who makes headlines for bold pledges about space travel, artificial intelligence, underground tunnels and driverless cars.
But Vandermeyden’s complaint, filed last fall, alleges that there were inadequacies in the quality testing of cars, and that she raised issues about the flaws she observed, which supervisors and male engineers had missed.
Although she came up with a solution, men were granted positions above her, her lawyers wrote. She and other female engineers were denied promotions even though they were “equally or more qualified” than the men, according to the complaint. . .
This shows the problem with capitalism and should put paid to any idea that the free market will regulate itself for the good of everyone (“consumers can choose what to buy!” “inferior producers will be selected against!” “it’s all good”) is shown the be a jejune fantasy more appropriate to a teenager full of ideas than an adult with real-world experience. (I am not a Libertarian, as you see.)
Laura Miller reviews a book for Slate:
Brian Alexander’s Glass House belongs to a new and still fairly accidental genre: the on-the-ground Trump explainer, a nonfiction book illuminating the desperation driving white small-town Americans, as told by a native son. The vanguard title in this pack is J.D. Vance’s surprise success Hillbilly Elegy, a portrait of the dysfunctional, self-defeating working-class white culture in Appalachia and Rust Belt Ohio, published last spring. Although Vance mostly avoided making political recommendations, he’s a conservative and a regular contributor to National Review and has been knocked, somewhat unfairly, as an unmitigated bootstrapper. Glass House’s subtitle, The 1 Percent Economy and the Shattering of an All-American Town, hints at the book’s difference from its best-selling predecessor. Alexander’s book is less personal, less tortured, a work of journalism far more willing to indict forces larger than the stubborn, delusional pride of the white working class. This book hunts bigger game.
Alexander grew up in Lancaster, Ohio, a town celebrated in a 1947 Forbesarticle as the quintessential American town, the “epitome and apogee,” as Alexander puts it, “of the American free enterprise system.” The magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief B.C. Forbes (father of Malcolm) held up Lancaster as a shining paragon of what the nation could achieve without the meddling of “left wingers,” although his belief that union activity there had been subdued was incorrect. Lancaster had a pretty, historic downtown (Civil War generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Thomas Ewing were born there), and a thriving civic culture fostered by the glassmaking industry, in particular a glassware company called Anchor Hocking. In Glass House, Alexander begins by tracing the history of a young couple who moved to Lancaster two years after the Forbes story ran. The young man took a sales job at Anchor then moved up in the company, while his wife volunteered to raise funds for the hospital and campaigned for levies to build new public schools. Back then, Lancaster parents felt no qualms about letting their kids run around on their own recognizance. Anchor Hocking vice presidents drank alongside factory workers in Old Bill Bailey’s tavern. People worked at Anchor Hocking for 40 years and retired on sound pensions. Lancaster, Alexander writes, “really was about as close to the clichéd image of the all-American town as you could get, outside of a Hollywood movie set.”
It is also, as a local saying has it, “the whitest town in America.” The Ku Klux Klan, during its resurgence in the 1920s, had a thriving presence there, although with hardly any blacks to terrorize, it had to content itself with harassing Catholics. This also meant that when Lancaster—like so many Middle American small towns—began to collapse economically in the late 20th century, its citizens didn’t have a racial scapegoat at hand. Today, Anchor Hocking is a ghost of its former self, although it’s still hobbling along. Gaunt, tattooed drug addicts roam Lancaster’s streets in pajama pants. Old-timers deeply wedded to the idea that Lancaster is a town specially endowed with the essence of American decency tell themselves that the riff-raff consists of “outsiders” drawn by the (fictional) bounty of Lancaster’s social services. The cops and aimless young people Alexander profiles in depth in Glass House can testify otherwise. The head of Lancaster’s Major Crimes Unit begins to cry while telling Alexander about fending off the pleas of distraught families while arresting people he played high-school football with.
Glass House reads like an odd—and oddly satisfying—fusion of George Packer’s The Unwinding and one of Michael Lewis’ real-life financial thrillers. Alexander pings back and forth between portraits of despairing and bewildered Lancastrians and the labyrinthine corporate history of Anchor Hocking. Unlike many other heartland industries, glass manufacturing, by virtue of the fragility and weight of its product, has some built-in resistance to outsourcing and imports. Anchor itself has remained a viable economic enterprise, at least in theory, throughout its history. But beginning in the 1980s, the company fell victim to a near-fatal combination of bad management and private-equity financiers emboldened by the new Reagan administration’s embrace of unfettered free-market capitalism. First, the company became the target of “greenmail” by corporate raider Carl Icahn. (Greenmailers stealthily buy up stock in sleepy companies, then threaten to make trouble unless they are bought out at a premium.) Icahn’s gambit inspired an Anchor executive to capture a division of the company in a leveraged buyout and relocate it to Tampa, forcing many of its employees to choose between their jobs and their community.
What followed was a long, complicated, and sickening ballet of financial sleight-of-hand in which one investment firm after another bought Anchor with borrowed money then loaded the debt back onto the company, pushing it to the brink of bankruptcy (and, on one occasion, over the brink). Aiming to quickly flip the company at a profit, Anchor’s various owners forced cost-cutting measures and concessions from the union. They neglected vital renovations and repairs to the manufacturing plant, a dangerous omission when it comes to machines designed to work with molten glass. Anchor’s facilities became increasingly out-of-date and incapable of making items it had once profitably produced. Pensions were replaced with 401(k)s, and eventually employer contributions to those accounts dwindled to nothing. Employees’ portion of their health insurance premiums ballooned to the point that many could no longer afford to make them. (One of Alexander’s sources estimates that some workers would have seen their take-home pay reduced to $10,000 per year if they bought into the health plan.)
Private-equity vampires didn’t just suck all the value out of Anchor to line their own pockets. They also casually . . .
And read as well how automakers knew the Takata airbags were dangerous, but hid the fact. And think back (for my older readers) to Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed and how safety had to be legislated in the the automobile, piece by piece, because unless forced by law, automakers would not do a single damn thing. It added to the cost (and thus cut those dollars directly out of profits), it also wasn’t popular: people didn’t actually want it, particularly because automakers charged more (to recover the grearer costs). The government steps in, sets minimal safety stands to protect the public and promote the general welfare, automakers reluctantly do it (the president of General Motors actually in testimony to a Congressional committee said that collapsible steering wheel was impossible because it would have to work for a frail 90-lb woman and also for a 300-lb linebacker. Impossible. The committee was unimpressed, the legislation passed, and one year later GM had a collapsible steering wheel.
As individuals, the residents of Lancaster lacked the power to fight the corporate owners and managers. But that’s one reason we have a government: to level the playing field and fight on behalf of the public against the power of the corporation. And you can see what a problem it is when the corporations control the power that is supposed to regulate them. And it gets worse, as we’ve seen. I do not think the Trump administration is a step in the right direction; rather it is the best indication so far of where we’re headed. “Papers, please.”
And a new authoritarian government will have powers Stalin could never have dreamed of: it will have, for example, your order history from Amazon, your viewing history from Netflix, and all your Facebook data (which is already being sold: the authoritarian government can just buy it, effectively outsourcing all the spying, prying, and investigation of individuals to build a dossier on each. It has more than ever. From Wired:
Then, the researchers created an algorithm and fed it with every respondent’s personality scores, as well as their “Likes,” to which subjects voluntarily gave researchers access. The researchers only included “Likes” that respondents shared with at least 20 other respondents. That enabled the model to connect certain “Likes” to certain personality traits. If, for instance, several people who liked Snooki on Facebook also scored high in the extroverted category, the system would learn that Snooki lovers are more outgoing. The more “Likes” the system saw, the better its judgment became.
In the end, the researchers found that with information on just ten Facebook “Likes,” the algorithm was more accurate than the average person’s colleague. With 150 “Likes,” it could outsmart people’s families, and with 300 “Likes,” it could best a person’s spouse.
What’s more . . .
So fairly soon, I imagine, “Papers, please” will be no longer needed: it’ll all be on-line and available on the smartphones government enforcement personnel carry. And most adults now seem to carry a smartphone: instant data collection, network mapping (known associates, etc.), location, and so on.
It’s going to be yuge!
Frank Wilczek writes in Quanta:
Prior to the emergence of quantum mechanics, fundamental physics was marked by a peculiar dualism. On the one hand, we had electric and magnetic fields, governed by Maxwell’s equations. The fields filled all of space and were continuous. On the other hand, we had atoms, governed by Newtonian mechanics. The atoms were spatially limited — indeed, quite small — discrete objects. At the heart of this dualism was the contrast of light and substance, a theme that has fascinated not only scientists but artists and mystics for many centuries.
One of the glories of quantum theory is that it has replaced that dualistic view of matter with a unified one. We learned to make fields from photons, and atoms from electrons (together with other elementary particles). Both photons and electrons are described using the same mathematical structure. They are particles, in the sense that they come in discrete units with definite, reproducible properties. But the new quantum-mechanical sort of “particle” cannot be associated with a definite location in space. Instead, the possible results of measuring its position are given by a probability distribution. And that distribution is given as the square of a space-filling field, its so-called wave function.
Conceptually, quantum particles differ so significantly from their classical ancestors that a different name seems in order. Just as the quantum “qubit” was named by analogy to the classical “bit” of information, I will use the term “quarticle” (pronounced kwort-icle) for a quantum particle. This emphasis on the particle aspect (as opposed to “wavicle”) is appropriate, because in practice quantum physicists usually analyze quantum behavior by visualizing the behavior of particles, and then refining — and, if necessary, correcting — their picture until it works for quarticles.
The quantum unification of light and substance, while satisfying, is limited in scope. For when we go beyond single quarticles to consider the behavior of collections of identical quarticles, a new dualism appears. Indeed, the world of quantum particles divides into two great, mutually exclusive kingdoms. There is the kingdom of bosons, named after Satyendra Bose, and the kingdom of fermions, named after Enrico Fermi. Every species of quarticle is either a boson or fermion.
Interactions among bosons are very different from those of fermions. We call this effect “quantum statistics.” For purposes of orientation, a simple introduction may be in order.
Bosons are conformists. They like to behave in the same way. (More technically: Identical bosons have enhanced probability to occupy the same quantum state.) Photons belong to the kingdom of bosons. A laser beam is the epitome of boson-ness. It consists of many photons of the same wavelength (that is, color) moving in the same direction, the result of “stimulated emission” of photons in an imitative cascade.
Fermions, by contrast, are individualists. They absolutely refuse to occupy the same quantum state, a fact known as the Pauli exclusion principle. Electrons belong to the kingdom of fermions, and this is a key reason why the periodic table exists. Electrons, being negatively charged, are strongly attracted to positively charged atomic nuclei, but they prevent one another from surrounding the nucleus in a simple, efficient way. Instead they build up complex configurations that can support interesting chemistry.
Supersymmetry is a theoretical speculation that — if true — would reconcile the two kingdoms. According to supersymmetry, every elementary quarticle has a mate in the opposite kingdom, its superpartner. The superpartner of a boson is a fermion, and vice versa. Superpartners share the same electric charge and several other properties, but differ in mass and spin.
Supersymmetry is an attractive, logical extension of known physics, and it can be implemented with elegant mathematics. Many physicists, including me, feel that it deserves to be true.
But the last word, naturally, goes to nature. While there is compelling circumstantial evidence for supersymmetry, as yet there is no direct proof. For that, we need to find some superpartners. Searching for superpartners of known particles is a major preoccupation of experimentalists working at the Large Hadron Collider. Sadly, the results so far are negative. Yet there is still considerable potential for discovery, as the machine comes to operate at higher energy and more collisions get analyzed.
Clearly, quantum statistics lies at the foundation of our understanding of nature. Also, as we’ve seen, it raises a profound question about the unity of matter. Addressing that question suggests new possibilities for discovery.
Such an important concept deserves a worthy grounding. What is quantum statistics, at bottom?
The modern answer to that question is deep, beautiful and surprisingly recent. It emerged in the late 1970s, . . .
Good ending. Fascinating column. I get the feeling that the universe is as it is because that is the way it must be if it consists of exploiting every possible quantum niche, as it were. Everything must happen the way it does because all of quantum reality’s possibilities are being utilized (at the quantum level) and that ripples up into our visible world of everyday life—that is, maybe there is indeed no free will, but our lives are spent in filling out our actual possibilities, given everything (including who we are).
Apparently Jeff Sessions is not interested in doing his job.
In a briefing with reporters yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he’s still deciding whether or not to implement reforms for the Chicago Police Department. The reforms, suggested by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, were part of a blistering report on the city’s police agency that was published at the tail end of President Obama’s second term. This section from the Reuters write-up of the briefingjumped out at me:
Sessions said he had seen summaries of both the Chicago report and the report that the Obama Justice Department completed on police in Ferguson.
“Some of it was pretty anecdotal and not so scientifically based,” Sessions said.
Of course, the summary for any study will be anecdotal, and not particularly heavy on data. That’s the whole point of a summary. I’m not entirely sure what Sessions means by “scientifically-based.” But the DOJ’s Ferguson study is based on a wealth of data, much of supplied by the legal aid group ArchCity Defenders and the advocacy group Better Together. And much of the data from those organizations comes from the municipalities in St. Louis County themselves — data from police agencies, city budgets, and municipal courts. If Sessions couldn’t find data in the Ferguson study, it’s because he didn’t look for it.
And as it turns out, he really didn’t look for it.
Asked by The Huffington Post whether he had read the Civil Rights Division’s investigative reports on the police departments in Chicago and Ferguson, Missouri, Sessions conceded he had not. But, he said, he didn’t think they were necessarily reliable.
“I have not read those reports, frankly.”
Just to be clear, the U.S. attorney general is currently deciding whether to continue to enforce civil rights reforms suggested by the Civil Rights Division of DOJ in Chicago and Ferguson — but he’s apparently pondering that decision without having read the reports supporting those reforms. He only read the summaries. Not surprisingly, he found that the summaries lack data. As summaries tend to do.
To be fair, the DOJ’s report on Chicago, flabbergasting as it was, was largely anecdotal. There’s a good reason for that. As the report itself notes, the Chicago Police Department is notoriously bad at collecting data. They city couldn’t even tell investigators how many people its police officers had shot. The investigators couldn’t cite reliable data on police complaints, because they found ample evidence that people who try to file complaints are subject to threats and intimidation, and that the complaints themselves are poorly investigated and poorly documented. In other words, the report was largely anecdotal because anecdotes were all investigators had. But the very lack of reliable data is in itself troubling, and indicative of a problem. From the report: . . .
The US is in for some bad times.
President Trump is truly a real and present danger to national security. The oath taken by uniformed service members includes stating that the individual “will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and President Trump is looking increasingly like one of the domestic enemies, even apart from his continued violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution (which the GOP Congress studiously ignores).
Jennifer Rubin, a conservative Republican blogger for the Washington Post, writes:
President Trump may have meant it, or he may have been making an excuse for the mindbogglingly ineptitude in failing to fill virtually any sub-Cabinet jobs. In either event, he declared in an interview with Fox News that he won’t fill many of the political appointment slots he has at his disposal. “A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint someone because they’re unnecessary to have,” Trump said. “In government, we have too many people.”
This suggests a stunning level of ignorance and political naivete about how government operates. “Extremely dumb and counterproductive,” is how Trump critic and former State Department official Eliot Cohen sees it. “Despite what many conservatives think, the State Department is understaffed and underfunded as is. We need more and better diplomats around the world. This is the product of a kind of ignorant malice that will only damage our country’s ability to shape the world and get along in it.” He continued, “Moreover, by failing to fill State Department slots, the administration would be sending the world a message that it does not give a damn about diplomacy — which will be read as a sign either of incompetence or belligerence, or both.”
When combined with reported budget cuts, the result can be devastating. “By slashing the State Department budget and leaving key jobs unfilled, President Trump is proactively hollowing out America’s national security infrastructure,” said Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution. “Senior officials in the State and Defense Departments are on the front lines of pushing back against China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. They lead and wage the struggle every day. President Trump is taking these players off the field. It is a huge boon for America’s rivals.”
The savings Trump might obtain are tiny compared to the damage he might do. “It is hard to saying how slashing the relatively minuscule State Department operating budget and foreign assistance can help protect either the nation or the [budget],” said former ambassador Eric Edelman. “It can only contribute, down the road, to greater need to rely on the military instrument of national power rather than seeking to advance the national interest and avoid conflict through diplomacy. On the other hand, I can imagine that if you want to force poor Secretary Tillerson into spending all his time and energy on keeping the lights on in American embassies abroad rather than on the policy fights in Washington, this is a grand strategy.”
Conservatives who want their policies advanced will be horrified to hear that Trump is not planning on filling the ranks of political appointees but rather is going to let “acting” officials, in many cases holdovers from the Obama administration or permanent civil service employees, staff those jobs. Take the Justice Department. For years conservative lawyers (some of whom compiled the list of potential Supreme Court justices for Trump) railed about the politicization of the Justice Department from section heads down to staff lawyers. Trump has not yet nominated people for more than two dozen open positions at Justice, including the heads of the civil rights division and the national security division. He is trusting existing staff, many of whom came into government under the Obama administration, to man these positions.
“Leaving jobs vacant will harm the White House’s agenda and do little to reduce the budget deficit,” said John Yoo, who worked in President George W. Bush’s Justice Department. . .
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund Opposes Appointment of Free Speech/Civil Rights Violator to be Next D.C. Police Chief
The PCJF notes in subheads:
Newsham Commanded Infamous Pershing Park Mass False Arrest of Hundreds of Demonstrators, Reporters, Legal Observers, Tourists and Passers-by and Willfully Repeated Violations of the Law Just Last Month on Inauguration Day
Donald Trump in the White House. Protestors in the streets of the nation’s capital. A notorious violator of free speech rights as the Chief of Police?
When Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Peter Newsham as her pick to be chief of the DC Metropolitan Police Department the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund immediately spoke out in opposition, providing one of the few voices standing up against this wrong and dangerous choice. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PCJF, was quoted in The Washington Post calling Newsham, “a serial mass violator of civil rights” who is “not fit to be chief of police.”
As a result of hard fought legal and community efforts, there have been great strides in the police’s response to mass demonstrations in Washington, D.C. over the past decade. But as quickly as Newsham assumed the interim chief position we’ve witnessed the clock turning back, starting with inauguration day’s dragnet arrests of hundreds and mass indiscriminate use of force.
Please read the article below from Alternet. As Newsham’s confirmation process moves forward, including D.C. Council hearings, we will update you on actions you can take to join in opposition and stand up for First Amendment rights. (Please be sure you are signed up for PCJF alerts.)
The Alternet article by Steven Rosenfeld begins:
Protesters Beware: D.C. Mayor Appoints New Police Chief With Long Record of Mass Arrests and Depriving Rights
Peter Newsham defends past mass arrests that cost city millions in legal judgments.
At a time when the right to protest in the nation’s capital has never been more important, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has appointed an abuser of First Amendment freedoms, Peter Newsham, as the city’s new police chief.
From the Pershing Park mass arrests of 2002 to dragnet arrests at Donald Trump’s inauguration, Newsham has shown a recurring pattern of violating protesters’ civil rights, said one of the lawyers who sued the city after the 2002 protests and won a multi-million-dollar judgement for protesters and policing practice reforms.
“As people are taking to the streets in the Trump era to protest throughout the United States, and in particular here in the nation’s capital, it is critical that fundamental First Amendment rights be afforded protection,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), which also defended those arrested in New York’s Occupy protests.
But the stakes in Washington are arguably bigger than in other cities, as this is where the White House, Congress and top federal agencies are seated. Newsham’s appointment sends “a chilling message to all those who are coming out to stand in defense of targeted communities and against bigotry,” Verheyden-Hilliard said.
His use of mass arrests is a matter of public record. PCJF litigated the Pershing Park case, which resulted in more than $10 million in damages for nearly 400 persons and major changes in the city’s laws governing police handling of demonstrators ― laws Newsham apparently violated just one month ago.
After years of litigation, in which PCJF deposed Newsham under oath, federal courts found Newsham could be held liable for the mass violations of constitutional rights and dismissed his justifications as “nothing short of ludicrous.” In that case, the court found his mass arrest had no lawful basis and denied his request for qualified immunity, stating “[n]o reasonable officer in Newsham’s position could have believed that probable cause existed to order the sudden arrest of every individual in Pershing Park.” Demonstrators were illegally arrested and held for 24 hours or more, and hogtied in stress-and-duress positions. The D.C. Circuit described in ample detail “just how indefensible Newsham’s actions were.”
That litigation resulted in the D.C. City Council’s enactment of the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act, which guides police responses to demonstrations, including when property is damaged or violence occurs, to ensure that protesters are not wrongfully arrested. Yet Newsham appears to have violated this standard at Trump’s inauguration.
At the press announcement of his appointment, Newsham again dismissed his Pershing Park mass arrests, saying, “My decision at the time was a decision that I thought was in the best interest of the District of Columbia and of public safety… The Metropolitan Police Department learned a great deal from that experience that we have taken to today, and I think it was exhibited during the inauguration.”
Verheyden-Hilliard said nothing could be further from the truth.
“To this day Newsham refuses to acknowledge his extreme illegal misconduct in violating the civil rights of hundreds of people, despite the court rulings against him, making it clear that he is unwilling or incapable of upholding the constitution,” she said. “At the protests at Donald Trump’s inauguration just one month ago he plainly acted in willful violation of the law and engaged in yet another illegal mass dragnet arrest, including falsely arresting journalists and lawful protesters rather than those committing illegal acts, as well as deploying indiscriminate and brutal use of chemical munitions against civilians. Peter Newsham is unfit to be chief of the Metropolitan Police Department.” . . .
I believe that authoritarians are acting now on the belief that with Trump as president they can do what they want, regardless of the law.