How Louisiana’s Amendment 2 Will Make Black Jurors Matter

Many of the district attorneys across Louisiana were against this week’s ballot referendum vote for Amendment 2 because it would require unanimous consent of juries in criminal trials. The fact that prosecutors now only need 10 or 11 jurors out of 12 for convictions is a luxury that attorneys in no other state, other than Oregon, currently have. However, in the lead-up to this week’s vote, the Louisiana District Attorneys Association (LDAA) didn’t try to sway voters one way or another on Amendment 2 because the association doesn’t take public stances on issues without unanimous agreement from its members. Which means that the LDAA holds itself to a higher standard when deciding politics than many of its own members do for jury decisions where people’s actual lives hang in the balance.

Despite how prosecutors felt about it, Louisiana voters passed Amendment 2 overwhelmingly on Tuesday, with all but two of the state’s parishes (Louisiana’s term for county) voting to overturn it. This means that as of January 2019 prosecutors will need the approval of all 12 jurors in the box for a conviction—something they haven’t needed to do since the Reconstruction era. A recent study from Harvard Law School Fellow Thomas Ward Frampton explains the history behind this phenom called the “The Jim Crow Jury” and how it has impaneled racial discrimination in the way juries, courts, and prosecutors operate in Louisiana today.

The roots of Louisiana’s jury arrangements reach back to 1898, when Louisiana lawmakers installed the non-unanimous jury provision during its constitutional convention that year. It was a convening called with the explicit mission of finding ways to disenfranchise African Americans by any means necessary. It ensured that, while a few African Americans could make their way onto a jury due to federal civil rights protections (Civil Rights Act of 1875), those black jurors’ votes could be rendered nil when outnumbered by white jurors—a tool that would come in handy when white defendants were on the stand.

Early civil rights activists denounced the new non-unanimous jury law as a “Jim Crow Jury” system, designed to restore white supremacy in the state after Reconstruction was sabotaged. The system ensured that no black jurors could obstruct the increasing criminalization of African Americans, which was a budding enterprise at the turn of the 20th century. Other states entertained adopting a similar non-unanimous jury system, but it was only Louisiana that actually did. (Oregon passed its non-unanimous jury law in 1934). The “Jim Crow Jury” system endured in Louisiana throughout the entire 20th century, helping to establish the state as the incarceration and wrongful conviction capital of the world.

Frampton analyzed data from the Louisiana-based media outlet The Advocate to show the present-day effects of the non-unanimous jury system. For The Advocate’s “Tilting the Scales” news series that ran earlier this year, journalists compiled data from 5,000 criminal jury trials between 2011 and 2017, which included demographic information for more than 40,000 people who were selected for jury pools during that time period. They found that black defendants were more likely to get convicted by non-unanimous juries than white defendants.

Frampton “Jim Crow Jury”

The chart below from Frampton’s study shows how the non-unanimous verdict policy has essentially silenced the votes of black jurors in these cases:

Frampton “Jim Crow Jury”

This chart shows that black jurors were more likely to cast “hold-out votes” against the majority than white jurors in cases where non-unanimous verdicts led to convictions. Which means black jurors votes were more likely to be ignored—”empty votes”— in these cases. This was true in parishes where there were only a few black jurors serving in trials and in parishes where black jurors were in abundance. In New Orleans, white and black residents served on juries in roughly equal numbers (during the study’s sample time period) but in the cases where non-unanimous convictions were rendered, black jurors cast twice the number of “empty votes” that white jurors did. Writes Frampton, “Nonunanimity serves to mute the impact of nonwhite jurors even when such jurors are not, in numerical terms, ‘minorities.’”

The data also shows how discrimination impacts the racial composition of juries before the trial phase even begins. Prosecutors have wide (but not unlimited) discretion to strike people from the jury pool for legal reasons (“For Cause” strikes) or for no legal reason at all, (“peremptory strikes),” and in Louisiana, those strikes fall more frequently on potential black jurors. Though federal and state laws forbid attorneys from excluding people from juries on the basis of race, a prosecutor can come up with any reason at all—it doesn’t even have to make sense—to explain why they have rejected a potential black, Latina, or Asian juror on non-racial grounds.

In Louisiana, prosecutors disproportionately strike black jurors whether the defendant is white or black, but they do it even more often in cases with black defendants. Writes Frampton, “The frequency of strikes against black potential jurors was 181 percent of what we would expect if strikes were doled out in a racially balanced manner.”

Frampton “Jim Crow Jury”

It’s perhaps because of the revelations from The Advocate’s data that soon after it ran its news series on the matter, Louisiana lawmakers passed a law (unanimously!) to seal all further juror records. Whatever information might be cloaked by that gesture, though, the future of racist jury selection and outcomes is now bleak due to Tuesday’s vote to eliminate non-unanimous juries.

This new law doesn’t kick in until 2019, but when it does, prosecutors will have to recalibrate their approach to picking jurors. They can no longer rely on the convenience of only needing to persuade ten out of twelve people deciding a case. If just one juror is unconvinced, then the jury deadlocks or it’s a mistrial, as is already the case in 48 other states of the U.S.

Norris Henderson, executive director of the organization Voices Of The Experiences (VOTE), has been organizing and building a reform coalition to overturn “Jim Crow jury” policies for years. He himself spent decades in prison after being convicted for murder by a 10-2 jury before being exonerated and released in 2003. He called Tuesday’s vote “the biggest game changer against mass incarceration” in Louisiana.

“In the past, it was like being in a 100 yard-dash, and the prosecutor had been spotted 20 yards,” said Henderson. “There’s no way you could catch up with him. But now that shoe is on the other foot and we now all get to start at the same one-yard line to see who’s the fastest and can finish the race.”

The new mandate for unanimous jury verdicts complements the passing of a law in Louisiana earlier this year that restores voting rights to people who’ve been convicted of felony crimes, which is also a legacy of post-Reconstruction efforts to disenfranchise African Americans. Writes Frampton about that era: “the exclusion of black jurors from the jury box, in tandem with the exclusion of black voters from the ballot box, served as a key lever for the reassertion of white supremacy.”

Today, the restoration of voting rights for people convicted of felonies and the establishment of unanimous jury laws, together, crumbles that assertion.

“It’s a one-two punch on Jim Crow,” said Will Harrell, senior policy counsel for VOTE. “We got him against the ropes. We’re not saying we knocked him out, but we have the momentum and we’re gonna keep on slugging him.”

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Abandoned by the U.S. Media, the Migrant Caravan Rolls Into Mexico City

In a broad-brimmed straw hat and an airy linen shirt, Oscar Cruz Lopez, the municipal secretary of Juchitan, Oaxaca, surveyed the crowds at the city’s new bus station. Before him sprawled about 6,000 people who had spent the night on the grounds. As church members served chicken stew on paper plates, taxi drivers circled the bus station, offering rides into the center of town for 15 pesos (about 75 cents). Nuns in white habits bandaged the battered feet of exhausted men and women. The Central American migrant caravan—the group of undocumented people whose journey northward briefly riveted the U.S. media—had arrived.

In the weeks before the midterm election, President Donald Trump made the case that this group of Honduran and Guatemalan migrants and asylum-seekers constituted a grave national security threat—an “invasion” force of criminals, terrorists, and unspecified “Middle Eastern” people. Trump ordered 5,000 active-duty troops to the border in a mission dubbed “Operation Faithful Patriot,” promising to triple that figure if necessary. Immediately after the election, conservative media coverage of the caravan vanished, “Faithful Patriot” was scrapped, and the menace posed by the band of migrants apparently evaporated.

The migrants themselves, however, did not. And for Mexican authorities, this march is no election-season stunt: It’s an ongoing humanitarian and political challenge, one largely borne by the towns and cities along the way that are engaged with the day-to-day realities of managing a massive migration. As the caravan has made its way across Southern Mexico, they’ve been met with a mix of local assistance and federal-level hostility. In many ways, this tension mirrors the one in the U.S., where so-called sanctuary cities have clashed with the White House over immigration policy.

Migrants rest beneath a makeshift shelter in Juchitan, Mexico. (Martha Pskowski/CityLab)

Perhaps no town has been more welcoming to the migrants than Juchitan.

“Last year after the earthquake, Juchitan was the most impacted city in the whole country,” Cruz Lopez told CityLab, remembering the 8.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Oaxaca in September 7, 2017. The earthquake killed 45 here, and the town’s famous market was reduced to rubble. Juchitan is still trying to rebuild, but this city of 90,000 was one of the largest municipalities the migrant caravan crossed when it arrived on October 30. Despite pressing local needs, the municipal government and local groups rallied to provide food, water, medical care, and shelter. “This society knows what struggle is,” Cruz Lopez said. “And when our help is needed, we show our solidarity.”

Fear—of the caravan itself, and of those who prey upon its members—has stalked this gathering since it departed from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on October 13. By the time the caravan crossed into Mexican soil on October 21, it had grown to 7,000 people. Traveling together in such numbers provides safety—Central Americans face the risk of kidnapping, robbery, and extortion while traveling through Mexico—and also lessens the risk of deportation, which is considerable. Mexican authorities deport thousands of Central Americans every year. In 2017, 94,500 people were deported to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, outpacing deportations for those nationalities from the U.S. by a whopping 20,000.

But travel logistics for such a vast gathering are complex: Without legal documentation, the group cannot reliably travel on inter-city buses, so they walk or hitch rides. In some towns in Oaxaca and Chiapas, bus and taxi drivers offered service to members of the caravan; in others, they refused. Several bus companies in the Oaxaca City area released a statement on October 31, saying that they would not provide service to members of the migrant caravan, in order to follow transit laws and “to put the interests of the citizens of Oaxaca above all others.”

As the group pushed northward in punishing heat, the support of small towns along the way has been critical. Cruz Lopez said that the city’s government started mobilizing to support the migrant caravan once they heard it would be passing through. Juchitan is in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a region that stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico that Central American migrants have transited for years on the freight train known as La Bestia. Juchitan itself was founded by the Zapotec people in the 15th century; Juchitan’s people are proud of their heritage, and you are as likely to hear Zapotec spoken on the city streets as Spanish.

“This pueblo has a history,” said Cruz Lopez. “It is a community that has fought for justice, that believes in solidarity.”

Many residents interrupted their preparations for the Day of the Dead ceremonies in Juchitan, known as Xandu’, to volunteer in support of the caravan. City police oversaw security, and city employees joined caravan members in gathering trash around the grounds. Along with international nonprofits such as the Red Cross, Oxfam and Caritas, Cruz Lopez said that at least 20 local organizations, from radio stations to high school students, were helping the caravan with food, medical care, and other social services.

A mobile medical clinic provides health care to migrants in Mexico City. (Martha Pskowski/CityLab)

Among those volunteers: Nadxielii Nanaxhi Santiago Toledo, 28, who was helping assemble dozens of sandwiches in a makeshift kitchen. “We’ve been preparing for two days,” said Santiago Toledo, who is a member of Juchitan’s muxe community (a “third gender” specific to the region’s Zapotec culture).

“Wherever our Central American friends go next in the caravan, I hope they are treated with affection, because they aren’t coming here seeking problems,” she said. “They are just pursuing their dreams.”

Juchitan was also the first stop of the caravan where Mexico City agencies provided medical and legal aid, as part of the “Humanitarian Bridge” organized by the Mexico City Human Rights Commission (CDHDF). Doctors provided check-ups to members of the caravan, and according to a CDHDF representative, pregnant women were able to have ultrasounds for the first time since the caravan began.

The first members of the caravan began arriving in Mexico City this week. In contrast to Southern Mexico, where violence against undocumented migrants is commonplace, the capital city provides relative safety. Most importantly, Mexico City’s new constitution, which went into effect in September, ensures the protection of migrants, regardless of their legal status. The constitution says that all migrants, refugees and asylum seekers will be protected under criteria of “hospitality, solidarity, interculturality, and inclusion.” Former Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera named Mexico City a sanctuary city in 2017.

The city government runs programs for deportees, asylees and refugees through the Secretariat for Rural Development and Community Equity (SEDEREC). The caravan will test the city’s capacity to support thousands of vulnerable people—some of whom may decide to stay. “The city has to put its best foot forward, and that means showing our solidarity,” said Nashieli Ramírez, president of the Mexico City Human Rights Commission (CDHDF).

The caravan is staying at a stadium at the Magdalena Mixhuca sports complex. After the heat of Southern Mexico, temperatures in Mexico City have been chilly, with steady rains pounding the capital in recent days. City staff handed out blankets and clothing. Medical care was available on site, as well as hot meals. As experts predicted, the size of the caravan has dwindled in recent days, as members decide to return to their home countries, or forge ahead at a faster clip. The Mexico City government estimates that 4,600 people remain at the stadium.

The migrant trail through Mexico usually skirts around Mexico City: It’s in small towns where the phenomenon of Central American migration has been most visible. The caravan’s arrival in the capital is forcing Mexico’s national politicians to confront the reality of migration: It’s as if 5,000 refugees turned up on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall.

In Mexico City, the migrant caravan is being sheltered in a sports complex. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

So far, Mexico City is receiving the caravan with hospitality, but some residents question that gesture. On social media, some have complained that caravan members come before victims of recent floods in the Mexican state of Nayarit. The polling firm Mitofsky found that one in three Mexicans thinks the caravan members should be pressured to return to Central America.

The concerns of some Mexicans were reflected on Sunday, when a reporter asked Mexico City Minister of the Interior, Guillermo Orozco Loreto, how much money the city was spending to provide humanitarian aid. He replied sternly, “We are guaranteeing humanitarian aid and we will spend whatever is necessary to support these people.”

Civil society organizations in Mexico City, such as Cafemin, a shelter for migrants and refugees, are also contributing support, and other volunteers are providing legal clinics to advise caravan members of their options, whether in Mexico or on the U.S. border. Ramírez stressed that Mexico City does not have jurisdiction to resolve the legal status of caravan members, but the city was prepared for 5,000 people to stay at the stadium and to provide humanitarian support for, “as long as necessary.”

For the exhausted caravan members, the Mexico City stop provided a welcome opportunity to rest. But most express the desire to continue north. Among them was Enio Castillo, 45, who lived in Tampa Bay, Florida, for 18 years. He worked in construction and landscaping in Florida and says he was placed in deportation proceedings after a traffic stop earlier this year. He wants to return to U.S. because, he said, “in my own country I don’t feel at home anymore.”

Castillo hopes to return to Florida, despite the president’s anti-immigrant policies. “Trump can say lots of things, but there’s a Congress that’s below him,” Castillo said. “They have the last word. But I don’t know what Trump’s problem is with immigrants.”

Castillo had nothing but good things to say, however, about the hospitality of the Mexicans he has met along the way. “I don’t have any complaints about the treatment here,” he says. “Mexico is a country where people open up their hearts to you. Even if it’s just a taco, or a plate of food, they will share it with you.”

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Why New York and D.C. Make Sense for Amazon’s HQ2

It is rumored that Amazon will split its new HQ2 between Crystal City in the greater Washington, D.C., metro and Long Island City in New York. While the specific locations may come as a surprise, many urbanists, including myself, have been saying all along that this was never about a single HQ2, but instead about Amazon crowdsourcing information for a host of different things in different cities, like a new research hub in Pittsburgh, a major logistics facility in Indianapolis, or a Latin America headquarters in Miami.

I predicted Amazon would select D.C. back in September 2017 when the original request for proposals was issued, citing the region’s exceptional talent base and quality of life, its location in the East-Coast power corridor, and the fact that large-scale investment and tens of thousands of jobs in the nation’s capital might help mitigate any push for antitrust regulation, not to mention Jeff Bezos’ ownership of the Washington Post and a $20 million mansion.

When I interviewed Scott Galloway, the business analyst and expert on Amazon for CityLab back in November, he predicted New York. “Three possibilities: New York, New York, and New York. This entire bidding thing is a ruse. The most important thing for them is the ability to attract and retain the best talent in the world. And the best young tech talent in the world wants to live in either New York or San Francisco. Every other city is a distant third.”

Splitting it between the two cities is especially clever. For one, it gives Amazon a location in the nation’s and the world’s most important global city, New York—the foremost place for high-level business, management, financial, and marketing talent; and a second location in the deep-talent pool that is the nation’s capital. Both cities are part of a large mega-region and connected by frequent train and air service. Not to mention having two finalists gives Amazon the opportunity to continue to negotiate a better deal and more incentives, but also to mitigate any backlash by threatening to move all or part of its headquarters to the other city.

New York and Washington, D.C, play an important role in the analysis of the changing geography of corporate headquarters that my colleague, Patrick Adler at the University of Toronto’s School of Cities and the Rotman School of Management, and I have been conducting with our research team. Our project has put together detailed data on the location of Fortune 500 companies from 1975 to the present.

Check out the table below, which shows the leading cities for corporate headquarter locations today. New York tops the list with 70 corporate headquarters, more than double the amount of the next leading city. Chicago, Dallas, and Houston are next. The Bay Area, including San Francisco and San Jose, are also high up the list. Despite its reputation as a government town, Washington, D.C., ranks sixth.

Top Ten US Cities for Fortune 500 Headquarters

Rank Metro 2017 Count 2017 Share Change Since 1975
1 New York 70 14.0% -17%
2 Chicago 33 6.6% -28%
3 Dallas 22 4.4% 69%
4 Houston 20 4.0% 67%
5 San Francisco 18 3.6% 157%
6 (tie) Washington, D.C. 17 3.4% 325%
6 (tie) San Jose 17 3.4% 240%
6 (tie) Minneapolis 17 3.4% 55%
9 (tie) Atlanta 15 3.0% 50%
9 (tie) Los Angeles 15 3.0% -17%

D.C. has seen explosive gains as a headquarters town over the past several decades, adding 13 corporate headquarters since 1975, a whopping growth rate of more than 300 percent. Only the Bay Area (both San Francisco and San Jose) gained more over that period, adding 23 headquarters but only at a 200 percent growth rate. In picking New York and greater D.C., Amazon picked the single largest headquarters city and one of the fastest growing locations for headquarters.

Amazon’s split decision makes even more sense when you realize New York and D.C. are part of the same mega-region, the greater Boston-New York-Washington, or Bos-Wash. This is the largest mega-region in North America, with more than 50 million people and $2 trillion in economic output. It is also far and away home to the most Fortune 500 headquarters, with 137, more than a quarter of the total, as the table below shows. Chi-Pitts is a distant second, followed by the Texas Triangle of Dallas, Houston, and Austin; Northern California; and Char-lanta. The Pacific Northwest region of Cascadia and southern Florida (Miami, Orlando, and Tampa) both pull in last, with 11 and six headquarters respectively.

Top Mega-Regions for Fortune 500 Headquarters in 2017

Mega-Region Count Share
Bos-Wash 137 27.4%
Chi-Pitts 89 17.8%
Texas Triangle 53 10.1%
NorCal 35 7.0%
Char-Lanta 23 4.6%
SoCal 18 3.6%
Cascadia 11 2.2%
So-Flo 6 1.2%

When all is said and done, splitting Amazon HQ2 between New York and D.C. is a telling case of the big getting bigger and the rich getting richer. In fact, headquarters location is itself a reflection of our lopsided winner-take-all urbanism, with the top five cities accounting for a third of all Fortune 500 headquarters and half of their profits, and the top ten leading cities accounting for half of all headquarters and two-thirds of their profits.

Portion of Revenues and Profits By Top Headquarters in 2017

Headquarters HQ Share Revenues Profits
Top 5 32.6% 34.9% 49.8%
Top 10 48.8% 53.7% 64.7%
Top 25 74.4% 82.1% 86.6%

Amazon’s HQ2 search has been filled with twists and turns. Through it all, Amazon has played cities like a fiddle, crowdsourcing reams of information and compiling what is likely North America’s best site-selection database. It has compelled a competition on its own terms.

But America’s mayors and governors—including leading progressive politicians in blue states and cities—are the bigger culprits: Instead of standing firm or banding together, they’ve offered up hundreds of millions and in some cases billions, of taxpayer dollars. This money could be used to fight poverty, improve schools, or build affordable housing instead of being placed in the hands of a trillion-dollar corporation.

About the only hope left is that Amazon wakes up and does the right thing. Realizing that accepting such excessive public funds may create a backlash that could cost its brand dearly, Amazon could reject incentives and pledge with its new and old headquarter cities to address pressing issues and challenges like transit, homelessness, and housing affordability. The gains to its brand would far outstretch the actual monetary value of any incentives offered by the cities which, relatively, scarcely add to Amazon’s massive value and profits, anyway.

The alternative is hard to ponder. Not only will Amazon’s acceptance of such a huge incentive package mortgage away the “winner’s” future, it will unleash a devastating cycle of more competitions and even bigger incentives packages in the future.

CityLab editorial fellow Claire Tran contributed research and editorial assistance to this article.

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The London Underground Now Has Its Own Sneaker Line

Will every subway system eventually have its own line of sneakers? It might not seem necessary, but as London joins Berlin by launching its own limited edition footwear range, the rank of subway systems peddling their own shoes is swelling.

A collaboration between Transport for London (TfL) and Adidas Originals, London’s three customized sneaker designs were brought out at the end of last month to celebrate the 15th birthday of the Oyster card, London’s touch-in, touch-out public transit payment card. The sneakers have already caused lines around the block in London, but it’s not for their design or inevitable collector’s item status. It’s because they’re basically free for straphangers.

One pair of sneakers from the 1,500-pair line will actually set you back £80 ($105). Along with the shoes, however, you also get a limited edition Oyster card and wallet, already charged with the sum total of… £80. Sure, the package isn’t quite as impressive the deal offered by Berlin’s public transit sneaker line last year, in which the shoes themselves functioned as an annual travel pass at a quarter of the price. But it’s still a sensible purchase.   

As for their design, well, there’s nothing wrong with them. Not much different from the standard Adidas models from which they were customized, they do have some distinctive features, such as the classic TfL roundel on shoe tongues. One pair goes a little further with the theme by including a red and blue stripe that echoes the color scheme of TfL’s staff uniform. Beyond that, however, the shoes are functional and not especially distinctive—an apt enough embodiment of the spirit of London’s sprawling, visually diverse public transit network.

Given the small number of pairs created, the sneakers are already going for high prices (minus their Oyster cards) online, currently going for as much as £200 ($262) on resale. A final batch of shoes is out November 10, so anyone in London this Saturday who doesn’t mind waiting outside participating Adidas stores has a chance of grabbing one.

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What an ‘Octopus Census’ Near Seattle Found

On a recent Sunday, two divers at a small cove in West Seattle pulled on their suits, air tanks, and masks. With their fins in their hands, they walked slowly towards the edge of Puget Sound, ready to descend dozens of feet into the water’s foggy depths in search of the largest octopus in the world—the giant Pacific octopus.

Jerry Dollar, a seasoned amateur diver who organized the expedition through the Emerald Sea Dive Club, offered Andrew Creighton and Mark Newland some last-minute advice. Keep an eye out for piles of clam and crab shells, because that may indicate you’re next to their den, he told them. Look carefully through piles of rocks and in the Honey Bear, a shipwrecked boat about 35 feet under water. And don’t skip the shallow areas.

“I’ve seen [octopuses] in 10 feet of water,” Dollar told Creighton and Newland. “They’re opportunistic. They go where the food is.”

Jerry Dollar (right) talks to Mark Newland in West Seattle on the day of the octopus search. (Hallie Golden)

This West Seattle expedition was one of dozens of local dives carried out as part of the 18th Annual Seattle Aquarium Octopus Survey. For about one week during the month of October, 60 volunteers searched Puget Sound at 26 dive sites and reported their findings back to the aquarium. After each underwater trip, the citizen scientists submitted an online form detailing the location and depth of their dive, the number of giant Pacific octopuses they saw, and their general size.

Last week, after all of the diving was completed, a team at the Seattle aquarium examined the 41 reports submitted. A total of 29 giant Pacific octopuses were spotted—10 fewer than the number at this time last year, and found in almost all of the same places, said Kathryn Kegel, senior aquarist at the Seattle Aquarium.

The decrease isn’t a cause for alarm, she said. “Over the last 18 years, we have seen the numbers cycle up and down. So even though we saw less octopuses this year, it doesn’t mean the population is in decline. It seems to be part of their natural population cycle.”

The divers at the West Seattle cove didn’t find any giant Pacific octopuses during their first one-hour dive. “If you’re lucky, you’ll find some. If you aren’t, you won’t,” as Dollar put it. “That’s the way it is out there.” During their evening dive, they found five octopuses, but these were likely all East Pacific red octopuses, which are smaller and overall more common than the giant Pacific on the West Coast.

Initially, the octopus survey was launched to try to answer a question that staff members got regularly at the Seattle Aquarium: How many giant Pacific octopuses live in the Puget Sound? It turns out it’s not an easy question to answer, since there isn’t a firm population number for giant Pacifics.

These octopuses normally live about three years. They eat a lot of crustaceans, mollusks, squid, fish and sometimes other species of octopus. They are so big that they only really have to watch out for extremely large fish, such as halibut and lingcod, and some marine mammals. But they hatch from an egg the size of a rice grain, so for more than a year after they’re born, they are at the mercy of a wide array of predators.

Although adults weigh 90 pounds on average and can have an arm span as long as 20 feet, giant Pacifics blend very well into their surroundings. They can change color and even texture to protect themselves from predators, or communicate with others around them. They also tend to move around to different dens depending on the amount of food available, said Joel Hollander, an associate curator at the Seattle Aquarium.

But perhaps the biggest challenge with keeping tabs on these creatures is the fact that standard counting methods are virtually impossible to use. They’re soft-bodied animals, so scientists avoid rigid tags to mark them. They also can’t reliably use dyes to tag them because it’s so difficult to see the color when they’re in their dens. “It’s really difficult,” said Hollander. “We haven’t really found any tried and true method on how to tag them.”

Almost two decades ago, staff members at the aquarium decided they’d try something a little different. They enlisted members of the very active local dive community to try to help them collect information on the giant Pacific population. “While we may never be able to tell you exactly how many GPOs are in the [sound], we can see general trends and changes that [are] maybe happening in their population or where they are being found,” said Kegel.

Three years ago, the survey’s organizers refined it to get more consistent findings. Rather than having divers explore any site they wanted, they enlisted some of them to check the same key six sites, which are now visited every year. They also moved the event from January to October, in the hopes that better weather would increase participation.

Mark Newland (left) and Andrew Creighton return from a dive in search of the giant Pacific octopus. (Hallie Golden)

That seems to be paying off. The census has become an annual, up-close look at the giant Pacific octopus, so if the population is impacted by environmental changes or pollution, the aquarium staff will know. “If our [scheduled] sightings and reports stay the same, yet we’re getting very, very, very low numbers for probably two to four years, then we probably would raise the flag to the Department of Fish & Wildlife and say, ‘You guys might want to take a look at this,’” said Hollander.

But the survey has also simply been a good way to educate the community about a creature that has become source of interest because of its unique characteristics.

Giant Pacific octopuses have three hearts and about 200 suckers on each of their eight arms, which have the ability to taste. They are also incredibly smart. In lab tests, they’ve been able to solve mazes, and have reportedly mimicked their fellow octopuses and even pried open jars.

“When you look into its eyes,” Hollander said, “[the Giant Pacific] seems to have some sort of intelligence behind that.”

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The Value of Analytics in Smart Parking

While it may sound like a simple process, there are challenges to consider when it comes to the effectiveness of parking sensors, such as their location. For example, in-ground sensors, a technology used by some cities in the past, presented a myriad of problems, including ineffective readings that can result in unreliable data and lost revenue.

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The City Leaders Who Reached Higher Office in 2018

After leading Phoenix for more than six years as mayor, Democrat Greg Stanton is headed to Washington, D.C. He’ll serve as a newly elected member to the U.S. House of Representatives for Arizona’s 9th Congressional District.

Stanton is one of the many city leaders who eyed higher positions in the 2018 midterm elections, and one of a small handful who actually won. Other mayors who are likely to join him in Congress include Knox County, Tennessee, Mayor Tim Burchett, a Republican elected to his state’s 2nd Congressional District; and current Salt Lake City Mayor Ben McAdams, a Democrat who is currently leading GOP incumbent Mia Love in Utah’s 4th Congressional District. (Stanton and Burchett both stepped down as mayor earlier this year to run for Congress.)

Meanwhile, other city leaders sought higher office at the statewide level. As Governing reported, it was rare a decade ago for mayors to run for governors’ offices—and even rarer for them to win. That’s thanks in part to the urban-rural divide, which can make it difficult for leaders in more liberal urban areas to garner votes in their states’ more conservative rural areas. Then there’s the fact that many simply find the idea unappealing. In a recent survey of 94 U.S. mayors, several reported a disinterest in legislative work and a feeling that state governments were too dysfunctional and ineffective for their liking. Black and female mayors in particular were the least interested.

This year, nearly 20 current or former mayors sought federal or statewide offices. That includes Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s closely watched bid to become Florida’s first black governor, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s attempt to become governor of Tennessee, and former Anchorage Mayor (and former U.S. Senator) Mark Begich’s run at Alaska’s governor’s mansion. Ultimately, none of those three were successful.

One such winner is Democrat John Fetterman, the current mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, who won his bid for lieutenant governor. And California’s Gavin Newsom is making headlines for his win for governor. He is the state’s current lieutenant governor, and he served as San Francisco’s mayor from 2004 to 2011. (In the primaries, Newsom defeated another former mayor: Antonio Villaraigosa, who led Los Angeles from 2005 to 2013.)

In some ways, the losses by the likes of Gillum and Dean suggest that the mayor’s office is a difficult stepping stone to statewide office, especially in red-leaning states. At the same time, that many mayors even ran for higher positions—many of the progressive candidates no doubt emboldened by the expectation of a “blue wave” this year—is a sign that things could be changing.

As CityLab’s Kriston Capps writes, there’s a lot that makes mayors unusually fit for higher office. They’re on the front lines of dealing with issues like climate change, transportation, welfare programs, and the economy. “The affordable housing crisis is sacking vulnerable families and sopping the middle class, while traffic gums up every city in America, taking a toll on the economy as a whole,” Capps wrote. “Pocketbook issues are American issues, and the leaders with the most experience addressing them in recent years are mayors.”

A handful of other municipal officeholders sought to move beyond their city borders this year as well. One historic win came from Ayanna Pressley, who in September defeated 10-time incumbent Representative Mark Capuano in the Democratic primaries in Massachusetts’s 7th Congressional District. Without a Republican challenger, she breezed through the general election to become the state’s first black congresswoman, nearly 10 years after she became Boston’s first black city councilwoman.

From this week’s election, at least two county commissioners are also celebrating a jump from local to state or federal offices. Steve Sisolak, who is the current chair of the Clark County commission in Nevada, will become the state’s first Democratic governor in 25 years, defeating state Attorney General Adam Laxalt. In Minnesota, St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber helped Republicans flip the 8th District after defeating Democratic state representative Joe Radinovich.

While the midterm elections may just have ended, there’s already talk about the 2020 elections. And a few city leaders are already getting thrown into the rumor mill, like former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. Just remember: No sitting mayor has been nominated for president by a major party since 1812, and only one president had ever been mayor of a major city before making it to the White House. Is there any chance that’ll change by the next election cycle?

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Suburban Voters Gave Democrats Their House Majority

Democrats retook the House of Representatives on the back of a suburban surge Tuesday, remaking a once rock-ribbed Republican bastion into a Democratic stronghold.

Though some districts remained undecided Wednesday afternoon, Democrats had picked up at least 28 seats in Congress, almost all of them predominantly suburban. These suburban districts, once closely divided, are now twice as likely to be represented by a Democrat as by a Republican.​​​​​​ Democrats even lost some seats in rural areas, but picked up at least 20 seats that CityLab’s Congressional Density Index classifies as “sparse suburban” or “dense suburban.” Add that to Democrat gains in almost all of the remaining Republican-held districts with major urban populations and you have a new, blue majority.

These shifts solidify a political density divide that is only increasing in America. If dense districts usually give us Democrats, and far-flung rural districts usually go to Republicans, it was the suburban places in between—less populous than left-leaning cities, but significantly denser than right-leaning rural areas—that determined control of the House of Representatives.

Another seven predominantly suburban districts remained undecided as of Wednesday afternoon.

CityLab’s analysis has shown that America’s electoral geography is more complex than a simple divide between “urban” and “rural” areas. There is a continuum of densities in the U.S., even within the category of “suburb.”

Before Tuesday’s election, Republicans controlled a majority of the “sparse suburban” districts, where voters tend to live in outer-ring, low-density suburbs. And they held on to one-third of the “dense suburban” districts, which are more tightly packed suburbs often located closer to big cities.

That’s all gone now. Democrats control nearly 60 percent of the sparse suburban districts, and more than 80 percent of the dense suburban districts, up from about 67 percent.

This shift wasn’t the same everywhere. The suburban swing was strongest in the Midwest, where Democrats picked up seven sparse suburban districts. They went from controlling just 20 percent of these Midwestern outer suburban seats to 55 percent. Democrats also made big gains in northeastern suburbs, where they picked up five sparse suburban districts, driven by gains in Pennsylvania (which replaced a gerrymandered district map with a court-drawn map for this election).

The suburbs aren’t monolithically blue in the same way America’s urban congressional districts are. Republicans will only represent two of 46 “urban-suburban mix” districts next year, after losing most of the few of each they had left on Tuesday. They also lost the only “pure urban” district they still held.

And the suburbs aren’t quite as red as rural America, where Democrats represent 33 out of more than 180 pure rural and rural-suburban mix districts.

But the suburbs, at least for one election, are now comfortably Democratic territory.

Right now nearly 120 million Americans live in predominantly suburban congressional districts. More than 80 million of them are represented by a Democrat. Future elections could reinforce the blue cast of the suburbs or challenge it, but for now, America’s swing suburbs have swung to the left.

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MapLab: Maps Won the Midterms

As you may have heard, a Blue Wave hit America on Tuesday night. Or was it a ripple or a splash? It definitely wasn’t a blue tsunami. But it wasn’t a red tide, either.

These phrases were all over headlines for the 2018 U.S. midterms. It’s hard to believe that less than twenty years ago they could have totally confused you. By now, the arbitrary color-coding of two political parties has become utterly axiomatic in American language and visual culture. There’s a reason those MAGA hats are crimson.

Workers walk on a giant presidential election map of the United States made of ice in the skating rink at New York City’s Rockefeller Center, in 2004. The states in red went for President Bush, the blue states for Senator John Kerry, and the remaining white states were undecided as of about midnight on election night. (Kathy Willens/AP)

And guess what? A map did it. Our partisan palette—blue for Democrats, red for Republicans—originated in the election maps the media produced for the 2000 presidential race.

Previously, TV stations, newspapers, and political atlases mostly followed their own aesthetic whims when it came to coloring thematic election maps, which date back to the 19th century. Sometimes they threw yellow and green in the mix, which would now seem totally blasphemous, though red and blue, being the hues of the American flag, have always been popular picks. But their respective assignments have varied; blue just as often repped Republicans and red, Democrats, through the end of the 20th century. And, confusingly, in other countries, the fiery shade is usually associated with leftist parties. That wasn’t always the case in the U.S. ”It’s beginning to look like a suburban swimming pool,” one television anchor reportedly said in November 1980, as Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory over Jimmy Carter became manifest in a blue-tiled map.

A late-19th century map of the presidential elections of the United States, 1789 to 1876. Democrats are the party in yellow, and the Know-Nothings are blue. Republicans are, in fact, red. (Library of Congress)

But the turn of the millennium was another fraught time in American politics. It took weeks for the nation to learn whether George Bush or Al Gore had won the presidency, as poll workers recounted the ballots in Florida. Because electoral maps were on screen and in print so often, producers and publishers figured consistency would help viewers follow along. So they conformed to the same colors, and from that point on, they really, really stuck. That’s how you automatically knew the “red tide” wasn’t some kind of biblical meteorological event—although the elections did sometimes feel like that.

Does our two-sided color-wheel have any effect on our political affinities? A color psychologist told the New York Times in 2004 that it’s hard to say if people are more drawn to something by its associated color. But one 2016 study published by the National Institutes of Health suggests colors can drive parties apart. Psychology researchers tested how readers reacted to news articles about Russia and NATO when each subject was represented on a map as red and blue, respectively (their old Cold War-era designations), compared to how they perceived other color combinations.

The result: Participants who already had negative beliefs about Russia read the sides as being more antagonistic, but only when Russia was depicted in red. In other words, the colors reinforced political perceptions and stereotypes. Somehow, it’s not hard to imagine the same is true of the un-united red and blue states.

What do you think? Write me with your thoughts.

A cartographic feast

Elections are always a feast for map nerds, and these midterms were no exception. On CityLab, several recent stories have used maps to highlight what was at stake on Tuesday.

Up first, I wrote about a map by the amateur cartographer Philip Kearney that put a twist on voter turnout rates for the 2016 presidential election. Kearney showed how if no-show eligible voters had cast their ballots for “nobody”—the effective result of their abstention—“nobody” would have won the election rather than either of the actual candidates. And in a new series of interactive maps, Esri dug up more election data to show how non-voters helped elect Donald Trump.

(Philip Kearney)

Next, my colleague David Montgomery wrote about what the Republican landslide in the 2010 midterms portended for last night’s elections, when Democrats finally regained a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. They had lost it eight years ago in an election that rewrote the country’s political geography around density. In 2010, Republicans started their domination of sparsely populated rural areas, Montgomery writes. The map he built to accompany the story shows how most GOP pickups in 2010 were in the country’s “pure rural” and “rural-suburban mix” districts. (Read about CityLab’s Congressional Density Index, which determines those classifications, here.)

Democrats had their turn at kicking off a new normal on Tuesday night, too, by taking control of the House with a “sweeping performance in suburban congressional districts,” Montgomery told me later. He writes for MapLab:

Democrats won 13 “sparse suburban” districts and another nine “dense suburban” districts, as categorized by CityLab’s Congressional Density Index. Democrats also won most of the remaining Republican-held urban districts, but made few gains into rural districts where they are a distinct minority.

And here’s his map that shows where it happened.

Mappy links: Midterms edition

Ending gerrymandering was a big theme among the progressive victories on Tuesday’s ballots—voters in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah approved redistricting measures. Here’s CityLab’s Kriston Capps on why that matters, and the story of one Michigander who led a social media crusade to fix her state’s district lines. ♦ The New York Times had two great stories about election cartography this past week: one about their in-house practices, and another about the eye-popping, effects-laden maps that TV stations use. ♦ Of all the excellent visualizations of Tuesday night’s returns, this package of maps and graphics from the Guardian stood out. ♦ Mm, the Bloomberg Graphics team baked a House Cake.

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See you in two years—er, I mean, December! MapLab will be taking a Thanksgiving break. Have a happy holiday.


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