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The Weekly Arc: September 1, 2017

Welcome to Arc’s newsletter, sent out once per week, highlighting the best and most interesting stories from Medium and from around the web. The Weekly Arc is curated by Berny Belvedere. Past editions can be accessed here.

Harvey Brings The Rain

When one thinks of hurricanes, and the havoc they are capable of wreaking, one thinks of their wind power. While Hurricane Harvey has had that power in abundance, the way this storm has devastated coastal Texas in general and Houston in particular is through the sheer volume of its flood waters.

It is clear now that Harvey’s destruction is historic, and not in a good way.

Here is a look at the storm’s historic devastation, by the numbers:

20 trillion gallons: That’s the total amount of rain that fell on the Houston area since the storm made landfall, a staggering deluge that represents enough water to supply New York City’s needs for over five decades.

$125 billion: Texas Gov. Greg Abbot said his state will need federal relief money “far in excess” of that total, which would surpass Hurricane Katrina as the costliest storm in U.S. history.

51.88 inches: The amount of rain recorded at Cedar Bayou on the outskirts of Houston in just under five days, marking a new record for the heaviest rainfall for a storm in the continental U.S., according to the National Weather Service.

13 million: The estimated number of people directly affected as the storm heads from Texas into Louisiana with Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky all forecast to see rain and potential flooding in the coming days.

30,000–40,000: The estimated number of homes destroyed by floodwaters in and around Houston, according to Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

32,000: The number of people in shelters across Texas, according to Gov. Greg Abbott.

325,000: People who have registered for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as of Thursday, according to FEMA.

10,000: The number of people rescued by federal forces as of Thursday, FEMA said, plus countless other Good Samaritan rescues.

200,000: The estimated number of customers without power in Texas on Thursday.

900: The number of 911 calls coming in per hour at one point.

120,000: The number of residents without water in Beaumont, Texas, on Thursday.

24,000: The number of National Guard troops deployed to assist in relief efforts, including all of Texas’ members as well as some from other states. The Texas governor said these troops will be needed for months to search homes and restore the state to order. — ABC News

These aren’t inflated statistics. The analyses are coming in, and they’re confirming what we’re all seeing with our eyes.

As Harvey’s rains unfolded, the intensity and scope of the disaster were so enormous that weather forecasters, first responders, the victims, everyone really, couldn’t believe their eyes. Now the data are bearing out what everyone suspected: This flood event is on an entirely different scale than what we’ve seen before in the United States.

A new analysis from the University of Wisconsin’s Space Science and Engineering Center has determined that Harvey is a 1-in-1,000-year flood event that has overwhelmed an enormous section of Southeast Texas equivalent in size to New Jersey.

There is nothing in the historical record that rivals this, according to Shane Hubbard, the Wisconsin researcher who made and mapped this calculation. “In looking at many of these events [in the United States], I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude or size,” he said. “This is something that hasn’t happened in our modern era of observations.”

Hubbard made additional calculations that accentuate the massive scale of the disaster:

At least 20 inches of rain fell over an area (nearly 29,000 square miles) larger than 10 states, including West Virginia and Maryland (by a factor of more than two).

At least 30 inches of rain fell over an area (more than 11,000 square miles) equivalent to Maryland’s size. — The Washington Post

Trump Pardons Arpaio

Arc featured two articles this week condemning Donald Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio. You should read them in full.

Stephen Shoemaker:

Joe Arpaio, the former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, is a very bad person. This Twitter thread from the Phoenix New Times, which has cracked 135,000 retweets, details a number of “Sheriff Joe’s” many misdeeds. Among them are:

Mistreating and abusing prisoners, resulting in an extraordinary number of prisoner deaths

Arresting reporters who covered him critically

Withholding medical care from prisoners

Sending arrestees who have not been indicted to the famed “tent camps,” where temperatures at times soared to 140 degrees

Faking an assassination attempt on his life and framing the 18-year-old would-be assailant

Failing to properly investigate hundreds of sexual abuse crimes, including those against children, many of whom were immigrants, legal and illegal

Presiding over a jail system in which 160 prisoners committed suicide under his control

For a law enforcement official to engage in the behavior specified above and escape being criminally indicted is a marvel. The reality is that a great deal of trust is placed in law enforcement personnel to execute their duties in good faith and in compliance with the law. In Arizona, however, the county, city, and state were forced to pay millions of dollars in civil settlements while Sheriff Joe touted his “tough on crime record.” Let’s examine the crime for which Arpaio was pardoned by President Trump: criminal contempt of court. …

This is the man President Trump has decided to pardon completely in the first year of his term for transparently political reasons (the decision was not even run past the Department of Justice, as has been the norm). There is literally no plausible rationale for this move other than the fact that Sheriff Joe is popular among President Trump’s base. And it arrives on the heels of an equivocating defense of the alt-right in Charlottesville just two weeks ago.

It is a disgrace.

Varad Mehta:

The pursuit of broader explanations and ultimate consequences while understandable is beside the point. There is no need to probe for ulterior motives or hidden keys to Trump’s motivations and goals when both are readily explained in terms of his prior conduct and previously stated views.

The president has a record of advocating a harsh, even punitive approach to criminal justice issues dating to the 1980s. He has an almost as long and notorious record of praising authoritarian leaders.

Trump’s pardon of Arpaio represents the fusion of these two principles, his admiration of tough-on-crime law enforcement and his adulation of strongmen. Of course he pardoned “America’s toughest sheriff.” The surprise would have been if he hadn’t. …

Trump pardoned Arpaio for what in the grand scheme of things was a petty offense: a charge of criminal contempt of court for his repeated refusal to obey judicial decrees commanding him to stop racially profiling suspected illegal immigrants. The maximum sentence he faced was six months in prison. The real story, as usual, is not what was considered a crime but what wasn’t.

The record of Arpaio’s malfeasance is breathtaking in its depravity and malignance. Arpaio described “Tent City,” an outdoor extension of the county jail, as a “concentration camp.” Conditions became so hot there that prisoners’ shoes melted.

The county prison system when he ran it had a suicide rate among prisoners greatly exceeding those of other county lockups. On one occasion, prison guards managed to break the neck of a man who was already paralyzed.

To boost one of his re-election campaigns, Arpaio concocted an assassination plot against himself. The hapless dupe he cajoled into being the triggerman spent four years in jail before being acquitted and collecting a multi-million dollar settlement from the county.

Arpaio even found the resources to send a deputy to Hawaii to seek President Obama’s “real” birth certificate. Unsurprisingly, genuine law enforcement fell by the wayside. Arpaio ignored hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse.

Anyone who had the effrontery to challenge Arpaio’s conduct met the same fate as those unfortunate enough to fall into his custody. Arpaio hired a private investigator to find dirt on a federal judge who criticized him.

In retaliation for its harsh coverage of his department, Arpaio had local prosecutors issue subpoenas to The Phoenix New Times. Its publishers refused to comply, so Arpaio had them arrested in late-night raids. When the county board of supervisors tried to cut his budget, he had its members arrested on bogus charges of corruption.

Arpaio’s staff regularly called Hispanic inmates “wetbacks.” On a botched SWAT raid, his officers burned the target’s house down and when his dog tried to escape forced it back inside, where it burned to death.

Whether his blatant racism was greater than his wanton cruelty cannot be calculated. What can be is the cost of his reign of terror to Maricopa County taxpayers: $140 million for the wrongful deaths of prisoners in his care, and $3.5 million and $3.75 million, respectively, to the persecuted county supervisors and the publishers of the New Times.

An official who imprisons inmates in a “concentration camp,” uses his powers to intimidate his political opponents, and harasses and threatens journalists — are we talking about an American county sheriff or the leader of a totalitarian polity?

Trump Orders Diplomatic Retaliation Against Russia

The State Department on Thursday ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco as well as two other properties in the U.S., instructions that came as officials said the U.S. has “fully implemented” a Kremlin directive to cut hundreds of diplomatic staff in Russia.

Russia has until Saturday to close its San Francisco consulate and two annexes housing trade missions in Washington, D.C., and New York City, officials said. The U.S. ordered the closures “in the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

The moves on Thursday were the latest in an escalating diplomatic tit-for-tat after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections.

Though President Donald Trump had sought closer cooperation with Russia upon taking office, that outreach has been hampered by the fallout from the interference, and congressional and Justice Department investigations into whether his campaign or associates colluded with the Kremlin, a connection he has denied. The Trump administration’s efforts have also been frustrated by a conflict in eastern Ukraine that remains at a stalemate. — The Wall Street Journal

Nicholas Grossman Joins Arc

This week, Nicholas Grossman officially joined the Arc Digital team as editor-at-large.

We’re very happy with this development. Here’s how I put it in the announcement post:

There are few thinkers providing commentary today who can match Nick’s ability to discuss some of the most difficult topics in the policy space — whether domestic or foreign — with clarity, precision, and insight.

Nick joins Ryan Huber, our executive editor, and myself, Arc’s editor-in-chief, to form an editorial trident the likes of which the world has never seen.

Have I overstated things a bit? Probably. But the exuberance is real: with Nick on board, Arc has the editorial and analytical firepower to compete with anyone in the center-right space.

Since the beginning, Arc has been committed to intelligent commentary that feels no compulsion to be bound by partisan identification. With the addition of Nick, and with the winnowing of our focus to 5, rather than 7, site categories, we’re confident Arc can take up a place of influence in the industry as a premiere center-right publication.

Check out Nick’s latest piece here:

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Please visit our Patreon page and help us build something special.

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This Week In History

September 1

1715 — King Louis XIV (b. 1643), the French ruler whose reign of 72 years is the longest on record for any European monarch, passes away.

September 2

1973 — J. R. R. Tolkien (b. 1892), author of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” passes away.

September 3

1783 — The Treaty of Paris, which officially ends the American Revolutionary War, is signed.

September 4

1781 — Los Angeles is founded by 44 settlers who called the place “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula.”

September 5

1666 — The end of the Great Fire of London, which destroyed 70,000 of the 80,000 residents’ homes.

September 6

1620 — The Mayflower departs England for the New World.

September 7

1936 — Buddy Holly, the prodigious 1950s pop talent who would die in a plane crash at the age of 22, is born.


We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

— Ophelia (William Shakespeare), “Hamlet”



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