Madness

Pandemic

I was kind of grumpy this morning. Because I’m pissed now at both Ken Ganley Toyota and Spitzer Toyota, I’d gone to Rohrich Toyota to try and get new windshield wiper blades (this is the time of year to do that here) and found a big sign on the door saying they were closed due to COVID-19.

Auto parts, like auto repair, are an essential service, exempt from the governor’s shutdown order. And I don’t like aftermarket windshield wiper blades so I always go to a dealer for these.

So I went to South Hills Toyota in Washington County. I had to fill out a night drop form, including the vehicle identification number (VIN), and leave it in the service bay. This after having ordered the parts on the phone.

Normally, I just go to the parts counter and they install the new windshield wiper blades. And as it happened (I found this out after I’d failed at Rohrich) I also needed a battery for my keyless entry fob, making all this all the more urgent—another parts counter function.

And in the end, this was really what it pretty much came down to, apart from having to leave the car in the service bay and walk away because I couldn’t even wait in their waiting room.

So I walked across the street to a Sheetz convenience store. While trying to figure out what I’d order or purchase, the service department called me and informed me that they’d need the car all day because I didn’t have an appointment. I just told them, no. I’d come back and retrieve the car.

As I was walking back, there was the parts guy replacing the windshield wiper blades. He said it’d just take a few seconds, explained the guy from the service department. As I carefully maintained an ample social distance between myself and them, he then replaced the battery in the fob and informed me there’s a little corrosion there—bad news, but the fob can be replaced at some expense.

So in the end, I accomplished what I set out to accomplish, which was great, but the drama seems more than a bit much.

I know I’ve been asking how long we can go on with a precipitous economic collapse. Apart from that is the question of how long I can sustain this madness.

David Roth is blistering on both Donald Trump and media coverage of Trump,[1] who, along with fellow Republicans, seems to have used an initial denial and minimization of the seriousness of COVID-19 to cover a retreat from stocks[2] and to enable his fellow Republicans to develop a stimulus plan that, at the time and to many, seemed serious.[3] But what remains crystal clear is that the poor still cannot afford to stop working and rarely have the opportunity to work from home.[4]

David Roth, “The Enduring Delusion of a Chastened Trump,” New Republic, April 3, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/157154/enduring-delusion-chastened-trump

Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Denise Lu, and Gabriel J.X. Dance, “Location Data Says It All: Staying at Home During Coronavirus Is a Luxury,” New York Times, April 3, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/03/us/coronavirus-stay-home-rich-poor.html


  1. [1]David Roth, “The Enduring Delusion of a Chastened Trump,” New Republic, April 3, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/157154/enduring-delusion-chastened-trump
  2. [2]Adam Gaffney, “Trump sees the coronavirus as a threat to his self-interest – not to people,” Guardian, March 17, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/17/trump-sees-the-coronavirus-as-a-threat-to-his-self-interest-not-to-people; Susan B. Glasser, “A President Unequal to the Moment,” New Yorker, March 12, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trumps-washington/a-president-unequal-to-the-moment; Dana Milbank, “For Trump, a reckoning has come,” Washington Post, February 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/28/trump-reckoning-has-come/; Ashley Parker, Yasmeen Abutaleb, and Lena H. Sun, “Squandered time: How the Trump administration lost control of the coronavirus crisis,” Washington Post, March 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-coronavirus-response-squandered-time/2020/03/07/5c47d3d0-5fcb-11ea-9055-5fa12981bbbf_story.html; David Remnick, “How the Coronavirus Shattered Trump’s Serene Confidence,” New Yorker, March 22, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/03/30/how-the-coronavirus-shattered-trumps-serene-confidence; Paul Waldman, “How coronavirus has deeply flummoxed conservative media,” Washington Post, February 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/28/how-coronavirus-has-deeply-flummuxed-conservative-media/; Kevin D. Williamson, “History Called — and Senator Burr Called His Broker,” National Review, March 20, 2020, https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/03/history-called-and-senator-burr-called-his-broker/
  3. [3]Jeff Stein et al., “Senate Republicans release massive economic stimulus bill for coronavirus response,” Washington Post, March 19, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/19/trump-coronavirus-economic-plan-stimulus/
  4. [4]Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Denise Lu, and Gabriel J.X. Dance, “Location Data Says It All: Staying at Home During Coronavirus Is a Luxury,” New York Times, April 3, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/03/us/coronavirus-stay-home-rich-poor.html

The corrupt and the decrepit

It’s the second time this has happened since I got to Pittsburgh. I’ve been going to dealers to get my car serviced because I haven’t found an independent hybrid mechanic. And my tire guy keeps warning me that dealers are under pressure to raise revenue from their service departments because they’re having trouble moving their inventories of cars.

The first time I had a problem was with Ken Ganley Toyota. They flagged my tires as needing service soon. It wasn’t true. I expect to put those particular tires back on (I have snow tires on now, even as the birds are starting to build their nests) when I do the rotation at the end of April.

Now, Spitzer Toyota flagged my rear brakes as needing immediate attention. It’s not true. According to my tire guy, the front brakes have 50 percent left and the rear brakes have over 50 percent. And yes, that is apparently sufficient to pass the state-required inspection.

I just checked my records. It’s been a little over 40,000 miles since the rear brakes were last done. The mechanic who performed the state-required inspection when I arrived, and who clearly did not expect to become my regular mechanic, warned me this was coming, so it wasn’t a surprise.

But because this is a hybrid, regenerative brakes take a lot of the load. I’ve put a little over 110,000 miles on the car and haven’t done the front brakes yet.

Some things I can get checked. Like the tires and the brakes. But a lot of stuff I can’t. If for example, a mechanic tells me the car is due for a tune-up that I had done yesterday, I just have to take their word for it. I really don’t know otherwise until the engine starts misfiring or I get a check engine light, neither of which I want to happen with passengers in the car.

The starter battery, which had been flagged as needing service soon on the previous service but not the one yesterday, is another example. When that battery fails, the car goes into “limp home” mode, which caps your speed at a ridiculously low speed, on the order of five miles per hour. And it can fail without warning—this happened to me once before. This is something else I don’t want to happen with passengers in the car.

I have to be able to trust my mechanic on a lot of stuff. So far in Pittsburgh, that’s been a real problem. But I looked again today for an independent hybrid mechanic. To the limited extent one can trust online reviews, I might have found somebody. And my mother found someone else who seems even more highly rated and a little closer.


Pittsburgh

There is a new blog post entitled, “The abandoned.”

I’m starting to see the first flowers of spring. I think I like having four seasons. Well, three of them anyway (summer is ridiculous).


Pennsylvania

If—a very big if—I understand correctly, Uber and Lyft drivers are not directly affected by the governor’s shutdown order affecting “nonessential” businesses that should already be in effect.[1] That said, there will be even fewer places for people to go than there already are.

From a few days ago:

This is an unprecedented time in our community. Our region has always been at its best when we work together, and this challenge is no exception. We need everyone to step up and play a part in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our region. We understand that this may cause hardship for some, and frustration for others, but it’s imperative that we work together to do what’s best for our community.[2]

The hardship is disproportionately borne by the poor who, as yet, have no assurance of any compensation, let alone full compensation. I’m really not feeling this “community spirit” that I guess I’m supposed to feel when, yet again, I’m left to negotiate the financially impossible by myself.

Kara Seymour, “All ‘Non-Life-Sustaining’ Businesses In PA Must Close By 8 PM,” Patch, March 19, 2020, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/baldwin-whitehall/s/h20cy/all-non-life-sustaining-businesses-in-pa-must-close-by-8-pm


  1. [1]Kara Seymour, “All ‘Non-Life-Sustaining’ Businesses In PA Must Close By 8 PM,” Patch, March 19, 2020, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/baldwin-whitehall/s/h20cy/all-non-life-sustaining-businesses-in-pa-must-close-by-8-pm
  2. [2]Rich Fitzgerald, quoted in WTAE, “Allegheny County officials call on all nonessential businesses to close,” March 16, 2020, https://www.wtae.com/article/allegheny-county-calls-on-all-non-essential-businesses-to-close/31648999

Communication disruption now in progress

Housekeeping

IMG_20200316_181327
Fig. 1. The Pixel 4 XL finally arrived. Photograph by author, March 16, 2020.

After what has to be the worst FedEx Ground experience I’ve ever had—understand I don’t do this a whole lot—a somewhat battered box arrived today. Fortunately, the contents were undamaged, as expected, and I am charging the Pixel 4 XL before beginning the transfer from the Pixel 3 XL.

The AT&T and Verizon phone numbers have already been taken off of iMessages and the communication disruption originally planned for Friday should be presumed to have begun. Watch this space for further updates. As always, contact information is here.

Coronavirus

I’m seeing more of how coronavirus is impacting my business. The shutdowns mean a lot of my customers suddenly are out of work, not formally laid off, but not working either, and therefore not being paid.

Some economists say the increasing lockdown in the United States could lead to an even sharper contraction than during the Great Recession. “It’s not just a loss in activity. It’s a stop, full stop,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at accounting firm Grant Thornton.[1]

And it’s a “full stop” that hits the poor hardest. It’s not enough to talk about halting evictions[2] because the rent is still due and there’s no money to pay for it. And the poor still have to buy groceries and pay other bills.

So what we’re hearing about evictions[3] isn’t really about concern for the poor. It’s concern about even bigger homeless encampments, even more visible homeless that might disturb the people the powerful really care about.

Were it otherwise, we would be hearing more about replacing the lost income that we cannot make up.[4]

Don Lee and Laura King, “Fed slashes rate to near zero to counter coronavirus as Fauci warns ‘worst is yet ahead,’” Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-03-15/fed-slashes-rate-to-near-zero-eases-lending-rules


  1. [1]Don Lee and Laura King, “Fed slashes rate to near zero to counter coronavirus as Fauci warns ‘worst is yet ahead,’” Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-03-15/fed-slashes-rate-to-near-zero-eases-lending-rules
  2. [2]Hanna Kozlowska, “Coronavirus is revealing ugly truths about social structure in the US,” Quartz, March 14, 2020, https://qz.com/1818548/coronavirus-is-revealing-ugly-truths-about-social-structure-in-the-us/; Jenny Schuetz, “America’s inequitable housing system is completely unprepared for coronavirus,” Brookings, March 12, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/12/americas-inequitable-housing-system-is-completely-unprepared-for-coronavirus/;
  3. [3]Hanna Kozlowska, “Coronavirus is revealing ugly truths about social structure in the US,” Quartz, March 14, 2020, https://qz.com/1818548/coronavirus-is-revealing-ugly-truths-about-social-structure-in-the-us/; Jenny Schuetz, “America’s inequitable housing system is completely unprepared for coronavirus,” Brookings, March 12, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/12/americas-inequitable-housing-system-is-completely-unprepared-for-coronavirus/
  4. [4]John Cassidy, “What Would a Proper Coronavirus Stimulus Plan Look Like?” New Yorker, March 14, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/what-would-a-proper-coronavirus-stimulus-plan-look-like; James Hamblin, “What Will You Do If You Start Coughing?” Atlantic, March 11, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/03/where-do-you-go-if-you-get-coronavirus/607759/

Whose economy is the Federal Reserve protecting?

Coronavirus

I think I’m not quite clear on how it is of value to try to protect the U.S. economy from a recession, slashing interest rates,[1] at the same time you’re essentially shutting it down, telling everyone to stay home, shutting businesses, and telling people to “socially distance themselves.”[2] Perhaps I should be asking whose economy is the Federal Reserve propping up? Because it sure as hell isn’t the one I’m in.[3]

Jenny Schuetz, “America’s inequitable housing system is completely unprepared for coronavirus,” Brookings, March 12, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/12/americas-inequitable-housing-system-is-completely-unprepared-for-coronavirus/

Anne Applebaum, “The Coronavirus Called America’s Bluff,” Atlantic, March 15, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-showed-america-wasnt-task/608023/

Associated Press, “U.S. moves nearer to shutdown amid coronavirus fears,” TribLive, March 15, 2020, https://triblive.com/news/world/u-s-moves-nearer-to-shutdown-amid-coronavirus-fears/

Hanna Kozlowska, “Coronavirus is revealing ugly truths about social structure in the US,” Quartz, March 14, 2020, https://qz.com/1818548/coronavirus-is-revealing-ugly-truths-about-social-structure-in-the-us/

Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Valerie Bauerlein, “How Coronavirus Remade American Life in One Weekend,” Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-remakes-american-life-in-a-weekend-11584293065

Kara Seymour, “Restaurants, Bars In 5 PA Counties Ordered Closed By Governor,” Patch, March 15, 2020, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/baldwin-whitehall/s/h1utv/restaurants-bars-in-5-pa-counties-ordered-closed-by-governor

Olivia Goldhill, “Coronavirus prevention is far more accessible for the rich,” Quartz, March 16, 2020, https://qz.com/1818862/coronavirus-prevention-is-far-more-accessible-for-the-rich/

Nick Miroff et al., “States begin imposing harsher measures to contain coronavirus as U.S. cases rise sharply,” Washington Post, March 16, 2020,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/states-begin-imposing-harsher-measures-to-contain-coronavirus-as-us-cases-rise-sharply/2020/03/15/267577a6-65b3-11ea-acca-80c22bbee96f_story.html

WTAE, “Allegheny County officials call on all nonessential businesses to close,” March 16, 2020, https://www.wtae.com/article/allegheny-county-calls-on-all-non-essential-businesses-to-close/31648999


  1. [1]Heather Long, “Federal Reserve slashes interest rates to zero as part of wide-ranging emergency intervention,” Washington Post, March 15, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/15/federal-reserve-slashes-interest-rates-zero-part-wide-ranging-emergency-intervention/
  2. [2]Associated Press, “U.S. moves nearer to shutdown amid coronavirus fears,” TribLive, March 15, 2020, https://triblive.com/news/world/u-s-moves-nearer-to-shutdown-amid-coronavirus-fears/; Bloomberg, “CDC says U.S. gatherings of over 50 people should not be held for eight weeks,” Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-03-15/cdc-us-gatherings-over-50-people-should-not-be-held-for-eight-weeks; Brent Kendall, Chad Day, and Alex Leary, “U.S. Officials Urge More Action to Combat Coronavirus,” Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/fauci-urges-americans-to-stay-home-amid-coronavirus-11584284229Nick Miroff et al., “States begin imposing harsher measures to contain coronavirus as U.S. cases rise sharply,” Washington Post, March 16, 2020,
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/states-begin-imposing-harsher-measures-to-contain-coronavirus-as-us-cases-rise-sharply/2020/03/15/267577a6-65b3-11ea-acca-80c22bbee96f_story.html; Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Valerie Bauerlein, “How Coronavirus Remade American Life in One Weekend,” Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-remakes-american-life-in-a-weekend-11584293065; Kara Seymour, “Restaurants, Bars In 5 PA Counties Ordered Closed By Governor,” Patch, March 15, 2020, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/baldwin-whitehall/s/h1utv/restaurants-bars-in-5-pa-counties-ordered-closed-by-governor; WTAE, “Allegheny County officials call on all nonessential businesses to close,” March 16, 2020, https://www.wtae.com/article/allegheny-county-calls-on-all-non-essential-businesses-to-close/31648999
  3. [3]Hanna Kozlowska, “Coronavirus is revealing ugly truths about social structure in the US,” Quartz, March 14, 2020, https://qz.com/1818548/coronavirus-is-revealing-ugly-truths-about-social-structure-in-the-us/; Jenny Schuetz, “America’s inequitable housing system is completely unprepared for coronavirus,” Brookings, March 12, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/12/americas-inequitable-housing-system-is-completely-unprepared-for-coronavirus/

Blaming victims

Housekeeping

There is still no new information on the Pixel 4 XL. In desperation, I’m reaching out to Google about this, hoping they have some pull to get some real answers.


Coronavirus

I’m seeing some folks on Twitter, even some with experience with economic hardship, castigating others who insist they have to go to work despite a widening shutdown of the economy. There’s something these folks need to understand:

People whose lives have been reduced to a struggle for survival against a relentlessly cruel and oppressive economic system for long enough can imagine nothing else. The relentless traumas of such an existence have pushed everything else aside. We are victims, just as surely as those who actually come down with COVID-19.

Criticizing us only amplifies our trauma. Telling people who rely on tips for their livelihoods or who work in the gig economy that unemployment insurance is on the way, telling people who’ve spent our entire lives struggling to pay rent that evictions are being frozen—all this only minimizes what for us is an existential struggle. None of it explains how we will survive, how we will ever recover from lost income, because even those of us (not gig workers) who will be eligible for unemployment benefits will receive a mere fraction of what we would otherwise have earned.

We still have to buy groceries (and by the way, food pantries generally aren’t vegan). We still have to pay the utilities. We still have to pay rent. When we lose income, we fall (further) behind on all this. We wonder how we will ever recover.

People like me are way past the point where words reassure. We’ve heard words before. Again and again and again. We see only the threats of yet more traumas.

If you’re among those critics, you need to shut the fuck up. Because all you’re doing is reinforcing the sense of being judged, the sense of being blamed, the sense of oppression from forces over which we have no control.


They didn’t do it: Malcolm X assassination may be reinvestigated

Malcolm X

Meagan Flynn, “Malcolm X assassination may be reinvestigated as Netflix documentary, lawyers cast doubt on convictions,” Washington Post, February 10, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/02/10/malcolmx-assassination-netflix/


Housing

Michael Sainato, “‘We’re technically homeless’: the eviction epidemic plaguing the US,” Guardian, February 11, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/feb/11/us-eviction-rates-causes-richmond-atlanta


Pittsburgh

Jamie Martines, “U.S. Steel, Allegheny County finalize Clairton Coke Works emissions settlement,” TribLive, February 10, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/u-s-steel-and-allegheny-county-finalize-clairton-coke-works-emissions-settlement/


On the Green New Deal

Climate crisis

I’m not fond of interviews and have been, perhaps inexcusably, slow to get to this interview with Naomi Klein.[1] But we hear a lot about a “Green New Deal” without seeing how that fleshes out.

Sometimes said explicitly, sometimes sort of sotto voce, which is like, “Look, let’s just save the planet first and then we’ll deal with, you know, racism and inequality and gender exclusion and sort of just wait your turn.” And that doesn’t go over very well because for people who are on the front lines of all of those other crises, they’re all existential. I mean, if you can’t feed your kids, if you’re losing your house, if you are facing violence, all of it is existential.[2]

What’s still missing here,[3] possibly because it’s just an interview, is an actual plan that coherently brings all the pieces together and shows how they save our species and our environment. All I can say is that it is the right idea.

Laura Flanders, “Naomi Klein: Climate Solutions That Neglect Inequality Are Doomed to Fail,” Truthout, January 6, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/naomi-klein-climate-solutions-that-neglect-inequality-are-doomed-to-fail/


Bernie Sanders

There is a new blog post entitled, “All of us.”

Martin Pengelly, “Bernie Sanders ‘must reconsider’ Joe Rogan endorsement, says LGBTQ group,” Guardian, January 24, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jan/24/bernie-sanders-joe-rogan-human-rights-campaign


  1. [1]Laura Flanders, “Naomi Klein: Climate Solutions That Neglect Inequality Are Doomed to Fail,” Truthout, January 6, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/naomi-klein-climate-solutions-that-neglect-inequality-are-doomed-to-fail/
  2. [2]Laura Flanders, “Naomi Klein: Climate Solutions That Neglect Inequality Are Doomed to Fail,” Truthout, January 6, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/naomi-klein-climate-solutions-that-neglect-inequality-are-doomed-to-fail/
  3. [3]Laura Flanders, “Naomi Klein: Climate Solutions That Neglect Inequality Are Doomed to Fail,” Truthout, January 6, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/naomi-klein-climate-solutions-that-neglect-inequality-are-doomed-to-fail/

What? You mean cops aren’t allowed to be ‘original’ or ‘creative?’

Qualified immunity

Just remember, they’re all, each and every one of them, “cop haters:”

The centerpiece of Cato’s strategic campaign to take down qualified immunity has been a series of targeted amicus briefs urging the Supreme Court to reverse its precedents and eliminate the doctrine outright. Since launching the campaign in March 2018, Cato has filed dozens of additional amicus briefs in our own name, but we have also organized a massive cross‐​ideological alliance of public interest groups opposed to qualified immunity — what Judge Don Willett recently called “perhaps the most diverse amici ever assembled.”[1]

To the extent I’m understanding this correctly, qualified immunity enables “rights‐​violating police and other government officials” to do whatever the fuck they please as long as they haven’t been explicitly told they can’t do it.

Judge Don Willett, a Trump appointee to the Fifth Circuit, has explained how “[t]o some observers, qualified immunity smacks of unqualified impunity, letting public officials duck consequences for bad behavior — no matter how palpably unreasonable — as long as they were the first to behave badly,” and sharply notes that “this entrenched, judge‐​created doctrine excuses constitutional violations by limiting the statute Congress passed to redress constitutional violations.”[2]

But originality counts! Doesn’t it?

I’m not a fan of the Cato Institute. They’re capitalist libertarians, that is, what neoliberals were before they got into power and became even worse hypocrites.[3]

But something I’ve noted for a long time is that capitalist libertarians are occasionally very, very good on constitutional issues. This might be one of those occasions.

Jay Schweikert and Clark Neily, “As Supreme Court Considers Several Qualified Immunity Cases, A New Ally Joins The Fight,” Cato, January 17, 2020, https://www.cato.org/blog/supreme-court-considers-several-qualified-immunity-cases-new-ally-joins-fight


Iraq and Iran

Capitalist libertarians are also one of a triumvirate of sometimes anti-war conservative tendencies; the other two are paleoconservatives and traditionalist conservatives. Of these, the traditionalists are the most consistent and, truly, scathing. Some paleoconservatives are neo-Nazis and white supremacists, so for at least some of them, race war would be okay and their opposition to war is to foreign war—if you believe in preserving your own segregated society, it hardly makes any sense to involve yourself in other societies. And capitalist libertarians are against war until they think another principle, usually entailing money, is more important.[4]

This article[5] is useful for an explanation of just how it is that Congress ceded the power to start wars to the president:

But, unless you’re willing to go full John Yoo and endorse “the president’s right to start wars,” imminence matters because the constitutional claim has to be based on self‐​defense. Under Article II, the president retains some measure of defensive power, alternately described at the Convention as the power “to repel sudden attacks” or “to repel and not to commence war.” That power reasonably includes the use of force to avert an impending attack not yet begun. But as you move from shooting back, to addressing an immediate threat, to “deterring future Iranian attack plans” — or “re‐​establishing deterrence,” as Pompeo put it this week — the self‐​defense rationale disappears. If the Trump administration wants the general power to target Iranian military commanders as enemy combatants, it should make its case for war to Congress.[6]

The trouble, of course, is that many such “immediate threats” have involved long-running wars: Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, that is, every major military encounter the U.S. has been involved in following World War II. Each of them was ill-advised; not one has ended in anything like victory. They are simply occasions for killing people and for spending vast sums of money on the military rather than for helping people as elites argue violently over which of them will control which territories, the people on those territories, and the resources within those territories. Which is pretty much what war is about.[7]

Gene Healy, “On ‘Imminence’: Absence of Evidence is Evidence of Absence,” Cato, January 17, 2020, https://www.cato.org/blog/imminence-absence-evidence-evidence-absence


Guns

So I was mentioning about paleoconservatives above and the possibility of race war? Fuck, here it is, along with a helping of militia in general:[8]

“The anticipation of violation of gun rights is common among militia groups more broadly — pretty easily seen in all the ‘molon labe’ patches worn by militia folks,” [Sam] Jackson said. (“Molon labe” is a classical Greek phrase meaning “come and take them.”) “Several novels that are important for the group depict war between Americans and the American government that begins with attempts at gun control.”

But beyond civil war, others expected to attend Monday’s rally are explicitly calling for a race war, in which white Americans will kill nonwhite Americans and Jewish people to establish a white ethnostate. Using the term “boogaloo” — a sarcastic reference to the 1980s film Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo that implies a “Civil War 2” of sorts — users of online forums like /pol/ are using Richmond as the impetus for the beginnings of a race war. They use phrases like “fuck all optics,” a reference to the last post shared on the social networking site Gab by the Tree of Life shooter, which has become a motto of sorts for white nationalists.[9]

I’m not seeing this rally so much as the start of a civil war as I am a harbinger of what may yet come. Though some militia movements are white supremacist, I generally associate them with authoritarian populism, and we are in a situation where I fear that the possibility that Donald Trump may be removed from office, either through impeachment or electoral defeat, may indeed provoke a very violent and heavily armed uprising.[10]

Jane Coaston, “The Virginia gun rights rally raising fears of violence, explained,” Vox, January 17, 2020, https://www.vox.com/2020/1/17/21067627/virginia-lobby-day-gun-laws-extremism


Pittsburgh

Winter seemed finally to have arrived. I went out to my car yesterday to find three inches of snow on it. The snowfall amounts were weirdly variable. Even immediately adjacent cars didn’t seem to have that much and I hadn’t been on the road very long when I saw the snow was pretty thin on grass by the Allegheny County Airport. Areas north of the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers seemed barely to have received any at all.

There was more snow last night and a warning went up for snow and freezing rain today.[11] These looked to be conditions that would make me pause before going out. But I have no choice: Thinking I was in a bit better shape than it turns out I was, I ordered bookshelves to accommodate the last of my book collection that my mother has been sending me from the west coast (it’s all here now). That’s a hit on my bank accounts.

As it turned out, it was just rain, which melted a lot of the snow that had fallen the last couple nights.

Natasha Lindstrom, “Storm to bring 1 to 5 inches of snow, dangerous travel conditions to Western Pa.,” TribLive, January 17, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/storm-to-bring-1-to-5-inches-of-snow-dangerous-travel-conditions-to-western-pa/


Amish

Since coming to Pittsburgh, I’ve been surprised that I haven’t seen more Amish. I expected to at least cross their territory on various trips. I haven’t.

The only time I’ve seen them, it was outside a hospital in Pittsburgh. They were recognizable by their plain dress and were standing around a trash bin, using it as a platform, eating. I don’t know their story.

From what I know of them, stories of normalized rape such as those presented here[12] are most emphatically not the picture they would like the world to have of them. The ethical dilemma for me as a human scientist is two-fold: 1) Of course, these women need support and their assailants should face far harsher penalties than they are; but 2) how do we present Amish society such that it isn’t totalized as rape culture? It isn’t like “English” (the term used by Amish to refer to their non-Amish neighbors) society has such a wonderful a track record either.

Sarah McClure, “The Amish Keep to Themselves. And They’re Hiding a Horrifying Secret,” Cosmopolitan, January 14, 2020, https://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/a30284631/amish-sexual-abuse-incest-me-too/


Gig economy

Some things are a little too close to home. There is a substantial strain of capitalist libertarianism among denizens, especially the richer ones, of Silicon Valley. What we see with the “Silicon Valley Economy,” the gig economy, is the outcome of capitalist libertarians being absolutely certain they can get their way and acting accordingly.

My guess is that California’s AB 5 is a harbinger of what’s to come.[13] It may not appear in precisely that form everywhere, but it will appear in something like that form in enough places that the non-viability of companies that rely on misclassification of workers will be pushed even further.[14] But it’s going to take a while. And in the meantime, these capitalist libertarians will continue to be self-righteous as they extract ever more wealth from a very raw deal for workers.

Lia Russell, “The Silicon Valley Economy Is Here. And It’s a Nightmare,” New Republic, January 16, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/156202/silicon-valley-economy-here-its-nightmare


  1. [1]Jay Schweikert and Clark Neily, “As Supreme Court Considers Several Qualified Immunity Cases, A New Ally Joins The Fight,” Cato, January 17, 2020, https://www.cato.org/blog/supreme-court-considers-several-qualified-immunity-cases-new-ally-joins-fight
  2. [2]Jay Schweikert and Clark Neily, “As Supreme Court Considers Several Qualified Immunity Cases, A New Ally Joins The Fight,” Cato, January 17, 2020, https://www.cato.org/blog/supreme-court-considers-several-qualified-immunity-cases-new-ally-joins-fight
  3. [3]Capitalist libertarians have the oh-so-cute notion in which political power is a “threat to liberty” but never economic power. Neoliberals circumscribe that to declare that labor power is a “threat to liberty,” but never corporate power or the power of whomever can shovel the most money at, well, especially, the Clinton Foundation. Neoliberals think political power is great for deregulation, reducing taxes, and eviscerating the social safety net in the name of balancing the budget. They gain support from neoconservatives, who view neoliberalism as a moral imperative, in part because they never suggest that the military should be cut and mainly because capitalism is part of the Amerikkkan Way, the system which neoconservatives believe is universally best for all people everywhere and which they therefore believe must be aggressively and proactively “defended” from even the most remote challenges. David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126); see also David Benfell, “The larger question of California’s AB 5,” Not Housebroken, September 14, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/09/14/the-larger-question-of-californias-ab-5/
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  5. [5]Gene Healy, “On ‘Imminence’: Absence of Evidence is Evidence of Absence,” Cato, January 17, 2020, https://www.cato.org/blog/imminence-absence-evidence-evidence-absence
  6. [6]Gene Healy, “On ‘Imminence’: Absence of Evidence is Evidence of Absence,” Cato, January 17, 2020, https://www.cato.org/blog/imminence-absence-evidence-evidence-absence
  7. [7]David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works,’” Not Housebroken, March 19, 2012, https://disunitedstates.org/2012/03/19/we-need-to-know-how-it-works/
  8. [8]Jane Coaston, “The Virginia gun rights rally raising fears of violence, explained,” Vox, January 17, 2020, https://www.vox.com/2020/1/17/21067627/virginia-lobby-day-gun-laws-extremism
  9. [9]Jane Coaston, “The Virginia gun rights rally raising fears of violence, explained,” Vox, January 17, 2020, https://www.vox.com/2020/1/17/21067627/virginia-lobby-day-gun-laws-extremism
  10. [10]David Benfell, “The least violent solution,” Not Housebroken, December 16, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/12/16/the-least-violent-solution/
  11. [11]Natasha Lindstrom, “Storm to bring 1 to 5 inches of snow, dangerous travel conditions to Western Pa.,” TribLive, January 17, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/storm-to-bring-1-to-5-inches-of-snow-dangerous-travel-conditions-to-western-pa/
  12. [12]Sarah McClure, “The Amish Keep to Themselves. And They’re Hiding a Horrifying Secret,” Cosmopolitan, January 14, 2020, https://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/a30284631/amish-sexual-abuse-incest-me-too/
  13. [13]David Benfell, “The larger question of California’s AB 5,” Not Housebroken, September 14, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/09/14/the-larger-question-of-californias-ab-5/
  14. [14]David Benfell, “Time for the gig economy to grow up,” Not Housebroken, August 30, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/08/30/time-for-the-gig-economy-to-grow-up/

Revelation! I am not white. This explains everything!

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Fig. 1. Comic by Matt Pritchett of the Telegraph, via his newsletter, otherwise unpublished, December 1, 2019.


Appalachia

Sam Adler-Bell, “Appalachia vs. the Carceral State,” New Republic, November 25, 2019, https://newrepublic.com/article/155660/appalachia-coal-mining-mountaintop-removal-prison-fight


Racism

Never mind that I am ethnically British, German, and a little French, or that I have pale skin. Or that my heritage is, regrettably, Christian and, even more regrettably, Mormon. Or that I drive down the roads of the Pittsburgh area with very little fear of police even when I’m on my way to district courts where it seems I only pick up Black men in trouble with their drivers’ licenses. It seems none of that matters.

By the logic that I am denied access to certain resources, like a real fucking job,[1] it seems I’m at least as non-white as Ashkenazi Jews.[2] I’m pretty sure my mother will find this news astonishing.

Or maybe Ashkenazi Jews can stop reifying white supremacist bullshit. For fuck’s sake.

Masha Kisel, “How does it feel to be white?” Times of Israel, November 29, 2019, https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/how-does-it-feel-to-be-white/


  1. [1]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/
  2. [2]Masha Kisel, “How does it feel to be white?” Times of Israel, November 29, 2019, https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/how-does-it-feel-to-be-white/

Burning California

I keep forgetting to publish this. So it gets a little bit longer and a little bit longer and a little bit longer. There really hasn’t been a lot.


Racism

In the Pittsburgh area, while driving for Lyft, I had noticed that a large proportion—almost certainly a majority—of my passengers were Black. Since switching to Uber,[1] my passengers are now predominantly white.

One of my Lyft passengers had mentioned to me that Uber doesn’t accept debit cards as a form of payment. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, this is an example of systemic discrimination, that is, discrimination that may occur without racist intent but in which rules and systems have a discriminatory effect.

If indeed you need a credit card to pay for an Uber ride (I think you can get around this with PayPal), that tends to exclude people with poor or no credit. To the extent that racial stratification coincides with class stratification, which is very visibly the case in the Pittsburgh area, it becomes systemic racism. And the failure to recognize and rectify systemic racism is, itself, racist.

Of course, to say this means that I should (as I have in the past) recognize the classism in the gig economy: It does generally require an electronic form of payment, which “unbanked” folks will have a harder time managing. On the other hand, it also means that Uber and Lyft drivers are not sitting ducks for cash robberies (a significant risk for traditional taxi drivers).

One of my passengers, a Black, told me that western Pennsylvania is one of the worst places in the country to be Black. He says that Blacks are informed here upon arrival that they exist to serve the capitalist economy; they are not persons, but numbers.

Which is yet another example of how it is impossible to separate classism from racism. These forms of discrimination form a hydra-headed monster. You have to cut them all off at once to destroy the beast.

Blacks also bear the brunt of criminal injustice.[2] In California, fire fighting relies upon inmate labor,[3] making it part of the prison-industrial complex.[4] Again, it will be Blacks who bear the brunt of inadequately compensated risks in this activity. And again, this is systemic racism.


California

Kevin Fixler, “From fierce winds to flames: How the Kincade fire made Sonoma County history,” Santa Rosa Press Democrat, November 1, 2019, https://www.pressdemocrat.com/multimedia/10249729-181/how-the-kincade-fire-spread

Nicole Goodkind, “Prisoners Are Fighting California’s Wildfires on the Front Lines, But Getting Little in Return,” Fortune, November 1, 2019, https://fortune.com/2019/11/01/california-prisoners-fighting-wildfires/


Long term unemployment

Patricia Cohen, “Lots of Job Hunting, but No Job, Despite Low Unemployment Lots of Job Hunting, but No Job, Despite Low Unemployment,” New York Times, November 1, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/31/business/economy/long-term-unemployed.html


Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris should be a cautionary tale for neoliberals: At least some progressives want real progressives and are fed up with the fake ones the neoliberal party has been pushing on them.

Shikha Dalmia, “The real reason Kamala Harris is tanking,” Week, November 4, 2019, https://theweek.com/articles/875020/real-reason-kamala-harris-tanking


Recession

It’s one thing to note that economists are bad at predicting recessions[5] and are even bad at recognizing them once they’ve started.[6] All these decades later, they finally seem to be recognizing what just about any idiot at the local tavern could have told them: It’s the unemployment:[7]

The unemployment rate has risen sharply in every recession, and thus economists have long looked for recession signals in its behavior. Ms. [Claudia] Sahm spent weekends playing with a massive spreadsheet, testing different rates of increase over varying periods of time, to arrive at the following formula: If the average of unemployment rate over three months rises a half-percentage point or more above its low over the previous year, the economy is in a recession. . . .

“The reason [this formula has] been getting attention is it is simple, it is understandable, it is something people can observe themselves,” Mr. [Jay] Shaumbaugh said.[8]

Sorry, but it’s hard—really hard—for me to imagine that economists couldn’t have come up with this sooner and it is very telling that Claudia Sahm had to work on this on her own time. Had this sort of inquiry even a chance of being taken seriously before she had the numbers to prove it, she’d have been able to work on it during office hours. But economists before Sahm didn’t come up with this and the Federal Reserve didn’t enable her to work on it on their dime, because they all really just don’t fucking give a damn. What Sahm has done—and she deserves a great deal of credit for overcoming what were surely formidable institutional obstacles—is to shame the fuck out of them with the blindingly obvious.

By the way, going by Sahm’s formula, we are not yet in a recession.[9]

Kate Davidson, “Are We in a Recession? Experts Agree: Ask Claudia Sahm,” Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/are-we-in-a-recession-experts-agree-ask-claudia-sahm-11572789602


  1. [1]David Benfell, “Uber, again,” Irregular Bullshit, October 19, 2019, https://disunitedstates.com/2019/10/19/uber-again/
  2. [2]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  3. [3]Nicole Goodkind, “Prisoners Are Fighting California’s Wildfires on the Front Lines, But Getting Little in Return,” Fortune, November 1, 2019, https://fortune.com/2019/11/01/california-prisoners-fighting-wildfires/
  4. [4]Empty Cages Collective, “What is the Prison Industrial Complex?” n.d. http://www.prisonabolition.org/what-is-the-prison-industrial-complex/; Daniel Moritz-Rabson, “‘Prison Slavery’: Inmates are paid cents while manufacturing products sold to government,” Newsweek, August 28, 2018, https://www.newsweek.com/prison-slavery-who-benefits-cheap-inmate-labor-1093729
  5. [5]Hites Ahir and Prakash Loungani, “‘There will be growth in the spring’: How well do economists predict turning points?” Vox, April 14, 2014, https://voxeu.org/article/predicting-economic-turning-points; Richard Alford, “Why Economists Have No Shame – Undue Confidence, False Precision, Risk and Monetary Policy,” Naked Capitalism, July 19, 2012, https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/07/richard-alford-why-economists-have-no-shame-undue-confidence-false-precision-risk-and-monetary-policy.html; Ha-Joon Chang and Jonathan Aldred, “After the crash, we need a revolution in the way we teach economics,” Guardian, May 10, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/may/11/after-crash-need-revolution-in-economics-teaching-chang-aldred; Barry Eichengreen, “Economists, Remove Your Blinders,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 12, 2015, http://www.chronicle.com/article/Economists-Remove-Your/151057/; Paul Krugman, “How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?” New York Times, September 2, 2009, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/magazine/06Economic-t.html; Paul Krugman, “Triumph of the Wrong?” New York Times, October 11, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/12/opinion/krugman-triumph-of-the-wrong.html; Andrew Simms, “Economics is a failing discipline doing great harm – so let’s rethink it,” Guardian, August 3, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/03/economics-global-economy-climate-crisis; Mark Thoma, “Restoring the Public’s Trust in Economists,” Fiscal Times, May 19, 2015, http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2015/05/19/Restoring-Public-s-Trust-Economists; Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, “Economists Are Bad At Predicting Recessions,” FiveThirtyEight, August 21, 2019, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/economists-are-bad-at-predicting-recessions/
  6. [6]For example, it took about a year to formally recognize the financial crisis of 2007-2008 as a recession: National Bureau of Economic Research, “Determination of the December 2007 Peak in Economic Activity,” December 11, 2008, http://www.nber.org/cycles/dec2008.html
  7. [7]Kate Davidson, “Are We in a Recession? Experts Agree: Ask Claudia Sahm,” Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/are-we-in-a-recession-experts-agree-ask-claudia-sahm-11572789602
  8. [8]Kate Davidson, “Are We in a Recession? Experts Agree: Ask Claudia Sahm,” Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/are-we-in-a-recession-experts-agree-ask-claudia-sahm-11572789602
  9. [9]Kate Davidson, “Are We in a Recession? Experts Agree: Ask Claudia Sahm,” Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/are-we-in-a-recession-experts-agree-ask-claudia-sahm-11572789602