National reporter focusing on foreign policy and State Department
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June 29, 2020 at 12:05 PM EDT
A group of 175 legal scholars and lawyers specializing in international law have urged President Trump to rescind his authorization of sanctions and visa denials for International Criminal Court staff members investigating war crimes in Afghanistan, including those allegedly committed by U.S. forces.
I can’t tell you how reluctant I am to share newsletters in this space. First, I don’t trust the URLs. I wonder if they will be broken for others now, or generally in the future. Second, I’d rather get the original stories.
In general and as a consequence, the reactionary nuttery to the lockdown continues to intensify.
Rocco Naples of Pleasant Unity Twp Westmoreland County faces felony charges after he allegedly called Gov Wolf’s business several times saying he “Had a bullet waiting for Wolf” if he kept businesses closed due to the pandemic. Full story tonight on KDKA. pic.twitter.com/1F3dGqgkhI
One of the very odd things in my life has been the parallels between two places I have lived, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. It shows up in lots of ways. Bridges are named for Joe Montana, the famous San Francisco 49ers quarterback, near the Monongahela River and the town of Monongahela. San Francisco’s cable cars are echoed by the Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines, remnants of a once much more common form of transportation. San Francisco has the reputation for hills and certainly has some but Pittsburgh has some of the steepest streets in the world. A street in Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco, bears the name of Willie Stargell, a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball star. The list goes on, really, I think, to ludicrous lengths.
And I wonder how it is that two places I have lived have so much in common. The coincidences seem surreal.
Given that I will need to be moving by June 29, 2021, I’ve been contemplating the question of where.
Fig. 1. A house in Clairton with five flags in a small front yard. Visible are two U.S. Army flags, one U.S. flag, and one Confederate battle flag. Hidden behind the the telephone pole is a Betsy Ross flag. Photograph by author, April 29, 2020.
Pennsylvania has, I think, conceded far too much to an authoritarian populist population that blends into a white supremacist paleoconservative population. The stance on guns where, for example, even following the Tree of Life shooting, a mass shooting in a Jewish synagogue conducted by a white supremacist, Pittsburgh cannot ban weapons whose only sensible application is against large groups of people, seems to me inseparable from that white supremacism. The conflation of flags at a house in Clairton (figure 1), a largely Black community, begins to represent what I’ve been feeling since coming here, that the flag-waving, cop-loving, overly patriotic and often bizarrely militaristic (figure 3) displays of gun nuttery (figure 4), especially around Black communities (figure 5), are really code for a white supremacism, including a militia movement, that has been given free rein.
If I’m going to have to move, I might as well move away from that, which to me, means out of state.
On the other hand, I’m realizing what a terrible risk I took in coming here. This last winter brought home for me how tenuous a livelihood based on driving for Uber and Lyft is. That might be even worse if I move to the state of New York, which frankly, I’m considering, on account of legalized recreational marijuana and sensible gun control.
The alternative, I think, would be to stay in Pennsylvania, even near Pittsburgh, but away from all these gratuitously displayed guns (figure 2).
Fig. 3. A dump truck, with a camouflage paint scheme, owned by a locksmith, along Pennsylvania Route 51 in Pleasant Hills. Photograph by author, November 22, 2019.
Fig. 4. A tank on display outside Anthony Arms, a gun dealer in West Mifflin, along Lebanon Church Road, directly across from the Allegheny County Airport. Photograph by author, September 26, 2019.
Fig. 5. This is pointed directly at the northwest corner of Carrick High School, along Parkfield Street in Carrick, a Pittsburgh neighborhood. Photograph by author, December 31, 2019.
But then I see all these fucking Trump flags. And I think, my god. That really isn’t getting away from the Pennsylvania state-enabled white supremacism. It would just be getting away from the immediate conflict zone.
This was one of the signs at the “Re-open Illinois” event today. She assured those that she was not a Nazi, and stated, “I have Jewish friends.” Thank you for representing yourself and your “movement” for what it is. pic.twitter.com/CcIX2SVu6s
I think I’ll be a little disappointed if anyone reading this really needs this explanation from the Auschwitz Museum, but it is phrased well:
“Arbeit macht frei” was a false, cynical illusion the SS gave to prisoners of #Auschwitz. Those words became one of the icons of human hatred. It’s painful to see this symbol instrumentalized & used again to spread hate. It’s a symptom of moral & intellectual degeneration. https://t.co/ZRxja8x6eS
In these protests, dangerous and delusional raging narcissistic bullshit has become “truth,” dependence upon capitalism has become “independence,” and wage slavery has become “freedom.”
I should have read Joe Lowndes’ article sooner but I am not subscribed to the New Republic, owing to a conflict that led to mass resignations at that publication. He reaches many of the same conclusions I have. This situation will be going from bad to worse for the very reasons we say. And there’s really no forgiving that.
It appears the South Koreans were correct in pronouncing rumors of Kim Jong Un’s demise premature.
Kim Byung-kee, a former intelligence official who is now a lawmaker and a member of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee, said on Sunday that groundless rumors about North Korea proliferated partly because few were held accountable for spreading false information.
“When it comes to North Korea, no matter what you say, you are not held responsible for the consequences and people soon forget,” Mr. Kim said on Facebook on Sunday [April 26].
The Washington Post has a story detailing the various reasons for not wearing face masks to try to limit the spread of COVID-19. Some of it really is political, reflecting a level of support for Donald Trump that risks one’s own life and that probably is another reason for defying lockdown orders. But there are other reasons as well.
During the pandemic and still driving for Lyft, I’ve been traveling farther for rides than I have before, putting more mileage on the car.
Yesterday, I made it farther north and east along the Allegheny River than I’d been before on surface streets and noticed yet another gratuitous gun (figure 1).
Fig. 1. Gratuitous gun at the Springdale Veterans Association, photograph by author, April 18, 2020.
I had a passenger in my car when I saw it so I didn’t get a chance to take a picture. I got a few more rides before getting one that took me out of the area entirely.
I was wondering when I could get back to take a picture. As it happened, I had a ride out in that area again today, close to my quitting time, so I made it my last trip and returned to take the photograph in figure 1.
From what I have seen this area, it seems to be predominantly white, but not prosperously so. That said, it is only a short ways upstream from Fox Chapel and Oakmont which are both very prosperous towns.
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I was still hoping to get some grocery shopping done, so I stopped at a Giant Eagle Express, which turns out to be a glorified GetGo convenience store. But as I paid for a flat of bottled water, I had to pull my mask down for the face unlock on my Pixel 4 to work so he could scan the loyalty code and I could pay with Google Pay.
The cashier ribbed me. And he was ribbing. He made it very clear he was in opposition to these measures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. I was too hungry to respond.
But he’s not alone. Many of my passengers, both Black and white, seem to embrace the conspiracy theories of the far right on COVID-19. Many affirm that the economy needs to keep going, that is, that the capitalist god must be appeased.
The only thing I can see here is that government has completely lost credibility with a large portion of the population around Pittsburgh. These people certainly have no reason to believe they’ll be made whole from the economic shutdown as we plunge into what will likely be a new Great Depression.
I continue to see more and more traffic on the roads, more people out and about. Some are clearly observing social distancing and wearing face masks. Some are not.
We’d best hope that I am wrong and that the restrictions can be lifted soon. Because if they aren’t, I think we’re going to see the consequences of lifting them too soon regardless.
Since coming to Pittsburgh, I’ve come to suspect that the over-the-top displays of patriotism, the flags, the guns, the ubiquitous memorials for veterans and war dead, which have made me wonder what folks are compensating for, are in fact white supremacist displays. Here it is again, albeit outside Pittsburgh, as authoritarian populists again blur the distinction with paleoconservatism, protesting lockdowns and attacking Jews. I have to wonder what the father in that Jewish family that runs my favorite vegan restaurant—it really is good—around here thinks now.
Meanwhile, reading David Wallace-Wells, it seems to me the headline attached to his article misleads: Though we might—I find this unduly optimistic—indeed be approaching a point where the lockdowns might ease, we are likely not even the tenth of the way the headline, but not the article, claims. And the capitalist god demands human sacrifice and right-wingers are all too anxious to appease.
This keeps being a story that keeps getting worse than I imagine. It’s not uncommon for me to be overly pessimistic. It’s unusual, but not rare, that I might be insufficiently pessimistic or cynical. But this pandemic has exposed me as insufficiently pessimistic repeatedly and that is truly something to behold.
It’s scary every morning now since Tom Wolf’s “stay at home” order, now expanded to three more counties, took effect Monday evening, as I have both the Uber and Lyft driver apps online and get no orders. But so far, the bottom hasn’t really dropped out. I’m still making the numbers come out, in part with tricks I used in the San Francisco Bay Area but wouldn’t use here if Pittsburgh traffic were normal.
I don’t know how long that will work.
In the meantime, if you want to understand how coronavirus will play out with western Pennsylvania Donald Trump supporters, read Jason Togyer’s piece. You won’t get the story you’re looking for, but his writing rings true to me.