Pieties

George Floyd

There is another new blog post entitled, “Pieties in defense of the status quo.”

The charges against Derek Chauvin, who had his knee on George Floyd’s neck, have been upgraded to second degree murder and charges for aiding and abetting that murder have been laid against the other officers at the scene.[1] I remain skeptical that any charges would have been brought whatsoever had the protests not been so widespread and intense.

Also, the only surprising thing about Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s resistance to Donald Trump’s threat to send in the troops to quell protests over the murder of George Floyd is that he did so publicly.[2]

Ben Collins, Brandy Zadrozny, and Emmanuelle Saliba, “White nationalist group posing as antifa called for violence on Twitter,” NBC News, June 1, 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/security/twitter-takes-down-washington-protest-disinformation-bot-behavior-n1221456

Sandy Smith, “You Can Be Supportive of the Rioters and Angry With the Looters at the Same Time,” Philadelphia, June 1, 2020, https://www.phillymag.com/news/2020/06/01/philadelphia-looters-protesters/

Colby Itkowitz, “George W. Bush calls out racial injustices and celebrates protesters who ‘march for a better future,’” Washington Post, June 2, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/george-w-bush-calls-out-racial-injustices-and-celebrates-protesters-who-march-for-a-better-future/2020/06/02/2d2f7252-a511-11ea-bb20-ebf0921f3bbd_story.html

Josh Campbell, Sara Sidner, and Eric Levenson, “All four former officers involved in George Floyd’s killing now face charges,” CNN, June 3, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/03/us/george-floyd-officers-charges/index.html


  1. [1]Josh Campbell, Sara Sidner, and Eric Levenson, “All four former officers involved in George Floyd’s killing now face charges,” CNN, June 3, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/03/us/george-floyd-officers-charges/index.html
  2. [2]Dan Lamothe, Missy Ryan, and Paul Sonne, “Pentagon chief balks at Trump’s call for active-duty military force on U.S. citizens, and Mattis rips president,” Washington Post, June 3, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/despite-suggestions-from-trump-pentagon-chief-says-he-does-not-support-invoking-insurrection-act/2020/06/03/8e8dad2e-a59e-11ea-8681-7d471bf20207_story.html

Spring doesn’t much retard COVID-19 transmission. Summer is another question.

Pandemic

Mount Auburn’s press release is on a peer-reviewed, published study. Basically, they found that the effects of warmer temperatures, between 52° F and 70° F, were limited in reducing transmission of the novel coronavirus. Their data for temperatures over 70° F is limited, so we still don’t know much about what summer will do to the pandemic in much of the country.[1]

Mount Auburn Hospital, “Warmer Temperatures Slow COVID-19 Transmission, but Not by Much,” June 1, 2020, https://www.mountauburnhospital.org/about-us/press-room/2020/press-release-warmer-temperatures-slow-covid-19-transmission-but/


George Floyd

There is a new blog post entitled, “On sending in the troops.”

Matt Zapotosky, “Trump threatens military action to quell protests, and the law would let him do it,” Washington Post, June 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/can-trump-use-military-to-stop-protests-insurrection-act/2020/06/01/c3724380-a46b-11ea-b473-04905b1af82b_story.html


  1. [1]Mount Auburn Hospital, “Warmer Temperatures Slow COVID-19 Transmission, but Not by Much,” June 1, 2020, https://www.mountauburnhospital.org/about-us/press-room/2020/press-release-warmer-temperatures-slow-covid-19-transmission-but/

So many reasons for unrest

Pandemic

As a Guardian article notes, Donald Trump promised to revitalize the coal industry. Whatever efforts he made to that end, they were insufficient anyway. But the pandemic adds to workers’ woes in this region. Some will surely blame the lockdown, even as they lose the health insurance that would help to address COVID-19 related medical costs, that had already helped manage the medical costs they already bear.[1] Neither neoliberals nor environmentalists are addressing this and their failure to do so only reinforces my doubts that either neoliberals (the mainstream of the Democratic Party) or environmentalists really want be rid of Donald Trump.

Ian Lovett, Erin Ailworth, and Joe Barrett, “Minnesota Bolsters Law Enforcement as Protests Roil U.S. After George Floyd’s Death,” Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/george-floyd-protests-minneapolis-11590844180

David G. Savage, “Supreme Court rejects challenge to California limits on church crowds during pandemic,” Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-05-29/supreme-court-california-church-crowds-pandemic

Michael Sainato, “The collapse of coal: pandemic accelerates Appalachia job losses,” Guardian, May 29, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/29/coal-miners-coronavirus-job-losses


Pacific Gas and Electric

If the California Public Utilities Commission wants to satisfy folks that regulatory capture is not involved in its decision to approve PG&E’s bankruptcy plan, it needs to explain exactly how it is that the judge’s ideas would hamper its flexibility in regulation.[2] That isn’t even the least bit clear.

KPIX, “Federal Judge Calls PG&E ‘Recalcitrant Criminal,’ Delays New Probation Ruling,” May 28, 2020, https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2020/05/28/regulators-approve-pge-bankruptcy-plan-despite-safety-fears/


George Floyd

A Wall Street Journal news alert (figure 1) caught my eye:
FireShot Capture 166 - WSJ News Alert_ U.S. Army Units Prepare for Possible Deployment to Mi_ - mail.google.com
Fig. 1. Screenshot of a misleading Wall Street Journal news alert.

In fact, the National Guard is being mobilized.[3] And yes, the difference matters.

My last blog post remains relevant.

Ian Lovett, Erin Ailworth, and Joe Barrett, “Minnesota Bolsters Law Enforcement as Protests Roil U.S. After George Floyd’s Death,” Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/george-floyd-protests-minneapolis-11590844180

Jon Queally, “Cornel West Says ‘Neo-Fascist Gangster’ Trump and Neoliberal Democrats Expose America as ‘Failed Social Experiment,’” Common Dreams, May 30, 2020, https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/05/30/cornel-west-says-neo-fascist-gangster-trump-and-neoliberal-democrats-expose-america


  1. [1]Michael Sainato, “The collapse of coal: pandemic accelerates Appalachia job losses,” Guardian, May 29, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/29/coal-miners-coronavirus-job-losses
  2. [2]KPIX, “Federal Judge Calls PG&E ‘Recalcitrant Criminal,’ Delays New Probation Ruling,” May 28, 2020, https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2020/05/28/regulators-approve-pge-bankruptcy-plan-despite-safety-fears/
  3. [3]Ian Lovett, Erin Ailworth, and Joe Barrett, “Minnesota Bolsters Law Enforcement as Protests Roil U.S. After George Floyd’s Death,” Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/george-floyd-protests-minneapolis-11590844180

Calling for peace when the cops are still murdering people

Institutional racism

There is a new blog post entitled, “What are ‘proper directions’ for protest when peaceful protest is for naught?

Associated Press, “Officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck arrested on murder charge,” Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-05-29/minnesota-george-floyd-officer-arrested

Holly Bailey et al., “Chaotic Minneapolis protests spread amid emotional calls for justice, peace, Washington Post, May 29, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/05/29/chaotic-minneapolis-protests-spread-amid-emotional-calls-justice-peace/


Pittsburgh

U.S. Steel’s response is that this is old news.[1]

WTAE, “Allegheny Co. Health Department announces fines against U.S. Steel for violations at Clairton Coke Works,” May 28, 2020, https://www.wtae.com/article/allegheny-co-health-department-announces-fines-against-us-steel-for-violations-at-clairton-coke-works/32702736


Pandemic

Allegheny County goes to “green” phase on June 5.[2]

Jamie Martines, “Gov. Wolf to move Allegheny, Westmoreland, other counties to green phase,” TribLive, May 29, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/regional/gov-wolf-to-move-allegheny-westmoreland-other-counties-to-green-phase/


  1. [1]WTAE, “Allegheny Co. Health Department announces fines against U.S. Steel for violations at Clairton Coke Works,” May 28, 2020, https://www.wtae.com/article/allegheny-co-health-department-announces-fines-against-us-steel-for-violations-at-clairton-coke-works/32702736
  2. [2]Jamie Martines, “Gov. Wolf to move Allegheny, Westmoreland, other counties to green phase,” TribLive, May 29, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/regional/gov-wolf-to-move-allegheny-westmoreland-other-counties-to-green-phase/

The different ways the pandemic affects education

Education

There is a new blog post entitled, “Keeping the poor, poor, even when they serve their country.”

Jason Togyer, “In towns like McKeesport, the future was already precarious. Then came coronavirus,” Columbia Journalism Review, May 22, 2020, https://www.cjr.org/special_report/year-of-fear-mckeesport-crime-covid-19.php

Greta Anderson, “A One-Day Difference,” Inside Higher Ed, May 27, 2020, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/05/27/rules-could-deprive-national-guard-members-fighting-covid-19-education-benefits


Gratuitous guns

I was working in some areas I hadn’t worked in so intensively before today and found three more gratuitous guns. These are farther west, in Ambridge, New Brighton, and Beaver Falls, than others I’d seen in the Pittsburgh area. I had to do some clean-up of the relevant album and re-add all the locations as a single layer to the map because it turns out there’s a limit to how many layers you can add to one of these maps. But they’re all there now.

See Pittsburgh.


State-enabled white supremacism

Military

Today, as everything is upside down,

The 50th anniversary of the Kent State shooting is Monday.[1]

Joe Napsha, “The day ‘all hell broke loose’ – Local lives lost, forever changed in Kent State shooting 50 years ago,” Tribune-Review, May 2, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/regional/the-day-all-hell-broke-loose-local-lives-lost-forever-changed-in-kent-state-shooting-50-years-ago/


Housekeeping

Given that I will need to be moving by June 29, 2021, I’ve been contemplating the question of where.
IMG_20200429_172952
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,[2] Pittsburgh cannot ban weapons whose only sensible application is against large groups of people,[3] 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. 2. Gratuitous guns.

IMG_0052
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.

IMG_0018
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.

IMG_0073
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.


  1. [1]Joe Napsha, “The day ‘all hell broke loose’ – Local lives lost, forever changed in Kent State shooting 50 years ago,” Tribune-Review, May 2, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/regional/the-day-all-hell-broke-loose-local-lives-lost-forever-changed-in-kent-state-shooting-50-years-ago/
  2. [2]Campbell Robertson, Christopher Mele, and Sabrina Tavernise, “11 Killed in Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts,” New York Times, October 27, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/us/active-shooter-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting.html
  3. [3]Bob Bauder, “Judge strikes down Pittsburgh’s controversial gun bills,” TribLive, October 29, 2019, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/judge-strikes-down-pittsburghs-controversial-gun-bills/

An existential locus of control

White supremacism

Had I not moved to Pittsburgh, I probably would not bother to take notice of the Marine Corps Commandant ordering the removal of Confederate symbols.[1]

But in Pittsburgh, while I wouldn’t say these flags are ubiquitous, they certainly aren’t rare. I see them in front of people’s homes, often in tandem with a U.S. flag, betraying—at minimum—an authoritarian populist imagination that the Civil War was about something other than a secession to preserve the “peculiar institution,” that is, slavery,[2] against an insistence on preserving the Union[3] and, afterwards, only afterwards, a contest to determine on what terms the Union should be preserved, a contest that continues to the present.[4] While as artifacts, the flags form one element in the evidence supporting my very strong suspicion of possible white supremacist (paleoconservative) militia activity in this area,[5] I have little doubt that those who fly these flags all support Donald Trump.[6] So yeah, I’m wondering what Trump’s reaction to this order will be.

But also, for further thought, as I retrieve and archive the articles I cite above, and refine my understanding, I am struck by how slavery was as existential for the South as guns seem to gun nuts today. Am I really looking at some kind of a substitution? And to what extent can we draw a line from Confederate soldiers’ “alcoholism, unemployment, mental illness, and suicide” after the war[7] to “deaths of despair”[8] today?

That latter conflation is ugly. But I think in broad terms. And given my longstanding question about why, really, Simon de Beauvoir is right,[9] why people so persistently demonize, discriminate against, and subjugate the other, my thoughts are turning the notion of autonomy, a term ethicists use in preference to “freedom,” and how that may be in play.

As a critical theorist, I ask of so-called “freedom” for whom, to do what, to whom? This effectively interprets “freedom” as power over others, distinguished from power-to (do something) and power-with (to accomplish in coordination with others). My question challenges the term freedom as generally used in neoliberal society, for example, often in economic terms with so-called “free trade.”

But conceptually, I pose autonomy, one’s authority over one self, opposite a condition of being subject to someone else’s authority, often political or economic. Put one way, this is about my freedom to swing my fist ending somewhere before your jaw. But the question is often more nuanced than this, for example, when a manufacturing facility upstream unintentionally but negligently pollutes water needed for drinking downstream. Where, really, does “freedom” lie here?

The view of slaveholders leading into the Civil War seems to lie with no limitation on the swinging of their fists whatsoever on slaves. The view of gun nuts seems to lie with no limitation on their ability to dominate anyone they perceive as a threat. Blacks appear on the receiving end of both of these.

But when that concept of control, that so-called “freedom,” is challenged, whether in even brutal power over others[10] or even the ability to earn a living,[11] we seem to be seeing the behaviors associated with “deaths of despair.”

It may be that Blacks who have dismissed these deaths as a consequence of white privilege are not entirely wrong—my musing today seems to support that connection. But they aren’t entirely right either. Because it also cannot be right that I cannot find a real job.[12]

Jeff Schogol, “Marine commandant banishes Confederate symbols from all Corps installations,” Task and Purpose, February 26, 2020, https://taskandpurpose.com/news/marine-corps-bans-confederate-symbols


  1. [1]Jeff Schogol, “Marine commandant banishes Confederate symbols from all Corps installations,” Task and Purpose, February 26, 2020, https://taskandpurpose.com/news/marine-corps-bans-confederate-symbols
  2. [2]Alexander Abad-Santos, “Racists Ruined the Confederate Flag for Lynyrd Skynyrd,” Atlantic, September 21, 2012, https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2012/09/racists-ruined-confederate-flag-lynyrd-skynyrd/323381/; Ta-Nehisi Coates, “What This Cruel War Was Over,” Atlantic, June 22, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/what-this-cruel-war-was-over/396482/; Prachi Gupta, “Lynyrd Skynyrd decides it’s finally time to stop using the Confederate flag,” Salon, September 21, 2012, http://www.salon.com/2012/09/21/lynyrd_skynyrd_decides_its_finally_time_to_stop_using_the_confederate_flag/; Julia Martinez, “For Civil-War Scholars, a Settled Question That Will Never Die: What Caused the War?” Chronicle of Higher Education, October 31, 2017, http://www.chronicle.com/article/For-Civil-War-Scholars-a/241627; Jonathan Terbush, “Lynyrd Skynyrd calls Confederate Flag racist, prompts fan revolt,” Raw Story, September 22, 2012, http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/09/22/lynyrd-skynyrd-calls-confederate-flag-racist-prompts-fan-revolt/; Tracy Thompson, “The South still lies about the Civil War,” Salon, March 16, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/03/16/the_south_still_lies_about_the_civil_war/; Chris Willman, “Lynyrd Skynyrd Backtracks On Comments, Proudly Lets Confederate Flag Fly,” Yahoo!, September 24, 2012, http://music.yahoo.com/blogs/stop-the-presses/lynyrd-skynyrd-backtracks-comments-proudly-lets-confederate-flag-003332446.html
  3. [3]Tony Horwitz, “150 Years of Misunderstanding the Civil War,” Atlantic, June 19, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/150-years-of-misunderstanding-the-civil-war/277022/; Glenn W. LaFantasie, “How the South rationalizes secession,” Salon, December 19, 2010, http://www.salon.com/2010/12/19/lafantasie_south_secession/; Abraham Lincoln to Horace Greeley, “A Letter from President Lincoln.; Reply to Horace Greeley. Slavery and the Union The Restoration of the Union the Paramount Object,” New York Times, August 24, 1862, http://www.nytimes.com/1862/08/24/news/letter-president-lincoln-reply-horace-greeley-slavery-union-restoration-union.html
  4. [4]David W. Blight, “The Civil War Isn’t Over,” Atlantic, April 8, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/the-civil-war-isnt-over/389847/; Andrew O’Hehir, “Welcome to the new Civil War,” Salon, January 5, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/01/05/welcome_to_the_new_civil_war/;
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Militia territory,” Not Housebroken, November 22, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/11/22/militia-territory/
  6. [6]Mary B. McCord, “Armed Militias Are Taking Trump’s Civil War Tweets Seriously,” Lawfare, October 2, 2019, https://www.lawfareblog.com/armed-militias-are-taking-trumps-civil-war-tweets-seriously
  7. [7]David W. Blight, “The Civil War Isn’t Over,” Atlantic, April 8, 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/the-civil-war-isnt-over/389847/
  8. [8]Laura Bliss, “The Pessimism of White, Working-Class America,” CityLab, November 17, 2015, http://www.citylab.com/politics/2015/11/the-pessimism-of-white-working-class-america/416379/; Julia Belluz, “Why the white middle class is dying faster, explained in 6 charts,” Vox, March 23, 2017, http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/3/23/14988084/white-middle-class-dying-faster-explained-case-deaton; Andrew J. Cherlin, “Why Are White Death Rates Rising?” New York Times, February 22, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/22/opinion/why-are-white-death-rates-rising.html; Gina Kolata, “Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds,” New York Times, November 2, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/health/death-rates-rising-for-middle-aged-white-americans-study-finds.html; Gina Kolata and Sarah Cohen, “Drug Overdoses Propel Rise in Mortality Rates of Young Whites,” New York Times, January 16, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/17/science/drug-overdoses-propel-rise-in-mortality-rates-of-young-whites.html; Paul Krugman, “Heartland of Darkness,” New York Times, November 4, 2015, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/04/heartland-of-darkness/; Paul Krugman, “Despair, American Style,” New York Times, November 9, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/09/opinion/despair-american-style.html; Alana Semuels, “Is Economic Despair What’s Killing Middle-Aged White Americans?” CityLab, March 23, 2017, https://www.citylab.com/politics/2017/03/economic-despair-killing-middle-aged-white-americans/520554/
  9. [9]Simone de Beauvoir, “Women as Other,” in Social Theory, ed. Charles Lemert, 6th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2017), 268-270.
  10. [10]David W. Blight, “The Civil War Isn’t Over,” Atlantic, April 8, 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/the-civil-war-isnt-over/389847/
  11. [11]Laura Bliss, “The Pessimism of White, Working-Class America,” CityLab, November 17, 2015, http://www.citylab.com/politics/2015/11/the-pessimism-of-white-working-class-america/416379/; Julia Belluz, “Why the white middle class is dying faster, explained in 6 charts,” Vox, March 23, 2017, http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/3/23/14988084/white-middle-class-dying-faster-explained-case-deaton; Andrew J. Cherlin, “Why Are White Death Rates Rising?” New York Times, February 22, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/22/opinion/why-are-white-death-rates-rising.html; Gina Kolata, “Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds,” New York Times, November 2, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/health/death-rates-rising-for-middle-aged-white-americans-study-finds.html; Gina Kolata and Sarah Cohen, “Drug Overdoses Propel Rise in Mortality Rates of Young Whites,” New York Times, January 16, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/17/science/drug-overdoses-propel-rise-in-mortality-rates-of-young-whites.html; Paul Krugman, “Heartland of Darkness,” New York Times, November 4, 2015, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/04/heartland-of-darkness/; Paul Krugman, “Despair, American Style,” New York Times, November 9, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/09/opinion/despair-american-style.html; Alana Semuels, “Is Economic Despair What’s Killing Middle-Aged White Americans?” CityLab, March 23, 2017, https://www.citylab.com/politics/2017/03/economic-despair-killing-middle-aged-white-americans/520554/
  12. [12]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/

As we are sucked ever deeper into Donald Trump’s black hole, there’s really nothing new to say

Special Operations

Oh, gee. Here’s Philip Zimbardo’s “power of the situation” again. Complete with “a few bad apples” and a ‘culture’ that enables them.[1] But you know, nothing to see, here, Brian Resnick,[2] any more than there was with the concentration camps on the U.S.-Mexico border.[3] Even the case of the ever so self-righteous Eddie Gallagher and his narcissist-in-chief enabler points to Zimbardo’s claim—which I’ve been skeptical of—that people can resist,[4] as Gallagher’s platoon testified against him.[5]

Andrew Dyer, “Retired Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher Strikes Back at SEALs Who Testified Against Him,” Military.com, January 28, 2020, https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/01/28/retired-navy-seal-eddie-gallagher-strikes-back-seals-who-testified-against-him.html

Gina Harkins, “Spec Ops Culture Sets Conditions ‘Favorable for Inappropriate Behavior,’ 4-Star Says,” Military.com, January 28, 2020, https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/01/28/spec-ops-culture-sets-conditions-favorable-inappropriate-behavior-4-star-says.html


Palestine

But rather than working to bridge the profound gap between Israelis and Palestinians that bedeviled U.S. policymakers for decades, the Trump administration has spent the past three years doling out concessions to the former, while placing its boot on the latter.[6]

I think what worries me about Donald Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century” for Palestine is that it says just enough of the right words that casual onlookers may be deceived[7] or that folks who should be supporting the Palestinians have an excuse not to.[8] Writing for Mondoweiss yesterday, Raoul Wootliff noted resemblances between the proposal and South African apartheid.[9] Today, though also written yesterday, I find Ishaan Tharoor echoing Wootliff’s argument, albeit from other sources, and labeling the plan “a declaration of terms for Palestinian surrender” in the Washington Post.[10]

But the 181-page proposal published shortly after [Donald Trump] spoke showed that the details of these pledges effectively made them meaningless. Any Palestinian “state” would not look much like a sovereign country. It would be completely encircled, would have no army or air force, and Israel would continue to control its skies, borders and seas.Crucially, Israeli forces would have the right to make incursions into Palestine at any time. The document also indicates that the US and Israel could veto Palestinian moves for independence.

Possibly even more misleading was Trump’s assertion that Palestinians would finally realise their decades-old wish to have a capital in East Jerusalem.

This point raised eyebrows from residents of Abu Dis, who described their home as an outlying “village” or a “suburb” at best, and certainly not a central part of Jerusalem they envisioned for their governmental headquarters. Not even Israel considers Abu Dis part of its “undivided capital” – a term Trump used in his speech – and Israel purposefully excludes it from its municipal boundaries.[11]

Even somewhat friendlier Wall Street Journal coverage notes that “[t]he Trump proposal requires many more concessions from the Palestinians than from the Israelis” and that “[i]mportant elements of the plan have now been set in motion in a way that ensures substantial Israeli territorial gains regardless of what the Palestinians say or whether the plan is approved by other world powers or the United Nations.”[12]

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, said the proposals fail to provide a foundation for lasting peace. “They are structured as a diktat,” she said. “The administration has made it clear that it plans to recognize Israeli sovereignty over all the land indicated for the Israelis in Trump’s map, whether the Palestinians accept it or not.”[13]

We can also note that a number of U.S.-Middle East allies fell into line, yet again betraying the Palestinians, and supporting negotiations under obviously biased U.S. auspices.[14]

I saw a remark on Twitter that a lot of the usual folks are silent on this ‘surrender.’ I suspect that is because really, this is what was expected of the Trump administration: “powerful sops to key political constituencies for both leaders — Christian evangelical voters for Trump and the nationalist Israeli right for Netanyahu.”[15] It’s sickening but there’s really not much new to say.

Felicia Schwartz and Michael R. Gordon, “Trump’s Mideast Peace Plan Charts Two-State Course for Israelis, Palestinians,” Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-set-to-release-middle-east-peace-plan-11580221616

Ishaan Tharoor, “Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ is no deal at all,” Washington Post, January 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/01/28/trumps-deal-century-is-no-deal-all/

Oliver Holmes, Sufian Taha, and Hazem Balousha, “‘We will never be Jerusalem’: Abu Dis pours scorn on Trump plan,” Guardian, January 29, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/29/we-will-never-be-jerusalem-abu-dis-pours-scorn-on-trump-plan


Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant was not a person I cared about. He was a sports star. I don’t care about sports.

I do care about rape and while I’m not particularly interested into digging into yet another sexual assault by yet another sports star, I can’t say I’m happy with how the Washington Post reacted to Felicia Sonmez’ tweets. Here’s an excerpt from the Columbia Journalism Review‘s “Media Today” newsletter today:

Felicia Sonmez and the tyranny of the social-media policy
By Jon Allsop

On Sunday—amid the wave of public eulogizing that followed the death of Kobe Bryant—many people on Twitter stressed that we should also remember the time he was credibly accused of raping a hotel worker in Colorado. (Bryant denied the claim, but later settled with the woman, and said he understood “how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”) One such tweeter was Felicia Sonmez, a politics reporter at the Washington Post. Sonmez has consistently been vocal on issues of sexual assault; in 2018, she alleged that she had been abused by Jon Kaiman, who then worked for the LA Times. (Another woman made a similar claim; Kaiman, who subsequently lost his job, has strongly denied wrongdoing.) On Sunday, Sonmez first linked to Daily Beast story (which she didn’t write) about the Bryant rape case without adding commentary of her own. She elaborated, but only after receiving a rash of abusive messages—including, she said, death threats. “Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality,” she wrote. “That folks are responding with rage & threats toward me… speaks volumes about the pressure people come under to stay silent in these cases.” She also shared a screenshot of one nasty message she had received, without masking the sender’s name.

Managers at the Post were not happy with Sonmez. According to Rachel Abrams, of the New York Times, Marty Baron, the paper’s top editor, emailed Sonmez a screenshot of her first Bryant tweet, along with the message: “Felicia, a real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this.” Tracy Grant, managing editor at the Post, then told Sonmez to delete the tweets, before suspending her on the grounds that she had strayed beyond her “coverage area,” and “undermined” her colleagues’ work. Responding to the threats Sonmez had faced, Grant added that she “might want to consider a hotel or a friend’s place for this evening.” (At least one of the threats referenced Sonmez’s home address; Sonmez had contacted Grant to flag the threats, as mandated by the Post’s security protocols.) This, many critics noted, felt like a dereliction of the paper’s duty to ensure the safety of its staff.

Many such critics could be found inside the Post’s newsroom. The paper’s guild wrote an open letter to Baron and Grant, accusing them of failing to protect Sonmez and noting that this isn’t the first time management “has sought to control how Felicia speaks on matters of sexual violence.” As of last night, nearly 350 staffers had signed the letter. Opinion writers at the paper used their platforms to come to Sonmez’s defense, too. On Monday, Erik Wemple wrote that the backlash against her was rooted in “the ancient wisdom that urges folks not to speak ill of the dead,” which is “a fine rule for everyone except for historians and journalists.” Yesterday, David Von Drehle concurred with Wemple. Sonmez, he wrote, had been punished for keeping “both eyes on the truth—or more precisely, on one particular truth, namely that somewhere a woman was experiencing this outpouring of adulation for a man who choked and lacerated her during an encounter that she called a rape, and which he acknowledged was very much like one.”

Late yesterday, the Post retreated. In a statement, it said that following a “review,” it had concluded that Sonmez’s tweets were “ill-timed,” but “not in clear and direct violation of our social media policy.” Sonmez was reinstated, though the statement was notably missing an apology. In a statement of her own, Sonmez hit back, insisting that she and her colleagues deserve to hear directly from Baron, and noting that the episode had “sown confusion” about the Post’s values.

As some observers (including Charlie Warzel, of the Times) noted, the Sonmez fiasco is a fresh reminder that newsrooms still struggle when coordinated mobs of online culture warriors target their staff. (Baron and Grant clearly feared institutional blowback, though it’s possible they found Sonmez’s tweets distasteful on their own terms.) The Post isn’t alone here. Last year, the Times caused a mini media panic when it reported that “a loose network of conservative operatives” had compiled dossiers incriminating “hundreds” of reporters at leading outlets. (The “loose network” has since been mysteriously quiet.) For some reason, A.G. Sulzberger, the Times’s publisher, deemed this development worthy of public comment; he called it a clear attempt to harass his reporters (which was correct), but added that the paper would nonetheless be diligent in responding to “legitimate problems” raised by “anyone—even those acting in bad faith.” This handed the harassers a victory, at least to some small extent.

Sonmezgate also exposes a more routine problem: the tyranny of the newsroom social media policy. Ostensibly, such policies are meant to safeguard journalists and their bosses against the pitfalls of the internet; in practice, they often read like hamfisted attempts to reconcile competing impulses. That of the Post, for instance, says, in part, that reporters should communicate in “more personal and informal ways” to better connect with readers, but should also prioritize preserving the paper’s reputation “for journalistic excellence, fairness, and independence.” Such wording invites flawed—not to mention inconsistent—application. “We have repeatedly seen colleagues—including members of management—share contentious opinions on social media platforms without sanction,” the Post Guild wrote in its letter supporting Sonmez. “But here a valued colleague is being censured for making a statement of fact.”

Again, the Post isn’t alone; tensions like these exist across the media industry. We warn aspiring journalists that they won’t be hired unless they have thousands of Twitter followers they can mine for clicks, while also warning them that they won’t be hired if they ever expressed an opinion online. (Regrettably, Twitter followers tend to like opinions.) The Trump era has made things worse. Newsrooms have moved to monetize their reporters’ humanity (Ring, ring. Ring, ring. “Hi, it’s Michael.”) without really letting them show any preconceptions, or mistakes, or life experiences—the things that actual humans are made of. (Life is not lived in “coverage areas.”) All of which is very ironic: in many cases, trust in the press has declined not because reporters have manifest flaws, but because news organizations insist on pretending that they do not.

Yes, there are things reporters shouldn’t do: campaign for candidates, lie, display prejudice, etc. But these are so obvious—and so intrinsic to what it means to be a journalist—that they hardly need to be codified in an inflexible policy. Which raises the question: what are such policies for, really? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they’re a tool of management control.

Below, more on Sonmez and the Post:

  • Correcting the record: Last year, Emily Yoffe wrote an article for Reason Magazine arguing that Kaiman had wrongly suffered professional and personal damage. Sonmez felt the piece contained a string of inaccuracies, and wrote to Reason requesting corrections; she also posted her letter and supporting evidence to Twitter. The magazine made only three changes. “It’s been a process of having to keep reasserting myself and making sure my own voice was heard,” Sonmez told CJR’s Lauren Harris in November. “When people have tried to put their own spin on my story, I’ve had to push back.”
  • Women and the PostCritics of the Sonmez decision shared other instances in which the Post was criticized on issues pertaining to gender. Last year, Irin Carmon alleged that the Post killed a story she’d been working on about sexual-harassment allegations against Jeff Fager, of CBS. (The allegations later surfaced in the New Yorker; the Post said five editors agreed that the Fager story didn’t meet its standards.) Also last year, the Post Guild assessed pay structures at the paper, and found that women and staffers of color were being paid less than white male employees.
  • Bryant’s death: Sonmez’s Post colleague Margaret Sullivan writes that media coverage of Bryant’s death was “a chaotic mess.” Our collective handling of his rape case was just one part of the problem.[16]

I’m having a real hard time seeing how the Washington Post protected its reputation here. And while, in claims such as these, a reporter’s competence should have little bearing, it can only help that Sonmez is one whom I have cited here and in my blog on a number of occasions.

It looks to me like a number of media organizations, but especially the Post, have a #MeToo problem. They’d do well to get on top of it.


Polarization

Jim Geraghty, “The Pendulum of American Politics,” National Review, January 29, 2020, https://www.nationalreview.com/the-morning-jolt/the-pendulum-of-american-politics/


  1. [1]Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect (New York: Random House, 2008).
  2. [2]Brian Resnick, “The Stanford Prison Experiment was massively influential. We just learned it was a fraud,” Vox, June 13, 2018, https://www.vox.com/2018/6/13/17449118/stanford-prison-experiment-fraud-psychology-replication; Brian Resnick, “Philip Zimbardo defends the Stanford Prison Experiment, his most famous work,” Vox, June 28, 2018, https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/6/28/17509470/stanford-prison-experiment-zimbardo-interview
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  4. [4]Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect (New York: Random House, 2008).
  5. [5]Andrew Dyer, “Retired Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher Strikes Back at SEALs Who Testified Against Him,” Military.com, January 28, 2020, https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/01/28/retired-navy-seal-eddie-gallagher-strikes-back-seals-who-testified-against-him.html
  6. [6]Ishaan Tharoor, “Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ is no deal at all,” Washington Post, January 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/01/28/trumps-deal-century-is-no-deal-all/
  7. [7]Oliver Holmes, Sufian Taha, and Hazem Balousha, “‘We will never be Jerusalem’: Abu Dis pours scorn on Trump plan,” Guardian, January 29, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/29/we-will-never-be-jerusalem-abu-dis-pours-scorn-on-trump-plan; Felicia Schwartz and Michael R. Gordon, “Trump’s Mideast Peace Plan Charts Two-State Course for Israelis, Palestinians,” Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-set-to-release-middle-east-peace-plan-11580221616; Ishaan Tharoor, “Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ is no deal at all,” Washington Post, January 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/01/28/trumps-deal-century-is-no-deal-all/; Times of Israel, “As peace plan rolls out, Netanyahu says he will annex Jordan Valley, settlements,” January 28, 2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/as-peace-plan-rolls-out-netanyahu-says-he-will-annex-jordan-valley-settlements/; Times of Israel, “Trump unveils plan for ‘realistic 2-state’ deal, ‘undivided’ Israeli Jerusalem,” January 28, 2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/trump-unveils-plan-for-realistic-2-state-deal-undivided-israeli-jerusalem/; Raoul Wootliff, “Netanyahu indicted for corruption in three cases, in first for a sitting PM,” Times of Israel, January 28, 2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-indicted-for-corruption-in-three-cases-in-first-for-a-sitting-pm/
  8. [8]Felicia Schwartz and Michael R. Gordon, “Trump’s Mideast Peace Plan Charts Two-State Course for Israelis, Palestinians,” Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-set-to-release-middle-east-peace-plan-11580221616
  9. [9]Raoul Wootliff, “Netanyahu indicted for corruption in three cases, in first for a sitting PM,” Times of Israel, January 28, 2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-indicted-for-corruption-in-three-cases-in-first-for-a-sitting-pm/
  10. [10]Ishaan Tharoor, “Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ is no deal at all,” Washington Post, January 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/01/28/trumps-deal-century-is-no-deal-all/
  11. [11]Oliver Holmes, Sufian Taha, and Hazem Balousha, “‘We will never be Jerusalem’: Abu Dis pours scorn on Trump plan,” Guardian, January 29, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/29/we-will-never-be-jerusalem-abu-dis-pours-scorn-on-trump-plan
  12. [12]Felicia Schwartz and Michael R. Gordon, “Trump’s Mideast Peace Plan Charts Two-State Course for Israelis, Palestinians,” Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-set-to-release-middle-east-peace-plan-11580221616
  13. [13]Felicia Schwartz and Michael R. Gordon, “Trump’s Mideast Peace Plan Charts Two-State Course for Israelis, Palestinians,” Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-set-to-release-middle-east-peace-plan-11580221616
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  15. [15]Ishaan Tharoor, “Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ is no deal at all,” Washington Post, January 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/01/28/trumps-deal-century-is-no-deal-all/
  16. [16]Jon Allsop to “Media Today” list, Columbia Journalism Review, January 29, 2020, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/felicia_sonmez_kobe_bryant_washington_post.php