My Pittsburgh dilemma

Pittsburgh

So I finally got a photograph of a “no trespassing” sign on the outskirts of Clairton (figure 1):
IMG_20200808_133215
Fig. 1. A “no trespassing” sign on the outskirts of Clairton, along Miller Road, just off North State Street. Photograph by author, August 8, 2020.

I say of this on my Pittsburgh page,

The sign in figure 1 is not exceptional. I have white passengers get in my car wearing tee shirts that say, “We don’t call 9-1-1,” and that depict guns. Signs with a similar message may declare that property is “protected by the second amendment.” When you see enough of these signs, and enough of these tee shirts, and enough of these messages; when you see enough guns gratuitously displayed, ostensibly to honor veterans, but especially around certain neighborhoods; when you see the gun nuttery in the state legislature;[1] and when you see gun stores treated as essential businesses during a pandemic,[2] they just don’t seem to be joking anymore.[3]

If I seem to be waffling on the question of moving out of Pittsburgh, it’s because the racism, white supremacism, and politics are, on one hand, so abysmal, and the natural beauty of the place is, on the other, really quite spectacular. Every time I drive up a lane with woods on both sides, I can’t think of any place I’d rather be. Every time I see a Confederate flag, a Trump flag, yet another gun store, or a sign like the one in figure 1, I am so appalled I can’t imagine staying.


  1. [1]Stephen Caruso, “Pro 2nd Amendment lawmakers want to let you carry a gun during an emergency,” Pennsylvania Capital-Star, July 7, 2020, https://www.penncapital-star.com/government-politics/pro-2nd-amendment-lawmakers-want-to-let-you-carry-a-gun-during-an-emergency/; Jon Delano, “Lawrence Co. Lawmaker Wants To Abolish Concealed Carry Gun Permits,” KDKA, May 7, 2019, https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2019/05/07/aaron-bernstine-abolish-pennsylvania-concealed-carry-law/
  2. [2]Brian C. Rittmeyer, “Wolf allows gun stores to reopen on limited basis during coronavirus shutdown,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 25, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/regional/wolf-allows-gun-stores-to-reopen-on-limited-basis-during-coronavirus-shutdown/
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Pittsburgh,” Irregular Bullshit, n.d., https://disunitedstates.com/pittsburgh/

New York Attorney General arranges a massive fundraising boost for the National Rifle Association

National Rifle Association

I predict a huge fundraising bonanza for the National Rifle Association. Because, yes, that’s exactly how this works.

As for the lawsuit[1] itself? We’ll see. There’s a gaming aspect to court proceedings that reduces to a contest to see who can get what rules applied that leads me not to trust that even well-founded cases (which it sounds like this is[2]) will prevail. And we haven’t seen the NRA’s defense yet.

Carol D. Leonnig and Tom Hamburger, “New York attorney general seeks to dissolve NRA in suit accusing gun rights group of wide-ranging fraud and self-dealing,” Washington Post, August 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/nra-lapierre-ny-attorney-general/2020/08/06/8e389794-d794-11ea-930e-d88518c57dcc_story.html


Ridesharing

Preetika Rana, “Uber Ridership Fails to Recover as Pandemic Drives Another Big Loss,” Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-ridership-fails-to-recover-as-pandemic-drives-another-big-loss-11596744389


  1. [1]Carol D. Leonnig and Tom Hamburger, “New York attorney general seeks to dissolve NRA in suit accusing gun rights group of wide-ranging fraud and self-dealing,” Washington Post, August 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/nra-lapierre-ny-attorney-general/2020/08/06/8e389794-d794-11ea-930e-d88518c57dcc_story.html
  2. [2]Carol D. Leonnig and Tom Hamburger, “New York attorney general seeks to dissolve NRA in suit accusing gun rights group of wide-ranging fraud and self-dealing,” Washington Post, August 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/nra-lapierre-ny-attorney-general/2020/08/06/8e389794-d794-11ea-930e-d88518c57dcc_story.html

‘They’re Screwing Around in Congress’

There is a new blog post entitled, “The psychopathy of the spike in COVID-19 cases.”

It’s been a hot and dry few days. But as I’m about to hit publish here, look what just appeared to our west (in eastern Ohio):
ecan
Don’t know that it will come our way and suspect it won’t change the pattern much, but there it is.


Fascism

George Monbiot conflates the situations of the U.S. and the U.K., declines to call that conflation fascism, and distinguishes this conflation from fascism on specious grounds.[1] I’m beginning to sense a pattern: It is not intellectually fashionable to invoke the f-word (“fascism”), so people bend over backwards to explain how our situation is different so they can still style themselves ‘intellectuals.’

I call what is happening in the U.S. fascism because, crucially, it seeks to build political support through violence, whether structural or physical, against subaltern groups, especially nonwhites and the poor, that enables further violence against those groups.[2] That’s different from what Monbiot says is happening in the U.K., but Monbiot is criticizing anti-intellectualism in both countries and this is how he grounds his conflation.

I’m not prepared to call intellectuals a subaltern group in either country, though I certainly feel a temptation. Whether I would call the U.K. fascist depends on its treatment of subaltern groups and, while I’m not prepared to excuse that treatment, I’m also not prepared to say that that treatment is part of a feedback loop. Here is my previous definition of fascism from the previous update on May 16:

Fascism is an ideology that seeks to institutionalize structural and physical violence against some or many subaltern groups on the grounds of bigotry and to increase its own public support through the exploitation of such violence and bigotry. This bigotry may take several forms including nationalism, scapegoating, sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. To the extent that it succeeds, it acts as a self-reinforcing feedback as public support enables further and more extreme violence.[3]

If, on the other hand, I am to consider intellectuals a subaltern group, it cannot be all intellectuals. Some, like economists who enable an intellectually utterly discredited neoliberalism[4] and those who support the political class in other ways, are often richly rewarded. Professors who cling to tenure hardly seem subaltern to me. So I would need a way to distinguish between outcast intellectuals, those who are not sycophants for the ruling class, and those who are.

That’s not as easy as it sounds. It can’t simply be that intellectuals who agree with me are subaltern, but ideological sycophancy might be one distinguishing feature of non-subaltern intellectuals. There are books on my shelf I haven’t gotten to that might help with this and Sergio Caldarella criticizes ideological conformity.[5] There may also be economic considerations: What if the surplus of Ph.D. holders functions, intentionally or not, to undermine intellectuals’ leverage in the marketplace, and therefore intellectualism at large?

For now, I just don’t know. A group I might more easily include as subaltern is that of dissidents. Monbiot criticizes the elite response to intellectual dissent in the U.S. and the U.K.,[6] but what if the real objection authoritarian populists and elites have with those Monbiot calls intellectuals isn’t to their intellectualism but rather to their ideas?

So here is how I am further refining my definition:

Fascism is an ideology that seeks to institutionalize structural and physical violence against some or many subaltern groups on the grounds of bigotry and to increase its own public support through the exploitation of such violence and bigotry. This bigotry may take several forms including the repression of dissent or the promotion of nationalism, scapegoating, sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. To the extent that it succeeds, it acts as a self-reinforcing feedback as public support enables further and more extreme violence.[7]

George Monbiot, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” July 6, 2020, https://www.monbiot.com/2020/07/07/something-wicked-this-way-comes/


Pennsylvania

Keeping Pennsylvania safe for white supremacy.

Stephen Caruso, “Pro 2nd Amendment lawmakers want to let you carry a gun during an emergency,” Pennsylvania Capital-Star, July 7, 2020, https://www.penncapital-star.com/government-politics/pro-2nd-amendment-lawmakers-want-to-let-you-carry-a-gun-during-an-emergency/


  1. [1]George Monbiot, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” July 6, 2020, https://www.monbiot.com/2020/07/07/something-wicked-this-way-comes/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “A simple definition of fascism,” Not Housebroken, July 7, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/07/06/a-simple-definition-of-fascism/
  3. [3]David Benfell, “A simple definition of fascism,” Not Housebroken, July 7, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/07/06/a-simple-definition-of-fascism/
  4. [4]Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford, UK: Oxford University, 2013); Amir Fleischmann, “The Myth of the Fiscal Conservative,” Jacobin, March 5, 2017, https://jacobinmag.com/2017/03/fiscal-conservative-social-services-austerity-save-money; Jason Hickel, “Progress and its discontents,” New Internationalist, August 7, 2019, https://newint.org/features/2019/07/01/long-read-progress-and-its-discontents; Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 2012); Robert Kuttner, “Austerity never works: Deficit hawks are amoral — and wrong,” Salon, May 5, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/05/05/austerity_never_works_deficit_hawks_are_amoral_and_wrong/; Dennis Loo, Globalization and the Demolition of Society (Glendale, CA: Larkmead, 2011); Thomas Piketty, Jeffrey Sachs, Heiner Flassbeck, Dani Rodrik and Simon Wren-Lewis, “Austerity Has Failed: An Open Letter From Thomas Piketty to Angela Merkel,” Nation, July 6, 2015, http://www.thenation.com/article/austerity-has-failed-an-open-letter-from-thomas-piketty-to-angela-merkel/; John Quiggin, “Austerity Has Been Tested, and It Failed,” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 2013, http://chronicle.com/article/Austerity-Has-Been-Tested-and/139255/; David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, “How Austerity Kills,” New York Times, May 12, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/13/opinion/how-austerity-kills.html; David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, “Paul Krugman’s right: Austerity kills,” Salon, May 19, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/05/19/paul_krugmans_right_austerity_kills/
  5. [5]Sergio Caldarella, The Dark Campus (Princeton, NJ: Dark Age, 2016).
  6. [6]George Monbiot, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” July 6, 2020, https://www.monbiot.com/2020/07/07/something-wicked-this-way-comes/
  7. [7]David Benfell, “A simple definition of fascism,” Not Housebroken, July 7, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/07/06/a-simple-definition-of-fascism/

You won’t be relieved

Updates

  1. Originally published March 26, 2020 at 8:54 am.
  2. August 8, 10:54 pm:
    • I finally got a photograph of the sign on the outskirts of Clairton (figure 1).

Recession

With confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States climbing swiftly to over 67,000 Wednesday with more than 900 deaths, lawmakers acknowledged that no amount of economic relief from Congress could stop the pain for the American public.[1]

Therefore, even as a record number of people file for unemployment benefits,[2] Congress will barely even try.[3]

Heather Long and Alyssa Fowers, “A record 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits as the coronavirus slams economy,” Washington Post, March 26, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/26/unemployment-claims-coronavirus-3-million/

Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis, and Paul Kane, “Senate passes $2 trillion bill to blunt coronavirus pandemic’s economic impact, as households and businesses gasp for relief,” Washington Post, March 26, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/26/senate-trump-coronavirus-economic-stimulus-2-trillion/


Pennsylvania

Your regularly scheduled racism and white supremacy[4] will be permitted to resume.[5]
IMG_20200808_133215
Fig. 1. Photograph by author, August 8, 2020.

Seriously, let’s be clear what this is about. On the outskirts of Clairton, on Miller Road near North State Street, in a wooded area not very far from the banks of the Monongahela River, there is a weathered sign proclaiming that the property owner there owns both a firearm and a backhoe (figure 1), implicitly threatening to use the former to shoot a person for arbitrary reasons and then to use the latter to cover up the evidence. The second part of that implies a resistance to accountability for the first part.

In praising the decision, the Firearms Policy Coalition noted a strongly worded opinion by Supreme Court Justices David Wecht, Christine Donohue and Kevin Dougherty in favor of protecting the right to keep and bear arms.

“The right and ability to protect yourself and your family, particularly in times of crisis, is the very definition of ‘life-sustaining’ and unquestionably protected by both the Second Amendment and the state’s constitution,” said Adam Kraut, the coalition’s director of legal strategy.

“As we have said before, there is no ‘except-in-emergencies’ clause in the Constitution and the government cannot shut down the people’s right to keep and bear arms,” coalition President Brandon Combs said.[6]

It should be noted that

On Sunday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by a gun shop that challenged [Tom] Wolf’s authority to close businesses determined to be “non-life-sustaining.” The lawsuit claimed Wolf’s edict violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms and other constitutional rights.[7]

Tom Wolf is allowing gun shops to reopen anyway,[8] mocking those who see guns as life-depriving rather than as life-sustaining.

Fig. 2. ‘Cause you know that artillery round aimed right at Carrick High School (left) and the camouflage-painted dump truck owned by a locksmith (right) along with all that other weaponry mostly in or near areas with high proportions of Blacks in their populations (figure 3) don’t mean anything at all. Clairton is such an area (figure 4). Photographs by author, December 31, 2019, (left) and November 22, 2019, (right).

[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/embed?mid=1K1CjgWPOH71L1UsUSHs00ubbu-jYnWux&w=640&h=480]
Fig. 3. Map of gratuitously displayed weapons, compiled by author.


Fig. 4. Tank outside a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Clairton (left) and a rocket and artillery piece on a public square in Clairton (right). Photographs by author, September 20, 2019.

Brian C. Rittmeyer, “Wolf allows gun stores to reopen on limited basis during coronavirus shutdown,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 25, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/regional/wolf-allows-gun-stores-to-reopen-on-limited-basis-during-coronavirus-shutdown/


  1. [1]Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis, and Paul Kane, “Senate passes $2 trillion bill to blunt coronavirus pandemic’s economic impact, as households and businesses gasp for relief,” Washington Post, March 26, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/26/senate-trump-coronavirus-economic-stimulus-2-trillion/
  2. [2]Heather Long and Alyssa Fowers, “A record 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits as the coronavirus slams economy,” Washington Post, March 26, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/26/unemployment-claims-coronavirus-3-million/
  3. [3]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/; Michael Hirsh, “Is $2 Trillion Too Little, Too Late?” Foreign Policy, March 25, 2020, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/24/us-congress-2-trillion-rescue-package-too-little-too-late/; Michael Hudson, “A debt jubilee is the only way to avoid a depression,” Washington Post, March 21, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/03/21/debt-jubilee-is-only-way-avoid-depression/; Isabel V. Sawhill, “The middle class faces its greatest threat since the 1930s,” Brookings, March 20, 2020,https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/the-middle-class-faces-its-greatest-threat-since-the-1930s/
  4. [4]David Benfell, “The banners and the guns: Flagrant racism in Pittsburgh,” Not Housebroken, October 12, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/09/20/the-banners-and-the-guns-flagrant-racism-in-pittsburgh/; David Benfell, “Militia territory,” Not Housebroken, November 22, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/11/22/militia-territory/
  5. [5]Brian C. Rittmeyer, “Wolf allows gun stores to reopen on limited basis during coronavirus shutdown,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 25, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/regional/wolf-allows-gun-stores-to-reopen-on-limited-basis-during-coronavirus-shutdown/
  6. [6]Brian C. Rittmeyer, “Wolf allows gun stores to reopen on limited basis during coronavirus shutdown,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 25, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/regional/wolf-allows-gun-stores-to-reopen-on-limited-basis-during-coronavirus-shutdown/
  7. [7]Brian C. Rittmeyer, “Wolf allows gun stores to reopen on limited basis during coronavirus shutdown,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 25, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/regional/wolf-allows-gun-stores-to-reopen-on-limited-basis-during-coronavirus-shutdown/
  8. [8]Brian C. Rittmeyer, “Wolf allows gun stores to reopen on limited basis during coronavirus shutdown,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 25, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/regional/wolf-allows-gun-stores-to-reopen-on-limited-basis-during-coronavirus-shutdown/

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.,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 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.,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 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/

War is the answer

There is a new blog post entitled, “An unhealthy relationship with guns.”


Iraq

You might recall from yesterday’s installment that Iraqi protesters had stormed the U.S. embassy in Iraq. They were protesting a U.S. bombing in the country.[1] In yet another stunning demonstration of “unclear on the concept,” the Trump administration responds to this by sending . . . wait for it  . . . more troops. It appeared the embassy protest might be going on for a while[2] but Iraq’s prime minister has promised to submit the question of a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country to parliament. Such a withdrawal will be the price of peace at the U.S. embassy there,[3] which is to say that the U.S. has now lost Iraq in addition to Afghanistan.[4]

That makes us zero for two on George W. Bush’s immediate response to the 9/11 attacks, the same response that Barack Obama expanded to more countries. But hey, war is the answer. War is always the fucking answer.

Thaier al-Sudani and Maher Nazeh with Ahmed Aboulenein, “Iraqi militiamen hurl stones at U.S. Embassy, prepare for extended stay,” Reuters, January 1, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iraq-security-usa/iraqi-militiamen-hurl-stones-at-us-embassy-prepare-for-extended-stay-idUSKBN1Z01N9

Mustafa Salim and Liz Sly, “Supporters of Iranian-backed militia end siege of U.S. Embassy in Baghdad,” Washington Post, January 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/supporters-of-iranian-backed-militia-start-withdrawing-from-besieged-us-embassy-in-baghdad-following-militia-orders/2020/01/01/8280cb34-2c9e-11ea-9b60-817cc18cf173_story.html


Israel

Ruth Eglash, “Netanyahu to ask Israeli parliament for immunity from criminal charges,” Washington Post, January 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/netanyahu-to-seek-immunity-from-criminal-charges/2020/01/01/9f635378-2b1a-11ea-bffe-020c88b3f120_story.html


  1. [1]Luke Harding, “Trump accuses Iran over storming of US embassy compound in Baghdad,” Guardian, December 31, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/31/us-embassy-stormed-in-baghdad; Mustafa Salim and Liz Sly, “Protesters chanting ‘Death to America’ break into U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad,” Washington Post, December 31, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/iran-backed-militia-supporters-converge-on-us-embassy-in-baghdad-shouting-death-to-america/2019/12/31/93f050b2-2bb1-11ea-bffe-020c88b3f120_story.html
  2. [2]Thaier al-Sudani and Maher Nazeh with Ahmed Aboulenein, “Iraqi militiamen hurl stones at U.S. Embassy, prepare for extended stay,” Reuters, January 1, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iraq-security-usa/iraqi-militiamen-hurl-stones-at-us-embassy-prepare-for-extended-stay-idUSKBN1Z01N9
  3. [3]Mustafa Salim and Liz Sly, “Supporters of Iranian-backed militia end siege of U.S. Embassy in Baghdad,” Washington Post, January 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/supporters-of-iranian-backed-militia-start-withdrawing-from-besieged-us-embassy-in-baghdad-following-militia-orders/2020/01/01/8280cb34-2c9e-11ea-9b60-817cc18cf173_story.html
  4. [4]Craig Whitlock, “At war with the truth,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-confidential-documents/; Craig Whitlock, “Built to fail,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-nation-building/; Craig Whitlock, “Consumed by corruption,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-corruption-government/; Craig Whitlock, “Overwhelmed by opium,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-opium-poppy-production/; Craig Whitlock, “Stranded without a strategy,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-strategy/; Craig Whitlock, “Unguarded nation,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-army-police/

Facepalm, New Years Eve

There is a new blog entry entitled, “No, not everyone should learn to code.”


Pittsburgh

Where I live, the cops actually have to say this:

On the one hand, I’m glad to have reconnected with Pittsburgh, to have touched ground where so many of my relatives lived (and some, whom I haven’t seen in fifty years, still do) and where I lived for a couple years as a kid.

On the other hand, I have landed in a white supremacist hellhole.[1] I’m still working seven days a week with no visible hope for a better life. And this makes me feel I have made a terrible mistake.

Speaking of guns, I finally got this photograph and have added it to my map of Gratuituous Guns.
IMG_0073
Fig. 1. This is an artillery round of some sort, placed on a pillar outside, and pointing directly at, Carrick High School. Carrick is among the areas in Pittsburgh that appears predominantly Black.

The folks who place that artillery round there may wax holier than thou about how this is to honor those who fought in World War II and the Korean War to their hearts’ content. I see a bullet aimed at a high school and can only think that this is a really weird way to honor soldiers.

Small consolations: Amazon Prime delivers in one day here and I get my Whole Foods Market groceries delivered for free through PrimeNow.

And I get my Internet service much faster and, so far at least, much more reliably via fiber optic with Verizon FiOS. I do wish Comcast would quit putting junk mail in my box because, even if I weren’t already pissed at them for their crappy service in California, there’s no way cable is competing with fiber.


This (figure 2) pleases me greatly:
1529931813-20180625 (1)
Fig. 2. Comic by Zack Weinersmith, June 25, 2018, (un)fair use?

And if I have to explain it to you, you don’t understand the Oxford comma.


Gig economy

Uber and Postmates, with a couple drivers, are challenging California’s AB5, which would likely require the companies to treat drivers as employees.[2] Some shit is just annoying.[3]

There are a couple points here. First, the suit was filed in federal, not state, court and, second, on the basis that some industries were exempted, alleges the law fails to provide equal protection[4] (this sounds like a 14th amendment question[5]). The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Uber and Lyft drivers are independent contractors, not employees[6] and while I expect that has little bearing on the question of equal protection, it may signify a different atmosphere at the federal level.

The law was meant to codify a state supreme court decision that many believed implicated gig economy labor practices but was actually in the case of a single company, Dynamex.[7] With the question being about equal protection, it seems clear that the federal court could strike down the California law without overturning the state supreme court decision, which would really mean that Uber and Lyft are likely still on the hook.

This is a long game, it’s still early, and it likely won’t end until and unless the companies capitulate.

Noam Scheiber, “Uber and Postmates File Suit to Block California Freelancer Law,” New York Times, December 30, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/30/technology/uber-and-postmates-file-suit-to-block-california-freelancer-law.html


Iraq

I had thought the U.S. Embassy in Iraq was the most heavily fortified in the world. It seems folks protesting the recent U.S. bombing there managed to break in anyway.[8]

But ya know, war is the solution, right?

Fucking idiots.

Luke Harding, “Trump accuses Iran over storming of US embassy compound in Baghdad,” Guardian, December 31, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/31/us-embassy-stormed-in-baghdad


  1. [1]David Benfell, “How am I to respond?” Not Housebroken, December 30, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/12/30/how-am-i-to-respond/
  2. [2]Noam Scheiber, “Uber and Postmates File Suit to Block California Freelancer Law,” New York Times, December 30, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/30/technology/uber-and-postmates-file-suit-to-block-california-freelancer-law.html
  3. [3]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/
  4. [4]Noam Scheiber, “Uber and Postmates File Suit to Block California Freelancer Law,” New York Times, December 30, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/30/technology/uber-and-postmates-file-suit-to-block-california-freelancer-law.html
  5. [5]U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.
  6. [6]Vanessa Romo, “Uber Drivers Are Not Employees, National Relations Board Rules. Drivers Saw It Coming,” National Public Radio, May 15, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/05/15/723768986/uber-drivers-are-not-employees-national-relations-board-rules-drivers-saw-it-com
  7. [7]Alexia Fernández Campbell, “California is cracking down on the gig economy,” Vox, May 30, 2019, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/5/30/18642535/california-ab5-misclassify-employees-contractors; Nathan Heller, “A New California Law Takes Aim at Uber and Lyft,” New Yorker, September 12, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-silicon-valley/a-new-california-law-takes-aim-at-uber-and-lyft
  8. [8]Luke Harding, “Trump accuses Iran over storming of US embassy compound in Baghdad,” Guardian, December 31, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/31/us-embassy-stormed-in-baghdad; Mustafa Salim and Liz Sly, “Protesters chanting ‘Death to America’ break into U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad,” Washington Post, December 31, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/iran-backed-militia-supporters-converge-on-us-embassy-in-baghdad-shouting-death-to-america/2019/12/31/93f050b2-2bb1-11ea-bffe-020c88b3f120_story.html

Gun nuttery at the Supreme Court, yet again

Guns

I’m sorry but you just can’t tell me this (figure 1) is about hunting and self-defense.
IMG_0018
Fig. 1. Tank on permanent display outside the Anthony Arms and Shooting Center in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, a civilian arms dealer. This is directly across the street from the Allegheny County Airport, the predecessor to Pittsburgh International Airport. The bulk, at least, of West Mifflin is in Mon Valley, an area predominantly populated by Blacks, many of whom are poor or working class. The airport and this gun shop are located on high ground which overlooks this valley. Photograph by author, September 26, 2019.

Andrew Chung, “U.S. Supreme Court weighs challenge to New York gun transport limits,” Reuters, December 1, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-guns/us-supreme-court-weighs-challenge-to-new-york-gun-transport-limits-idUSKBN1Y50ZG


Abortion

I would highlight the insidious expansion of the term ‘fetus’ to include any product of conception.[1] I understood the term to refer to what an embryo grows into. The Oxford Dictionary of English puts the transition at eight weeks following conception.[2] But bills in Ohio and Pennsylvania are defining it down to the moment of conception. The Ohio bill mandates the reimplantation of the zygote in an ectopic pregnancy—a life-threatening condition—into the uterus. And the Pennsylvania bill attempts to require cremation or burial of remains. All of this is more about being holier-than-thou than it is about what’s even possible.[3]

Peter Wade, “Legislators in Ohio and Pennsylvania Are Proposing Incredibly Restrictive Anti-Abortion Legislation,” Rolling Stone, November 30, 2019, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/legislators-in-ohio-and-pennsylvania-are-proposing-incredibly-restrictive-anti-abortion-legislation-919928/


Surveys

So I’ve been calling survey methodology bullshit since I learned the response rate had been nine percent,[4] which simply makes survey methodology untenable—I don’t care what they say or how they manage to excuse it.

It turns out, however, I’ve been wrong since the end of February. The response rate is now down to six or seven percent. Supposedly studies confirm that survey research is still useful and predictive.[5] No. Bullshit.

The portion of the population that chooses to respond to surveys is now entirely a self-selecting group. I don’t care how often you roll the die and get seven. You’re still wrong to call this science.

Courtney Kennedy and Hannah Hartig, “Response rates in telephone surveys have resumed their decline,” Pew Research Center, February 27, 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/02/27/response-rates-in-telephone-surveys-have-resumed-their-decline/


  1. [1]Peter Wade, “Legislators in Ohio and Pennsylvania Are Proposing Incredibly Restrictive Anti-Abortion Legislation,” Rolling Stone, November 30, 2019, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/legislators-in-ohio-and-pennsylvania-are-proposing-incredibly-restrictive-anti-abortion-legislation-919928/
  2. [2]Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd ed. (2010), s.v. “fetus.”
  3. [3]Stephen Caruso, “Pa. House passes fetal remains bill with bipartisan backing,” Pennsylvania Capital-Star, November 28, 2019, https://www.penncapital-star.com/blog/pa-house-passes-fetal-remains-bill-with-bipartisan-backing/; Peter Wade, “Legislators in Ohio and Pennsylvania Are Proposing Incredibly Restrictive Anti-Abortion Legislation,” Rolling Stone, November 30, 2019, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/legislators-in-ohio-and-pennsylvania-are-proposing-incredibly-restrictive-anti-abortion-legislation-919928/
  4. [4]Steven Shepard, “Report: Phone polls aren’t dead yet,” Politico, May 15, 2017, https://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/15/pollsters-phone-polls-238409
  5. [5]Courtney Kennedy and Hannah Hartig, “Response rates in telephone surveys have resumed their decline,” Pew Research Center, February 27, 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/02/27/response-rates-in-telephone-surveys-have-resumed-their-decline/

Capitalists are bad? You don’t say!

Updates

  1. Originally published, November 15, 7:43 pm.
  2. November 16, 2:58 pm:
    • Correction: Sonoma Clean Power does not own or operate the geothermal plant at the Geysers in Sonoma County. These wells are mostly operated by Calpine.[1] I have removed erroneous text. Also, it appears the Press Democrat story[2] over-emphasized the prospect that Sonoma Clean Power might acquire PG&E’s transmission network in Sonoma County. My mother tells me that the Board was concerned with the possibility that PG&E might be bought out or become something else, and what the ramifications for Sonoma Clean Power, as a subsidiary power seller, would be. There may be a story forthcoming.

Ayodhya

Sadanand Dhume, “Hindus Take a Muslim Site. What’s Next?” Wall Street Journal, November 14, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/hindus-take-a-muslim-site-is-the-taj-mahal-next-11573775903


Pacific Gas and Electric

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.c
Fig. 1. Is this a picture to grab your attention or what? No, this isn’t a disaster about to happen. The original caption: “A helicopter uses a sprayer to wash high tension power line insulators after the Kincade Fire near Pepperwood Preserve.” This photograph is undated and uncredited but the other two in the article, also undated, are attributed to Kent Porter of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.[3] Fair use.

There is concern that Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), a company with a criminal record, will emerge from bankruptcy under control of a hedge fund.

“Nothing I can think of says, ‘screw the public interest’ like a hedge fund-owned public utility,” [Dave] King said.[4]

So Sonoma Clean Power may seek to acquire PG&E’s transmission network in the county.[5] It is unclear how this would mesh with the possibility that the state will take over the utility.[6]

While I’m no fan of PG&E, I also have to wonder to what extent public ownership will solve a problem whose causes lie not only with corporate malfeasance but also with the climate crisis.[7] And you know how you convince me you’re serious about the latter: Go vegan. Until you’ve done that, you’re really just playing around.

Tyler Silvy, “Sonoma Clean Power officials will explore public ownership of PG&E utility lines,” Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, November 14, 2019, https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10315410-181/sonoma-clean-power-officials-will


Gig economy

Imagine if other states, notably California, actually slapped Uber with a tax bill the way New Jersey has.[8]

Matthew Haag and Patrick McGeehan, “Uber Fined $649 Million for Saying Drivers Aren’t Employees,” New York Times, November 14, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/14/nyregion/uber-new-jersey-drivers.html



  1. [1]Power Technology, “The Geysers Geothermal Field, California,” n.d., https://www.power-technology.com/projects/the-geysers-geothermal-california/
  2. [2]Tyler Silvy, “Sonoma Clean Power officials will explore public ownership of PG&E utility lines,” Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, November 14, 2019, https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10315410-181/sonoma-clean-power-officials-will
  3. [3]Tyler Silvy, “Sonoma Clean Power officials will explore public ownership of PG&E utility lines,” Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, November 14, 2019, https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10315410-181/sonoma-clean-power-officials-will
  4. [4]Tyler Silvy, “Sonoma Clean Power officials will explore public ownership of PG&E utility lines,” Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, November 14, 2019, https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10315410-181/sonoma-clean-power-officials-will
  5. [5]Tyler Silvy, “Sonoma Clean Power officials will explore public ownership of PG&E utility lines,” Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, November 14, 2019, https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10315410-181/sonoma-clean-power-officials-will
  6. [6]Katherine Blunt and Alejandro Lazo, “California Governor Threatens State Takeover of PG&E,” Wall Street Journal, November 1, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/california-governor-threatens-state-takeover-of-pg-e-11572641749; Rebecca Smith, “California Mayors Join Campaign to Buy Out PG&E,” Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/california-mayors-join-campaign-to-make-pg-e-a-cooperative-11572955201
  7. [7]Kurtis Alexander, “Scientists see fingerprints of climate change all over California’s wildfires,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 3, 2018, https://www.sfchronicle.com/science/article/Scientists-see-fingerprints-of-climate-change-all-13128585.php
  8. [8]Matthew Haag and Patrick McGeehan, “Uber Fined $649 Million for Saying Drivers Aren’t Employees,” New York Times, November 14, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/14/nyregion/uber-new-jersey-drivers.html