Storm clouds

Recession

Until now, I’ve mostly seen the prospect of yet another recession more as speculation seemingly founded on a notion that the alleged expansion (it’s an expansion only if you discount externalities, such as climate) couldn’t go on forever. And certainly, psychology is a factor: The very fact that the Wall Street Journal publishes an article speculating on the possibility of a recession[1] will mean people will think about the possibility of a recession. The question is when or if that thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Another question is whether, in passages to warm capitalist libertarians’ hearts, the article is correct to allocate considerable blame for past recessions to the Federal Reserve[2] (capitalist libertarians even blame the Great Depression that began with a stock market crash in 1929 on, yes, the Federal Reserve).

But there are a few storm clouds now: One is Donald Trump’s idiocy on tariffs, which a lot of folks, importantly including Republican Congress members, translate as taxes on U.S. consumers and businesses.[3] They’re dubious with China, fully delusional in trying to get Mexico to stem the flow of migrants into the U.S.[4] Another is Brexit, which now seems certain to be hard, with its predicted devastating consequences for the British economy—one question will be how these spill out into the world economy. Then there’s a bipartisan antitrust crackdown on big high tech[5] that I have to say I didn’t see coming.

It might well be that none of those, by themselves or even in combination with each other, would push the economy past a tipping point. But it is a positivist (and brain-dead) linear model of causation that expects a single cause and a single effect (yes, really, and no, I couldn’t believe it either—this was an “are you fucking kidding me” moment for me when I learned of this). I am, among other things, a systems theorist and I know that there are always other factors at work.

But if a threat hits the economy, policy makers may have a difficult time finding further tax or spending capacity to limit the impact. As Canada experienced in the early 1990s, fiscal belt tightening in a downturn can make a recession even worse.

The Fed is also constrained. With interest rates already very low, it has little room to cut them to spur borrowing, spending and investment in a downturn.[6]

What I’m not is an economist and, frankly, if I were, you’d have even less reason to listen to me if I were forecasting a recession (if, indeed, human science is a mother to the social sciences,[7] economics would be the mean and vicious, ugly-to-the-bone stepchild). I’m not. I simply don’t have the training or the data, nor do I have any particularly educated insight into the economy. But I’m starting to see reason for people to worry.

The silver lining is that if a well-timed recession occurs, later this year, or better still, early to mid-next year, it will boost the prospects for a Green New Deal. So-called “creative destruction” has destroyed too much: I drive past shuttered manufacturing facilities and through devastated communities—McKeesport, I’m thinking of you, but you’re not the only one by a very long stretch—every day. I see the poverty that has resulted.

The neoliberal rationalization that yes, workers might be getting paid less and might be treated like shit, but at least they’re paying lower prices for products now made overseas, doesn’t really fly here because these folks aren’t buying much at all. They don’t have the money. The alleged expansion hasn’t reached these folks any more than it has me. And if I’m going to talk about tipping points, another recession, especially a severe recession, might be one.

Jon Hilsenrath, “After Record-Long Expansion, Here’s What Could Knock the Economy Off Course,” Wall Street Journal, June 3, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/after-record-long-expansion-heres-what-could-knock-the-economy-off-course-11559591043


Trade

Republican lawmakers aren’t eager to be drawn into a conflict with the president. But some feel they might have to take action following a growing consensus within the GOP that these new tariffs would amount to tax increases on American businesses and consumers — something that would represent a profound breach of party orthodoxy.[8]

There’s another reason Republican congress members might not really want to have this particular fight with Donald Trump: Authoritarian populists are very often the ones who’ve lost jobs in so-called “free” (for whom? to do what? to whom?) trade. They’re also a large (if not the larger) part of Trump’s base. It may indeed be sheer idiocy, but so-called “free” trade is not an argument that will win them over. And they’re already incensed over migration, Trump’s excuse for tariffs on Mexico. He’s pushing all the right buttons for them and they’re loving it. That said, at least some Republican senators seem to think they have the votes to override Trump’s veto and stop the tariffs.[9]

Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim, and Damian Paletta, “GOP lawmakers discuss vote to block Trump’s new tariffs on Mexico, in what would be a dramatic act of defiance,” Washington Post, June 3, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/citing-mexico-tariffs-threat-lawmakers-say-n-american-trade-deal-is-in-peril/2019/06/03/73c4eaac-863c-11e9-a491-25df61c78dc4_story.html

Erica Werner et al., “GOP lawmakers warn White House they’ll try to block Trump’s Mexico tariffs,” Washington Post, June 4, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/mexico-sees-80-percent-chance-of-a-deal-to-head-off-trump-tariffs/2019/06/04/53bdce08-86c4-11e9-98c1-e945ae5db8fb_story.html


Antitrust

There’s an acronym, FAANG, used to refer to the really big high tech firms, standing for Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google. Four of those companies, but apparently not Netflix, will now be the subject of antitrust scrutiny.[10] I’m having a hard time imagining what the results of punitive measures might look like, which probably says as much about the need for antitrust action as it does my own limited imagination.

Dan Gallagher, “Big Tech’s Weird Day of Reckoning,” Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/big-techs-weird-day-of-reckoning-11559641888


Elon Musk

Tom Hoggins, “Tesla is ‘structurally unprofitable’, analysts say,” Telegraph, June 3, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2019/06/03/tesla-structurally-unprofitable-analysts-say/


Brexit

So yesterday, we had Donald Trump’s pal, the ambassador to Britain, saying Britain’s National Health Service would be on the table for post-Brexit trade negotiations.[11] I called it an “own goal” because it gives Brits a reason to vote against Nigel Farage, whom Trump would undoubtedly love to win a general election and become prime minister.[12] So guess what Trump did today? He doubled down on the “own goal.” He might have backtracked later,[13] but I’m guessing the damage is done. Typical. And this is how you know the man’s a fucking idiot, because stupid just doesn’t come much stupider than this.

Adam Taylor, “Brits are fiercely protective of their health-care system. Trump suggested he wants it included in trade talks,” Washington Post, June 4, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/06/04/brits-are-fiercely-protective-their-health-care-system-trump-suggested-he-wants-it-included-trade-talks/


  1. [1]Jon Hilsenrath, “After Record-Long Expansion, Here’s What Could Knock the Economy Off Course,” Wall Street Journal, June 3, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/after-record-long-expansion-heres-what-could-knock-the-economy-off-course-11559591043
  2. [2]Jon Hilsenrath, “After Record-Long Expansion, Here’s What Could Knock the Economy Off Course,” Wall Street Journal, June 3, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/after-record-long-expansion-heres-what-could-knock-the-economy-off-course-11559591043
  3. [3]Jon Hilsenrath, “After Record-Long Expansion, Here’s What Could Knock the Economy Off Course,” Wall Street Journal, June 3, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/after-record-long-expansion-heres-what-could-knock-the-economy-off-course-11559591043; Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim, and Damian Paletta, “GOP lawmakers discuss vote to block Trump’s new tariffs on Mexico, in what would be a dramatic act of defiance,” Washington Post, June 3, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/citing-mexico-tariffs-threat-lawmakers-say-n-american-trade-deal-is-in-peril/2019/06/03/73c4eaac-863c-11e9-a491-25df61c78dc4_story.html
  4. [4]Damian Paletta, Nick Miroff, and Josh Dawsey, “Trump says U.S. to impose 5 percent tariff on all Mexican imports beginning June 10 in dramatic escalation of border clash,” Washington Post, May 30, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/trump-prepares-to-threaten-mexico-with-new-tariffs-in-attempt-to-force-migrant-crackdown/2019/05/30/0f05f01e-8314-11e9-bce7-40b4105f7ca0_story.html; Damian Paletta, Taylor Telford, and Mary Beth Sheridan, “U.S. and Mexico plan summit in Washington on Wednesday in bid to head off trade dispute,” Washington Post, May 31, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/05/31/lawmakers-express-alarm-trump-forges-ahead-with-mexico-tariffs/; David Randall, “World stocks drop, bonds rally as trade tensions fan growth fears,” Reuters, May 28, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-markets/global-recession-fears-hit-stocks-bonds-rally-idUSKCN1SZ02F; Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim, and Damian Paletta, “GOP lawmakers discuss vote to block Trump’s new tariffs on Mexico, in what would be a dramatic act of defiance,” Washington Post, June 3, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/citing-mexico-tariffs-threat-lawmakers-say-n-american-trade-deal-is-in-peril/2019/06/03/73c4eaac-863c-11e9-a491-25df61c78dc4_story.html; Erica Werner et al., “GOP lawmakers warn White House they’ll try to block Trump’s Mexico tariffs,” Washington Post, June 4, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/mexico-sees-80-percent-chance-of-a-deal-to-head-off-trump-tariffs/2019/06/04/53bdce08-86c4-11e9-98c1-e945ae5db8fb_story.html
  5. [5]Dan Gallagher, “Big Tech’s Weird Day of Reckoning,” Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/big-techs-weird-day-of-reckoning-11559641888
  6. [6]Jon Hilsenrath, “After Record-Long Expansion, Here’s What Could Knock the Economy Off Course,” Wall Street Journal, June 3, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/after-record-long-expansion-heres-what-could-knock-the-economy-off-course-11559591043
  7. [7]David Benfell, “The mother of the social sciences,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/the-mother-of-the-social-sciences/
  8. [8]Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim, and Damian Paletta, “GOP lawmakers discuss vote to block Trump’s new tariffs on Mexico, in what would be a dramatic act of defiance,” Washington Post, June 3, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/citing-mexico-tariffs-threat-lawmakers-say-n-american-trade-deal-is-in-peril/2019/06/03/73c4eaac-863c-11e9-a491-25df61c78dc4_story.html
  9. [9]Erica Werner et al., “GOP lawmakers warn White House they’ll try to block Trump’s Mexico tariffs,” Washington Post, June 4, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/mexico-sees-80-percent-chance-of-a-deal-to-head-off-trump-tariffs/2019/06/04/53bdce08-86c4-11e9-98c1-e945ae5db8fb_story.html
  10. [10]Dan Gallagher, “Big Tech’s Weird Day of Reckoning,” Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/big-techs-weird-day-of-reckoning-11559641888
  11. [11]Jessica Elgot and Patrick Wintour, “Donald Trump to land in UK amid rising anger over trade demands,” Guardian, June 2, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/02/donald-trump-to-land-in-uk-amid-rising-anger-over-trade-demands
  12. [12]David Benfell, “Fantasies,” Irregular Bullshit, June 3, 2019, https://disunitedstates.com/2019/06/03/fantasies/
  13. [13]Adam Taylor, “Brits are fiercely protective of their health-care system. Trump suggested he wants it included in trade talks,” Washington Post, June 4, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/06/04/brits-are-fiercely-protective-their-health-care-system-trump-suggested-he-wants-it-included-trade-talks/

Fantasies

Cruelty

I came across this old book review in the New Yorker which argues that moral indignation rather than dehumanization lies behind some extreme cruelty.[1] It’s an interesting hypothesis, but I’m unconvinced: The argument is left unmade for me.

The thing about arguments of this nature is they seek to plumb the depths of motivation and belief in other people, which we can never really know. We can only know what they say or write. People rarely even fully know themselves anyway and people who express cruelty towards other people strike me as spectacularly unreliable sources.

Paul Bloom, “The Root of All Cruelty?” review of Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, by David Livingstone Smith, and Virtuous Violence: Hurting and Killing to Create, Sustain, End, and Honor Social Relationships, by Alan Fiske and Tage Rai, New Yorker, November 20, 2017, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/11/27/the-root-of-all-cruelty


Donald Trump

3035Cartoon by Nicola Jennings, via the Guardian, June 2, 2019, fair use.

So Donald Trump made one of his pals ambassador to the United Kingdom. Said pal wants Britain to privatize its National Health Service or at least to “put it up for negotiation” in a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.S. Britons, except perhaps those in with Nigel Farage, are outraged.[2] I suspect this is what, in soccer, they call an “own goal:” If voters were lacking a reason to vote against Farage, they certainly have one now.

Jessica Elgot and Patrick Wintour, “Donald Trump to land in UK amid rising anger over trade demands,” Guardian, June 2, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/02/donald-trump-to-land-in-uk-amid-rising-anger-over-trade-demands


Horse Race

It seems California Democrats, at least those who attended a state party convention, are in no mood for so-called “centrism” (for which, read “neoliberalism”).[3] The problem here, as it was in 2016, is that neoliberals will never relinquish control of the Democratic Party to progressives in anything like the way that the Republicans acquiesced to authoritarian populists and social conservatives—they’ll just keep pointing to those nine percent response rate polls that favor the “touchy feely” misogynist pervert, Joe Biden, ironically claiming the mantle of “pragmatism.” Which means that progressives who run as Democrats are in fact, even if unintentionally, supporting neoliberalism by attracting progressive votes to a determinedly neoliberal party and thus helping neoliberals to gain or remain in power.

And we must not be deluded by neoliberal fantasies that Republicans will be more sensible when Donald Trump leaves office:[4] Barack Obama spent his entire presidency appeasing them; Mitch McConnell hasn’t stopped shamelessly obstructing Democrats, now for over ten fucking years. These fantasies are bullshit, just like the progressive fantasies that impeachment grandstanding will solve a damned thing.

Sophia Bollag and Hannah Wiley, “Boos for the moderates: San Francisco convention fires up left-leaning Democratic activists,” Sacramento Bee, June 2, 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article231018043.html

Sean Sullivan, “Liberals go after Joe Biden, trying to blunt his presidential candidacy and the recent centrist surge in the Democratic Party,” Washington Post, June 2, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/liberals-go-after-joe-biden-trying-to-blunt-his-presidential-candidacy-and-the-recent-centrist-surge-in-the-democratic-party/2019/06/02/b0e20be4-8543-11e9-a491-25df61c78dc4_story.html


Palestine

The problem remains that Palestinians will not—and should not—accept anything less than full independence from the Israeli colonization that the Israeli right, which has a stranglehold on Israeli and U.S. politics, insists is a precondition for Israeli security. Let me clear: Colonization is never legitimate, and the Israeli version of it, in often violently seeking to erase the Palestinians by calling them “Arabs,” or by seeking to subsume them into Jordan and Egypt, fulfils one definition of genocide; it is, at the very least, ethnic cleansing. Israel, having been founded largely in response to genocide, delegitimizes itself with these policies.

John Hudson and Loveday Morris, “Pompeo delivers unfiltered view of Trump’s Middle East peace plan in off-the-record meeting,” Washington Post, June 2, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/exclusive-pompeo-delivers-unfiltered-view-of-trumps-middle-east-peace-plan-in-off-the-record-meeting/2019/06/02/94527d80-3a2c-4f04-b8f9-dd3fd78a5a8c_story.html


Migration

Spencer S. Hsu, “Judge rejects House suit to block transfer of billions of dollars for Trump border wall,” Washington Post, June 3, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/judge-rejects-house-suit-to-block-transfer-of-billions-of-dollars-for-trump-border-wall/2019/06/03/15b58402-7e31-11e9-8bb7-0fc796cf2ec0_story.html


  1. [1]Paul Bloom, “The Root of All Cruelty?” review of Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, by David Livingstone Smith, and Virtuous Violence: Hurting and Killing to Create, Sustain, End, and Honor Social Relationships, by Alan Fiske and Tage Rai, New Yorker, November 20, 2017, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/11/27/the-root-of-all-cruelty
  2. [2]Jessica Elgot and Patrick Wintour, “Donald Trump to land in UK amid rising anger over trade demands,” Guardian, June 2, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/02/donald-trump-to-land-in-uk-amid-rising-anger-over-trade-demands
  3. [3]Sophia Bollag and Hannah Wiley, “Boos for the moderates: San Francisco convention fires up left-leaning Democratic activists,” Sacramento Bee, June 2, 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article231018043.html
  4. [4]Sean Sullivan, “Liberals go after Joe Biden, trying to blunt his presidential candidacy and the recent centrist surge in the Democratic Party,” Washington Post, June 2, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/liberals-go-after-joe-biden-trying-to-blunt-his-presidential-candidacy-and-the-recent-centrist-surge-in-the-democratic-party/2019/06/02/b0e20be4-8543-11e9-a491-25df61c78dc4_story.html

Welcome to Hell. You’re already here.

There is a new blog post, entitled, “Reality intervenes, but we never challenge the thinking.”


Check your loyalty before you apply.


Hell

Vinson Cunningham, “How the Idea of Hell Has Shaped the Way We Think,” review of The Penguin Book of Hell, by Scott G. Bruce, New Yorker, January 14, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/01/21/how-the-idea-of-hell-has-shaped-the-way-we-think


The Navy

In which Eliot Cohen discovers corruption and sycophancy in the Navy.[1] I guess he was born yesterday.

Eliot A. Cohen, “A Stain on the Honor of the Navy,” Atlantic, May 30, 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/05/uss-john-s-mccain-scandal-stains-navy/590575/


Google

Julia Carrie Wong, “‘A white-collar sweatshop’: Google Assistant contractors allege wage theft,” Guardian, May 29, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/may/28/a-white-collar-sweatshop-google-assistant-contractors-allege-wage-theft


  1. [1]Eliot A. Cohen, “A Stain on the Honor of the Navy,” Atlantic, May 30, 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/05/uss-john-s-mccain-scandal-stains-navy/590575/

Vengeance, Israeli style

Israel

It appears the knives are out for Binyamin Netanyahu.[1] It’s probably too early to say he’s finished, but it sure looks like he might be.

Times of Israel, “Ehud Barak says Netanyahu is ‘finished,’ predicts Likud will turn on him,” May 31, 2019, https://www.timesofisrael.com/ehud-barak-says-netanyahu-is-finished-predicts-likud-will-turn-on-him/

Bernard Avishai, “A Climax to the Saga of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman,” New Yorker, June 1, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/a-climax-to-the-saga-of-benjamin-netanyahu-and-avigdor-lieberman


Independent Contractor Scam

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


  1. [1]Bernard Avishai, “A Climax to the Saga of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman,” New Yorker, June 1, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/a-climax-to-the-saga-of-benjamin-netanyahu-and-avigdor-lieberman; Times of Israel, “Ehud Barak says Netanyahu is ‘finished,’ predicts Likud will turn on him,” May 31, 2019, https://www.timesofisrael.com/ehud-barak-says-netanyahu-is-finished-predicts-likud-will-turn-on-him/

Yet another cloud hangs over Saybrook University

I have received the following communication from Saybrook University, where I received my Ph.D. in Human Science:

Dear Saybrook Alumni,

I am writing to share some important news with you. Saybrook University has decided not to renew the employment contract of Dr. Stanley Krippner. His last day as a member of our faculty is May 31.

This decision was not made lightly. It was made after Dr. Krippner acknowledged multiple violations of university policy. An independent law firm, retained by the University, confirmed these violations. Because this is an employment issue, we are not at liberty to provide additional details.

We plan to launch a nationwide search for a new faculty member who will carry on the critical work of supporting our humanistic psychology programs and specializations.

This recruitment will be an extremely important step for Saybrook University. We will strive to look for a candidate with a strong background in research, humanistic psychology and consciousness studies, as well as someone who can skillfully mentor students through the thesis and dissertation process.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at [email address elided].

Sincerely,

Nathan Long, President[1]

I never worked with Stanley Krippner and did not really know him. I certainly knew of him; his reputation was stellar. I am uncertain who Krippner refers to in using the second person pronoun “you” in his response on Facebook, but if I pick up the pieces correctly, among other things, the “Filipino blackmailers” hacked into Krippner’s account and posted now-deleted messages, so the pronoun may refer to those who followed his page:

You have received some messages from the Filipino blackmailers. They have also sent numerous emails to the Saybrook president and staff. So this morning I was fired for actions “putting the institution at significant risk.”[2]

I would encourage you, my readers, to read the original post and the comments attached to it. There are a number of additional issues here I am ill-prepared to delve into.

To say the least, this is a saddening and troubling development for a university I have considered troubled since it began “teaching out” the Human Science program. (“Teaching out” means that enrolled students are permitted to finish their degrees, but that the program does not accept new students and is moribund.) At that time, I had still-unanswered questions about the school’s more-often-than-not shaky finances, which seemed to have declined precipitously with, not so much preceding, but with, the takeover by The Chicago School Educational Services (TCSES), an organization that, now at least, seems to have zero(!) web presence.

Accordingly, I continue to believe that if anyone has “put[] the institution at significant risk,” it would be TCSES and Nathan Long, long before Krippner.


Uber

Georgia Wells, “Uber Cites Tight Competition After Posting $1 Billion Loss,” Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ubers-first-quarter-loss-tops-1-billion-11559246846


Trade

My problem with so-called “free” (ask, for whom? to do what? to whom?) trade, apart from the fact it is a part of an exchange system of economics that inherently privileges whomever has the greater power to say no (hint: not workers), is that it forces workers to compete on terms outside their control: the cost of living, environmental regulation, working conditions, all in the name of so-called “efficiency.” Hence the oft-cited “race to the bottom” in wages and regulation that so animates neoliberalism.

For me, then, an appropriate use of tariffs would be to redress unfair competition. Workers and would-be workers cannot wait for the capitalist libertarian and neoliberal fantasy that as living standards rise in the developing world, the dire effects of deregulation and lower wages will ease. But the rich can certainly afford to wait a little longer for their fucking rents.

Now, Donald Trump proposes to use tariffs, up to 25 percent, to “punish” Mexico for unauthorized migration.[3]

White House officials did not immediately explain how driving up the cost of Mexican goods might stem the flow of migrants. If the tariffs damaged the Mexican economy, more of its citizens would try to cross the border to find work in the United States, experts said.[4]

So don’t even bother trying to make sense of this move on its own terms. It is, on those terms, completely irrational. The only way I see to make sense of it is that Trump can reliably rally his authoritarian populist base with the migration issue. It doesn’t matter whether what he’s doing makes any fucking sense whatsoever. It rallies his xenophobic base.[5]

David Randall, “World stocks drop, bonds rally as trade tensions fan growth fears,” Reuters, May 28, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-markets/global-recession-fears-hit-stocks-bonds-rally-idUSKCN1SZ02F

Damian Paletta, Nick Miroff, and Josh Dawsey, “Trump says U.S. to impose 5 percent tariff on all Mexican imports beginning June 10 in dramatic escalation of border clash,” Washington Post, May 30, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/trump-prepares-to-threaten-mexico-with-new-tariffs-in-attempt-to-force-migrant-crackdown/2019/05/30/0f05f01e-8314-11e9-bce7-40b4105f7ca0_story.html

Damian Paletta, Taylor Telford, and Mary Beth Sheridan, “U.S. and Mexico plan summit in Washington on Wednesday in bid to head off trade dispute,” Washington Post, May 31, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/05/31/lawmakers-express-alarm-trump-forges-ahead-with-mexico-tariffs/


Israel

Whispers within Likud suggest Binyamin Netanyahu is at the end of his career.[6] That might be part of the story behind Avigdor Lieberman’s refusal to join Netanyahu’s coalition.[7]

Liel Leibovitz, “Avigdor Lieberman’s Risky Bet,” Tablet, May 30, 2019, https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/285621/avigdor-liebermans-risky-bet

Shalom Yerushalmi, “Behind closed doors, Likud officials blame Netanyahu and think about what’s next,” Times of Israel, May 31, 2019, https://www.timesofisrael.com/behind-closed-doors-likud-officials-blame-netanyahu-and-think-about-whats-next/


Donald Trump

Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman, “Justice Department does not comply with court order to release transcripts of Michael Flynn’s conversations with Russian ambassador,” Washington Post, May 31, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/justice-department-fails-to-comply-with-court-order-to-release-transcripts-of-michael-flynns-conversations-with-russian-ambassador/2019/05/31/9b4a6754-83b8-11e9-95a9-e2c830afe24f_story.html


  1. [1]Nathan Long to Saybrook Alumni list, “Update Regarding Dr. Stanley Krippner,” May 30, 2019.
  2. [2]Stanley Krippner, [social media post], Facebook, May 30, 2019, https://www.facebook.com/stanley.krippner.9/posts/1768601623272094
  3. [3]Damian Paletta, Nick Miroff, and Josh Dawsey, “Trump says U.S. to impose 5 percent tariff on all Mexican imports beginning June 10 in dramatic escalation of border clash,” Washington Post, May 30, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/trump-prepares-to-threaten-mexico-with-new-tariffs-in-attempt-to-force-migrant-crackdown/2019/05/30/0f05f01e-8314-11e9-bce7-40b4105f7ca0_story.html
  4. [4]Damian Paletta, Nick Miroff, and Josh Dawsey, “Trump says U.S. to impose 5 percent tariff on all Mexican imports beginning June 10 in dramatic escalation of border clash,” Washington Post, May 30, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/trump-prepares-to-threaten-mexico-with-new-tariffs-in-attempt-to-force-migrant-crackdown/2019/05/30/0f05f01e-8314-11e9-bce7-40b4105f7ca0_story.html
  5. [5]Damian Paletta, Taylor Telford, and Mary Beth Sheridan, “U.S. and Mexico plan summit in Washington on Wednesday in bid to head off trade dispute,” Washington Post, May 31, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/05/31/lawmakers-express-alarm-trump-forges-ahead-with-mexico-tariffs/
  6. [6]Shalom Yerushalmi, “Behind closed doors, Likud officials blame Netanyahu and think about what’s next,” Times of Israel, May 31, 2019, https://www.timesofisrael.com/behind-closed-doors-likud-officials-blame-netanyahu-and-think-about-whats-next/
  7. [7]Liel Leibovitz, “Avigdor Lieberman’s Risky Bet,” Tablet, May 30, 2019, https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/285621/avigdor-liebermans-risky-bet

Big Data (Mining)

eus-2019-05-30-10As of 10:00 this morning. The fun continues.


Donald Trump

Making Amerikkka Great Again.

Colby Itkowitz and Dan Lamothe, “White House wanted USS John S. McCain obscured during Trump’s Japan visit,” Washington Post, May 29, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/meghan-mccain-hits-out-at-trump-over-report-white-house-wanted-uss-john-s-mccain-covered-up/2019/05/29/3ad314b2-8272-11e9-933d-7501070ee669_story.html


Big Data (Mining)

I’d already realized that “big data” would methodologically rely on correlation as if it were causation.

My first methods professor, back in, I think, 2003 or maybe 2004, Valerie Sue, warned against “data mining,” that is, simply sifting through data, identifying correlations, picking one, and publishing an article on it. There’s pressure to do something like this because eligibility even for tenure-track faculty positions generally hinges on publication credits. Even tenured professors are expected to continue publishing, even as they continue to take on full class-loads.

But there’s no showing of a causal relationship. The variables can be completely random. Which, as I realized what “big data” means, and how it must operate (statistically, of course, and on a massive scale), would be precisely how it would work. And the results will be wrong—or, worse, occasionally right, but only by happenstance. It’s idiocy with statistics. It’s what they warn you against in statistics classes and on a massive scale.

And guess what so-called “artificial intelligence” is going to rely upon? Very heavily, big data mining. Which is why I call it “artificial idiocy.” Welcome to the new world.

Allison Schrager’s attack is a little different. Her argument boils down to that old financial services disclosure: “Past performance is no indicator of future results.” What’s big data relying on? Past performance, that is, data that’s already been accumulated. Again, there’s no causal relationship established: The assumption is the very inverse of that financial services disclosure.[1]

Taken to heart, this could shake up positivism. Yes, there’s always been a research cycle in which theorizing is an integral part. You are supposed to explain that causal relationship. But as I saw when I looked at chronotype research, and have discovered of medical research (yes, this is the stuff people are trusting their lives with) in general, it’s often elided, which means it’s garbage “research.”

Why? Because “why” questions are hard. Statistics can never answer them. I remember being discouraged from asking the “why” questions later on in my undergraduate career. But I never could stop asking those questions, which is part of how I wound up as a human scientist, not a positivist.

Allison Schrager, “Here’s a prediction: In the future, predictions will only get worse,” Quartz, May 29, 2019, https://qz.com/1623596/what-if-all-the-data-we-use-is-wrong/


James Comey

Robert Mueller may be done with his investigation. He might not want to testify before Congress.[2] It doesn’t seem like Congress is done with him, as even a Republican wants him to testify:

“Mr. Mueller’s statement…is a case study in pettifoggery, and reinforces my position that he should be compelled to testify before Congress,” McClintock said in a statement provided to McClatchy. “Any president can be indicted after he leaves office and it was Mueller’s job to make a recommendation for prosecution, if one existed. He did not.”

“Instead, he prefers to make innuendoes while hiding behind DOJ [Department of Justice] guidelines and not be questioned,” McClintock continued. “Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.”[3]

Kind of interesting that no one in the Twitter bubble seems willing to let Congress make that decision “on their own” and cognizant of political reality.

The neoliberals (mainstream Democrats) would lose in 2020 because they’re neoliberal and because they can’t stop themselves from nominating a pervert (Joe Biden). The Left would lose because they pushed for impeachment, banging their heads against the wall because it made them feel better, while invoking a backlash that sees Donald Trump re-elected.[4]

So guess how I think 2020 is going to turn out?

Emily Cadei, “Tom McClintock accuses Mueller of ‘pettifoggery,’ says he should testify before Congress,” Sacramento Bee, May 30, 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article230959753.html


Census

Tara Bahrampour and Robert Barnes, “Despite Trump administration denials, new evidence suggests census citizenship question was crafted to benefit white Republicans,” Washington Post, May 30, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/despite-trump-administration-denials-new-evidence-suggests-census-citizenship-question-was-crafted-to-benefit-white-republicans/2019/05/30/ca188dea-82eb-11e9-933d-7501070ee669_story.html


Migration

Abigail Hauslohner and Maria Sacchetti, “Hundreds of minors held at U.S. border facilities are there beyond legal time limits,” Washington Post, May 30, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/hundreds-of-minors-held-at-us-border-facilities-are-there-beyond-legal-time-limits/2019/05/30/381cf6da-8235-11e9-bce7-40b4105f7ca0_story.html


  1. [1]Allison Schrager, “Here’s a prediction: In the future, predictions will only get worse,” Quartz, May 29, 2019, https://qz.com/1623596/what-if-all-the-data-we-use-is-wrong/
  2. [2]Robert S. Mueller, III, “Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III Makes Statement on Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election,” Department of Justice, May 29, 2019, https://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/special-counsel-robert-s-mueller-iii-makes-statement-investigation-russian-interference
  3. [3]Emily Cadei, “Tom McClintock accuses Mueller of ‘pettifoggery,’ says he should testify before Congress,” Sacramento Bee, May 30, 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article230959753.html
  4. [4]Will Bunch, “Trump’s diabolical plan to blow up democracy, get reelected and avoid jail just might work,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 5, 2019, https://www.philly.com/opinion/commentary/trump-wants-impeachment-2020-reelection-strategy-blame-democrats-ignore-subpoenas-20190505.html

The lesser of two perverts

Thunderstorms

So last night was a night (see the updates yesterday if you haven’t already, and yet another thunderstorm, less dramatic but still, came in after that) and I still woke up with sweat pouring off my body this morning and my sheets drenched. As of 6:00 this morning:eus-2019-05-29-06The pattern remains in place.


Joe Biden

I’m not (yet anyway) seeing coverage of this:

I’ve long characterized a two-party system’s electoral choices as the lesser of two evils.[1]
But with Joe Biden the presumptive neoliberal (why even call them ‘Democrats’ anymore?) nominee, the race in 2020 looks to be a choice of the lesser of two perverts. I have previously addressed the issue of Joe Biden’s inappropriate behavior towards women.


Employment

It’s called selective observation:

According to her Twitter profile, Melissa Kearney is an economics professor, which tells you most of what you need to know here. As anyone in the real world knows, incompetence long predates the alleged “tight labor market” and has long been preferred (incompetent subordinates do not threaten their incompetent superiors). Indeed, it’s obviously how she got her job.


James Comey

Robert Mueller announced the closure of the special prosecutor’s office and expressed reluctance to appear before Congress. Otherwise, absolutely nothing here is new.[2]

The glaring problem here, which Mueller did not address, is that only self-interested people are now in control of his unredacted report. As long as that is the case, it is not possible for “the office’s written work [to] speak for itself.”

I need to emphasize here that a redacted report is no substitute for the full report. Not only has William Barr cast considerable suspicion upon himself by priming the public with a—to put it mildly—likely biased and apparently misleading framing of Mueller’s conclusions, but the only thing that truly speaks for the report is the report itself, not selected passages. A redacted report simply does not constitute acceptable evidence.

Mueller’s statement, being work of the U.S. government, is in the public domain. I have archived a copy here.

Robert S. Mueller, III, “Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III Makes Statement on Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election,” Department of Justice, May 29, 2019, https://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/special-counsel-robert-s-mueller-iii-makes-statement-investigation-russian-interference


Brexit

The question seems not to be so much about whether Boris Johnson lied about the amount of money the United Kingdom would save in campaigning for Brexit—he did, and continued to do so even after “[t]he chair of the U.K. statistics authority disputed the figure, saying it didn’t account for rebates Britain receives from the EU, and wrote to Mr. Johnson in 2017 complaining about his continued citation of it”—but rather whether this lying rises to the standard of misconduct.[3]

Max Colchester, “U.K.’s Boris Johnson to Appear in Court Over Brexit Claims,” Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-k-s-boris-johnson-to-appear-in-court-over-brexit-claims-11559136361


Israel

Loveday Morris and Miriam Berger, “Israel will hold unprecedented second election after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to form a governing coalition,” Washington Post, May 29, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/prospect-of-new-israeli-vote-looms-as-netanyahu-struggles-with-coalition/2019/05/29/9155b71a-8171-11e9-b585-e36b16a531aa_story.html


  1. [1]David Benfell, “A false dichotomy view of politics,” Not Housebroken, November 2, 2016, https://disunitedstates.org/2016/11/02/a-false-dichotomy-view-of-politics/; David Benfell, “The lesser of two evils? The more successful con artist,” Not Housebroken, May 15, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/05/15/the-lesser-of-two-evils-the-more-successful-con-artist/
  2. [2]Robert S. Mueller, III, “Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III Makes Statement on Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election,” Department of Justice, May 29, 2019, https://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/special-counsel-robert-s-mueller-iii-makes-statement-investigation-russian-interference
  3. [3]Max Colchester, “U.K.’s Boris Johnson to Appear in Court Over Brexit Claims,” Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-k-s-boris-johnson-to-appear-in-court-over-brexit-claims-11559136361

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III Makes Statement on Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election

source on www.justice.gov

Archived on 2019-05-29

Home » Office of Public Affairs » News

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Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III Makes Statement on Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election

Washington, DC

United States~

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Two years ago, the Acting Attorney General asked me to serve as Special Counsel, and he created the Special Counsel’s Office.

The appointment order directed the office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.  This included investigating any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.

I have not spoken publicly during our investigation.  I am speaking today because our investigation is complete. The Attorney General has made the report on our investigation largely public.  And we are formally closing the Special Counsel’s Office.  As well, I am resigning from the Department of Justice and returning to private life.

I’ll make a few remarks about the results of our work.  But beyond these few remarks, it is important that the office’s written work speak for itself.

Let me begin where the appointment order begins: and that is interference in the 2016 presidential election.

As alleged by the grand jury in an indictment, Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system.

The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign.  They stole private information, and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks.  The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate.

And at the same time, as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to interfere in the election.

These indictments contain allegations.  And we are not commenting on the guilt or innocence of any specific defendant.  Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in court.

The indictments allege, and the other activities in our report describe, efforts to interfere in our political system.  They needed to be investigated and understood.  That is among the reasons why the Department of Justice established our office.

That is also a reason we investigated efforts to obstruct the investigation.  The matters we investigated were of paramount importance.  It was critical for us to obtain full and accurate information from every person we questioned.  When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.

Let me say a word about the report.  The report has two parts addressing the two main issues we were asked to investigate.

The first volume of the report details numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election.  This volume includes a discussion of the Trump campaign’s response to this activity, as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.

And in the second volume, the report describes the results and analysis of our obstruction of justice investigation involving the President.

The order appointing me Special Counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation.  We conducted that investigation and we kept the office of the Acting Attorney General apprised of the progress of our work.

As set forth in our report, after that investigation, if we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.

We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime. The introduction to volume two of our report explains that decision.

It explains that under long-standing Department policy, a President cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office.  That is unconstitutional.  Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view—that too is prohibited.

The Special Counsel’s Office is part of the Department of Justice and, by regulation, it was bound by that Department policy.  Charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.

The Department’s written opinion explaining the policy against charging a President makes several important points that further informed our handling of the obstruction investigation.  Those points are summarized in our report.  And I will describe two of them:

First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting President because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents are available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could now be charged.

And second, the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.

And beyond Department policy, we were guided by principles of fairness.  It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of an actual charge.

So that was the Justice Department policy and those were the principles under which we operated.  From them we concluded that we would not reach a determination – one way or the other – about whether the President committed a crime.  That is the office’s final position and we will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the President.

We conducted an independent criminal investigation and reported the results to the Attorney General—as required by Department regulations.

The Attorney General then concluded that it was appropriate to provide our report to Congress and the American people.

At one point in time I requested that certain portions of the report be released.  The Attorney General preferred to make the entire report public all at once.  We appreciate that the Attorney General made the report largely public.  I do not question the Attorney General’s good faith in that decision.

I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak about this matter.  I am making that decision myself—no one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter.

There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress.  Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report.  It contains our findings and analysis, and the reasons for the decisions we made.  We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself.

The report is my testimony.  I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.

In addition, access to our underlying work product is being decided in a process that does not involve our office.

So beyond what I have said here today and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress.

It is for that reason that I will not take questions here today.

Before I step away, I want to thank the attorneys, the FBI agents, the analysts, and the professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner.  These individuals, who spent nearly two years with the Special Counsel’s Office, were of the highest integrity.

I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments—that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election.

That allegation deserves the attention of every American.

Thank you.

Component(s):

Department of Justice

Updated May 29, 2019

Fractured Politics and Tornados

Updates

  1. Originally published, May 28, 7:47 pm.
  2. May 28, 8:35 pm:
    • I realized I had misinterpreted an image that was included with the Weather Underground email relaying the warnings. See the revised text.
  3. May 28, 10:39 pm:
    • I was lying on top of my bed, trying to get to sleep when a thunderstorm finally arrived. It was probably as close to the center of a thunderstorm as I have ever been and it seemed especially dramatic. A heavy rain commenced. And then, as quickly as it had arrived, it was gone, leaving noticeably cooler temperatures.

Uber apparently finally decided to stop playing games, possibly because I threatened legal action. The money they owed me now appears in my account as a pending transaction. But I won’t return to driving for them. I’m not, no way, no how, a banker, and it’s a huge red flag for me when anybody gets weird about paying up.

Lyft seems to dominate much of the market around here anyway. My problem with them, as always, is that I often travel much too far for short rides on a rate scheme that pays much too little.

But I had a little experience with ridesharing here with just Lyft, which didn’t require a fresh background check, before Uber came on line for me. My income didn’t improve with Uber.


Tornados

I woke up around three this morning to flashes of lightning and thunder. (It’s not unusual for me to wake up around this time, needing hydration. I typically take a whack at email and then go back to bed.) I’m pretty sure this is the same storm that delivered tornados to Ohio, killing at least one.[1]
eus-2019-05-28-08
This afternoon, a tornado watch—not a warning, but just a watch—was issued for areas including Allegheny County, where I live. It will remain in effect until 10:00 pm. A flash flood warning was issued, to be in effect until 9:30 pm, this evening, for specific areas I’m not particularly near (I’m on high ground, anyway). As this issue goes to publication, I grabbed another gif:
eus-2019-05-28-18
You can see the storm and it’s overcast right now where I am but no sign of thunderstorms and, perhaps ominously, the breeze I felt earlier has died down.

Timothy Bella and Kayla Epstein, “Deadly tornadoes leave trail of destruction across Ohio,” Washington Post, May 28, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/05/28/large-destructive-tornado-rips-through-dayton-ohio-area-reportedly-causing-injuries-extensive-damage/


Brexit

While the Tories are the party most visibly and most dramatically torn asunder by Brexit, Labour has also been riven by Remain and Leave factions. Jeremy Corbyn, something, at least, of a Euroskeptic, has been trying to let the Tories take all the heat without committing Labour either way. Even though Labour has long been the principal opposition to the Tories.

Corbyn’s gambit failed miserably as Remainers deserted Labour in the European Union Parliamentary election. So now he’s calling for a second referendum.[2]

The trouble is that Brexit isn’t the only thing dividing Labour. Just like with the Democrats in the U.S., Labour has also long been divided into neoliberal (so-called “centrist”) and compassionate factions. But there is considerable overlap between the Remainers and the neoliberals, Britain does not have an institutionalized two-party system, and Britons have credible neoliberal alternatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens (yes, the Greens). Labour might have lost these voters for the foreseeable future as Corbyn has been outspoken in opposition to neoliberalism.

Rowena Mason and Jessica Elgot, “Corbyn backs referendum on Brexit deal after EU election exodus,” Guardian, May 28, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/27/jeremy-corbyn-signals-more-support-for-second-referendum-after-voter-exodus


Prisons

I understand there are concerns, including about replication, about Philip Zimbardo’s description of “the power of the situation,” based on his notorious Stanford Prison Experiment.[3] But then something like this[4] happens. And it doesn’t happen in isolation. Such cases, as Zimbardo argued, are not simply the work of “bad apples.” Rather, they point to something systemic.[5]

Positivists can argue about what they call “science” all they like. People are dying who are not supposed to die, guards keep being callous even when people’s lives are on the line, and I am not impressed.

Isaac Stanley-Becker, “‘Somebody owes me lunch!’: Prison guards bet on an inmate’s suicide. Then, choking sounds came from her unit,” Washington Post, May 28, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/05/28/somebody-owes-me-lunch-prison-guards-bet-an-inmates-suicide-then-choking-sounds-came-her-unit/


  1. [1]Timothy Bella and Kayla Epstein, “Deadly tornadoes leave trail of destruction across Ohio,” Washington Post, May 28, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/05/28/large-destructive-tornado-rips-through-dayton-ohio-area-reportedly-causing-injuries-extensive-damage/
  2. [2]Rowena Mason and Jessica Elgot, “Corbyn backs referendum on Brexit deal after EU election exodus,” Guardian, May 28, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/27/jeremy-corbyn-signals-more-support-for-second-referendum-after-voter-exodus
  3. [3]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
  4. [4]Isaac Stanley-Becker, “‘Somebody owes me lunch!’: Prison guards bet on an inmate’s suicide. Then, choking sounds came from her unit,” Washington Post, May 28, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/05/28/somebody-owes-me-lunch-prison-guards-bet-an-inmates-suicide-then-choking-sounds-came-her-unit/
  5. [5]Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (New York: Random House, 2008).

Environmental Injustice in Mon Valley

Memorial Day

Functionalist conservatism:

What’s most surprising isn’t that politicians start wars to consolidate their own power, but that the people don’t always simply assume that leaders choose war for that reason. Of course, the main calculation for politicians when making decisions is whether or not those decisions will help tighten their grip on the levers of society. From prime ministers to dictators, anyone who doesn’t think about that first and foremost will be, evolutionarily speaking, selected against, and quickly find themselves outside the palace walls.[1]

Happy Memorial Day.

Jon Schwarz, “We Need Memorial Day to Obscure the Unbearable Truth About War,” Intercept, May 29, 2019, https://theintercept.com/2017/05/29/we-need-memorial-day-to-obscure-the-unbearable-truth-about-war/


Pittsburgh

I think, if it occurs, my next move will be farther from the Monongahela River and Mon Valley and especially from the U.S. Steel plant. I’ve seen neighborhoods by the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers that seem quite nice.

Note the source of this report that U.S. Steel has repaired air pollution controls: the Wall Street Journal,[2] not a particularly environmentally friendly newspaper. What I see here is that repairs have been done. I do not know their effectiveness or even in absolute terms how safe the air now is—even the Journal headline only says “easier,” not “easy;” I picked someone up near that plant recently and it still stunk to high hell (the resuscitated air pollution controls might not yet have been switched on).

I also wonder about any decision to even allow the plant to continue operating. I don’t live in Mon Valley, but I’m close. I pick up a lot of people there. And I have to tell you, the very fact of that plant and the industrialization along the Monongahela River looks to me like an environmental justice issue, where the working class and poor, many of them Black, get to live with health and safety risks because that’s where they can afford to live or because that’s where they’ve always lived.

And lest we forget, much to my absolute horror, there are homeless people here. I can’t imagine how they survive winter. But for many, that would be the only alternative.

Kris Maher, “Pittsburgh Breathes Easier After Repairs at U.S. Steel Coke Plant,” Wall Street Journal, May 26, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/pittsburgh-breathes-easier-after-repairs-at-u-s-steel-coke-plant-11558872000


Brexit

This tweet might not translate the way it should because it lacks the context where neoliberals and nationalists (authoritarian populists) have broken off from the main parties, Republicans and Democrats, to form separate parties. But that’s the context imagined in this tweet.

At the time I looked at British Broadcasting Corporation coverage, returns were not complete. Counting had not even begun in some areas. But it seems worth noting that though Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party was the winning single party, the total tally of Remainer parties, including the (neo)Liberal Democrats and the Greens exceeded Brexit by double digits. Meanwhile, both Tories and Labour took a drubbing, with the former winning a historically low portion of the vote.[3]

Take that with a grain of salt: Final results might, but now seem unlikely to, reveal a different story. And these results have limited applicability to, for many Britons, a far more important general election. On Twitter, at least, Jeremy Corbyn has been calling for just that and Labour is now more loudly calling for a second referendum.[4] This has seemed to me foolish: I am sad to say that, just as in the U.S., it appears many Britons still subscribe to a so-called “centrist” neoliberal view on the idea that this ideology—just as hateful, really, as anything the far right can muster—constitutes a “middle road.”

British Broadcasting Corporation, “European elections 2019: Brexit Party dominates as Tories and Labour suffer,” May 27, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-48417228


Abortion

No student of women’s history should even remotely be surprised that women will network to ensure access to reproductive health.[5] Some will do so even in the face of legal impediments and the men who would control their bodies should know that the latter efforts are doomed to failure. Just as they always have been.

It should also be noted that as always, the effects of abortion bans will fall hardest on those without the wherewithal to travel. The rich can always get abortions, often even close to home. It will be the poor who are least able to travel and who will most need to travel. Class cannot be separated from gender here.

Monica Hesse, “Abortion bans have some women preparing for the worst. It involves ‘auntie networks,’” Washington Post, May 26, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/abortion-bans-have-some-women-preparing-for-the-worst-it-involves-auntie-networks/2019/05/24/4af2dcce-7d77-11e9-a5b3-34f3edf1351e_story.html


Elon Musk

Sometimes I need to say, pay no attention. The headline is misleading: There is a disagreement over tactics here but there wasn’t really a “fight” between the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system and Elon Musk[6] and I have to strongly doubt that this is one of Musk’s visions that will come to fruition.

To give an idea how Musk’s vision might fall short, I was noticing with a passenger how many roads here have been reduced to one lane in sections due to subsidence.

This happens a lot in California too and the cause of this is clear: Lots of rain and unstable mountainside and cliff geology due to erosion. My passenger pointed out that here, there are many old mining tunnels: Though this has been a wet spring here, subsidence can be a problem even without it.

In California, the rock is largely, in various forms, metamorphic. Here, it’s largely sedimentary. We don’t have the massive and dramatic geologic forces that forge California rock; sedimentation happens slowly, over time. California rock is inherently a lot stronger, structurally, than Pennsylvania rock.

That doesn’t mean tunnels can’t be built. Pittsburgh has many, many more of them than I had remembered from my limited childhood experience with the area. But I wouldn’t count on technology developed in southern California working here.

Eric Ting, “BART picks a fight with Elon Musk on Twitter over tunnels,” SFGate, May 25, 2019, https://www.sfgate.com/local/article/BART-Elon-Musk-Twitter-tunnel-Bay-Boring-Company-13896393.php


Greece

Alexis Tsipras sold out to the European Union’s austerity demands and settled a dispute with (North) Macedonia over its name so the latter country could join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. He did everything the E.U. wanted, grudgingly at first, totally capitulating later.[7] The austerity killed people[8] and there is no better evidence of neoliberalism’s prioritization of money even over human life. The E.U. offered Tsipras no reciprocity. Functionalist Conservatives, take note and beware.

Michele Kambas, “Greek PM comes unstuck over Macedonia, austerity in European vote,” Reuters, May 27, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-election-greece-idUSKCN1SX0YI


  1. [1]Jon Schwarz, “We Need Memorial Day to Obscure the Unbearable Truth About War,” Intercept, May 29, 2019, https://theintercept.com/2017/05/29/we-need-memorial-day-to-obscure-the-unbearable-truth-about-war/
  2. [2]Kris Maher, “Pittsburgh Breathes Easier After Repairs at U.S. Steel Coke Plant,” Wall Street Journal, May 26, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/pittsburgh-breathes-easier-after-repairs-at-u-s-steel-coke-plant-11558872000
  3. [3]British Broadcasting Corporation, “European elections 2019: Brexit Party dominates as Tories and Labour suffer,” May 27, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-48417228
  4. [4]British Broadcasting Corporation, “European elections 2019: Brexit Party dominates as Tories and Labour suffer,” May 27, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-48417228
  5. [5]Monica Hesse, “Abortion bans have some women preparing for the worst. It involves ‘auntie networks,’” Washington Post, May 26, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/abortion-bans-have-some-women-preparing-for-the-worst-it-involves-auntie-networks/2019/05/24/4af2dcce-7d77-11e9-a5b3-34f3edf1351e_story.html
  6. [6]Eric Ting, “BART picks a fight with Elon Musk on Twitter over tunnels,” SFGate, May 25, 2019, https://www.sfgate.com/local/article/BART-Elon-Musk-Twitter-tunnel-Bay-Boring-Company-13896393.php
  7. [7]Michele Kambas, “Greek PM comes unstuck over Macedonia, austerity in European vote,” Reuters, May 27, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-election-greece-idUSKCN1SX0YI
  8. [8]Nikolia Apostolou, “Athens suicide: a cry for dignity from downtrodden,” Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2012, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2012/0405/Athens-suicide-a-cry-for-dignity-from-downtrodden-video; Democracy Now! “General Strike Sweeps Europe as Millions Reject Austerity as Solution to Economic Crisis,” November 14, 2012, http://www.democracynow.org/2012/11/14/general_strike_sweeps_europe_as_millions; Deutschewelle, “Pensioner’s suicide triggers Greek austerity protests,” April 5, 2012, http://www.dw.de/pensioners-suicide-triggers-greek-austerity-protests/a-15860196; Teo Kermeliotis, “Austerity drives up suicide rate in debt-ridden Greece,” CNN, April 6, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/06/world/europe/greece-austerity-suicide/index.html?_s=PM:EUROPE; Nigel Morris, “Spike in suicide rate in Europe and US linked to financial crisis,” Independent, September 18, 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/spike-in-suicide-rate-in-europe-and-us-linked-to-financial-crisis-8822729.html