Cultural Monosophy And A Plant In Eastern Iowa

By Kwame P. Dean

Posted January 2, 2021


I was hired to fulfill a court order to work as a management level generalist in Human Resources. I was there to satisfy the settlement of a successful hostile environment lawsuit brought by long-suffering black employees, all of whom were hourly workers. I didn’t know about the law suit until after I was hired as a complete outsider. It never came up in the rounds of interviews, surprise, surprise.

My job, was to act as a management liaison for black employees and keep them happy with a willing ear, diversity initiatives, investigations of racist acts, and teaching the settlement mandated “get-a-long” school, as zero tolerance racial harassment policy training was known. I wondered how a plant in relatively tolerant and integrated Eastern Iowa could be such a hot bed of racism that even a traditionally conservative, pro-business US District Court would force them to change?

Built in the late 1940’s, the plant grew into one of the largest aluminum rolling plants in the world. A mile long under roof, the plant needed lots of workers quickly to satisfy the growing post WWII airline industry in a competitive local job market. One of management’s staffing answers was to look to the South for employees in places like Alcoa, Tennessee.

Alcoa, TN was a segregated company town in every sense in 1948. It seems that opening an operation in the Sough meant following local customs and paying lower wages rather than bringing any enlightened Northern thinking. Much like the carpetbaggers of the post civil rights era, making money led to northern support of social divisions rather than seeking to change them for any greater good.

Incorporated by a closed door act of the Tennessee state legislature, organizing the town of Alcoa deprived the next closest town, Maryville, of tax revenue. Alcoa, TN was designed, built, and run by company leadership. The city manager was an Alcoa manager from its beginning in 1919 until 1956. The police of Alcoa, TN acted as plant security and protected strike breakers when necessary. A violent confrontation in 1937 resulted in the death of a police officer and striker when management broke a strike by busing strike breakers through a picket line. Alcoa, Inc’s economic hold on the town wouldn’t break until the ‘60’s. Alcoa is today one of the most violent cities in Tennessee.

Why would a plant in Iowa go so far to recruit workers instead of just competing for them closer to home? The answer became more obvious when I visited other plants across the country and noticed their commonalities. From Pennsylvania to Texas and beyond, these plants were near cheap sources of electricity and were in the middle of nowhere. The company obviously liked being the only game in town.

Monopsony is a market condition of one buyer and many sellers. It is the hallmark of a company town. Plant management succeeded in creating a cultural monopsony in Iowa by recruiting southern and local segregationists to a place in the North where labor unions had been desegregated for over 40 years. Plant management didn’t seem to care what people thought about others as long as they did the often back breaking work when demanded. Plant management used an overtime, slow growth, and nepotism approach to create a stable work force. It also protected itself from the unwanted complications of the differences between the local culture outside of the plant and the one inside.

Long before people thought about work-life balance, plant employees were encouraged to work overtime whenever possible, and there was a lot of overtime to be had. 80 hour work weeks were not unheard of in the 24/7 plant. I asked an old timer how that was possible and he said there was a difference between being at work and working. The management culture in the plant was one of surveillance, control and appeasement. By the time I arrived, management and union leadership had learned to play nice as long as it wasn’t contract negotiation time. The social culture inside the plant had to be appeased since management preferred new workers who were family members and friends of those already there. With long hours and familiarity, the plant became a petri dish of marriages, divorces, cliques, grudges and restraining orders.

The plant, as a federal contractor, was forced to hire black workers in the 70’s by Nixon Administration Equal Employment Opportunity laws. Plant management was unconcerned with or unprepared for the social backlash within the plant. It left black workers exposed to open acts of racism from management and their union brothers. Nooses in lockers, KKK graffiti, aluminum shavings in safety shoes as well as the trump card of the “N” word in conversation were just some of the examples of things that happened there. Plant medical staff were accused of giving substandard care to black workers and were specifically noted in the settlement. If you’ve ever received treatment from someone who didn’t want to touch you, you’ll know the feeling black employees said they felt when seeking medical attention.

Management’s answer was to keep blacks separated by shift and department and as few as possible. Results of tests for promotion were manipulated and ignored. Getting ahead while black had more to do with being tolerable to the toxic culture than anything else. Despite the hardships, the overtime pay meant the money was good so many black workers kept their heads down and endured for the sake of their families and their hard won middle class lifestyles. They petitioned management. They petitioned the unions. They took all they could until they couldn’t take it anymore and started a class action suit.

The historical, cultural monopsony in a plant community of 2,500 people made tolerance of intolerance the rule. Equity across racial, ethnic and gender lines didn’t seem to even occur to people who should know better until they were forced to recognize it with the threat of fines and public embarrassment. It was like going back in time to the civil rights battles of the 50’s when I joined the plant in 1998.

I talked to a friend who was part of the class action recently. She said going through the 4 years of Trump in the White House reminded her of what they had to endure over 20 years ago in the plant. Management gaslighting and union downplaying of the significance of racists acts in the past felt all too familiar with the same things happening locally and nationally today.

Some traumas run deep and the more things change…

Notes

https://www.areavibes.com/alcoa-tn/crime/
Crime in Alcoa, TN
https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/268805969.pdf
History of Local 309, United Steelworkers of America, Alcoa, TennesseeSammy E. PinkstonUniversity of Tennessee, Knoxville
John P. Cooper, et. al. v. Aluminum Company of AmericaCIVIL NO. 3-95-CV-10074

Gadsden, Alabama: Arson at BLM Offices

By Curtis Price

Posted December 22, 2020


Early morning November 12th,  an arson destroyed the Gadsden BLM offices. Unknown intruders smashed in the back door, set fires, then fled. People nearby reported hearing a “boom!” like a bomb went off and it’s possible an incendiary device was used. Gadsden BLM activist Jerome Gunn is convinced his business, which also housed his barbershop and detail shop, was targeted because of his BLM activism. The day before, BLM had picketed the Ellen Sansom statue in Gadsden, which was erected in the Lost Cause era to memorialize a woman who had assisted a wounded Nathan Bedford Forrest ( later the founder of the Klan),  demanding the statue be moved.

Gunn’s RJT and More Auto Detailing was not only an informal office for BLM but also fed the homeless, sponsored an annual Halloween carnival for local kids, and a yearly school supply drive. Gunn reported receiving a flood of hate mail since BLM began, which he finds ironic since the majority fed at the soup kitchen are white. The police department says the incident is “under investigation.”

“Under investigation” – where did I hear that phrase before? It was the same phrase the Gadsden police used when Tina Johnson’s house mysteriously burnt down a couple years before at the height of the furor over Roy Moore. Johnson was one of the women accusing Moore of sexual harassment when they were teens. That incident too, as far as I know, is still “under investigation.”

Gadsden is one of the many smaller blue-collar cities dotting Alabama struggling like fish flopping out of the water, gasping for air after the economic tides receded beginning in the late 1950s. At one point, Gadsden was an economic powerhouse, second only to Mobile in trade. Steel, rubber and textiles once thrived. But the trade winds shifted south and railroads detoured elsewhere. The largest surviving industrial employer, Goodyear Rubber, one of the few unionized factories in Alabama, shut its Gadsden branch after 91 years earlier this year, leaving a gaping hole in the local economy. The flopping fish heaves more today.

(The rapper Yelawolf, one of Eminem’s protégés, was born in Gadsden. And Roy Moore rides his horse to the polls every Election Day. The city routinely makes the lists of Top Ten Worst Cities in Alabama.  But the downtown is reviving and and winning awards, so maybe after all, Gadsden will have its post-industrial day in the sun.)

***

After the industry and textiles left, drugs and crime moved in.  Gadsden’s crime rate is nearly three times the national average.  Gadsden drowns, awash in meth and heroin, in part because the city lies on the interstate drug route starting in Atlanta and the first stop is supplying secondary markets such as Birmingham. Birmingham acts as a regional hub, shipping north past Gadsden and “Meth Mountain,” as Sand Mountain is now known, to tiny Guntersville, a picturesque town on the shores of Lake Guntersville. Guntersville further links to tertiary destinations such as Huntsville, Decatur and other northern Alabama cities. A well-oiled, seamless and effective supply and logistics chain, replacing the ones from the industrial past.

Gadsden is also infamous for its jail, the Etowah County Jail, a sprawling, forbidding complex downtown. Etowah County Jail became notorious for two things. First, it houses one of the largest and most brutal immigration detention centers in the country. As one former detainee says, “That place in Alabama, oh my God. That’s the worst place, that’s the worst place ever.” (1) This Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) center is the target of a local campaign called Shut Down Etowah that provides visits, legal support, fills practical needs and, when possible, bail funds. The authorities routinely ban and then lift their contacts with detainees, arbitrary intrusions like so much state authority in Alabama.

Second, former Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin was at the center of the “jailhouse food-funds” scandal, a scandal that implicated many other Alabama county Sheriffs. Under an archaic law, county jails – which were decades ago small operations where the Sherriff’s wife cooked for the prisoners – were allowed to shuttle unspent inmate food monies to the Sheriff. Fast forward to the present, where jails house hundreds, if not thousands of prisoners, and food gets prepared in huge lots. The law still allows local sheriffs to pocket leftover monies from inmate food funds into personal accounts, giving sheriffs an economic incentive to underfeed prisoners. Entrekin owns  multiple properties with assessed values of over $1.2 million dollars. Over the last three years, Entrekin claimed $750,000 extra income over his salary on “savings” from inmate food funds. Perhaps not coincidently, Entrekin also purchased a $580,000 house in a tony section of Orange Beach on the Gulf Shores around the same time.

When confronted with this evidence, Entrekin replied to a reporter’s email, writing  “As you should be aware, Alabama law is clear as to my personal financial responsibilities in the feeding of inmates. Regardless of one’s opinion of this statute, until the legislature acts otherwise, the Sheriff must follow the current law.”

 And so ”follow the current law” he did. Entrekin, though, was booted out of office the next election and Alabama legislation plugged most of the loopholes. But Entrekin wasn’t an outlier. Once in 2009, Morgan County’s Greg Bartlett a.ka.“Sheriff Corndog,” known because he bought a large consignment of corndogs and fed them to inmates for all three meals for months, siphoned $212,000 to a controlled personal account. Even in Alabama, there’s limits to naked corruption so the good sheriff ended up briefly incarcerated in his own jail. But to this day, no one knows how widespread the practice is since less than a quarter of county sheriffs responded to Freedom of Information requests.

Gadsden and the surrounding area were also hotbeds of Klan activity during the 1960s. Just thirty miles away lies Anniston, another distressed blue-collar city. Anniston is known for the infamous “burning bus” incident during the Civil Rights era in which mobs of enraged whites pulled over a bus with Freedom Riders, beat passengers and set the bus on fire. The images of the burning bus were among the iconic photographs of the era and today, a commemorative mural showing the bus covers a wall in Anniston at the site of the attack. How many of these embers still smolder undetected in hearts and minds?

Gadsden and the surrounding area were also hotbeds of Klan activity during the 1960s. Just thirty miles away lies Anniston, another distressed blue-collar city. Anniston is known for the infamous “burning bus” incident during the Civil Rights era in which mobs of enraged whites pulled over a bus with Freedom Riders, beat passengers and set the bus on fire. The images of the burning bus were among the iconic photographs of the era and today, a commemorative mural showing the bus covers a wall in Anniston at the site of the attack. How many of these embers still smolder undetected in hearts and minds?

There are two souls of the South today. One tied to the past and the other to a different future. One sign of this South, struggling to make itself heard but whose voice is strengthening, is in the letter written by the surviving relatives of Emma Sansom still living in Gadsden. Here are excerpts. You can read the whole letter at ”Descendents of Emma Sansom Statue Call For Removal of Statue,” https://abc3340.com/news/local/descendants-of-emma-sansom-family-call-for-removal-of-statue?src=link

“. . .Some white people in Gadsden say they feel a connection to this statue as part of their heritage, and consider the statue part of the fabric of their home. Our Black neighbors are making it clear that they agree, and that is exactly why they need to see change in our community. We want to live in a harmonious democratic society where all can live free of intimidation.

Many people who feel pride about Emma Sansom discuss ‘division’ about the statue like it is a new phenomenon. The outcry against the statue is the voice of an awakened community. They understand that it is time to address the focal points of what has really caused a division in our community for over a hundred years. It only seems like a new ‘division’ to those of us who benefit the most from the ‘normal’ status quo.

We ask those who may feel a sense of pride about the statue to examine if most of their Black neighbors feel the same pride. You may say you are not personally racist and have good deeds to prove it. The statue’s effect in Gadsden is not about anyone’s personal feelings or failings – it is a feature of the systemic oppression that acts to this day against the freedom of Black people. . . .”

Notes

1. Paul Moses. ‘The Worst Place Ever’ Is ICE’s Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama. The Daily Beast,  June 8, 2018. https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-worst-place-ever-is-ices-etowah-county-detention-center-in-alabama

Resources

1. Shut Down Etowah: shutdownetowah.org, also on Facebook.

2. Etowah Freedom Fund:  “We assist with bonds, commissary, and other expenses for people caged by ICE, with a focus on those at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, AL.: http://etowahfreedomfund.org/?fbclid=IwAR2gmNC8sB79RtlfTKrUNq94GUOpmtsEXdS9et7LTAXwYohOjwIS9HZvlsI

3. To help Jerome Gunn rebuild, donate to GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-blm-gadsden-leader?fbclid=IwAR2rXFsr8FKGpvGJMBZ40FDMsKnYFL1_ONVBW3PkHVifFSo-xnj1Z9F41oc

I Know Why The Miner’s Bird Sings

By Kwame P. Dean

Posted November 30, 2020


I’m sure some are still wondering why there were so many tears of joy among black people as the election was called for Joe Biden. Certainly, some of my more progressive to far-left colleagues, including young, black activists, have asked the question. After all, the election result isn’t likely to usher in the systemic changes needed to open the door to equity for black people in the US. The president-elect is a centrist on a playing field that has been systematically shifted to the right since Johnson’s “Great Society”. 

The redistribution of wealth to the upper class has continued unabated over the past 40 years, no matter the party or the race of the president, as the rising tide lifted only the largest yachts while sinking the economic dinghies most of us were in. As the money flowed upwards, so too the political influence, further locking us into policy choices benefiting the haves at the expense of the have-nots. Even pandemic fueled state spending hasn’t changed the equation as hundreds of billions of dollars have flowed directly to the boardrooms of the already super wealthy. As all of this continues, the scope of material, political possibility seems to shrink with each political cycle as social identity and moral issues replace the conversation about “Who has what and why?” to “Who is whom and what do you think about them?”

So following his election, Biden spoke of saving souls and healing more than changing tax codes and cutting military spending. He spoke of restoration rather than freeing up resources to transform our neglected social safety net, one that wasn’t good to begin with. He spoke of addressing climate change without mentioning the necessity of breaking the hold of big energy money on republicans and democrats alike. He has no incentives to offer politicians from either party to counter their interests in maintaining their positions and increasing their personal power and influence.

So again, why the tears when so many have said that there was no real policy choice for blacks in this election? The answer is simple. We smelled gas filling the room and the election of Biden/Harris opened a window.

The vote against Trump was a vote for a future free of a system willing to throw dissenters under-the-bus. Having been under-the-bus for most of our history in the US, we knew exactly what was at stake as a people united in our otherness and historically alien status. Trump’s dehumanized Black Lives Matter protests and majority black cities rhetorically. He employed secret police on-the-street. He supported the ongoing system of a lack of accountability for police killings. All of that exists in a social context. 

The recognition of the humanity of black people in the US was a result of the political actions of war and legislation. Political processes, largely beyond our control, determined our standards of living and right to live, with the law being a poor substitute for general acceptance in a society disproportionately influenced by our presence in it. The laws themselves have needed to include deterrents to curb the exclusionary and genocidal tendencies of some of our fellow citizens. That, in general, is not the white experience in America. Freedom from automatic suspicion, control and “otherness” is a primary feature of the social construct of whiteness itself.

Many blacks in the US recognize existential threats because those threats have been our constant companions in a country where the question of what to do with us has been a recurring theme since before slavery ended. Our recognition of the threat Trumpism poses is more than paranoia, it is cultural memory. While some dismissed the talk of blacks voting for our survival as hyperbole during the campaign, the Trump administration and its Senate allies continue to do nothing to abate the public health crisis of the century that disproportionately affects poor and black people, people both essential and disposable. Trump supporters idea of freedom and short term economic interests are more important than the health of others, especially if those others have no social cache in their world.

So yes, there were tears of joy shed from eyes open to the historic indifference and enmity of people who would support the likes of a nativist demagogue. Despite 4 years of a pro-Trump evangelical campaign, a lackluster candidate in Joe Biden who needed rescuing during the primaries, the late support of high profile wealthy black people, and a general incumbent bias in the electorate, an estimated 90% of black people voted against Trump, Trumpism and republican policies with historic levels of voter turnout. Maybe now with Trump’s defeat we can focus on transformation rather than once again defending our right to exist…until the next Trump comes along.

Somalia On The Interstate: Growing Piracy In The U.S. Trucking Industry

By Curtis Price

Posted November 18th, 2020

The freedom of the highway and truckers, rootless and always on the move, bawdy roadhouses and neon-lit nighthawk truck stops, is an iconic American cultural meme, perhaps with highways performing as the last frontier since Frederick  Jackson Turner famously pronounced the original frontier shut. Such is the myth. But the reality, as opposed to what is celebrated in song and other popular lore, is quite different. Trucking is dangerous, hard, unglamorous work, although truckers I’ve known value their freedom from office politics and backbiting at the water cooler. The fevered imaginings of automating trucking to get rid of the human element – the driver – is a managerial wet-dream. Truckers master over 23 separate skills that can’t be easily replaced by robots or autonomous driving such as Johnny-on-the-spot repairs. I knew of a 70-something driver in North Carolina who could break apart and reassemble an entire rig.

But trucking is also work that relies on the commodification of the trucker’s body. This body has to be primed for maximum efficiency, pushing itself to the limits to overcome the inevitable routine obstacles and delays. Trucker’s work life is determined by an intersection of time and distance and at this intersection is where their money is made. (1)

COVID19  has thrown a new spanner in that equation, besidse the shutdown in commercial traffic in the early days of the pandemic: increased piracy.

Industry sources report a 56% increase in incidents of theft and 80% increase in the value of goods stolen in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019. In April 2000 alone, thefts skyrocketed 300%. But actual thefts are notoriously under-reported because trucking companies don’t want to get a bad rep for not securing their trucks. The true figures are much higher and the reported figures misleading because there are incentives for all parties concerned to keep quiet. Since industry reporting is voluntary, the federal crime figures woefully underestimate the true extent of theft and piracy on the highways..

The type of goods stolen since the onset of COVID-19 has shifted too. Before COVID19, electronics scored high, with most electronics stolen by professional gangs that then shipped the goods overseas to South America to be broken down and sold in Asian markets. But with slowdowns in international trade in the first few months of the epidemic, thieves turned to food, bottled water, and other household consumer items. These goods are easy to unload on the domestic black market and thieves with a determined hustle can peddle food stuffs to mom-and-pop stores with virtually no ability to trace such transactions. As one industry loss expert says, “You can’t put serial numbers on almonds.”

 But as the economic pain from COVD19 spreads, the incentive to pirate trucker loads has only increased.  As good capitalists, criminals will tailor thefts for local markets; for instance, nitrate gloves were stolen for areas with shortages and stolen bottled water gets diverted to hurricane-struck areas where drinking water fetches premium prices. In one heist, 18,000 pounds of toilet paper were spirited away for black market destinations.

Another factor boosting opportunities for theft is lay-offs or absenteeism because of COVD-19 at shipping docks, which leaves less eyes to keep track of goods and gives thieves more opportunities. Even before COVID19, truckers faced a shortage of berths at truck stops and with COVID-19, many truck stops closed or cut-back staff and hours, forcing truckers to bunk down in less secure areas, which has led to a number of violent attacks. Trucks, for instance, have been commandeered at gun point. In one case, a trucker who had pulled over for the night in a parking lot in Detroit was shot and his rig set on fire,

Many of these attempts are small-fry crimes of opportunity where attempts to steal unprotected goods devolves into violence. The big boys use more sophisticated technique such as hacking into logistics computer systems, posing as legitimate cargo shippers and even setting up phony shipping companies.

The figures for shootings and other violent acts against truckers have mushroomed since COVD-19, leading some truckers to start a “Trucker Lives Matter” Facebook group to fight for the right of truckers to carry arms.  Trucking companies for insurance purposes forbid drivers to drive strapped and state laws don’t recognize gun permits held out of state so even a trucker with a permit in Oklahoma can be arrested for carrying the same weapon in Arizona. Truckers are demanding not only that companies allow them to carry arms for self-defense but also  are demanding a federal law letting truckers traveling cross-state to be armed without legal repercussion.

COVID-19 is having a ripple effect throughout U.S. society and if economic hardship grows, it logically flows that attempts to appropriate necessities by any means necessary may stand to increase too. The uptick in violence and piracy in the trucking industry is just one of those hidden, unacknowledged  markers of social disruption following in the wake of COVID-19. As one truckers posted on a trucker’s list said, “It’s wilder out here now than anything I’ve seen in 35 years of driving.”

Notes

1. See Benjamin H Snyder, Dignity and the Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification,  The Hedgehog Review, Fall 2012. Accessed from https://hedgehogreview.com/issues/work-and-dignity/articles/dignity-and-the-professionalized-body-truck-driving-in-the-age-of-instant-gratification

Losing A Friend To Covid19

By Kwesi P. Dean

Posted October 26, 2020

But trucking is also work that relies on the commodification of the trucker’s body. This body has to be primed for maximum efficiency, pushing itself to the limits to overcome the inevitable routine obstacles and delays. Trucker’s work life is determined by an intersection of time and distance and at this intersection is where their money is made. (1)

COVID19  has thrown a new spanner in that equation, besidse the shutdown in commercial traffic in the early days of the pandemic: increased piracy.

Industry sources report a 56% increase in incidents of theft and 80% increase in the value of goods stolen in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019. In April 2000 alone, thefts skyrocketed 300%. But actual thefts are notoriously under-reported because trucking companies don’t want to get a bad rep for not securing their trucks. The true figures are much higher and the reported figures misleading because there are incentives for all parties concerned to keep quiet. Since industry reporting is voluntary, the federal crime figures woefully underestimate the true extent of theft and piracy on the highways..

The type of goods stolen since the onset of COVID-19 has shifted too. Before COVID19, electronics scored high, with most electronics stolen by professional gangs that then shipped the goods overseas to South America to be broken down and sold in Asian markets. But with slowdowns in international trade in the first few months of the epidemic, thieves turned to food, bottled water, and other household consumer items. These goods are easy to unload on the domestic black market and thieves with a determined hustle can peddle food stuffs to mom-and-pop stores with virtually no ability to trace such transactions. As one industry loss expert says, “You can’t put serial numbers on almonds.”

 But as the economic pain from COVD19 spreads, the incentive to pirate trucker loads has only increased.  As good capitalists, criminals will tailor thefts for local markets; for instance, nitrate gloves were stolen for areas with shortages and stolen bottled water gets diverted to hurricane-struck areas where drinking water fetches premium prices. In one heist, 18,000 pounds of toilet paper were spirited away for black market destinations.

Another factor boosting opportunities for theft is lay-offs or absenteeism because of COVD-19 at shipping docks, which leaves less eyes to keep track of goods and gives thieves more opportunities. Even before COVID19, truckers faced a shortage of berths at truck stops and with COVID-19, many truck stops closed or cut-back staff and hours, forcing truckers to bunk down in less secure areas, which has led to a number of violent attacks. Trucks, for instance, have been commandeered at gun point. In one case, a trucker who had pulled over for the night in a parking lot in Detroit was shot and his rig set on fire,

Many of these attempts are small-fry crimes of opportunity where attempts to steal unprotected goods devolves into violence. The big boys use more sophisticated technique such as hacking into logistics computer systems, posing as legitimate cargo shippers and even setting up phony shipping companies.

The figures for shootings and other violent acts against truckers have mushroomed since COVD-19, leading some truckers to start a “Trucker Lives Matter” Facebook group to fight for the right of truckers to carry arms.  Trucking companies for insurance purposes forbid drivers to drive strapped and state laws don’t recognize gun permits held out of state so even a trucker with a permit in Oklahoma can be arrested for carrying the same weapon in Arizona. Truckers are demanding not only that companies allow them to carry arms for self-defense but also  are demanding a federal law letting truckers traveling cross-state to be armed without legal repercussion.

COVID-19 is having a ripple effect throughout U.S. society and if economic hardship grows, it logically flows that attempts to appropriate necessities by any means necessary may stand to increase too. The uptick in violence and piracy in the trucking industry is just one of those hidden, unacknowledged  markers of social disruption following in the wake of COVID-19. As one truckers posted on a trucker’s list said, “It’s wilder out here now than anything I’ve seen in 35 years of driving.”

Notes

1. See Benjamin H Snyder, Dignity and the Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification,  The Hedgehog Review, Fall 2012. Accessed from https://hedgehogreview.com/issues/work-and-dignity/articles/dignity-and-the-professionalized-body-truck-driving-in-the-age-of-instant-gratification

He has always been contrary.

He’s one of the most intellectually curious people I know. He taught himself to speak German by reading a scientific textbook and looking up and logging the words and phrases he didn’t know, page by page, until he finished the book. Disciplined, he pursues his interests through reading, observation and conversation, all the while not taking himself or others too seriously. His talent for languages, he speaks five, and handling people led him to work check-in and customer service at a local airport. It was a great place for him to exercise his skills of observation and practice crisis management with a smile with people from all over the world. It’s no wonder that he’s now doing that as a social worker for his adopted country.

A secret to his success has always been looking right when people tell him to look left. He’s great at finding new ways of thinking about situations and new possibilities with his clients. He’s effective because he finds solutions that work both for his clients and the agency instead of covering his ass with endless orders about what people must do. I think my fellow immigrants who get to work with him are lucky.

From the beginning, we talked about watching the spread of Covid-19 like being stuck on the tracks with a slow moving train heading our way. Having to deal with it was inevitable and neither of us knew what that would mean. We knew it could change everything. We didn’t know it would change us.

Just as soon as we started to get information about the virus and its spread, a number of medical doctors and scientists started to offer their take on what was happening and what should or shouldn’t be done. They weren’t offering research, they weren’t publishing in peer reviewed journals. They were going straight to the public through social media to make their pronouncements with a political agenda. My friend found many alternate views from these doctors that fit his need to find something contrary to the government and big media line. It was Stuart Hall’s Reception Theory in practice. Like an itch he couldn’t scratch, the notion that something seemed off about the government line wouldn’t go away. He felt he was being lied to. He couldn’t accept the uncertainty nor the limits he felt on his freedom.

It started with him forwarding me videos of Covid denier doctors. All of them had a similar pattern, great sounding questions followed by unfounded answers that would lead to more great sounding questions. It was like watching a “documentary” about ancient aliens. Underneath it all was the notion that someone is doing this to us for some reason.

At first, I would point out all of the logical problems in the videos, thanks to Carl Sagan, and justify going along with social distancing as the most responsible thing to do in an uncertain situation. As I debunked one source, there was always another. I soon realized that no amount of logic was going to satisfy him. The belief that the situation isn’t right wouldn’t go away. Science and logic, with all of their hypotheses, alternatives and maybes will never beat the comfort of a firmly held belief.

The biggest collective, emotional event our generation has ever experienced soon became something we couldn’t talk about anymore.

It is an effort to talk to him now as we steer clear of the pandemic. Luckily, there is plenty to talk about and there is also a third rail in our conversations that wasn’t there before. Recently, talking about what I miss about concerts and dancing led to a lecture that echoed Donald Trump’s advice to not let the virus change my life. He accused me of living in fear and something broke between us.

The pandemic will pass, eventually. Will our relationships heal? I don’t know and I can live with that.

“Questioning The Old Progressive Dogma:” An Interview With Jean-Claude Michea

Interview with an unclassifiable philosopher.

Translated from Le Nouvel Observateur,  September 22, 2011

Posted OCtober 10, 2020

But trucking is also work that relies on the commodification of the trucker’s body. This body has to be primed for maximum efficiency, pushing itself to the limits to overcome the inevitable routine obstacles and delays. Trucker’s work life is determined by an intersection of time and distance and at this intersection is where their money is made. (1)

COVID19  has thrown a new spanner in that equation, besidse the shutdown in commercial traffic in the early days of the pandemic: increased piracy.

Industry sources report a 56% increase in incidents of theft and 80% increase in the value of goods stolen in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019. In April 2000 alone, thefts skyrocketed 300%. But actual thefts are notoriously under-reported because trucking companies don’t want to get a bad rep for not securing their trucks. The true figures are much higher and the reported figures misleading because there are incentives for all parties concerned to keep quiet. Since industry reporting is voluntary, the federal crime figures woefully underestimate the true extent of theft and piracy on the highways..

The type of goods stolen since the onset of COVID-19 has shifted too. Before COVID19, electronics scored high, with most electronics stolen by professional gangs that then shipped the goods overseas to South America to be broken down and sold in Asian markets. But with slowdowns in international trade in the first few months of the epidemic, thieves turned to food, bottled water, and other household consumer items. These goods are easy to unload on the domestic black market and thieves with a determined hustle can peddle food stuffs to mom-and-pop stores with virtually no ability to trace such transactions. As one industry loss expert says, “You can’t put serial numbers on almonds.”

 But as the economic pain from COVD19 spreads, the incentive to pirate trucker loads has only increased.  As good capitalists, criminals will tailor thefts for local markets; for instance, nitrate gloves were stolen for areas with shortages and stolen bottled water gets diverted to hurricane-struck areas where drinking water fetches premium prices. In one heist, 18,000 pounds of toilet paper were spirited away for black market destinations.

Another factor boosting opportunities for theft is lay-offs or absenteeism because of COVD-19 at shipping docks, which leaves less eyes to keep track of goods and gives thieves more opportunities. Even before COVID19, truckers faced a shortage of berths at truck stops and with COVID-19, many truck stops closed or cut-back staff and hours, forcing truckers to bunk down in less secure areas, which has led to a number of violent attacks. Trucks, for instance, have been commandeered at gun point. In one case, a trucker who had pulled over for the night in a parking lot in Detroit was shot and his rig set on fire,

Many of these attempts are small-fry crimes of opportunity where attempts to steal unprotected goods devolves into violence. The big boys use more sophisticated technique such as hacking into logistics computer systems, posing as legitimate cargo shippers and even setting up phony shipping companies.

The figures for shootings and other violent acts against truckers have mushroomed since COVD-19, leading some truckers to start a “Trucker Lives Matter” Facebook group to fight for the right of truckers to carry arms.  Trucking companies for insurance purposes forbid drivers to drive strapped and state laws don’t recognize gun permits held out of state so even a trucker with a permit in Oklahoma can be arrested for carrying the same weapon in Arizona. Truckers are demanding not only that companies allow them to carry arms for self-defense but also  are demanding a federal law letting truckers traveling cross-state to be armed without legal repercussion.

COVID-19 is having a ripple effect throughout U.S. society and if economic hardship grows, it logically flows that attempts to appropriate necessities by any means necessary may stand to increase too. The uptick in violence and piracy in the trucking industry is just one of those hidden, unacknowledged  markers of social disruption following in the wake of COVID-19. As one truckers posted on a trucker’s list said, “It’s wilder out here now than anything I’ve seen in 35 years of driving.”

Notes

1. See Benjamin H Snyder, Dignity and the Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification,  The Hedgehog Review, Fall 2012. Accessed from https://hedgehogreview.com/issues/work-and-dignity/articles/dignity-and-the-professionalized-body-truck-driving-in-the-age-of-instant-gratification

Le Nouvel Observateur – How does the Orphée Complex, the title of your book, define for you the imaginary of the progressive left?

Jean-Claude Michéa – Just as a Pythagorean would have preferred to die rather than cross a field of beans, a leftist activist immediately feels a sacred terror at the thought that something could have gone better in the world before. Such an incorrect thought would lead him to question the old progressive dogma that there is a mysterious sense of history, driven by the inexorable development of new technologies, and which would mechanically lead humanity towards an ever more perfect world. – that it has the face of the “bright future” or that of “happy globalization”. Difficult then not to think of poor Orpheus who, to bring Eurydice from the Underworld, had had to commit to go forward forever without ever allowing himself the slightest glance back. But the comparison with the wandering Jew of Eugene Sue would have been equally appropriate.

How do Orwell’s “conservative anarchism” and his defense of a “common decency” of “ordinary people” remain for you?

Unlike Marx – for whom the socialist ideal was to rest solely on science – Orwell always thought that the critique of capitalism had its source in a moral feeling of indignation and injustice. He thus rediscovered the spirit of the founders of socialism, who first denounced in the liberal order a system structurally based on selfishness and the war of all against all. But the moral understanding that “there are things that are not done” (Orwell) presupposes very strict anthropological conditions. It implies, Mauss said, a system of face-to-face relations structured by the triple obligation of “giving, receiving and giving back” and which constitutes in this respect the “rock” (the term is Mauss) on which all community possible.

Admittedly, to be able to place the idea of common decency in the heart of the socialist project, it was necessary first of all to free it from all its historical limits (limits which held, moreover, less to the fact communitarian itself than to its various forms of hierarchical organization). Nevertheless, this critical universalization movement of common decency necessarily finds its anchor in these elementary structures of reciprocity, which have always founded the very possibility of a collective life.

But it is precisely these primary solidarities (the famous “primary groups” of Charles Cooley) that the unlimited development of the market and law (hence of the spirit of calculation and procedural spirit) now threatens to destroy irreversibly. Orwell was therefore quite right to emphasize the “conservative” moment of any revolutionary political project. The possibility of a true socialist society will largely depend on the ability of ordinary people to preserve the moral and cultural conditions of their own humanity.

Did the left abandon the first ambition of socialism, coined by Pierre Leroux in 1834?

I would say rather that it has become what it was before the Dreyfus affair. Until that time, the left – the name under which the different liberal and republican currents were grouped together – had always fought on two fronts. On the one hand, against the “clerical and monarchist peril” – incarnated by the “whites” of the conservative and reactionary right – on the other, against the “collectivist danger” – symbolized by the “reds” of the socialist camp firmly attached as for their part, to the political independence of the proletariat (that is why we will never find a single text of Marx where he would claim the left or, a fortiori, his union).

It was only in 1899 – faced with the imminence of a coup d’état of the Right of the Ancien Régime and its new “nationalist” allies – that the modern left would truly take birth, on the basis of a compromise – initially purely defensive – between the “blues” of the original left and the “reds” of the workers’ movement (despite the fierce opposition of the anarcho-syndicalists).

It is therefore this ambiguous historic compromise between liberals, republicans and socialists – a compromise sealed against the only “reaction” and which would give the left of the twentieth century its particular mystique – which was gradually called into question, at the beginning of in the 1980s, as the idea of any attempt to break with capitalism prevailed (that is, with a system that subjugates the lives of ordinary people to the goodwill of the privileged minorities who control capital and information) could only lead to totalitarianism and the Gulag.

It is above all in this new context that the official left has come to reconnect – under an anti-racist and citizen dressing – with its old modernist demons of the nineteenth century, when under the name of “party of the movement” it had already for  watchword “neither reaction nor revolution”.

And since the right of Ancien Régime has given way to that of the followers of the economic liberalism of Tocqueville and Bastiat (which, we forget all too often, both sat on the left), we can say that the opposition of the right and the left, as it functions today, is essentially no more than an updating of certain divisions which, at the end of the nineteenth century, already divided the old party of the movement (we would now say the party of growth and globalization). This gradual disappearance of the old white and red parties in favor of an internal electoral antagonism to the blue party alone explains many things.

How is capitalism, which you think is prosperous and limitless, historically suicidal?

Originally, liberalism was simply a doctrine of limitations that should be imposed on the control of the state, churches and tradition in order to protect individual freedom. In practice, this doctrine led to the defense of the model of an “axiologically neutral” (or secularized) society in which everyone could live as he pleased, provided he did not harm others (free trade only being the application of this general principle to the particular sphere of economic activities).

If this system has been able to work so consistently for a long time, it is however because it continued to rely implicitly on a certain number of values (of “cultural deposits”, said Castoriadis) which no one thought of questioning yet “evidence.” Almost everyone, for example, agreed that there were common sense criteria for distinguishing honest action from dishonest action, a madman from a sane man, a child of an adult or a man of a woman.

Now, from the moment when all existing forms of philosophical categorization begin to be perceived as mere arbitrary and discriminatory constructions (and cultural liberalism sooner or later leads to this postmodern conclusion), the liberal system necessarily becomes incapable of defining by itself. even its own limits. And just as an unlimited economic growth is condemned to gradually deplete the natural resources that make it possible, so the unlimited extension of the right of everyone to satisfy his least personal fads can lead ultimately to undermine all the symbolic foundations of life in common.

In the image of King Midas, who died of being able to transform everything into gold, it seems that the global elites of modern liberalism are now philosophically ready, in order to satisfy their greed, to destroy even the very conditions of their own survival.

Interview by Gilles Anquetil and François Armanet

Source: “Le Nouvel Observateur” of 22 September 2011.

Saturday Night, Late September

By James Murray

Posted October 7, 2020

But trucking is also work that relies on the commodification of the trucker’s body. This body has to be primed for maximum efficiency, pushing itself to the limits to overcome the inevitable routine obstacles and delays. Trucker’s work life is determined by an intersection of time and distance and at this intersection is where their money is made. (1)

COVID19  has thrown a new spanner in that equation, besidse the shutdown in commercial traffic in the early days of the pandemic: increased piracy.

Industry sources report a 56% increase in incidents of theft and 80% increase in the value of goods stolen in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019. In April 2000 alone, thefts skyrocketed 300%. But actual thefts are notoriously under-reported because trucking companies don’t want to get a bad rep for not securing their trucks. The true figures are much higher and the reported figures misleading because there are incentives for all parties concerned to keep quiet. Since industry reporting is voluntary, the federal crime figures woefully underestimate the true extent of theft and piracy on the highways..

The type of goods stolen since the onset of COVID-19 has shifted too. Before COVID19, electronics scored high, with most electronics stolen by professional gangs that then shipped the goods overseas to South America to be broken down and sold in Asian markets. But with slowdowns in international trade in the first few months of the epidemic, thieves turned to food, bottled water, and other household consumer items. These goods are easy to unload on the domestic black market and thieves with a determined hustle can peddle food stuffs to mom-and-pop stores with virtually no ability to trace such transactions. As one industry loss expert says, “You can’t put serial numbers on almonds.”

 But as the economic pain from COVD19 spreads, the incentive to pirate trucker loads has only increased.  As good capitalists, criminals will tailor thefts for local markets; for instance, nitrate gloves were stolen for areas with shortages and stolen bottled water gets diverted to hurricane-struck areas where drinking water fetches premium prices. In one heist, 18,000 pounds of toilet paper were spirited away for black market destinations.

Another factor boosting opportunities for theft is lay-offs or absenteeism because of COVD-19 at shipping docks, which leaves less eyes to keep track of goods and gives thieves more opportunities. Even before COVID19, truckers faced a shortage of berths at truck stops and with COVID-19, many truck stops closed or cut-back staff and hours, forcing truckers to bunk down in less secure areas, which has led to a number of violent attacks. Trucks, for instance, have been commandeered at gun point. In one case, a trucker who had pulled over for the night in a parking lot in Detroit was shot and his rig set on fire,

Many of these attempts are small-fry crimes of opportunity where attempts to steal unprotected goods devolves into violence. The big boys use more sophisticated technique such as hacking into logistics computer systems, posing as legitimate cargo shippers and even setting up phony shipping companies.

The figures for shootings and other violent acts against truckers have mushroomed since COVD-19, leading some truckers to start a “Trucker Lives Matter” Facebook group to fight for the right of truckers to carry arms.  Trucking companies for insurance purposes forbid drivers to drive strapped and state laws don’t recognize gun permits held out of state so even a trucker with a permit in Oklahoma can be arrested for carrying the same weapon in Arizona. Truckers are demanding not only that companies allow them to carry arms for self-defense but also  are demanding a federal law letting truckers traveling cross-state to be armed without legal repercussion.

COVID-19 is having a ripple effect throughout U.S. society and if economic hardship grows, it logically flows that attempts to appropriate necessities by any means necessary may stand to increase too. The uptick in violence and piracy in the trucking industry is just one of those hidden, unacknowledged  markers of social disruption following in the wake of COVID-19. As one truckers posted on a trucker’s list said, “It’s wilder out here now than anything I’ve seen in 35 years of driving.”

Notes

1. See Benjamin H Snyder, Dignity and the Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification,  The Hedgehog Review, Fall 2012. Accessed from https://hedgehogreview.com/issues/work-and-dignity/articles/dignity-and-the-professionalized-body-truck-driving-in-the-age-of-instant-gratification

People have been cruising south Memorial Drive in Tulsa for decades. Showing off their cars trucks and motorcycles or just burning through hours and gallons of gas in unremarkable vehicles. “It’s something to do,” I can imagine a cruiser saying. And a possibly cheaper, if less efficient way of meeting the opposite (or same) sex than going to a bar or nightclub. As a youth pastime cruising goes back to at least the 1950s, but nowadays the participants might be of any age.

A dedicated hot rod car or truck costs a lot of money and few kids can afford the entry fee. From teenagers in mom’s borrowed Honda or Escalade to retired greybeards with tens of thousands invested in their weekend show rides, south Memorial is packed on Saturday nights, in warm, windows down, bumpin’ sound system weather the traffic is bumper to bumper. With parking lots occupied on both sides of the street by cruisers who have stopped to socialize, some with lawn chairs so they can watch and comment on the traffic and vehicles. I imagine different lots ‘belong,’ to different subgenres of cruisers – Chevy trucks, vintage hot rods, etc.

In my estimation, “Cruising,” has always been a rather tame, ‘Square,’ pastime. It’s the kind of thing working-class people do when they’re not into ‘Alternative,’ scenes or drugs or Jesus. When they want to get out of the house on weekends but aren’t that interested in movies or live music or distrust the downtown “Entertainment District,” as too effete, liberal, sophisticated and gourmet. Or when small-town kids from the surrounding area want to come to Tulsa and show off their cowboy hats and rural authenticity but don’t know exactly where to go, or what to do, and they have fantasies of meeting, “City boys,” or “City girls.” So they drive around in pickups discreetly sipping beer and taking in the sights and sounds of bright lights in the big city.

In the wee hours of the morning, when the traffic has dissipated and the cruisers have gone home, street racers run their bikes on south Memorial. These are an adrenaline-dependent and nihilistic type – black and whiteboys in equal measure, they get spun on stimulants and race stripped down and modified motorcycles for a quarter mile. Completely illegal and extremely dangerous, these races are conducted for hundred dollar bills or motorcycle titles. A bike bought and worked on for months can be lost via wager within seconds. Or crashed and totaled, many times the bikes themselves are not street-legal or even tagged. Insurance and registration? Forget about it. Every race carries the risk of death or jail. Lives are lost in this pastime every year.

But they do it anyway. Machismo and competitiveness cannot be legislated away. At one point the city offered to occasionally open a street and allow legal, regulated racing with police and ambulance at the ready to assist, but there wasn’t much interest. “Outlaw shit,” is always more fun, and provides its own reward and extracts its own price.

It’s about ten o’ clock on a Saturday night in late September. A friend and I have been to the dwindling and disappointing downtown “Entertainment District,” and we’re going back to her place. I pull off the crosstown expressway and onto Memorial Drive. We’re critiquing the hip-hop they are playing on Sirius 45 and gossiping furiously. The light on the off-ramp turns green and I pull into heavy Saturday night cruise traffic. I am southbound and I see a remarkable and novel sight northbound coming at me – a large convoy – hot rods, lowriders, SUVs, work trucks, vans, sedans are driving in close formation – dozens of vehicles all flying the same sized large Mexican flags.

I am amazed at what I am seeing. Over the summer, American flags or”‘flags associated with Trumpismo,” have been seen more and more. Both on south Memorial weekend nights and all over the state, but never have I seen such a display of immigrant or “Ethnic pride.” I comment to my friend, and we agree – as native Tulsans we’ve never seen such a sight. Of course we are close to the constantly expanding “East side,” here on Memorial, that area also known as “Little Mexico, or “Cartel Land,” but we think this is something entirely new.

We don’t know how to interpret what we are seeing? Are the convoy and Mexican flags a way of saying”‘Fuck you,” to Trumpismo and its adherents? A declaration of identity-based ‘nationhood?’ A simple patriotic gesture not that much different from flying the American flag?

As the “Mexicans,” drive in tight phalanx north bound we are surrounded by a loose assortment of Jeeps, 4×4 trucks and cars scattered through the traffic flying American flags, Trump portrait flags, and Blue Line flags. Whereas the ‘Mexicans,’ seem disciplined and stoic as we meet their column the white Trumpismo element is boisterous, jeering and laughing and throwing up the occasional obscene gesture. The whole street scene is energized, politicized, kinetic and restless. Yearning and aggression hangs damp in the air.

I am anxious to get clear of all this mess, it is Oklahoma after all, and chaos can erupt at any time. I am sober with a .38 snubbie in my waistband but I have no doubt there are heavy firearms all over the place, as well as ample alcohol and white crystalline substances. A dangerous mixture even on an apolitical Saturday night in a normal year of economic good times. But this is a bad year of ‘pandemic,’ and economic contraction and riots and paranoia and hysterical emotion across the political spectrum.

The masses stressed, barely functional, ignorant and irrational. Between stop lights on the crowded street I recognize all the elements of a ‘Violent racial incident,’ are present and it would be easy for young males (white or brown) to blunder themselves into CNN ’Breaking News.” I’m a (so-called) white male with a black female in the passenger seat and I just want to get out of there. But first I want a six-pack of microbrew.

I stop at Quik-Trip and vehicles flying the competing flags are circling the store. A large group of street racers have parked their bikes in one corner of the expansive lot and they stand around smoking cigarettes and observing the spectacle. The sweet skunk smell of cannabis wafts in the air. I walk into the QT and the patrons are mostly black, (all of them, like myself, are unmasked, in unconcerned  violation of city ordinance and the wishes of white liberals.)

A single mom with two rambunctious toddlers is buying late-night snacks for the kids and tall can of beer for her self. A girl in short shorts and multi-colored ‘Brooklyn Braids,’ is using the ATM. I grab some beers and get into the checkout line. I notice a teenager with red Jordans, red ball cap and red shorts is wearing a “Scarface,” t-shirt, in this unlicensed rendition of questionable artistic merit a single tear runs down Al Pacino’s cheek. No one says anything, we’re all in a hurry to leave. Maybe just my imagination and projection, but I sense these folks, like myself are just trying to keep their heads down and get home to “Party,” or watch T.V.

Making political or cultural statements on Saturday night is not in our lists of interests. We just want to enjoy a few hours of intoxication and relative relaxation before another week starts all over again. They (and I) don’t”‘Identify” with either Trumpismo or the reactions thereto. Everyone wants to tell us what to think and we don’t believe anything we are hearing. We’re all frazzled from months of acceleration. The flag-flying drama show circling outside is just another unexplained bewildering event in a year full of them. What does it mean when folks feel it is necessary to fly flags indicating “Ethnicity,” or “Nationhood?” I don’t know. Do single mom, Brooklyn Braids girl and Scarface fanboy understand this spectacle better than I do? Do they think it’s very bizarre?

Obviously I have no idea.

I get back in the Jeep and steer carefully back onto the street. “What is black america’s flag?’ I ask my friend and she just shrugs.

“I don’t know.”

I think about my own query for a minute, the traffic is stop and go, “Red black and green?” I ask.

She shrugs again. “I understand the RBG. Blood, skin and earth, but most don’t know what that means.”

“Also ‘Revolutionary But Gangster.’” “Yeah I’ve heard that too.”

“Y’all better get a flag,” I kid her, “Looks like everyone else has one.”

A Case of Police Brutality in the White Rural South

By Curtis Price

Posted on September 30th, 2020

But trucking is also work that relies on the commodification of the trucker’s body. This body has to be primed for maximum efficiency, pushing itself to the limits to overcome the inevitable routine obstacles and delays. Trucker’s work life is determined by an intersection of time and distance and at this intersection is where their money is made. (1)

COVID19  has thrown a new spanner in that equation, besidse the shutdown in commercial traffic in the early days of the pandemic: increased piracy.

Industry sources report a 56% increase in incidents of theft and 80% increase in the value of goods stolen in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019. In April 2000 alone, thefts skyrocketed 300%. But actual thefts are notoriously under-reported because trucking companies don’t want to get a bad rep for not securing their trucks. The true figures are much higher and the reported figures misleading because there are incentives for all parties concerned to keep quiet. Since industry reporting is voluntary, the federal crime figures woefully underestimate the true extent of theft and piracy on the highways..

The type of goods stolen since the onset of COVID-19 has shifted too. Before COVID19, electronics scored high, with most electronics stolen by professional gangs that then shipped the goods overseas to South America to be broken down and sold in Asian markets. But with slowdowns in international trade in the first few months of the epidemic, thieves turned to food, bottled water, and other household consumer items. These goods are easy to unload on the domestic black market and thieves with a determined hustle can peddle food stuffs to mom-and-pop stores with virtually no ability to trace such transactions. As one industry loss expert says, “You can’t put serial numbers on almonds.”

 But as the economic pain from COVD19 spreads, the incentive to pirate trucker loads has only increased.  As good capitalists, criminals will tailor thefts for local markets; for instance, nitrate gloves were stolen for areas with shortages and stolen bottled water gets diverted to hurricane-struck areas where drinking water fetches premium prices. In one heist, 18,000 pounds of toilet paper were spirited away for black market destinations.

Another factor boosting opportunities for theft is lay-offs or absenteeism because of COVD-19 at shipping docks, which leaves less eyes to keep track of goods and gives thieves more opportunities. Even before COVID19, truckers faced a shortage of berths at truck stops and with COVID-19, many truck stops closed or cut-back staff and hours, forcing truckers to bunk down in less secure areas, which has led to a number of violent attacks. Trucks, for instance, have been commandeered at gun point. In one case, a trucker who had pulled over for the night in a parking lot in Detroit was shot and his rig set on fire,

Many of these attempts are small-fry crimes of opportunity where attempts to steal unprotected goods devolves into violence. The big boys use more sophisticated technique such as hacking into logistics computer systems, posing as legitimate cargo shippers and even setting up phony shipping companies.

The figures for shootings and other violent acts against truckers have mushroomed since COVD-19, leading some truckers to start a “Trucker Lives Matter” Facebook group to fight for the right of truckers to carry arms.  Trucking companies for insurance purposes forbid drivers to drive strapped and state laws don’t recognize gun permits held out of state so even a trucker with a permit in Oklahoma can be arrested for carrying the same weapon in Arizona. Truckers are demanding not only that companies allow them to carry arms for self-defense but also  are demanding a federal law letting truckers traveling cross-state to be armed without legal repercussion.

COVID-19 is having a ripple effect throughout U.S. society and if economic hardship grows, it logically flows that attempts to appropriate necessities by any means necessary may stand to increase too. The uptick in violence and piracy in the trucking industry is just one of those hidden, unacknowledged  markers of social disruption following in the wake of COVID-19. As one truckers posted on a trucker’s list said, “It’s wilder out here now than anything I’ve seen in 35 years of driving.”

Notes

1. See Benjamin H Snyder, Dignity and the Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification,  The Hedgehog Review, Fall 2012. Accessed from https://hedgehogreview.com/issues/work-and-dignity/articles/dignity-and-the-professionalized-body-truck-driving-in-the-age-of-instant-gratification

Below is an account of police brutality written on Facebook by “R,” a white female rural-dwelling acquaintance of mine from a small town in Northern Alabama. We had worked together in a chaotic environment in which one crisis bled into another and working conditions were so bad people would go on lunch break – and never come back.


“R” struck a picturesque figure, long raven-black hair, pale skin, bright red lipstick, and the finely chiseled, aquiline features of the rural Scots-Irish, looking like a cross between Vampirella and a more glamorous version of any hardscrabble Melissa Leo character struggling against the odds for a place in the sun.


In the middle of all the madness, “R” was the rock in the stream forcing the raging waters to part. She exuded natural leadership and many of the mostly black women we worked with turned to her for help and advice. These women, all single mothers raising children and often working two jobs to make ends meet, had to endure lives of endless crisis such as children that had to be taken to the ER in the middle of the night when their mothers needed sleep to work 16 hours the next day, meaning they were often up 24 hours straight, sometimes half-falling asleep while standing up.

“R” helped them survive the day; deeply religious, she told these women God was looking out for them and things would get better. Her religion was not a moral finger-pointing at others for their alleged sins but a spiritual discipline against resentment, in Christopher’ Lasch’s poignant words, and a springboard propelling a determined resilience. Whether Divine Intervention ever came is questionable but “R” at least gave others the strength to make it through another day.


Of course, much of today’s left, like terriers rooting out truffles, will sniff out “whiteness” in this story and, having made such profound analysis, retreat to their boutique-leftist, hipster ghettos of Brooklyn, Oakland, Portland, and Seattle, content that they understand the world. This story, frankly, is not for them, but for those who want principled unity instead of the endless identity-derived divisions of today’s posturing, radical-chic middle-class left.

I have lightly edited the story for conciseness and grammar.

“On 6/13/2020, my husband, SG, called the Madison County Sheriff’s Department to file a complaint against a man that was threatening us via text and Facebook Messenger. He was speaking to the officer on the phone via speaker and SG told him he wanted to file a harassing communications complaint. The officer asked him what he knew about harassing communications.  SG told him that he used to be an officer. The officer got some information from S and stated he was coming out to take the complaint.

It must have been about an hour or so and the next thing I know there are three officers at my door. They state they wanted to see SG. I told them he was no longer there. The officer told men he knew SG was there and needed to see him. The officer stated that they had a warrant for him but would not tell me what for. But he never produced any paper work. He just spoke very belligerently to me.

They then came into my house looking for SG as if he had done some heinous crime. My children were sitting on the couch. I was told to stay in the living room at that time. I told the officers my husband has a shattered shoulder blade as they were going into the bedroom.

Then the older officer told me to come into the hallway at which point he placed handcuffs on me. I heard my husband again tell them about his shoulder and then I heard him yelling out in pain.

I was then taken into the living room in front of my children handcuffed. My mother came out of her room and I asked her to take the kids to the garage because all three officers were making statements that never should have been spoken in front of my children. I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs. I am a dedicated nurse and mother. Yes, I made the mistake of saying he wasn’t here, but they then started making comments in front of my children that should never have been said!

I was still asking what the warrant was for, with no answer. Two officers then went out the front door with my husband, leaving the door open. They were discussing something and I am standing in my living room handcuffed just crying and watching them. The main officer looked at me and said, “Don’t look at me, you need to deal with him” and nodded his head to the older officer.  The older officer asked me where I worked and wanted to know my supervisor’s name. I gave him the info and he told me he would be calling my boss to let her know what type of person is working for her.

I was then taken into my kitchen, still cuffed. The taller officer then told me we had a lot of guns, which really I don’t think I do but he then asked me about them and checked to make sure they were registered and not stolen. I asked again what my husband had done that was putting us in this position and they told me it was about a bad check in 1991 (or 1993 maybe). And then they say we told you. NO THEY DIDN’T!

I was completely flabbergasted. All this brutality and bad mouthing over something that was NOT a violent crime and well past the statute of limitations! The taller officer then proceeds to tell me it’s just stupid to want to do a harassing communication on someone over Facebook. I tried to explain that it was also a text and that this man knew where I lived and had actually been to my house. This man had not only threatened my husband but me and my kids. But the taller officer completely blew me off. It was his civic duty to make a report but not one of the three of them would do so!

The older officer uncuffed me and told me, “You’re welcome.” Later we found out they had the wrong man on top of it. Ludicrous! This was handled very badly! They spoke to us like we were the lowest scum the whole time they were here and half of it was in front of my children. Yet you all go around trying to make kids believe you are the “good guys.”

My brother is a cop in another state and I told him what happened. All he could say was “Remember, not all cops are like this.” And I’m sure there are some good cops in Madison County but they are really paying for the brutality of cops like this.

My husband was brought home because he wasn’t the right guy and told me the arresting officer told him he got upset because he doesn’t like being told how to do his job. Which is ridiculous! . . . There was a study done a few years ago on officers and domestic violence and how domestic violence with police officers is rising. I can imagine why, if you allow officers to go in and treat people the way they do based solely on the bruised ego of one officer.  . . . Maybe more people need to realize that police brutality is alive and well in Madison County and it’s not race related – it’s ego related! And something needs to be done about it.”

***

Now, how can we dissect “R”’s understanding of what happened to her at the hands of the cops? She doesn’t see the underlying structure of policing and its role in controlling working class people, instead passing it off as a few bad apples in the bunch. She lacks the conceptual tools or connections to a larger analysis that would position her experience in its wider context. Her response is like that of most working class whites (as well as large numbers of working class blacks too), a matter of personalities.

But working class blacks have the continuity of a historical context in which to place such experiences that working class whites don’t have, even though they face police brutality as vicious as blacks do, as black scholar John McWhorter has documented. (1) (An even better text, too important to be buried in a footnote, is the Institute for Family Studies article, “They’re Out to Get You:  Police Misconduct in White, Working-Class America,” https://ifstudies.org/blog/theyre-out-to-get-you-police-misconduct-in-white-working-class-america?fbclid=IwAR1oz0wef5jN8N39XHpht3a8N6CbzvCE25mCkeXaA-lg2FA-6BeArw24hWs) A major difference, though, lies in the fact that even isolated rural areas, a local NAACP will serve, however imperfectly, as that repository of  memory and mechanism for making abuse public.

But rural working class whites fall short in such infrastructure. In these areas, there’s an absence of intermediate organizations, those “little platoons,” as conservatives so love to gush. It’s only the immediate family and church – and beyond that, nothing. In case of the single, religiously unaffiliated, there’s just nothing. Lots of it. I know of such men, shaggy, disheveled, who tramp through the woods daily to the liquor store and then stay cooped up in their apartments drinking, with only the TV to keep them company, men for whom fantasies of “fully automatic luxury communism” is nothing but  a sick joke.

This breakdown – or perhaps more accurately, since in some cases there weren’t dense social networks to decompose to begin with, social stasis – and the ensuing loneliness and isolation is more accurate a predictor of Trump support than racial attitudes. As Timothy Carney argues in his book, “Alienated America: While Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse,” “People enmeshed in strong communities rejected Trump in the early primaries while people alienated, abandoned, lacking social ties and community rushed to him immediately.” As an economist put it, describing the hollowed-out areas where Trump did best, “These are nothing economies. Other than the hospitals and local government, there’s not a whole lot going on.”

This is supported by Carney’s analysis of Iowa Trump-supporting counties such as Pottawattamic, showing that the larger numbers of “the unattached, unconnected, dispossessed” living in “civil society deserts” the more correlation with voting Trump in the primaries. Nor is this phenomenon confined to the United States. A recent survey of European social attitudes found a connection between social isolation and support for right-wing populist parties. One respondent, an “Eric” in Paris, said he joined the Rassemblement National (the former National Front, France’s far-right populist party) because he found more genuine community in the RN then he did in any of the other parties, including the left-wing ones. (2) It doesn’t take much imagination to see the same development here, in the communal fervor of Trump rallies. Or for that matter, in the streets of Portland.(3)

“R” is more fortunately placed because she’s mobile, works in a larger nearby city and is Internet savvy so she has access to news and information (if what’s on the Internet can properly be called that). She reposted, for instance, Dollie Parton’s meme in support of BLM. But many in her situation don’t go online so they try to make sense of their world with the tools at hand, which of course, reinforce the ways things are, the inertia of the everyday that weighs on lives and consciousness, stifling awareness of alternatives and maintaining the status quo.

Notes

1) John McWhorter, “Racist Police Violence Reconsidered.” https://quillette.com/2020/06/11/racist-police-violence-reconsidered/

2) https://www.ft.com/content/ffadb189-5661-40c3-b142-43f91cf38bdf

3) https://gen.medium.com/ive-been-a-democrat-for-20-years-here-s-what-i-experienced-at-trump-s-rally-in-new-hampshire-c69ddaaf6d07

To Vote or Not to Vote?

By Kwesi P. Dean

Posted September 8, 2020

But trucking is also work that relies on the commodification of the trucker’s body. This body has to be primed for maximum efficiency, pushing itself to the limits to overcome the inevitable routine obstacles and delays. Trucker’s work life is determined by an intersection of time and distance and at this intersection is where their money is made. (1)

COVID19  has thrown a new spanner in that equation, besidse the shutdown in commercial traffic in the early days of the pandemic: increased piracy.

Industry sources report a 56% increase in incidents of theft and 80% increase in the value of goods stolen in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019. In April 2000 alone, thefts skyrocketed 300%. But actual thefts are notoriously under-reported because trucking companies don’t want to get a bad rep for not securing their trucks. The true figures are much higher and the reported figures misleading because there are incentives for all parties concerned to keep quiet. Since industry reporting is voluntary, the federal crime figures woefully underestimate the true extent of theft and piracy on the highways..

The type of goods stolen since the onset of COVID-19 has shifted too. Before COVID19, electronics scored high, with most electronics stolen by professional gangs that then shipped the goods overseas to South America to be broken down and sold in Asian markets. But with slowdowns in international trade in the first few months of the epidemic, thieves turned to food, bottled water, and other household consumer items. These goods are easy to unload on the domestic black market and thieves with a determined hustle can peddle food stuffs to mom-and-pop stores with virtually no ability to trace such transactions. As one industry loss expert says, “You can’t put serial numbers on almonds.”

 But as the economic pain from COVD19 spreads, the incentive to pirate trucker loads has only increased.  As good capitalists, criminals will tailor thefts for local markets; for instance, nitrate gloves were stolen for areas with shortages and stolen bottled water gets diverted to hurricane-struck areas where drinking water fetches premium prices. In one heist, 18,000 pounds of toilet paper were spirited away for black market destinations.

Another factor boosting opportunities for theft is lay-offs or absenteeism because of COVD-19 at shipping docks, which leaves less eyes to keep track of goods and gives thieves more opportunities. Even before COVID19, truckers faced a shortage of berths at truck stops and with COVID-19, many truck stops closed or cut-back staff and hours, forcing truckers to bunk down in less secure areas, which has led to a number of violent attacks. Trucks, for instance, have been commandeered at gun point. In one case, a trucker who had pulled over for the night in a parking lot in Detroit was shot and his rig set on fire,

Many of these attempts are small-fry crimes of opportunity where attempts to steal unprotected goods devolves into violence. The big boys use more sophisticated technique such as hacking into logistics computer systems, posing as legitimate cargo shippers and even setting up phony shipping companies.

The figures for shootings and other violent acts against truckers have mushroomed since COVD-19, leading some truckers to start a “Trucker Lives Matter” Facebook group to fight for the right of truckers to carry arms.  Trucking companies for insurance purposes forbid drivers to drive strapped and state laws don’t recognize gun permits held out of state so even a trucker with a permit in Oklahoma can be arrested for carrying the same weapon in Arizona. Truckers are demanding not only that companies allow them to carry arms for self-defense but also  are demanding a federal law letting truckers traveling cross-state to be armed without legal repercussion.

COVID-19 is having a ripple effect throughout U.S. society and if economic hardship grows, it logically flows that attempts to appropriate necessities by any means necessary may stand to increase too. The uptick in violence and piracy in the trucking industry is just one of those hidden, unacknowledged  markers of social disruption following in the wake of COVID-19. As one truckers posted on a trucker’s list said, “It’s wilder out here now than anything I’ve seen in 35 years of driving.”

Notes

1. See Benjamin H Snyder, Dignity and the Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification,  The Hedgehog Review, Fall 2012. Accessed from https://hedgehogreview.com/issues/work-and-dignity/articles/dignity-and-the-professionalized-body-truck-driving-in-the-age-of-instant-gratification

For all its faults, Facebook has given me the chance to interact with people I would not normally meet. That’s especially true as quarantine is perfect for my inner hermit and I no longer need an excuse for not leaving the apartment. Because I live in an economically mixed area in Europe, working-class, social housing, and a new colony of urban professionals, there are 3 grocery stores within a 5-minute walk. If you don’t see me between the hours of 0800-0900 on Saturday morning at one of those stores, chances are you won’t see me at all.  

Facebook is the exception. I’ve spent the pandemic immersed in the thoughts and opinions of friends, in the American sense, who share things we normally wouldn’t talk about in the superficial friend zone that encompasses the vast majority of my circle of nearly 1,500. I’ve learned I am only one degree of separation away from COVID deniers, anti-vaxers, blue lives matter supporters, white supremacists, Trump supporters, never Trumpers, conservative Christians, conservative nihilists, and Republicans of all stripes besides the normal bunch of Democrats to radical lefties among those who post political opinions.  

The announcement of Kamala Harris as the Democratic Party candidate for Vice President brought me in contact with a group of pissed off young black progressives who felt the former prosecutor and attorney general was too conservative to support. They began to talk openly about the taboo topic of not voting at all. Cue the firestorm.  

Any black person talking openly about not voting is taken by some as a betrayer of 400 years of racial struggle. It’s as if slaves desired the ability to participate in the political system that enslaved them above all other options. We know that’s not historically accurate as black people went to great lengths, including supporting foreign invaders, for freedom from the white people who controlled every aspect of their lives before the legal end of slavery.  

The notion of voting as a responsibility in the black community is in direct response to the efforts taken to keep black people from voting after the 15th Amendment. Taxation without representation is very profitable and second-class citizens have little protection against the whims of those in the first-class anywhere in the world. In the US, acts of terror were acceptable for those seeking to maintain the centuries-old status quo of one white man, one vote.  

According to Pew Research projections, black people make up 12.5 percent of the US electorate in 2020. In a winner-take-all election system, minority status creates another form of powerlessness in the electoral process. Outside of a few communities, blacks were and are voting minorities whose power is in inverse relation to the unity of the voting majority. This reality is the basis of modern gerrymandering as stacking blacks in one majority-black district to make their political participation insignificant in 3 others, helps to ensure hegemony and a general lack of interest in issues more specific to the black community.  

Why should black people vote to legitimize a system that routinely ignores or minimizes their interests? What are the alternatives?  

Non-violent, direct action seems to bring a higher level of attention to interests outside of the mainstream as long as it in some way disrupts the routine of life of the target audience. The more disruption, the less it is like a polite request, and the more it becomes a demand. Forcing the larger community to devote stretched civic resources to manage direct action costs money. Boycotting endangers businesses directly as a slight dip in business can lead to being unprofitable in low margin companies. 

What about rioting and looting? Something about wide-scale destruction and theft of property by black people touches something deep in the American cultural DNA. Maybe it harkens back to the threat and reality of slave rebellion, a constant challenge to the white power structure prior to the end of slavery. CNN conservative pundit Amanda Carpenter posits that in her circle, the current presidential election comes down to the pandemic vs. protests. She explained that the people she talks to in Michigan see events in Portland and Chicago and wonder if they are next. Talk about massive false equivalency! I’ve had Facebook commentators openly defend killing rioters and looters who threaten property alone. It’s rare to hear that “kill them all” rhetoric after sports teams win or lose and mostly white people destroy property for fun. No threat to the social order is perceived.  

What is it that makes property that can be replaced more valuable than a life that can’t? In America, property equals a certain way of life so completely that it can be confused with life itself. Property originally determined which white man could vote and which white man couldn’t. Property today determines who has access to power beyond the vote and who doesn’t since the US seems generally disinterested in curbing backdoor corruption in the form of campaign contributions and in-kind support through political advertising. Property equals free speech. Property equals influence and influence equals agency in a capitalist society. The value of ideas for capitalists is in direct relation to their ability to generate more property. As Gil Scott Heron said in “Work for Peace”, “The only thing wrong with Peace, is that you can’t make no money from it.” Maybe that is why the US has been at war 93% of the time since 1776.  

So, when it comes to gaining influence in minority communities, the brick may have more social impact than the ballot.  

There are risks in damaging property, not only to life and limb when facing off with police and vigilantes but to offer justification for the callousness of the write-off mentality. Capitalists make mistakes all the time. Businesses large and small make big mistakes and walk away from them when they can. Segway anyone? As the President floats the idea of walking away from centers of black population by abandoning Democrat-controlled cities (a dog whistle if there ever was one) he is tapping into an accepted belief system. If something costs you more than it is worth, stop investing in it. When he’s speaking to communities that don’t value black citizens in general, it doesn’t take much to secure their agreement.  

One disappointed young progressive told me he wasn’t going to vote. He explained it can’t get any worse with a second Trump administration versus a Biden administration. I don’t have a crystal ball, but Trump’s track record and history say otherwise. My progressive acquaintance is on to something though. Maybe the answer to the question of voting or not is to be found in answering the question “What best supports the revolution?” That’s a much more powerful analysis than which is the best among bad choices. 

A more revolutionary option can be found in the Fred Hampton approach. Before he’s was murdered by Chicago police in 1969, Hampton was working to build a coalition beyond race with people who had the same interests as the black community he served. Hampton connected with people others had written off. His coalition of Latinx and white organizations to improve the lives of poor people confirmed it was possible. Actions, including putting their lives on the line, prove that people outside of the black community have interests in common with black people today. Connecting people with common economic and social interests offers the most direct threat to a system designed to control the majority of people in service to the property and power of a clear minority. Maybe to vote or not to vote is simply the wrong question? 

Pew research American electorate 

Amanda Carpenter 

https://edition.cnn.com/videos/politics/2020/08/28/trump-rnc-se-cupp-amanda-carpenter-unfiltered-from-home-intvu-vpx.cnn

USA at war : https://freakonometrics.hypotheses.org/50473

Trump retweet’s “let them rot”: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/trump-twitter-democrat-cities-rot-retweet-a9674106.html

Fred Hampton: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/fred-hampton-black-panthers-rainbow-coalition-poor-americans

https://assets.teenvogue.com/photos/5d371a1e283d550009da960f/16:9/w_1280,c_limit/00-social-fred-hampton.jpgBlack Panther Fred Hampton Created a “Rainbow Coalition” to Support Poor Americans | Teen Vogue On December 3, 1969, 21-year-old Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers, led a political education class, had some dinner, and talked to his mom on the phone. http://www.teenvogue.com