How Silicon Valley fuels an informal caste system

Antonio García Martínez writes:

California is the future of the United States, goes the oft-cited cliché. What the US is doing now, Europe will be doing in five years, goes another. Given those truthy maxims, let’s examine the socioeconomics of the “City by the Bay” as a harbinger of what’s to come.

Data shows that technology and services make up a large fraction of citywide employment. It also shows that unemployment and housing prices follow the tech industry’s boom-and-bust cycle. Amid the current boom, a family of four earning $117,400 now qualifies as low-income in San Francisco. Some readers laughed when I wrote in a memoir about working at Facebook that my six-figure compensation made me “barely middle class.” As it turns out, I wasn’t far off. With that credential, consider this rumination on bougie life inside the San Francisco bubble, which seems consistent with the data and the experience of other local techies.

San Francisco residents seem to be divided into four broad classes, or perhaps even castes:

The Inner Party of venture capitalists and successful entrepreneurs who run the tech machine that is the engine of the city’s economy.

The Outer Party of skilled technicians, operations people, and marketers that keep the trains belonging to the Inner Party running on time. They are paid well, but they’re still essentially living middle-class lives—or what lives the middle class used to have.

The Service Class in the “gig economy.” In the past, computers filled hard-for-humans gaps in a human value chain. Now humans fill hard-for-software gaps in a software value chain. These are the jobs that AI hasn’t managed to eliminate yet, where humans are expendable cogs in an automated machine: Uber drivers, Instacart shoppers, TaskRabbit manual labor, etc.

Lastly, there’s the Untouchable class of the homeless, drug addicted, and/or criminal. These people live at the ever-growing margins: the tent cities and areas of hopeless urban blight. The Inner Party doesn’t even see them, the Outer Party ignores them, and the Service Class eyes them warily; after all, they could end up there. [Continue reading…]

Americans broadly favor legal immigration as support for increasing levels rises

Pew Research Center:

While there has been considerable attention on illegal immigration into the U.S. recently, opinions about legal immigration have undergone a long-term change. Support for increasing the level of legal immigration has risen, while the share saying legal immigration should decrease has fallen.

The survey by Pew Research Center, conducted June 5-12 among 2,002 adults, finds that 38% say legal immigration into the United States should be kept at its present level, while 32% say it should be increased and 24% say it should be decreased.

Since 2001, the share of Americans who favor increased legal immigration into the U.S. has risen 22 percentage points (from 10% to 32%), while the share who support a decrease has declined 29 points (from 53% to 24%). [Continue reading…]

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the legacy of the Bernie Sanders movement

Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes:

Twenty-seven thousand people cast votes on Tuesday in the Democratic primary in New York’s Fourteenth Congressional District, and most of them voted for a twenty-eight-year-old left-wing political newcomer named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Just nine months ago, Ocasio-Cortez had been tending bar at a Mexican restaurant near Union Square. Her incumbent opponent, the longtime congressman Joseph Crowley, has represented the area since Ocasio-Cortez was in elementary school, and was, until now, widely seen as a future contender to become House Speaker.

Last month, Crowley’s victory looked so assured that he sent a surrogate to a debate with Ocasio-Cortez rather than attend himself. Crowley had been handpicked for his seat in Congress years ago by Thomas Manton, the last great boss of the Queens Democratic machine. But the Fourteenth District—a collection of mostly working-class neighborhoods straddling Queens and the Bronx—is now half Hispanic and just a fifth white. Crowley’s loss to the daughter of working-class Puerto Ricans confirmed a change in outer-borough political power that has both been inevitable and long delayed. But it was more than that, too. During her campaign, Ocasio-Cortez called for Congress to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, pledged her support for a federal jobs guarantee and Bernie Sanders’s Medicare-for-all program, called for aggressive antitrust regulation that would break up the tech giants, and ran with the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America. For a while this spring, the midterms looked increasingly predictable and contained: it would be a partisan fight between Donald Trump and his opponents, waged in a fixed number of swing districts. Ocasio-Cortez’s victory suggests that the map may be larger than that. [Continue reading…]

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez writes:

Discussions of reforming our criminal justice system demand us to ask philosophical and moral questions. What should be the ultimate goal of sentencing and incarceration? Is it punishment? Rehabilitation? Forgiveness? For Catholics, these questions tie directly to the heart of our faith.

Solutions are already beginning to take shape, which include unraveling the War on Drugs, reconsidering mandatory minimum sentencing and embracing a growing private prison abolition movement that urges us to reconsider the levels at which the United States pursues mass incarceration. No matter where these proposals take us, we should pursue such conversations with an openness to change and an aim to rehabilitate our brothers and sisters wherever possible and wherever necessary. By nature, a society that forgives and rehabilitates its people is a society that forgives and transforms itself. That takes a radical kind of love, a secret of which is given in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And let us not forget the guiding principle of “the least among us” found in Matthew: that we are compelled to care for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and, yes—the imprisoned.

Americans are losing confidence in democracy

James Hohmann reports:

Half of Americans think the United States is in “real danger of becoming a nondemocratic, authoritarian country.” A majority, 55 percent, see democracy as “weak” — and 68 percent believe it is “getting weaker.” Eight in 10 Americans say they are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the condition of democracy here.

These are among the sobering results of a major bipartisan poll published Tuesday that was commissioned by the George W. Bush Institute, the University of Pennsylvania’s Biden Center and Freedom House, which tracks the vitality of democracies around the world. The three groups have partnered to create the Democracy Project, with the goal of monitoring the health of the American system.

“We hope this work can be a step toward restoring faith in democracy and democratic institutions,” Bush said in a statement.

The concern about the condition of democracy inside the United States transcends the tribal divide between Republicans and Democrats, with majorities across races, genders, age groups, levels of education and income brackets expressing fear.

“Americans are deeply worried about the health of their democracy and want to make it stronger,” said Michael Abramowitz, the president of Freedom House. “There appears to be a crisis in confidence in the functioning of our democracy, and it is not a party-line issue.”

The report comes against the backdrop of a raging debate over civility and Donald Trump’s polarizing approach to the presidency. [Continue reading…]

How robots helped Trump win

Brian Alexander writes:

“We used to laugh at the robots,” Rickey’s buddy said. “When they first came in, they were so slow. We would sorta hurry and outproduce them. But one of the lines was about 18 people, and now they can run it with, like, five.”

Rickey and his friend were echoing, almost word for word, two other men with whom I’d shared one-dollar beers in the Agenda Sports Bar, not far from the Toledo Assembly Complex. Both 30-year men who’d started at the Cove, they now worked at the complex. Both referred to management and agreed that “they want us out of there.” One said, “If they could replace us with robots, they would. They doin’ it faster and faster. You ain’t gonna fool me! … They gonna replace us as fast as they can.” Both also agreed that, despite the recommendation of UAW Local 12, “lots of people in our plant voted for Trump.”

“Look, man,” Rickey’s friend said. “I’m a dumb guy. I am! I had a learning disability when I was in school. But I could do factory work. Factory work is what we did. Now robots do that job. What happens to people like me? People in the plant thinkin’ somebody’s gonna save ’em, like Trump. There ain’t nobody gonna save ’em.”

Rickey looked at me and said he tells his own children that if they wind up working in the plant, “then I failed as a father.”

Every person I talked to in the Toledo region said technology was as unstoppable as the sunrise. The inevitability of it, and the uncertainty about what it would mean, weighed on them like lead blankets. Of the two men in the Agenda, one’s grandfather and father had worked for Jeep. The other’s father did. But legacy didn’t mean anything anymore. You couldn’t count on much for very long.

Kaptur listens to the people in her district and hears the same thing between the lines. “People feel very much alone,” she says. “Vulnerable.” Her voters have lived through globalized trade, outsourcing, recession, and the coming of robots. Soon it’ll be AI. Meanwhile, defined pension plans are gone in favor of 401(k)s. More companies, like Fiat Chrysler, use more temp workers. New workers sign on to lower wage tiers. A working draft of the World Bank’s World Development Report advised governments that “rapid changes to the nature of work put a premium on flexibility for firms to adjust their workforce, but also for those workers who benefit from more dynamic labor markets”—a fancy way of saying labor is disposable.

The effects are felt far beyond the jobs themselves. “Tribes of affection matter,” Kaptur says. “Whether it’s work-related, or a vets’ organization, or church, neighborhood, neighborhood businesses—they’re all evaporating. It’s the disappearance of everything they’ve worked for. Their identity, really.”

This is what Silicon Valley promoters of salves like universal basic income fail to understand. The engineers and programmers of the new machines seem to think they can buy off the displaced with a promise of cash. But many people don’t work for money, not really. They need the money, and they want the money, but money alone isn’t why anybody worked 40 years in the Cove. They stood on the line and welded or painted or bolted because they were auto workers in a country in which what you do is who you are, just as Shrewsbery is the Robot Doctor. They could look at a Wrangler, or a glass windshield, or a Whirlpool washer, and say “I made that.”

Probably nobody voted for Trump just because of technology. But when people feel powerless, they’ll gravitate toward any object, person, or belief they think might return some autonomy to them, or help them preserve what they fear they’re losing. [Continue reading…]

Breaking up families? America looks like a Dickens novel

File 20180620 137714 1vt2rup.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Almost 1,500 immigrant boys, aged 10 to 17, were separated from their parents and brought to stay at Casa Padre in Brownsville, Texas.
Department of Health and Human Services

By Sarah Bilston, Trinity College

The news has been full these past few weeks of disturbing stories from the nation’s borders. The Trump administration has separated immigrant children from their parents precisely to discourage others from trying to enter the country.

Trump has signed an order to end the practice. But thousands of children have been traumatized as part of an explicit effort to, in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s words, send a powerful “message” to other potential immigrants. Sessions used the Bible to defend the practice: “I would cite to you the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”

‘Please sir, may I have some more?’ James Mahoney’s illustration for chapter one of Dickens’s ‘Adventures of Oliver Twist.’
Public domain

What has struck me, as a professor of English literature, are the startling parallels between the Trump administration’s policy on immigrant families and the “New” Poor Laws of England in the 1830s, whose cruelty was illuminated by Charles Dickens in novels and other writings.

England tried much the same kind of tactics that Trump’s administration has used. Americans may remember the suffering face of Oliver Twist, begging for just a little more food. It may surprise some to realize that Dickens wrote the novel specifically to shine a light on new and brutal laws. Dickens was particularly concerned by the state’s assault on the integrity of the family.

[Read more…]

In America, naturalized citizens no longer have an assumption of permanence

Masha Gessen writes:

Last week, it emerged that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (U.S.C.I.S.) had formed a task force in order to identify people who lied on their citizenship applications and to denaturalize them. Amid the overwhelming flow of reports of families being separated at the border and children being warehoused, this bit of bureaucratic news went largely unnoticed. But it adds an important piece to our understanding of how American politics and culture are changing.

Like many of the Trump Administration’s sadistic immigration innovations, the new task force doesn’t reflect a change in the law. In fact, like a number of practices, including mass deportations, it builds on the legacy of the Obama Administration, which set in motion the process of reëxamining old naturalization files. L. Francis Cissna, the director of U.S.C.I.S., told the Associated Press that his agency is looking for people who “should not have been naturalized in the first place”—for example, those who had been ordered to be deported earlier and obtained citizenship under a different name—and this sounds reasonable enough. It’s the apparent underlying premise that makes this new effort so troublesome: the idea that America is under attack by malevolent immigrants who cause dangerous harm by finding ways to live here. [Continue reading…]

Record-high 75% of Americans say immigration is good thing


A record-high 75% of Americans, including majorities of all party groups, think immigration is a good thing for the U.S. — up slightly from 71% last year. Just 19% of the public considers immigration a bad thing.

The latest findings are based on a Gallup poll conducted June 1-13, a key time for immigration reform in the U.S. as the House of Representatives debates the issue. The House will vote this week on two pieces of legislation that address several key immigration policy reforms. Among them are the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally at a young age with their parents and the border wall that has been the cornerstone of President Donald Trump’s immigration policy. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s racism is impossible to hide

David A Graham writes:

One of the paradoxes of modern-day American politics is that white identity politics can be a potent political platform, as long as you don’t call it that. Policies with racist effects are often popular; explicit racism is verboten.

Thus Donald Trump can win the presidency while running, as my colleague Adam Serwer documented, on a program of discrimination, but when Corey Stewart, a Republican politician in Virginia, makes his white-identity politics too explicit he gets shunned by the GOP.

Sometimes, however, the president’s mask slips, usually at moments of national crisis, and he says the quiet part loud, as The Simpsons memorably put it. This happened after race riots in Charlottesville, when Trump insisted there were good people among the white-supremacist marchers. And it’s happening again now in the context of separating families at the borders.

After days of insisting, falsely, that the separations were the result of some Democratic-passed law, the president has partially shifted gears, defending the policy in a series of tweets. The most shocking is this one, with its description of unauthorized immigrants as an “infestation”:

Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2018

In late May, a debate erupted after Trump said, during a roundtable in California, “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in—and we’re stopping a lot of them—but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.” The White House said that in context, it was clear that Trump had been referring to members of the gang MS-13. Others argued that given Trump’s previous language about immigrants, he didn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt, or that even if he did, the result of the comments was to dehumanize immigrants.

Trump left himself no such plausible deniability in Tuesday’s tweet. [Continue reading…]

Last month, Katy Steinmetz wrote:

When President Donald Trump sat at a roundtable on Wednesday and referred to certain immigrants as “animals,” he was engaging in a practice that has been around for millennia. Go back to ancient Mesopotamia and there are examples of people using language to describe other humans as something less than human, whether insects or parasites or donkeys. “It really goes back to the beginning of history,” says David Livingstone Smith, a professor of philosophy at the University of New England. And, he says, it’s always been a dangerous way of thinking.

Trump has since insisted on a distinction, even as Mexico has protested: He wasn’t talking about all undocumented immigrants but only those who are members of the gang MS-13. Smith, who wrote a book called Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others, says that doesn’t justify the language Trump used (which he has deployed many times before). “Part of the psychology of this sort of thing is that people generalize,” he says. What happens when a powerful figure like the President makes that comparison, Smith explains, is essentially people think, immigrants = evil = monsters.

Many people who were offended by Trump’s language in turn made dehumanizing comments of their own on Twitter, saying that Trump — or anyone who continues to support him — are the real animals. But that is falling prey to the same bad instinct. “We often dehumanize the dehumanizers, as if to say, ‘This has nothing to do with us,’” Smith says, “and that really prevents us from understanding that we’re all vulnerable to forming these kinds of derogatory attitudes towards others.” Smith suggests that sets us back in eradicating this kind of behavior altogether.

One reason that experts raise flags about such language is that dehumanizing words are often precursors to sticks and stones, because they “disable inhibitions against acts of harm,” as Smith puts it. [Continue reading…]

The easiest way of reducing crime in America is to welcome more immigrants, both legal and undocumented

Christopher Ingraham writes:

The Trump administration’s hard-line immigration policies are predicated, in part, upon the notion that immigrants who are in the country illegally represent a threat to public safety.

The White House, for instance, has sent out regular email blasts to reporters with alarmist accounts of crime committed by undocumented immigrants. President Trump has frequently exaggerated the threat posed by MS-13, a criminal gang originating in Los Angeles whose members tend to be from Central American countries. On Tuesday he wrote on Twitter, without evidence, that Democrats “don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13.”

But the social-science research on immigration and crime is clear: Undocumented immigrants are considerably less likely to commit crime than native-born citizens, with immigrants legally in the United States even less likely to do so. A number of studies published in the past several months clearly illustrate the consensus.

The first study, published by the libertarian Cato Institute in February, examines criminal conviction data for 2015 provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety. It found that native-born residents were much more likely to be convicted of a crime than immigrants in the country legally or illegally.

“As a percentage of their respective populations, there were 56 percent fewer criminal convictions of illegal immigrants than of native-born Americans in Texas in 2015,” author Alex Nowrasteh writes. “The criminal conviction rate for legal immigrants was about 85 percent below the native-born rate.” [Continue reading…]

The CATO study states:

Natives were convicted of 409,063 crimes, illegal immigrants were convicted of 13,753 crimes, and legal immigrants were convicted of 7,643 crimes in Texas in 2015. Thus, there were 1,749 criminal convictions of natives for every 100,000 natives, 782 criminal convictions of illegal immigrants for every 100,000 illegal immigrants, and 262 criminal convictions of legal immigrants for every 100,000 legal immigrants.