It is what it is

I’ve been thinking a lot about corruption lately.

I live in the Pittsburgh area, where the gap between what is and what should be is large. Innuendo, a malicious speculation not about what is known, but rather what is not known lives in that gap. “It is what it is,” I hear people say so often, really capitulating to all that is wrong rather than insisting it be made right.

Corruption is one possible, not necessarily exhaustive, explanation for that gap. I don’t know that it is there, but given the size of that gap, I suspect it. Strongly. Indeed, if I view my world not as a scholar insistent on evidence, but rather as the taxi driver I once was, I would say that Pittsburgh reeks of corruption.

I see it in the road projects, which many of my passengers believe contractors are milking for every last penny: “Jobs,” they say, with a trace of resentment that their own livelihoods seem nowhere near so secure. These projects proceed at a mysteriously uneven pace and often seem interminable. Nobody even knows what they’re doing. The easiest, albeit unproven and incomplete, explanation is that progress occurs as the right palms are greased.

I see it in the snow plowing operation. Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works protests that it has thousands of miles of roads to plow. But somehow some neighborhoods get their alleys plowed while other neighborhoods don’t see a snow plow even on their main streets for nearly two weeks.[1] And surrounding communities, even poor Wilkinsburg and Braddock, which collectively have even more thousands of miles of roads to attend to, do a better job.

I see it in the roads, which are often in deplorable condition. Again, some roads, often in wealthier places, are maintained in good condition. But some roads, often in poorer places, exact an additional toll on residents’ cars.

I see it in the neighborhoods that outgoing mayor Bill Peduto attended to and those he neglected. It was a curious thing that right before the election he lost, a bunch of those roads in in the poor neighborhoods, neighborhoods that could be counted on to vote for Ed Gainey, suddenly got fixed, as if Peduto was making a final plea for those votes. Of course, those neighborhoods have larger problems than the state of their roads: poverty, blight, lack of opportunity, none of which Peduto meaningfully attended to.[2]

The discrepancy occurs elsewhere as well:

But the Biden administration has also faced pressure from businesses to classify all work as essential—pressure that’s been ongoing since Hobby Lobby and wrestling federations were allowed to remain open during early lockdowns. Now it seems like Covid-19 guidelines are being reverse-engineered to conform to what the agency thinks businesses might accept.[3]

Hobby Lobby and wrestling federations, really? But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now advises against cruises even for fully vaccinated and boosted people.[4] How can I not suspect that the cruise industry has somehow failed to grease the right palms?

Certainly, it looks like Delta Airlines has figured out which palms to grease.[5] Indeed, it seems most capitalists have figured it out, as workers are generally now all considered “essential,” meaning, of course, that they are expendable[6] in service to the capitalist death cult.[7]

It’s all, of course, innuendo. I can’t prove corruption in any way explains any of these discrepancies. But I see a power elite whose manipulation of resources is more of a shell game—not taxing the rich, but cutting the social safety net, spending ever more extravagantly on the military, and shooting rich tourists into space—than an actual attempt to address the real problems that ordinary people face.[8] And in this sense it doesn’t even really matter whether we even label it ‘corruption.’ Because the result is the same. “It is what it is.”

  1. [1]KDKA Television, “Pittsburgh Councilman Publicly Criticizes ‘Unacceptable’ State Of Roads After Snowfall,” December 27, 2020, https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2020/12/27/pittsburgh-councilman-publicly-criticizes-unacceptable-state-of-roads-after-snowfall/
  2. [2]Charlie Wolfson, “After eight years, Peduto’s record is a mix of bold plans and frustrating endings,” Public Source, December 22, 2021, https://www.publicsource.org/peduto-pittsburgh-outgoing-mayor-equity-policing-gainey/
  3. [3]Molly Osberg, “The CDC Says We’re All Essential Workers Now,” New Republic, December 29, 2021, https://newrepublic.com/article/164898/cdc-ads-essential-workers-isolation
  4. [4]Hannah Sampson, “CDC warns against cruise travel after 5,000 new coronavirus cases in 2 weeks,” Washington Post, December 30, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2021/12/30/cdc-cruise-warning-avoid-omicron/
  5. [5]Yasmeen Abutaleb, “CDC cuts isolation time recommended for people with asymptomatic coronavirus infections,” Washington Post, December 27, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/12/27/cdc-cuts-isolation-time-asymptomic-covid-infections/
  6. [6]Molly Osberg, “The CDC Says We’re All Essential Workers Now,” New Republic, December 29, 2021, https://newrepublic.com/article/164898/cdc-ads-essential-workers-isolation
  7. [7]David Benfell, “The capitalist death cult,” Not Housebroken, December 29, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/03/27/the-capitalist-death-cult/
  8. [8]David Benfell, “No excuses: Power, responsibility, and accountability,” Not Housebroken, December 27, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/12/27/no-excuses-power-responsibility-and-accountability/