Tuesday Quick Hits: Biker Gangs, Uber Labor and the Cult of Duggar
by William Skink
Quick hits for a short week. Here are some articles I’ve been meaning to write posts about, but haven’t had the time.
First, when that daylight gunfight erupted in Waco, Texas, plenty of astute observers looked at the pictures of bikers mulling around amidst law enforcement and wondered if the scene would look different if the gun-toting gang members were black. Well, a leaked report examined by The Intercept sheds a little more light on the demographics of these bike gangs, and some of its membership may surprise:
A year before the deadly Texas shootout that killed nine people on May 17, a lengthy report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives detailed the involvement of U.S. military personnel and government employees in outlaw motorcycle gangs, or OMGs. A copy of the report was obtained by The Intercept.
The report lays out, in almost obsessive detail, the extent to which OMG members are represented in nearly every part of the military, and in federal and local government, from police and fire departments to state utility agencies. Specific examples from the report include dozens of Defense Department contractors with Secret or Top Secret clearances; multiple FBI contractors; radiological technicians with security clearances; U.S. Department of Homeland Security employees; Army, Navy and Air Force active-duty personnel, including from the special operations force community; and police officers.
It’s unclear what incentive drives these people to join outlaw biker gangs. Maybe they pay better than Uber? On that topic, Naked Capitalism has a piece on a surprising Wall Street Journal article about the “sharing” economy. One would assume the WSJ would be an ally of Uber, but the report doesn’t seem to pull any punches as it unpacks the myth of the sharing economy, calling out Uber specifically. From the WSJ article:
In the minds of critics, perhaps the worst offender in how it controls its labor force is Uber. Uber sets the prices that its drivers must accept, and has lately been in the habit of unilaterally squeezing drivers in two ways, both by lowering the rates drivers are paid per trip and increasing Uber’s cut of those wages….
Boosters of companies like Uber counter that they allow for relatively well-compensated work, on demand. When I asked them for comment, Uber officials pointed to previously released data suggesting just that. The most recent report, a collaboration between Uber and economist Alan Krueger, paints a fairly rosy picture of Uber’s job-creation abilities. Uber has said in the past that world-wide it is hiring 20,000 new drivers a month, and in this report it claims that in major American cities like Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., drivers are averaging more than $17 an hour.
But this data doesn’t reflect what Uber drivers actually make, for the simple reason that it doesn’t include drivers’ expenses. Work by investigative journalist Emily Guendelsberger, for example, shows that Uber drivers in Philadelphia, a fairly typical city for the service, are probably earning only a fraction of that. According to Ms. Guendelsberger’s admittedly limited sample of 20 drivers, including herself, it was around $10 an hour after expenses.
Exploiting labor is as American as apple pie. And it’s even easier to exploit if you own the labor directly. I’m not talking about slaves, I’m talking about the products of procreation, exemplified by the cult of Duggar. This extended work camp referred to as a “family” recently came under fire after revelations that one of its cult members enjoys molesting girls, presumably including his sisters. Luckily this family has a presidential contender willing to go to bat for them:
Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee made a statement on Facebook Friday addressing the revelations that eldest son Josh Duggar admitted to sexually molesting “girls,” presumably his own sisters, as a teenager.
The former Arkansas governor largely defended the actions of the family since the abuse and said he wanted to “affirm” support for the family. “Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable,’” Huckabee’s statement said. The Duggar family endorsed former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in the 2012 election, but have backed Huckabee for the Republican presidential nomination this time around.
Huckabee continued, “No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story. Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgusting things. The reason that the law protects disclosure of many actions on the part of a minor is that the society has traditionally understood something that today’s blood-thirsty media does not understand—that being a minor means that one’s judgement is not mature.”
I’m sure Huckabee would say the same thing if this family was black, right? And I’m sure Huckabee will make reforming laws that charge minors with adult crimes a major plank in his bid for the presidency, right? Here is an article from last year about minors in New York:
Every year, almost 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults in New York State, and more than three-quarters of these charges are for misdemeanors like shoplifting and marijuana possession. Some 70% of the children arrested are black or Latino, as well as 80% of those incarcerated.
As Cuomo reminded us, now is the time for a change. The New York State Legislature needs to Raise the Age of criminal responsibility, and they need to do it this year.
Teens are far from perfect, and they certainly are not always innocent. That’s part of growing up. A teen’s brain develops well into his or her 20s, and as cognitive skills improve, so does impulse control. As a result, teens are often unable to focus on the consequences of their behavior.
Yeah, I won’t hold my breath in hopes that Huckabee sees minority teens in the same glowing light as the cult of Duggar.
Have a good week!