The End of How-You-Gonna-Pay-For-It-ism

A strange sense of normalcy sets in, at least for those of us privileged enough not to be panicked about money and remote from the ICUs. Today is the first (sunny) day where – at least in the five square blocks of New York City about which I currently have any sense – it feels like the vast majority of the population is finally in compliance with the still-preposterously-named Stay-at-Home Order. I haven’t crossed east of 7th Avenue in weeks. The Dow Jones shoots up nearly 10% on news from DC. Maybe everything is going to be alright, after all?

Yesterday’s post was very newsy, as Mondays tend to be, but for today, I’ll simply encourage readers to go watch or listen to Democracy Now! if they’re looking for an alternative to the corporate media and/or constant online scrolling.

For my part, from sounding the alarm and projecting the exponential growth of confirmed cases in NYC, I’ve shifted my focus to trying to make sense of what we – and most particularly, our healthcare workers and thousands of gravely ill people – will face next. Sadly, I fear that, by this weekend, we’ll have seen more than 1,000 deaths in the City alone, and by next week, if this brutal trajectory holds, we may very well see 10,000. It is with such numbers as these in mind that the Governor repeats, we’ll need 110,000 beds at the peak of the crisis.

What does it all mean, though, for those of us who’ve settled in at home and sit – in relatively good health and fortune – remote from where the most urgent suffering lives? A friend works for the Army Corps and I expect must be assisting in the Javits Center effort; my partner has started to throw some of her immense energy into the push to open alternative birthing sites around the City (and State) to provide alternatives to hospital birth for healthy, COVID-19-negative people (please reach out to me directly if this is of interest to you); my friend Josh and the team at Green Top Farms continue their great work feeding the people of New York City (our second #WFHPack just arrived, in fact!); and for my part, I’m still writing, so that’s something.

I suspect we’re all feeling a little useless at the moment – all of us who aren’t anyway. For inspiration about what a better world can look like – one that we can all play a part in shaping in the coming weeks, months, and years – I turn to the DSA, which has been putting out especially excellent COVID-19 newsletters; Vijay Prashad and the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, that never fails to make the big, structural connections about the shape of the world and who suffers most owing to its profound injustices; to Democracy Now!, of course, which has been a touchstone for me for 15 years now, and which I’ve been moved to see continue to air from New York City, even as we descend into these harrowing depths; by Cuba – which came in for so much vitriol from corporate Democrats only a few weeks ago – but which was the only nation in the Caribbean willing to receive a British cruise ship with COVID-19 patients onboard (and Cuban doctors, a number of whom have now flown to Italy to join the struggle against the disease in that country in a remarkable act of transnational solidarity); to the World Health Organization and its COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund to which, at the urging of Vijay Prashad in the above-linked newsletter, I donated; to efforts like this one, to scale up 3D-printing to support the medical response in the US (and even this one, through which major US corporations and the United Auto Workers are coming together to produce necessary medical equipment); by the calls of Rep. Ro Khanna and others to use the Defense Production Act already; and by the visionary leadership of Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib (whom I was delighted to see in Zoom conversation the other night, though I think they might need a Zoom consultant! Again, please reach out, as I know someone who’s mastered Zoom in the last three weeks…).

There is a path out of this crisis, and it need not be the worst path either, and there is likewise a way forward to a different and better world, although we will have to struggle, imagine, and persevere to get there.

There is also a worst-case scenario, and looking towards the President and his Administration, we get a sense of what that looks like – trying to “Fast-Track… a Controversial Rule That Would Restrict the Use of Health Science” when we are all distracted by pandemic; using the biggest bullhorn in the world to spread, daily, misinformation (misinformation which leads to headlines like this one: “After [President] Hyped Chloroquine as a Covid-19 Cure, a Man Died Trying to Self-Medicate With a Version of the Chemical Used to Clean Fish Tanks“); and making it harder for people to access potentially life-saving treatments currently undergoing clinical trials.

Looking further afield, we see the same disaster capitalist playbook in play manywheres, but for personal reasons, I often look to India, and there, like here, we see a kleptocratic would-be strongman badly bungling the pandemic response while he, and those around him, look to enrich themselves through sleight of hand or otherwise advance their own narrow interests. In fact, today, the news stories from one place read like an echo from the other (in fact, had people in the US realized how closely our own story was echoing that of India in the twenty-teens, perhaps we wouldn’t have made the disastrous mistake in 2016 for which we are now paying such a heavy, if unevenly distributed, price) – the Cellular Operators Association of India is trying to push through a rule change, using the pandemic as a justification, to weaken net neutrality rules in India; people are panic buying malaria medications after a misleading government announcement suggested these drugs could be used as COVID-19 prophylactics (in the US, lupus sufferers, like my first girlfriend, report shortages of hydroxychloroquine); and anti-pandemic measures (along with outright violence) have been mobilized against popular protest.

Meanwhile, poor and working people – in India, as in this country – suffer, and back in DC, the President careens ever more wildly, now seeming on the verge of dismissing the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci (even the wording of the linked-to New York Times piece is so fucking galling; as if “leeway” was the President’s to give, and we’re all supposed to be living within the fantasy of his lies, but such is the current state of our political culture) and announcing plans to potentially “eas[e] social-distancing guidelines as early as next week” (the title, too, of the linked-to Wall Street Journal piece is utterly facile, as if it was the “Nation” and not the President “Ponder[ing]” these idiocies, but of one thing, at least, I’m certain: Objective reality will be headed in a very different direction in the coming days).

Another world is possible. Doug Henwood provides some empirical economic evidence of how we got here. This Green Stimulus proposal charts a path for how we can start to get there. (I went ahead and signed on to the letter, institutional affiliation: N/A.) And in reading this primer by Aaron Gordon – formerly, and still occasionally of Signal Problems – on why the US struggles to build public transit, I was struck by a single passage, which he had, in turn quoted (in part) from Alon Levy’s Pedestrian Observations, and I quote here in full:

The United States can innovate in public transportation, but only if it imitates better countries first. It needs to learn what works in Japan, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, South Korea, Spain, Italy, Singapore, Belgium, Norway, Taiwan, Finland, Austria. It needs to learn how to plan around cooperation between different agencies and operators, how to integrate infrastructure and technology, how to use 21st-century engineering.

Or as Gordon’s abbreviated quotation began: “[The U.S.] needs to learn”. Indeed.

Already, here in New York City and State, I see clear signs that we all – and our elected representatives along with us – are learning extremely rapidly in the face of this crisis. That maybe there is an option between the disassociation of the outbreak voyeurism that had – through SARS, Ebola, and MERS – lulled us into a false sense of security that we, in the US, couldn’t be touched by such diseases, and the crushing reality which has now come over New York, Washington State, California, New Orleans, and will seize most of the rest of the country within a week or two. It will take effort, thought, contextual adjustment, investment, long-term commitment, and, perhaps most of all, “imitate[ing] better countries first.”

We have a lot of heartbreak left to suffer, and a lot of fear yet to endure, but I now see a way for New York to lead the way out of this, in the US, as we led the descent into it here, and if we’re lucky, smart, and hardworking, we can stand the City on solid footing of pandemic preparedness (or even better, anti-pandemic preparedness) for another century so we can get back to the urgent work – part of the struggle against the pandemic, too – of fighting for racial, social, environmental, and climate justice.


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