With Handmaid’s Tale-style scenes playing out at state capitols across the US, and authoritarians around the world rushing headlong to capitalize on the pandemic to cement their power, we must be asking ourselves where we stand. And how firmly. And what levers exist to wrench the world – away from this madness – in the direction of sanity and justice.
Last night, I listened to two moving DiEM 25 TV episodes on the plight of Julian Assange (interviews with Assange’s father, John Shipton, and his colleague, Stefania Maurizi). Through a steady stream of anti-WikiLeaks propaganda, I think many people in the US, even on the left, came to feel that Assange was a nasty fellow more or less getting what he deserved, and only belatedly, if at all, realized 1) that those of us who have never met Assange really have no idea what sort of person he is, and 2) that the attack on him is an attack on the freedom of the press writ large. The conditions under which he’s being held in Belmarsh Prison by the UK Government are a scandal, and in the words of Anand Teltumbde that concluded my post yesterday: “I earnestly hope that you will speak out before your turn comes.”
On Democracy Now! this morning, through some technical difficulties, Bill McKibben spoke plainly about the connections between the crises of the pandemic and of climate disruption. In both instances, science denial, gutting of state capacity, and corporate greed have left us vulnerable to catastrophic harm, and as our current predicament makes frighteningly clear, timely action means the world. Relative to the global climate crisis, the hour is already very late.
The P2P Foundation has a nice primer up entitled, self-explanatorily, “Coronavirus Spells the End of the Neoliberal Era. What’s Next?” while, on his blog, Heiner Flassbeck points to the urgent need for action (in particular, a shift away from Northern European wage dumping and predatory abuse of the European Monetary Union) to prevent the collapse of the EU. As he writes: “Anyone who does not start now to critically reflect on their own position in and on Europe can probably save themselves the trouble altogether, because the European idea and a European future are disappearing faster than the coronavirus.”
In the US, looking back rather than forwards, the President “Weighs Aid for Oil Companies” as prices for US oil dipped well into the negative (!!) range on Monday. No word from the President on the results of a large study in VA hospitals on the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 (with the AP headlining: “More deaths, no benefit from malaria drug”) even as the New York Times reports that the “federal agency led by Dr. Anthony Fauci issued guidelines on Tuesday that stated there is no proven drug for treating coronavirus patients,” further undercutting the President’s frequent unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment or prophylaxis.
Meanwhile, between the US and China, the information war only escalates, with the Times dutifully reporting this morning – relying on accounts from “American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity” – that “Chinese Agents Helped Spread Messages That Sowed Virus Panic in U.S.” On Sinocism, with a greater degree of nuance, Bill Bishop examines claims and counterclaims regarding flights from Wuhan to the rest of the world following the suspension of travel within China from that City, concluding:
There are many legitimate reasons to be very angry with the PRC/CCP and the handling of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, and to apportion a significant amount of the pandemic blame to them, but it seems to me that parts of the US government and media establishment are getting way over their skis with claims that may not be based in fact, which ultimately will only hurt the efforts to hold Xi and the CCP accountable. Do people really need to embellish their bad behavior? I think a much more effective approach is to sit back and let the CCP and its wolf warrior diplomats torch their reputation in many countries around the world. But that does not help domestic political considerations.
And, writing of the work of Canadian academic Daniel Bell – currently of China’s elite Tsinghua University – in rebuking the claims, regarding flight logs – claims now circulating on Fox News, etc. – of noted windbag and current senior fellow at Stanford’s right-wing Hoover Institute, Niall Ferguson:
Bell’s post of course has propaganda value for the CCP. The top item at time of editing on the Eric X. Li-funded Guancha site is Bell’s rebuke of Ferguson over the flight claims.
Dizzying world we live in. Vijay Prashad, whose work I generally love, continues his attempts to totally vindicate the COVID-19 response of the Chinese government, attempts of which I remain profoundly skeptical.
Finally, as we look ahead to the path out of this mess, the news is mostly ambivalent at best if not downright bad. The pandemic is disrupting vaccine delivery for non-COVID-19-related “immunisation campaigns in low- and middle-income countries” and, of course, threatening to throw hundreds of millions of additional people into poverty and hunger. This editorial in The Lancet opines that an “urgent measure is widespread testing in all affected countries,” emphasizing that serological/antibody testing will provide “knowledge [that] will be crucial to inform a more accurate global infection-fatality rate that will then guide governmental decisions on the features, scale, and duration of lockdowns,” but this as-yet-unpublished study (of an admittedly small number of cases in China) suggests that many/most asymptomatic individuals will not develop antibodies sufficient to be detected. One imagines they may also not develop antibodies sufficient to provide any immunity in that case.
Summarizing much of the above, this account from a J.P. Morgan analyst is similarly pessimistic about US pandemic response strategies and the current state of treatment options globally, but is sunny about the state of the US public markets, which, to a narrow class of individuals, seems to be all that really matters.
In New York, Riker’s is in crisis, with nearly 1 out of 10 incarcerated people there already having tested positive, but, in the City at large, people are doing all sorts of good work (including on sidewalk width, to give a sense of the gulf between the circumstances of those hardest hit – in places like Riker’s – and the rest of us), and I recommend everyone take four minutes to watch this powerful video from The Intercept featuring healthcare workers at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx.
What do we do? Thinking never hurts. Here’s Jeremy Scahill on “The Moral and Strategic Calculus of Voting for Joe Biden to Defeat Trump — or Not”:
Donald Trump’s presidency is not an aberration of U.S. history in substance. His rise to power and the policies he has implemented are, in many ways, the logical product of the U.S. as a failed state, politically and functionally. Trump says the quiet parts about the system out loud, but his agenda is firmly rooted in the bloody history of this republic. And his rise was made possible by the failed two-party system and the corporate dominance of electoral politics in the U.S. Also, let’s not pretend that congressional Democrats have not enabled Trump by regularly voting for his obscene military budgets and sweeping surveillance powers while simultaneously calling him the most dangerous president in history.
Assuming Biden is the Democratic candidate in November, I will, of course, vote for him, although given his age and the current state of the world, I won’t yet be surprised if Sanders, Warren, or even our own late-blooming Governor Cuomo turns out to be the actual nominee. As I’ve written elsewhere, I believe what’s currently at stake – in the 2020 US presidential election and the choices and actions we all make in the next few years – is the possibility of a future. We shouldn’t kid ourselves about Biden, but our current President and the openly fascist cabal around him most be stopped, just as the Right-wing International which he now anchors cannot be allowed to secure its grip on the planet.
Freeing Assange is part of this. Winning in 2020 is part of this. And preventing the wholesale dismantling of what remains of US democracy while we sit at home is a part of this, too.
Death to fascism. Here’s to a better future.