A Vein of Toxicity

Don’t look for me to mouth Xi Jinping Thought soon (or ever), but President Xi – as quoted in translation by Sinocism shared sensible words recently on the struggle to contain COVID-19 in China. As he put it, “(We) must not let all our previous work be wasted.” Great point.

Meanwhile, in the US, Democracy Now! reports that, “A draft Federal Emergency Management Agency report forecasts that daily coronavirus deaths in the United States would rise to 3,000 people a day by June 1 […] a 70% increase over the current figure” in view of the ongoing, premature reopenings currently being carried out at the state-level across the country. The Administration in DC has been flying fighter jets over major US cities to “honor” healthcare workers though!

The US President has fired another key oversight person (this time the HHS Inspector General) as part of his ongoing efforts to shield himself from any scrutiny. The firing came just as a whistleblower was “in the process of filing what promises to be a damning […] complaint” after being “forced out of his job because he refused to cave to [Presidential] pressure to adopt scientifically unproven treatments for Covid-19.”

So much for my dream of a resurgent progressive ticket for the US 2020 presidential election: Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren co-wrote an op-ed “about oversight of the coronavirus relief programs.” I’ll be happy if she turns out to be his VP choice, although I have doubts about the wisdom (let alone, the fitness or competitiveness) of an all-old, all-white ticket.

Still, there are bright spots. I don’t know anything about Tim Bray, and had never heard of him until his recent resignation as a VP at Amazon-the-Company (which I plan to designate thusly in the future, because the rainforest is the Amazon, and it matters far more than a monopolistic e-commerce platform), but his resignation post makes good reading, and I encourage you to peruse it in full (it’s relatively short) beyond the following excerpts – on toxic culture:

Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.

And worker power:

At the end of the day, it’s all about power balances. The warehouse workers are weak and getting weaker, what with mass unemployment and (in the US) job-linked health insurance. So they’re gonna get treated like crap, because capitalism. Any plausible solution has to start with increasing their collective strength.

On the other side of the inspiring-despicable spectrum, Axios warns the obvious: “[Y]ou shouldn’t hold your breath for the next coronavirus stimulus bill” because Republicans got almost everything they wanted already in the first three and a half rounds of “relief”, and now are primarily concerned with indemnifying corporations against COVID-19-related liability (say for the deaths of all the workers who have already died and of all those who will die in the coming months), while Democrats – having so far got very little of what the people they (and the Republicans) are supposed to represent might have wanted – are now calling, with very little leverage, for aid to state and local governments and a whole slate of other important progressive budget priorities for which they failed to adequately fight in March and April when it mattered most.

And yet, in spite of our current low political ebb, objective reality may be gravitating towards sanity and justice. (I say may, because much of the world could also just as easily tip (further) into fascism.) A few items for your consideration follow, starting with the words of J.D. Scholten:

Decades of prioritizing outsourcing and enabling market dominance has destroyed the local and regional culture of our food system, and ruined self-sufficiency, just like supply chains for medical equipment or defense products or almost everything else.

Obviously, the pandemic has laid bare just the deep structural problems to which Scholten points. Meanwhile, Axios (in its Generate newsletter in particular) asks: “Is it possible that global oil demand will never exceed pre-pandemic levels again?” We should certainly work to make that the case.

The pandemic has thrown not only agribusiness and fossil fuel industries into turmoil, but also the airlines, the cruise ship industry, and a number of other climate-crisis main offenders. In this fact, there is opportunity, and progress made should be progress kept.

Looking deeper, at both the individual level – at which a growing body of research suggests that gas-powered home appliances (like our gas stove) may actually be quite harmful to human health – and the global level – at which this new research article suggests that “Absent climate mitigation or migration, a substantial part of humanity will be exposed to mean annual temperatures warmer than nearly anywhere today” (with the implication that many of the currently-most-densely-populated places on Earth may be largely uninhabitable by humans 50 years hence) – the case grows stronger by the day for urgent, drastic, global climate action.

At the same time, the crisis of the moment (the pandemic) and of the millennium (global climate disruption) intersect many which-ways, but most immediately, in whom they most direly impact and in the types of global coordination that are required to meaningfully address them. The approach of fire and hurricane seasons in the Northern Hemisphere only further illuminates the type of catastrophic convergence that exists between these two very differently paced crises.

The Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung has a good webinar up entitled “Seeing Red: Internationalist Visions Toward a Green New Deal“; not to knock Thea Riofrancos – who is a coauthor of this clarion call for “A Green Stimulus to Rebuild Our Economy“– but I was most moved by the contributions of Walden Bello and, most especially, Grace Blakeley, the latter of whom declared:

[T]he question we have is not simply arguing for a greater deployment of resources in order to [help] our economy. The argument that we really have to be making is that – this is already happening. States and monopolies are already controlling what goes on in the economy, what goes on in most of our lives, but they’re doing so in a way that benefits them. They’re not doing so in a way that’s democratic, and they’re certainly not doing so in the interest of working-class people. They’re doing so in the interest of the ruling classes.

To complement Blakeley’s keen insights, I close with words from the problematic, but – at least, regarding monopoly – helpful Matt Stoller:

It’ll take a few more months to realize where we are as a society. Right now our political leaders still assume that we should try and preserve the status quo as best we can, without realizing that protecting that status quo means arguing about who gets to own or profit from a corporation when there is no underlying economic activity.

And that means we have to come to a new political arrangement of what kind of society we want to live in.

As I asked a month ago – and have been asking for a long time, and will continue to ask, as I’m sure many of you have been and will continue to as well: “In what type of society do we want to live?”

My thoughts in response haven’t changed much: “The work before us is to come up with a life-affirming answer to that question – what type of world? – and to build diligently, for years and decades, towards what that new and better world will be.”

I’ll only add, quoting Blakeley again:

What this demands is democratization of the economy. […] [T]hat power, which does exist, can be used to plan things in a way that’s democratic, that’s sustainable, and in a way that benefits the interests of working people. [But t]hat requires organizing […] actually shifting the balance of power in society.

Here’s to that.

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