Antibillionaireocracism

There are, of course, different types of billionaires. Guatam Mukunda offers a helpful look at the “predatory” billionaires – Charles Koch chief among them – who are behind the sociopathic push to prematurely reopen the US economy; however, Mukunda also points out that “not all billionaires are minimizing the danger of the virus” and points to Bill Gates, in particular, as “a prophetic voice warning against the danger of a pandemic.”

Building on my anti-billionaire and Gates-negative piece yesterday, I’ll point to this excellent investigative article by Tim Schwab for The Nation that examines “the moral hazards surrounding the Gates Foundation’s $50 billion charitable enterprise.” Long-short, while Gates, as Mukunda argues, has indeed been outspoken and prescient (if not quite prophetic, given that many prominent public health professionals, historians, intellectuals, and journalists have been warning for decades about the threat of pandemic; Gates gets a lot of credit for his 2015 TED Talk, as well he should, but prophecy it was not) on the pandemic, as a private individual, businessperson/tycoon, and philanthropist, Gates has a spotty record, to say the least, of hypocrisy, conflict of interest, and alignment with regressive, corporatist agendas around the world and across almost every industry/area of activity of the Foundation (with, in many respects, the grants given by the the Foundation and the investments made by its endowment working in direct opposition to the realization of the stated mission of the Foundation to “help all people lead healthy, productive lives”). I’ll let you read the piece for more details, but what Koch and Gates have in common is that they/their foundations both have histories of backing ALEC (the well-known right-wing boilerplate legislation outfit) and the Philanthropy Roundtable (an organization which masquerades as defending the right of the rich to give, but in reality seems geared towards protecting their ability to donate as they see fit rather than pay taxes). After the Panama and Paradise Papers, the fundamental alignment of the interests of the superrich – beneath any superficial partisan differences which might seem to divide them – should come as no surprise.

Yes, Gates has been urging a sane, coherent response to the pandemic while Koch has been funding pro-reopening protests and anti-lockdown Twitter bots, but neither of them pays anywhere near what they should in taxes (as this New York Times graphic nicely illustrates), and the malign influence of concentrated wealth and those who hold and wield it has a dangerous coherence and unifying logic that extend far beyond narrow differences over the pandemic and gravitate toward a neo-feudal organization of global society.

Just as there are different types of billionaires connected both by financial ties and a unifying underlying logic, so too, there are many New York Timeses that – like the Holy Trinity or the diverse states of this country (with its Latin motto) – are made through the alchemy, in this case of capital, one. There is the Times which published the Gates puff piece, and that which put out the helpful taxation infographic, and that which is out this Memorial Day weekend with a moving tribute to the “nearly 100,000 lives lost so far” – although even this act of recognition and mourning is fraught with error, for the Times own worthy investigative work has long since shown that the official death toll reflects a vast undercount of the actual number of dead. We’ve known since April that the actual number of deaths is something like 50% higher than the reported number, so why make a show of remembering 100,000 without immediately pointing out that the actual number dead from COVID-19 in the United States is probably already closer to 150,000? Such are the problems with the many-faced, one-spirited institution that is our paper of record.

This state-by-state COVID-19 reproduction number tracker from the Instagram founders has almost every state’s number below 1 (but shows a handful above 1 and ticking upwards for the first time in weeks), which suggests that things are going relatively well with the country’s pandemic response; however, this report from the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team reaches a very different conclusion, suggesting that close to half the states in the US right now have uncontrolled outbreaks. As the authors conclude:

Our estimates suggest that the epidemic is not under control in much of the US […]

We predict that increased mobility following relaxation of social distancing will lead to resurgence of transmission, keeping all else constant. We predict that deaths over the next two-month period could exceed current cumulative deaths by greater than two-fold [and] that factors modulating transmission such as rapid testing, contact tracing and behavioural precautions are crucial to offset the rise of transmission associated with loosening of social distancing.

Overall, we show that while all US states have substantially reduced their reproduction numbers, we find no evidence that any state is approaching herd immunity or that its epidemic is close to over.

Evidently, a majority of the US population across partisan differences takes the pandemic seriously and is opposed to hasty, careless, and haphazard reopening. Recent research suggests that, contrary to self-servingly self-defeating claims from some in the investor class, it is not the shutdowns but the pandemic itself that is causing the vast majority of the economic harm around the world. Will popular good sense be enough to overcome corporate greed and political malfeasance in turning the tide on the pandemic and our response to it? Right now, it looks like the answer, at least in the United States, is probably no, but it is along these lines that we should be organizing and struggling. Against the divide and conquer strategy of the superrich and the politicians and media they control, we should be working to unite the vast majority of the US population who have a good sense respect for science and facts in view of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, already, from this disease, and who are united by common interests and basic decency in a desire to break the stranglehold of oligarchy and monopoly, and to work towards a more sane, just, healthy, and livable future for the country and the world.

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