Call an Oligarch an Oligarch

Picking up on a theme from yesterday’s post, but looking to partially invert it, those of us on the left face a challenge in critiquing so-called centrists (that is, representatives of the right-wing neoliberal consensus) in that valid, systemic, materialist criticisms of the status quo can too easily be coopted by actors on the far right interested in exploiting attacks on any position left of their own (generally omnicidal) stances for their own narrow political purposes. While the Charles Koches and Mitch McConnells of the world are, in my view, beyond any possible redemption, the non-bot trolls and otherwise hoodwinked foot soldiers of the right’s war on life on Earth are, by and large, not irredeemable racists, xenophobes, and zealots. They’re mostly desperate people being manipulated by powerful actors moving in ways and at levels far beyond the comprehension of the exploited many. That’s not to say that many of these people don’t sometimes behave in racist, xenophobic, and frighteningly zealous fashions; it’s just that reducing people to their worst urges is probably not politically productive (it’s certainly not generous, though generosity is, perhaps, a lot to ask), and such reduction is likely to further serve the interests of the actors stirring up these hateful sentiments in the first place.

The partial inversion then, to which I’ve already alluded in previous writing, is that in this challenge – of the strange partial convergence of critiques, from the left and certain subsets of the far right, of the neoliberal order – there lies an opportunity. Not to embrace the insane conspiracy theorizing of the far right which I sought, yesterday, to deconstruct, but to chart a course out of the intellectual desert of such conspiracy theoretic social media discourses that will allow for new political alignments based on shared aspirations and material interests. This is what Occupy was after with the slogan: “We are the 99%.”

Is being the 99% (or the 90% or the 99.9% depending on how one cares to calibrate politically) sufficient basis for the formation of an effective, justice-oriented political movement? I don’t know. But it’s a question worth exploring in depth, and I’ve registered for this webinar that David Dayen will be moderating next week regarding “the assembly of a pro-worker, anti-monopoly movement.”

In yesterday’s Unsanitized newsletter, Dayen wrote:

Therefore Congress doesn’t have time to see what will happen with the economy. If they don’t backstop state and local spending we will have a depression. Period. Maybe it’ll be a short depression, or a protracted one where the lead weight of government spending cutbacks prevents recovery. But we will have one. And we have a few weeks to avert it.

Meanwhile, Congress is on vacation.

Also in Dayen’s newsletters were links to two helpful articles entitled, respectively, “Springfield Hair Stylist, Sick With COVID-19, Saw 84 Clients” and “How the coronavirus spreads in those everyday places we visit,” (I imagine you can see how the pieces complement each other…). I’ll only caveat that, while the latter article suggests, based on the case of the Wisconsin primary, that “[i]n-person voting either has a small or neutral impact on coronavirus spread when precautions are taken” because one team of researchers “found that coronavirus rates actually declined in the 10 days after the voting when compared to the 10 days before it” while another “looked at hospitalization rates as well, and also didn’t find any increase after the election,” the very fact that case and death counts in Wisconsin show a steady upward trend – with a noticeable uptick in cases two weeks after the primary – straight through the state’s lockdown does make one wonder both about the efficacy of the state’s now-court-quashed stay-at-home measures and about what impact holding in-person elections in the middle of the lockdown may have had on trajectories which one would, otherwise, have expected to show clear downward trends.

I’ve written elsewhere about the challenge of critiquing our hapless Mayor (who should resign) given the extent to which he is subject to vicious attacks from the right, and – although Andre Cuomo can hardly be called a left figure – similar dynamics are now in play regarding our Governor, with valid and deeply necessary critiques of Cuomo being mobilized by forces on the right to dismiss the “Blue State” problem of the pandemic (another of the many idiotic framings that have become, almost instantaneously, quaint, vicious anachronisms in recent months), but this week, I continue to feel compelled to focus my own attention on Bill Gates.

Why? It’s not because I think he’s using the pandemic to inoculate us all with mind-control serum. Or because I think he and George Soros are up to anything, other than the great many things which they are obviously, demonstrably, well-documentedly up to in the public sphere. Or even because I think he’s been especially bad on issues related to COVID-19. In my view, for a billionaire, he’s been especially good in that respect. Just look at Koch or Elon Musk by way of comparison.

I actually thought I’d bungled part of my earlier critique because, in searching up the puff New York Times op-ed praising Gates that launched me on this now protracted screed, I found, instead, a Seattle Times op-ed with exactly the same title. Had I been so careless as to mix up my papers? No. We just live in an era of media consolidation, and the exact same piece ran in the latter Times five days after it ran in the former.

To be honest, as previously hinted, I’ve made a point of not reading the Times piece. Its content is as intellectually irrelevant as its appearance is politically significant, and its re-publication did nothing to weaken my resolve; however, I did want to know something. Was the last name Epstein mentioned in Timothy Egan’s op-ed? It wasn’t. Interesting, because only six months ago, even the Times (of New York) was running pieces on the many meetings Bill Gates had with the late Jeffrey Epstein well after Epstein’s conviction on sex crimes charges.

I’m returning to Gates because multi-billionaires shouldn’t be able to launder their reputations through a pliant corporate media any more than powerful governors should be, and a self-respecting people shouldn’t allow someone’s wealth to blind them to that person’s substance. It’s been a pleasure starting to familiarize myself with the body of scholarship of the remarkable intellectual firebrand, Anne-Emmanuelle Birn, and I encourage you to take the time to read her Lancet article, “The Rockefeller Foundation and the international health agenda,” on how the former shaped the latter over the course of the 20th century; then watch this ~20-minute-long video, “Philanthro-capitalism and global health,” which builds on her analysis/critique of the Rockefeller Foundation in examining the ongoing role played by the Gates Foundation, globally, in privatizing public health and undermining public institutions and mechanisms of democratic accountability with respect to the same.

Bill Gates is not your friend (though he may have been Jeffrey Epstein’s), and the Gates Foundation is not, globally, a force for good. As the most well-capitalized private foundation in the world, the Foundation is an entity which serves certain class (and Gates) interests in predictable ways to which we should not allow ourselves to be blinded  by glad-handing editorials and concerted, well-funded reputation-laundering campaigns.

Speaking of concerted campaigns, thanks to Sharon Lerner of The Intercept for pointing out something else that seems increasingly obvious, in spite of categorical misrepresentations by the corporate media: Gilead’s remdesivir is not a particularly effective treatment for COVID-19, but it might be a particularly effective way for Gilead and its investors to make a lot of money.

Following up on the incident of weaponized whiteness I mentioned in yesterday’s piece, this from Gale Brewer made me laugh:

Along with so many others, I’m deeply upset about the dog-walking woman in Central Park’s Ramble who was recorded calling the police last night and invoking race in her call to 911. Walking a dog off-leash is a bad idea, and so is doing what she did.

Oh, Gale! Such plain talk is why you’re the Borough President. She (or her staffers) went on to write:

Manhattan is at its best when we respect each other and look out for one another, particularly in this pandemic. We must be mindful of the history of racial violence and how that continues to shape the experience of New Yorkers.

Here’s to that.

And to end on some truly good news, Gates may not be our friend, but one almost feels Jacina Ardern could be, and I encourage you to watch this excellent two-part Democracy Now! interview with leading Kiwi epidemiologist, Michael Baker. Without idealizing New Zealand’s response, it’s remarkable, inspiring, and at the same time, crushing (given the current state of affairs in the United States, as in Brazil, India, Russia, and across much of the rest of the world) to see that New Zealand has evidently succeeded in – or is at least on the verge of – eliminating SARS-CoV-2 from within its borders. As with successes in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong (long live its free-spirited autonomy!), and elsewhere, the example of New Zealand is a welcome reminder of what is possible with strong leadership, functioning public health institutions, and collective buy-in for the implementation of (even drastic) evidence/science-based measures when necessary. As we continue to muddle through in New York, while much of the rest of the United States prepares for implosion, we can take heart that our present need not be our future as the benefits, which New Zealanders are now reaping, of timely and commensurate action make clear.

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