The Beginning of the Middle

Across the country and around the world, we’re witnessing (and participating in) the explosive convergence of pandemic, climate crisis, and the inequality and social fissures characteristic of the ~500-year-long history of capitalism, and exacerbated by the ~50-year’s of neoliberalism to which, I believe, we are witnessing the end.

What comes next? Socialism or Fascism? Nationalism or internationalism? Certainly, the feudalism of the past (that still lingers in many quarters) was no model of justice, but we should hope yet to forge something better than what we inherited and what went before.

As Minneapolis burns, Louisville protests, Georgia mourns and demands action, and New York City shakes its head, Colorlines/Race Forward put it well:

Christian Cooper should not have to fear for his life on a walk through the park. Breonna Taylor should be alive. Ahmaud Arbery should still be with us. George Floyd’s life should not have been taken by police, and they all deserve justice.

Equality Labs issued a powerful statement – linking casteism and anti-Blackness – in solidarity with those rising up in Minneapolis, while The Onion has aptly skewered predictable emphasis from certain quarters (including from the President, whose battle with Twitter seems to be escalating, just as Mark Zuckerberg proves, yet again, how utterly without spine he is) on looting with respect to the demonstrations against the police murder of George Floyd, in an article entitled: “Protestors Criticized For Looting Businesses Without Forming Private Equity Firm First.”

Meanwhile, the Democracy Now! headlines this morning were a steady drum beat of bad news. Set aside the President – items included: Tear-gassing of demonstrators by militarized police; millions more US jobs lost; Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers knowingly concealing their COVID-19-positive status from their colleagues; bad news from ICE jails; bad news from meatpacking plants; bad news from Brazil; bad news from Haiti; and bad news regarding the escalation of tension between the US and China. All in all, a real gut punch, but what haunted me most was this story:

[Héctor García Mendoza, a] 30-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant who sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement two weeks ago and was later quickly deported by the agency has officially been declared missing. […] García Mendoza reportedly hasn’t reached out to his family in Mexico or the U.S. His lawyers have contacted shelters in Mexico and immigrant advocacy groups in Texas, but no one has reportedly seen or heard from him. His family is also concerned for García Mendoza’s health, as in the days leading up to his removal, he complained of chest pain and shortness of breath but didn’t receive any medical attention from ICE.

Please, let’s hope that Hector is healthy and safe somewhere, but it certainly sounds likely that ICE intentionally sent him to his death as retaliation for his organizing.

Why was he suing ICE? To call for “the immediate release of all immigrants held at the Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility in New Jersey, where prisoners and staff have tested positive for COVID-19.”

It’s hard to socially distance in an uprising, just like it’s hard to socially distance during a natural disaster, and news from India post-Cyclone Amphan serves as a premonition of potential impacts in this Hemisphere with the approach of what’s predicted to be an “above-normal” Atlantic hurricane season. In west and central India, farmers are confronting the largest swarms of locusts experienced in decades – an evidently climate crisis-linked phenomenon – and in another Indian development with worrying resonances for our own US predicament, the COVID-19 pandemic is only exacerbating the shift towards a “communal-authoritarian” mode of rule.

This Curbed article by Alissa Walker makes the claim that:

San Francisco, a small but dense city, fared better than New York City in the fight against COVID-19 [… b]ecause San Francisco, where there is one billionaire for approximately every 11,600 residents, had purged most of the people who were most at risk from dying from COVID-19 to its surrounding counties long before the pandemic arrived.

This was a take I hadn’t considered (although I’ve pointed out in private conversations that San Francisco is only one-tenth the size of NYC, and in certain other respects, is not exactly comparable to New York). Nonetheless, I felt Walker’s claim was worth investigating, and unfortunately, I don’t think it’s accurate. The nine Bay Area counties have a population roughly equivalent to that of NYC (7.4 million inhabitants to NYC’s pre-pandemic ~8.5 million and current likely ~8 million), but adding up the confirmed death counts for those nine counties (for a screenshot, see below) one finds a combined death toll of 436. The official NYC death toll is somewhere in the mid-20,000s at present, and the actual figure has likely passed 30,000 by now, so obviously San Francisco’s having “purged most of the people who were most at risk from dying from COVID-19 to its surrounding counties long before the pandemic arrived” doesn’t explain the difference in mortality. That’s not to forgive San Francisco’s obscene (even by New York standards) gentrification and income/wealth inequality, but this piece has been getting some attention, and I think it’s important to fact-check claims when they bear on the heart of our understanding of everything that went wrong. Different policy steps, not different demographics, explain the disparate outcomes in New York and San Francisco.

Circling back to Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman reported this morning:

Coronavirus cases are surging in Southern states including Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi. The increases came even as Politico reports that health departments around the United States have inflated testing numbers or deflated death tallies by changing criteria for who counts as a coronavirus victim and what counts as a coronavirus test.

No amount of moving the goal posts from frightened local bureaucrats, and no amount of vitriol from our unfit President can extricate us from this deepening disaster. In New York, much of the City continues to breathe a measured sigh of relief – even as the trauma and anxiety linger and mount, and the reality that the worst of the social and economic harm is almost certainly yet to come hangs heavily over our heads – but nationally, it seems the magical thinking persists. So long as we take none of the necessary political steps to control the pandemic (essentially foisting all responsibility onto private individuals, even as tens if not hundreds of millions of residents of the US are thrown into crises of basic survival), while at the same time failing to take action to protect the most vulnerable, we stand to suffer. Our society is seeded with prisons, jails, detention centers, nursing homes, homeless shelters, meatpacking plants, and warehouses and distribution centers, among other institutions which – problematic in their own rights – have served to spread COVID-19, and will continue to. Our uncontrolled national epidemic has now accelerated the global spread of the disease (as have our sadistic policies of deportation), and this morning’s news suggests that both nationally, and hemispherically, we are entering into months still grimmer than those just passed.

This can get a lot worse, and it is likely in the process of doing so.

Postscript: For posterity, the data follows.

Screen Shot 2020-05-29 at 1.36.55 PM
From Google’s data as of the early afternoon of Friday, May 29th, 2020. 

2 thoughts on “The Beginning of the Middle

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