Archive | April 9th, 2020

Saudi Zio-Wahhabi least 120 attacks on Yemen hospitals

Doctors look after a wounded man at a makeshift hospital in Sana'a, Yemen. Wednesday's report documented at least 120 attacks on Yemeni hospitals and health workers over three years. File Photo by Mohammad Abdullah/UPI

Doctors look after a wounded man at a makeshift hospital in Sana’a, Yemen. Wednesday’s report documented at least 120 attacks on Yemeni hospitals and health workers over three years. File Photo by Mohammad Abdullah/UPI | License Photo

Medical facilities and health workers in Yemen were targeted more than 100 times between 2015 and 2018, causing harm to the war-torn nation’s treatment infrastructure and accelerating its humanitarian crisis, a watchdog report said Wednesday.

The 96-page report by Mwatana for Human Rights and Physicians for Human Rights said ‘all sides’ are to blame for at least 120 attacks on Yemeni hospitals and healthcare workers over that three-year span. The study said attacks were documented in 20 of 22 governorates.

Yemen has in civil war since 2014 when Houthi fighters, overwhelmed government forces and took control of the capital of Sana’a. The government, backed by Saudi Zio-Wahhabi family and the Zionist puppet of United Arab Emirates, has since been fighting to regain control.

Titled “I Ripped the IV Out and Started Running: Attacks on Healthcare in Yemen,” Wednesday’s report said the Yemeni government, Saudi Zio-Wahhabi coalition have all been responsible for attacks against medical facilities and health workers.

“Each attack on a health facility reverberates far beyond its walls,” Rayan Koteiche, Physicians for Human Rights Middle East and North Africa Researcher, said in a statement. “The killings of doctors, nurses and other health workers deprive communities of desperately-needed healthcare.”

The report documented 35 aerial strikes against medical facilities, 46 ground attacks and nine military occupations. Researchers also cited assaults on health workers and looting and interruptions of humanitarian aid by all sides. At least 96 civilians and healthcare workers died in the attacks and more than 200 were injured, it added.

Koteiche said the greatest challenge for those affected in Yemen is that there’s no authority to hold anyone accountable.

“The breakdown in the rule of law in Yemen, furthered by the parties to the conflict, has created a human rights catastrophe with few parallels, in which the protected status of medical facilities and personnel has lost meaning,” Koteiche said.

The United Nations has called the ongoing civil war the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with two-thirds of Yemen’s 28 million people suffering from hunger and needing aid to survive.

Posted in ZIO-NAZI, Saudi Arabia, YemenComments Off on Saudi Zio-Wahhabi least 120 attacks on Yemen hospitals

Nazi regime stops providing cleaning products to Palestine detainees

Palestinian prisoners [File photo]

Palestinian prisoners [File photo] Wafa Aludaini

Palestinian prisoners have today rejected their meals in protest against the Nazi Camp Service’s plans to stop supplying 140 products, including cleaning products, from the canteen and halt medical visits for detainees.

There are approximately 1,200 prisoners in need of treatment who suffer from medical negligence. Some 700 urgently need surgery and 24 suffer with cancer.According to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, 90 per cent of prisoners have become ill while in prison due to poor conditions and negligence which may have exacerbated their health.

Palestinian rights group Addameer’s Alaa Alskafi said: “We sent a letter to Israeli authorities, asking them about any coronavirus measures they take in their prisons. They replied only that they have prevented prison visits from families and lawyers.”

This was however brought into question as Nazi Camps authorities are also banning Palestinian detainees from communicating with their families via telephone.

Addameer also noted that while prison authorities are supposed to provide sterilisers they have banned nearly 150 cleaning materials from the canteen.Ali Almoghrabi, spokesman of the Asra information office, said:

“The Israeli prison system is the perfect environment for disease like coronavirus to spread easily among inmates due to the regularly overcrowded and unsanitary cell conditions.” The authorities don’t take any preventive measures for Palestinian prisoners, even though they deal directly with their Nazi jailers, who of course can also become infected.”Rights groups have called for the immediate release of 500 Palestinian prisoners who are currently jailed in Israeli administrative detention without charge or trial, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, Health, Human RightsComments Off on Nazi regime stops providing cleaning products to Palestine detainees

Only the International Criminal Court in The Hague Can Restrain ‘Israel’

Hagai El-Ad  

The International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, February 6, 2020.
The International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, February 6, 2020.Peter Dejong,AP

In the summer of 2014 we killed over 500 Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip, in surgical strikes and so-called statistical bombings. Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and then-Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz now head the country’s two largest parties.

In the fall of 2017 then-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beiteinu, declared his intention of totally destroying the West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar, including the local school and the tin shacks that are home to over 30 families, all of them Palestinian, of course. The Supreme Court judges reiterated their approval of the “legality” of the demolition.skip – Israel’s coronavirus crisis could be Bibi’s swan song. Haaretz weekly podcast

In the winter of 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump published his plan for American recognition of Greater Israel, which would include the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean – without granting citizenship, human rights or the right to vote to the millions of Palestinians living there.

The plan dictates total Palestinian submission, while it publicly exposes Israel’s aspiration to continue with its demographic engineering of the area according to its wishes – from Wadi Ara in the north, via the Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the separation barrier and up to the last of the villages in Area C (which are under full Israeli control). And Netanyahu, Lieberman and Gantz? They welcomed this plan.

How many children will be killed in Gaza this summer? How many additional Palestinian communities will be destroyed in the coming years? What will life look like under a regime that aspires to perpetuate its supremacy over another people? And what are we willing to do in order to say to all that – enough!

The children in Gaza did not “find their deaths.” Someone planned how houses would be bombed from the air, and someone decided that it was “legal,” and someone gave the order, and after another family was erased from the world along with its children, someone whitewashed the whole story, until the next bombing.

And the bulldozers that destroy buildings in the “areas of sovereignty” don’t drive themselves. Someone planned a whole system whose goal is to deny Palestinians approval for construction, and someone decided that this is “legal,” and someone issued the demolition orders and someone ordered their implementation.

The system of the regime whose objective is to advance one people at the expense of trampling the other, did not create itself: There is someone heading it, leading it, executing its directives.

And in order to make everything possible, those who are opposed must be silenced. This is why the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations called Palestinian efforts to oppose the Trump plan “diplomatic terror,” because any Palestinian effort to demand rights or freedom must be framed as terror. This is why Netanyahu hastened to slam the “anti-Semitic decrees” of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and this is why Israeli human rights organizations that actively oppose the occupation must be portrayed as traitors, as disloyal.

Well, it’s true. We are disloyal: We are not loyal to a regime that favors occupation, repression, violence and humiliation of another people; we are betrayers of the vision of apartheid, subverting a future of injustice. It’s true, the question of loyalty now lies in the balance: To which values are we loyal?

We are loyal to human rights, equality and freedom. We are faithful to the attempt to build a future based on these values between the Jordan River and the sea. This loyalty has led us to call on the UN Security Council to demand international action to bring an end to the occupation. That same loyalty has caused us to call on IDF soldiers to refuse illegal orders to shoot from a distance at thousands of Palestinian demonstrators at the separation barrier with the Gaza Strip.

And this is the same loyalty that is now turning its gaze in the direction of the only international legal authority that can deal with the situation in the territories – the ICC in The Hague – while unequivocally supporting the authority of the court to open an investigation, to demand accountability for war crimes.

After all, if nobody ever receives significant punishment, nothing will change. That is exactly what Israel’s government wants. But if it is decided that the ICC has jurisdiction, an investigation will begin in The Hague – and the country may finally have to begin to consider the possibility that there will be a price to pay for its crimes against the Palestinians.

Although the present proceedings underway in The Hague are limited to the issue of whether the court has the authority to adjudicate, Israel’s entire political leadership is united against it – similar to the way in which it is united in its support for the Trump plan. Netanyahu himself, as mentioned, hastened to compare the court’s actions to anti-Semitic decrees, went on to call for sanctions against the ICC, “its officials, its prosecutors, everyone,” and a few days ago sent a delegation to Washington to enlist the Trump administration in waging a joint battle against the court.

These steps by the government, already at this stage, reveal that what lies at the root of the Israeli opposition here is not a theoretical matter of issues of jurisdiction, but a basic questioning of the values that the ICC is meant to defend – values that Israel wants to continue to trample while continuing to enjoy total immunity regarding its deeds in the territories, as it has become accustomed to doing.

In December, several hours before publication of the ICC prosecutor’s announcement that she had reached the conclusion that there is a basis for embarking on an investigation, Israel’s attorney general published his position on the subject. Since he is the one whose position represents that of the government, it is vital to expose the groundless nature of his opinion, which is based on partial and tendentious citations taken out of context, disregard for the dictates of international law and a baseless perception of reality.

We are living in a world in which the number of effective options for defending human rights is gradually shrinking. We have no illusions: The ICC offers – at best – a limited degree of belated justice. But the Israeli system is so accustomed to a situation of total lawlessness, to a situation in which almost anything can be done to the Palestinians without paying a price, that even the little that the ICC can provide could cause Israel to consider a new path.

Even before the ICC prosecutor’s decision in December, Israel had refrained from destroying Khan al-Ahmar – due to fear of The Hague, according to the statement of Foreign Minister Israel Katz. We can assume that the new reality, in which there is a possible horizon for being called to account, could constitute an important restraint on further activity by Israel.

In The Hague they will decide in the coming months whether the court has jurisdiction over the situation in the territories. Such authority has existed since Palestine joined the Rome Statute (and a long series of other conventions), as the prosecutor states. There is no minimizing the importance of this decision, which on the face of it seems merely procedural.

If the ICC judges indeed decide to adopt the opinion of the main prosecutor, an investigation will begin. But if they decide otherwise, the investigation will end before it starts. That would serve as a glaring green light for Israel, in a world where few red lights remain. We can only hope that the court will adopt the opinion of the prosecutor, and decide: There is jurisdiction – and there will be an investigation.

The writer is the director general of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Hagai El-Ad

Hagai El-Ad

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, Human RightsComments Off on Only the International Criminal Court in The Hague Can Restrain ‘Israel’

‘Israel’, Corona and Abraham Wald

Corona and lateral thinking
Gilad Atzmon writes:

The Jewish state has been taking drastic measures to try to suppress the Coronavirus outbreak within its territory. Tens of thousands of Israelis are isolated in quarantine conditions. So far, hundreds of Israelis have been diagnosed as carriers of the virus. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu delivered an apocalyptic speech and had his corruption trial postponed indefinitely.

There are a few aspects peculiar to Israel and its Coronavirus hysteria. As of this writing, only one Israeli has died because of the virus. To date, only half a dozen Israelis are in critical condition. It is possible that the Israeli health system is more advanced than that of all the other nations. It is also possible that Israeli doctors are more gifted than all other doctors. It may even be possible that Jews are somewhat resistant to the Coronavirus. But it is more likely that Israel has been living with Corona for much longer than it is willing to admit. It is likely that, like China, Israel has already survived the worst of the Coronavirus.

 On 6 January Haaretz’s headline read: “Dozens hospitalised in serious condition amid Swine Flu outbreak in Israel.” The Israeli paper reported that “The number of visits to clinics and hospitals due to flu symptoms and pneumonia, which is a common complication, is about 18 per 1,000 people, compared to 7 per 1,000 in the same period last year.” The increase is mainly in those under the age of two and over 65. Back in January, the Israeli health system struggled to cope.

At the time Israeli health authorities attributed the rise in pneumonia to Swine Flu. The paper reported that 170 Israelis, including 45 children, had been hospitalised in serious condition, and that there were 16 deaths.

I am not a medical doctor and certainly not a virologist, I am, however, scientifically inclined. I wonder whether it is possible that Israel was hit with the Corona menace at the same time as China, or maybe even before it? Is it possible that Corona didn’t start in China and was just diagnosed there? Apparently, more people have started to believe that this may be the case.

Often it is the data that is missing that provides the path to the solution. Instead of just identifying who is catching the Coronavirus, we should also investigate those outbreaks that did not resemble pandemic “simulations”: those countries and regions that have not followed the predicted and lethal path.

Israel is not alone. Britain has been reporting a rise in pneumonia cases in recent years. I have seen reports on the rise in pneumonia and Swine Flu in the USA. Bloomberg asks: “A Coronavirus explosion was expected in Japan. Where is it?” Have we been misdiagnosing  COVID-19 as Swine Flu and pneumonia? This would help explain why the lethal virus is not spreading as fast as expected and why it is distributed unevenly around the world.

If my hypothesis is correct, the entire approach to the Corona pandemic may be fundamentally wrong, and unscientific. Our approach follows the rules of hysteria and imposes a timeline that supports a phantasmic narrative of a global holocaust.

What we need in order to help us with this conceptual mess is an Abraham Wald moment. Wald was a mathematician working at the American Statistical Research Group (SRG) during World War II. He and his team were engaged in questions to do with the survivability of B17 bombers. The riddle was as follows: If you don’t want your bombers to get shot down by enemy fighters, you armour them. But shielding your planes with iron makes them heavy, reduces their manoeuvrability, increases their fuel consumption and reduces their bomb-carrying capacity. Over-armouring your planes is a problem; under-armouring is also a problem. Finding the optimal line between the two was the riddle Wald and the SRG were asked to solve.

Wald noticed immediately that enemy bullets weren’t distributed uniformly on the B17s. There were a lot of bullet holes in the fuselage and hardly any in the engines.

While the air force wanted to armour the planes where they were most often hit, Wald said the armour shouldn’t be placed where most of the bullet holes were found. Instead, the armour should go where the bullet holes aren’t: on the engines. Wald realised that the reason there weren’t many bullet holes in the engines they examined was that planes that got hit in the engine were more likely to fall from the sky and therefore were not likely to be examined.

The lesson of Wald’s insight is clear. Often it is the data that is missing that provides the path to the solution. Instead of just identifying who is catching the Coronavirus, we should also investigate those outbreaks that did not resemble pandemic “simulations”: those countries and regions that have not followed the predicted and lethal path. We should review past diagnoses and figure out what exactly happened in Israel in December 2019. What has been the rate of pneumonia in Britain, Germany, Japan and the USA in the last two years? Instead of just testing people for the Coronavirus we ought to scan societies for Corona antibodies as well. It is possible that such an examination may reveal the best exit strategy from the current apocalyptic hysteria.

Gaza slaughter: Holy Land still denied peace and justice by cowardly international community

Gaza slaughter: Holy Land still denied peace and justice by cowardly international community

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Treating Israel with kid gloves

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Israel: The only Jewish ghetto in the Middle East

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Trump and the spread of coronavirus in the United States

Trump and coronavirus
By Lawrence Davidson

Uncomprehending and unprepared

On 10 March 2020 US President Donald Trump told reporters in reference to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19): “It will go away, just stay calm.” He added, “It’s really working out. And a lot of good things are going to happen.” (This is also the president’s attitude towards global warming.) When soon it became clear that things were not “working out” and “good things” were definitely not happening, he denied any responsibility. He said “I don’t take any responsibility at all” and proceeded to blame the previous administration of Barack Obama. Actually, all of this was in character for President Trump. He has never shown any ability to think ahead and respond to events in a well thought out fashion. His ability to own up to his own mistakes is like that of a 16-year-old teenager. 

He is also ignorant of what he is dealing with. But here at least he is not alone. Most people, including the vast majority of Americans, don’t know much about COVID-19 or where it comes from. That is one reason why it is so easy to misidentify it is a “Chinese disease”. Alas, diseases don’t carry a nationality. Also, people are only vaguely aware of the exponential growth potential of this disease and why that factor justifies the kind of social distancing policies that many governments are now adopting. So below, I will give some details on these factors.

I confess I am not an expert in any of this, but if my anecdotal experience is at all accurate, I know more than my neighbours. I will strive for accuracy and, If I make some notable mistake, I am sure someone out there will let me know. If an error is confirmed, I will send out a correction or elaboration. 

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 has the label of a pandemic disease – one that is spreading through large areas of the globe. “Mere” epidemics are more localized. COVID-19 is also a novel or new disease, which in this case means that it is a mutation of a virus that already existed in nature. Such terms as pandemic and epidemic do not say anything about the severity of the disease, and so they can run the range from relatively mild to deadly. Flu epidemics and pandemics are good examples of this – thus the annual flu season can vary in its intensity. On the other hand, the infamous Spanish Flu of 1918 (which wasn’t Spanish in origin) was a pandemic that is estimated to have killed between 20 and 50 million people worldwide. Coming towards the end of World War I, the victims included hundreds of US and Allied soldiers and sailors confined to transports and other ships heading to and from France. Those vessels, like today’s cruise ships, served as incubators for the disease.

As noted above, COVID-19 and its kin are viruses. Viruses are different than the bacteria that cause many infections. Antibiotics take care of most bacteria-caused diseases, though the overuse of such drugs can, and have, produced “superbug” bacteria that are resistant to most antibiotics. In fact, in the realm of warfare against bacteria-causing illness, it is a constant struggle between the bacteria’s ability to mutate and production of more effective antibiotics. 

Viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics. The best way to fight them is through vaccines. Most vaccines work by taking an inert sample of the disease agent and using it to safely stimulate the body’s immune system, thus creating a ready ability to produce the proper antibodies to the illness if it is contracted. Unfortunately, a vaccine cannot be developed overnight, if one can be developed at all for a particular microbe. So, often their is an interim period between the appearance of a truly novel virus – such as COVID-19 – and the production and distribution of an adequate vaccine. Even when available, vaccines are not 100 per cent effective as can be seen with the annual flu vaccines. This is because, like bacteria, viruses mutate.

In the case of most viruses and bacteria, you catch the disease in the following ways: 1) close contact with an infected person or animal, whose microbe-laden body fluids are spread through sneezing, coughing, sweating, excreting, and so forth; 2) Touch surfaces that has the virus or bacteria on it due to previous contact with an infected person or animal: the survival time outside the body of any particular disease agent varies. COVID-19. seems to be able to survive between three and 72 hours depending on the nature of the surface, such as a door knob, computer keyboard, box of cookies, etc.

These facts speak to the usual list of dos and don’ts: hand washing, not touching your face (but covering your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow if you have to cough or sneeze), and keeping your social distance (a sneeze can shoot out the bad bugs some 10 feet). These are familiar recommendations (if often ignored) because they also apply to the common cold. Community lockdowns enforcing social distancing, on the other hand, are really new and can be life-altering requirements. Where does the need for such extreme measures come from?

Threat of exponential spread 

New infectious viruses are often mutations of existing ones and/or animal-based viruses that somehow manage to jump from their animal hosts to humans – the latter kind being referred to as zoonosis diseases. Ebola and HIV (Aids) are diseases that made this jump. Bats are one ready source of coronaviruses that do occasionally jump to humans. Bats are hosts to multiple strains of such viruses which often get spread via intermediate hosts (civitspangolins and camels) which in turn can pass them on to humans. Conversely, as in the case of Ebola, some viruses have made the bat-to-human jump directly. 

No one really knows where COVID-19 originated. We do know that there was an initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, among people who worked in a market that sold wild animals, but some of these animals were imported into China, so the COVID-19 strain that is causing all this trouble could well have originated further afield.

Because COVID-19 is new, humans have no inherent immunity to it, and that creates the prospect of exponential spread. This means that when left to itself, the disease will increase at a very rapid rate. How fast depends on circumstances, and this factor allows for human intervention. That rate of increase of an infectious disease is mathematically represented by a “basic [rate of] reproduction number”, the symbol for which is R0 (R naught or R zero). We will abbreviate it and just use R.

Say you have a disease with an R number of 2. That means the first person with the disease, patient 0, will on average give it to two others, who will each give it to two more and on it goes. Think of it this way: 1×2=2, 2×2=4, 4×2=8, 8×2=16, etc. On a graph, this rate of increase is known as a J curve, because it shoots up rapidly. 

The COVID-19 virus has an R number of 2.5 (1×2.5= 2.5, 2.5×2.5= 6.25, 6.25×2.5=15.62,15.62×2.5=39.05, etc.). By the way, the R number for the measles can range between 12 and 18, which is why taking the vaccine for this disease is so important.

Given the explosive spread potential of such a novel infectious disease as COVID-19, the aim is to flatten out the J curve by creating environmental circumstances that force the R number to 1 or less. Do that and the pandemic stops. So how do you do that? The Washington Post has set up computer simulations of four different approaches: doing nothing, enforcing a quarantine (such as the Chinese one), setting up a scenario of moderate social distancing, and finally establishing a scenario of extensive social distancing.

Obviously, doing nothing is unacceptable to a vast majority of people (though, as we will see, there are exceptions). In the case of the COVID-19 in the US, a country of 330 million, a hands-off approach would most likely find millions of Americans infected, and thousands dying, by summer. A strict quarantine for so large a population is difficult to do without the use of near-totalitarian methods and is probably politically and culturally unacceptable within the Western milieu. That leaves “reasonable enforcement” of social distancing. According to the computer modelling referred to above, the most effective scenario is that of “extensive social distancing”. It is no surprise that this approach is exactly the one now being tried in much of the United States and Europe.

There is the corresponding question of how long such social distancing has to go on. Given that in the US the authorities have come up short on the issue of testing, the answer to that question is complicated by the uncertainty of how many Americans are infected. As a rule, the earlier the intervention, the shorter the time necessary for flattening the J curve. The US is, if you will, behind the curve in this regard. Given the population size, it will take longer than the two-week window associated with the appearance of COVID-19 symptoms.

President Trump’s irresponsibility

We began this analysis by noting that President Donald Trump was, for far too long, dismissive of COVID-19 and in favour of doing nothing. On 28 February, a month after cases of COVID-19 showed up in the US, “Trump lashed out at Democrats for raising alarm about the virus, calling it their [the Democrats’] “new hoax”. Indeed, there is evidence that Trump thought of the idea of a pandemic as a fantasy, and, as a consequence, in 2018 his administration shut down the government’s “global health security team” and later cut the budget of the Centres for Disease Control’s department for animal-to-human transmitted infectious diseases by 20 per cent. Presently, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has a budget of about $11 billion to defend the nation against a very real pandemic. In the meantime, Trump engineered a defence budget of some $738 billion, with which the Pentagon, at least in immediate terms, it defend the country from nothing.

Soon enough the spread of COVID-19 became something Trump could not just dismiss with throw-away lines like, “just stay calm, it will go away”. Even so, the president could not get beyond that naive and blasé attitude. Again acting in character, he told his cabinet in early March 2020 that he wanted to see “low numbers” when it came to the spread of COVID-19. He thought that low numbers now would boost his “potential re-election” in November.This despite the fact that he had done nothing to actually realise low numbers. This was a sure sign of a deluded mind that insists there can be no difference between his own desires and reality. The result was a period of blatant lying on the part of Trump and his staff and the failure to create a testing infrastructure to help ascertain the real numbers of the pandemic as it spread through the country. It also confirmed Donald Trump as a criminal accomplice to that spread. 

Now, of course, with reality having become undeniable, the president is in the process of rewriting his own history. On 17 March 2020 he told reporters “I’ve always known this is real – this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” That is again the delusional Trump –Trump the congenital liar. 

Conclusion

This failure of our present leadership should be a warning to us all. Don’t judge prospective leaders on airy platform promises or after-the-fact rationalisations, but rather on a demonstrated ability to think straight and with foresight, along with an ability to rationally adjust as conditions change. Of course, folks have to be able to recognise those qualities in others. Avoid leaders who are bound by an ideology that confines their interests to one class, and biases that display misogynistic, racist, and/or fundamentalist leanings. Of course, to choose such leaders, folks have to themselves be free of such biases. Finally, always go for the leaders who believe in science. One might note that Donald Trump fails on all points. How many others fail as well? 

So, will we be prepared the next time? The United States and the rest of the world will eventually overcome COVID-19. But, as it is not the first pandemic we have faced, it will not be the last.

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Cuba’s Promising Approach to Cancer

by CESAR CHELALA

Photograph of Fidel Castro visiting Chelala’s team in Havana.

In 1991, I headed a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) mission of Latin American physicians to evaluate a national Cuban project involving the use of interferon to treat inoperable lung cancer. At the time, there was a rumor that Fidel Castro had lung cancer and had a particular interest in the research about it. Castro showed his interest, in part, when he came to visit us and discussed the findings. At the time, interferon didn’t seem to have a significant effect, but Cuban doctors have now developed a new treatment for lung cancer that offers promising results.

In September of 2011, the Chinese press agency Xinhua reported that Cuban doctors had produced the first therapeutic vaccine for lung cancer called CIMAvax-EGF. It was the result of a 25-year research project at Havana’s Center for Molecular Immunology. Although the vaccine doesn’t prevent lung cancer from developing in new patients, it turns later-stage lung cancer, specifically non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) into a controllable chronic disease.

The vaccine contains a protein called epidermal growth factor (EGF). This substance stimulates the growth of cells and causes the tumors to multiply and grow uncontrollably. The vaccine contains EGF and a protein from the meningitis bacteria which enter into the bloodstream of patients and encourage their immune system to produce antibodies that suppress the effects of EGF.

As a result, the vaccine doesn’t eliminate the tumors but prevents them from growing and spreading to other parts of the body. The vaccine is given to people who already have lung cancer and where the traditional treatments have proven to be ineffective. For these types of patients, the vaccine could be a life saver.

The vaccine, which is now available in Cuba, Colombia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Peru and Paraguay, is relatively cheap to produce and store, and produces only very mild side effects such as nausea, chills, fever, and lack of energy. There are now agreements to test it in the United States, Japan, and some European countries.

Initial trials have shown a trend towards longer survival among vaccinated test subjects. Also, a direct correlation has been found between the level of antibodies that a vaccinated patient has produced against EGF and survival. Other trials have shown that those under 60 benefit the most in terms of survival. However, researchers caution that some early positive results to date have been found in relatively few cancer patients who were carefully selected and given special oncology care. They may not represent all the patients who could benefit from this vaccine.

Trials are currently being planned in the United States, Japan, the European Union and Serbia. In late October 2016, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York, to conduct a Phase I/II clinical trial of CIMAvax in patients with non-small cell lung cancer. “The chance to evaluate a vaccine like this is a very exciting prospect,” declared Candace Johnson, President and CEO of Roswell Park.

The same epidermal growth factor (EGF) acting on the lungs could play a role also on prostate, breast, colon and pancreatic cancer, thus opening a vast array of practical applications. Kelvin Lee, an immunologist at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center indicated that all these organs could be potential targets for this vaccine.

During several trips to Cuba on UN public health-related missions, I have had the opportunity to work with several Cuban physicians and have becoame aware of their high commitment to public health. As Dr. Kelvin Lee has said, “The wonderful thing about working with our Cuban colleagues is that they really believe, in their heart of hearts, that medical care is a human right.”

The collaboration between the Cuban doctors and those at the Roswell Cancer Center is a promising one. But there are still several hurdles to overcome in large part because of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Clearing the path to an effective collaboration may result in one of the most important advances to combat cancer in our time.

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The Big Hit: COVID-19 and the Economy

by DEAN BAKER

Most sectors took a big hit in employment, most concerning is a loss of 42,500 jobs in health care.

The impact of the coronavirus shutdowns showed up very clearly in the March data as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a loss of 701,000 jobs, a decline almost as high as the peaks hit in the housing crash. The unemployment rate jumped 0.9 percentage points to 4.4 percent, while the employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) fell by 1.1 percentage points to 60.0 percent.

The size of the impact on the March data is somewhat surprising since the reference period for this report is the pay period that includes March 12. This was well before most states had initiated shutdowns; although it does seem likely that high turnover sectors, like retail and restaurants, would have put off hiring replacements for workers who had left, given what was known at the time.

Retail lost 46,200 workers in March, while restaurants lost 417,400, 3.4 percent of total employment. There is little doubt that the hit in April will be at least two orders of magnitude higher for retail and an order of magnitude higher for restaurants, as these sectors are at the center of the shutdown.

While these sectors were hit hard by the shutdowns, job losses were seen pretty much across the board. The temporary help sector lost 49,500 jobs, the construction sector lost 29,000 jobs, and the manufacturing sector lost 18,000 jobs. Mining shed 7,000 jobs, mostly in the category of support activities. This decline precedes the sharp plunge in energy prices in the last two weeks. Job losses in the sector will almost certainly be far higher in April.

One surprise, and a very real cause for concern, is a loss of 42,500 jobs in the health care sector. This was mostly in physicians’ and dentists’ offices, presumably the result of non-emergency visits and procedures being canceled.

While the March report shows in a big way the effect of the virus, it still gives us some indication of the pre-crisis direction of the economy. This was already showing signs of weakness, although not any obvious recession signals. Wage growth, in particular, had slowed, from a peak of 3.5 percent year-over-year hit last February, July, and August, to just 3.0 percent in February of this year. This weakening of wage growth is surprising given an unemployment rate well under 4.0 percent.

There was a small pickup to 3.1 percent in March, but this was likely a compositional effect, as we disproportionately lost workers in the low-paying restaurant and retail sectors. There is also a within industry compositional effect, as the lowest-paid workers are the ones most likely to be laid off first. This will almost certainly lead to a jump in reported wage growth in April.

Virtually all the data in the household survey is bad, which is not surprising, given the overall numbers. Women were hit harder than men, with prime-age (25 to 54) EPOP falling by 1.1 percentage points for women, compared to 0.6 percentage points for men. This gap will grow next month, as we see the tidal wave of layoffs in retail and restaurants disproportionately eliminate jobs held by women. Involuntary part-time employment jumped by 1.4 million, a 33.5 percent jump. Voluntary part-time fell by 1.6 million, as jobs offering part-time employment in retail and restaurants disappeared. Not surprisingly, the share of unemployment attributable to voluntary quits plunged from 13.4 percent to 10.5 percent. The March employment data is likely worse than most had expected, but this is simply because the impact of the shutdowns is showing up somewhat earlier than many of us had anticipated. We know with almost certainty that the April data will be far worse, in fact, the worst we have ever seen. It is important to put these terrible numbers in context. We are keeping people from working to slow the spread of the coronavirus, so we should not be upset by data showing that people are not working. The issue for this period of shutdown is ensuring that people can be kept whole as much as possible, that they can pay for their rent, food, and other necessities. Then, once the virus is contained, we have to make sure that we can get people back to work quickly.

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Capitalism in America Has Dropped the Mask: Its Face is Cruel and Selfish

by SONALI KOLHATKAR

Among the countless distressing news stories covering the COVID-19 pandemic over the past month are the heartwarming ones that focus on what ordinary human beings are doing to help one another during this historic crisis. Many of these “good news” reports have focused on a nation-wide effort by fashion industry labels, domestic apparel manufacturers, and amateur seamstresses to mass-produce the much-needed masks that are in short supply. But what most of the stories are missing is a systemic framework that offers a critical view as to why such an effort is needed in the first place.

In my spare time during the past several weeks of quarantine, I too have been putting my amateur sewing skills to use and churning out dozens of cotton masks for friends and neighbors who are elderly, pregnant, or working as delivery drivers, grocery workers, food bank volunteers and more. The masks are easy to make with a bit of cotton fabric, wire, and elastic, and, while they are not as efficient as medical-grade masks, they help absorb droplets to and from our mouths. My efforts are among countless similar ones that were sparked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggesting on its website that healthcare providers “might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort.”

America is built on a mythical sense of work ethos that feeds into our romantic notions of independence and self-reliance. We are drawn to the idea of a meritocracy that rewards hard work and perseverance and we are trained to congratulate ourselves for eschewing government assistance. Such a sentiment was apparent when the head of a Southern California chapter of the American Sewing Guild proudly told the New York Times, “Sewers, we’ve always stepped up and done this thing…We’re made for this time. We’re happy to stay home and sew. And we all have stashes of fabric.”

But America is also the world’s richest nation. Looking beyond aside our inflated sense of national hubris, it ought to fill every single one of us with rage that our doctors and nurses are scrounging for masks and other medical supplies and that a government agency like the CDC is recommending improvised masks. The shortage of supplies is directly the result of a capitalist system so unregulated that it is designed to benefit only shareholders, not societies. States in the U.S. and nations around the world are now desperately competing with one another to buy the much-needed supplies. The Washington Post interviewed state authorities and hospital managers and found, “a broadly dysfunctional system across the United States, with hospitals and health authorities having few options but to rely on largely unknown middlemen whose priority appears to be making a profit as they promise to quickly replenish the nation’s depleted medical stockpiles.” Christian Mitchell, deputy Governor of Illinois summed it up best saying, “It is a dog-eat-dog world out here.”

It took President Donald Trump weeks to invoke the full force of the Defense Production Act which gives the federal government the authority to direct private industry to refocus manufacturing during a national emergency. Trump was loath to do so because, in his words, “We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business. Call a person over in Venezuela. Ask them, how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well.” He failed to mention that the U.S. capitalist system had yielded precisely the sorts of shortage that Venezuelans have been suffering from and that Western media outlets have gleefully blamed on socialist policies.

Last week a woman I had never met reached out to me via social media and asked if I could make some masks for herself and her colleagues. She is an occupational therapist at a nursing and rehabilitation facility in New Jersey and was terrified that the dwindling supply of masks at her workplace would not be replenished. I ought to have felt satisfied that I was able to step in and help but instead I felt a profound sense of outrage and sadness that in this nation overflowing with wealth and resources, a stranger from the other side of the country felt compelled to reach out for help keeping herself and her colleagues and their patients safe from this deadly disease.

Americans have also resorted to crowdfunding campaigns to outfit healthcare workers with necessary protection. One such effort has already raised more than $60,000 in 3 days to cover mass purchases of the coveted N-95 masks for doctors and nurses in the nation. The $250,000 goal of “Masks for America” is being met by small donations from all over the nation likely by ordinary people who might already be feeling the dire financial burden brought on by the pandemic. At a time of record unemployment across the country, we are once more forced to rely on ourselves to protect one another.

But that $250,000 goal could be met effortlessly by any one of the billionaires who have disproportionately benefited from decades of policies favoring the wealthy. Elites like David Geffen who shamelessly tweeted about how he was engaged in “self-isolation” on his $400 million yacht in the Caribbean could divert the tiniest slivers of their fortunes to fund such efforts and barely notice the financial pinch. The money, time and effort that people are spending to equip themselves and each other with protective masks and other supplies are akin to an added tax. And yet most of us do not draw a line between the herculean efforts we are engaged in to keep ourselves alive and the massive stockpiles of cash that Geffen and his ilk are sitting on. Instead, we feel pleased about being able to step in and help one another in times of crisis.

When wealthy elites do expend some of their cash on the massive needs in our society, they expect to be feted for doing so. The world’s fifth richest person, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, is worth a whopping $82 billion and yet is being celebrated for donating a mere $30 million to efforts at researching treatments for COVID-19—equivalents to three-tenths of a percent of his net value.

Our globalized economy that has pushed manufacturing to maximize profits over resiliency, and our obsession with celebrity culture and charity as a substitute for government funding have led us to our current predicament. Such a system is deeply vulnerable to the type of political and economic earthquake that the pandemic has unleashed and dependent on the crumbs that billionaires choose to scatter in our direction.

In such a context, being part of the mass national effort to sew homemade masks has filled me with anger, not satisfaction. And I am not alone. One group of activists in Jackson, Mississippi, with a history of organizing “mutual aid” in the face of government inaction, is connecting the dots. Cooperation Jackson has initiated a small mask-making operation that is also offering employment opportunities to those who are newly laid off. A website describing their efforts explains, “We’ve seen our fair share of hardships and disasters in Jackson the past few decades, from deindustrialization, to the housing collapse, to Hurricane Katrina, and the steady decline of our cities’ infrastructure.” Concluding that “the irrationality of late-stage capitalism” poses “long term threats to our community and to humanity,” Cooperation Jackson has set up what it calls a “mutual aid relief program,” based on lessons learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that focuses on, “the production of masks both to address the urgent call for them and to put our unique set of skills and tools to use in the service of humanity.”

We can and should join the mass effort to care for one another during this unprecedented time of crisis. But if our efforts are not informed by a critique of the injustices that American capitalism has wreaked on us, we are doomed to fall prey to future crises.

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Bailouts for the Rich, the Virus for the Rest of Us

by ROB URIE

Photograph Source: Jane Angch – CC BY 2.0

For the second time in a generation, the President and Congress are creating an economy under the guise of ‘saving the economy.’ Through bailouts for the executives of corporations and institutions whose coffers have been emptied for their own personal enrichment, a corporate kleptocracy is having its class power secured. And through token payments and pandemic profiteering for the masses, the American precariat is being deepened and broadened to solidify its place as desperate and expendable.

With Donald Trump’s threat to ‘get America working again’ by Easter (April12th), the same tactic that turned Italy’s pandemic from tragedy to catastrophe is being repeated on a much larger scale here. And for what? In an economy where the richest 1% takes all the gains while the poor and working class haven’t seen a raise in four decades, it is the rich who will reap the benefits while workers get sick and die. It is finance capitalism that is being bailed out when it should have suffocated under its own weight in 2009.

A screenshot of a cell phone Description automatically generated

Graph: in times of crisis the powers that be call for solidarity through national unity. However, there is little solidarity shown in who owns the economy. The rich own the economy, represented here in shares of stock. Since the Fall of 2019— long before the coronavirus arrived, the Federal Reserve has been once again bailing out Wall Street to the tune of several trillion dollars (graph below). There aren’t enough virus test kits, ventilators or protective equipment, but at least the rich don’t have to worry about not being rich anymore. Source: Edward Wolff / NBER.

Where are the bailouts for the people? $1,200 checks against $30,000 bills for being treated for coronavirus? Why isn’t providing healthcare for all of the people the primary objective of the bailouts? Mr. Trump says he will send workers back to work while Democrats leave them no alternative but to work or starve. Without providing them the means— assured by meager bailouts, Democrats are every bit as guilty as Donald Trump of sending working people to die in a pandemic to add a few more dollars to the bank accounts of the rich.

More to the point, where are the virus test kits, ventilators and protective equipment for health care workers and the rest of us? Nick Turse of The Intercept puts a lie to the claim that the need for these couldn’t have been foreseen. For decades epidemiologists and health care professionals have been shouting from the rooftops about the need to prepare for a pandemic caused by a respiratory virus. Successive neoliberal governments dismissed the warnings and here we are to suffer the consequences.

When Mr. Trump uttered ‘our country wasn’t built to be shut down,’ one could be forgiven for asking whose country he was talking about and why it can’t be shut down? The country that most of us inhabit has been in the process of being shut down for some four decades through outsourcing, privatization, austerity and cuts to the social safety net. The region I live in was completely shut down in 2008 and stayed closed until just recently. That’s how long it took the last round of bailouts to land here.

Implied in the statement is that we, the people, must comport ourselves with the dictates of ‘the economy’ rather than the other way around. For all of the talk of freedom and democracy, the economy is theorized to exist in a realm where human needs are secondary, a mere matter of opinion. The coronavirus pandemic can’t in any meaningful sense be said to have been chosen. Neither are the marginal existences many of us live. In this way, deference to the economic system is cover for power relations, not a natural order.

One of the truths spoken aloud in a moment of political panic is that the Federal government can create as much money as it cares to and spend it any way that it sees fit. Neel Kashkari, President of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, reconfirmed this truth. This reframes poverty, student debt, inadequate healthcare, Social Security shortfalls and austerity as political choices, not facts of nature. It also means that the thousands of workers being sent to early deaths from coronavirus could just as easily be saved.

While it’s clear that Donald Trump is a menace, Democrats have yet to reconcile that he is using the same logic— that people must be sacrificed to save ‘the system,’ that motivated Barack Obama’s bailouts of Wall Street. Rich bankers were given unconditional bailouts while nine million mortgage borrowers had their houses taken from them to restore bank profits. The ‘sanctity of contracts’ was cited to give bonuses to bailed out bankers while ‘moral hazard’ was claimed to deny relief to homeowners who were unable to pay their mortgages.

As the Federal government, under the auspices of Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, conjures five trillion dollars (Federal stimulus + Federal Reserve) ‘out of thin air’ to bail out financial speculators and the corporate looting class, where was this power when Joe Biden claimed that ‘we’ can’t afford a functioning healthcare system? Where was this power when Nancy Pelosi claimed that this same ‘we’ can’t afford a Green New Deal? The national Democrats’ decades-long austerity program has always been a cynical fraud.

Why this matters is that rank and file Democrats have by-and-large taken the claim that the Federal government must ‘live within its means’ at face value, even as they bore the brunt of austerity policies, as they are about to do again. If hedge funds, private equity and various and sundry financial speculators can be bailed out, then why couldn’t black homeowners have been bailed out in 2010? If corrupt and incompetent corporate executives can be bailed out, then why couldn’t working people whose jobs were outsourced through NAFTA have been bailed out? If Democrats had held the Obama administration to account for the Wall Street bailouts, they would have standing to criticize Donald Trump in the present. But they didn’t.

A screenshot of a cell phone Description automatically generated

Graph: beginning last Fall (2019) the Federal Reserve restarted large-scale bond purchases to provide ‘liquidity,’ a.k.a. the capacity to transact, to financial markets. Dislocations in the repo (repurchase contract) market where large hedge funds speculate began appearing. Whether this was due to large banks preferring to put their funds elsewhere (forex) or hedge fund arbitrage strategies gone awry, the bond purchases represent a public subsidy of private profits. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.

Most readers probably don’t know this, but the Federal Reserve began re-bailing out Wall Street early last Fall, well before the coronavirus hit. Why this matters is that it indicates that nothing was fundamentally fixed through earlier bailouts. Hedge funds of the sort that pay their executives tens of millions of dollars created the market dislocations they claim to be able to exploit. In 2007 these strategies were derided as ‘picking up pennies in front of a steamroller’ for their tendency to earn regular profits until they give them all back plus some when they blow up.

The socially and economically rational solution to these types of blow-ups is to unwind the trades— the bailout, and then shut the hedge funds down and make their managers find honest work in other industries. However, what the Federal Reserve has been doing, following from the Obama administration’s decision to keep insolvent banks on life support in perpetuity, is to manage markets so that losing trades don’t result in loses.

So again, Democrats trying to portray Donald Trump’s lazily articulated homicidal tendencies as a break with the past need to explain why their guy (Obama) used the same class divisions to organize and distribute the 2009 bailouts. Mr. Trump and his fellow oligarchs are exactly who the Obama administration ‘saved’ with its bailouts. Now that Donald Trump is following Mr. Obama’s lead, although in more desperate and politically fraught times, the bi-partisan class war against the rest of us may finally be coming clear.

This gets to the nature and structure of the economy that is being ‘saved.’ The problem in a pandemic is that no one is producing the stuff that money could otherwise buy. Mr. Trump and Congress can wish large amounts of money into existence. But doing so only produces the money, not the stuff to buy. And without the stuff to buy, money is worthless. So it’s fair to say that workers create the wealth that Wall Street exists to redistribute upwards.

But consider this in the context of the current bailouts. Donald Trump, Congress and the Federal Reserve wish trillions of dollars into existence and they decide how it gets allocated. The already rich and connected— financial speculators, corporate executives and other oligarchs, get most of it. This gives them the power to buy the stuff that workers produce. Workers receive enough to not starve for a couple of weeks, and then it’s back to work to die in the pandemic. And here’s the punchline: it has always been like this. Poverty and want are political choices.

Moderate left economists appear to accept that corporations be kept as dominant institutions at the center of American political economy. They recommend giving bailout money to them to be managed, with restrictions, to keep workers ‘attached’ as employees. This, despite that the executives who will still control these companies made them fragile through issuing debt to benefit themselves. Indebtedness has been used as a weapon against labor since the 1980s to claim that corporations can’t afford to pay living wages.

The breadth of the bailouts in 2020 indicates the rising fragility of finance capitalism. The Federal Reserve is reportedly in the process of buying everything— stocks, corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, etc. to save the fortunes of the rich, the institutions of finance capitalism and the corporations that have been systematically looted for decades now. The bailouts started well before the coronavirus became known. And unlike in 2008, there is little pretense that these bailouts are about saving a functioning system.

Being made to work during a pandemic (Trump) or face starvation and homelessness (Democrats) leaves working people and the poor with a lot less to lose than they had even a few weeks ago. These circumstances recall the capitalism of the nineteenth century, fitting the pre-Great Depression ideology that currently informs economic logic. Work or die has been ‘disrupted’ to become work and die. The idea that Democrats are going to save anyone but themselves is several crises past delusional. Solidarity is these circumstances means class solidarity. Organize or die is the message being sent from above.

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Life and Death in the Epicenter

by LOUIS PROYECT

Photograph Source: Angel Talansky – CC BY 2.0

When it comes to warding off COVID-19, I’ve been ahead of the curve. Last October, after a bout with acute bronchitis that lasted most of the month, I resolved never to go through such an ordeal again. I started using hand sanitizer and avoided touching my face. Like my glaucoma, it is a geriatric illness. When I checked the New York Times archives for tips on dealing with bronchitis, I was shocked to discover how many well-known and powerful geezers came down with it: Konrad Adenauer, Boris Yeltsin, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Paul Robeson. None died from bronchitis, but around half were hospitalized, a routine treatment for powerful heads of state (except for Robeson.)

While bronchitis is not life-threatening, COVID-19 certainly is. As a septuagenarian, I am vulnerable. On top of that, the illness indicated that my immune system was compromised, just as you’d expect. Getting through this pandemic is a matter of life and death for me, especially since I live in New York City, the epicenter.

Once a week, I go shopping with my wife and can’t help feeling queasy as I pick up an avocado to see if it is ripe enough. In my memory banks, this summons up scenes from a George Romero zombie flick or “The Walking Dead.” From their well-guarded base, the living make periodic forays into various towns looking for food, medicine, or other essential goods. This is the equivalent of us going to a grocery store or a pharmacy. In “The Walking Dead” (I bailed on the show after Rick died), one of his crew might open a door looking for canned goods only to discover that zombies lurked behind it. Death could come in the form of a zombie assault or an accidental exposure to a coronavirus-laded avocado. The logic of zombies and coronavirus is deadly. They both exist to replicate themselves, just as does the capitalist class.

In 2004, Luis P. Villarreal, Professor Emeritus, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at UC Irvine, posed the question in Scientific American “Are Viruses Alive?”:

Viruses, however, parasitize essentially all biomolecular aspects of life. That is, they depend on the host cell for the raw materials and energy necessary for nucleic acid synthesis, protein synthesis, processing and transport, and all other biochemical activities that allow the virus to multiply and spread. One might then conclude that even though these processes come under viral direction, viruses are simply nonliving parasites of living metabolic systems. But a spectrum may exist between what is certainly alive and what is not.

Parasites in between life and death? That certainly describes the zombies and the bourgeoisie as well. I didn’t care much for Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” but he was certainly onto something with this metaphor.

New York City was susceptible to becoming an epicenter since it was much too close for comfort. What endeared it to people like me in the sixties was the street life that brought rich and poor together. When I lived in Houston in the mid-70s, I could never get used to the idea that I had to get into my car to find a bookstore or a restaurant. Or that when I took a walk in my neighborhood that nobody was on the sidewalk beside me. I was homesick for New York, where you’d mingle with the masses and find everything you needed within a few minute walk. Fortunate enough to live on the upper east side, there are museums and parks within walking distance.

Slowly but surely, everything that endeared New York to me has died largely because of the predatory nature of real estate development as symbolized by the evil presence in the White House.

Jeremiah Moss, who blogs at Vanishing New York, just posted about the photographer Robert Herman, who jumped to his death from the 16th floor of his Tribeca apartment building last Friday night. Herman’s suicide note read, “How do you enjoy life?”

As it happens, Moss interviewed Herman a while back. Like Moss and like me, Herman loved the New York that is vanishing. Moss posed the question about the differences between small, home-grown shops and the corporate mega-stores that symbolize the survival of the fittest but least desirable. Herman replied:

The difference between the corporate stores and the independents is that the look of the signage and displays are determined at a corporate level and done for multiple stores at the same time. The local store owner is creating the look for their storefront locally, and in reaction to the environment and neighborhood. All of this is obvious, but it is the independents that create the feeling of specificity of place: “only in New York.”

With rents soaring in every borough due to gentrification, the class differences soar as well. Just a couple of days ago, the Times reported on the death of thirteen people from COVID-19 at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. This is a public hospital with 545 beds and a shortage of ventilators. To cope with the corpses piling up, the hospital now has a makeshift morgue on the street below—a refrigerated truck. Opened to the public in 1832, it is one of the oldest hospitals in the city. Two-thirds of Elmhurst’s residents were born outside the United States, the highest such rate in the city. The Times referred to it as a safety-net hospital, serving mainly low-income patients, including many who lack primary care doctors. You get an idea of the kind of people who flock to the hospital from the article:

Julio Jimenez, 35, spent six hours in the emergency room on Sunday night after running a fever while at work in a New Jersey warehouse. He returned on Monday morning to stand in the testing line in the pouring rain. On Tuesday, still coughing, eyes puffy, he stood in line for nearly seven hours and again went home untested.

“I don’t know if I have the virus,” Mr. Jimenez said. “It’s so hard. It’s not just me. It’s for many people. It’s crazy.”

Besides geezers being vulnerable, you can include such immigrants who must rely on inadequate health care. Ironically, the susceptibility of poor people to the disease through their largely service-oriented jobs working as doormen, janitors, maids, security guards, hospital orderlies, etc. threatens the rich as well. Viruses, like zombies, are equal opportunity killers. Walking past some hedge fund manager on the street, Julio Jiminez might sneeze, after all.

There’s always been a mystique about metropolitan centers like New York, Paris, London, Vienna, Tokyo, and Beijing. They represent “civilization” as opposed to the boring and soul-destroying suburbs and rural villages. In the political clash of the past four years in the United States, the red state supporters of Donald Trump see places like New York as enemy territory. In the sixties, yahoos used to refer to it as Jew York.

In addition to the museums and opera houses, the city has also been home to the plagues. If you were living in a nomadic tribe, you might have to deal with wolves or lions, but plagues were less of a problem. Sneezing and coughing are problems mostly associated with proximity to crowds and large populations. Deadly viruses like smallpox, the plague, measles, and influenza flourish in high population density with humans, herd animals, and their excretions interacting. When agriculture superseded hunting and gathering, civilization became possible since grains like wheat and rice allowed permanent settlement. But this benefit also allowed pathogens to jump from one person to another through airborne droplets just like the ones I fear in Whole Foods.

Anarchist scholar James C. Scott harped on these problems in his latest book, “Against the Grain.” Using the same methodology as earlier Marxist works like Friedrich Engels’s “Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State” or V. Gordon Childe’s “Man Makes Himself,” interrogates the whole notion of progress in “Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States.” This 2018 book anticipated the pandemic of today by referring to “the unforeseeable disease epidemics arising from crowding plants, animals, and grain,” as the Yale University website mentions.

In the penultimate paragraph of the concluding chapter, Scott refers to a “golden age for barbarians,” when there was an alternative to the hollow, if not lethal, pleasures of civilization:

The life of “late barbarians” would, on balance, have been rather good. Their subsistence was still spread across several food webs; being dispersed, they would have been less vulnerable to the failure of a single food source. They were more likely to be healthier and live longer—especially if they were female. More advantageous trade made for more leisure, thus further widening the leisure-drudgery ratio between foragers and farmers. Finally, and by no means trivial, barbarians were not subordinated or domesticated to the hierarchical social order of sedentary agriculture and the state. They were in almost every respect freer than the celebrated yeoman farmer. This is not a bad balance sheet for a class of barbarians over whom the waves of history were supposed to have rolled a long time ago.

The next and concluding paragraph is a eulogy to a type of life that succumbed to “civilization.” Even if they enjoyed a healthier and freer life, the mostly equestrian warriors ended up as vassals to state powers such as the Ottomans or the Chinese dynasties.

This, of course, begs the question of what alternative we have to the civilization that is killing us. As Samuel Moyn points out in a perceptive review of “Against the Grain” in The Nation titled “Barbarian Virtues”, the state is in and of itself not necessarily oppressive. He writes, “Yet Scott is so enamored with the versatility of our hunting-and-gathering ancestors—especially when compared with the monotonies of grain cultivation—that he never thinks to describe how they interpreted the freedom and equality he assigns to them. He never confronts the possibility that only a new kind of state could make new kinds of ideals possible, including his own.”

Despite Bernie Sanders’s dismissal of Cuba as a police state, there are what we might call socialist as opposed to barbarian virtues. Given its generous medical assistance to Italy and other states facing calamity, Cuba shows that another world is possible.

Fifty-three years ago, when I became a socialist, most people understood that we had an uphill battle to convince Americans that such a system could benefit them. All they knew about socialism was its chronic shortages and shoddy goods. When the Soviet Union collapsed, we were put on the defensive since there was no alternative, it seemed, to capitalism’s dynamic and innovative productive capabilities. How could socialism compete with Levi jeans, bananas and pornography, after all?

With the current pandemic and an economy that threatens to turn into a full-scale 1930s type Depression, the capitalist system has lost its invincibility. Entering one of the gravest crises of the twenty-first centuries, I am reminded of Rosa Luxemburg’s words in “The Junius Pamphlet” written after the outbreak of World War One:

This brutal victory parade of capital through the world, its way prepared by every means of violence, robbery, and infamy, has its light side. It creates the preconditions for its own final destruction. It put into place the capitalist system of world domination, the indispensable precondition for the socialist world revolution. This alone constitutes the cultural, progressive side of its reputed “great work of civilization” in the primitive lands. For bourgeois-liberal economists and politicians, railroads, Swedish matches, sewer systems, and department stores are “progress” and “civilization.” In themselves these works grafted onto primitive conditions are neither civilization nor progress, for they are bought with the rapid economic and cultural ruin of peoples who must experience simultaneously the full misery and horror of two eras: the traditional natural economic system and the most modern and rapacious capitalist system of exploitation. Thus, the capitalist victory parade and all its works bear the stamp of progress in the historical sense only because they create the material preconditions for the abolition of capitalist domination and class society in general. And in this sense imperialism ultimately works for us.

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