Archive | May 2nd, 2020

Grim count: US virus toll passes Trump’s 60,000 marker

By DARLENE SUPERVILLE

1 of 2President Donald Trump, followed by Vice President Mike Pence, arrives to speak about reopening the country, during a roundtable with industry executives, in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump likes to talk about the most, the best, the thing that nobody has ever seen.

Now he is trying to make a virtue of a lower number, arguing that the efforts of his administration have warded off a far greater death toll than otherwise would have been seen.

But the reported U.S. death toll on Wednesday crept past 60,000, a figure that Trump in recent weeks had suggested might be the total death count. He had cited the estimate as a sign of relative success after the White House previously warned the U.S. could suffer 100,000 to 240,000 deaths.

“I don’t think anybody’s done a better job — with testing, with ventilators, with all the things that we’ve done,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “And our death totals — numbers per million people — are really very, very strong. We’re very proud of the job we’ve done.”

Trump also has repeatedly used the outer band of any estimate — the potential that 2.2 million Americans could have died had there been no interventions — to try to make his case most powerfully.MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 is certain to keep growing from here.

And, like the unemployment rate, the numbers also will be revised — and likely upward, due to underreporting. The focus on death tallies also overlooks other important markers such as immunity levels and infection rates.

“All these pieces of data are like a giant jigsaw puzzle that you’re putting together,” said Dr. Howard Markel, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for the History of Medicine. “The death toll is just one of them.”

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said it’s simplistic for Trump or other public officials to focus on the death toll since it’s incomplete. Cases not initially classified as COVID-19 could be added at a later date.

“The problem is you look at the number on your television screen and the number looks real,” she said. “What you don’t have is that that number should have an asterisk next to it.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, on March 29 revealed models projecting the deaths of 100,00-240,000 Americans, assuming social distancing efforts were ongoing. At the same time, she said epidemiology models initially had predicted a worst-case scenario of 1.5 million to 2.2 million U.S. deaths without mitigation efforts such as social distancing, hand washing and staying home as much as possible.

Soon after, Trump began speculating that the 100,000 figure was an outer limit,. Later, he leaned more toward a 60,000 projection.

“The minimum number was 100,000 lives, and I think we’ll be substantially under that number,” he said April 10. “Hard to believe that if you had 60,000 — you could never be happy, but that’s a lot fewer than we were originally told and thinking.”

Trump tempers his comments by saying even one death is too many, but he’s also appeared relieved at the notion of a toll of 60,000. That’s more in a matter of months than the 58,220 U.S. military deaths during the Vietnam War but far below the 675,000 deaths from the 1918 flu pandemic that Trump often cites.

Trump has used the 2.2. million death estimate to suggest he saved millions of lives through leadership that he and other administration officials say was “decisive.” His actions have been challenged by state, local and public health officials who have complained about shortages of testing supplies and safety gear for doctors and nurses.

Trump often cites restricting travel from China, where the virus originated, and from Europe, where it took hold before exploding in the U.S., as among his most important first steps.Full Coverage: Virus Outbreak

“We did the right thing, because if we didn’t do it, you would have had a million people, a million and a half people, maybe 2 million people dead,” the president said on April 20.

“Now, we’re going toward 50-, I’m hearing, or 60,000 people,” he continued. “One is too many. I always say it. One is too many. But we’re going toward 50- or 60,000 people.”

Trump offered a revised estimate Monday when asked if he deserved a second term with a death toll akin to the American lives lost in Vietnam.

“Yeah, we’ve lost a lot of people,” he said in the Rose Garden. “But if you look at what original projections were — 2.2 million — we’re probably heading to 60,000, 70,000. It’s far too many. One person is too many for this.”

Calvin Jillson, a presidential scholar at Southern Methodist University, contrasted Trump’s public talk of death counts to the reluctance of administration and military officials to discuss Vietnam War body counts.

Jillson said Trump doesn’t realize the numbers are always “going to turn negative at some point” and that the way he talks about the death count suggests a lack of empathy.

“It highlights how infrequently he will actually talk about these numbers as people, as loved ones, as fellow Americans, as people no longer with us,” Jillson said. “That is natural to a politician whose stock in trade is to feel the audience and to empathize with them.”

The White House had resisted any public announcement about a potential death toll until Birx and other experts unveiled their own model of the anticipated cost to the nation — both with and without social distancing measures.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began posting projections on the number of anticipated U.S. deaths from the coronavirus from seven different research teams.

The teams use different types of data and make different assumptions, including about the effects of social distancing, use of face coverings and other measures. The most recent summary showed modelers predicted a cumulative U.S. death toll of 50,000 to 100,000 by mid-May.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield declined to predict the death toll during an Associated Press interview Tuesday.

“I use models to try to predict the impact of different interventions. That’s really the important thing,” Redfield said.

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Outsiders consider possibility of chaos in North Korea

By FOSTER KLUG

1 of 2FILE – In this Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018 file photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves after a parade for the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s founding day in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea’s collapse has been predicted — wrongly — for decades. So it is no surprise that unconfirmed rumors that current leader Kim Jong Un is seriously ill have raised worries about what Washington and North Korea’s neighbors would do if things fall apart in any post-Kim North Korea. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

TOKYO (AP) — North Korea’s collapse has been predicted — wrongly— for decades.

Some said it would happen after fighting ended in the Korean War in 1953. Others thought it would be during a 1990s famine or when national founder Kim Il Sung died in 1994. And when the death of his son, Kim Jong Il, thrust a little-known 20-something into power in 2011, some felt the end was near.

It’s no surprise then that recent rumors that leader Kim Jong Un is seriously ill have led to similar hand-wringing.

South Korea believes Kim is alive and in control, and most analysts agree that even if he weren’t, Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, would likely take control, possibly with the help of select officials.

Many experts say North Korea would weather the transition just as it has every other upheaval.

But what if it didn’t? Here’s a look at how other nations might deal with a catastrophe in North Korea.RELATED STORIES:

THE UNITED STATES

If the government in Pyongyang should collapse, a U.S.-South Korean contingency plan called OPLAN 5029 would reportedly come into play.

The plan is meant to secure the border and North Korea’s nuclear weapons if the government can’t function or if control of those weapons becomes uncertain.

“The million-dollar question is: When do you invoke the OPLAN and what indicators do you rely on to do so? Because one country’s ‘securing the country’ operation can look to the other nation like an ‘invasion plan.’ And then all hell can break loose,” said Vipin Narang, a North Korea nuclear specialist at MIT.

The biggest U.S. worry is North Korea’s nuclear stockpile being used, stolen or sold.

“If the U.S. does not have plans to go in and secure and retrieve North Korean nukes — to the extent we know where they are — then we are not doing our job,” said Ralph Cossa, president emeritus of the Pacific Forum think tank in Hawaii. “Beyond that, it makes little sense for the U.S and/or South Korea to get involved in internal North Korean power struggles.”

The danger of a U.S. misstep during a collapse would be huge. Among the potential problems would be coordinating with South Korea’s military at a time when Chinese troops would also likely be operating in the North and funding immense military and humanitarian efforts.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said recently, when asked about Kim’s health, that Washington will continue to pursue complete denuclearization, “regardless of what transpires inside of North Korea with respect to their leadership.”

CHINA

China is the North’s main source of aid and diplomatic backing and considers political stability in its impoverished neighbor crucial to its own security.

Although China has agreed to United Nations sanctions over the North’s weapons programs, it’s wary of anything that would collapse the economy or unseat the ruling party and potentially unleash conflict on its border and a flood of refugees crossing over.Full Coverage: North Korea

China in recent years has reinforced its border defenses with the North. But many people living on the Chinese side of the border are ethnically Korean, increasing fears of instability or even territorial loss if the border was opened.

China’s biggest concern, however, is thought to be the prospect of American and South Korean troops operating along its border, a worry that prompted China to enter the Korean War 70 years ago.

A change in leadership in North Korea, however, would be unlikely to bring about major changes to the relationship, said Lu Chao, a professor at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences in China.

SOUTH KOREA

Aside from joint plans with the U.S. military, internal South Korean preparations for a North Korean collapse reportedly deal with how to shelter an influx of refugees and how to set up an emergency administrative headquarters in the North.

According to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, then senior South Korean presidential adviser Kim Sung-hwan told a top U.S. diplomat in 2009 that South Korea’s constitution states that North Korea is part of South Korean territory and that “some scholars believe that if the North collapses, some type of ‘interim entity’ will have to be created to provide local governing and control travel of North Korean citizens.”

When asked recently about contingency plans, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it “prepares for all possibilities.”

One big problem is that unlike China, South Korea cannot mobilize the large number of soldiers needed to stabilize North Korea.

“If the North Korean regime is on the brink of collapse, China will most likely send troops to its ally and establish a pro-Beijing regime in the country,” South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said in a recent editorial. “Seoul must do its best to minimize China’s intervention in the North based on the solid alliance with” Washington.

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N Korea’s Kim Jong Un appears in public amid health rumors

By KIM TONG-HYUNG

1 of 13ADDING CITY – In this Friday, May 1, 2020, photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, visits a fertilizer factory in Sunchon, South Pyongan province, near Pyongyang, North Korea. Kim made his first public appearance in 20 days as he celebrated the completion of the fertilizer factory, state media said Saturday, May 2, 2020, ending an absence that had triggered global rumors that he may be seriously ill. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: “KCNA” which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance in 20 days as he celebrated the completion of a fertilizer factory near Pyongyang, state media said Saturday, ending an absence that had triggered global rumors that he may be seriously ill.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim attended the ceremony Friday in Sunchon with other senior officials, including his sister Kim Yo Jong, who many analysts predict would take over if her brother is suddenly unable to rule.

The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper published several photos of Kim wearing black and smiling as he looked around the factory and cut a red ribbon, his sister looking from behind.

One of the photos showed him smiling and clapping with his sister and other senior officials under a sign that read “Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory: Completion Ceremony: May 1, 2020.” Seemingly thousands of workers, many of them masked, stood in lines at the massive complex, releasing balloons into the air.

The images gave no clear sign that Kim was in discomfort. He wasn’t seen with a walking stick, like the one he used in 2014 when he was recovering from a presumed ankle surgery. However, one of the photos at the factory showed a green electric cart, which appeared similar to a vehicle he used in 2014.

It was Kim’s first public appearance since April 11, when he presided over a ruling Workers’ Party meeting to discuss the coronavirus and reappoint his sister as an alternate member of the powerful decision-making Political Bureau of the party’s Central Committee. That move confirmed her substantial role in the government.RELATED STORIES:

Speculation about his health swirled after he missed the April 15 birthday celebration for his late grandfather Kim Il Sung, the country’s most important holiday, for the first time since taking power in 2011.

The possibility of high-level instability raised troubling questions about the future of the secretive, nuclear-armed state that has been steadily building an arsenal meant to threaten the U.S. mainland while diplomacy between Kim and President Donald Trump has stalled.

Some experts say South Korea, as well as its regional neighbors and ally Washington, must begin preparing for the possible chaos that could come if Kim is sidelined by health problems or even dies. Worst-case scenarios include North Korean refugees flooding South Korea or China or military hard-liners letting loose nuclear weapons.

“The world is largely unprepared for instability in North Korea,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “Washington, Seoul and Tokyo need tighter coordination on contingency plans while international organizations need more resources and less controversy over the role of China.”

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, confirmed Kim’s visit to the fertilizer factory and said it was part of his efforts to emphasize economic development. The ministry called for discretion on information related to North Korea, saying that the “groundless” rumors of past weeks have caused “unnecessary confusion and cost” for South Korea’s society and financial markets.

South Korea’s government, which has a mixed record of tracking Pyongyang’s ruling elite, repeatedly downplayed speculation that Kim, believed to be 36, was in poor health following surgery.

The office of President Moon Jae-in said it detected no unusual signs in North Korea or any emergency reaction by its ruling party, military and cabinet. Seoul said it believed Kim was still managing state affairs but staying at an unspecified location outside Pyongyang.

The KCNA said workers at the fertilizer factory broke into “thunderous cheers” for Kim, who it said is guiding the nation in a struggle to build a self-reliant economy in the face of “head wind” by “hostile forces.”

The report didn’t mention any direct comment toward Washington or Seoul.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump declined to comment about Kim’s reappearance but said he would “have something to say about it at the appropriate time.”

State media reported Kim was carrying out routine activities outside public view, such as sending greetings to the leaders of Syria, Cuba and South Africa and expressing gratitude to workers building tourist facilities in the coastal town of Wonsan, where some speculated he was staying.

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused Kim’s absence in past weeks. In 2014, Kim vanished from the public eye for nearly six weeks and then reappeared with a cane. South Korea’s spy agency said he had a cyst removed from his ankle.

Analysts say his health could become an increasing factor in years ahead: he’s overweight, smokes and drinks, and has a family history of heart issues.

If he’s suddenly unable to rule, some analysts said his sister would be installed as leader to continue Pyongyang’s heredity dynasty that began after World War II.

But others question whether core members of North Korea’s elite, mostly men in their 60s or 70s, would find it hard to accept a young and untested female leader who lacks military credentials. Some predict a collective leadership or violent power struggles.

Following an unusually provocative run in missile and nuclear tests in 2017, Kim used the Winter Olympics in South Korea to initiate negotiations with Washington and Seoul in 2018. That led to a surprising series of summits, including three between Kim and Trump.

But negotiations have faltered in past months over disagreements in exchanging sanctions relief and disarmament steps, which raised doubts about whether Kim would ever fully deal away an arsenal he likely sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.

Kim entered 2020 vowing to build up his nuclear stockpile and defeat sanctions through economic “self-reliance.” Some experts say the North’s self-imposed lockdown amid the coronavirus crisis could potentially hamper his ability to mobilize people for labor.

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Trump erupts at campaign team as his poll numbers slide

By ZEKE MILLER and JONATHAN LEMIRE

1 of 2President Donald Trump listens during a demonstration of ways NASA is helping to combat the coronavirus, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Friday, April 24, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump erupted at his top political advisers last week when they presented him with worrisome polling data that showed his support eroding in a series of battleground states as his response to the coronavirus comes under criticism.

As the virus takes its deadly toll and much of the nation’s economy remains shuttered, new surveys by the Republican National Committee and Trump’s campaign pointed to a harrowing picture for the president as he faces reelection.

While Trump saw some of the best approval ratings of his presidency during the early weeks of the crisis, aides highlighted the growing political cost of the crisis and the unforced errors by Trump in his freewheeling press briefings.

Trump reacted with defiance, incredulous that he could be losing to someone he viewed as a weak candidate.

MORE ELECTION 2020:

“I am not f—-ing losing to Joe Biden,” he repeated in a series of heated conference calls with his top campaign officials, according to five people with knowledge of the conversations. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.

The message to the president was sobering: Trump was trailing the former Democratic vice president in many key battleground states, he was told, and would have lost the Electoral College if the election had been held earlier this month.

On the line from the White House, Trump snapped at the state of his polling during a series of calls with campaign manager Brad Parscale, who called in from Florida; RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, on the line from her home in Michigan; senior adviser Jared Kushner; and other aides.

Echoing a number of White House aides and outside advisers, the political team urged Trump to curtail his daily coronavirus briefings, arguing that the combative sessions were costing him in the polls, particularly among seniors. Trump initially pushed back, pointing to high television ratings. But, at least temporarily, he agreed to scale back the briefings after drawing sharp criticism for raising the idea that Americans might get virus protection by injecting disinfectants.

Trump aides encouraged the president to stay out of medical issues and direct his focus toward more familiar and politically important ground: the economy.

Full Coverage: Election 2020

Even as Trump preaches optimism, the president has expressed frustration and even powerlessness as the dire economic statistics pile up. It’s been a whiplash-inducing moment for the president, who just two months ago planned to run for reelection on the strength of an economy that was experiencing unprecedented employment levels. Now, as the records mount in the opposite direction, Trump is feeling the pressure.

“We built the greatest economy in the world,” Trump has said publicly. “I’ll do it a second time.”

Trump’s political team warned that the president’s path to reelection depends on how quickly he can bring about a recovery.

“I think you’ll see by June a lot of the country should be back to normal, and the hope is that by July the country’s really rocking again,” Kushner told “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday morning. But other aides, business leaders and economists predict a far longer road toward recovery.

Representatives for the RNC and the Trump campaign did not comment on the polling or last week’s phone calls. In a tweet just after midnight Wednesday, Trump denied that he had recently shouted at his campaign manager and said that “he is doing a great job.”

According to people familiar with the incident, Trump vented much of his frustration at Parscale, who served as the bearer of bad news.

Trump has long distrusted negative poll numbers — telling aides for years that his gut was right about the 2016 race, when he insisted that he was ahead in the Midwest and Florida. At the same time, Parscale and other Trump aides are talking up the sophistication of their data and voter outreach capabilities this time.

The president and some aides have had simmering frustrations with Parscale for a while, believing the campaign manager — a close Kushner ally — has enriched himself from his association with Trump and sought personal publicity. Trump had previously been angered when Parscale was the subject of magazine profiles. This latest episode flared before the campaign manager was featured in a New York Times Magazine profile this week.

Aides have grown particularly worried about Michigan — which some advisers have all but written off — as well as Florida, Wisconsin and Arizona.

Trump announced Wednesday that he will visit Arizona next week — his first trip outside Washington in a month — as he looks to declare that much of the nation is ready to begin reopening after the virus.

The president has mocked Biden, his presumptive general election rival, for being “stuck in his basement” in his Delaware home during the pandemic.

Trump said Wednesday that he hopes to soon visit Ohio, a battleground state that Trump carried handily in 2016 but that aides see as growing slightly competitive in recent weeks.

Aides acknowledged that the president’s signature rallies would not be returning anytime soon. Some have privately offered doubts that he would be able to hold any in his familiar format of jam-packed arenas before Election Day, Nov. 3.

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Surveillance State and the ‘New Frontiers’ of Power

radhika

WE are all perhaps familiar with the fictionalised account of a pizza delivery service interacting with a potential customer. Through the course of the conversation, the server reveals an awareness of the customer’s medical condition, financial status, legal misdemeanours, and more. This situation, which was at one time seen as a joke or a frivolous exaggeration, is now strikingly close to our lived experiences. As a recent RTI request has revealed, the Modi government’s proposed “National Social Registry” is designed to do an all-round surveillance of each and every Indian, via the Aadhar system. Data which was previously collected by various government bodies for specific governance-related purposes and located in separate silos will now be brought together in a centralised manner using the unique Aadhar number. Computational tools and algorithms will now be used on this centralised data in an extensive manner.

All sorts of personal data – related to births, deaths, marriages, travel, migrations, address changes and financial status – will not just be collected to create a profile of individuals, it will serve as a key policy input for governments. The government claims that this is to enhance the performance of state-funded projects targeted at the poor and the marginalised; it seeks to “dynamically” record and verify the status of people below the poverty level who are beneficiaries of various projects. This however is a specious claim, since each and every citizen of this country is under scrutiny. This is a clear a violation of a right to privacy, which the Supreme Court has argued is a fundamental right, because it fails the proportionality test and subjects everyone to a breach of privacy of massive proportions. So how does the Modi government plan to circumvent this? Through amending the Aadhar Act in order to allow for a complete dismantling of the Supreme Court’s right to privacy judgement.

Fears of gross violations of individual rights through the proposed social registry have been expressed by none other than Manoranjan Kumar, a bureaucrat who was one of its loudest proponents at one time. Kumar has been deeply involved in discussions and preparations around this registry since 2015 when it was first mooted. His enthusiasm has now given way to profound scepticism, and he has warned that computer algorithms can (and will, by design) be used to do all kinds of searches across various databases to profile individuals and communities. This, as we can well guess, is a recipe for disaster.  

What we are now seeing is the latest, and by far the strongest form of the panopticon in human history, powered by technological tools and being put in place by political regimes. Constant collection of information after all provides the basis for a regime of control and discipline. The question for us is: what exactly is the nature of the modern panopticon, propelled by digital technologies? Our personal data is today the very fulcrum of a significant proportion of private business ventures. Digital technologies actively and silently record and process every instance of our lives. Detailed profiles are prepared, and this information is transformed into usable services which are now an integral part of our lives. While private businesses use our data, often without our explicit consent, governments are empowered to collect and use vast amounts of personal data. Sweeping powers make for a regime of anticipatory surveillance, where data can be collected and processed without having to cite a specific investigation. This point has been eloquently reiterated most recently in Edward Snowden’s autobiography, Permanent Record. Snowden speaks of how technological tools and regulatory mechanisms have colluded to create an extensive system of mass surveillance.

These concerns have been reflected in India. Since its inception in 2009, the Aadhar project has given an additional momentum to existing concerns of governmental overreach and the loss of privacy. Several other initiatives are equally worrying. India has proposed a centralised telecom interception system to automate eavesdropping on conversations. The Modi government also plans mass surveillance of private conversations and posts on social media. In response to this, we have been urged to look for specific rights (such as the “right to explanation”, the “right to erasure” and the “right to correction” detailed in a previous piece carried by Liberation). Consent and privacy have been the pivots around which any discussion of surveillance and data privacy takes place. It is in this context that Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for the Future at the New Frontier of Power needs to be read for its description of the nature of modern surveillance systems.

Tracing the Contours of Surveillance Capitalism

“Demanding privacy from surveillance capitalists or lobbying for an end to commercial surveillance is like asking…a giraffe to shorten its neck”

Zuboff characterises the current economic model as “surveillance capitalism,” where human experience is a raw material to be extracted and used to predict intentions, in order to produce and sell more goods and services. It crucially relies on new computing tools such as machine learning to exist. For example, personal data can be processed and converted into an application that is used by insurance companies to decide on the creditworthiness of its clients. It can be used to develop an application to help a car owner find an empty parking lot, or the least congested route to her destination. Zuboff’s central argument is that this regime poses a specific challenge because of its tumultuous impact on the very concepts of consent and privacy.

A key feature leading to the development of surveillance capitalism out of earlier models of capitalism is what Zuboff calls the discovery of “behavioural surplus”: the surplus value generated in mining enormous amounts of personal data and converting it into a marketable product. This surplus becomes available to corporations for uses beyond service improvement and its only purpose is to ensure exponential profits. The rush to increase behavioural surplus and thus ensure continuing profits leads corporations to move inexorably towards systems that not just infer personal behaviour, but are able to predict it with increasing accuracy. This is made possible through a continuous expansion of data that feeds into the prediction process and the use of computational tools. We are now seeing “permissionless innovation”; a unilateral seizure of rights over data without consent in order to cater to these new needs. Data is continuously extracted, behaviour is predicted, and user experience is personalised and customised.

The quest for behavioural surplus has moved to the offline world. Companies now track every moment of our daily lives in the physical world through smart-home devices, wearables, and applications such as Google Maps. Even human emotions are harnessed by computational methods that identify sentiments from textual and visual sources. The creeping incursion into daily routines slowly habituates people to them, but if a particular incursion generates too much of an uproar, companies adapt by promising reforms or by occasionally paying fines. This, however, fails to check the ever-growing range of data collection, made possible through tools such as ambient computing, ubiquitous computing and the Internet of Things (IoT).

From monitoring, surveillance capitalism has now entered a new domain: behavioural control. Not only is data being constantly collected, it is being processed and fed back to trigger certain desired commercial outcomes. Cars can be made to break down in order to facilitate loan recoveries; a Pokémon player is directed close to a MacDonald’s outlet; advertisements are presented to individuals when they are emotionally vulnerable and most likely to respond impulsively. In Zuboff’s narrative, human beings are now essentially Pavlov’s dogs, punished by the regime of surveillance capitalism for ‘undesirable’ behaviour and rewarded for ‘desirable’ ones.

How has what Zuboff calls “digital dispossession” (humans being dispossessed of the control of their personal data) taken place? She argues that tech companies such as Google and Facebook have benefitted from an economic model that is based on libertarian notions of fundamental freedoms and a model that is deeply sceptical of regulation. They equally benefitted from the post 9/11 political milieu in the US, which accepted and allowed for exceptional levels of surveillance under the garb of fighting terrorism and protecting national security. Zuboff reminds us that long before Cambridge Analytica, tech companies were working closely with political campaigns (such as the Obama 2008 campaign) to build voter profiles and to advise on strategy.

Zuboff’s arguments powerfully remind the reader that they are a mere pawns within an elaborate system of social control driven by technological tools controlled by big corporate houses or by governments. She convincingly argues that privacy and consent have been rendered toothless in this new regime of surveillance capitalism. Efforts to foreground privacy and consent are doomed to fail.

Is it possible to “take back” big-data analytics from the state and from big business? How effectively would regulatory mechanisms work? While Zuboff expresses hope that this particular form of capitalism (which is product of a certain historic juncture) is at fault, her own arguments suggest otherwise. Big data analytics seem incompatible with democratic control and far more in sync with authoritarian control. As David Harvey suggests, socialism or democracy will need technologies which have mental conceptions of new social relations embedded in them unlike the current technologies which have the idea of surveillance-based social engineering deeply embedded in them. Machine intelligence is the very means of production in surveillance capitalism and therefore alternative means might have to emerge. Given the extent of compatibility between surveillance capitalism and digital technologies, it is difficult to imagine the existence of one without the other. Taking back the digital seems a difficult task, requiring the reconstitution and rebuilding of digital technologies themselves.

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What The Pandemic Teaches Us

corona

CHINA placed the industrial province of Wuhan under lockdown and contained the spread of the Covid-19 virus. An insightful article in Chuang (a blog devoted to “analyzing the ongoing development of capitalism in China, its historical roots, and the revolts of those crushed beneath it”) noted the difference between the racist tendency to blame China and people of Chinese origin for the pandemic, and between a critical analysis of the Chinese State’s handling of the crisis and what it tells us about capitalism today. The essay is especially insightful because the Chinese state’s response shares some features with the response of authoritarian regimes in India and other countries as well.

Regimes like to use fear – (of terrorism, of coronavirus, of loss of employment) to build consensus for their authoritarianism. If an Emergency was seen as an illegitimate clampdown by a dictatorial leader, an Emergency imposed in the name of Coronavirus precautions might generate a lot more support. But, we might ask, do we not need lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus? Are not lockdowns effective and essential? This is question we could ask not only in the context of China but of India too.

And the answer is pretty obvious. The lockdowns are necessitated by the fact that the healthcare systems are unable to handle the load of a large number of patients at one go. So “social distancing” enforced by a lockdown is needed only because our healthcare systems are weak. Why not acknowledge this and nationalise healthcare, as Spain has done? Even better, why not have universal testing and effective isolation and care of people testing positive for the virus, as South Korea has done? South Korea’s model has, after all, proved to be most effective in containing the spread of the virus. So why are other governments not doing this?

coro

At the heart of the issue is this simple fact: that democratic methods persuading people to understand basic principles and willingly practice those principles are proven to be far more effective than demanding blind obedience to rules and rituals and punishing violations. In his pathbreaking book on hospital infections, Better, surgeon Atul Gawande recounts the impact of a revolutionary new – democratic rather  than top-down draconian – approach to hospital hygiene.

Gawande writes, “Stopping the epidemics spreading in our hospitals is not a problem of ignorance–of not having the know-how about what to do. It is a problem of compliance–a failure of an individual to apply that know-how correctly. But achieving compliance is hard.” Repeated injunctions to wash hands correctly and so on fail and infections continue to be rife in hospitals.

With the new approach, doctors in a particular US hospital “held a series of thirty-minute, small group discussions with health care workers at every level: food service workers, janitors, nurses, doctors, patients themselves. The team began each meeting saying, in essence, ‘We’re here because of the hospital infection problem and we want to know what you know about how to solve it.’ There were no directives, no charts with what the experts thought should be done. Ideas came pouring out. People told of places where hand-gel dispensers were missing, ways to keep gowns and gloves from running out of supply, nurses who always seemed able to wash their hands and even taught patients to wash their hands, too. Many people said it was the first time anyone had ever asked them what to do. The norms began to shift…. Nurses who would never speak up when a doctor failed to wash his or her hands began to do so after learning of other nurses who did.” The result was that hospital infections dropped to zero in that particular hospital.

The message is clear: that people’s participation in identifying and solving problems is a lot more effective than any authoritarian and punitive imposition of “rules”. This insight offers clues for the failures of the state-led programmes like Swacch Bharat and Beti Bachao to combat open defecation and sex-selection respectively. And above all, it offers us insights into how the top-down approach in combating coronavirus is costing China, India and the world dearly. A more democratic approach would chose to listen to and learn from doctors like Dr Li Wenliang, and would trust people to be capable of understanding how the virus spreads and acting responsibly in democratic cooperation with each other to prevent its spread. Such an approach might be life-saving and revolutionary. But since democracy and mutual cooperation are more contagious than viruses, regimes all over the world discourage them and instead use the crisis to shore up their authority and power over people instead.

The lessons for us, the people, are that our response to a pandemic cannot be radically different from our response to the crisis of capitalism and fascism. We must continue to foster mutual trust, empathy, and cooperation – the same qualities and approaches we need to build unions, run communes, conduct revolutions and sustain revolutions – to help everyone, including the most vulnerable, survive the pandemic.

Below, we carry excerpts from the detailed and thoughtful analysis of capitalism, China, and the Covid-crisis in the Chuang blog.

Posted in HealthComments Off on What The Pandemic Teaches Us

Venezuela accuses U.S., ‘Israel’, in alleged coup plot with assassinations and kidnappings

Mossad - Wikipedia

 Anthony Faiola 

Venezuela’s top government spokesman Wednesday called the country’s former spy chief a “traitor,” a “mercenary” and a “slave” to the United States, and accused him of working with opposition leaders not only to overthrow the government but also to kill President Nicolás Maduro, his wife and other senior government officials.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez said authorities had foiled a plot this month that would have involved an invasion by Israeli, Colombian and American agents, the seizure of military bases, a raid on the central bank and the assassination or kidnapping of several senior officials.

Rodríguez made the claims less than 48 hours after The Washington Post published an article based on hours of exclusive interviews with Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, the former head of Maduro’s feared SEBIN intelligence agency.

Figuera, who defected in April to join an opposition uprising, described a regime that operated more like an organized criminal enterprise than a functioning government, with pervasive Cuban influence and corruption at the highest levels.

He also alleged new details of the failed April 30 uprising, which he said included the defense minister and the chief justice of the supreme court before they backed out. (Both men have denied involvement and remain in their positions.)

Figuera, now in the United States, rejected Rodríguez’s claims Wednesday.

“They are trying to paint us as criminals and not as heroes,” he said.

He added that Rodríguez is “trying to discredit me and make me look like a mercenary, because they know that I have morals and that I cannot be accused of the atrocities committed by this criminal enterprise and the bad governance of Maduro and his band of outlaws.”

The Colombian government has denied the charge of a plot, as does the United States.

“Maduro, who clearly no longer trusts the Venezuelan military, is desperately repeating the same tired, baseless accusations,” Garrett Marquis, a National Security Council spokesman, said Thursday.

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the leader of the country’s National Assembly, dismissed Rodríguez’s account as fiction.

“Once again, another novel by the regime,” said Guaidó, who is recognized by the United States and more than 50 other countries as Venezuela’s rightful leader. “We are used to it, just as we are used to persecution by the dictatorship. It’s the only response they have left.”

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon called the claims “utter nonsense.”

During a 90-minute news conference at Miraflores, the presidential palace, Rodríguez played excerpts from what he said were video calls between coup plotters, and referred to a map and photographs of alleged participants. He said authorities had seized 140,000 machine gun cartridges that were to have been used in the plot.

Rodríguez also said Guaidó paid Figuera hundreds of thousands of dollars to free opposition leader Leopoldo López and former police official Iván Simonovis from prison, while leaving a fellow opposition leader, retired Gen. Raúl Baduel, behind bars due to an internal rift. He said Baduel wanted to oust Guaidó and lead a transition himself.

López made a surprise public appearance with Guaidó at the La Carlota military base in Caracas on the morning of the April 30 uprising. Simonovis escaped from prison and is now in the United States.

“The hero of The Washington Post, the key intelligence chief Manuel Cristopher Figuera, ended up being not only a traitor and a slave of the Americans but also a mercenary,” Rodríguez said.

Figuera said Wednesday that he never requested nor received money to liberate any prisoner. He said Guaidó signed and he himself authorized pardons for all three men, and he hopes Baduel is liberated soon.

Figuera said no Israeli groups were involved in any negotiations that he was a part of, and he was aware of no plans to assassinate Maduro or any other official.

Rodríguez alleged that the conspirators had divided tasks among three combat groups. One would seek to kill Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, as well as senior official Diosdado Cabello and former Caracas mayor Freddy Bernal. Another would kidnap Interior Minister Néstor Reverol and take over military counterintelligence headquarters and two military bases. The third planned to kidnap Gen. Gustavo González López, who was named head of the intelligence police after Figuera defected and escaped to neighboring Colombia.

Rodríguez said the plotters planned to rob the central bank to finance “terrorist acts.” He alleged that the Colombian and Dominican governments had offered support.

Figuera denied the claims.

“They know they have made too many mistakes, and they seek alternative facts to negate the morality of those of us who decided to stand on the right side of history,” he said.

He added: “They offend the people with its inconsistency of their declarations. They are an insult to intelligence.”

He called Rodríguez a psychiatrist and an “expert manipulator,” with “all the tools needed to lie efficiently.”

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZI, C.I.A, VenezuelaComments Off on Venezuela accuses U.S., ‘Israel’, in alleged coup plot with assassinations and kidnappings

Ex-Green Beret led failed attempt to oust Venezuela’s Maduro

By JOSHUA GOODMAN

1 of 6FILE – In this Aug. 4, 2018 file photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, security guards surround Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with protective gear as an unidentified drone interrupts his speech in Caracas, Venezuela. An exiled Venezuelan national guardsman accused of partaking in this drone attack on Maduro is among voluntary combatants in three safe houses of former soldiers plotting a military incursion from neighboring Colombia, according to an Associated Press investigation. (Xinhua via AP, File)

MIAMI (AP) — The plan was simple, but perilous. Some 300 heavily armed volunteers would sneak into Venezuela from the northern tip of South America. Along the way, they would raid military bases in the socialist country and ignite a popular rebellion that would end in President Nicolás Maduro’s arrest.

What could go wrong? As it turns out, pretty much everything.

The ringleader of the plot is now jailed in the U.S. on narcotics charges. Authorities in the U.S. and Colombia are asking questions about the role of his muscular American adviser, a former Green Beret. And dozens of desperate combatants who flocked to secret training camps in Colombia said they have been left to fend for themselves amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The failed attempt to start an uprising collapsed under the collective weight of skimpy planning, feuding among opposition politicians and a poorly trained force that stood little chance of beating the Venezuelan military.

“You’re not going to take out Maduro with 300 hungry, untrained men,” said Ephraim Mattos, a former U.S. Navy SEAL who trained some of the would-be combatants in first aid.

This bizarre, untold story of a call to arms that crashed before it launched is drawn from interviews with more than 30 Maduro opponents and aspiring freedom fighters who were directly involved in or familiar with its planning. Most spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation.

When hints of the conspiracy surfaced last month, the Maduro-controlled state media portrayed it as an invasion ginned up by the CIA, like the Cuban Bay of Pigs fiasco of 1961. An Associated Press investigation found no evidence of U.S. government involvement in the plot. Nevertheless, interviews revealed that leaders of Venezuela’s U.S.-backed opposition knew of the covert force, even if they dismissed its prospects.

Planning for the incursion began after an April 30, 2019, barracks revolt by a cadre of soldiers who swore loyalty to Maduro’s would-be replacement, Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader recognised by the U.S. as Venezuela’s rightful leader. Contrary to U.S. expectations at the time, key Maduro aides never joined with the opposition and the government quickly quashed the uprising.

A few weeks later, some soldiers and politicians involved in the failed rebellion retreated to the JW Marriott in Bogota, Colombia. The hotel was a centre of intrigue among Venezuelan exiles. For this occasion, conference rooms were reserved for what one participant described as the “Star Wars summit of anti-Maduro goofballs” — military deserters accused of drug trafficking, shady financiers and former Maduro officials seeking redemption.

Among those angling in the open lobby was Jordan Goudreau, an American citizen and three-time Bronze Star recipient for bravery in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he served as a medic in U.S. Army special forces, according to five people who met with the former soldier.

Those he interacted with in the U.S. and Colombia described him in interviews alternately as a freedom-loving patriot, a mercenary and a gifted warrior scarred by battle and in way over his head.

Two former special forces colleagues said Goudreau was always at the top of his class: a cell leader with a superb intellect for handling sources, an amazing shot and a devoted mixed martial arts fighter who still cut his hair high and tight.

At the end of an otherwise distinguished military career, the Canadian-born Goudreau was investigated in 2013 for allegedly defrauding the Army of $62,000 in housing stipends. Goudreau said the investigation was closed with no charges.

After retiring in 2016, he worked as a private security contractor in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. In 2018, he set up Silvercorp USA, a private security firm, near his home on Florida’s Space Coast to embed counter-terror agents in schools disguised as teachers. The company’s website features photos and videos of Goudreau firing machine guns in battle, running shirtless up a pyramid, flying on a private jet and sporting a military backpack with a rolled-up American flag.

Silvercorp’s website touts operations in more than 50 countries, with an advisory team made up of former diplomats, experienced military strategists and heads of multinational corporations — none of them named. It claims to have “led international security teams” for the president of the United States.

Goudreau, 43, declined to be interviewed. In a written statement, he said that “Silvercorp cannot disclose the identities of its network of sources, assets and advisors due to the nature of our work” and, more generally, “would never confirm nor deny any activities in any operational realm. No inference should be drawn from this response.”

`CONTROLLING CHAOS’

Goudreau’s focus on Venezuela started in February 2019, when he worked security at a concert in support of Guaidó organized by British billionaire Richard Branson on the Venezuelan-Colombian border.

“Controlling chaos on the Venezuela border where a dictator looks on with apprehension,” he wrote in a photo of himself on the concert stage posted to his Instagram account.

“He was always chasing the golden BB,” said Drew White, a former business partner at Silvercorp, using military slang for a one-in-a-million shot. White said he broke with his former special forces comrade last fall when Goudreau asked for help raising money to fund his regime change initiative.

“As supportive as you want to be as a friend, his head wasn’t in the world of reality,” said White. “Nothing he said lined up.”

According to White, Goudreau came back from the concert looking to capitalize on the Trump administration’s growing interest in toppling Maduro.

He had been introduced to Keith Schiller, President Donald Trump’s longtime bodyguard, through someone who worked in private security. Schiller attended a March 2019 event at the University Club in Washington for potential donors with activist Lester Toledo, then Guaidó’s coordinator for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Last May, Goudreau accompanied Schiller to a meeting in Miami with representatives of Guaidó. There was a lively discussion with Schiller about the need to beef up security for Guaidó and his growing team of advisers inside Venezuela and across the world, according to a person familiar with the meeting. Schiller thought Goudreau was naive and in over his head. He cut off all contact following the meeting, said a person close to the former White House official.

In Bogota, it was Toledo who introduced Goudreau to a rebellious former Venezuelan military officer the American would come to trust above all others — Cliver Alcalá, ringleader of the Venezuelan military deserters.

Alcalá, a retired major general in Venezuela’s army, seemed an unlikely hero to restore democracy to his homeland. In 2011, he was sanctioned by the U.S. for allegedly supplying FARC guerrillas in Colombia with surface-to-air missiles in exchange for cocaine. And last month, Alcalá was indicted by U.S. prosecutors alongside Maduro as one of the architects of a narcoterrorist conspiracy that allegedly sent 250 metric tons of cocaine every year to the U.S.

Alcalá is now in federal custody in New York awaiting trial. But before his surrender in Colombia, where he had been living since 2018, he had emerged as a forceful opponent of Maduro, not shy about urging military force.

Over two days of meetings with Goudreau and Toledo at the JW Marriott, Alcalá explained how he had selected 300 combatants from among the throngs of low-ranking soldiers who abandoned Maduro and fled to Colombia in the early days of Guaidó’s uprising, said three people who participated in the meeting and insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations.

Alcalá said several dozen men were already living in three camps he maintained in and around the desert-like La Guajira peninsula that Colombia shares with Venezuela, the three said. Among the combatants in the camps was an exiled national guardsman accused of participating in a 2018 drone attack on Maduro.

Goudreau told Alcalá his company could prepare the men for battle, according to the three sources. The two sides discussed weapons and equipment for the volunteer army, with Goudreau estimating a budget of around $1.5 million for a rapid strike operation.

Goudreau told participants at the meeting that he had high-level contacts in the Trump administration who could assist the effort, although he offered few details, the three people said. Over time, many of the people involved in the plan to overthrow Maduro would come to doubt his word.

From the outset, the audacious plan split an opposition coalition already sharply divided by egos and strategy. There were concerns that Alcalá, with a murky past and ties to the regime through a brother who was Maduro’s ambassador to Iran, couldn’t be trusted. Others worried about going behind the backs of their Colombian allies and the U.S. government.

But Goudreau didn’t share the concerns about Alcalá, according to two people close to the former American solider. Over time, he would come to share Alcalá’s mistrust of the opposition, whose talk of restoring democracy was belied by what he saw as festering corruption and closed-door deal making with the regime, they said.

More importantly to Goudreau, Alcalá retained influence in the armed forces that Maduro’s opponents, mostly civilian elites, lacked. He also knew the terrain, having served as the top commander along the border.

“We needed someone who knew the monster from the inside,” recalled one exiled former officer who joined the plot.

Guaidó’s envoys, including Toledo, ended contact with Goudreau after the Bogota meeting because they believed it was a suicide mission, according to three people close to the opposition leader.

Undeterred, Goudreau returned to Colombia with four associates, all of them U.S. combat veterans, and begin working directly with Alcalá.

Alcalá and Goudreau revealed little about their military plans when they toured the camps. Some of the would-be combatants were told by the two men that the rag-tag army would cross the border in a heavily armed convoy and sweep into Caracas within 96 hours, according to multiple soldiers at the camps. Goudreau told the volunteers that — once challenged in battle — Maduro’s food-deprived, demoralized military would collapse like dominoes, several of the soldiers said.

NO CHANCE TO SUCCEED

Many saw the plan as foolhardy and there appears to have been no serious attempt to seek U.S. military support.

“There was no chance they were going to succeed without direct U.S. military intervention,” said Mattos, the former Navy SEAL who spent two weeks in September training the volunteers in basic tactical medicine on behalf of his non-profit, which works in combat zones.

Mattos visited the camps after hearing about them from a friend working in Colombia. He said he never met Goudreau.

Mattos said he was surprised by the barren conditions. There was no running water and men were sleeping on the floors, skipping meals and training with sawed-off broomsticks in place of assault rifles. Five Belgian shepherds trained to sniff out explosives were as poorly fed as their handlers and had to be given away.

Mattos said he grew wary as the men recalled how Goudreau had boasted to them of having protected Trump and told them he was readying a shipment of weapons and arranging aerial support for an eventual assault of Maduro’s compound.

The volunteers also shared with Mattos a three-page document listing supplies needed for a three-week operation, which he provided to AP. Items included 320 M4 assault rifles, an anti-tank rocket launcher, Zodiac boats, $1 million in cash and state-of-the-art night vision goggles. The document’s metadata indicates it was created by Goudreau on June 16.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of cowboys in this business who try to peddle their military credentials into a big pay day,” said Mattos.

AP found no indication U.S. officials sponsored Goudreau’s actions nor that Trump has authorized covert operations against Maduro, something that requires congressional notification.

But Colombian authorities were aware of his movements, as were prominent opposition politicians in Venezuela and exiles in Bogota, some of whom shared their findings with U.S. officials, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

True to his reputation as a self-absorbed loose cannon, Alcalá openly touted his plans for an incursion in a June meeting with Colombia’s National Intelligence Directorate and appealed for their support, said a former Colombian official familiar with the conversation. Alcalá also boasted about his relationship with Goudreau, describing him as a former CIA agent.

When the Colombians checked with their CIA counterparts in Bogota, they were told that the former Green Beret was never an agent. Alcalá was then told by his hosts to stop talking about an invasion or face expulsion, the former Colombian official said.

It’s unclear where Alcalá and Goudreau got their backing, and whatever money was collected for the initiative appears to have been meager. One person who allegedly promised support was Roen Kraft, an eccentric descendant of the cheese-making family who — along with former Trump bodyguard Schiller — was among those meeting with opposition envoys in Miami and Washington.

At some point, Kraft started raising money among his own circle of fellow trust-fund friends for what he described as a “private coup” to be carried out by Silvercorp, according to two businessmen whom he asked for money.

Kraft allegedly lured prospective donors with the promise of preferential access to negotiate deals in the energy and mining sectors with an eventual Guaidó government, said one of the businessmen. He provided AP a two-page, unsigned draft memorandum for a six-figure commitment he said was sent by Kraft in October in which he represents himself as the “prime contractor” of Venezuela.

But it was never clear if Kraft really had the inside track with the Venezuelans.

In a phone interview with AP, Kraft acknowledged meeting with Goudreau three times last year. But he said the two never did any business together and only discussed the delivery of humanitarian aid for Venezuela. He said Goudreau broke off all communications with him on Oct. 14, when it seemed he was intent on a military action.

“I never gave him any money,” said Kraft.

`WE KNEW EVERYTHING’

Back in Colombia, more recruits were arriving to the three camps — even if the promised money didn’t. Goudreau tried to bring a semblance of order. Uniforms were provided, daily exercise routines intensified and Silvercorp instructed the would-be warriors in close quarter combat.

Goudreau is “more of a Venezuelan patriot than many Venezuelans,” said Hernán Alemán, a lawmaker from western Zulia state and one of a few politicians to openly embrace the clandestine mission.

Alemán said in an interview that neither the U.S. nor the Colombian governments were involved in the plot to overthrow Maduro. He claims he tried to speak several times to Guaidó about the plan but said the opposition leader showed little interest.

“Lots of people knew about it, but they didn’t support us,” he said. “They were too afraid.”

The plot quickly crumbled in early March when one of the volunteer combatants was arrested after sneaking across the border into Venezuela from Colombia.

Shortly after, Colombian police stopped a truck transporting a cache of brand new weapons and tactical equipment worth around $150,000, including spotting scopes, night vision goggles, two-way radios and 26 American-made assault rifles with the serial numbers rubbed off. Fifteen brown-colored helmets were manufactured by High-End Defense Solutions, a Miami-based military equipment vendor owned by a Venezuelan immigrant family.

High-End Defense Solutions is the same company that Goudreau visited in November and December, allegedly to source weapons, according to two former Venezuelan soldiers who claim to have helped the American select the gear but later had a bitter falling out with Goudreau amid accusations that they were moles for Maduro.

Company owner Mark Von Reitzenstein did not respond to repeated email and phone requests seeking comment.

Alcalá claimed ownership of the weapons shortly before surrendering to face the U.S. drug charges, saying they belonged to the “Venezuelan people.” He also lashed out against Guaidó, accusing him of betraying a contract signed between his “American advisers” and J.J. Rendon, a political strategist in Miami appointed by Guaidó to help force Maduro from power.

“We had everything ready,” lamented Alcalá in a video published on social media. “But circumstances that have plagued us throughout this fight against the regime generated leaks from the very heart of the opposition, the part that wants to coexist with Maduro.”

Through a spokesman, Guaidó stood by comments made to Colombian media that he never signed any contract of the kind described by Alcalá, whom he said he doesn’t know. Rendon said his work for Guaidó is confidential and he would be required to deny any contract, whether or not it exists.

Meanwhile, Alcalá has offered no evidence and the alleged contract has yet to emerge, though AP repeatedly asked Goudreau for a copy.

In the aftermath of Alcalá’s arrest, the would-be insurrection appears to have disbanded. As the coronavirus spreads, several of the remaining combatants have fled the camps and fanned out across Colombia, reconnecting with loved ones and figuring out their next steps. Most are broke, facing investigation by Colombian police and frustrated with Goudreau, whom they blame for leading them astray.

Meanwhile, the socialist leadership in Caracas couldn’t help but gloat.

Diosdado Cabello, the No. 2 most powerful person in the country and eminence grise of Venezuela’s vast intelligence network, insisted that the government had infiltrated the plot for months.

“We knew everything,” said Cabello. “Some of their meetings we had to pay for. That’s how infiltrated they were.”

Posted in ZIO-NAZI, C.I.A, UK, VenezuelaComments Off on Ex-Green Beret led failed attempt to oust Venezuela’s Maduro

Capitalist Agriculture and Covid-19: A Deadly Combination

capital
(Rob Wallace, a socialist biologist explains the tight links between new viruses, industrial food production, and the profitability of multinational corporations. Yaak Pabst for the German socialist magazine Marx21 spoke to evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace, author of Big Farms Make Big Flu (Monthly Review Press, 2016) about the dangers of Covid-19, the responsibility of agribusiness and sustainable solutions to combat infectious diseases. We reproduce excerpts from the interview.)

YOU have been researching epidemics and their causes for several years. In your book Big Farms Make Big Flu you attempt to draw these connections between industrial farming practices, organic farming and viral epidemiology. What are your insights?

The real danger of each new outbreak is the failure –or better put—the expedient refusal to grasp that each new Covid-19 is no isolated incident. The increased occurrence of viruses is closely linked to food production and the profitability of multinational corporations. Anyone who aims to understand why viruses are becoming more dangerous must investigate the industrial model of agriculture and, more specifically, livestock production. At present, few governments, and few scientists, are prepared to do so. Quite the contrary.

When the new outbreaks spring up, governments, the media, and even most of the medical establishment are so focused on each separate emergency that they dismiss the structural causes that are driving multiple marginalized pathogens into sudden global celebrity, one after the other.

The neoliberal restructuring of the health care system has worsened both the research and the general care of patients, for example in hospitals. What difference could a better funded healthcare system make to fight the virus?

There’s the terrible but telling story of the Miami medical device company employee who upon returning from China with flu-like symptoms did the righteous thing by his family and community and demanded a local hospital test him for Covid-19. He worried that his minimal Obamacare option wouldn’t cover the tests. He was right. He was suddenly on the hook for US$3270.

An American demand might be an emergency order be passed that stipulates that during a pandemic outbreak, all outstanding medical bills related to testing for infection and for treatment following a positive test would be paid for by the federal government. We want to encourage people to seek help, after all, rather than hide away—and infect others—because they can’t afford treatment. The obvious solution is a national health service—fully staffed and equipped to handle such community-wide emergencies—so that such a ridiculous problem as discouraging community cooperation would never arise.

As soon as the virus is discovered in one country, governments everywhere react with authoritarian and punitive measures, such as a compulsory quarantine of entire areas of land and cities. Are such drastic measures justified?

Using an outbreak to beta-test the latest in autocratic control post-outbreak is disaster capitalism gone off the rails. In terms of public health, I would err on the side of trust and compassion, which are important epidemiological variables. Without either, jurisdictions lose their populations’ support.

A sense of solidarity and common respect is a critical part of eliciting the cooperation we need to survive such threats together. Self-quarantines with the proper support–check-ins by trained neighborhood brigades, food supply trucks going door-to-door, work release and unemployment insurance–can elicit that kind of cooperation, that we are all in this together.

As you may know, in Germany with the AfD we have a de facto Nazi party with 94 seats in parliament. The hard Nazi Right and other groups in association with AfD politicians use the Corona-Crisis for their agitation. They spread (false) reports about the virus and demand more authoritarian measures from the government: Restrict flights and entry stops for migrants, border closures and forced quarantine…

Travel bans and border closures are demands with which the radical right wants to to racialize what are now global diseases. This is, of course, nonsense. At this point, given the virus is already on its way to spreading everywhere, the sensible thing to do is to work on developing the kind of public health resilience in which it doesn’t matter who shows up with an infection, we have the means to treat and cure them. Of course, stop stealing people’s land abroad and driving the exoduses in the first place, and we can keep the pathogens from emerging in the first place.

What would be sustainable changes?

In order to reduce the emergence of new virus outbreaks, food production has to change radically. Farmer autonomy and a strong public sector can curb environmental ratchets and runaway infections. Introduce varieties of stock and crops—and strategic rewilding—at both the farm and regional levels. Permit food animals to reproduce on-site to pass on tested immunities. Connect just production with just circulation. Subsidize price supports and consumer purchasing programs supporting agro-ecological production. Defend these experiments from both the compulsions that neoliberal economics impose upon individuals and communities alike and the threat of capital-led State repression.

What should socialists call for in the face of the increasing dynamics of disease outbreaks?

Agribusiness as a mode of social reproduction must be ended for good if only as a matter of public health. Highly capitalized production of food depends on practices that endanger the entirety of humanity, in this case helping unleash a new deadly pandemic.

We should demand food systems be socialized in such a way that pathogens this dangerous are kept from emerging in the first place. That will require reintegrating food production into the needs of rural communities first. That will require agro-ecological practices that protect the environment and farmers as they grow our food. Big picture, we must heal the metabolic rifts separating our ecologies from our economies. In short, we have a planet to win.

Racism and Internationalism

Trump calls the Covid-19 the “Chinese virus” – a phrase echoed in US and Indian media, which has been a dog whistle triggering racist attacks on Asian people in the US and Europe , and on people of North East states in India.

But racism is not the only response the world has witnessed in the wake of the pandemic. The courage of the medical community, and their exemplary acts of internationalist solidarity, are truly inspiring.

Japan sent relief supplies to help China when it was the first country to be hit by Covid-19. The relief supply boxes had the words of a 1300 year-old Chinese poem on them, which read “Even though we live at different places, we live under the same sky.”

These words of solidarity, from a country with whom China has historically had a bitter and strained relationship), moved the people of China deeply.  

Likewise, when China sent doctors and relief supplies to Italy, the boxes of relief supplies and medical equipment carried the words from a Roman poem: “China sent medical masks to Italy, & wrote on the boxes a quote of a Roman poem: “We are waves from the same sea.”

The legendary leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro, had once declared, “Our country doesn’t drop bombs on other people. We don’t have biological or nuclear bombs. We train our doctors to help other nations.” In keeping with its long tradition of generously sharing its medical expertise, the tiny Communist-led Cuba sent teams of doctors and nurses to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname, Grenada and Italy. A news report observed, “The Caribbean island has sent its “armies of white robes” to disaster sites around the world largely in poor countries since its 1959 revolution. Its doctors were in the front lines in the fight against cholera in Haiti and against ebola in West Africa in the 2010s.”    

Long live internationalist solidarity – against Coronavirus, as well as against fascism, capitalism, and imperialism!

Coronavirus Precautions and Protections Must Cover India’s Most Vulnerable

The CPIML Central Committee in its meeting held at Kolkata on 14-16 March announced that it is suspending all mass mobilisations till 31 March as a precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

With such a virus, all people including the most privileged are only as safe as the weakest and most deprived sections of society. India’s lack of a robust public health infrastructure and affordable and quality healthcare makes India especially vulnerable. The vast majority of Indians dependent on daily wage labour and other forms of precarious employment in the informal sector will find it hard to survive with so many avenues of work being shut down. They will also find it impossible to maintain social distancing and preventive hygiene without adequate compensation and support.

The CPIML demands that the Central and State Governments

  • Increase capacities for free Coronavirus testing and quarantine in Govt hospitals and health centres
  • Ensure paid leave for all waged workers, and compensation and free rations for all non waged workers to facilitate social distancing.
  • Announce postponement of census and other surveys, formally announce cancellation of NPR survey plans. This is important since enumerators will be potential victims and carriers of the virus.
  • Urgently release all persons from detention centres, and release all undertrials to prevent overcrowding in jails. Take steps to ensure that hygienic precautions are maintained in jails, shelter homes, relief camps and the like.
  • Provide soap, water and hand sanitisers to every poor and deprived household in India. Strictly prevent hoarding of sanitisers, masks, and other essential items.
  • Certain sections of people will have no choice but to continue to work, to maintain essential services. These include health workers, as well as farmers and farm labourers who need to perform harvesting and sowing work at the right time. These sections of people must be provided with all the necessary means (at public cost) to maintain hygienic precautions.

The CPIML appealed to all people to resist rumours and not succumb to panic, and to responsibly maintain all the necessary precautions.

In response to a CPIML appeal, people all over India observe the whole day of 22 March as a day of social solidarity in the face of the Corona Virus disaster. CPIML also directed its cadres to organise a sustained Stop Covid-19 drive all over the country, helping to provide relief, rations and other provisions, as well as social support networks for the most vulnerable sections of society including informal sector workers, daily wage workers, sex workers, the elderly, the sick and the self-quarantined.

Posted in Health, PoliticsComments Off on Capitalist Agriculture and Covid-19: A Deadly Combination

China and The Coronavirus Pandemic: Lessons for Communists

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(Excerpts from an essay in the Chuang blog titled ‘Social Contagion’.)

Warmongering, Orientalism, Racism

The outbreak has been incorrectly blamed on everything from the conspiratorial and/or accidental release of a virus strain from the Wuhan Institute of Virology—a dubious claim spread by social media, particularly via paranoid Hong Kong and Taiwan Facebook posts, but now buoyed by conservative press outlets and military interests in the West—to the propensity of Chinese people to consume “dirty” or “strange” types of food, since the virus outbreak is linked to either bats or snakes sold in a semi-illegal ‘wet market’ specializing in wildlife and other rare animals (though this was not the ultimate source). Both major themes exhibit the obvious warmongering and orientalism common to reporting on China, and a number of articles have pointed out this basic fact. But even these responses tend to focus only on questions of how the virus is perceived in the cultural sphere, spending far less time digging into the much more brutal dynamics that lie obscured beneath the media frenzy.

A slightly more complex variant at least understands the economic consequences, even while it exaggerates the potential political repercussions for rhetorical effect. Here we find the usual suspects, ranging from standard warhawk dragon-slaying politicos to the spilled-latte pearl clutching of haute-liberalism: press agencies from the National Review to the New York Times have already implied that the outbreak may bring a “crisis of legitimacy” to the CCP, despite the fact that there is barely a whiff of an uprising in the air. But the kernel of truth to these predictions lies in their grasp of the economic dimensions of the quarantine—something that could hardly be lost on journalists with stock portfolios thicker than their skulls. Because the fact is that, despite the government’s call to isolate oneself, people may soon be forced to “gather together” to tend to the needs of production. According to the latest initial estimates, the epidemic will already cause China’s GDP slow to 5 percent in this year, below its already flagging growth rate of 6 percent last year, the lowest in three decades. Some analysts have said Q1 growth could sink 4 percent or lower, and that this may risk triggering a global recession of some sort. A previously unthinkable question has been posed: what actually happens to the global economy when the Chinese furnace begins to grow cold?

A Collective Process of Questioning

Within China itself, the ultimate trajectory of this event is difficult to predict, but the moment has already brought about a rare, collective process of questioning and learning about society. The epidemic has directly infected nearly 80,000 people (at the most conservative estimate), but it has delivered a shock to everyday life under capitalism for 1.4 billion, trapped in a moment of precarious self-reflection. This moment, while full of fear, has caused everyone to simultaneously ask some deep questions: What will happen to me? My children, family and friends? Will we have enough food? Will I get paid? Will I make rent? Who is responsible for all this? In a strange way, the subjective experience is somewhat like that of a mass strike—but one which, in its non-spontaneous, top-down character and, especially in its involuntary hyper-atomization, illustrates the basic conundrums of our own strangled political present as clearly as the true mass strikes of the previous century elucidated the contradictions of their era. The quarantine, then, is like a strike hollowed of its communal features but nonetheless capable of delivering a deep shock to both psyche and economy. This fact alone makes it worthy of reflection.

Of course, speculation on the imminent downfall of the CCP is predictable nonsense, one of the favorite pastimes of The New Yorker and The Economist. Meanwhile, the normal media suppression protocols are underway, in which overtly racist mass-media op-eds published in legacy outlets are countered by a swarm of web-platform thinkpieces polemicizing against orientalism and other facets of ideology. But almost the entirety of this discussion remains at the level of portrayal—or, at best, the politics of containment and the economic consequences of the epidemic—without delving into the questions of how such diseases get produced in the first place, much less distributed. Even this, however, is not quite enough. Now is not the time for a simple “Scooby-Doo Marxist” exercise of pulling the mask off the villain to reveal that, yes, indeed, it was capitalism that caused coronavirus all along! That would be no more subtle than foreign commentators sniffing about for regime change. Of course capitalism is culpable—but how, exactly, does the social-economic sphere interface with the biological, and what kind of deeper lessons might be drawn from the entire experience?

In this sense, the outbreak presents two opportunities for reflection: First, it is an instructive opening in which we might review substantial questions about how capitalist production relates to the non-human world at a more fundamental level—how, in short, the “natural world,” including its microbiological substrata, cannot be understood without reference to how society organizes production (because the two are not, in fact, separate). At the same time, this is a reminder that the only communism worth the name is one that includes the potential of a fully politicized naturalism. Second, we can also use this moment of isolation for our own sort of reflection on the present state of Chinese society. Some things only become clear when everything grinds to an unexpected halt, and a slowdown of this sort cannot help but make previously obscured tensions visible. Below, then, we’ll explore both these questions, showing not only how capitalist accumulation produces such plagues, but also how the moment of pandemic is itself a contradictory instance of political crisis, making visible to people the unseen potentials and dependencies of the world around them, while also offering yet another excuse for the extension of systems of control even further into everyday life.

COVID-19 can’t be understood without taking into account the ways in which China’s last few decades of development in and through the global capitalist system has molded the country’s health care system and the state of public health more generally. The epidemic, however novel, is therefore similar to other public health crises that came before it, which tend to be produced with nearly the same regularity as economic crises, and to be regarded in similar ways within the popular press—as if they were random, “black swan” events, utterly unpredictable and unprecedented. The reality, however, is that these health crises follow their own chaotic, cyclical patterns of recurrence, made more probable by a series of structural contradictions built into the nature of production and proletarian life under capitalism. Much like the case of the Spanish Flu, the coronavirus was originally able to take hold and spread rapidly because of a general degradation of basic healthcare among the population at large. But precisely because this degradation has taken place in the midst of spectacular economic growth, it has been obscured behind the splendor of glittering cities and massive factories. The reality, however, is that expenditures on public goods like health care and education in China remain extremely low, while most public spending has been directed toward brick and mortar infrastructure—bridges, roads, and cheap electricity for production.

Privatisation of Healthcare Breeds Epidemics

Before the country’s piece-by-piece incorporation into the global capitalist system, services like healthcare in China were once provided (largely in the cities) under the danwei system of enterprise-based benefits or (mostly but not exclusively in the countryside) by local healthcare clinics staffed by plentiful “barefoot doctors,” all provided as a free service. The successes of socialist-era healthcare, like its successes in the field of basic education and literacy, were substantial enough that even the country’s harshest critics had to acknowledge them. Snail fever, plaguing the country for centuries, was essentially wiped out in much of its historical core, only to return in force once the socialist healthcare system began to be dismantled. Infant mortality plummeted and, even despite the famine that accompanied the Great leap Forward, life expectancy jumped from 45 to 68 years between 1950 and the early 1980s. Immunization and general sanitary practices became widespread, and basic information on nutrition and public health, as well as access to rudimentary medicines, were free and available to all. Meanwhile, the barefoot doctor system helped to distribute fundamental, albeit limited, medical knowledge to a large portion of the population, helping to build a robust, bottom-up healthcare system in conditions of severe material poverty. It’s worth remembering that all of this took place at a time when China was poorer, per capita, than your average Sub-Saharan African country today.

Since then, a combination of neglect and privatization has substantially degraded this system at the exact same time that rapid urbanization and unregulated industrial production of household goods and foodstuffs has made the need for widespread healthcare, not to mention food, drug and safety regulations, all the more necessary. Today, China’s public spending on health is US$323 per capita, according to figures from the World Health Organization. This figure is low even among other “upper-middle income” countries, and it’s around half that spent by Brazil, Belarus and Bulgaria. Regulation is minimal to non-existent, resulting in numerous scandals of the type mentioned above. Meanwhile, the effects of all this are felt most strongly by the hundreds of millions of migrant workers, for whom any right to basic health care provisions completely evaporates when they leave their rural hometowns (where, under the hukou system, they are permanent residents regardless of their actual location, meaning that the remaining public resources can’t be accessed elsewhere).

Dress Rehearsal for Counterinsurgency

COVID-19 has gripped global attention with an unprecedented strength. Ebola, the avian flu and SARS, of course, all had their associated media frenzies. But something about this new epidemic has generated a different kind of staying power. In part, this is almost certainly due to the spectacular scale of the Chinese government’s response, resulting in equally spectacular images of emptied-out megacities that stand in stark contrast to the normal media image of China as over-crowded and over-polluted.

At a deeper level, though, what seems most fascinating about the state’s response is the way in which it has been performed, via the media, as a sort of melodramatic dress rehearsal for the full mobilization of domestic counterinsurgency. This gives us real insights into the repressive capacity of the Chinese state, but it also emphasizes the deeper incapacity of that state, revealed by its need to rely so heavily on a combination of total propaganda measures deployed through every facet of the media and the goodwill mobilizations of locals otherwise under no material obligation to comply. Both Chinese and Western propaganda have emphasized the real repressive capacity of the quarantine, the former narrating it as a case of effective government intervention in an emergency and the latter as yet another case of totalitarian overreach on the part of the dystopian Chinese state. The unspoken truth, however, is that the very aggression of the clampdown signifies a deeper incapacity in the Chinese state, which is itself very much still under construction.

This itself gives us a window into the nature of the Chinese state, showing how it is developing new and innovative techniques of social control and crisis response capable of being deployed even in conditions where basic state machinery is sparse or non-existent. Such conditions, meanwhile, offer an even more interesting (albeit more speculative) picture of how the ruling class in any given country might respond when widespread crisis and active insurrection cause similar breakdowns in even the most robust states. The viral outbreak was in every respect assisted by poor connections between levels of the government: repression of “whistleblower” doctors by local officials contra the interests of the central government, ineffective hospital reporting mechanisms and extremely poor provision of basic healthcare are just a few examples. Meanwhile, different local governments have returned to normal at different paces, almost completely beyond the control of the central state (except in Hubei, the epicenter). At the moment of writing, it seems almost entirely random which ports are operational and which locales have restarted production. But this bricolage quarantine has meant that long-distance city-to-city logistics networks remain disrupted, since any local government appears able to simply prevent trains or freight trucks from passing through its borders. And this base level incapacity of the Chinese government has forced it to deal with the virus as if it were an insurgency, roleplaying civil war against an invisible enemy.

In response to the central state’s call to mobilize, some localities have taken their own strange and severe initiatives. The most frightening of these are to be found in four cities in Zhejiang province, where thirty million people have been issued local passports, allowing only one person per household to leave home once every two days. Cities like Shenzhen and Chengdu have ordered that each neighborhood be locked down, and allowed entire apartment buildings to be quarantined for 14 days if a single confirmed case of the virus is found within. Meanwhile, hundreds have been detained or fined for “spreading rumors” about the disease, and some who have fled quarantine have been arrested and sentenced to lengthy jail time—and the jails themselves are now experiencing a severe outbreak, due to officials’ incapacity to isolate sick individuals even in an environment literally designed for easy isolation. These sorts of desperate, aggressive measures mirror those of extreme cases of counterinsurgency, most clearly recalling the actions of military-colonial occupation in places like Algeria, or, more recently, Palestine. Never before have they been conducted at this scale, nor in megacities of this kind that house much of the world’s population. The conduct of the clampdown then offers a strange sort of lesson for those with a mind for global revolution, since it is, essentially, a dry run of state-led reaction.

Building Consensus For Clampdown

This particular clampdown benefits from its seemingly humanitarian character, with the Chinese state able to mobilize greater numbers of locals to help in what is, essentially, the noble cause of strangling the spread of the virus. But, as is to be expected, such clampdowns always also backfire. Counterinsurgency is, after all, a desperate sort of war conducted only when more robust forms of conquest, appeasement and economic incorporation have become impossible. It is an expensive, inefficient and rearguard action, betraying the deeper incapacity of whatever power is tasked with deploying it—be they French colonial interests, the waning American imperium, or others. The result of the clampdown is almost always a second insurgency, bloodied by the crushing of the first and made even more desperate. Here, the quarantine will hardly mirror the reality of civil war and counterinsurgency. But even in this case, the clampdown has backfired in its own ways. With so much of the state’s effort focused on control of information and constant propaganda deployed via every possible media apparatus, unrest has expressed itself largely within the same platforms.

The death of Dr. Li Wenliang, an early whistleblower on the dangers of the virus, on February 7th shook citizens cooped up in their homes across the country. Li was one of eight doctors rounded up by police for spreading “false information” in early January, before later contracting the virus himself. His death triggered anger from netizens and a statement of regret from the Wuhan government. People are beginning to see that the state is made up of bumbling officials and bureaucrats who have no idea what to do but still put on a strong face. This fact was essentially revealed when the mayor of Wuhan, Zhou Xianwang, was forced to admit on state television that his government had delayed releasing critical information about the virus after an outbreak had occurred. The very tension caused by the outbreak, combined with that induced by the state’s total mobilization, has begun to reveal to the general populace the deep fissures that lie behind the paper-thin portrait that the government paints of itself. In other words, conditions such as these have exposed the fundamental incapacities of the Chinese state to growing numbers of people who previously would have taken the government’s propaganda at face value.

Pandemic Impact on the Map of China’s Working Class

Many migrant workers, including those who had stayed in their work cities for Spring Festival or were able to return prior to various lockdowns being implemented, are now stuck in a dangerous limbo. In Shenzhen, where the vast majority of the population are migrants, locals report that the number of homeless people has begun to climb. But the new people appearing on the streets are not long-term homeless, instead having the appearance of literally just being dumped there with nowhere else to go—still wearing relatively nice clothes, unfamiliar with where best to sleep in the open or where to obtain food. Various buildings in the city have seen an increase in petty theft, mostly of food delivered to the doorstep of residents who are staying home for the quarantine. Across the board, workers are losing wages as production is stalled. The best case scenarios during work stoppages are dorm-quarantines like that imposed at the Shenzhen Foxconn plant, where new returnees are confined to their quarters for a week or two, paid about a third of their normal wages and then allowed to return to the production line. Poorer firms have no such option, and the government’s attempt to offer new lines of cheap credit to smaller businesses will probably do little in the long run. In some cases, it seems like the virus will simply accelerate pre-existing trends in factory relocation, as firms like Foxconn expand production in Vietnam, India and Mexico to make up for the slowdown.

If the campaign against COVID-19 can also be read as a dry run against insurgency, it is notable that the central government only has the capacity to provide effective coordination in the Hubei epicenter and that its responses in other provinces—even wealthy and well-regarded places like Hangzhou—remain largely uncoordinated and desperate. We can take this in two ways: first, as a lesson on the weakness underlying the hard edges of state power, and second as a caution on the threat that is still posed by uncoordinated and irrational local responses when the central state machinery is overwhelmed.

Lessons For A Coherent Communist Politics

These are important lessons for an era when the destruction wrought by unending accumulation has extended both upward into the global climatic system and downward into the microbiological substrata of life on Earth. Such crises will only become more common. As the secular crisis of capitalism takes on a seemingly non-economic character, new epidemics, famines, floods and other “natural” disasters will be used as a justification for the extension of state control, and the response to these crises will increasingly function as an opportunity to exercise new and untested tools for counterinsurgency. A coherent communist politics must grasp both of these facts together. At a theoretical level, this means understanding that the critique of capitalism is impoverished whenever it is severed from the hard sciences. But at the practical level, it also implies that the only possible political project today is one able to orient itself within a terrain defined by widespread ecological and microbiological disaster, and to operate in this perpetual state of crisis and atomization.

In a quarantined China, we begin to glimpse such a landscape, at least in its outlines: empty late-winter streets dusted by the slightest film of undisturbed snow, phone-lit faces peering out of windows, happenstance barricades staffed by a spare few nurses or police or volunteers or simply paid actors tasked with hoisting flags and telling you to put your mask on and go back home. The contagion is social. So, it should come as no real surprise that the only way to combat it at such a late stage is to wage a surreal sort of war on society itself. Don’t gather together, don’t cause chaos. But chaos can build in isolation, too. As the furnaces in all the foundries cool to softly crackling embers and then to snow-cold ash, the many minor desperations cannot help but leak out of that quarantine to gently cascade together into a greater chaos that might one day, like this social contagion, prove difficult to contain.

Brave Dr Li Wenliang

Whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang who first warned his doctor colleagues in China about the epidemic in early December, was reprimanded for “spreading rumours.” Police detained Li for “spreading false rumours” and forced him to sign a police document admitting that he had “seriously disrupted social order” and breached the law. This authoritarian response by the Chinese state was not only unfair to Dr Li – it has had serious worldwide consequences. Dr Li developed fever soon after, was diagnosed with Covid-19 at the end of January, and succumbed to the virus in early February. His death sparked outrage in China – and the Government responded by trying to censor and delete posts critical of the government and “educate” people to publicly “thank” Xi Jinping for his handling of the crisis. Wuhan residents “flatly rejected” the attempts to coach them to express gratitude and suppress criticism.

In response to the intense criticism, China set up an enquiry into the allegations that Dr Li had broken the law. Following his death, China’s anti-corruption bureau filed a report finding that Dr Li had not disrupted public order. However the report also maintained that Dr Li had not verified the information before sending it, and it was “not consistent with the actual situation at the time”. In keeping with the report’s recommendation, the deputy head of the police station and an officer had been given a demerit and a warning respectively. Chinese social media users asked, “How can you let these police at the very bottom bear the burden? They were just carrying orders. Don’t hurt them.” Then, the anti-corruption bureau issued a statement syaing it had “solemnly apologised” to Li’s family and promising to “conscientiously draw lessons and improve” its operations. But China’s people are still not satisfied, pointing out that the bureau’s report criticised “anti-establishment” voices for labeling Dr Li a “hero” and “awakener”!

Posted in ChinaComments Off on China and The Coronavirus Pandemic: Lessons for Communists

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