Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 3, 2020

COVID-19 and the “Just-in-Time” Supply Chain

Filed under: Counterpunch,COVID-19 — louisproyect @ 3:52 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, APRIL 3, 2020

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

On March 25th, N.Y. Times op-ed columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote about “How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask.” The subtitle certainly went against the grain of what you’d read from a page dominated by Thomas Friedman: “A very American story about capitalism consuming our national preparedness and resiliency.”

Manjoo identified just one of many failures of the Trump administration to be prepared for the epidemic. Alex Azar, the HHS Secretary had testified that there were only about 40 million masks in our domestic stockpiles, around 1 percent of what would be required. Like much else, mask manufacturing had migrated to China in the same way as all other textile industries had long ago.

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April 1, 2020

The conspiracist left and the far right: strange bedfellows on COVID-19

Filed under: conspiracism,coronavirus — louisproyect @ 7:23 pm

Without missing a beat, some of the same people who have dubbed the Douma chlorine attack a false flag are now downplaying the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Peter Hitchens, the younger brother of Christopher (and like him an ex-SWP member) used his Daily Mail byline to promote the OPCW “whistleblowers”. Now, he writes bullshit like this:

It is more likely that the panic-mongers, having got their way by spreading alarm and frightening the Prime Minister, are now trying to get us to forget how ludicrous their original claims were. But first let me issue another warning. If the Government do decide to release us from mass arrest, they will say, as Prof Ferguson is doing, that this is because their repressive economy-wrecking measures worked.

We must demand proof, after a thorough independent inquiry, that this is true. For, if it is not, as I very much suspect, then we are in endless danger.

Any government, using the same pretext, can repeatedly put us through this misery, impoverishment and confinement. In the end, like the peoples of other despotisms, we will be grateful to be allowed out at all.

Also chiming in from the United Kingdom is one Piers Robinson, a co-director of Tim Hayward’s pro-Assad Organisation for Propaganda Studies that has been in the forefront of absolving the dictator of chemical weapons attacks. Robinson left his university post last year in order to spend full-time writing the same kind of bullshit as Peter Hitchens. In a March 28th article for the conspiracist Off-Guardian website, Robinson wrote:

The deep-rooted fear of contagious disease, hardwired into the collective consciousness by historical events such as the ‘Black/Bubonic Plague’ and maintained through popular culture (e.g. the Hollywood movies Outbreak and Contagion), means that people are without question highly susceptible to accepting extreme emergency measures whether or not such measures are rational or justified. The New York Times called for America to be put on a war footing in order to deal with Corona whilst former Army General Stanley McChrystal has been invoking his 9/11 experience in order to prescribe lessons for today’s leaders.

As for 9/11, Robinson is a Truther himself. In another article for Off-Guardian, he hailed David Ray Griffin and Elizabeth Woodworth’s “9/11 Unmasked” as a “diligent and painstaking work”. In a 2006 CounterPunch article titled “The 9/11 Nuts”, Alexander Cockburn referred to an earlier book by Griffin titled “The New Pearl Harbor” as part of the 9/11 conspiracy fever that “threatens to become the ‘socialism’ of the left, and the passe-partout of many libertarians.”

Early on, it became obvious to me that there was an overlap between 9/11 Truthers and the international Bashar al-Assad fan club. In 2012, I wrote a post titled “The Arab Revolt and the Conspiracist Left” that connected the dotted lines:

For some conspiracists, the Jihadist angle is paramount. Al-Qaeda is underneath every bed in the Middle East, a fear that originates with the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001. For people like Global Research’s Michel Chossudovsky and Voltairenet’s Thierry Meyssan, the revolts in Libya and Syria are just the latest evidence of CIA plots drawing upon willing Islamist assets.

Meyssan is the author of two “truther” books: 9/11: The Big Lie and Pentagate, a book that argues that a missile rather than a jet hit the Pentagon. Ordinarily, I would discount Meyssan as a typical nutcase but apparently he does have some traction with self-avowed Marxists like the PSL’s Diana Barahona who advised North Star readers:

For a good explanation of who the armed Syrian opposition really is, read “Who is fighting in Syria” by Thierry Meyssan, reporting from Damascus.

If Off-Guardian has been gung-ho on the pandemic being a plot to advance CIA interests globally, other conspiracist websites have demurred. Moon of Alabama, which is the mother-ship of all these pro-Assad, pro-Putin propaganda initiatives, is scared out of its wits. On March 11th, the webmaster, who is based in Germany and never writes in his own name, sounded the alarm in an article titled “Coronavirus – The Hidden Cases – Why We Must Shut Everything Down And Do It Now”. He wrote, “The key thing to do now is ‘social distancing’. As our governments do not act decisively to achieve that it is our personal responsibility to do that ourselves. Everyone must do this to the best of their abilities.”

Joining the conspiracist left is the Christian right and some Fox TV hosts like Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro. (Hannity has backtracked to some degree in keeping with his fealty to Trump, who has also backtracked.)

The most strenuous efforts to make the pandemic look like a Deep State conspiracy originate in Blaze Media, a company founded and headed by Glenn Beck. Like Off-Guardian, Blaze is a fountain of articles minimizing COVID-19’s threat. In a recent article there, it claims that “Coronavirus still much deadlier than the flu, but not as bad as previously reported.” Steve Deace, who has a Blaze TV show, is a total Jesus freak whose Twitter account is filled with daily helpings of disinformation drawn from the same well as Off-Guardian even to the point of echoing the sort of rhetoric associated with the left:

Like the campaigns waged by Off-Guardian to convince us that all chemical attacks in Syria were false flags, the new one minimizing the effects of COVID-19 depends on expert testimony. If Ted Postol and the OPCW “whistleblowers” were the go-to guys for absolving Assad, you see the same names cropping up now that lend credibility to conspiracist thinking.

I first noticed this when David Katz, a diet doctor basically, wrote an op-ed piece for the NY Times titled “Coronavirus Worse Than the Disease?” You get titles similar to this on Off-Guardian, like the one today titled “Could the Covid19 Response be More Deadly than the Virus?”, written by a 9/11 Truther named Kevin Ryan.

Katz wrote, “We have, to date, fewer than 200 deaths from the coronavirus in the United States — a small data set from which to draw big conclusions. Still, it is entirely aligned with the data from other countries. The deaths have been mainly clustered among the elderly, those with significant chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, and those in both groups.” From this observation, he draws the conclusion that it would be best to segregate the “clustered” minority and allow the rest of society to go to work in order to prevent the “near total meltdown of normal life — schools and businesses closed, gatherings banned.”

Naturally, neoliberalist meathead Thomas Friedman found Katz’s arguments most convincing even if other medical experts did not. The Dean of the Yale Medical School co-signed a letter to the NY Times taking issue with Katz’s letter. In the byline for his op-ed, Katz was described as a founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. To begin with, Katz no longer has any association with Yale. On top of that, Yale-Griffin has nothing to do with epidemiology. It’s mission is to research the possibility that nutrition can help stave off illnesses. As I said, Katz’s specialty is nutrition, not resisting pandemics.

A Guardian article described Katz as a gun for hire for big food companies, so is it any surprise that he would stump for industry as a whole right now? The article states:

A group of Yale epidemiologists swiftly wrote a letter to the Times, rebutting Katz’s piece. Others pointed out Katz’s lack of credentials and his links to big industry. He was once paid $3,500 an hour as an expert witness in a Chobani legal case to defend the sugar contained in its yoghurts.

Katz has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies including Hershey’s, Kind Bars, the walnut industry and Quaker Oats. The science journalist Nina Teicholz has written about how in some cases, Katz wrote positive articles about those companies after receiving grants.

In addition to citing Katz, Thomas Friedman also cites someone with better credentials, at least:

Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis, an epidemiologist and co-director of Stanford’s Meta-Research Innovation Center, pointed out in a March 17 essay on statnews.com, that we still do not have a firm grasp of the population-wide fatality rate of coronavirus. A look at some of the best available evidence today, though, indicates it may be 1 percent and could even be lower.

“If that is the true rate,’’ Ioannidis wrote, “locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be totally irrational. It’s like an elephant being attacked by a house cat. Frustrated and trying to avoid the cat, the elephant accidentally jumps off a cliff and dies.’’

To show how much of an overlap there is between the “left” conspiracists and ideological hacks like Thomas Friedman, Off-Guardian posted a video of Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis, just 3 days ago (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6MZy-2fcBw). Out of morbid curiosity, I watched the entire thing and was stunned to see this Stanford professor refer to the testing of NBA players and statistics drawn from Iceland’s population to buttress his argument that projections about COVID-19’s danger have been grossly exaggerated.

As should be obvious, not a single NBA player has died from COVID-19. For that matter, all of them are in perfect health and in their early 20s for the most part. What else would you expect?

As for Iceland, Ioannidis has written:

Getting information on representative samples of the population is very easy. It has been done in Iceland, where they have a cohort covering most of the national population looking at samples that have been provided. They see that they have an infection rate of 1.0 per cent, and up until now only two people have died. So, out of the 3,500 infected people in Iceland there have been two deaths, which corresponds to an infection fatality rate lower than the common flu.

In 1954, Darrell Huff wrote a book titled “How to Lie With Statistics” that anticipated Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis’s misuse of Iceland’s numbers. Huff maintained that “correlation does not imply causation”. To make sense of Iceland’s numbers, you have to take into account that this is a country that has embraced Scandinavian welfare state institutions. Even if the sparsely populated island has been moving away from the Scandinavian model, as has all the other countries falling within this rubric, it is still light years ahead of the USA. Among the five states, Iceland’s GINI coefficient is 0.246, ranking it as the most equal society following the Scandinavia model. By comparison, the USA’s is 0.391. Most importantly, Iceland has universal health care. With a population that can expect to receive full benefits from cradle to grave, it is likely to be much more capable of dealing with a pandemic.

In any case, Iceland has gone to great lengths to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to government officials, 11,727 individuals were tested by March 25th. This translates to 32,217 on a per million basis or 0.0322—the highest proportion of tests performed by any individual country. By comparison, the USA has tested one million by now, or 0.0026.

Is it possible that Ioannidis reflects the corporate bias of Stanford’s board of trustees that is headed by a Walmart family scion and that is composed of financial industry CEO’s? Sorry, if that makes me sound like a vulgar Marxist but as Bob Fitch once put it, vulgar Marxism explains 90% of what goes on in the world.

Capitalism is the Disease: Mike Davis on the Coronavirus Crisis

Filed under: coronavirus — louisproyect @ 12:48 am

Our Virally Porous Walls

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:42 am

via Our Virally Porous Walls

March 31, 2020

ReelAbilities Film Festival 2020

Filed under: disabled,Film — louisproyect @ 5:36 pm

On Friday March 13, 2020, CounterPunch published my review of the Socially Relevant Film Festival 2020. Before the day was up, I learned that the festival was being postponed because the COVID-19 pandemic had forced the closure of the festival theater venues.

From that day onward, my film reviews have dried up to a trickle. Five very promising films were cancelled, including one on Thomas Piketty’s new book and another on the radium girls who contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials. As might be obvious from my interest in such films, I see covering them as a political obligation.

On the same day I learned that the Socially Relevant Film Festival was postponed, I received an invitation to cover the ReelAbilities Film Festival that takes place between March 31 and April 6. The festival will still be taking place but “virtually” as the N.Y. Times noted in a March 25th article:

ReelAbilities Film Festival: New York

This annual festival shows movies that raise awareness of the perspectives of the disabled, like “Code of the Freaks,” a documentary  examining representation in Hollywood movies, and “25 Prospect Street,” about a Ridgefield, Conn., theater that  hires  people with disabilities. The festival will  take place on its original dates, March 31 to April 6, but it has moved online at reelabilities.org. Screenings  can be watched at their scheduled times or for 24 hours afterward, and Q. and A.s will be available as well.

Yesterday, I watched three of the films online and found all to be first-rate. Tickets to the films appear to be entirely voluntary and generally in the interest of raising consciousness about disability rights that are under threat right now. ProPublica just reported that “Advocates for people with intellectual disabilities are concerned that those with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and other such conditions will be denied access to lifesaving medical treatment as the COVID-19 outbreak spreads across the country.”

Code of the Freaks

This is the opening night feature and a great one at that. Like “The Celluloid Closet” that documented the homophobia in Hollywood films, this documentary does the same thing for the objectification of disabled people going back to the silent film era. It was written by Susan Nussbaum who is also interviewed throughout the film. After an automobile accident made her wheelchair-bound, Nussbaum became a disability rights activist. In helping to make this film, she will help anybody who sees it to take a fresh look at any film with a major character who is either blind, deaf, wheelchair-bound, intellectually challenged or deformed. “Code of the Freaks” is a survey of some of the best-known films in this genre, including the Helen Keller biopic “The Miracle Worker”, with mordant and penetrating commentary by disabled people.

Among the most interesting observations made by the interviewees had to do with the differences between how blind people were represented. For blind women who have to deal with a home invasion by a rapist or killer, there’s an obligatory scene of the heroine taking a bath while being stalked by the intruder. Needless to say, the female is played by a beauty queen like Audrey Hepburn but never a real blind woman. Generally, except for Marlee Beth Matlin, the actresses are fully abled. By representing these women as both vulnerable and sexually attractive, it is a way to tantalize the audience through a combination of horror and desire.

On the other hand, blind men are often portrayed as assertive and risk-taking. No better example of that is Al Pacino behind the wheel in “Scent of a Woman” refusing to slow down by his front-seat companion. This is not to speak of all the action films featuring a blind man who has mastered some martial art or swordsmanship. In either case, male or female, there is little interest in making a naturalistic film that depicts disabled people dealing with the same sorts of issues that abled people face.

As a genre, films about the disabled often show women serving disabled men sexually as a kind of charity. In “The Sessions”, Helen Hunt plays a professional sex surrogate helping a man in an iron lung lose his virginity. One of the film’s highly capable commentators wonders why can’t a film be made about a disabled couple getting it on?

One of the more unsettling moments of the film comes with its analysis of “Gattaca”, a film that concludes with its disabled main character committing suicide in order to become “one with the universe”. You get the same sort of send-off in “The Elephant Man”, when after the main character kills himself, you get an “inspiring” panorama shot of distant stars in the heavens as if his soul has joined them.

You get a feel for the snarling intensity of this film from an article Susan Nussbaum wrote for the Huffington Post:

When I became a wheelchair-user in the late ‘70s, all I knew about being disabled I learned from reading books and watching movies, and that scared the shit out of me. Tiny Tim was long-suffering and angelic and was cured at the end. Quasimodo was a monster who loved in vain and was killed at the end, but it was for the best. Lenny was a child who killed anything soft, and George had to shoot him.[A reference to “Of Mice and Men.] It was a mercy killing. Ahab was a bitter amputee and didn’t care how many died in his mad pursuit to avenge himself on a whale. Laura Wingeld [in Tennessee Williams’s “Glass Menagerie”] had a limp so no man would ever love her.

Our Time Machine

With a 100 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and deservedly so, this 2019 documentary is about the efforts of Chinese artist Maleonn to connect with his father, an elderly former director of the Shanghai opera company suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Maleonn works in various media, but his most ambitious medium is making extremely life-like puppets. He decides to create a puppet show depicting the relationship between a father and a son that mirrors his own relationship. In the play, the father is a pilot rather than an opera director. To help his ailing father, the puppet son constructs a time machine that allows the man to go back into the past to regain lost memories. The puppets made for father and son are phenomenal but the most breathtaking realizations are the time-machine and airplane that are a combination of Rube Goldberg and Jean Tinguely.

Toward the end of the film, Maleonn is barely recognized by his father. Each time he shows his newborn granddaughter to the old man, he is asked who she is. When he replies that this is his granddaughter, his father beams in pleasure. Maleonn quips that this is maybe one saving grace of Alzheimer’s that the victim continues to enjoy each moment as if for the first time.

Kinetics – Where Parkinson’s Meets Parkour

Written and directed by Sue Wylie, this narrative film casts her in the leading role as a drama professor learning that she has early onset of Parkinson’s. Wylie’s script is based on her own experience dealing with the trauma of dealing with a loss of balance and motion.

In this two-character film, she meets a student who has his own issues with mind and body. Lukas almost falls on top of her as he has jumped from a wall alongside the sidewalk she is navigating with some difficulty. Lukas suffers from ADHD and used parkour as a way of feeling more control over his life and emotions. Wikipedia describes parkour as a “training discipline using movement that developed from military obstacle course training”. Its practitioners seek to get from one point to another in a complex environment, without specialized gear.

As someone who lost a best friend to Parkinson’s in 2018, Sue Wylie’s travails were familiar to me. Her ability to extract some hope out of her experience is in line with the other two films discussed above. All three are first-rate films and worthy of your support at a time when filmmaking, like most other group experiences, is under siege.

Worker’s voices from the Amazon walkout

Filed under: coronavirus,workers — louisproyect @ 12:39 pm

March 29, 2020

More from JL Cauvin / JL Trump

Filed under: humor,Trump — louisproyect @ 12:06 am

(I love this guy.)

 

March 27, 2020

Life and Death in the Epicenter

Filed under: coronavirus,Counterpunch,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 3:08 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 27, 2020

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

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

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Exponential Threat

Filed under: coronavirus,Trump — louisproyect @ 12:17 am

March 26, 2020

A Strictly Personal Looking Past The Pandemic

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:09 am

via A Strictly Personal Looking Past The Pandemic

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