Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 12, 2020

How leftist conspiracy-mongers ended up on the same side of the barricade as the alt-right

Filed under: Black Lives Matter,conspiracism,COVID-19,Donald Trump,Fascism,Trump — louisproyect @ 6:29 pm

Why would anybody in their right mind think that a color revolution conspiracy was targeting him?

That is what totalitarianism is, this desire to establish complete control over everything and everyone, every thought, emotion, and human interaction. The character of its ideology changes (i.e., Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, etc.), but this desire for complete control over people, over society, and ultimately life itself, is the essence of totalitarianism … and what has taken over the minds of the New Normals.

–CJ Hopkins

This is not the benign, Bernie Sanders, work-within-the-system-type socialism. This is Bolshevism, there’s a big difference. The smoldering downtown corridor and the ruined lives of thousands of merchants attests to that difference. What we’re seeing is the resolute actions of a thoroughly-committed group of violent extremists who want to obliterate the system and impose their own vision of socialism.

–Mike Whitney


These are excerpts from articles that appeared on The Unz Review website, named after its owner Ron Unz. I can’t provide the links since it has been banned on Facebook for promoting white supremacy, we can assume. You will find the articles by concatenating unz and com. Once there, you can do a search on both of the authors above and the articles will show up. Hopkins’s “new normals” is a reference to the people protesting against the cops, whose side he takes. As for Whitney, he is against rioting even though most of the protests against George Floyd have been peaceful. This smear, of course, is straight out of Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.

It is important to understand that Ron Unz’s website is one of the most prominent neo-Nazi websites with a ranking of 15,537 on Alexa. That’s six times as much traffic as Stormfront, which ranks 96,704 as a long-time promoter of holocaust denial, racism and nativism. It’s also almost three times the traffic of CounterPunch, where both Hopkins and Whitney’s articles appeared before it cleaned house.

The question before us is why someone who once wrote for CounterPunch, like I do, would want to be associated with Ron Unz. When I challenged Hopkins for crossposting to Unz’s website while he was writing for CounterPunch, he defended himself by saying that Unz used to be a major contributor to CounterPunch, as well as writing for it occasionally. Of course, if you look up his articles for CP, you’ll see that they’re nothing like the white supremacist propaganda he writes today. Like Hopkins, Whitney had been crossposting to both CP and Unz all along but I never asked him why. Anyhow, the important thing to understand is that both of them have drifted to the far right once their connections to CP were severed. Today, nothing they write has the slightest tinge of leftism and more recently it is unvarnished defense of Donald Trump against BLM protests.

Other former writers for CounterPunch have also been moving in this direction. Max Parry only wrote 3 articles for CP but has flooded various leftwing websites for ages now promoting a conspiracist worldview. On off-Guardian, a COVID-19 denialist and 9/11 truther outlet, Parry has an article that makes an amalgam of Assadism and anti-BLM propaganda. Titled “The Battle of Seattle was Fought by the Pro-war ‘Left’ in Northern Syria”, the article sounds like it could have been written by someone on Tucker Carlson’s staff:

What began as protests against police brutality were not only derailed into efforts to set-up communes in major cities but a nationwide debate on statues, after the wave of demonstrations and rioting across the country led to the Taliban-style destruction of historical monuments perceived as glorifying racism.

Taliban-style, really? As if tearing down a Confederate General’s statue has something in common with the Taliban’s horrendous destruction of Buddha statues.

Kurt Nimmo, who had dozens of articles published on CP but none later than 2004, now writes mostly for Global Research, a conspiracist cesspool with a lot in common with off-Guardian. Recently, he wrote something titled “Black Lives Matter (BLM) and the Neoliberal Color Revolution in America” that was a riff on William Engdahl’s “America’s Own Color Revolution” and that also appeared on Global Research. Engdahl was a former member of Larouche’s organization who retains pretty much the same politics he once had. Implicit in writing about a “color revolution” in the USA is the idea that Donald Trump is some kind of post-Soviet nationalist like Milosevic or Shevardnadze. This is a preposterous idea as if “neoliberalism” and the Trump White House were on a collision course. One might understand Engdahl taking this position since Larouche PAC virtually worships Donald Trump.

Conspiracism pollutes much of “radical” journalism on the net. If you see it as concentric circles getting more and more nutty and reactionary as you move toward the hub, Grayzone and Consortium News would be further away from the center, even if they overlap to some extent with Global Research. For Max Blumenthal, everything is simple. Just read what Nicholas Kristof writes and take the opposite tack. If Kristof condemns the Chinese government for putting Uighurs into concentration camps, your task is to write that concentration camps do not exist.

Close to the innermost circle, you get off-Guardian, Global Research and Zero Hedge that share the Trump administration’s hatred for the BLM protests and laissez-faire attitude toward the pandemic. You’ll see article after article about how BLM is violent and why COVID-19 is not that big a deal. You’ll find plenty of anti-corporate rhetoric about how George Soros is funding the BLM and why Bill Gates wants to exploit the pandemic for personal gain, but you’ll also find Hitler railing against big business in “Mein Kampf”.

When I used to read Mike Whitney in CounterPunch, I never had any strong objections except to his support for the “axis of resistance”. As for Hopkins, there wasn’t much to pay attention to since he wrote the same article over and over, which boiled down to his defense of “populism”. Whether it was from the left or right, it didn’t matter since the only real enemy was the “deep state” that was so intent on bringing down Trump. Like Aaron Maté, Hopkins got a lot of mileage exposing “Russiagate” even though it was mixed with Putin worship.

This move toward the right has been gestating ever since Trump became president. You can see signs of it everywhere, with Max Blumenthal’s appearances on the Tucker Carlson show and Stephen F. Cohen’s many guest spots on the John Batchelor show on WABC radio, which is a carriage trade version of Rush Limbaugh. Carlson and Batchelor were determined to clear Trump of all charges of interference in the American elections, which in and of itself is not wrong. It is wrong, however, to amalgamate that with support for the eastern Ukraine secessionists as Cohen did ever since Euromaidan broke out.

No matter how malevolent these tendencies were in the past, they have become even more pronounced this year as the pandemic and the George Floyd protests divided America sharply along ideological lines. Hopkins and Whitney have decided to make common cause with the most reactionary circles, which Ron Unz champions on a daily basis to a large internet following.

On DissidentVoice, a conspiracist website not quite as bad as off-Guardian, you can read Hopkins’s take on the pandemic. He sounds exactly like a guest on the Tucker Carlson show: “Also, ‘we have no immunity against it,’ which is why we all have to remain ‘locked down’ like unruly inmates in a penitentiary until a vaccine can be concocted and forced onto every living person on earth.” Like his business about “Stalinism” controlling our lives above, the emphasis is on personal liberty—the same excuse people give for shopping maskless and punching, or even shooting, an employee who tells them to wear one or leave.

Whitney operates from the same premise: “The Covid-19 Scamdemic is an even more vile component of the 3-pronged offensive. The ‘fairly mild’ infection (that kills between 1 in every 200 to 1 in every 1,000) has been greatly exaggerated by the media to scare the public, undermine normal relations, prevent physical intimacies, and inflict maximum damage of the fragile psyches of millions of people worldwide.”

This blatant denialism goes hand in hand with their hatred of BLM protests, which they see as a “deep state” conspiracy funded by corporate America with the willing support of the Democratic Party. Hopkins writes, “The part where the mayors of major cities stood down and otherwise hamstrung their cops, and let the ‘peaceful protesters’ run amok, was particularly audacious, in my opinion.” Whitney is beside himself with anger over BLM protests, which at the time he wrote an article (July 20), had become overwhelmingly peaceful. He told Unz’s fascist readers “These aren’t protests, this is political warfare the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1960s.” Most people on the left have fond memories of the 60s, either from direct experience like me or from reading memoirs by people like Daniel Ellsberg. I guess that Whitney identifies more with the Silent Majority of the time. Who knows? This landscape company owner might have belonged to it at the time.

Let me conclude with a few words about the Socialist Workers Party, a group I belonged to from 1967 to 1978. At one time, it was the flagship party of Trotsky’s Fourth International with about 2,000 members at its height. Now, it is a tiny cult around Jack Barnes who has managed to expel or drive people to resign to the point that it consists of maybe 90 people as old as me. Their main political activity consists of going door-to-door like the Jehovah’s Witnesses use to, peddling the party newspaper The Militant.

Like the aforementioned people writing for The Unz Review, Barnes became a convert to the Trump cause in 2016. With only minor criticisms of the white supremacist, The Militant concentrates its fire (such as it is) on the Democratic Party and on activists opposed to Trump. Like Hopkins and Whitney, they minimize the pandemic and hate how “mobs” topple monuments to Confederate generals.

In one of the more bizarre offerings, the newspaper defends the “right to worship” in Nevada:

In a serious attack on the constitutional right of freedom to worship, the U.S. Supreme Court voted July 24 to refuse to suspend a public health order imposed by Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak limiting attendance at church services. It was part of a series of edicts issued under the guise of stopping the spread of coronavirus.

This goes hand in hand with the SWP’s refusal to wear masks when it goes peddling its tracts and newspapers from door to door. You can never see a mask on a party member. Given their age, you’d think they’d be more careful. But at this stage of the game, anybody who has been a member for forty years or so, as is generally the case, you lost the capacity to think independently long ago.

July 14, 2020

Antibodies and anticapitalists

Filed under: COVID-19,Jacobin,two-party system — louisproyect @ 7:08 pm

On May 22nd, a Quest Diagnostics serology test revealed that I had COVID-19 antibodies. In other words, I was supposedly immune. In writing about this experience for CounterPunch, I tried to convey how perplexing these results seemed. I had no symptoms associated with the disease, like a dry cough or fever, nor did I have any idea how long the immunity would last. The scientific consensus was that the antibodies were not permanent.

I assumed that the antibodies were from a coronavirus cold, which can also produce antibodies according to the CDC. Were they from a nasty cold that I had last September that evolved into bronchitis? That didn’t seem to make sense since I caught it from my niece whose own serology test turned out negative for COVID-19 antibodies. On top of that, the Quest website is pretty specific about the antibodies being a result of COVID-19 and not a coronavirus cold. “This type of test detects antibodies that show if you have had a prior COVID-19 infection—even if you never experienced symptoms. Detection of antibodies means you may now have some level of immunity to the virus.”

Since I had no idea when the statute of limitations would expire on the antibodies, I have made sure since May 22nd to stick to the practices recommended by the CDC: masks, social distancing, and washing my hands or using a sanitizer. My wife and I are pinning our hopes on her college sticking with online classes for the fall term. Given the huge spike in infections over the past few weeks outside of N.Y., there is a good chance we’ll be okay. The City University of New York suffered 38 deaths in its system during the pandemic and there is considerable resistance to taking any chances now. CUNY’s chancellor has said that the school is considering a hybrid approach but we haven’t heard how that will affect my wife.

Just yesterday, Business Insider reported on a number of studies that found that COVID-19 antibodies have a short shelf-life. A study conducted in Spain left me feeling vulnerable:

The recent study on this topic in Spain found that one in five people lost detectable levels of antibodies within five weeks.

That research, published last week in The Lancet, involved 60,000 people in Spain. They were tested for antibodies three times between April and June. About 7% of the participants who had antibodies during the first phase of the study (April 27 to May 11) no longer had them in the second phase (May 18 to June 1), according to CNN. About 14% of participants who had antibodies during the first stage no longer had them by the third phase (June 8 to 22).

In some ways, this doesn’t surprise me. The common cold, either the rhinovirus or coronavirus type, produces antibodies but they don’t last very long. That is why someone like me has had over fifty colds in my life. None would kill me but they do make me feel miserable.

The Business Insider reporter tried to be upbeat. She quoted Florian Krammer, a vaccinologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, that antibodies don’t disappear all at once. At five weeks, you might have lost half of them but they may be sufficient to preserve your immunity. That’s of little consolation to me and anybody else worried about the disease.

The overarching question is whether a vaccine can produce antibodies for COVID-19. The goal is to produce antibodies in enough people to build up herd immunity within the population. Krammer is not deterred by the possibility by people having to get vaccinated every year, just as you do with the flu. Unfortunately, however, flu has transparently obvious symptoms early on unlike COVID-19. When I’ve had the flu in the past (I’ve never been vaccinated), it hits me like a two-by-four. The last thing that I’d be up for is going to work and infecting others, especially since I’d be throwing up constantly on my way there.

In 2003, there was another coronavirus epidemic called SARS. It was deadlier than its close relative SARS-2 (or COVID-19) but it died out on its own in just a few months. Because it no longer posed a threat, researchers stopped trying to find a vaccine.

On May 22nd, the day I got my Quest Diagnostics antibody report, the Guardian published an article titled “Why we might not get a coronavirus vaccine” that warned against high expectations. Probably, the best we can hope for is a vaccine that might lessen the impact of the disease but not so much so that old folks would still be highly vulnerable. The article contained this sobering note:

People will have to adapt – and life will change. Heymann says we will have to get used to extensive monitoring for infections backed up by swift outbreak containment. People must play their part too, by maintaining handwashing, physical distancing and avoiding gatherings, particularly in enclosed spaces.

That’s not very reassuring when tens of millions of Americans are in open revolt against such threats to their “personal liberty”.

For the foreseeable future, American society will be roiled by a combination of ills that make the idea of returning to “normalcy” improbable. You have what amounts to a mass movement increasingly willing to use violence against antiracist protesters and to defy all measures intended to reduce the impact of COVID-19. Indeed, there will be an increasing tendency for the cops and the ultraright mobs to blend into each other. There have been sixty incidents of cars being driven into crowds of protesters, including by cops in both Detroit and New York.

You will also see corporate America driven to make workers pay for the economic consequences of the pandemic. In an article by Robert Brenner in the latest NLR that thankfully is not behind a paywall, he writes about “Escalating Plunder”, namely the way in which the bourgeoisie is using this calamity to defend its own class interests. Like the 2008 bailout under Obama, the underlying motivation was “too big to fail” but this time the billions were funneled to non-financial corporations as well. Pelosi and Schumer offered virtually no opposition and showed a cold indifference to unemployed and hungry people.

When I and my wife go out on our daily exercise walk, we see more and more boxes of food being distributed in front of churches. And those lining up to get them are not those who you’d regard as the underclass. The NY Post reported on April 19th:

The vast ranks of newly unemployed are straining the capacities of food banks, soup kitchens and pop-up services across New York City.

One user, Brittany, a 35-year-old Ph.D. candidate at Teachers College at Columbia University, who declined to give her full name, says she started visiting food services at Salem United Methodist Church in Harlem a few weeks ago after her partner lost his bartending job.

“I’ve been going two or three times a week for lunch,” she told Side Dish. “The fresh air makes it seem a little less scary.”

The next act in this pandemic tragedy will be a dramatic increase in homelessness. There had been a moratorium on evictions in N.Y.C. but that expired on the weekend of June 21-22. Housing rights groups estimate that 50,000 to 60,000 cases can end up in New York City’s housing courts.

It is just as dire in the rest of the country. Urban Footprint, a housing rights group, warned about the pending disaster:

The results are staggering. Across the country, nearly 7 million households could face eviction without government financial assistance. These are heavily rent-burdened households that have likely experienced job loss as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. This level of displacement would be unparalleled in U.S. history and carries the potential to destabilize communities for years to come.

In June 2019, Joe Biden reassured his wealthy donors at the Carlyle Hotel that he would be looking after their interests when president. He promised not to “demonize” the rich and that “no one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change.” The only change since he made this speech is that the standard of living for Jeff Bezos has grown higher while for the PhD student cited above, it has plummeted.

This is the same Joe Biden who Bernie Sanders predicted a Biden administration would be the “most progressive since FDR” after his team worked out a series of compromises through a “Unity Task Force”. You can get an idea of who gave up more from the position on climate change. Even though A. O-C headed up the panel on climate change, the end result is merely a pledge to end carbon emissions by 2035. Something tells me that Biden won’t be around by then. As has been the case with capitalist environmentalism all along, you make big promises but fail to deliver. Even Dissent Magazine was able to see what a liar Barack Obama had been.

Given the irreconcilable class differences between Joe Biden and the people facing unemployment, hunger and eviction, it is depressing to see “lesser evil” politics coming into play as if Biden could deliver on his promises. If it took WWII to break the back of the Great Depression, how can we possibly expect people like Biden, Pelosi and Schumer to make the USA resemble a Scandinavian welfare state.

Because the DSA voted to endorse Bernie Sanders at its convention in 2019 and nobody else, especially Joe Biden, it is not easy—maybe impossible—to reverse itself. Even though Bhaskar Sunkara says that he will vote for Howie Hawkins, a N.Y. Times op-ed included this circumlocution:

I share the belief that having Joe Biden in the White House would be far less damaging to most workers than another four years of Donald Trump. Mr. Biden is at odds with the progressive, labor-oriented wing of his party, but every poor and working person in America, along with every socialist, would be better off butting heads with a White House filled with centrist Democrats than one filled with Trump appointees.

If this doesn’t give DSA’ers the green light to vote for Biden, I don’t know what else would. Bill Mosley, the editor of the Washington State DSA’s “Washington Socialist”, evidently got the message. He wrote an article titled “DSA Isn’t Endorsing Biden. That Doesn’t Mean Members Can’t Work for Him”. He writes:

No, DSA will not and cannot endorse Biden, but individual DSA members can and should help him win. It’s not clear that all of the traditional pre-pandemic methods of campaigning will be possible by the fall, but there is much else to do – if nothing else, phone banking, posting on social media, making contributions. The campaign should have ideas for how volunteers can contribute. And DSA members must work not only for Biden, but for a Congress that will undo the harm of the Trump administration and make meaningful strides forward, which will mean turning the Senate blue.

You can even see where Jacobin might be going on Biden as November draws near. Branko Marcetic, a Jacobin staff writer and author of Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden, has been positively excoriating on Biden. In February, he wrote no less than five articles raking Biden over the coals. However, in April, there was one titled “I Literally Wrote the Case Against Joe Biden. But I’ve Got Some Free Advice for Him” that represents an escape valve for Sunkara’s magazine. Marcetic made Biden an offer he couldn’t refuse if he wanted the “democratic socialists” to get behind his campaign:

Biden initially ran as a New Deal liberal and upset a long-serving, beloved senator using an economically populist platform tailored to the times. As the waning “liberal consensus” of the postwar years was replaced by a neoliberal one aimed at cutting taxes and shrinking government, Biden moved to the right to win reelection, transforming into an anti-busing fiscal conservative who wanted to put every federal spending program on the chopping block every four years. This is the path he’s followed ever since.

Biden and the people running his candidacy need to recognize a similar political shift is happening again. The neoliberal order is on its last legs, and is in much worse shape than the liberal one it replaced in the late 1970s when Biden was coming up. When the Trump administration is offering to pay for millions of people’s health care, and when a conservative Republican is taking his policy cues from Denmark, it’s a sign the political winds are rapidly changing. But don’t take it from me: listen to the capitalist-to-its-bones Financial Times, which recently argued for “radical reforms” aimed at “reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades.”

Something is obviously going on in the Jacobin editorial meetings. In May, June and July, there has not been a single article on Biden. What do they say? Silence is golden? They must be slapping themselves on the shoulder since the Unity Task Force has purged his campaign of all traces of the Obama and Clinton presidencies—at least on paper. Marcetic says that “When the Trump administration is offering to pay for millions of people’s health care, and when a conservative Republican is taking his policy cues from Denmark, it’s a sign the political winds are rapidly changing.” So, don’t worry about being a tax-and-spend liberal.

Yeah, the political winds are changing. Right. Any fool would understand that the Tucker Carlson wing of the Republican Party is adopting the rhetoric of the left.

A Truthout article titled “’New Right’” Leaders Are Co-opting Progressive Language to Mislead Voters” sees this clearly:

In general, this faction holds true to the extreme cultural stances that have long united most American conservatives. But they distinguish themselves by rebuking the mainstream right’s cozy relationship with financial elites, a relationship they (correctly) see as both politically unwise — because it alienates working- and middle-class voters — and societally disastrous — because it promotes and reproduces extreme inequality. They oppose asset stripping, stock buybacks, and other economic practices that further empower and enrich financial elites; and they support redirecting wealth toward the growth of American industry.

Are the Democrats any better? At least I know that they are not as evil. Anyhow, my vote will go to the genuine anticapitalist:

 

June 5, 2020

Reflections on my COVID-19 antibodies

Filed under: Counterpunch,COVID-19 — louisproyect @ 1:45 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JUNE 5, 2020

The last couple of months leading up to a Quest serology test that yielded “positive” antibodies for COVID-19 have been a roller coaster ride. Take a seat in the car behind me, strap yourself in, and let me recount a story that Agatha Christie might have written.

The tale began last October when I suffered through bronchitis for most of the month. This viral infection of the bronchial tubes is just another illness to which geezers like me are susceptible. It is usually not fatal but can lead to hospitalization. After recovering, I began taking measures to avoid getting sick again. They included using Purell, avoiding touching my face, and all the other defenses that should prevent exposure to any virus, including COVID-19. Being ahead of the curve, how the hell did I end up with antibodies?

Continue reading

May 23, 2020

COOKED: Survival By Zip Code

Filed under: COVID-19,Film — louisproyect @ 9:10 pm

Although Bullfrog Films did not allude to this in their publicity about “COOKED: Survival By Zip Code”, this documentary demonstrates that the class divisions at work in the pandemic are nothing new. Directed by Judith Helfand, it examines the worst heat disaster in American history. During the heat wave of 1995, 739 mostly elderly and Black residents of Chicago died during a seven-day period.

Like Michael Moore, Helfand went to Chicago to get to the bottom of the story and interviewed key analysts who had studied the heat-related disaster, as well as holding people who were the counterparts of Donald Trump back then to scrutiny through archival footage. As it happens, they were Democrats like Mayor Richard Daley Jr., whose father was infamous for ordering the cops to beat up peace demonstrators in 1968. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree apparently. The Mayor followed the Trump tactic of self-congratulation: “I think that the city did a very good job…”

As the film titled indicates, it was a matter of which zip code you lived in. If it was one for a mostly white middle-class part of the city, you had air conditioning. If you lived in a Black and poor neighborhood, you had a target on your back if you were elderly or had underlying conditions. If you had both, your chances were maybe 50-50. Poverty made an air-conditioner unaffordable. On top of that, many old folks were not in communication with family for one reason or another. After their corpses were discovered, they were trundled off to a funeral parlor. When the funeral parlors couldn’t handle the traffic, the city dispatched refrigerated trucks to keep them warehoused until the heat wave was over.

There are two remarkable figures who are interviewed throughout the film. One was Steve Whitman, who was born into a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn in 1943. Through hard work, he earned a PhD in biostatistics at Yale in 1969. As head of the Chicago Department of Public Health’s epidemiology program, he played a major role in studying and explaining the 1995 Chicago heat wave. He saw the deaths as unnecessary. The city should have been better prepared to relocate those at risk to air-conditioned shelters. Whitman died from cancer in 2014. At the time, he was heading up Sinai Urban Health Institute (SUHI), a group he founded to promote health equity.

The other expert is Eric Klinenberg, the author of “Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago.” Wikipedia describes him as a public sociologist, a term I’ve never heard before. I would say that if there’s ever a left movement in the USA that can get past sectarianism and reformism, he belongs in the leadership. His commentary on the Chicago poverty-induced massacre are both informed and passionate. In an interview (https://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/443213in.html) with the U. of Chicago Press that published the book, he said something that foreshadowed what we are facing today with Trump in the White House, Chicago 1995 writ large:

In 1995 there were no uniform standards for determining a “heat related death,” so officials had to develop them. Edmund Donoghue, Cook County’s chief medical examiner, used state-of-the-art criteria to report 465 heat-related deaths for the heat wave week and 521 heat deaths for the month of July. But Mayor Richard M. Daley challenged these findings. “It’s hot,” the mayor told the media. “But let’s not blow it out of proportion.… Every day people die of natural causes. You cannot claim that everybody who has died in the last eight or nine days dies of heat. Then everybody in the summer that dies will die of heat.” Many local journalists shared Daley’s skepticism, and before long the city was mired in a callous debate over whether the so-called heat deaths were—to use the term that recurred at the time—“really real.”

“COOKED: Survival By Zip Code” can be rented from OVID.tv. If you haven’t subscribed to OVID yet, this is a great reason to start. For group and academic purchase or rentals, check with Bullfrog.

May 22, 2020

What Stanford University and Fox News Have in Common

Filed under: Counterpunch,COVID-19 — louisproyect @ 1:33 pm
Dr. John Ioannidis is director of the Stanford Prevention Research Center. He is also one of the highest profile skeptics of COVID-19’s deadliness

COUNTERPUNCH, MAY 22, 2020

On April 21, Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, one of Donald Trump’s most vociferous supporters, spoke to Stanford University physician-professor John Ioannidis about COVID-19. She prefaced the interview with reference to the pandemic as a nothing-burger:

And new antibodies testing on the West and East Coast shows that the true infection rate may be 55 times higher than previously thought by the, quote, “experts.” Meaning, the true fatality of the virus is somewhere below that of seasonal influenza.

As an architect of the testing, he concurred. He said that all of the “evidence points to an infection that is very common, that typically is very mild.”

Continue reading

May 19, 2020

My COVID-19 scare

Filed under: COVID-19 — louisproyect @ 5:55 pm

In early April I was really stressed out over medical issues. To start with, when I went to the CVS across the street to get a Combigan refill that I use for glaucoma, I was told that I needed a new prescription. After contacting AdvantageCare, I learned that my optometrist was on vacation. After repeated emails to him went unanswered, I had to go over to the clinic to track down his backup. They said that they would contact him and he in turn would then contact CVS with the new subscription. I had my fingers crossed that they would receive notification by the next day since I had just one last dose of the eyedrops left. I don’t think that I’d suffer nerve damage in just a single day, but why take chances?

On top of that, I was bothered by a persistent dry cough. I doubted that it was COVID-19 because it was a kind of reflex to a tickle in my throat more than anything from inside my lungs, almost as if I had swallowed a hair. But that I coughed every 10 minutes or so did make me worry a bit.

On top of that, I was tired all the time. For the past year or so, I’ve been getting 9 hours of sleep a night but often took a nap as well. Starting from the beginning of the year, I began taking two naps a day, once in late morning and once in the early evening. Was I getting old? Hell no, I was old. But when combined with the dry cough, I could help but think that maybe I had a mild case of COVID-19. I didn’t mention this to my wife since I didn’t want to make her worry.

Around April tenth, I hit the panic button.

I opened the red wine we had shared a night ago and poured it into our glasses. I took one sip and freaked out, as they used to put it in the 1960s. There was no taste. It was like drinking water. I didn’t say a word but felt as if I had been bitten by a puff adder. When would the deep symptoms kick in? Ventilator? Oh, no. My mind was racing at the dinner table.

A minute later, my wife took her first sip and asked me, “Why doesn’t the wine have a taste?” What a relief!

At that point, I told her about my worries. (She had been a bit worried about my coughing.) We decided to test ourselves by smelling and tasting various objects. No other food or drink presented problems. We opened another bottle of red wine and it passed both the smell and taste test. The New Testament says that Jesus turned water into wine but what happened in the Proyect household? A miracle that turned wine into water? That might make some sense given my devilish ways.

My wife’s brother-in-law, who has been staying with us, joined in the discussion. He had no idea why the wine now tasted like water but did have a suspicion that my fatigue was related to the melatonin that I take almost on a nightly basis.

Roughly two years ago, I had been taking one milligram a night not so much to help me get to sleep but to help me get back to sleep. With my enlarged prostate, I get up to pee 3 or 4 times a night and sometimes have trouble getting back to sleep when dark thoughts about the Sixth Extinction or nuclear war kick in.

When the pandemic started, I switched to a 5 milligram dose after reading that melatonin could help stave off COVID019. This was something I read in a legitimate medical journal rather than heard on Sean Hannity. Granted that this is a preprint rather than the final peer-reviewed article (lots of these have been cropping up since the pandemic, including the bullshit out of Stanford), it still seemed more plausible than drinking Lysol. In an article titled “Can Melatonin Reduce the Severity of COVID-19 Pandemic?”, three Russian researchers provided this abstract:

The current COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most devastating events in recent history. The virus causes relatively minor damage to young, healthy populations, imposing life-threatening danger to the elderly and people with diseases of chronic inflammation. So, if we could reduce the risk for vulnerable populations, it would make the COVID-19 pandemic more similar to other typical outbreaks. Children do not suffer from COVID-19 as much as their grandparents and have a much higher melatonin level. Bats also do not suffer from the virus they transmit, and bats too have a much higher level of melatonin. Viruses generate an explosion of reactive oxygen species, and melatonin is the best natural antioxidant that is lost with age. Melatonin inhibits the programmed cell death which coronaviruses induce, causing significant lung damage. Coronavirus causes inflammation in the lungs which requires inflammasome activity. Melatonin blocks the inflammasome. The immune response is impaired by anxiety and sleep deprivation. Melatonin improves sleep habits, reduces anxiety and stimulates immunity. Fibrosis may be the most dangerous complication after COVID-19. Melatonin is known to prevent fibrosis. Mechanical ventilation may be necessary but yet imposes risks due to oxidative stress, which can be reduced by melatonin. Thus, by using the safe over-the-counter drug melatonin, we may be immediately able to prevent the development of severe disease symptoms in coronavirus patients, reduce the severity of their symptoms, and/or reduce the negative effects of coronavirus infection on patients’ health after the active phase of the infection is over.

This might be true but I have stopped taking melatonin after my wife’s brother-in-law referred me to an article titled “I tried using melatonin for a week and felt exhausted, even during the day.” Like me, the author had started taking 5 milligram doses:

I have tried melatonin in the past with little to no luck. Having only ever taken small doses (1-3 milligrams), this time around I slightly increased the dose to 5 milligrams, which is the highest recommended dosage.

After five days of taking melatonin, she began to see the drawbacks to a “natural” medication that left her listless during the day:

The daytime sleepiness I was experiencing started to completely overshadow the positive effects of gaining a regular sleep schedule. I had to take another midday nap and struggled to be as productive as I needed to be throughout the day.

On day seven, she decided to go back to a smaller dose and only on an occasional basis:

On the final day of the week, I was elated to stop taking melatonin. I felt that the benefits of the sleep aid had peaked on the third or fourth day of the experiment and the rest of the week had felt like a sleepy blur.

I had hoped that by the end of the week my body would have adjusted to the melatonin, but this was not the case. I considered possibly lowering my dose and trying for a second week, but truth be told I couldn’t picture getting through another week of being so tired throughout the day.

After bailing on melatonin a couple of weeks ago, I have gotten back to an 8-hour sleep and naps only once or twice during this period. On top of that, I have gotten back to my old high-energy self. Walking a couple of miles a day with my wife, even if we have to navigate the sports bar louts on Third Avenue like Odysseus avoiding both Scylla and Charybdis.

May 18, 2020

The sports bar louts endangering our lives

Filed under: COVID-19 — louisproyect @ 1:43 pm

Patrons wait for their orders to go at Caffe Dante bar and restaurant in Manhattan on March 19.(Victor J. Blue/Getty Images)

My wife and I take long walks for exercise. Two days ago, we put on our masks and walked over to Park Avenue, where since there are very few stores, you will see far fewer people on the streets. We walked down to 66th Street and decided to come back up on Third Avenue to our 92nd Street building, just for variety.

We were disconcerted to see clusters of mostly young men on the sidewalks in front of bars that remained open. You obviously couldn’t go into the bar, as will possible in 48 states pretty soon, but you were able to purchase a drink and imbibe it on the sidewalk.

We noticed that most of the men had let their masks (if they had been wearing ones) drop down to their neck for obvious reasons. You can’t down a beer with a mask on. In several of these sites, you could hear the conversation from a distance of 30 feet away as you were advancing toward them. One suspects that if you’ve had two or three beers or hard drinks, you tend to get louder and even more so if you are trying to speak over the traffic noise.

I don’t want to stereotype people (well, maybe I do) but the young men who patronize these kinds of sports bars tend to be louts. Fraternity boys who could give less of a shit about how their actions impact others. Scientists have discovered that speaking is one of the most effective ways to transmit COVID-19. They have also made clear that wearing masks, other than N95 qualified, does not protect you from being infected.

The NY Times reported on this four days ago. I would only quibble with the notion that masks can protect you:

Coughs or sneezes may not be the only way people transmit infectious pathogens like the novel coronavirus to one another. Talking can also launch thousands of droplets so small they can remain suspended in the air for eight to 14 minutes, according to a new study.

The research, published Wednesday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help explain how people with mild or no symptoms may infect others in close quarters such as offices, nursing homes, cruise ships and other confined spaces. The study’s experimental conditions will need to be replicated in more real-world circumstances, and researchers still don’t know how much virus has to be transmitted from one person to another to cause infection. But its findings strengthen the case for wearing masks and taking other precautions in such environments to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Despite my dim view of young men who patronize sports bars, I believe that they are less of a threat on the streets of NY than their counterparts in places like Texas, Alabama, Iowa, and Wyoming who now have the freedom to contract COVID-19 even if it results in nothing worse than the hangover they are accustomed to. But anybody over 60 who comes into contact with them could well be among the tens of thousands of casualties epidemiologists predict will take place between now and July first.

I was not the only person who was taken aback by this spectacle. The mayor, who I used to rub shoulders with at Nicaragua Network meetings in the late 80s, is pissed off about what’s going on. I reproduce the NY Daily News article on this that appeared today:

Mayor de Blasio promised strict enforcement after throngs of New Yorkers were spotted carousing and quaffing cold ones on the Upper East Side Saturday night.

“I’m not comfortable at all with people congregating outside bars,” Hizzoner said at a Sunday press conference.

“If you start to form groups of people and then, you know, two, three, five and then it becomes six, it becomes 10, it becomes 15 — that violates what we’re saying about social distancing,” he continued.

The NYPD was unable to provide stats about any arrests or fines given out during the revelry, which was caught on social media and in news reports.

Images showed people buying drinks, forming crowds and blatantly disregarding social-distancing rules — the same guidelines that led to a string of controversial, violent arrests in communities of color.

Faced with widespread outrage over those tactics, de Blasio on Friday said police would stop giving tickets to people who don’t wear face masks in public unless there was a “serious danger.”

But he promised Sunday the NYPD would enforce social-distancing rules on the affluent Upper East Side and elsewhere.

“We had a particular problem there,” Hizzoner said. “We’re not going to tolerate people starting to congregate.”

At least one UES restaurant served customers on premises, a blatant violation of March’s statewide emergency order, according to NBC New York.

“If we have to shut places down, we will if they’re starting to violate these rules,” de Blasio said.

 

May 2, 2020

Bill de Blasio, the Hasidim, and COVID-19

Filed under: anti-Semitism,COVID-19,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 5:48 pm

This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio was pilloried for being anti-Semitic. On April 28, when hundreds of Hasidic Jews took part in a funeral procession for their rabbi, de Blasio rushed to the scene in Brooklyn to oversee the police trying to disperse the crowd. Some of the Hasidim were wearing masks but others were not. Even if everyone was wearing a mask, the procession would be in violation of ordinances City Hall had approved to implement social distancing.

That evening de Blasio tweeted about the incident:

By simply referring to the “Jewish community”, he became the moral equivalent of Bernie Sanders, who became persona non grata in Hasidic circles for having “done more to legitimize antisemitism than any Democratic presidential candidate in recent memory.” That characterization appeared in the March 3, 2020 Algemeiner Journal, a newspaper marketed to the orthodox Jewish community. Like most rightwing Jews, the editors made an amalgam between being pro-Palestinian and anti-Semitic.

Like any number of people over the past decade who use Twitter, de Blasio got caught in the unfortunate position of simplifying a complex situation. By referring to the “Jewish community”, he was supposedly judging an entire ethnic group. If I were Mayor, I might have tweeted something much more like this:

Last night there was a funeral procession for Rabbi Chaim Mertz who died from COVID-19. Over a thousand of his followers violated social distancing guidelines that might have kept him alive in the first place. The orthodox community has to do a better job of protecting itself.

One can understand the mayor’s frustration. Ever since the pandemic hit New York, some Hasidic sects have been as defiant of social distancing as the AstroTurf mobs funded by Charles Koch. On March 17th, the NY Times reported on “Defying Virus Rules, Large Hasidic Jewish Weddings Held in Brooklyn”. After the Fire Department busted the wedding, that did not prevent people from continuing to celebrate on the street outside.

A day later Pro Publica published an article titled “As Coronavirus Cases Rise, Members of Some Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Communities Continue to Congregate”. Even when the headquarters of the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect was closed at 770 Eastern Parkway, “a large group of men — numbering perhaps over 100 — had simply moved their prayers from inside the building to outside of it, crowding together.”

In a perceptive article on how Hasidic neighborhoods became the epicenter within a pandemic epicenter, the NY Times published an article on April 21 that offered an explanation of why there is a defiance of city ordinances. Basically, the Hasidic sects view the state itself as an infringement on its rights as a separate social entity that operates on its own legal codes. The Times put it this way:

That sense of defiance has been evident in neighborhoods like Borough Park and South Williamsburg, where some businesses and religious bathhouses have displayed signs written in Yiddish — a language not widely spoken outside the Hasidic community — informing patrons of hours and prices or instructing them to use an entrance not visible from the street.

Beyond this insular attitude, there is also a failure to come to terms with medical science. During a measles epidemic last year, the Hasidic sects were a bastion of resistance to vaccinations. A Brooklyn Orthodox Rabbi William Handler told Vox that the MMR vaccine used to guard against measles, mumps and rubella caused autism. He viewed parents who “placate the gods of vaccination” are engaging in “child sacrifice.” As is the case with COVID-19, orthodox Jewish children suffered because of adult inaction.

The irony in all this is that Bill de Blasio has been a long-time ally of the most rightwing and religiously obscurantist segments of the “Jewish community”. In 2013, after he announced his campaign for mayor, I blogged about these ties:

The first sign that de Blasio was traveling down a familiar road was his appearances on State Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s radio show on WMCA on Saturday night when he ran for City Council from the 39th District in 2001, that includes Borough Park, an area that contains many orthodox Jews who vote as a bloc and take their cues from Hikind. Hikind is one of the biggest scumbags in the Democratic Party in N.Y. who leaves a trail of slime going back to his days as a follower of Meir Kahane, an openly fascist leader of the Jewish Defense League.

Hikind went on to endorse de Blasio for Public Advocate in 2009 and now endorses him along with William Thomson in the DP mayor primary. In return, de Blasio has endorsed Hikind’s favorites, including Joe Lazar who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in the 39th District in 2010.

You can tell how important Borough Park votes are for de Blasio based on the stance he took on the BDS controversy at Brooklyn College early this year. In a McCarthyite campaign orchestrated by Dov Hikind, the school came under pressure to include a pro-Israel speaker. This was de Blasio’s statement:

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is inflammatory, dangerous and utterly out of step with the values of New Yorkers. An economic boycott represents a direct threat to the State of Israel–that’s something we need to oppose in all its forms. No one seriously interested in bringing peace, security and tolerance to the Middle East should be taken in by this event.

This is not the first time that de Blasio has positioned himself as a “friend of Israel”. Raillan Brooks, a blogger at the Village Voice, revealed that de Blasio was opposed to Saudi airplanes landing at local airports:

Here’s a little morsel of insanity for your Tuesday morning: New York City Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is trying to yank Saudi Arabian Airlines’ right to land at U.S. airports over its policy of not allowing Israeli citizens to board, starting with JFK. The director general of Saudi Arabian Airlines, Khalid Al-Melhem, shot back at de Blasio, insisting that it is merely the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries that is behind the policy. Al-Melhem’s claim that discrimination isn’t behind the ban is bullshit, but so is de Blasio’s outrage.

Brooks then posed the question: “Why is coverage of de Blasio so light on skepticism? Because the man has spent a career building a name for himself as a Defender of the Downtrodden, a bonny shroud for cold political calculus.”

In office, de Blasio bent over backwards to make sure that the medieval social norms of the Brooklyn were honored. Among the most disgusting concessions he made was easing the ban on metzitzah b’peh, or oral suction, adopted by his predecessor Michael Bloomberg. This is a controversial circumcision ritual that has been linked to herpes infections in infants.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, parents had to sign a consent form before the ritual, which involves the circumciser using his mouth to suck blood away from the incision on a boy’s penis. Orthodox rabbis called the consent requirement an infringement on their religious rights. By suspending it, de Blasio got the thumbs up from Rabbi David Zweibel, who stated, “It is to Mayor de Blasio’s eternal credit that he recognized how profoundly offensive the regulation was to our community.”

Weighing in for liberal Zionist opinion, the NY Times’s Bari Weiss took de Blasio to task in a meretricious article titled “Bill de Blasio Finds His Scapegoat”. Trying to speak out of both sides of her mouth, she reminded her readers that the mayor was a man “whose political instinct drove him to quote Che Guevara at a Miami union rally.” For me, that’s reason enough to tip my hat to Bill for having the balls to tell an audience the truth, even if it defied political expediency—something Ms. Weiss obviously doesn’t get.

She also biffed the Chapo Trap House, who—as far as I can tell—never got mentioned once in a NY Times op-ed. They aren’t Jacobin, after all. She wrote:

“Hassids own so much,” Felix Biederman, a co-host of the popular left-wing “Chapo Trap House” podcast, tweeted on Thursday. “Just zero regard for the rest of humanity or any idea of modernity and they’re also like yeah we need to live in the middle of this city for whatever reason.”

I guess all you can say is that Biederman is an equal-opportunity offender, just like Howard Stern. That’s how these people make $60,000 a month, after all. I’ve seen more offensive references on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and funnier as well.

Once she got finished with the left, Weiss made a point that was much sharper than de Blasio’s tweet:

“The failure of leadership here cannot be overstated,” said Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, a writer and the wife of an Orthodox rabbi, about those who encouraged the funeral. “This is almost reminiscent of the stories of Hasidic rebbes leaving their flocks during the Holocaust. Only this time, followers will be able to know exactly how they were abandoned and by whom, because now this information is public.”

Of course, nobody will bash Bari Weiss for referring to someone comparing these Brooklyn medieval leaders to Hasidic rabbis leaving their flocks during the Holocaust. She has too many brownie points for opposing BDS, disparaging Bernie Sanders as anti-Semitic, etc. I do appreciate her brief refence to rabbis “leaving their flocks”, however. That’s something worth following up on.

April 28, 2020

Using light and disinfectant against COVID-19

Filed under: COVID-19,Donald Trump,humor — louisproyect @ 12:24 am

More from Sarah Cooper

April 24, 2020

Smithfield and our troubled future

Filed under: Counterpunch,COVID-19,farming — louisproyect @ 12:11 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, APRIL 24, 2020

On April 15th, Smithfield closed down its pork factory in Sioux Falls, South Dakota after 640 employees became sick from COVID-19. They constitute 44 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the state, making it the epicenter of the pandemic locally.

Joseph W. Luter founded the company in 1936. Like most industrial meat-producing companies, Smithfield became infamous for CAFO, the initials for concentrated animal feeding operation. Poultry farms were the first to convert operations to CAFO in the 1950s, followed by beef and pork in the ensuing decades. Smithfield’s flagship operation was Tar Heel, North Carolina, which processed 32,000 pigs a day. Given the highly concentrated nature of this mode of production, disposing of waste products is a chore for management. Pig excrement tends to follow the path of least resistance, however. It flows directly into the rivers and lakes of the states that house CAFO-type operations.

In 2019, Hurricane Florence struck North Carolina. In Duplin County, CAFOs produce twice as much pig urine and feces as all the toilets in New York City. Most of it ends up in hog “lagoons”, the open-air pits clustered in the area hardest hit by Hurricane Florence. It caused overflows that carried E. coli, salmonella, cryptosporidium, and other harmful bacteria into North Carolina waters. Even when there are no hurricanes, there is still extensive water pollution since the lagoons seep into groundwater that then pollutes rivers and lakes.

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