Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

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.

Quest never made it clear whether the antibodies were from being ill with COVID-19 or from a coronavirus cold, which can also produce antibodies according to the CDC. Was it 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 and 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 worried that you’d have to get vaccinated every year, just as you do with the flu. Unfortunately, flu has distinct symptoms unlike COVID-19. When I’ve had the flu in the past (I’ve never been vaccinated), it hits me like a sledgehammer. The last thing that I’d be up for is going to work, 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 about 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 “normality” improbable. On one hand, 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 cops in both Detroit and New York.

You will also see corporate America having even more willingness 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 stage in this pandemic immiseration 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 described as 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 taken on climate change. Even though A. O-C headed up the panel on climate change, the end result is 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 holding Biden’s feet to the fire. 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 critical of Biden. They must be slapping themselves on the shoulder since the Unity Task Forces have 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.” 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.

Continue reading

April 22, 2020

Donald Trump’s enablers at Stanford University

Filed under: Academia,COVID-19 — louisproyect @ 6:13 pm

Leland Stanford

Some of America’s most prestigious universities were created and named after robber barons. Carnegie-Mellon was founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1900, just 11 years after the steel magnate gave the green light to Pinkerton for an armed assault on the strikers in Homestead. Then there is Duke University, named in honor of James Duke, the tobacco boss who left millions in an early grave from cancer, heart disease and emphysema. Equally prestigious is Stanford University that got its name from Leland Stanford, a railroad tycoon.

Like other robber barons, Stanford launched a political career. He became governor of California in 1862 and used his power to persecute the Chinese. In a speech made early in his career, he made Donald Trump look like Bernie Sanders by comparison:

To my mind it is clear, that the settlement among us of an inferior race is to be discouraged by every legitimate means. Asia, with her numberless millions, sends to our shores the dregs of her population. Large numbers of this class are already here; and, unless we do something early to check their immigration, the question, which of the two tides of immigration, meeting upon the shores of the Pacific, shall be turned back, will be forced upon our consideration, when far more difficult than now of disposal. There can be no doubt but that the presence among us of numbers of degraded and distinct people must exercise a deleterious influence upon the superior race, and to a certain extent, repel desirable immigration.

Stanford is infamous for its Hoover Institution of War, Revolution, and Peace, a rightwing think-tank founded in 1919 by Stanford alumnus Herbert Hoover. The Hoover Institution was in the news recently when one of its fellows, an NYU law professor named Richard Epstein, predicted that there would be no more than 500 deaths from COVID-19 in the USA. In a must-read interview with Epstein by New Yorker Magazine’s Isaac Chotiner, the cocky and ill-informed lawyer was twisted into a pretzel, at one point stating, “You know nothing about the subject but are so confident that you’re going to say that I’m a crackpot.” I am not that much into Freud, but this sounds like a classic example of projection.

Despite having qualifications far in advance of Richard Epstein’s, some Stanford epidemiologists have been in the news making Donald Trump talking points. John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist and co-director of Stanford’s Meta-Research Innovation Center, caught the eye of the NY Times’s Thomas Friedman who cited him an op-ed piece questioning the seriousness of the pandemic. Friedman noted that the Stanford expert believed that we still do not have a firm grasp of the population-wide fatality rate of coronavirus. It might only be one percent and could even be lower. That being the case, Ioannidis warned:

If that is the true rate 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.

Ioannidis had co-thinkers at Stanford. In a March 24 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by Stanford professors Eran Bendavid and Jay Bhattacharya that was widely circulated on pro-Trump websites, you got the same analysis as Ioannidis. They wrote, “A universal quarantine may not be worth the costs it imposes on the economy, community and individual mental and physical health. We should undertake immediate steps to evaluate the empirical basis of the current lockdowns.”

Ioannidis, Bendavid and Bhattacharya were in the news again this week. They conducted a blood survey of residents in Santa Clara County and discovered that between 2.49% and 4.16% of may have coronavirus antibodies. The good news, as far as they were concerned, was that the infection fatality rate was between 0.12% and 0.2%. So, what’s to worry?

Another jackass from the Hoover Institution couldn’t wait to get the findings circulated on pro-Trump media. Hoover fellow Victor Davis Hanson, even more cocksure and reactionary than Richard Epstein, got in touch with Rush Limbaugh to give him the good news. From the moron’s website:

Folks, I was minding my own business on Friday, and I got a flag email from my friend Victor Davis Hanson, and it was a preliminary report on Stanford University’s research in Santa Clara County. It is bombshell. It was the prepublication. The file that he sent me was actually the preprint version, which is pre-peer review.

But here is the take-away paragraph from the research. It suggests that one county’s cases, Santa Clara, California — which, by the way, is where the 49ers are. For those of you who know geography by your sports teams, Santa Clara is where the 49ers stadium is, 49er training complex. They’re not in San Francisco anymore. “One county’s cases could be more than double the entire state’s reported cases by testing.

“Even a 1% to 4% existing positives to the virus in a population, completely overturn the case-to-fatality rates. In this case, the figures work out to a mortality rate of 0.1%, not 1%, not 2%, not 4%, not 5% — 0.1% at the high, and the low end, 0.02%.” That would be like a normal or bad flu year. One to two per thousand dying in the population. Remember, when we started, the models here that everybody swore by which gave us the lockdown policy were predicting four to one dying per hundred — per hundred, not thousand.

Writing for Slate, Jane Hu took apart both Victor Davis Hanson and the scientists he relied on to spread his Trumpist talking points:

On Tuesday, KSBW, a news station in Monterey, California, aired a story about California’s potential “herd immunity” to the novel coronavirus. The piece opens by discussing a new study from Stanford Medicine in which researchers are conducting blood tests that detect antibodies, which can show whether an individual has or previously had COVID-19. The reporter then goes on to cite Victor Davis Hanson, a Stanford-affiliated source who advances the theory that COVID-19 might have actually begun spreading in California in fall 2019. “[Stanford’s] data could help to prove COVID-19 arrived undetected in California much earlier than previously thought,” KSBW reported.

The piece has spread widely. An accompanying web story posted to the TV station’s website has been shared more than 58,300 times, and has also been picked up by SFGate. The theory is appealing to some, particularly those who had respiratory illnesses in late 2019 that they now believe could’ve been COVID-19. In their minds, that might mean they have some immunity to the virus—and if a large portion of Americans have some immunity, we can begin our move out of lockdown. But that theory has no scientific basis, and it spreads dangerous misinformation.

Let’s start with the facts. I reached out to Stanford Medicine to try to understand the goals of its antibody test, and how it relates to Hanson’s fall 2019 theory. The short answer on the latter is that it doesn’t. “Our research does not suggest that the virus was here that early,” says Lisa Kim of Stanford’s media relations team.

Neither does anyone else’s, it appears. “There is zero probability [SARS-CoV-2] was circulating in fall 2019,” tweeted Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who has been tracking SARS-CoV-2’s genetic code as it has spread. Allison Black, a genomic epidemiologist working in Bedford’s lab, says this is apparent from researchers’ data. As the virus spreads, it also mutates, much like the way words change in a game of Telephone. By sequencing the virus’s genome from different individual samples, researchers can track strains of the coronavirus back to its origins. They have been continually updating their findings on Nextstrain. (In case you’re wondering, the strains have nothing to do with severity of illness. They’re simply a way to track the virus’s mutations over time.)

Richard Neher, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Basel in Switzerland, told the Scientist that Nextstrain researchers’ work has tracked the virus back to a single source “somewhere between mid-November and early December,” which then spread in China. The earliest cases in the U.S. appeared in January 2020, according to Nextstrain’s sequencing work. Washington state, where the first known COVID-19 case in the U.S. was identified, has at least six strains. A similar analysis of California’s coronavirus cases—which has yet to be peer-reviewed—identified at least eight strains in the state, suggesting transmission from Washington state, New York, Europe, and China.

If genomics isn’t your thing, consider this: If the virus had arrived earlier, we would have known. Humans have no natural immunity to this new virus, which is why it’s spreading quickly, infecting millions and killing tens of thousands. That’s evident in what’s going on in New York right now, says Black. “If it had arrived in fall of 2019, and we were all living our lives as normal, we would’ve had New York back in fall of 2019,” she says. There’s no reason why this virus would have spread undetected for months before wreaking the havoc it has.

This is not the end of the controversy. Besides the Slate article, there is a wave of criticism directed at the study from professionals in the field as reported in the Mercury News.

But over the weekend, some of the nation’s top number crunchers said their extrapolation of the results rests on a flimsy foundation.

They contended the Stanford analysis is troubled because it draws sweeping conclusions based on statistically rare events, and is rife with sampling and statistical imperfections.

Gelman of Columbia University called the conclusions “some numbers that were essentially the product of a statistical error.”

“They’re the kind of screw-ups that happen if you want to leap out with an exciting finding,” he wrote, “and you don’t look too carefully at what you might have done wrong.”

From the lab of Erik van Nimwegen of the University of Basel came this: “Loud sobbing reported from under Reverend Bayes’ grave stone,” referring to a famed statistician. “Seriously, I might use this as an example in my class to show how NOT to do statistics.”

“Do NOT interpret this study as an accurate estimate of the fraction of population exposed,” wrote Marm Kilpatrick, an infectious disease researcher at the University of California Santa Cruz. “Authors have made no efforts to deal with clearly known biases and whole study design is problematic.”

My advice is to visit the Stanford University Board of Trustees page where you will get a good idea of who runs the place. It is filled with hedge fund operators, real estate developers, silicon valley bosses, private equity, et al. If we ever cut off the head of the beast that is responsible for the mess we are in right now, one of the first things we’ll have to do is make all universities public and fund them properly. Right now, they are wholly owned subsidiaries of corporate American and in this instance glaringly so.

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