March 2020

Mask

This is a horrific account about what is going on in US hospitals. It exposes as an illusion the image of hi-tech efficiency that we’ve gotten from a zillion American TV doctor shows while at the same time highlighting the dedication of medical staff who are not only working under extreme pressure but are also putting their own lives at risk.

In a money driven dystopian society where access to medical care is conditional on being personally able to pay, it should not be surprising that decisions to protect workers and decisions to implement adequate safety measures are also based on monetary considerations.

Under the psychopathic logic of neoliberal capitalism the greed of the few outweighs the needs of the many.

I truly hope that it is nothing like this in the UK. I truly hope that it never comes to that here.

Those who disparage concerned with politics; who disparage those who scrutinise and call to account the psychopaths and psychopathic systems that govern our nations should now reflect on the consequences of our collective neglects.

Noam Chomsky: Coronavirus

There is plenty in this video to think about so I made some non verbatim notes as I was watching. There is some very interesting stuff here and Chomsky’s advice at the end is just what we need to be thinking about and acting on.

“The Coronavirus is serious enough but there is a much greater horror approaching approaching; we are racing to the edge of disaster far worse than anything that’s happened in human history” begins Chomsky.

There are two worse threats, nuclear war and global warming. These have to be dealt with. We will recover from Coronavirus but if we don’t deal with these other threats we’re done. The scientists running the ‘Doomsday Clock’ puts us at 100 seconds to midnight. This is the closest that its ever been. [See https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/]

We’re finished if we leave our fate to bufoons like Trump. Trump is particularly dangerous because he leads the US and the US leads the world. Europe chooses to follow the US, many other countries don’t have a choice. The US imposes sanctions against Iran that are designed to impose suffering. Europe may not like this but they follow. It is a shocking irony that it is [sanctioned] Cuba that is helping European countries fight the Coronavirus, not the US and not Germany.

Srecko Horvat notes that there are almost 2 billion people confined to their homes if they have a home. Borders are being closed in Europe and the army is on the streets. The language is that of a war aginst the virus. Horvat asks if this language and response is appropriate.

Chomsky says the language in this case has significance, that we have to move to something like wartime mobilisation. Mobilisation for World War Two greated great national debt [for the US] but greatly increased the country’s productive capacity. Coronavirus is not on that scale but it needs a similar response. A rich country can deal with this and other threats, but what about a poor country like India? In a civilised world rich countries would be helping poorer countries instead of trying to strange them. Coronavirus is serious but there are much bigger crises that endanger the [human] species. Global warming will make South Asian countries uninhabitable in a few decades.

The Coronavirus may be helpful if it makes people think about the world we have.

CV represents a colossal market failure. It’s been known for a long time that that pandemics were likely and the likely agent would be a coronavirus. Labs could have been working on developing vaccines but they didn’t because the ‘market signals’ were wrong. It was more profitable for big pharma to make body creams than to work on finding a vaccine. Neoliberal ideology blocked direct government intervention.

Chomsky references a simulation carried out in October 2019 in the US that warned of the consequences of a CV pandemic. He notes that the polital systems did not take any notice. [See https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/02/a-simulated-coronavirus-pandemic-in-2019-killed-65-million.html]

On December 31st China informed the WHO of the virus. China, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore acted quickly and with some success to contain the virus. Germany acted a little later but had the spare capacity, intensive care beds, to protect their population. The capacity of other nations to meet the challenge had been devastated by years of neoliberal policy. The UK response was among the worse the US response was the worst of the worse.

People now have to ask what knd of world they want to live in. The crisis may result in a more authoritarian neoliberal world or to radical reconstruction, a world that is green equal and just. It is possible that people will organise and become engaged, that they will confront the problems of nuclear war and environmental catastrophy. CV should bring us to awareness of the dysfunction of the neoliberal system.

Srecko Horvat asks Chomsky’s advice on social resistance in a time of social distance.

Chomsky say that people, especially young people glued to their cellphones, were already self isolating before the crisis. Misuse of social media has been isolating people from each other. We need to recreate social bonds, contacting people, developing organisations, deliberating and bringing people together. We have to put face to face contact on hold but can use social media to deepen bonds.

Risky Behaviour?

Since there are young people involved this might be considered youth work. The spirit is fantastic but would this be considered ‘risky behaviour’?

An Infrastructure of Resistance

There are people in various forums who persist in their hope that Jeremy Corbyn will remain as Labour Party leader for a while longer. This is a forlorn hope and, though I understand it, one that I understand it should be dropped.

I heard a story about a place, I can’t remember the place, where they catch monkeys by putting fruit into bottles with narrow necks. The monkeys can reach into the bottles but when they grasp the fruit their hand forms a fist that they are unable to withdraw from the bottle. So they are trapped and captured because of their refusal to let go.

We have to let go of the illusion that the powers that conspired against JC will permit him to remain leader. Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, and the Labour Party itself are means to an end and not ends in themselves. We must understand what our true ends are and work to achieve those ends by other means. When armies are defeated on the battlefields by vastly superior forces they never win by trying again to meet the ememy head on, they win by turning to guerrilla tactics; by building an infrastructure of resistance.

This is what we need to do if our fight is truly about principles rather than positions in a party and a political structure that are past their ‘use by’ date. We have to stop holding on to the past and start building an infrastructure of resistance and freedom.

Covid-19: A New Contract

Chinese journalist Zou Yue has a commendably mature message.

“Every nation needs a new contract, signed between its politicians, businesses and the public.”

This is correct. We need a more mature approach to governance, not just to handle the Coronavirus, but also to tackle the climate crisis and the ongoing humanitarian crises of poverty, wars and global inequality generated by our current structures of politics and thought.

Ultimately our problem as a species and as individuals is not Corvid-19, Climate Change or any particular challenge, however vast, it is our ability or inability to respond to the challenges in a way that is coherent, conscious and compassionate. It is a problem that has to do with our thinking.

Albert Einstein said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Krishnamurti said “If we can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem.”

The problem is never simply about what is presented to us it is also about our ability to deal with what is presented to us. Corvid-19 is a global crisis that illuminates the structures of governance in different countries, the ethos that lies beneath those structures and the consequent ability of those structures to cope with crises.

The Telegraph asks ‘Why does Germany have such a low coronavirus death rate?’

We read

Germany has seen just 52 deaths from the virus so far despite recording 18,361 infections — more than anywhere except China, Italy, Iran and Spain.

That represents a fatality rate of just 0.3 per cent, compared to 7.9 per cent in Italy — raising hopes Germany might be doing something right that other countries can follow.

The disparity has even led to allegations of a German cover-up by the Italian far-Right. But experts have cautioned that Germany may simply be at an earlier stage of the pandemic, and that death rates here may soon catch up.

But also

“Intensive care beds can mean the difference between life and death for those who become seriously ill with the virus, and dire reports from northern Italy have told of doctors being forced to choose which patients get them.

Germany has 28,000 ICU beds. By contrast, the UK has just 4,000. And 25,000 of Germany’s already have the ventilators seriously ill patients need.

At the outbreak of the crisis, Germany had 29.2 intensive care beds per 100,000 people. Italy had 12.5. The UK had just 6.6.

In part, that is because of the different way healthcare is funded in Germany. Public health insurance is compulsory and collected at source alongside income tax — but it is passed directly to insurance funds and never enters government coffers, effectively firewalling health funding.”

The Telegraph

We have to ask why we are so much less well prepared than Germany, and apparently even Italy. We have to ask a number of questions about our government and the whole structure of governance.

Tony Benn proposed five questions to ask regarding the power of government. The central question is “In whose interests do you use it [power]”

In addition to issues of prudence there are issues of morality. An article in the Independent is headlined “What coronavirus revealed about national mindsets across the world — and how Cuba came out on top”

We read

In a sign of true global solidarity, Cuba today allowed MS Braemer, a British cruise ship, to dock on its shores despite having at least five confirmed coronavirus cases on board and another 52 passengers displaying symptoms. The ship, with over 600 mainly British passengers, had no Cuban nationals on board but had requested help from both Cuba and the US.

Cuba acted without self-interest. The ship had been anchored in the Caribbean over the last five days as it frantically searched for a place to dock. Diplomats from the British Foreign Office had urged US officials to allow the ship to dock on American soil but were met with obstacles. Cuban officials instead accepted the request, stating that there must be “a shared effort to confront and stop the spread of the pandemic”. After all, these are still humans suffering, regardless of the passport they hold.

Cuba itself has only had five confirmed cases of Covid-19, and the ship docking could threaten to increase that number exponentially.

The Independent

Why does the US, our ‘ally’, turn away a British Ship, while Cuba, a nation against which we follow the US in imposing economic sanctions aid that same ship?

Surely we need to question the values that inform our foreign policy, our relations with other nations, as well as our domestic policies?

“If we can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem.”

Krishnamurti

It is not about taking a particular political position, it’s about looking at the problem with sufficient intelligence. The answer lies in our understanding of the problem and our understanding depends on the depth to which we permit ourselves to look.

A Necessary Contagion

It should be clear to everyone by now that the Labour Party is, as an institution, much more concerned about position and power than with principle and people. This is not true of ordinary members or of all those who hold positions but there is an institutional logic that determines how people within the party behave, especially if they are seeking positions. There will be external and internal forces and various sectional interests pushing for particular policies and actions. The process is not at all guided by reason or morality. I am no longer a member of the Labour Party because I was expelled for sharing posts on Facebook that the bureaucracy considered to be antisemitic. For a little while under Corbyn the Labour Party looked like it might become a party of principle but it hasn’t. If there’s any hope left it will not be found in the leaders and structures of the party but in people in various groups, online and offline, who put principle above party and above any sectional interest. Someone wisely said that ‘the moment you start following anyone, you stop following truth’. The fact is, we have the power to act out of reason and compassion. As ordinary people, as the ‘proles’ that Orwell spoke of as the only hope, we can form our own associations and act on our own individual and associative intelligence. The leaders and structures are not helping us because they are not honest. Even those promising to empower the membership are not honest because they are not fighting for the most important thing which is our fundamental right to freedom of thought and discourse. But no one can give us this we have to assert and assume it ourselves. So let’s keep talking, building our associations, online and offline. We have the power, let’s recognise it and use it.

I have heard that people within the Labour Party have been warned off associating with me. I cannot confirm anything about this and will not name anyone. But I do understand that in truthful discourse may be contagious but I have no intention to self isolate. I hope that it is contagious; it is a necessary contagion.

We Need it Now

Without wishing to comment on RLB’s leadership aspirations, this is a good video highlighting the urgency of the issue of climate change. Credit to her and the lP for putting it squarely on the UK political agenda. The Labour Green New Deal is certainly significant at least as a contribution to thinking about the way that we need to transform politics, the economy and society.

See: https://www.labourgnd.uk/

At the end of the video RLB says “incremental change is not enough, we need a radical Green Agenda and we need it now”.

“Now” is the point; but Labour is not in power and is unlikely to be in power during the next five years. When the danger is as profound as that posed by climate change and, more widely, environmental degradation, the timetables of our current political structures are inadequate.

At a talk by Anatol Lieven that I attended yesterday evening (2nd March) Lieven, publicising his new book, spoke of the need for what he called ‘progressive nationalism’ to meet the challenge; he argued that both the people activism of Greta Thunberg and international agreements such as the Paris Accord, while important, would be futile without action by nation states. Lieven called on the spirit of national purpose that kept Britain together through the Blitz. I didn’t buy his book and have some concerns about concomitants of nationalism, ‘progressive’ or not, but he is correct in asserting that there has to be an awakening of a national will to change and he is correct in saying that ultimately only nation states can transform economies.

Challenged by a questioner Lieven was not optimistic that our political systems would be cmotivated to initiate the changes we need without some catastropic events to catalyse this.

Lieven is correct that the transformative changes we need can only be carried out by the nation state through existing political structures but we cannot wait for, nor afford, a catalysing catastrophy to motivate the state to change and we cannot trust the state or any political structure with the moral direction of such change.

We as citizens, as individuals, and as members of communities must become the catalysing change that forces governments to act.
We must work within our political parties, within pressure groups like XR and also within our other communities including our faith groups. We must build and keep building communities of conscience and consciousness, communicating in the digitial and the actual so that it is conscience and consciousness themselves that become the catalyst.

This is not a party political project. Political structures and governmental responses are essential but what we can and must do now must be to a larger degree politically agnostic, separate from party politics, and focused on raising consciousness, invoking conscience and building community.