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Could COVID-19 Kill Capitalism?

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This is not your normal zoonotic pandemic virus. That would be the famous Black Plague of 1348 spread by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It arrived in northern Italy from the Crimean Peninsula, and eventually reached all of Europe, killing off a third of the population. Recent archeology suggests the same plague had struck southern Sweden around 3000 BCE. It had appeared again in the form of Justinian’s Plague introduced from Egypt to Byzantium in 541. The Black Plague recrudesced in Italy throughout the early modern period (Milan 1575, Florence 1629, Sardinia 1652), and broke out in London 1665-6, Marseilles in 1720, Moscow 1771.

Another notorious zoonotic virus, the “Spanish” Flu of 1918, was normal in being transnationally fatal on a very large scale. As in most other cases authorities took measures to quarantine people, occasioning much fear and discomfort in a climate of future uncertainty.

HIV is another zoonotic virus, spread to humans by a green monkey and first detected in the U.S. in 1981. But spread mostly through intimate contact it required no quarantine measures. It produced great unease in the gay community, and radically altered consciousness about “safe sex.” But it too was normal. Similarly Ebola and SARS.

This plague is different. Not in its global scope and lethality; it, of course, invites comparisons with past pestilences. But this is plague unfolds in the age of instantaneous communication, information-sharing, international cooperation, and media scrutiny. (The masses were informed about the 1918 flu by newspapers. Few people in this country had radios at the time. There was, of course, no television and most homes lacked telephones.) And it plays out while much of global humanity is on order to stay at home.

Never before has humanity as a whole consciously refrained from labor, in order to preserve its future capacity to do what it always does: work to produce profits for the planet’s bosses. Never before have the bosses, through the state apparatuses they control, ordered people to stay home on a global scale in a calculated effort to prevent mass death.

They don’t need Karl Marx to tell them that human labor-power is the source of all value.

The fundamental contradiction in the capitalist system is, of course, the contradiction between the social production and private appropriation of wealth, the basic struggle over wages between the capitalist and working classes. One might say that in the (earlier) feudal system the main conflict was between the lord and land-bound serf and the degree to which the former could exploit the latter’s unfree labor-power.

In any case, as the Japanese shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (d. 1616) once observed, peasants should be taxed so that they neither live nor die. You want them alive so that they can produce rice for you; they’re no use for you dead. A little later a Japanese feudal administrator observed that peasants are like sesame; the more you squeeze them the more oil you get, at least to a point. The ruling class has to keep the oppressed alive in order to continue to oppress them.

Someone (Dr. Anthony Fauci?) at some point persuaded the Moron President that COVID-19 (“the Chinese virus”) was not going to go away soon, and that he would have to recommend a preventative lockdown. He has taken such measures as he has with manifest reluctance and distaste, annoyed at this troublesome thing, eager to put it behind us and get back to work as soon as possible.

On Saturday Trump identified the problem: to set people back to work before it’s safe, sentencing some to their deaths for the sake of capitalist profit? Or to delay the back-to-work order while the Dow-Jones average plummets relentlessly?

“What we’re doing right now,” declared the commander-in-chief, “I think it’s going to be very successful. But you know what? I don’t know. We have a big decision to make at a certain point. Okay? We have a big decision to make. We went this extra period of time, but I said it from the beginning. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself, and we cannot let that happen. We have an incredible country.”

Trump feels personally disappointed that the plague is raining on his parade. “We were having the greatest period in our country’s history from an economic standpoint in many other ways. We cannot let this continue. So at a certain point some hard decisions are going to have to be made.”

That Trump thinks the last three weeks have been “an extra period of time” as though it’s a gifted vacation granted by the Dear Leader; plus his grudging approach to the whole public health effort and crude demands for fawning gratitude for his leadership; plus his shameless appeal for Evangelicals’ support by repeated references to Easter and his dismay the churches can’t be filled; plus his snake-oil salesman’s promotion of an untested drug as a potential miracle fix; plus his repeated statements of optimism that we’ll all soon be back to work all suggest a willingness to return to normal prematurely.

“So, let me be extremely clear about one point,” he said at his daily virus news conference. “We will move heaven and earth to safeguard our great American citizens. We will continue to use every power, every authority, every single resource, we’ve got to keep our people healthy, safe, secure, and to get this thing over with. We want to finish this war. We have to get back to work. We have to open our country again. We have to open our country again. We don’t want to be doing this for months and months and months. We’re going to open our country again. This country wasn’t meant for this fewer, fewer, but we have to open our country again.”

Notice how illogical this is. One should at least insert a “But” before “We have to get back to work.” One has to finish the war before sending people out onto the mine-cleared battlefield. To equate the priorities as Trump does is to choose profit over people, obviously.

Trump went on at the news conference to express his solidarity will the most wealthy, powerful figures in corporate sports: “I just spoke with the commissioners, leaders of, I would say virtually all of the sports leagues.”

He then took time listing them all by name and title, as though referencing political endorsements:

“Rob Manfred, Commissioner of Baseball, Major League Baseball, Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the National Football League, Adam Silver, Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, Gary Bettman, Commissioner of the National Hockey League, Jay Monaghan, Commissioner of the PGA Tour, Cathy Engelbert, Commissioner of the Women’s National Basketball Association. Dana White, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Vince McMan, President of the WWE, Don Garber, Commissioner of Major League Soccer, Steve Phelps, President of NASCAR, Michael Wahn, Commissioner of the LPGA, Roger Penske, founder and Chairman Penske Corp and Drew Fleming, President of the Breeders’ Cup, and there were a couple of others on and these are all the great leaders of sport and they want to get back, they got to get back.”

Trump wants the people to know that all these corporate chairs and commissioners are sad right now. He added:

“They can’t do this.” (Often the identity of a pronoun in Trump-speak is unclear. This may mean, “Those people forcing the stadiums to shut down can’t do this,” or: “These fine team owners can’t put up with these damn rules.”)

“The sports weren’t designed for it. The whole concept of our nation wasn’t designed for [shut downs], we’re going to have to get back. We want to get back soon. Very soon.”

One can read such remarks as cheery “aspirational” statements; Fauci kindly applied that term. But I read them as threats. Trump is saying that if he thinks the economy is tanking critically, he will lighten up on the rules to put people back to work, and urge corporate lunches at restaurants, etc. If thousands die, well, it’s necessary because our country was never “meant” to be closed. By God, or whoever. The country, for Trump, was meant to make money.

Back to the Black Plague. I called it “normal” above because it is just one of many in world history and has had so many recurrences. But the 1348 plague in England, in fact, had abnormal consequences. It undermined feudal agriculture, by reducing the enserfed peasant population, and led directly to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Serfdom in England all but disappeared, and day-laborers’ wages rose. The revolt (Wat Tyler’s Rebellion) was not the “bourgeois revolution” that occurred under Cromwell in the 1640s, but it was a leap forward from feudalism.

Imagine COVID-19, by bankrupting capitalist states unable to balance the need to keep the global working class viable and squeezable and the need to squeeze them NOW, leading to the collapse of the whole system.

Imagine the incapacity of the bourgeois state (throughout at least Europe and the U.S.) to provide the minimal social services expected by the people, forcing them to establish (or resist to the death) public health and social welfare measures that contribute, long-term, to the fall of the capitalist system. In these dark claustrophobic times, let us think positively.

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Top US admiral bristles at criticism of ‘woke’ military: ‘We are not weak’

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Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of Naval Operations, rebuffed pointed interrogations by GOP lawmakers who grilled him over his decision to recommend sailors read a book deemed by some conservatives as anti-American.

The U.S. Navy’s top admiral also defended moves to address and root out racism and extremism in the forces as well as its efforts to bolster inclusion and diversity, which have prompted criticism from some conservatives and Republican lawmakers.

“Do you personally consider advocating for the destruction of American capitalism to be extremist?” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., asked Gilday during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, referring to a passage from Ibram X. Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist,” which argues capitalism and racism are interlinked.

Banks continued to interrogate the admiral over specific quotes from Kendi’s book, which was a No. 1 New York Times best seller in 2020, and statements he had made elsewhere in the past.

Visibly distraught, Gilday fired back:

“I am not going to sit here and defend cherry-picked quotes from somebody’s book,” he said. “This is a bigger issue than Kendi’s book. What this is really about is trying to paint the United States military, and the United States Navy, as weak, as woke.”

He added that sailors had spent 341 days at sea last year with minimal port visits — the longest deployments the Navy has done, he said.

“We are not weak. We are strong,” Gilday said.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., also challenged the admiral by citing specific quotes from the book and asked him how those ideas laid out by Kendi would further advance or improve the Navy’s power.

Gilday responded by arguing the importance of transparency and open dialogue about racism.

“There is racism in the Navy just as there is racism in our country, and the way we are going to get out of it is by being honest and not to sweep it under the rug,” he expounded, adding that he does not agree with everything the author says in the book.

The key point however, he said, is for sailors “to be able to think critically.”

The exchange was the latest in vociferous complaints from some conservative leaders and lawmakers who suggest the armed forces are becoming a pawn for the country’s culture wars and “wokeness” ideology, as the military takes steps to address issues of racial inclusion, extremism, racism and white supremacy.

And only last week, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., accosted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about Kendi’s book, which Cotton said promoted “critical race theories” at a different Senate Armed Services Committee hearing where Austin was testifying.

Days earlier, Cotton and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas — two combat veterans — launched a “whistleblowers” online platform to report examples of “woke ideology” in the military.

“Enough is enough. We won’t let our military fall to woke ideology,” Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, said in a tweet.

Also in February, Austin instructed a one-day stand-down across the Defense Department pausing regular activities to address extremism and white nationalism in the ranks — an issue Austin declared as a priority after a number of rioters at the U.S. Capitol in January were found to have military backgrounds.

The stand down completed in April was an effort to better understand the scope of the problem of extremism in the ranks, Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said in a briefing then.

Earlier, Austin had revoked a ban on diversity training for the military.

More recently, in May, a U.S. Army animated ad focused on soldier diversity — featuring the real story of a soldier who enlisted after being raised by two mothers in California — drew criticism and political backlash from some conservative lawmakers.

“Holy crap,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a tweet. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea. . . .”

Cruz was referring to a TikTok video that compared the U.S. Army ad with a Russia campaign that showed buff soldiers doing push-ups and leaping out of airplanes, adding that the contrast made the American soldiers “into pansies.”

The confrontation Tuesday is also the latest in reproaches by Rep. Banks, who is a Naval Reserve officer, and other GOP members over Gilday’s recommendation to include Kendi’s book in the Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program.

In February, Banks sent a letter to Gilday arguing that the views promoted in the book are “explicitly anti-American” and demanded Gilday explain the Navy’s decision to include it on the reading list or remove it.

Gilday responded to Banks in a letter obtained by Fox News saying that the book was included on the list because “it evokes the author’s own personal journey in understanding barriers to true inclusion, the deep nuances of racism and racial inequalities.”

Lamborn and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, D-Mo., also wrote a letter to the admiral to convey their concern about the inclusion of Kendi’s book as well as Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and Jason Pierceson’s “Sexual Minorities and Politics.”

The GOP lawmakers argued the books “reinforce a view that America is a confederation of identity categories of the oppressed and their oppressors rather than a common homeland of individual citizens who are united by common purposes,“ Lamborn and Hartzler wrote, according to Fox News.

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Looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021

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Our understanding of events refines with time. New developments reframe the issues, and prompt reassessment of the solutions applied, their design and outcomes. What does looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021 tell us?

For three decades, India celebrated and criticised the 1991 reforms. The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout. The reforms, they insist, were ‘home-grown’. In the years leading up to 1991, technocrats in government had been thinking and writing about how India’s economic policies had been blocking the country’s rise to potential and the structural changes needed. If the broad range of reforms—including tearing down the industrial license permit raj, an exchange rate correction, and liberalising foreign direct investment and trade policies—could be launched within a matter of days of a new government joining office, they argue, it is because the blueprints were ready, waiting for the go-ahead from the political leadership.

The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout.

At least two well-regarded technocrats that were important in the 1991 reforms disagree—publicly and in off-the-record conversations. In a media interview last month, one of them, the economic adviser in the reforms team, Dr Ashok Desai, suggested that if there were any reformers in government before the IMF “forced” India to liberalise in 1991, “they hid themselves very well”. According to him, after the BOP crisis was resolved, finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh turned “dead against reforms”.

The multiple versions of the reforms story make it difficult to separate fact from romance. It cannot be disputed, though, that the 1991 BOP crisis was a turning point for the economy. India had tided over BOP crises earlier with loans from the IMF, repaid them prematurely, and avoided going through with the bailout’s conditionalities. 1991 was singularly different because India was on the brink of default, which is likely to have forced politicians to set politics aside and listen to technocrats. Any default on external obligations would have meant hurting India’s credibility grievously and an inescapable sense of national shame. The government probably took the view that there was no choice other than to take corrective steps. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao named Dr Manmohan Singh, who had been a technocrat in government and was well regarded in global policy circles, as his finance minister. Dr Singh clearly had the Prime Minister’s, his party’s and the IMF’s trust. Records irrefutably show that the Congress party’s acceptance of the reversals in the interventionist economic policies of the first four post-Independence decades was not secured by the Prime Minister. He had delegated the task of tackling doubts and resistance within the party to his ministers, in particular, the finance minister and the commerce minister, and an aide in his office. The finance minister defended the reforms on the floor of the house in Parliament.

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Taxpayer-funded NPR mocks ‘CaPitAliSm,’ prompting calls to ‘defund’ media outlet

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National Public Radio (NPR) ignited a social media firestorm Thursday night over a tweet that appears to mock capitalism, despite taxpayer dollars accounting for much of the organization’s annual budget.

The outlet posted a story titled “And Now, Crocs With Stiletto Heels” that explores a curious new collaboration between luxury fashion brand Balenciaga and Crocs, the rubber slipper company responsible for fashion faux pas among the millions of comfort-clinging owners nationwide.

The caption accompanying the article, which was written in both uppercase and lowercase letters, appears to mock the collaboration: “CaPitAliSm bReEds InNovAtiOn,” it reads. 

The tweet’s language sparked outrage on social media, with figures like conservative Tim Young calling out the irony in NPR’s three-word post.

“You wouldn’t exist without capitalism, clown who is tweeting on behalf of NPR,” he wrote.

“Job at public news station wouldn’t exist wo capitalism,” another user echoed. “Are you guys ok?”

“Our tax money shouldn’t pay for this,” one person expressed.

“It’s still a hell of a lot better than communism at breeding innovation, even if some of the products are silly,” one woman fired back.

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