Dan Dinello – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Wed, 14 Apr 2021 05:36:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.16 Winning the War for Earth: Kim Stanley Robinson’s subversive new Novel Rejects Doomism and Imagines a Hopeful Solution to the Climate Emergency https://www.juancole.com/2021/04/robinsons-subversive-emergency.html Tue, 06 Apr 2021 04:04:16 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=197070 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – In the wake of a killer heat wave that slaughters millions, eco-terrorism spreads across the globe and capitalism ruptures in Kim Stanley Robinson’s science fiction novel that envisions a climate crisis scenario of the next thirty years. Despite violence, ecological calamity and a super-depression, The Ministry for the Future is ultimately an optimistic book that imagines a manifesto for radical climate change and alters the trajectory of “overt gloom and doom that we increasingly encounter in today’s climate discourse” as Michael E. Mann puts it in The New Climate War.

Best known for the Mars trilogy, Robinson has written twenty novels and received every science fiction honor including the Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke awards for his entire body of work. “Science fiction is the realism of our time,” says Robinson. “We are all now stuck in a science-fiction novel that we’re writing together.” Published at the end of last year, The Ministry for the Future was well-received and, among the plaudits, New York Times opinion writer Ezra Klein called it “the most important book I read last year.”

Robinson — a self-described eco-Marxist — dramatizes the relationship between ecological destruction and capitalism while proposing solutions to the climate crisis that involve the end of wealth inequality, authoritarianism, hyper-masculinity and racism. The sprawling novel navigates a chaotic path that dismantles the free market, countenances eco-terrorism and avoids mass extinction, apocalyptic nihilism and fascistic clampdown. Hopeful, but still frightful, this plausible best-case scenario results from great loss and suffering.

The opening of the book, in 2025, plunges us into an eye-witness account of a brutal heat wave in India — a sustained combination of extreme temperatures and high humidity that renders humans unable to shed heat. “The sun blazed like an atomic bomb, which of course it was,” thinks American aid worker Frank May who hears screams of distress as the power grid crashes. Making his way to a lake, he sees that old and young are roasting in the streets and, in the lake, people were being “poached.”

Twenty million perish in the heat storm, which galvanizes India into taking extreme actions to fight climate warming and prevent another disaster. Delhi’s first action is a geoengineering attempt to dim the sun. Called Solar Radiation Management, scientists seek to imitate the Pinatubo volcanic eruption of 1991, which partially blocked solar radiation with sulfur dioxide particles within the ash cloud and lowered global temperature by a degree of Fahrenheit for a year. India launches a fleet of airplanes to ferry sulfur compounds into the atmosphere, a global intervention forbidden by the novel’s updated Paris Climate Agreement.


Buy Kim Stanley Robinson, Ministry for the Future (click here)

The anemic progress of the Paris Climate Agreement has led to the creation of a new international climate-crisis body. Called the Ministry for the Future, it has been “charged with defending all living creatures present and future who cannot speak for themselves.” Led by ex–Irish Republic official Mary Murphy, the Ministry’s close-knit staff includes bureaucrats, economists, engineers and scientists. They emerge as the rather ordinary even boring heroes of the novel, eventually succeeding in finding effective climate interventions to save the planet. Rumors persist that the Ministry runs a secret “black ops wing“ that violently supports their work

In India, a terrorist network arises. The Children of Kali, named for the Indian goddess protector of the innocent and destroyer of evil, pursue violent — and shockingly effective — methods, including sabotage and murder. Robinson suggests that given the immediacy of the crisis, all methods — legal, extra-legal and technological — must be tried.

Disregarding narrative drive, Robinson covers a lot of ground in 106 chapters and almost 600 pages. He mingles Wikipedia articles, news reports, philosophical musing, political analysis and prose poems. With an exuberant imagination, he even gets weird — writing short chapters from the point of view of the sun, the earth, a carbon molecule, and a caribou. He knowledgeably riffs on Jevon’s Paradox, wildlife extinction, atmospheric and oceanic physics, speculative military strategy, and modern monetary theory as well as proposals for technological interventions in the earth’s climate, including sun-dimming.

In the real world, widespread research into the efficacy of solar geoengineering has been stalled for years. Solar Radiation Management remains highly controversial among environmentalists. The first proposed sun-dimming experiment, in Sweden, was delayed just last week due to opposition by green and anti-technology groups. This so-called Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) — partially funded by Bill Gates and designed by Harvard University — would involve the launch of a balloon into the stratosphere where it would spray fine dust mists (calcium carbonate) and then circle back to measure chemical and physical alterations.

Progressive opponents believe such atmospheric techno-fixes come with unpredictable risks and unforeseen consequences, including extreme shifts in weather patterns that might weaken the summer monsoons. The 2013 movie Snowpiercer dramatizes a unlikely extreme result: a new ice age. Environmentalists also fear that because this technological strategy does nothing to treat the underlying cause of climate change, the polluters who spew greenhouse gases will push for technological solutions and continue their bad behavior. As Michael E. Mann argues, “Geoengineering is simply a way of avoiding the need for true systemic change, even as that shift is increasingly feasible.”

In the novel, the Ministry tries several technological strategies, including dyeing the Artic Ocean yellow to reflect more sunlight and moderate its warming. As Robinson, in the novel, asserts: “Geoengineering? Yes. Ugly? Very much so. Dangerous? Possibly. Necessary? Yes. Or put it this way; the international community had decided through their international treaty system to do it. Yet another intervention, yet another experiment in managing the Earth system, in finessing Gaia.”

While not embracing any specific technological solutions or making predictions about what will or will not work, Robinson refuses to dismiss geoengineering as techno-utopian wishful thinking. The threat of mass extinction is so dire that every strategy must be considered. Most immediately, this includes a restructuring of capitalism as a step on the way to overturning it.

“Easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism: the old saying had grown teeth and was taking on a literal, vicious accuracy,” says Robinson. Still, in India, the capitalist system collapses in recognition that this legally mandated economic system is an attack on the biosphere and a crime against humanity. The ruling elite lose legitimacy and the world’s biggest democracy nationalizes the power companies, closes down coal-fired power plants, and builds wind and solar plants while dismantling the caste system and shutting down cheap Indian labor. The more radical elements of the Indian polity send out a message: “change with us now or suffer the wrath of Kali.”

Aside from these threats, pressure on the world’s central bankers comes from catastrophic ecological events including a murderous heat wave in the U.S. and the flooding of Los Angeles. Debt strikes by students and debtor nations of the global south as well as uprisings by migratory workers create economic pressure. Driven by the sense that the world is collapsing, millions of people march in the capitals of the world: ”a spasm of revolt, things were falling apart.”

Eventually, the world’s bankers help break the petro-billionaires and shift the economy away from fossil fuels. Fundamental to the book is Robinson’s elaboration of an alternative to the neo-liberal capitalist order: an end to the free market, which is destroying the planet, to a profit structure that rewards saving the planet. In this, The Ministry for the Future imagines the first steps towards the end of capitalism.

What makes this tough reading is the detail-heavy complexity of the financial transformation that Robinson envisions, including an elaboration of carbon quantitative easing — “carbon coin” compensation for actions that keep CO2 from the atmosphere — combined with blockchain technology that makes money traceable, trackable and fully taxable. For a real-world explanation and evaluation of this financial labyrinth, see How to Save the Planet.

Though the central bankers are treated as a kind of Illuminati controlling the world, the novel shows that the end of capitalism is a pivotal requirement for moving the globe onto a path of reducing carbon emissions. This financial revision incentivizes a shift away from fossil fuel burning to a clean, green economy.

After redesigning the financial system, the Ministry for the Future unravels the various knots of the climate crisis: requiring the fast development of green modes of urban transit, stimulating the mass adoption of sustainable agriculture and enforcing stringent regulatory standards for the biggest carbon emitting sectors: industry, transport, land use, buildings, and transportation. Robinson says, “It will be legislation that does it on the end, creating a new legal regime that is fair, just, sustainable, and secure.”

To be clear, none of this — the fracturing of capitalism and the creation of green laws — none of this happens without brutal, ruthless political violence that ramps up exponentially after the Indian heat wave horror. The clandestine, now international terrorist network — the Children of Kali — target the world’s biggest polluters: “They killed us, so we killed them. All death dealers. All mass murderers for cash.” The Ministry publicly abhors such acts, but the financial titans believe that the Ministry’s “black wing” participates in such eco-terror.

“The War for the Earth is said to have begun on Crash Day,” recounts Robinson in the novel: terrorists launched swarms of sparrow-sized drones into the flight paths of airplanes, fouling their engines anddowning them. Some are the private jets of plutocrats, but not all: “Sixty passenger jets crashed in a matter of hours, about seven thousand dead.” After Crash Day, the Children of Kali issue a manifesto: No more fossil-fuel-burning transport. This prevents twenty-five percent of civilization’s total carbon burn. Flying is mostly limited to the growing fleet of solar-powered dirigibles and airships that slowly circle the Earth. Next, the Children of Kali tell the world that livestock has been infected with mad cow disease (BSE). To stay safe, people must stop eating beef. Vegetarianism spreads, severing the world from its addiction to carbon-intensive meat production.

We never meet any of the terrorists or their victims. The savage acts are reported blandly, in summaries of newscasts. Although any of these audacious actions could be the plot of a thriller, Robinson does not embellish their stories with suspense, as in Kelly Reichardt’s 2013 movie Night Moves. Unlike the film, the novel doesn’t burden terroristic behavior with moral considerations. Still, the violence is not valorized, but rather presented as inevitable — a vengeful reckoning proportionate to the ecocidal crimes against the planet that brought civilization to the brink.

By the 2050s, the Ministry reports significant victories in the battle to save earth. While more energy than ever is being created, less CO2 is burning into the atmosphere than at any time since 1887. Every continent shows improvement. The Ministry for the Future imagines a vast complicated green revolution — the immense totality of the transformation that needs to happen. With a mind-boggling multitude of perspectives, Robinson assembles a complex machine for social change that ultimately delivers success: a more equitable social economy and a more stable climate.

In recounting the positive planetary changes, Robinson demonstrates his pastoral voice with beautifully vivid portrayals of animals, people and environments — the natural world brought back to life. In one powerful chapter (85), he transcribes the opening of a fictional congress of global climate remediation groups that lists over 350 multifaceted land and animal restoration projects scattered across the globe. As it happens, it is a real list: Spherical Studio’s Regen Earth, a collection of regenerative projects presented in short films.

While optimistic, The Ministry of the Future stillrepresents the dark fears of one of America’s great writers. The needed green transformation may require political violence and entail the sacrifice of moral convictions, justified on a belief that the carbon oligarchy is committing mass murder and most of their victims will be our children.

At the end of this truly subversive novel, Minister Mary Murphy looks at the saved world and thinks: “That there is no other home for us than here. That we will cope no matter how stupid things get. That all couples are odd couples. That the only catastrophe that can’t be undone is extinction. That we can make a good place. That people can take fate in their hands. That there is no such thing as fate.”

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Bioneers: “Kim Stanley Robinson on his book “The Ministry for the Future”

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Democracy’s Night of the Living Dead: Trump’s GOP Zombies Lost by a Landslide, but they’re back to eat our Brains https://www.juancole.com/2021/01/zombies-landslide-brains.html Tue, 05 Jan 2021 05:05:26 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=195337 By Dan Dinello | –

Like a political remake of Night of the Living Dead, the Republican Party — put to death by the Lame Duck’s poisonous presidency — has reanimated as the Zombie Party. This hollowed out duplicate looks the same, but has been implanted with the traitorous delusions of the demented ex-President. Denying the basic assumption of electoral democracy that the minority accepts the legitimacy of the majority winner, most Republicans supported or cowered quietly as the loser president engaged in a buffoonish but criminal attempt to overthrow the will of the people and sabotage the transfer of power.

This is the culmination of the past four years during which the Zombie Party mutely enabled a contaminated presidency infected with personal corruption, contempt for the Constitution, and malicious neglect of the pandemic that has now killed over 350,000 Americans. Even now, the brain-dead Party has nothing to say about the Lame Duck’s pardon of the Blackwater child-killers, his dereliction of duty in the face of a massive Russian hack that invaded over 250 federal agencies, and his indifference to the stagnation of “Operation Warp Speed.”

As the last gasp of the Lame Duck’s administration thankfully expires on January 6 when a joint session of Congress will vote to accept the electoral college results, more than a dozen zombified Republican senators — led by cadaverous Ted Cruz — will join the sedition caucus along with at least 140 Republican House members in voting to reject Joe Biden’s victory. Bloodless puppet Vice-President Mike Pence welcomed their rejection and, with them, descended into Conspiracy Land.

These anti-democratic Republicans seek the installation of the 2020 election loser as the winner. Defying the results of a free and fair election to indulge the Lame Duck’s futile attempts to retain power, they cite evidence-free, unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud. Their aim is not, as they profess, to ensure election integrity, but rather to cater to the traitorous whims of an autocratic president and burnish their credentials with the demented MAGA base as loyal zombies for future elections.

A new GOP litmus test has been created by the Lame Duck — true Republicans must deny reality and assert that the election was stolen as result of some non-existent fraud. This is now a central dogma of the Zombie Party. Even a loyal stooge like Georgia Governor Brian Kemp was decapitated when he refused to intervene in the state’s presidential election after three re-counts confirmed Biden’s win. The Lame Duck demanded that Kemp resign and tweeted, “He is an obstructionist who refuses to admit that we won Georgia, BIG! Also won the other Swing States.” It would be no surprise if the Lame Duck staged a counter-inauguration in Mar-a-Lago and insisted that Republicans attend.

The has-been loser and his fellow Republican seditionists see January 6 as the last stand to contest election results. This is incredibly destructive, humiliating to the country, and pointless since the Democratic majority in the House will vote to confirm Biden’s victory. Nevertheless, in voting to reject Biden’s election, the Republicans align themselves with the despotic Lame Duck’s looney side-kick — the face-melted, failed Borat-actor Rudy Guiliani — while empowering the anti-mask MAGA fanatics, neo-fascist Proud Boys, and the crackpot Qanon cult. They also legitimize these dead-enders’ extravagant and bizarre “election-theft” mythology that is populated with thousands of dead people voting, international communist plots, hacked Dominion voting machines, massive illegal ballot dumps, mail-in voter fraud, urban voting irregularities, Hugo Chavez, Angels from Africa, and the Kraken.

The result will be a shameless show of support by craven Congressional Republicans for erasing the votes of millions of Americans — and, perhaps, mayhem in the streets, incited by the ex-president. “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” he tweeted earlier this month in an appeal to his robotic followers. Hopefully, the damage from the chaos that the Lame Duck is urging doesn’t extend to human lives. The anti-democratic move by Congressional Zombies will force a contentious and embarrassing floor debate that Senate Republican leaders had hoped to avoid. Even if temporarily rational Republicans vote down the objection to Biden’s win, they are all responsible for turning their Party into an authoritarian movement.

Prior to the election of the ex-reality star, the GOP’s aversion to democracy was clear: it lost the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections — a streak of futility unmatched in U.S. history. Democracy was not working for the Republican Party. The solution to its chronic inability to win a majority of voters in presidential elections was to embrace minority rule and exploit defects in the American system: the electoral college, voter suppression, the enormous imbalance in Senate representation that gives disproportionate power to red states, the gerrymandering of congressional districts, and the politicization of the federal courts — these methods became critical requirements for imposing the will of the minority on the majority.

“The Republican Party is on a continuum toward the kind of democratic erosion visible in other countries, including Turkey under Recep Erdoğan, Hungary under Viktor Orbán, or, in the most extreme example, Russia under Vladimir Putin,” says Susan Stokes, a political science professor and the director of the Chicago Center on Democracy at the University of Chicago. “In those nations, a party that wins office through a democratic election then seeks to use state power to tilt or completely undermine future elections.”

As a candidate in 2015, the Lame Duck spewed the truth that, as a force capable of winning presidential elections, the Republican Party was dead. In March 2016, he said, on his favorite propaganda show Fox & Friends, that Democrats want “levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” In this warped view of democracy, the Demagogue decides what “levels of voting” he agrees to allow so that Republicans can win. His ascent to the presidency galvanized the Republican revolt against democracy and helped institutionalize it. The Lame Duck’scurrentscheme to annihilate American democracy should be seen as part of the process by which authoritarianism is normalized.

The Republican automatons — parroting the Lame Duck — are an anti-democratic force that believe Biden’s win is a fraud because the Democratic party is not a legitimate political institution so its voters don’t count. This is why the authoritarian countermeasures emerging from the MAGA fever swamps— Supreme Court decree, martial law, the seizure of voting machines, and the replacement of state electors — are so openly discussed.

When they say the 2020 election was stolen, Republican zombies are expressing their view that the nation belongs to them, whether or not they actually constitute a majority, because they are the only true Americans. This fundamental Republican belief — fueled by the Birther-in-Chief — ties the election conspiracy theory to birtherism:neither Barack Obama nor the coalition that elected him was considered politically legitimate. Obama’s “illegitimacy” — according to the conspiracy theory — resulted from his designation as African, Muslim, and foreigner. It’s no accident that the Lame Duck’s phony election fraud claims have focused almost entirely on jurisdictions with high Black populations.

“Detroit and Philadelphia—known as two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country, easily — cannot be responsible for engineering the outcome of a presidential race,” said the Lame Duck on November 5. His failed legal challenges targeted cities with large Black populations. Black votes are considered illegitimate unless cast for Republicans, the party of true Americans. By this preposterous logic, tossing out Black votes for Biden is not anti-democratic, because they should not have counted anyway.

During the 2020 campaign, the incumbent president failed to even pretend to express a future vision open to citizen debate. Policy arguments are the relics of a democratic conception that the Lame Duck killed — the notion that an election is a contest for the support of a majority of voters. Such democratic arguments implicitly include the possibility that there is another, equally valid choice. That is exactly what the Lame Duck and the Zombie Republican Party refuse to accept. With no policy agenda for a second term, the Zombie GOP merely cloned its platform from 2016, without even bothering to delete its multiple attacks on “the current president.” Their policy was a promise to follow the mindless impulses and dictates of Dear Leader. When The Lame Duck spoke on election night about “a fraud on the American public,” he meant that the “public” consists only of his voters.

The panicked Lame Duck wants to legitimize the illegitimate, avoid accountability for his crimes, and create a permanent class of aggrieved citizens who will do and think whatever he says while continuing to give him money. Increasingly in the thrall of conspiracy theorists and right-wing extremists, the Zombie GOP wants to force the re-installation of this corrupt, toxic, dysfunctional administration. The incoherence and ineptitude of their attempt does not change the fact of its being an attempted coup. A catastrophe that was averted by the ham-fisted efforts of its would-be perpetrator invites a real catastrophe brought on by someone more competent and cunning. The malignant ex-President has established a playbook for stealing elections by mobilizing executive, judicial, and legislative power to support the attempt.

Fortunately, enough local Republican officials in 2020 recognized that their civic obligations outweighed their partisan affiliation. On a just-released phone call with Georgia officials, the delusional Lame Duck says, “I just want you to find 11,780 votes because we won the state.” Flagrantly abusing his power, he alternately reviles Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, begs him to act, flatters him, and even threatens him with vague criminal consequences if he refuses to capitulate. Throughout the non-perfect call, Raffensperger rejects the Lame Duck’s assertions, explaining that the president is relying on debunked conspiracy theories. Still, the next time a Republican president or senator seeks to stay in power after losing an election, there may not be enough civic-minded Republicans who place duty above party to prevent the power grab.

The infectious presidency of the Lame Duck has not been completely eradicated. Joe Biden hoped to arrive in the Oval Office — after it’s been fumigated — as a healer, intending to cure the country of division, suspicion, rage, and hate. However, in electoral terms, GOP constituents were not repulsed by the ex-president’s dumpster fire. They heard the Lame Duck say, repeatedly, that he would not accept losing the election. They witnessed the past few months of reckless disdain for democracy. They embraced his authoritarianism with enthusiasm. The assault on democracy now has a genuine, highly engaged, movement behind it — animated by racism, resentment, and revenge.

The Lame Duck may never stop menacing the country until he becomes disabled, deceased, or jailed. With the removal of presidential immunity, the latter possibility must be vigorously explored. “Few people have evaded consequences more cunningly,” writes Jane Mayer in the New Yorker,

That run of good luck may well end, perhaps brutally.”

Zombie Republicanism is a threat to the body politic. The treatment will require radical interventions, including the transformation or dissolution of the Republican Party, a purge of zombies from the government, and an investigation of the ex-president, his family, and his top cronies as a criminal enterprise. While the urge to move forward is understandable and dredging up four years of horror is painful, the Biden administration must take firm and decisive action against the illegalities and shattered democratic norms of the the Lame Duck’s hideous tenure.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

The Damage Report: “GOP Wackos Plot To Overthrow Election Results”

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Warped Speed: How Trump’s Push for a Quick and Dirty Covid Vaccine could Boomerang and Destroy Public Trust https://www.juancole.com/2020/10/vaccine-boomerang-destroy.html Fri, 02 Oct 2020 04:04:40 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193591 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – Despite more than 205,000 dead and 7.2 million infected, including him, Trump mendaciously claims that the pandemic “affects virtually nobody” while falsely promising a Covid vaccine by Election Day. His anti-science re-election propaganda not only jeopardizes trust in a vaccine, but eradicates faith in the very public health institutions that are responsible for evaluating and distributing that vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been reduced to little more than political tools.

Trump ordered the CDC to prepare for mass immunizations beginning on November 1 — a breakneck speed that defies credulity. The timetable is too short for full safety analysis of any vaccine. Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Coming Plague, says she won’t take a vaccine that comes out before election day. “Like most experts closely watching developments, I have no confidence that a safe, effective vaccine will be ready for use by then.”

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Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. Drugmakers racing to produce Covid-19 vaccines pledged to avoid shortcuts on science as they face pressure to rush a shot to market. Photographer: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Desperate to take undeserved credit for a Covid cure to bolster sagging re-election prospects, Trump embraces the vaccination project because it appeals to his con man instincts for flashy salesmanship – branding it “Operation Warp Speed.” The federal government has funneled over nine billion tax payer dollars into private drug companies, scaled up manufacturing, and bought millions of doses well before a vaccine is proven viable. To be clear: no American or European putative vaccine against the coronavirus has completed Phase 3 clinical safety and efficacy trials, according to the New York TimesCoronavirus Vaccine Tracker. Of the more than 150 vaccines in the world-wide research pipeline, only four American ones have even begun that final stage.

Most vaccines take years to develop and administer. Long-standing scientific protocols require massive testing of many thousands of people over a long period to ensure that a vaccine is safe, with minimal side effects, if any; and, effective, meaning it actually stops the disease, limits its spread or reduces its severity. Having a vaccine fully tested and ready for review on Oct. 22, when the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee plans to meet will be next to impossible.

“Safety cannot be guaranteed,” says Garrett. “Life-threatening complications may not show up in a quick sampling of healthy adults.” That’s why vaccine clinical trials usually last for many months and involve far more volunteers than have been recruited for the Covid-19 products. Short-circuiting that process can be wasteful or even dangerous: a rushed vaccine for the swine flu in 1976 meant to help President Gerald Ford’s election campaign not only proved ineffective but also afflicted hundreds with a paralyzing side effect, Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder.

Even if a vaccine looks safe and effective, rolling out a new one correctly is a major undertaking, requiring careful coordination across multiple state and federal agencies that play a pivotal role in evaluating the science behind it. Public trust is required. If millions of Americans are going to voluntarily agree to inject something to prevent a disease they don’t already have, they need to put faith in the agencies that endorse the effort and in the government that backs it. Since no one believes him, Trump will need Americans to trust the experts at the FDA and CDC — agencies he publicly denigrates or delegitimizes. Recent polling shows belief in a vaccine slipping: just over half of Americans now say they would take a vaccine if it were available today, a 21-point drop from earlier this year. That’s alarming since fewer people taking the vaccine dilutes its effectiveness.

Trump’s fixation on declaring victory just ahead of Election Day results in political pressure on the FDA and the CDC to provide scientific cover to his propaganda. The FDA is considering whether to allow a vaccine to be used on an emergency basis before its formal approval process is finished and the CDC has told states to be ready to distribute the vaccine two days before the election. But Trump’s unrelenting bashing of these two agencies has left their credibility in tatters such that their recommendations cannot be trusted.

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A lab technician uses a multichannel pipette dropper during the immune response analysis process of the coronavirus vaccine research at the Valneva SA laboratories in Vienna, Austria, on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. The U.K. has signed agreements to buy 90 million doses of vaccines in development by drugmakers including Pfizer Inc., BioNTech SE and Valneva SE, joining countries around the world racing to secure supplies of protection against Covid-19. Photographer: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

As he did with other “miracle cures,” Trump has publicly pressured the FDA to move quickly on authorizing a vaccine, demanding that it use its powers to permit Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of an unapproved and unproven vaccine. For example, a vaccine could generate antibodies to Covid — an immune response, but it might not prevent infection or serious illness. Further, long term side effects would remain unknown. This is a much lower bar than standard FDA approval. Rather than the usual process of consulting experts, the FDA chief alone can make this determination and Commissioner Stephen Hahn has already signaled that he is willing to do so.

Caving to White House pressure is not new to Hahn, who issued emergency use for two products that Trump misleadingly called “breakthroughs”: the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which the FDA later revoked as being ineffective and harmful, and convalescent plasm — blood plasma from recovered Covid-19 patients. Standing next to Trump at press briefing, Hahn made scientifically misleading claims about plasma’s medical benefits — a disastrous series of public mis-statements, which he later withdrew and about which he apologized.

“For the first time ever, I feel like official people at the FDA grossly misrepresented data about a therapy,” said Dr. Walid Gellad, who leads the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy at the University of Pittsburgh. This did widespread damage to the agency’s image in what was viewed by many as a trial run for its ability to manage Trump’s frenzied political pressure for a vaccine authorization.

Hoping to reassure a suspicious public about the government’s biggest public health decision in years, Hahn pledged to a Senate Panel, “Science will guide our decisions. The FDA will not permit any pressure from anyone to change that.” He prepared a proposal that set morestringent standards for a coronavirus vaccine EUA. Incensed that Hahn’s new safety guidelines will slow the process, Trump launched an all-out crusade against the FDA.He blew up Hahn’s carefully laid plans – attacking “deep state” agency staff for trying to hurt him politically and vowing to have final say over procedures for authorizing a Covid-19 vaccine.

This authoritarian move would follow the examples set by Russia and China — both of whom rushed out a limited use vaccine that experts call stupid and risky because they cut corners on rigorous scientific vetting that would be expected for FDA vaccine approval. In response to this, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his state would independently vet any vaccines before distribution.

After pressuring the FDA on the approval process, Trump clashed with the CDC, once considered the world’s premier public health agency. He publicly slapped down congressional testimony by the head of the CDC. Dr. Robert Redfield estimated that a vaccine will not be widely available to the public until the middle of 2021 at the earliest — echoing recent comments by Dr. Anthony Fauci. Redfield also praised wearing masks as “the most important, powerful public health tool we have in fighting the pandemic, even more important than a vaccine.” Lashing out at Redfield, the moronic, anti-mask Trump said of both remarks: “I think he made a mistake when he said that. I think he was confused. It’s just incorrect information.”

The CDC’s reputation has taken the biggest hit because of its undeniable and seemingly unassailable prestige. Even in pop culture, CDC doctors often play smart, courageous, selfless heroes such as in the movie Outbreak. The front-line agency was created to stop deadly pathogens. It battled malaria, polio and Ebola and helped eradicate smallpox. Over the course of seven decades, it became the world’s most admired disease-fighting agency with an elite workforce of the world’s foremost microbiologists, pathologists, and other scientists dispatched world-wide to investigate new and mysterious illnesses. Though successfully leading the country’s response to countless threats over decades — the deadly emergence of HIV, SARS, and the H1N1 flu pandemic, the CDC has been manipulated, sidelined and silenced by the Trump administration just as another virus rampages across the planet. Even by Trump’s low standards, this is unconscionable.

Unfortunately, the CDC was placed in unreliable hands. Dr. Robert Redfield is a right-wing darling with a checkered scientific past. His early AIDS research was inspired by the Christian right, who have been instrumental in driving a global AIDS strategy centered on abstinence. Redfield first came to public attention when he stood next to Trump, at CDC headquarters on March 7, and nodded approvingly as Trump said, in one of his most egregious Covid lies, “Anyone who wants a test can get a test.”

The CDC’s nationwide response to the pandemic has not been faultless. The stumbles started with the botched rollout of test kits suspected of being contaminated at a CDC lab in late January. Under Redfield, the agency took weeks to fix the flawed tests. But Trump’s concerns about the CDC are not about its efficacy, but about the facts that it reports about the pandemic — facts that show the president’s abject failure and that, like his “debate” performance, demonstrate that Trump is un-tethered from evidence, reality, and truth.

In order to change perceptions of Covid reality, Trump and his enablers try to suppress or alter CDC data and advice to mask the true scope of the epidemic. The agency has endured false accusations, criticism, and interference. White House officials pressured the CDC to align more closely with Trump’s message that the pandemic is largely over. Whether it’s getting the CDC to effectively lower the death count, muzzling officials, or forcing the agency to change guidelines — including on mask-wearing and the reopening of businesses, religious institutions, and schools. The CDC has experienced a loss of institutional integrity — eroded by blunders and Trump attacks — at a time when the nation desperately needs to trust it.

Embed from Getty Images
A lab technician wearing a full body protection suit handles a bottle containing growth media for virus production during coronavirus vaccine research at the Valneva SA laboratories in Vienna, Austria, on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. The U.K. has signed agreements to buy 90 million doses of vaccines in development by drugmakers including Pfizer Inc., BioNTech SE and Valneva SE, joining countries around the world racing to secure supplies of protection against Covid-19. Photographer: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

For example, in late August as the daily Covid death rate spiked, the CDC shockingly changed its testing guidelines andposted altered guidance, saying that asymptomatic people “do not necessarily need a test” even if they have come in close contact with someone infected by the virus. This was effectively a recommendation to test fewer people, soon after Trump said he had asked his people to “slow the testing down, please” because, he claimed, more tests revealed more coronavirus cases and made him look bad.

In his article “Ignore the CDC,” the former director of the National Institute of Health Harold Varmus attacks the agency for altering its guidelines and bowing to Trump’s bullying. “These changes will undermine efforts to end the pandemic,” wrote Varmus, “slow the return to normal, and increase the loss of lives.” The CDC later reversed the heavily criticized recommendation against asymptomatic testing. But the damage was done: its scientific credibility had been undermined again.

Last week, apparently under political pressure, the CDC removed language from its website that said the novel coronavirus spreads via airborne transmission, the latest example of the agency backtracking from its own guidance. Sudden flip-flops on public guidance is antithetical to the CDC’s own rules for crisis management spelled out in a 450-page manual. It requires US leaders and the CDC to avoid “mixed and conflicting messages from multiple sources,” “overly reassuring and unrealistic communication,” and “public conflicts and confusion.”

But that’s not happening. Trump creates a chaotic hurricane of misinformation that stokes confusion about what scientists know about the virus and the timetable for when most Americans will have access to a safe, effective vaccine. In fact, a major new study conducted by Cornell University researchers concluded that Trump is the world’s largest source of misinformation about Covid-19.

At Tuesdays’ debate — amid Trump’s sweat-soaked, rabid, racist, sociopathic behavior — he claimed that the vaccine would be available in “weeks.” His constant drumbeat for a vaccine before election day drowns out months of careful scientific work, reducing the vaccine hunt to yet another presidential litmus test. Given months of capitulation to Trump, there’s little reason to have confidence in FDA or CDC vaccine recommendations. Would anyone besides a MAGA zombie shoot a Trump vaccine into their arms? “We’ve sown the seeds of distrust in this vaccine,” says epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm. “The politicization could give us, in a sense, what it would be like to have a very ineffective vaccine. Because nobody will take it.” A vaccine will succeed only if Americans across the political spectrum trust that it is the result of careful and cautious scientific work that will not be completed until long after the November election that defeats Trump.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Realities Of Vaccine Testing Defy Trump Coronavirus Timeline | Rachel Maddow | MSNBC

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A Confederacy of Vigilantes: White Supremacists, including some Police, attack BLM Protesters, Prepare to Defend Trump’s Theft of the Presidency https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/confederacy-vigilantes-police.html Wed, 09 Sep 2020 04:04:11 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193061 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – “Be wary of paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh,” says Timothy Snyder in On Tyranny. “When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the end has come.”

Welcomed by police, armed vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse — radicalized by Trumpism — shot and killed two anti-racist activists and wounded another in the midst of a demonstration against the police shooting of a Black man Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.Shortly before he killed anyone, Rittenhouse — with the assault rifle slung over his shoulder — walked up to an armored law enforcement vehicle and chatted with police officers, one of whom popped out of a vehicle’s hatch and tossed bottles of water to Rittenhouse’s cohorts, members of an armed militia. “We appreciate you guys, we really do,” the officer said.

The young-looking, 17-year-old Rittenhouse is under the legal age for firearm ownership in Wisconsin. However, police did not stop and ask him for proof of age, which would have prevented two deaths. After his killings, Rittenhouse — still carrying the rifle — approached several police vehicles with his arms raised as if to surrender. Even as bystanders told police that he’s the shooter, they drove past, ignoring him. Police treated him as an ally, a comrade-in-arms especially when compared with their swift, often violent, reactions of to Black suspects.

With their embarrassing dereliction of duty caught on video, the police were pressured to apprehend Rittenhouse the next day at his home in Antioch, Illinois. He was charged as an adult with two counts of first degree homicide and one count of attempted homicide as well as underage possession of a weapon. Despite the murder charges, Trump defended Rittenhouse — a police and gun fetishist — as acting in self-defense.

Visiting Kenosha, Trump courted law enforcement officials, but did not address the shooting of Blake or meet with his family members. He also encouraged anti-protestor, vigilante actions when he praised as “peaceful” the pro-Trump, gun-toting clown caravan that attacked demonstrators with fists, paint balls, and pepper spray in Portland, Oregon, the previous week. Asked about nonviolent protests and structural racism, he ignored the question to condemn protestors as “anarchists,” “looters,” “rioters” and “agitators.”

For Trump, “law and order” equals submissive social obedience on the part of those targeted for police violence. White vigilantes, who beat and even kill people opposed racism, are considered legitimate enforcers of that social order. This is an ideology that derives from the antebellum South or the night-riders who terrorized Black Americans during Reconstruction. Equally disturbing is the convergence of police and right-wing vigilantes, as in Kenosha. What happened there is not a bug in the code of the American policing system but a feature. The fact that police — overwhelmingly white, male, straight and conservative — encouraged Rittenhouse’s vigilantism is a microcosm of one of the most fundamental problems in American policing that relate to racial and political bias.

This political prejudice played out violently in the police riots that occurred during the George Floyd protests: overwhelmingly peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters were attacked by cops with tear gas and beaten with billy clubs. Plastic and rubber bullets were fired directly into the faces of demonstrators, bystanders, and reporters. In Portland, police destroyed the demonstrators’ makeshift relief stations, which dispensed drinking water and milk to treat gassed protesters. Nationwide, they pepper-sprayed kids with their hands up, they shoved women and elderly men and anybody else because they could.

Along with this, police ignored or visibly supported armed vigilantes who intimidated and even attacked anti-racist protestors. In Philadelphia, for example, police officers stood idle while a group of mostly white men armed with bats, clubs, and long guns assaulted journalists and protesters. In Hood County, Texas, a sheriff encouraged the Oath Keepers — an armed group that claims thousands of members who are current and former law enforcement and military members — to defend a Dallas hair salon after rumors of possible looting. In Salem, Oregon, a police officer advised armed men to “discreetly” stay inside while police began arresting protesters for violating curfew.

Numerous police officers across the country flaunted their affiliations with far-right militant groups. A policewoman, in Olympia, Washington, posed and smiled with heavily armed members of the Three Percenters — a far right paramilitary group whose followers, including a former sheriff’s deputy, bombed a Minnesota mosque in 2017. Chicago police officer Kyle Mingari wore a face covering with a Three Percenters’ logo while on duty at a protest. A member of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department sported a patch displaying a logo for the Three Percentersabove the term “Oathkeeper,” a reference to that paramilitary organization.

Beyond political prejudice, some US law enforcement officers demonstrate overt bigotry and neo-fascism. Most directly, police departments have been infiltrated by white supremacist groups and far-right vigilante militias in dozens of states. This is the conclusion of “Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far Right Militancy in Law Enforcement,” a new analysis, written by former FBI special agent Michael German. He documents the long history of police involvement in white supremacy, including active participation in the Ku Klux Klan that extends to 2019. “These officers’ racist activities are often known within their departments,” writes German, “but only result in disciplinary action or termination if they trigger public scandals.”

Numerous police officials, though not associating with white supremacist groups, participate in overtly racist and bigoted commentary on social media. The Plain View Project, published in 2019, found five thousand obviously racist social media posts by 3,500 accounts identified as belonging to current and former police officials. Responding to the report and published database, multiple investigations were initiated across the country. “Unfortunately, no central database lists law enforcement officers fired for misconduct,” German explained in an interview on a WBUR’s “On Point” podcast. “As a result, some police officers dismissed for involvement in racist activity are able to secure other law enforcement jobs.”

White supremacists have been identified as the most lethal domestic terrorist threat in the country by the FBI. German writes that the FBI’s own internal documents warn that paramilitary groups often have “active links” to law enforcement. “Despite this, no effective policy has been developed to identify white supremacist police and confront the problem,” said German on WBUR. “Far-right militants are allowed to engage in violence and walk away while protesters are met with violent police actions.” This negligent response empowers violent groups to a potentially fatal degree.

The Trump presidency brought fresh blood and energy into the militia movement. Praised by Trump, lauded by pro-Trump pundits and politicians, and cheered by police, violent far-right militias and armed fanatics have been unleashed. America has its own brand of SS, Hitler’s paramilitary terrorist organization. Groups like the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, and the Proud Boys — along with a hodgepodge of individual gun crazies, biker gangs and rural militiamen — serve the authoritarian president and are willing to violently oppose those criticizing “Dear Leader” Trump.

Forging a racist bond with them, Trump shows that he shares their loathing and disgust for racial minorities, immigrants, and protestors by his fanatical push to preserve Confederate symbols and the legacy of white domination. Beloved by Klan leader David Duke, Trump famously referred to neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and white nationalists as “very fine people.” He shared video of a supporter yelling “white power” and harshly demonized Black Lives Matter as a “symbol of hate.” In fact, it’s been four years of hate. Over the weekend, Trump celebrated attacks on protestors by his supporters and encouraged the “rise of citizen militias around the country.” With Trump saying both implicitly and explicitly that police, militias and armed individuals are the only thing standing between America and the chaos of a leftist takeover of the country, it becomes a call to arms and a spur to terror.

Like other terrorists, Trump-supporting vigilantes have adopted vehicles as weapons. Last Thursday night, a car driven by a pro-Trump demonstrator, accelerated into a crowd of Black Lives Matter activists assembled in Times Square to protest the March death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who police hooded and pinned to the ground in a graphic video only released this week. The car-assailant drove off without apprehension, leaving behind a trail of bikes and fallen, injured protesters. As one witness said, “Just seeing how cops reacted, how they were so passive about it, it goes to show you where they stand.” Activists even alleged that the car was an undercover police escort for Trump supporters. In fact, the website Gothamist confirmed that pro-Trump, counter-protestors received an NYPD escort, on foot, before attacking the Black Lives Matter protest.

These domestic car attacks have taken a page from the ISIS playbook and established their own troubling story of violent responses to anti-racist protests. Since May, vigilante drivers have driven through crowds of protestors in numerous cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, and Seattle, injuring and in several instances even killing people. Despite public outrage, the frequency of these car assaults is growing. By early July, there were at least 68 vehicle attacks on Black Lives Matter rallies. America’s militia movement and police are joining with Trump to intimidate people against exercising their First Amendment rights.

Despite the killer pandemic that he failed to control, Trump desperately pushes the propaganda-delusion that the only thing white suburbanites have to fear is the radical left’s efforts to violently push the country into civil collapse.Yet it’s Trump and these paramilitary groups who dream of civil war. After the recent killing of a far-right activist in Portland, Oregon, The Oath Keepers urged Trump to declare an insurrection in the city and send in troops to arrest “antifa.” If he doesn’t, they threaten to organize “constitutional” militias to go there and do it themselves. Their leader Stewart Rhodes tweeted “The first shot has been fired. Civil war is here, right now.” So far, this looks like macho posturing.

Yet, with Trump fanning the flames, the political environment is incendiary. Two historians Steven Levitsky, co-author of How Democracies Die and Ruth Ben-Ghiat — author of a forthcoming book Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present agree that Trump’s encouragement of violence for political purposes is “worryingly similar to what the Fascist movement did in Europe.” In 1922, Italian dictator Mussolini exploited violent clashes between groups of his armed supporters, known as the Blackshirts, and their left-wing opponents. “He used the violence to destabilize Italian society, so he could position himself as the person to stop this violence,” Ben-Ghiat said. “That’s what Trump is doing.” Faced with the prospect of losing an election, he has gone beyond mere scaremongering and resorted to fomenting violent unrest from the White House.

The most vicious elements within these far-right militant groups correctly believe that their conduct is sanctioned by the government and the police. Given the maniacal fervor of pro-Trump paramilitary forces, it’s reasonable to assume that they’ve “upgraded” — in organization and tactics — as a result of involvement by law enforcement officers and even Iraq war veterans. “They have clear civilian targets and a President who eggs them on,” asserts Alexander Reid Ross, author of Against the Fascist Creep, who tracks vigilante groups. “There seems no doubt that America’s far right is keying up for conflict in the lead-up and aftermath of the presidential election” as Trump has floated the idea of rejecting an unfavorable election result as fraudulent.

Given the past four years of witnessing unlikely, illegal, unscrupulous, soul-crushing, democracy destroying behavior, this ominous scenario must be taken seriously. The only hope to radically restructure the police force and even begin to eradicate its systemic, infectious racism is to conclusively defeat the White Supremacist in the White House and, if he won’t leave, be prepared to defy his vigilantes, overwhelmingly flood the streets, and force his eviction.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CBS This Morning from last year: “St. Louis sergeant says there are white supremacists on police force”

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American Nervous Breakdown: Super-Spreader Trump and His Deranged Cult Infect Us All with their Toxic Lunacy https://www.juancole.com/2020/08/american-breakdown-spreader.html Tue, 04 Aug 2020 04:04:44 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=192366 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – While the plague rages, the economy crashes, and millions of jobless Americans just lost unemployment benefits, President Trump and his slavish cult descend further into madness. Their mental aberrations are acted out as reactionary behavior that embraces racism, fascism, the confederacy, and a delusionary denial of the pandemic. As the horror of 2020 progresses, I feel like I’m living in an inescapable episode of Black Mirror — a four-year, national nightmare where rational judgment has been dangerously subverted and reality has been largely rejected by the 40 percent, who still support Trump. Seeing this ridiculously large minority engage in frenzied, inexplicable Trump-adoration induces both a rising dread and psychological meltdown in the rest of America as the election draws closer.

Aided by Fox news and the right-wing echo chamber, Trump’s daily expression of his contemptible psychopathology — in tweets and “press conferences” — creates a collective state of mental sickness among his cult members who believe his disinformation. Since the pandemic’s start, Trump has repeatedly denied it, downplayed it, and denigrated socially responsible actions. Automatically regurgitating Trump’s talking points, his puppets have lost their personhood, autonomy and ability to think for themselves. “Mentally unwell leaders influence their followers to behave the same way,” says Yale psychiatrist Dr. Brandy Lee. “The president’s cult is like a mental disease spreading across the country.”

Trump resembles the feline parasite Toxoplasma gondii: he hijacks the brains of his host-fans, compels them to act in his self-interest, and controls their behavior with bad, self-destructive ideas that are contrary to their rational judgement. Most significantly, he mocked and disparaged mask-wearing as weak and anti-Trump. In the world’s worst coronavirus response, the single biggest mistake was the failure to wear masks. Though Trump recently tweeted a picture of himself wearing a mask, everyone knows he was coerced into it by his advisors to manipulate the media into saying he “changed his tone.” After six months of vilifying mask-wearing, no one believed him.

At the next “coronavirus briefing,” Trump returned to anti-maskism by promoting a pediatrician minister who denounced mask-wearing while advocating the ineffective, dangerous drug hydroxychloroquine as a Covid cure. Trump claimed he was “impressed” with the pediatrician despite her views that alien DNA is used in vaccines, that vaccines make people non-religious, and that gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are caused by people having dream-sex with demons. Most concluded that the demon-seed doctor is probably not a more reliable expert when it comes to infectious disease than Dr. Anthony Fauci. After his administration futilely trashed Dr. Fauci for two weeks, Trump pathetically whined about how Dr. Fauci is more popular than him. To most of us, this behavior further documented Trump’s infantile idiocy. Yet, the 40-percenters still support him and continue to act out like lunatics.

A screaming “covidiot” recently accosted my wife and her brother who were enjoying a pleasant walk through Northwest Chicago. From across the street, an alleged adult called them “Stupid!” for wearing masks. This might seem like a minor incident, but it’s indicative of the mentally unstable jerks who are so disturbed by mask-wearers that they routinely mock and intimidate them. Yet, the world view of these deranged people was not disturbed when anti-mask Texas representative Louie Gohmert (aka the dumbest man in the House) got infected. Their attitude remained unfazed when former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain died of Covid-19, after attending Trump’s Tulsa Rally — a kind of Coronavirus Jonestown, where devotees happily drank the Kool-Aid: no masks and no social distancing while yelling spittle into each other’s faces.

The paranoid president and his minions turned mask-wearing into a cultural signifier that, to them, indicates Trump-hatred, socialism, and liberty-repression rather than safety, social empathy, and good health practice. Acting as if controlled by a mind parasite, Trump cultists often freak out when store workers — enforcing common sense — ask them to mask up, like these two berserk people in Texas. Another person erupted in a frenzy and destroyed a display rack of N-95 masks because the sight apparently drove her crazy. A group of organized anti-mask protestors demonstrated against mask-wearing inside a Florida restaurant and then harassed their neighbors. This video compilation shows an anti-masker threatening violence and one who believes mask-wearing is a “crime against humanity.” This is truly bizarre, bewildering behavior and manifests a collective nervous breakdown encouraged by the President’s demented, yet contagious impulses.

The 40-percenters’ support continues unabated even as Trump’s malignant narcissism coupled with obvious neurological and behavioral decline worsens daily. Symptoms of physical deterioration are obvious. His standing balance is shaky; his navigating of inclines is hesitant and unsteady; his whole upper body must move to turn his head. “When sitting, he is always crouching, leaning forward with his legs spread apart,” says neurologist Dr. James Merikangas, professor of neuropsychiatry at George Washington University. “This abnormal posture and problem with balance suggests a degenerative brain problem in the frontal lobes.”

His physical problems underscore Trump’s unnerving mental deterioration. For four years, we’ve watched him slur words, appear sedated, sniff loudly and frequently as well as confuse words (paraphasia), such as “oranges” for “origins.” Objective observers point to increased incoherence, thought fragmentation, and psychopathic nonsense such as when he said, “Doctors running into death just like soldiers running into bullets. It’s a beautiful thing to see.” My guts twist whenever he speaks.

Averaging 23.3 lies per day, Trump falsely claims that the U.S. is mostly “corona-free,” that “99 percent” of virus infections are “totally harmless” and seriously opined about injecting bleach. Incredibly, he believed he might be inventing a cure unimagined by science. Trump also repeats the same gibberish over and over, such as “If you don’t test, you don’t have any cases. If we stopped testing right now, we’d have very few cases if any.” Despite its head-exploding absurdity, many Trump sycophants, including Florida Governor DeSantis and Georgia Governor Kemp, repeat the same inanity, amplifying and transmitting misinformation into the lizard brains of the Trump fanatics.

Along with testing failure, the president’s malicious, selfish insistence upon prematurely reopening the economy — carried out by red-state governors — has helped make the US the world leader in infections (over 45 million) and deaths (over 154,000). With school openings, he’s doing the same thing — demanding in-person classes with no national plan to do it safely. He echoed the alarming falsehood of education secretary and Trump stooge Betsy DeVos — an unqualified billionaire religious zealot, who said, “More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don’t get it and transmit it themselves.” This is not true.

One of the first school districts to reopen failed to get through a day before partially shutting down after a student tested positive on the first day. More than 200 Georgia kids tested positive after attending summer camp. None were required to wear masks. Though Trump doesn’t care if their kids get Covid and bring it home to infect them, Trump-loving parents still approve of the job he’s doing. Apparently, they believe it’s better to die on a ventilator than admit that Trump is a danger to their children, themselves and the country. “Trump is impaired, mentally unwell to the extreme, detached from reality and, yes, he does seem like a bumbling fool,” says Yale psychiatrist Dr. Brandy Lee. “But Trump has a massive following and he controls the Republican Party and his frenzied irrational followers. Those people are the keys to Trump’s power.”

Trump’s apparent dementia does not make him a fascist, he is a fascist with dementia. His deteriorating psyche partly results from the pandemic pressures that reveal the reality of his incompetence, weakness and sheer stupidity as well as his slipping poll numbers. This makes his cruel pathologies worse and therefore more dangerous. Like a rat in a cage, he strikes out against the racial justice movement by sending war-clad goon squads, brandishing M4 assault rifles, into Portland to create chaos, kidnap protestors in unmarked minivans, and attack moms with tear gas. He’s threatened to “surge” this invasion into other Democratically-run cities, like Milwaukee, Detroit and Chicago.

Trump used the tax-payer funded US military as props in his political theater of the absurd to create video images that would be streamed by Fox and edited into campaign ads. Influenced by alt-right Nationalists like Fox host Tucker Carlson and xenophobic child-cager Stephen Miller, Trump hopes to secure the votes of white suburbanites by scaring them to death. He can’t run on the economy because he destroyed it, he can’t run on his response to the virus because it’s a disaster. Like a 1950s segregationist, he is running on hate and fear. In coordination with the invasion of Portland, Trump celebrated rescinding Obama-era fair-housing rules by tweeting: “People living the Suburban Lifestyle Dream” will no longer be bothered by “low income housing built in their neighborhood” — a statement so egregiously racist that it should have been sent with a burning cross emoji. Apparently, this excites the racists among the 40-percenters.

This summer of death, anxiety, and rage have swept up armed, fanatical Trump supporters who march on state houses, challenge Black Lives Matter protests, and chase internet rumors of an “Antifa” threat. Emboldened by Trump’s “Liberate” tweets in April, right-wing groups such as the Washington Three Percenters, Proud Boys, and American Wolf have held rallies to promote Covid conspiracy theories and declare their gun rights as well as appeared as counter-protesters at others’ events. At an Idaho Black Lives Matter protest, some waved confederate flags, displayed Nazi symbols and shouted “heil Hitler” and “white power,” reported the Idaho Statesmen. This is “part of their effort to normalize the presence of armed paramilitaries on the streets, which is a remarkably disturbing turn of events,” said Devin Burghart, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. No longer fringe elements, they’ve moved from backwoods training to on-the-streets activism in defense of Trump. They raise the loathsome specter of violent reaction, and even civil war, if he loses the election.

Undemocratic to his core, Trump stokes these deranged, bigoted cultists by continuously insisting the election will be fraudulent, fixed, and rigged. Without any constitutional authority, he suggested last week — right after the announcement of the worst GDP plunge in US history and right before the funeral of voting rights defender John Lewis — that the election should be delayed. If nothing else, Trump has revealed that our democratic norms are fragile and flawed so we cannot dismiss this dangerous dictator-talk as the impotent ravings of an isolated lunatic. Over four years, the unthinkable has happened and been rationalized by GOP enablers and that intractable, infuriating forty percent.

My own mental stability is shaken by Trump and the virus. Given my age and pre-conditions, I’m worried about my health and wonder when I’ll be able to hug my daughter and even see my New York-based son in person, rather than on my laptop. The hateful GOP has hypocritically re-embraced fiscal austerity after their trillion dollar tax giveaway to the 1%, so I’m concerned about the precarious finances of some friends and family. With the pandemic spreading like wildfire, I’m fearful for my teacher friends and family members pressured to hold in-person classes.

Over all of this, the election looms like a monstrous, murderous storm. Along with many others, I’ve got a queasy feeling of impending doom that increases when pundits predict Trump’s sure defeat, as it encourages complacency. He will burn America down rather than lose. Lacking confidence in Democrats’ resistance, I wonder whether foreign interference combined with voter suppression, polling place reductions, postal service slowdowns, lawsuits, outright cheating, and even violence will condemn us to four more years of cruel horror and tyrannical madness. This frenetic uncertainty is exacerbated by the shameless sociopath in the White House whose irrational, ignorant, delusional, self-aggrandizing rants continue non-stop — the prime catalyst for the national nervous breakdown.

There’s only one remaining anti-Trump treatment: take action to eradicate him. Young and old must stay in the streets, make phone calls, flood the internet, aggressively register voters, fight voter suppression, and, in November, electorally humiliate Trump and his cult out of political existence and simultaneously be prepared to march on Washington and force the contemptible maniac out of the White House if he won’t leave.

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Maskless in the Red Death: The Pathology of Trump’s Racism is turning our Pandemic into Negligent Genocide https://www.juancole.com/2020/07/maskless-pathology-negligent.html Tue, 07 Jul 2020 04:03:25 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=191919 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – As Donald Trump sits idly by, the nation is experiencing both a catastrophic public health collapse that has brought international humiliation as well as a convulsive, impassioned protest movement that indicts police brutality and systemic racism. Trump’s negligent response to the pandemic — morally amounting to genocide — has been as fundamentally racist as the policing tactics that led to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and far too many other Black Americans.

The racism virus that has circulated for centuries has mutated and re-emerged from the White House wet market. Trump spends his diminishing mental capacity stoking the flames of white supremacy and raging over damage done to statues that honor confederate traitors and memorialize slavery. He celebrated Independence Day at Mount Rushmore by glorifying the legacy of white domination with a dystopian speech that excoriated anti-racist protesters as “evil” agents of a “new fascism” that want to “erase our values” and whose ultimate goal is “the end of America” — condemnations that describe himself. In an apparent effort to fuel the toxic emotionalism of his racist base, Trump’s only 2020 campaign pledge is to make the confederacy great again.

Trump’s Rushmore speech not only failed to mention racial justice, but avoided the coronavirus’s mind-numbing death toll and recent tsunami of infections. While questioning the value of testing, he himself lives in a protective biological bunker of regular Covid testing. Like a 21st century Prince Prospero who ruled a plague-ravished country in Edgar Allan Poe’s 1842 story “Masque of the Red Death,” Trump neglects the pandemic burning through the population. In Poe’s apocalyptic tale, the hubristic Prospero is happily holed up in his plague-protected fortress — a medieval Trump Tower — and does nothing to stop the “hideous red death” from “devastating his dominions.”

The gruesome, horribly fatal epidemic has already annihilated half the kingdom, but Prospero cares nothing about his suffering, dying subjects and abandons them to the fatal disease. Requiring constant self-aggrandizement, Prospero holds a party for his cult-like followers, who are described as “wanton,” “grotesque,” “bizarre,” and exciting “disgust” — not unlike the Trump Super-fans at his MAGA rallies. As Poe writes, “The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime, it was folly to either grieve or think” — an apt description of Trump’s mindlessness and indifferent, even antagonistic, response to the dual plagues of Covid-19 and racism.

The pathology of American racism is making the pathology of the coronavirus worse, as the virus cuts a devastating swath through an already vulnerable population: Black people bear a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s impact, most notably financial hardships, infections rates, hospitalizations, and deaths. For example, African Americans inordinately succumb to the effects of infection, dying at a rate almost two times higher than white people, according to data from the Covid Racial Tracker. In Chicago, Black residents make up 30% of the city’s population, but account for 60% of its Covid-19 fatalities as well as the highest rate of infection statewide, according to a study from the Chicago Urban League that blames systemic racism as the root of the over-representation.

On Sunday, The New York Times wrote that “Black and Latino people have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in a widespread manner that spans the country, throughout hundreds of counties in urban, suburban and rural areas, and across all age groups.” Immediate action is needed to prevent Black people as well as Latinx, Native Americans and other ethnic communities from suffering and dying at frightening rates. Yet, Trump surrendered to the pandemic, providing no national plan to mitigate the mass death of these racial groups, a genocidal calamity unfolding on his watch.

Incompetence, denial, and finally racism played a decisive role in Trump’s disastrous and still-unfolding failure. As the first coronavirus cases were diagnosed in the United States, in late January and early February, Trump and Fox News played down the risk it posed. His record of inaction, ineptitude, and inane remarks during the first months of the pandemic has been well documented. “It’s going to disappear like a miracle,” he said on February 27.

Demonstrating his disconnection from reality, he’s been saying this over and over and over, most recently on July 1, after more than 130,000 dead — the most on the planet. “Presidential inaction cost over 71,000 lives,” wrote the Washington Post in their “Trump Death Clock.”

After much pressure, Trump briefly instigated some action in early March. New cases, tied to international travel, snared many members of the global elite: American celebrities, world leaders, and those with close ties to Trump himself, reported Atlantic writer Adam Serwer.

In mid-March, the President declared a national emergency and, at the end of March, a partial (32 states) national lock-down began. New infections peaked in mid-April and began to diminish shortly thereafter. This limited success came at a high cost: Depression levels of unemployment, the shift to online or home schooling for millions of students, a viral wildfire through nursing homes, and families denied final visits to dying loved ones. Still, these mitigation sacrifices delivered decent results. If this progress had continued, the American people — and the American economy — might have experienced a further decline in cases and perhaps a significant slow-down of the pandemic as the European Union countries have done.

But that did not happen. Trump’s racism undermined the mitigation strategy. In early April, data about the demographics of Covid-19 victims began to emerge. The New York Times reported that Black and Latino Americans were being disproportionately killed by the coronavirus. That night, Trump’s beloved Fox News host Tucker Carlson announced, “It hasn’t been the disaster that we feared.”

Fellow Fox propagandist Brit Hume declared on twitter that Covid’s deadliness was exaggerated: “the disease turned out not to be quite as dangerous as we thought.” Once the disproportionate racial impact of the epidemic was revealed to the American right-wing political and financial elite, “many began to regard the rising death toll less as a national emergency than as an inconvenience,” wrote Sewer in The Atlantic. Following them, Trump reversed himself, disregarding his science advisors, and urged the reopening of the U.S. economy in mid-April.

Coinciding with Trump’s demands, anti-lockdown protesters — many of them brandishing weapons, confederate flags and pro-Trump signs — assembled at the capitols of Democratic-governed states to demand immediate reopening. They denounced virus mitigation strategies as “tyranny”— an imposition on their liberty to get haircuts, shop, consume, spit, and do as they please. The vast majority of these protesters — like the vast majority of those who wanted to prematurely reopen the economy — are white. Trump tweeted his support: “Liberate Minnesota; Liberate Michigan; Liberate Virginia and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” Aggravating racial tensions and playing to his cult, Trump ceded any semblance of national leadership on the pandemic.

CDC guidelines called for 14 days of infection-declines before a state reopens. No states followed the two-week guideline, except early-hit Eastern and Midwestern ones. “I am very much in favor of what they’re doing,” Trump said in the Oval Office cheering on the southern and western governors who were racing to reopen. On April 29, he declared that federal social-distancing guidelines would be “fading out.” Many young party animals, among others, followed this suggestion.

In May, the virus exploded like a nuclear bomb in the south and west, initially among young people. The disease is spiking in places precisely where state governments — pushed by Trump — hastened to reopen bars, casinos, restaurants, shopping malls, and other indoor places of entertainment. Many Black people either lost their jobs or were forced back to work where they were exposed to the virus. Rashad Robinson, the president of the racial justice advocacy group Color of Change, said: Georgia’s governor “has targeted a whole set of businesses where black people both work and patronize. For those workers and customers, it is an absolute death sentence.” Phoenix, Houston, and other southern cities are suddenly reporting caseloads that look like New York City at its worst. Despite asserting “I’m not responsible,” this is Trump’s plague: he’s responsible for mass deaths.

The fundamental purpose of the president’s job is straight-forward: protect the citizenry. Any deliberate perversion of this priority is an exercise in malfeasance — especially when that basic aim is undermined by bigotry and supplanted by the goal of personal gain. Slow, ineffectual and self-serving, Trump repeatedly downplayed the virus, sidelined the experts, and misled Americans about the virus’s dangers, its potential treatments like the ineffective hydroxychloroquine, and its potential cures like bleach injections. With the help of his propaganda outlets, he continually tries to force his version of reality on us. On Sunday, Trump once again blamed testing for the rise in cases and said, “99% of the infection cases are totally harmless” — more outrageous lies, among thousands. Trump cannot bluster away the pandemic reality: almost 3 million infected, over 130,000 dead, and millions more out of work — all because he could not and would not do the job of disease control that requires precision, focus, and science-based messaging. The rapid spread of the pandemic and the deaths that disproportionately affect African Americans result from Trump’s racism and willful negligence. This amounts to genocide.

Article Two of the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide defines genocide as “deliberately inflicting on a national, ethnic, racial or religious group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” While there’s no legal definition of “Genocide by negligence,” the moral standard is clear-cut: Trump let thousands die by negligence, omission, and a failure to act. Letting people die is the moral equivalent of involuntary manslaughter.

According to former prosecutor Glenn Kirschner, Trump is guilty of this crime because he “failed to act and that failure was the product of gross negligence that thereby caused the death of another.” Mass death of a racial group resulted from the gross negligence and cruel mismanagement of this crisis by a sociopathic president. Yale epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves agreed. In a series of tweets, he said that Trump committed “Genocide by Default” and asked “What else do you call mass death by public policy?”

Across the rest of the developed world, Covid-19 has been ebbing. As a result, borders are reopening and economies are reviving. Here in the U.S., however, Americans are suffering a new disease peak worse than the worst of April. How lethal will this new peak be? In “Masque of the Red Death,” the gruesome plague is so invasive that it even gets within the protected walls of Prince Prospero’s castle. The inevitable end Poe envisions is not one of salvation. It’s summed up in his last line: “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Global News: “Anti-Black racism protesters hold Independence Day demonstration in Washington, D.C.”

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The Other Looting: We’ve Just witnessed a Nationwide Police Riot, Fueled by Trump’s talk of “Terrorists” https://www.juancole.com/2020/06/witnessed-nationwide-terrorists.html Tue, 09 Jun 2020 04:04:53 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=191399 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – Outfitted in militarized Robocop regalia, the police viciously attack protestors, bystanders, and journalists with batons, chemical weapons, and “less lethal” rubber and bean bag bullets. In Austin, Texas, a 20-year-old man is in critical condition after being shot in the head with a “less-lethal” round. Rioting police fire tear gas in quantities that threaten the health and safety of demonstrators, especially in the midst of a respiratory disease pandemic. Police ram vehicles into crowds, recreating the assault that killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville in 2017. These violent interactions seem to be viewed by police as necessary to do the job of dealing with unruly gatherings. But it’s clear that police are using indiscriminate violence against peaceful demonstrators to terrorize and intimidate them.

This horrifying spectacle is playing out across the United States: a savage police riot is being waged against citizens whose crime is daring to criticize police violence and systemic racism. The torture and murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers ignited a righteous fury that instantly erupted across the country into a passionately intense and inspiring multi-ethnic protest movement driven by Black Lives Matter. The police’s overwhelming response to accusations of violence and unchecked power has been ferocious violence and unchecked power. This anti-democratic police assault is partly fueled by the white supremacist Looter-in-Chief President Trump who called racial justice protestors “terrorists,” urged shooting looters, threatened an attack of “vicious dogs and ominous weapons,” and blustered about occupying American cities, or “battlespaces,” with the U.S. military.

In many cities, curfews have escalated tensions — criminalizing what would otherwise be lawful assemblies, giving officers free rein to attack citizens. Used to curb uncontrolled crime or violence, curfews invariably lead to more confrontations between police and the communities they are supposed to protect. This despicable police response disgraces their mission to “protect and serve” and instead violates the public trust. For example, Police swung batons at protesters in New York City last Thursday night, enforcing the city’s curfew as soon as 8 p.m. arrived. Journalists were shoved and pinned against cars in retaliation for breaking the curfew. When they explained that they, as press, were exempt from the curfew, an officer said “Get the fuck out of here you piece of shit.”

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NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 02: NYPD officers block the exit of the Manhattan Bridge as hundreds protesting police brutality and systemic racism attempt to cross into the borough of Manhattan from Brooklyn hours after a citywide curfew went into effect in New York City. (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images).

Aside from the provocative imposition of a curfew, the police response to these largely peaceful demonstrations is characterized by urban-warfare strategies that derive from fighting insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq. This warrior culture is reinforced by the recent trend of militarizing the police with the most frightening and sophisticated warfighting gear possible — battle uniforms, armored personnel carriers, military grade weapons — that turn them into quasi-military shock troops. An even longer trend among police — derived from the Vietnam War protests — is to treat demonstrations as tantamount to revolution and protesting citizens as enemy combatants. “Police are not warriors — because we are not and must not be at war with our neighbors,” said Patrick Skinner, a former CIA officer and current police officer. The military mindset is contributing to the overreaction by the police.

Major media outlets are not covering the breadth of indiscriminate and unrestrained police violence against protestors who have broken no law, disobeyed no order, or made no threat. Initially focusing on the early, more militant aspects of the protests, reporters now often speak in generalities about tensions and clashes with police before inevitably lapsing into moralistic commentary on whether or not the protest has been “peaceful” as they see it. The one event of outrageous police violence they did cover was staged by Reality Show Director Donald Trump. Upset about reports of his cowering in an underground White House bunker, Trump emerged from his hidey-hole, under extreme military protection, and gave a rabid speech condemning the protests as “acts of terror” without a word of empathy for George Floyd. His bloated attorney general William Barr ordered that Lafayette Park be cleared out. This was accomplished by gassing, shooting, and beating peaceful protestors and journalists so Trump could walk through the Park, transparently preening as a fake tough guy, which Masha Gessen described as “performing fascism.” In an apparent nod to his evangelical base, the cowardly president posed for a photo op in front of a boarded up Church he doesn’t attend, holding up a Bible he doesn’t read. With fencing, blast walls and soldiers, Trump has now created the White House as a Baghdad Green Zone, a potential military defense if he loses the election.

The most complete source for information on what has actually transpired between protestors and police is user-generated video that shows attacks on protesters and bystanders — including young children, journalists, and medics. These videos demonstrate a gigantic convulsion of police violence — a nationwide police riot. While there’s no complete collection and cataloguing of these videos, Durham, N.C,. lawyer T. Greg Doucette has collected, in a Twitter thread, over 360 incidents of police violence that is exhaustive and exhausting, but still not complete. Some examples: In Buffalo, NY: police take down a man while he’s being interviewed by the press with his hands in the air. In Seattle, police beat the crap out of a subdued protester as other police block and pepper-spray anyone who might want to help. In Philadelphia, a police officer pulled down a protestor’s mask to pepper spray her in the face. In Atlanta, police surrounded a car, smashed the windows, tased the occupants and dragged them out onto the ground. LAPD officers enthusiastically slam protesters with nightsticks in the Fairfax district. In the posh suburban paradise of Walnut Creek, California, soldiers in tanks scream, “If you do not move, you will be dead.” In Salt Lake City, a police officer apparently thought that an elderly man — walking with a cane — was moving too slow and shoved him to the ground. What adds to the disturbing nature of these videos is the cops’ brazenness — they know they’re being filmed as did Derek Chauvin, the killer of George Floyd who casually looks into the camera as he’s strangling the life out of Floyd.

The demonstrations that began as spontaneous eruptions of outrage over police violence appeared this weekend to have cohered into a national protest movement against systematic racism, marked as much by organization and determination as by street fury. Protestors kept up the pressure and momentum toward overhauling what is a broken law enforcement system plagued by racial injustice. This new American Insurrection is breathing life into a moribund democracy and has been gathering strength for two weeks — marching in all fifty states and Washington DC including over 430 cities, towns and suburbs as well as internationally — Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. The anger goes far beyond that one heinous incident to address an abhorrent accumulation. The image of a cop holding his knee to the throat of the handcuffed black man was not only another demonstration of police racism and shameless cruelty but a powerful symbol reflecting the history of systemic racismin America.

Huffpost: “Police Violence Against Protesters Continue”

African-Americans have no illusions about who the police are meant to serve. The first real organized policing systems in America began in the South with slave patrols, according to Radley Balko in his book Rise of the Warrior Cop. The slave patrols’ main responsibilities were to guard against rebellions and to look for escaped slaves. They had the power to enter slave quarters at will, whether or not they had permission from the slaves’ owners. They could even enforce some laws against plantation owners, such as those prohibiting the education of slaves. By the middle of the 18th century, every Southern colony passed laws formalizing slave patrols, which morphed into the official police force.

Systematic racism still infuses the police. Numerous recent investigations show that many law enforcement officers are sympathetic to racist alt-right ideology. An FBI intelligence assessment—titled “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement” raised alarms over white supremacist groups’ interest in “infiltrating and recruiting law enforcement personnel.” In response to the Floyd protests in Philadelphia and Chicago and elsewhere, white men walked the streets — un-harassed by the police — with automatic weapons and baseball bats. In Olympia, Washington, cops posed with their vigilante buddies. In the midst of today’s protests, police friendliness toward armed white vigilantes and groups they consider allies underscores the extent to which the police view themselves not as guardians of public safety, but as anti-protestor combatants.

The police system is not malfunctioning, but functioning as it was intended to function — enforcing and reinforcing the subordination of black and poor people. “The system is working perfectly, it’s working as designed — that’s why we still have structural racism and institutional deficiencies,” says Ron Davis, an African American former police chief. “If you have operational systems that are flawed, good people will have bad outcomes and bad people get to operate with impunity. While the vast majority of police are good men and women honorably serving, they are still having terrible outcomes.” This is because the police are operating under the same system that was designed to protect slavery, reinforce Jim Crow laws, and oppress black and poor people. As Davis says, “We have to start over again and go back to square one and build this system again by asking what would be the role of police in a democracy.” The police riots are violent reactions to demands for radical change.

It comes as no surprise when the police respond to demands for change with anger and contempt. This is reflected not only in the police riots generally, but can be seen more specifically in one of the few widely publicized instances of police violence during the protests. In Buffalo, officers shoved a 75-year-old man to the ground while enforcing curfew, causing him to hit his head on the sidewalk. Officers marched past him, with casual indifference, as he lay motionless on the ground and bleeding from the ear. Two officers were suspended and charged with a felony. Yet, all 57 officers on the Emergency Response Team, a special squad formed to respond to riots, resigned in support of the suspended officers. The president of the police union in Buffalo said the union stood “100 percent” behind two officers, claiming the officers “were simply following orders.” In most cases, police unions aren’t unions, they’re protection rackets run to protect bad cops and have a long history of fiercely and successfully opposing necessary reforms.

The police refuse demands for radical change and structural reform. In the face of mass anger over police brutality, they’ve mostly shown — through an assertion of violent power and impunity — that they don’t care. Yet, as Martin Luther King said, in his Letter From Birmingham Jail, “Direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.” Like Trump’s neo-fascist speeches, the police riots are an attack on democracy and on the demands for accountability. So far, the police and government attempt to crush dissent and intimidate people is failing as vast waves of outraged demonstrators persistently continue to cause a crisis, raise social tension, make demands, and create pressure for change.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment

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A Malignant Contagion: Trumpism’s Mindlessness on Coronavirus and Albert Camus’ ‘The Plague’ https://www.juancole.com/2020/04/malignant-mindlessness-coronavirus.html Mon, 06 Apr 2020 04:03:03 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=190128 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – Albert Camus’ The Plague evokes the malign contagion of Trumpism — the mindless death cult that contaminates America with its disdain for facts, science, experience, democracy and human life. In Camus’ 1947 novel, the plague begins with infected rats invading the Algerian city of Oran. Like the Nazis who invaded France with a toxic ideology, the plague-carrying rats occupy the city, infect the population, provoke terror and suspicion, bring about police-enforced imprisonment in death camps, and unleash widespread suffering and death. Once the graves become overcrowded, the Oran authorities are forced to use mass burials and the crematoria leaving no doubt as to Camus’ historical reference. The Plague is both a grim account of a city under invisible siege by a pathogen as well as a vivid allegory of the then-recent Nazi occupation of wartime France, the so-called “brown plague.” The fascist plague that inspired the novel may have been defeated, but in the 80 years since The Plague was written, other varieties of political pestilence keep this book urgently relevant. “No one will ever be free as long as there are pestilences,” wrote Camus, a fighter in the French Resistance and an existentialist philosopher.

Calling Oran “a lost island of the damned,” Camus’ narrator Dr. Bernard Rieux elaborates the pandemic’s brutal psychic impact on Oran’s residents – their response to enforced quarantine, overcrowded hospitals, profiteering by plutocrats, shortages of food and medical supplies as well as the rising death toll and their own vulnerability to sickness. Camus explores those that succumb to the disease, those that exploit it, those that fight it and those whose inaction makes it worse. The inhumane reaction of the Oran authorities eerily echoes President Trump’s months-long denialist response, who said as late as February 26 when there were fifteen cases of Covid-19 in the U.S., that these would soon be “down to zero.” Less than six weeks later, there are over 300,000 cases and 9,000 deaths. In The Plague, early signs of a dangerous crisis manifest as hundreds of rats fall dead in the streets and several rat-bitten humans die alarmingly agonizing deaths. Seeing this, Dr. Rieux expresses outrage that the authorities are unprepared for the plague’s arrival, unwilling to recognize its existence, and unrealistic about its effects. He insists, “Everything points to its being the plague” and provides simple guidance: “Do your job as it should be done” — the exact manner in which Dr. Fauci describes his work. Neither Oran’s Prefect nor America’s President follows this advice.

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1952: Albert Camus The Post Existentialist – unpub. (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images).

At a meeting of the health committee, Oran’s Prefect refers to the rat-deaths as a “false alarm,” arguing that their appearance might be the result of pranksters. He thought “it was unwise to jump to conclusions” and that a “wait-and-see” policy is best, reminiscent of Trump’s “Let’s see what happens” approach. Like Trump nervously watching the stock market, the Prefect doesn’t want to panic the citizens who, as described by Dr. Rieux, “work hard solely with the object of making money, doing business and getting rich.” Dr. Rieux tells the Prefect that “a policy of wait-and-see is unwise” and urges “rigorous prophylactic measures to prevent its killing off half the population of this town.” But the Prefect refuses because “there was no absolute certainty” that it was the plague.


Place de la République, Colonial Oran

As with Trump, the plague’s reality eventually becomes undeniable, but the response is ineffectual. The government orders the dead rats to be swept up from the streets — a “deratization” policy designed for good optics, but epidemiologically useless now that the plague was carried by fleas. The Prefect encourages the newspapers to rally the population that the pestilence is under control when it is not, just as Trump said, a month ago, “We have it totally under control.” The Oran city Prefect promotes the notion that 130 – 150 deaths would be a “victory” just as Trump — the person whose job is to keep Americans safe — callously said that 100,000 to 200,000 American deaths meant he had done an “altogether good job.” Like the Oran Prefect, the President has blood on his hands.

Trump ignored warnings from the highest levels of government when U.S. spy agencies sounded the alarm to the coronavirus threat as early as Jan. 3. He continued to minimize the virus threat for more than two months when its horrific effects were obvious across the globe and in the United States. He facilitated the uncontrolled, unseen spread of the virus by failing to build a reliable testing infrastructure that still remains spotty. After declaring a national emergency on March 13, his response remained slow and schizophrenic. Just as quack cures and superstitions entice the citizens of Oran, the use of untested and possibly unsafe drugs have been touted by Trump based on a “good feeling.” Though he rates his response a “10,” the result is a chaotic mess, with people whipsawed by contradictory messages which exacerbates efforts to mitigate the disease.

The Recount: “Trump’s Coronavirus Calendar”

Like the Oran authorities, Trump views the pandemic as a public relations problem where his only responsibility is to manage a PR campaign. At a nightly propaganda TV show, he surrounds himself with scientists whose presence confers credibility, though Dr. Deborah Birx’ incessant, puppet-like nodding behind Trump diminishes her status while at least Dr. Fauci occasionally contradicts the ignoramus. Dr. Rieux would never associate himself with the Oran Prefect who he regards with disdain. Trump rambles incoherently while spewing lies, disinformation, grievances, media attacks and non-stop self-congratulations rather than compassion, honesty, and knowledge. As if speaking of Trump, Camus says in The Plague, “The most incorrigible vice being that of ignorance that fancies that it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill.”

Trump’s ignorance and incompetence is killing people. He created no comprehensive federal response with reliably consistent messaging. He failed to take control of the manufacture of ventilators and protective equipment. He has not nationalized the purchase and supply chain. With the federal government incapable of responding in a decisive and unified manner, individual governors and mayors have been forced to lead a patchwork of strategies that will increase the death toll. With no national stay-at-home mandate, red states were slow to lock down and nine states still have not done so, putting everyone at risk. Fighting the plague is an “all or nothing battle,” Dr. Rieux cautions the Oran authorities. “No longer were there individual destinies, only a collective destiny. We must act in solidarity.” Trump’s denialist response and inaction led to a lost 70 days when a combination of wide-spread testing, selective quarantine, social distancing, ventilator manufacture, and increased production of personal protective equipment production all would have saved lives. Former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirchner, on the Deconstructed podcast with Mehdi Hasan, argued that Trump is criminally responsible for coronavirus deaths. “He acted in a grossly negligent way, and he failed to act,” said Kirchner. “And that failure was a product of gross negligence. He hit the homicide bonanza.”

Like the fascist pestilence symbolized in The Plague, the coronavirus is an evil infiltration into the American body politic that exposes a compromised immune system after three years of a malignant Trumpism — a political disease that left the nation contaminated and entirely unprepared for the economic and public health catastrophe created by the pandemic. As the coronavirus spread uncontrollably and undetected throughout the country, the Republican Party and its propaganda organs — the 21st century Rats of Oran — spread the Trumpism virus. They spent critical weeks blaming Democrats and the news media for exaggerating the epidemic as yet another “hoax” to undermine the President. Fox news vomited out dangerous misinformation to their elderly audience — average age 69, the demographic most at-risk for Covid-19. Fox news personalities said that it was no worse than the flu and not a big threat in the United States. Their magical thinking and wishful ignorance persists because many prefer not to believe the worst. Fox news viewers were easily susceptible to denialist propaganda and, as a consequence, more vulnerable to the lethal pathogen. Echoing the current diseased state of the Republican party under the Trumpism, Camus describes the inhabitants of the plague-ridden city as resigned to their fate, who begin a “long sleep” of “passive acquiescence,” “vast despondency,” and “utter apathy.” They’ve become “sleepwalkers,” who have lost “every trace of a critical spirit” and “all value judgments” and “resemble nothing at all.”

The Trumpism virus is a government-destroying pathogen that wipes out experts such as the White House’s global pandemic team, an early warning system whose professionals were crucial in coordinating the dozens of institutions — health agencies, hospitals, and state and local governments — that must respond in a crisis. The Trump administration also halted a $200 million early-warning program to train scientists in China and elsewhere to deal with a pandemic two months before the coronavirus spread through Wuhan. The name of the program? “PREDICT.” During the three years that the Trumpism disease infected the government, it has been crippled with vacancies, acting department chiefs and, in some cases, leaders whose professional backgrounds do not match up to the task of managing a pandemic.

A disgusting recent example is Trump putting his man-child son-in-law and business-failure Jared Kushner “in charge” of the government response. “This is dilettantism raised to the level of sociopathy,” writes Michelle Goldberg in the NY Times. Kushner — an obnoxiously arrogant guy with no medical or disaster relief background — flopped in his first appearance Thursday at the Pandemic Reality Show. He contradicted NY Governor Cuomo’s need for ventilators and claimed the government stockpile did not belong to the states. The latter claim was contradicted by the government’s public health website. However, The official government webpage for the Strategic National Stockpile was altered Friday to seemingly reflect Kushner’s incorrect description of the emergency repository. Trumpism caused deaths and mismanaged the United States into being the globe’s coronavirus epicenter, on track to sustain the worst outbreak on earth.

The Oran plague eventually burns out through the tenacious persistence of Dr. Rieux, his sanitation team as well as a vaccine that works on some people. Oran celebrates. But as he listened to the cries of joy, Dr. Rieux knew that such joy is always imperiled: The plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.”

Camus stressed that defeat of the plague, both biological and political, is necessary but temporary. The coronavirus and Trumpism contagion prove him right. Both must be eradicated. In The Plague, Camus emphasized that the fight to contain and neutralize the plague necessitates the surrender of egocentric goals and self-satisfied tranquility. Evil can only be defeated by the collective intervention of people bound together in common cause. Though he was an atheist who believed that death renders the human condition meaningless and absurd, Camus argued that we create meaning and value in our lives by rebelling against oppressive forces and reducing human misery. Dr. Rieux rebels against the plague by working selflessly and tirelessly to save lives. Yet, all who fight against a pandemic know that their efforts increase the chances of their being infected, like our heroic health care workers who struggle to reduce suffering. But no matter what the odds or the personal danger, Camus urged us to embrace human solidarity and fight against the plagues of fascism, evil, and state injustice. Rieux is willing to “accept final defeat which is death rather than be deprived of the personal sacrament which is freedom. It’s better to live on one’s feet than to die on one’s knees.”

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

PHILOSOPHY – Albert Camus

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Trumpandemic: Trump Spreads the Germs of Racial Hatred and Xenophobia https://www.juancole.com/2020/03/trumpandemic-spreads-xenophobia.html Thu, 19 Mar 2020 04:03:20 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=189751 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – President Donald Trump has systematically focused on a xenophobic rebranding of COVID-19 as a “Chinese virus” to help cover up his disastrous response to the pandemic. In a mistake-filled, zombie-like Oval Office address last week, Trump looked into the camera with sickly eyes and warned Americans of an enemy who has infiltrated our borders. We are at war, he said, with a “foreign virus” — as if a microbe possesses a sinister Un-American nationality. He asserted that the outbreak “started in China” and then spread to the “European Union,” which resulted in U.S. disease clusters “seeded by travelers from Europe.” To Trump, the real problem is wandering Europeans rather than his disbanding of the global pandemic team, a fatally slow testing regimen, and community transmission. Referring to the “Chinese virus” in several tweets early this week while continuously congratulating himself on the unsuccessful closing of the border, he deflected the blame for his administration’s monumental failures. Sloppily dressed in “MAGA” and “USA” baseball hats, Trump has consistently downplayed, denied and misled the public about the seriousness of the threat while emphasizing racism, nationalism, and xenophobia in his response to the crisis.

Trump snuck into office on a message of division, bigotry, and hate. For a man who campaigned on inflammatory rhetoric and made anti-immigrant policies a cornerstone of his agenda, it comes as no surprise that xenophobia has become a systematic part of Trump’s defense against the coronavirus. With COVID-19 spreading across the US, Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning that “we need the wall more than ever!” falling back on his tried and tested fear-mongering while blaming immigrants for the country’s illness.

For the past five years, Trump has explicitly promoted the notion that foreigners carry contagion. In 2015 he proclaimed that Mexicans were to blame for “tremendous infectious disease pouring across the border,” a charge he has repeated as president.

Trump’s xenophobic propaganda has been amplified by government and media allies. Though the disease was first detected in Wuhan, China, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the neutral name COVID-19 and sought to avoid geographic stigmatization. Rather than referring to the disease by its official name, Fox News commentators like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham stoke Sinophobia by repeatedly referring to the “Chinese virus,” “Wuhan virus” or even the “Wuhan flu.” These intentional choices point to how naming outbreaks can be used to stigmatize entire groups of people.

Republican politicians, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, also make a point of calling the disease the “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese coronavirus.” Pompeo ignored pleas from from Beijing and WHO to stop using names for the virus that could incite racial discrimination. The “blame China” rhetoric was expanded by Arkansas GOP Senator Tom Cotton who echoed a virulent right wing conspiracy theory that the virus was a Chinese bioweapon.

In late February, the American Enterprise Institute, the most influential foreign policy think tank on the right, tweeted out, “Was coronavirus a bioweapon? We don’t know, but history shows we can’t trust China.” The “theory” that the virus was a bioweapon gone wrong has been long debunked by multiple scientists. “There’s absolutely nothing in the genome sequence of this virus that indicates that it was engineered,” said Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers. “The possibility this was a deliberately released bioweapon can be firmly excluded.”

The denigration of certain populations is a familiar symptom of viral outbreaks. “Whenever there’s a crisis like an epidemic, people immediately look for who to blame. Existing ethnic prejudices and public hysteria in the face of disease have often created a wholly false linkage between illness and specific racial groups,” writes Alan Kraut, Professor of History at American University and author of Silent Travelers. Disease fosters fear, which in turn fosters discrimination. During the 1853 yellow-fever epidemic in the United States, European immigrants were the primary targets of stigmatization. In the early years of AIDS, the Haitian immigrant community suffered the stigma of association with the disease.Over one thousand Haitian refugees – accused of carrying AIDS in 1992 – were forcibly quarantined at Guantanamo Bay.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, Asians bore the brunt of racism. When the Ebola outbreak emerged in 2014, Africans were targeted. Accused of being carriers of contagious sickness, foreigners are characterized as both ill and infectious while the native born are healthy but vulnerable. “Stigma, to be honest, is more dangerous than the virus itself,” stated Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general.

The Chinese have frequently been targeted. During an 1876 outbreak of smallpox in San Francisco, a population of 30,000 Chinese became medical scapegoats. Chinatown was blamed as a ‘laboratory of infection,’ and quarantined amidst calls to halt immigration. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act banned the entire ethnic group and excluded Chinese nationals from eligibility for U.S. citizenship. Again, as bubonic plague spread in San Francisco in 1900, officials racialized the epidemic and quarantined Chinatown with orders to remove all white people from the area. “Things got to the point where there were forced vaccinations of people in the Chinatown community with a vaccine that had not been fully tested,” said Doug Chan, president of the Chinese Historical Society of America. ‘It produced adverse reactions, using the Chinese as human test subjects.”

The racist stereotype that the Chinese are dirty, eat strange foods, and are vectors of disease has existed for a long time as part of a history of camouflaging xenophobia as a public health and hygiene concern. Thanks in large part to Trump, the dormant stigma has reemerged along with the coronavirus. The fear of getting sick gets entangled with this legacy of anti-Chinese, anti-Asian prejudice that makes them targets of suspicion, discrimination, and harassment. “People call us ‘Corona’ and ask us if we eat dogs,” said one Asian-American. “You’re Chinese so must have the coronavirus.” These were among many stories of Anti-Asian hostility submitted to NPR’s Code Switch podcast in recent weeks.

Trump and his allies, by renaming COVID-19 as a “Chinese virus,” attempt to mutate fear of disease into unchecked xenophobia and racism. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) urged all of her government colleagues to stop using terminology that stokes fear and prejudice against Asian Americans. “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have seen a surge of discriminatory rhetoric and violent attacks against Asian Americans across the country,” Chu wrote in a letter signed by members of the Asian Pacific American Caucus. “Even just looking Asian has been enough to incite attackers to hurl insults and accuse individuals of being disease carriers.”

As a white supremacist, Trump could not care less. Besides racism, the problem with his morally repugnant approach is that the coronavirus crisis requires international cooperation — it’s a global pandemic. Bigoted divisiveness and nationalism is the exactly wrong approach, where the solution requires a worldwide pooling of medical resources. In the near term, when mitigating the coronavirus is paramount, the United States could get help from China to provide the ventilators, masks, and other medical equipment that are urgently needed. In making use of its unmatched productive capacity, the Chinese government has agreed to sell 1,000 ventilators and 2 million masks to Italy along with donating respirators, protective suits, and test kits. Now, in the face of a pandemic, the absence of domestic capacity in critical medical sectors has endangered both the U.S. public health system and our economy. The inability to quickly increase the production of personal protective equipment, respirators and pharmaceutical drugs limits our ability to mitigate the worst effects of the disease. In part, this is because Trump’s government is woefully underprepared, mismanaged, incompetent, short-sighted, disorganized, and unimaginative — three or four weeks behind the virus, having fired the global pandemic response team in 2018.

As the coronavirus cases in the United States grew, Trump minimized the outbreak, predicted that it will end miraculously, failed to get the testing regimen up and running, and continually spread disinformation, calling it a Democratic and media hoax while tweeting, “the virus is very much under control.” In fact, Trump has become a delinquent bystander as mayors, governors and other local leaders have moved to fill the federal leadership vacuum in slowing the virus. As a reflection of Trump’s nationalism and xenophobia, his administration failed to purchase or adapt the diagnostic tests of China, S. Korea or the World Health Organization. This catastrophic failure, which will increase the death toll, prevented authorities from understanding the scope of the pandemic and adjusting appropriate mitigation steps. Some reports even suggested that Trump repressed testing so the infection numbers would stay low. But he can’t cover up the facts of his failure — the stock market crash, the impact on the lives of people, the cratering of the economy, and the potency of the pandemic that is infecting and killing people. Emphasizing the foreign-ness of the disease is a cowardly evasion and a pathetic avoidance of responsibility which is emblematic of Trump’s approach as he emphasized at a recent press conference saying: “I take no responsibility at all.”

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

How Coronavirus Racism Infected My High School | NYT Opinion

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