John Buell – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Tue, 21 Sep 2021 05:20:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Public Citizen: It Turns out Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine depends Heavily on Publicly-Financed Research Mon, 20 Sep 2021 04:08:30 +0000 government funding and U.S. taxpayer-financed technology. In the 104-page contract, Public Citizen […]]]> Southwest Harbor, Maine (Special to Informed Comment) – Public Citizen recently uncovered “an agreement that the European Commission reached with Pfizer and BioNTech last November to purchase 100 million doses of the companies’ mRNA vaccine, which was developed with the support of”> government funding and U.S. taxpayer-financed technology.

In the 104-page contract, Public Citizen found a list of manufacturing specifications for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, including particular composition and strength, identity, and purity requirements followed throughout the production process.

Public Citizen’s website says, “This info can help mRNA vaccine scientists by illustrating the kinds of requirements they need to meet critical quality standards,” Such agreements have a widely recognized ability to enhance the parties’ market power, but less attention is paid to the effects on the direction of scientific research.

Public Citizen discovered is that safe and effective vaccines are more than individual accomplishments. Not only is the basic research publically financed, the process of converting it to a product safe for human consumption is dependent on a complex manufacturing infrastructure of quality control and trained personnel to operate that infrastructure.

Recognizing that vaccines are social products, both basic formula and technical specifications, argues not only for suspending or revoking patent protection but equally important sharing technological know how. Currently much scientific research is conducted behind a screen of corporate control, out of concern that sharing may weaken any patent claim.

Patent monopolies and hoarded production techniques are supposed to foster incentives to find and develop new miracle cures. This view has been widely critiqued, in part by pointing to the role of government subsidy. But there is another downside to the conventional model. That model’s emphasis on secrecy in preparation for patent claims and patent litigation impedes communication among scientists and renders their work far short of science’s transparency standard.

“Sharing information can help ramp up Covid vaccine production. Sharing information can also advance mRNA science by allowing scientists to quickly learn from each other’s work,” Public Citizen said. “Indeed, the development of safe and effective mRNA vaccines builds on decades of scientific discoveries across many different institutions. Secrecy makes us less safe against this virus—and future pandemic threats.”

Current drug research, development, and marketing priorities are based on an effort to limit competition at every step of the journey. “Big Pharma’s business model—receive billions in public investments, charge exorbitant prices for lifesaving medicines, pay little tax—is gold dust for wealthy investors and corporate executives but devastating for global public health,” said Robbie Silverman, Oxfam America’s private sector engagement manager, in a statement.

“Instead of partnering with governments and other qualified manufacturers to make sure that we have enough vaccine doses for everyone, these pharmaceutical companies prioritize their own profits by enforcing their monopolies and selling to the highest bidder,” he added. “Enough is enough—we must start putting people before profits.”


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! “Doctors Without Borders: U.S. Should Force Pfizer to Share COVID Vaccine Technology with Africa”

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Zombie Wars v. Climate Cooperation Mon, 13 Sep 2021 04:08:45 +0000 Southwest Harbor, Maine (Special to Informed Comment) –

New York’s new governor, Kathy Hochul – forced to deal with every political leader’s nightmare, a weather disaster, after just one week in office – called the rain “far more than anyone expected.” In fact, despite many residents getting caught unaware, the potential for high-end flooding was amply predicted by the National Weather Service. A flash flood watch for the New York City area for Wednesday afternoon was issued by the local National Weather Service office an amazing 48 hours in advance: at 3 p.m. Monday. The watch warned that “widespread 3 to 5 inches of rain is forecast with locally higher amounts possible.”

Both long- and short-term predictions by climate scientists have been largely spot on. Although the behavior of hurricanes is often unpredictable, scientists have done an excellent job identifying conditions leading to major hurricanes.

Hochul ‘s comments reflect not only appalling ignorance and lack of interest in the existential issue of our time. Her lack of interest is equaled by an electorate that while caring about climate always marks it low in political priorities. In addition even when Congress acknowledges the climate crisis it becomes bogged down in squabbles over the budget. The net result is often money to ease the damage of hurricanes—such as levees– but little for the basic causes of climate change.

When Ida came ashore it was arriving on a land far more prepared for terrorists—and then only left or purportedly radical insurgents. Just as authorities are reluctant to hurt white supremacists, so also is mainstream middle class culture reluctant to enact policies that would make a real difference.

Why is it that when it comes to climate even professed believers can at best engage in reactive thinking while the military or the terror warriors often receive more than they request? Meanwhile Ida demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to self-intensify, to spin off storms so potent that forecasters had to issue simultaneous flood and tornado warnings. And most impressive the hurricane reversed the flow of the mighty Mississippi. Even old man river could not roll through this one.

If scarce resources are not devoted to bold climate initiatives, where is the money going. Fred Kaplan provides an informative list. These include a new destroyer, upgraded tanks, state of the art fighter jets. Two things are clear.. Army, Navy, and Air Force are well cared for. Secondly the titans of our corporate economy need not fear the military budget. Modern capitalist economies are recession-prone, and government spending has been a countercyclical requirement. Nonetheless, F-15s are not going to take American airline’s share of cross country travel. Thirdly the items that dominate the military budget are high tech -— great for the engineers among us and a good that even without the Russian threat demands continual upgrades. Add to this the fact that the military sector of the economy is heavily concentrated, thereby allowing military contractors to extract monopoly profits.

Historically the arms race intensified as well as reflected Cold War tensions. The portrayal of an affluent democratic society able to exploit nature was forged and strengthened against the background of an evil Soviet empire. That experience left a potent residue. Spencer Ackerman puts it well: “But, ultimately, all of these things that both parties, that the leaders of the security services and intellectuals created, maintained and justified, so readily, against the threat of a foreign menace, seen as civilizational, seen as an acceptable substitute for a geopolitical enemy that had served as a rallying purpose throughout the 20th century — the war on terror is kind of a zombie anti-communism in a lot of its political caste and association.” Such narratives were especially necessary in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union and public support for a peace dividend.

The case against these priorities has never been greater. Resources have more vital uses. International collaboration on climate issues is a necessity. They are so devastating that using some of these weapons in battle is unthinkable. Nonetheless support for the military and the “American Way of Life” is deeply ingrained even among many who accept climate change. It is time to bury the zombie anti-communists.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Now this News: “Joe Biden on the Climate Crisis”

Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan: Did the Mighty, Cutting-Edge US Military Machine founder on Guerrillas’ humble Improvised Explosive Devices? Thu, 02 Sep 2021 04:06:56 +0000 Southwest Harbor, Maine (Special to Informed Comment) – Victory always seems to be just around the corner or at the end of the tunnel, until it isn’t. With the humiliation of defeat compounded by the difficulties extricating US personnel, second guessing is well underway and will likely last for years. The corruption of the government in Kabul is a favorite explanation, though the US role in installing that government is downplayed. But perhaps the most glaring omission from the post-war discussions is the role of air power, especially aerial bombardment in war. The last time the US won a war it commissioned an independent inquiry into the role of air power in victory over the Germans. The surprising conclusion, as summarized by commission head John Kenneth Galbraith:

    “The bombing of Germany, both by the British and ourselves [America], had far less effect than was thought. The German arms industry continued to expand its output until autumn 1944, despite the heaviest air attacks. Some of the best-publicised attacks, including those on ball-bearing plants, practically grounded the 8th Air Force for months. Its losses were that heavy. At the end of the war, the Germans had ball bearings for export again. Our attacks on their airplane plant were a failure. In the months after the spring raids of 1944, their production increased.”

The commission’s explanations, though not directly relevant to the Afghanistan war, do suggest lines of inquiry that should be pursued. Galbraith wrote that the “reasons were threefold. First, the machine tools were relatively invulnerable. They’d be buried under rubble but could be dug out in a day or two. Second, it was possible to decentralise production: to move the machinery into schools and churches. It was reorganised in much less time than was imagined. The Germans discovered that it wasn’t necessary for production to be in a single factory. They also discovered that it was possible to redesign a lot of equipment to reduce the use of ball bearings. Third, it was possible to reorganise what had been sporadic and less than diligent managements.”

…There had been two broad strategies. The British bombed at night and went for the central cities, because that was all they could find….

American strategy involved daylight raids; we aimed for the plants themselves. The problem was targeting. In a large number of cases, we couldn’t hit them. There was a saying in 1945: we conducted a major onslaught on German agriculture.

We have here some possible convergences. Weapons in caves can be relatively invulnerable and training and command structures decentralized. And as with all fighting forces missing the target was an inevitable part of the enterprise.

There are more compelling reasons to oppose such massive bombardment campaigns but failures of such magnitude across frames of era and ideology leads one to ask what factors did motivate these continuing campaigns.

Galbraith concluded,

    “All the wartime bombing, accidents apart, being on the far side of enemy lines, knowledge of the destruction depended on the reports of those in the bombers or later aerial reconnaissance. Neither source was given to understatement; [emphasis mine] neither air crew nor photographs minimized the admittedly ghastly consequences. Out of the several proposals in November, 1944, came the United States Strategic Bombing Survey. It was to be independent of the Air Force, although advised and supported by it, and independent and accurate in its findings. Accuracy to many of the Air Force generals had a somewhat specialized connotation; it meant establishing with some clarity that the bombers won the war.”

Now lets fast forward to the early stages of the Trump Administration. NY Times reports:

    “During the years of intense fighting in Afghanistan, the United States dropped a handful of similar bombs to destroy caves believed to be used by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, as well as to frighten troops dug into trenches who were not immediately killed. The military offered a similar rationale on Thursday for using the bomb — a successor to the ‘daisy cutter,’ a heavy bomb designed for the instant clearing of large sections of jungle in Vietnam.”

Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan “are using I.E.D.s, bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defense,” said Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the United States commander there, referring to improvised explosive devices. “This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive.”

So here we have it. The mother of all non-nuclear bombs versus the home made IED.

In a pattern to be followed throughout the war the mother of all bombs continued to evoke anguished criticism.

“While the damage from the bombing, which occurred at night in a remote area, was unclear, the strike quickly brought backlash. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s former president, was among those who condemned it.

‘This is not the war on terror but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons,” Mr. Karzai wrote on Twitter. ‘It is upon us, Afghans, to stop the USA.'”

Blowback and the IED

The US has been in a two decade war because previous efforts to dominate the Middle East not only have failed, they have been counterproductive .

The Taliban, armed by the US under President Carter to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan,

The Muslim fundamentalist fighters of Afghanistan against the Soviet Union were originally known as Mujahidin. Some later joined the new movement of the Taliban that incubated among Pushtun refugees in the seminaries of northern Pakistan. Backed initially with a small investment by the Carter administration, the Mujahidin came to receive as much as $5 billion in a year from the Reagan administration, with matching funds from Saudi Arabia. They developed the skills and the firepower to turn on their benefactors, whose presence as of 2001 in their holy land was deemed blasphemy. In Iraq itself, US imperialism also unleashed its own demonic response. Its often stated goal is to extirpate the terrorism and extremism to which it has contributed so mightily by bombing suspected ISIS sites in Iraq and Syria. Yet as Phyllis Bennis of the Institute For Policy Studies points out, you cannot bomb extremism. Bombing these selected targets inevitably kills civilians and becomes a tool to recruit further extremists. This pattern has continued throughout the 21st century wars of the U.S.

Though blowback has been written all over the rise of ISIS, less attention even in the Left press has been devoted to another factor in the United States’ long and agonizing retreat/defeat in this region. That is the role of the humble IED, improvised explosive device. Seldom is mention made of Pentagon efforts to defeat/prevent the use of these devices. University of Hawaii International Relations theorist Jairus Grove, author of Savage Ecology: War and Geopolitics at the End of the World, points out that the Pentagon spent 26 billion dollars over a six year period to achieve its goals only to see attacks increase from about 800 to over 15,000 between 2006 and 2012. IEDs accounted for two thirds of all soldiers wounded and killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

In dollar terms, the legacy of the IED is even more pronounced. The US has spend over $16,000 to defeat the IED for every dollar the insurgency has spent.

Distant cousins to the defensive land mines of the earlier world wars, these devices are far more. They have totally disrupted the major arteries on which the modern US army depends for its imperial adventure.

IEDs have received far less academic scrutiny than other weapons of war, such as nuclear armament and chemical weapons. Nuclear’s capacity to destroy civilization and the pall it cast over an entire era obviously justify the attention it receives, but in more subtle ways IEDs have reshaped not only Iraq and Afghanistan but war as well. There are at least three reasons for this paucity of scholarship. Traditional scholarship looks at the weapons of war as following a fairly predictable course. The most powerful and technologically advanced societies develop new weapons first, with their presence and demand for them then moving outward to lesser powers and wannabees. In addition, IEDs have no famous scientific parent and no path breaking scientific theory upon which their development rests. Finally, they are hard to define. They are not reducible to any one component or even to one particular whole. Citing another scholar, Grove points out that as with a coral reef, which can be composed of coral but could instead be composed of dead tires, no single totality defines it. Yet both teem with life and we can tell the difference between a reef and a parking lot.

J. Grove argues convincingly that the IED is revelatory of modern life. It is an event, one that never stands still. IEDs “are the weaponization of the throbbing refuse, commerce, surplus, violence, rage, instant communication, population density, and accelerating innovation of contemporary global life.”

The larger context in which this event has emerged is war itself. Grove observes, “War has always been an assemblage of things in which any particular human being played only a linkage or fulcrum of a larger, more heterogenous orders.” Artisans and tinkerers are not the only factor keeping the constant evolution of the IED alive. “It is the stubborn perdurance of high tech and manufactured waste dumping that provide the near limitless flow of materials from place to place. The protocols of production, waste disposal, and consumption habits– that are never entirely human—generate the exteriorization waste from the centers of cutting edge commerce to the periphery.” (700 million new computers will be manufactured this year, up from 183 million just five years ago. )

Ironically the US, with overweening confidence in its technological mastery of the social and nonhuman world, for years refused to sign a land mine treaty. But as the tables turned it then endorsed such treaties, but characteristically remained blind to the ability of the mine to evolved in unpredictable ways.

Galbraith was right. This entire saga exposes the consequence of elites’ consistent overstatement of their own power and ability to control nature. They repudiate ecological perspectives on the world. Ecology appreciates, in Groves’s words, “ creativity and participation at multiple levels of complexity and organization, species, populations, individual organisms, and assemblages of living and non-living things…To this end ecological relations are characterized by shifting stability, creativity, and variable involvement from top to bottom, cosmos to microorganism.”

An account that treats the IED as itself a complex evolving species deeply intertwined with social, economic, and nonhuman forces and agents exposes the arrogant faith in technology of the military planner and of much of contemporary economic thought. It is little wonder the IED has proven to be the most painful blowback from our most recent imperial venture.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

From last year: Afghanistan: why the Taliban can’t be defeated | The Economist

How Can US Corporations address the Climate Emergency if their Stock Buy-backs even Interfere with their Ordinary Business? Mon, 23 Aug 2021 04:06:57 +0000 Southwest Harbor, Maine (Special to Informed Comment) – The international panel of climate science experts presents the challenge in the starkest terms. A panel of leading scientists convened by the United Nations issued a comprehensive report Monday that contains a stark warning for humanity: The climate crisis is here, some of its most destructive consequences are now inevitable, and only massive and speedy reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can limit the coming disaster.

In other words this is an emergency. And as with all emergencies climate crises are an occasion to to struggle over the shape of the institutions and values that combined to constitute the crisis and the appropriate response. Although much of the current discussion surrounding the Green New Deal centers around the amount to be spent, there has been less attention to the question of who will administer the funds and to what end, In this emergency it is imperative that the public reaps the most possible payback from its expenditures.

One model of crisis management likely to have strong support in DC is the so called public private partnership. In practice these have been long on federal dollars and short on the qualifications and standards imposed on the private sector. The crash of Boeing, both literally and figuratively, is a cautionary tale about the risks posed by ideology driven faith in markets,

Watchwords of the seventies Neoliberal turn in American politics were deregulation and flexibility. Deregulate financial markets and make labor more flexible, ie less protected by health and safety standards or economic safety nets, Greater capital mobility combined with worker mobility was supposed to make a more productive and profitable economy from which Boeing and other manufacturers would gain.But on the contrary the result has been a decline in the rate of productivity growth to the point where productivity growth between 2015 and… 2019 was negative.

This poor productivity performance is not solely the consequence of one man’s inept or exploitative actions. Economist Marie Christine Duggan points out that financial deregulation has since 1982 included permission for companies to buy back their own stock. This practice puts upward pressure on the stock price, thereby creating opportunities for investors in the stock to realize gains. in addition the relatively widespread practice of compensating executives with stock options, the right to buy a specified number of shares at a fixed price, strengthens the incentive to do whatever is necessary to increase the stock’s price. This practice is often more profitable than investment in new technologies., whch only pay off much later even as the costs appear now.

Not surprisingly companies have a perverse incentive to steer profits into stock buybacks rather than invest in technology improvement. Boeing’s performance with a new breed of jet engine that it hoped to install in its 737s is instructive. Unfortunately it could not place the new engine in the plane without some aerodynamic risk of stalling. Its answer -— a soft ware package that will sense and correct for the problem. The highly questionable -— but less costly use of software to solve a hardware problem — was combined with failure to tell pilots about this feature and unwillingness to give them time in flight simulators to gain familiarity with these systems.

Not surprisingly these maneuvers and others like them caught the attention of Boeing workers and their unions. Many had worked for decades with Boeing and took pride in its long history of safe air travel. Some were so appalled by management’s crusade to cut costs at any price they would not fly the planes they built. Perhaps the ultimate in cost saving strategy was to outsource production to non-union South Carolina. Besides the immediate savings on wages and benefits, eliminating unions is often seen by the stock market as enhancing profits, thereby increasing stock market price and making the buyback strategy more appealing. What the public reaped was planes with sensors installed by first time technicians who had never done one before.

Companies that under-invest in new technologies or their workers can still do well in that other market, the stock market. This is especially the case when they have a cozy relationship with legislators and regulators. Unfortunately they lose or devalue vital skills and often human life itself

At this point in our history such losses are intolerable. Senator Tammy Baldwin has proposed legislation that would outlaw stock buybacks and require placement of a worker on the board of governors. These are reasonable first steps and do give more visibility to the issue. Nonetheless Duggan’s article illustrates the role that strong bottom- up unions can play in protecting workers and the broader public. Such considerations are imperative if we are truly to “build back better.”

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Thom Hartmann: “Breaking Down the “Code Red” IPCC Climate Change Report (w/ Dr. Michael Mann)”

Neoliberal Hierarchies and Cuomo’s Toxic Workplace Mon, 16 Aug 2021 04:06:51 +0000 Southwest Harbor, Maine (Special to Informed Comment) – “Toxic workplace” is the phrase of the day. You do not have to be the male offspring of a famous political family to foster your own toxic workplace. Even US citizenship is not required. CBC did an indepth report on Canada’s Governor General, and plausible accusations that she had fostered such a workplace led to her forced departure. Toxic workplaces may even afflict middle class professionals. Consider the physician required to process so many patients an hour or the attorney submerging herself in an effort to make partner. Or publish and perish.

Despite all the talk about toxic workplaces there has been little effort to define the concept or chart their emergence.

I will begin with a few controversial assertions intended to elicit debate.

A workplace that harms a worker’s health is toxic. There are many ways a workplace can damage the health of the worker. Forced overtime, irregular hours can mess with sleep cycles, an essential component of heath. Continual threat of layoffs or firing or offshoring harms even when the threats are never realized. Inputs can be toxic, the technologies dangerous, the human relations stressful and demeaning. I submit that a majority of American workers work in toxic workplaces.

One of the ironies of staff accusations against Governor Cuomo is that his staff helped him advocate and advance policies that made other workplaces more toxic.

The emphasis on toxic workplaces may indicate growing awareness of the widespread nature of the condition and unwillingness to accept it any more. One scholar has suggested that the current quit rates amount to a slow moving general strike targeted at the workplace. The last time such a movement occurred was the late sixties early seventies; featuring Lordstown and the widely discussed blue collar blues. Significant as these outbursts were they ultimately fizzeled in part because of the racial and sectarian divisions, and levels of inflation that scared many middle class Americans. One hopes that any future worker movement will be attentive to those who will (inevitably) be left in its wake. Toward this end it may be useful to sketch some preliminary thoughts on the elements combined to give us so abusive and tyrannical a political leader.

Is Governor Andrew Cuomo patriarchy personified? Yes there is shameless sexual use of women. But the neo-liberal mindset helps build the concentration of power and lack of transparency on which abusive manifestations of male sexuality thrive. . In Spring of 20/20 I pointed out:” Governor Cuomo has been generally supportive of the neoliberal development model that includes tax cuts for business and fiscal austerity for the public sector to fund those cuts. He shares the centrist faith in markets as perfect information processing systems and strives to remove the public from active participation in such decisions.”

One of Cuomo’s victims has an especially acute sense of the connection among some of these issues. , I saw Governor Cuomo during the 2018 election cycle at a wedding. When I went to go say hello to him, he pulled me into him. He kissed my forehead twice. He kissed my eye twice. And he turned — while he was still holding onto me, turned to my fiancé, who is now my husband — and at the time — and he said to him, “Are you jealous?” That was not him, in my opinion, sexualizing me. That was him asserting power over me and trying to make it very clear, not only to me, but to my fiancé, that he was in control and that he was in charge.”

The time is right to ask why workers should not be in charge of the workplace that cannot thrive without their skills and dedication. More on alternative organizations of the workplace in a subsequent column.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

News 12: “Attorney: Women who came forward helped shine a light on Gov. Cuomo’s actions”

In Bipartisan Infrastructure Package, opportunity to alter fundamental climate and economic priorities is being squandered Tue, 10 Aug 2021 04:06:19 +0000 Southwest Harbor, Maine (Special to Informed Comment) – How to assess the infrastructure package? Lots of big numbers, but budgetary appropriations are moral statements, and this package disappoints. An opportunity to alter fundamental climate and economic priorities is being squandered.

Perhaps no aspect of the American political economy is more iconic that the auto. Not merely a mode of transportation it has reshaped communities and occasioned or been closely tied to economic growth.. But the emergence of car culture has depended on more than sovereign consumers. Major subsidies were necessary.

Saving the planet requires more than conversion to evs, important as that it. It also demands a society much less dependent on the auto. The Bipartisan Compromise fails both tests. Conferees removed electric vehicle infrastructure subsidies and dramatically trimmed public transportation appropriations..

The Interstate Highway System received an estimated 500 billion in 2016 dollars, but the real story of the system’s finance is the dedicated source of financing in the form of the Highway Trust Fund, repository of gasoline taxes. For many years the trust fund was not allowed to serve any other mode of transportation.

This is especially important because the auto is a classic example of an exclusive good whereas public transit systems are inclusive. With the auto, first users have a great advantage while those who come along later face increasing disadvantage. With inclusive goods such as public transit more users lead to more scheduled vehicles and greater convenience. There is a clear case for public transit subsidies, not only to make up for years of underinvestment but also to get this virtuous circle started. The sums allocated for transit are hardly equal to the demand here nor is there commitment to a continuing funding source.

How big a change this infrastructure agreement makes should also be measured against that perennial metric, so presciently labeled by Dwight Eisenhower, the military industrial complex. That figure stands at a staggering 779 billion, but this crude sum hides an equally remarkable story. Military affairs scholar Fred Kaplan points to a curious phenomenon. Although other domestic causes must nickel and dime for their appropriations from Congress, the military often receive even more than their often already inflated requests. Kaplan , among other factors, cites a desire to keep centrist Democrats happy and increasing tensions with China.

I would add another long- term factor. Military spending throughout the post WWII era has played an important countercyclical role, stimulating an economy in which inequality leads to bouts of underconsumption. Building an extra aircraft carrier leads to more demand wthout undermining private profit making opportunities in the way public housing would. Not surprisingly housing support is removed from the bipartisan package. Only one problem—resources used to build the aircraft carrier might better have been used to speed production of our still under funded public transit systems.. And the climate is unwilling to wait.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Forbes Breaking News: “JUST IN: Schumer Says Final Agreement Reached On Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

Republican Governors have gone too Far in Banning Local Mask, Vaccine Mandates Thu, 05 Aug 2021 04:06:16 +0000 Southwest Harbor, Maine (Special to Informed Comment) – With the Delta variant of Covid 19 now producing escalating case counts and hospitalizations, talk among pundits has turned to the possibility of a federally imposed vaccination mandate. Many of these discussions and debates have revolved around familiar albeit simplistic dichotomies, such as voluntary choice versus government coercion. Less attention has been devoted to the conditions that make compulsory vaccination or mandatory masking acceptable.

Conservatives, who often maintain they are supporters of freedom, have in fact engaged in draconian assertions of executive power. Not only do they resist vaccination and masking requirements, they also prohibit local governments or private corporations from enacting their own regulations. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis puts this in the starkest terms. The Miami Herald reported in May,

    “DeSantis … said he would sign an executive order invalidating all remaining local emergency COVID orders that are still in place after July 1 and suspend immediately any orders related to COVID-19 now. The measure would make it more difficult for local governments to respond to public emergencies by requiring any future emergency orders to be narrowly tailored and extended only in seven-day increments for a total of 42 days and gives the governor the authority to invalidate an emergency order. Currently, such orders can be extended indefinitely”.

If this were a liberal governor depriving local cities’ rights to deregulate health and safety matters conservative media would decry paternalism and term the action an expression of contempt for ordinary people. More proof They regard Us as deplorable.

Unfortunately proponents of public health campaigns too often have given their opponents ample opportunity to scream paternalism. Consider CDC’s initial response to Covid 19. As Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith puts it:

    “The CDC and the WHO were late to take Covid seriously despite China having to build new facilities on an emergency basis to house the afflicted and implementing hard shutdown on 70% of its economy. Part of that was discouraging the public from masking (even making home-made face covers), later justified as a Noble Lie to preserve supplies for medical workers.”

I take as most significant in this analysis the willingness of CDC, including the revered Dr. Fauci, to lie. And the bureaucracy’s sense that it must lie, even for praiseworthy ends, suggests at a minimum lack of respect for a democratic electorate. Or even contempt.

Equally problematic has been the frequent mantra that we follow the science. Apparently some DC bureaucrats believe we citizens cannot handle the possibility that there is significant controversy within science itself as to the mode of transmission of the Covid 19 virus

CDC Rigid adherence to the droplet paradigm for virus transmission as opposed to fine-particle aerosol transmission slowed the policy response and left the public unprepared for any shift in course.

I agree with the contention some have made that any public health initiative is likely to evoke blowback. No matter what the initiative there is a core coalition of supremacist and xenophobic groups who would do anything to defeat a public health agenda. And years of underfunding have taken their toll on the ability of the state to resist a pathogenic virus and a pathogenic politics.

The success of a public health initiative depends in part on not only with whom it is associated but also where.Conservative cultural warriors have overplayed their hands when they or their hand-picked governors endorse or enact statutes forbidding local governments from imposing masking or vaccination requirement. They are in effect anti-political ordinances. Individuals who might resent a universal vaccine requirement might accept local ordinances democratically enacted and often also take serious exception to laws that forbade them from action at the local level.

On a larger level reliance on local politics may seem too slow in an era of rapid climate change. The concern is well taken, but even universal mandates still require enforcement as well as overcoming legal challenge. In addition, local initiatives, especially ones built around affirmation of politics, can be contagious. Finally as Tocqueville recognized, local governments and other voluntary associations stood between individual citizens and the state, thus providing a bulwark for a diverse society and polity. That concern is even more pressing today.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Channel 4 News: “Vaccine hesitancy and misinformation fuelling rising Covid cases in Florida”

Living on a Newly Unrecognizable Planet Mon, 26 Jul 2021 04:04:59 +0000 Southwest Harbor, Maine (Special to Informed Comment) – Germany is a wealthy nation. Its business and political leaders accept the reality of climate change and have made at least modest progress to prepare for and mitigate its effects. How then to respond to such events as a family moving to the roof of their house to escape the flood—only to have a surge of water so vast as to sweep them off the roof to their demise? Such pictures are terrifying, but of more long term importance is the questions raised by such mega storms. These ae not just big storms following relatively ordinary albeit destructive paths. In an effort to gain some perspective on these disturbing events I have drawn on recent work by two influential contemporary theorists, William Connolly and the late French philosopher Michel Serres (in block quotes). I have attached my own comments . My hope is that this will contribute to dialogue and action on a vital subject.

In a recent editorial in Informed Comment Juan Cole cites remarks in The Guardian by Dieter Gerten, professor of global change climatology and hydrology at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research on three surprises of this weather system:

1. The records being set for the intensity of rainfall are well above the previous records.

2. This sudden spurt of records was unexpected.

3. The area affected is much wider than ever before.

The massive storms in Germany, heat domes and fires that produce their own weather suggest that models of linear progress may no longer be appropriate for storms of this magnitude and intensity.

This shock of what scientists call “non-linearity,” is dawning on many thinkers today. University of Chicago historian Dipesh Chakrabarty recognizes that important as his work was to globalization, nothing prepared him for “making sense of this planetary conjuncture within which humanity finds itself today.”

Likewise, in a recent essay, the Johns Hopkins Political Scientist William E. Connolly discusses what the ideas of the French philosopher Michel Serres (d. 2019) about time and nature can tell us about the urgent moment in which we live.

Nature is in charge and is an active, unpredictable agent.

As Connolly quotes Serres to this effect:

    “For whatever praise you may hear, whatever love you may profess for the sea and mountains, the desert or marshes, plants and animals, nature doesn’t behave as a friend to humans or even their symbiont. By means of waves, fire, typhoons, poisoning, or devouring, it kills as calmly as bodies fall and eagles eat lambs.”

What that means culturally is as important as the flames and floods themselves. Events that challenge a culture- wide view of nature can evoke despair or anger and fuel extremist movements and quests for scapegoats.

Connolly argues that Serres responds by teaching “us to master the will to mastery, first, because it cannot succeed and, second, because it fails to respond to the grandeur of that of which we ourselves are an intrinsic part.”

Nonetheless angry denialism persists, which is to Serres “a sign,” Connolly writes, “that they have not gotten over the profound disappointment that their favored images of time do not fit well rocky experiences they have themselves encountered.”

This image of nature and time sustains and is sustained by such narratives, doctrines, and ideologies, among others, as confidence in eternal salvation or the indefinite advance of capitalism… Challenges to conventional views of time and nature are hardly an attack on ethics itself.

Connolly observes that “We are ethically enjoined to overcome [this disappointment] so that our thinking and responses to the world become more decent and in-formed. For existential disappointment, unless it is overcome, can morph into ressentiment, and the latter can morph into bellicose cultural dispositions to aggressive nihilism.”

To respond to such disappointment, Connolly elaborates a critical theory of time.

Clock time is linear, straight forward and helps us organize our days. But this is not all there is to time. Evental time

    “involves the intersection of two or more previously separated temporalities, each on its own speed, capacities, and vector. Bumpy intersections between viruses, pangolins, and humans set on different temporalities illustrate evental time.”

That theory challenges the foundations of both mainstream environmentalism, with its confidence that nature will respond in predictable ways to such interventions as carbon taxes and deep ecology’s faith that nature left to its own devices moves toward comfortable equilibrium. Both conventional theories and their several variants assume nature is for us in one way or another. In earlier work Connolly had labeled this shared posture ontological narcissism.

The tendency to refuse to adjust extrapolations into the future in the face of new events provides one source of the recent turns to fundamentalism, denialism, and fascism across the world. Each refusal might involve a desperate desire to save an old faith, to preserve an old image of time, or to protect the assumption that the progress of capitalism on a linear track can proceed indefinitely. Or several of these, re-enforcing each other. Hence, the need to develop a philosophy of evental time.

Break the hold of both views in order to curb the rage that follows event that expose even to us nature’s cruelty. Mastery is nether possible nor desirable.

As for teleogical views of unfettered nature as home and guidance for humans, if the arc of history did bend toward a preordained end that would mean we lived in a law governed world with no possibility of novelty and freedom, as Jairus Grove points out in his Savage Ecology. A messy unruly nature is the necessary precursor of freedom.

Connolly writes,

    “Each event emerges from the confluence of two or more temporalities, previously on different vectors, speeds and capacities. The conjunctions throw heterogeneous forces and beings into contact, as they intersect through collisions and ingressions. The resulting event turns or twists the vector of time that preceded it, now making a linear projection or “extrapolation”—to use Darwin’s favorite word–based on processes that preceded it out of touch with the turn actually taken.”

Non linearity may turn out to include not only numerical intensity far in excess of predictions made by the most sophisticated models but aslo whole social movements, artistic styles diseases not reducible to the original confluent bodies.

This is not a philosophy of inactivity or at best tending one’s garden, in contrast to Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss. In an earlier work Connolly has termed such inaction passive nihilism.

Work on blockages within the self is in order. On the political stage:

    “Those who accept the prominence of evental time are thus encouraged to adopt a double entry orientation to extrapolation. Extrapolations into possible futures are always needed, but with each major turn of event adjustments of extrapolation are necessary.”

Such a process may need to focus much attention and critique on various Biblical and Constitutional literalists whose work reflects and in part instills conventional concepts of time.

One may be excused for cursing a world that can wreak such brutal cruelty on the innocent, but once the words emerge, as Connolly says:

    “The task for many now becomes how to overcome the assumption of progressive time, how to appreciate the grandeur of bumpy time, how to affirm a world punctuated by events that turn time. Doing so to encourage struggles against the worst things when a bad turn occurs without seeking racial, religious, scientific and theological scapegoats to hold responsible for that turn.”


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Beware, floods ahead: What happens when we have too much water? | The Royal Society

This time, it is the Students and the Unions that the Gov’t Needs to Bail out for a Healthy Economy Mon, 19 Jul 2021 04:03:26 +0000 Southwest Harbor, Maine (Special to Informed Comment) – Digging our way back out of the pandemic recession will not be easy, but we have the advantage of knowing what worked and did not work in the 2008 crisis. Any policy choice today does not operate on a blank slate. No one knows this more than former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who led an unsuccessful effort to blunt the European Central Bank’s harsh, counterproductive bailout terms.

With markets again sending confusing and at times contradictory signals regarding such basics as inflation, unemployment, and quit rates, the job of economic forecasters seems especially difficult. Perhaps that obligation might become less burdensome if we entertain the possibility that US capitalism is undergoing basic changes and no glide path is certain. The important thing is to work with others to meet any future crisis with an order more concerned with human welfare than with that of corporations.

In an op-ed at Project Syndicate, Varoufakis maintains that the political choices made during the bailout of the 2008 World Financial crisis have created a dilemma for current legislators and Central Bankers. The world could be saved from a Depressions era crisis in one of two ways, Varoufakis writes,

    “ One way … was a large enough fiscal stimulus. Direct injections of freshly minted money to consumers and firms – to pay off debts and to increase consumption and investment – would have re-floated Main Street and, indirectly, Wall Street. This was the road not taken by the Obama administration.

    Instead, the Fed printed trillions of dollars, and the failing banks were re-floated directly. The banks lent the new money to corporations, but, because their customers were not re-floated, managers were unwilling to risk plowing the money into good jobs, buildings, or machines. Instead, they took it to the stock market, causing the largest-ever disconnect between share prices and the real economy.

    Following Wall Street’s near-death experience in 2008, corporations became hooked on (almost) interest-free credit and rising stock valuations that flew in the face of low profits. Total savings dwarfed investment, aggregate wages were at an all-time low, and consumer spending remained subdued. And then, suddenly, COVID-19 arrived, with the ensuing lockdowns dealing major blows on both the supply and the demand side of the economy.”

An economy heavily leveraged and primarily dependent on stock buybacks and other financial manipulations is a luxury our society can no longer tolerate. The practice of stock buybacks was once defined as illegal market manipulation. With a decaying infrastructure and an intensifying global climate and pandemic crisis we need an economy that produces the food, energy, housing, and transportation needed for survival..

Yet the dilemma here is that any sustained period of full employment—or even expectation thereof– elicits fear of inflation, an increase in the long term interest rate, and spiraling bankruptcies among those corporations that had become addicted to cheap money. Varoufakis sees fiscal policy as an antidote to recession/depression but worries about how long it takes to become effective. The fear is well taken, especially in light of the scandalous delays in getting unemployment insurance to citizens in some states..

These concerns might be partially addressed by prioritizing and planning critical tasks now. In addition they constitute a further reason for permanent extension of the child care tax credit.

Varoufakis also regards unions, which can push worker incomes higher, as a part of the worker/consumer safety net. He advocates compulsory arbitration, but I would want to add an emphasis on union organization, which can boost both political and economic goals. Debt relief is also cited but needs more emphasis. Student debt along with mortgages are staggering and debt has a psychological impact beyond the number of dollars.

Finally, any economic collapse will double the present number of firms or industries deemed or claiming to be too big to fail. Rather than categorically rejecting or accepting these claims, o let’s decide these claims by applying environmental and social justice standards, as well as demanding movement toward a more democratic workplace as the price of any bailoout. It is time to model and experiment with different enterprise forms. Let’s have no more bailouts of the sort proffered after 2008 to The American International Group (AIG) or the strings-free $12 billion given to Jaime Dimon’s J.P. Morgan Chase.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

AJ+ “Biden Won’t Cancel Student Debt. Here’s What Other Countries Can Teach Him”