Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa.

Covid Operations: The laws be damned, evictions continue. Stop them now!

On Tuesday, April 14, Alexandria City Councilmember Canek Aguirre introduced a resolution to the City Council to freeze rents, mortgages and negative credit reporting: “No resident who has lost income should be required to pay rent during this public health emergency, nor should they accumulate debt for unpaid rent.” The City Council unanimously approved the resolution. Across the United States and around the world, the good news is that governments at all levels are enacting bills that freeze rents and mortgage payments as well as banning evictions. The bad news is that eviction notices are still going out and, even worse, evictions are still ongoing, in the very places where they have been banned. We have to talk about evictions and try to understand what’s going on.

First, the good news, from the past week or so. On Tuesday, in California, the San Jose City Council voted to extend a local moratorium on residential evictions until May 31, along with other renter protections. (Earlier in the month, California’s state legislature passed an eviction freeze that will last until 90 days after California’s state of emergency is lifted. While that in itself would be good news, better is that the legislature’s action took an earlier moratorium, by the Governor, and gave it sharper teeth and more muscle.) On Thursday, Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington, expanded and extended Washington’s eviction moratorium, and added additional protections. In Massachusetts, on Friday, the state legislature passed legislation that would ban evictions and foreclosures, and sent that on to the Governor to signOn Friday, David Ige, Governor of Hawaii, declared a moratorium on evictions; and Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan, extended Michigan’s eviction moratorium until May 15

 In India, on Friday, the Indian state of Maharashtra “asked landlords to postpone rent recovery from tenants for at least three months … [and] not to drive tenants out of their homes if they fail to pay rents during the current period.” On Monday, the South African government reiterated the national suspension of evictions during the national lockdown. Finally, in the United States, that national government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, aka the CARES Act, which precludes being served with an eviction until July 25, 2020, along with a few other protections. With all these bans and moratoria, everything should be fine, right? Wrong.

On Thursday, Pro Publica reported that in at least four states – Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and Florida – landlords continued to file eviction notices, despite the national ban, and suffered no negative consequences. What’s that you say about ignorance of the law being no excuse? Not when it comes to evictions, apparently. In California, in violation of both federal and even stronger state laws, landlords are threatening to evict and are evicting tenants. While both are illegal, actually evicting tenants means local law enforcement actually arrive at the residences and forcibly remove tenants. In Michigan, a landlord sent seven-day eviction notices to 80 tenants and explained that he had to, so as to “fulfill fiduciary responsibilities” to lenders. The law of lenders supersedes the law of both Michigan and the United States. The same story in LouisianaArizonaMissouri. Despite local and national legislation, across the United States, people are being evicted.

Likewise, in South Africa, despite a national moratorium on evictions, local jurisdictions have sent in police and special forces, colloquially know as Red Ants. to evict residents, most egregiously perhaps in Durban and Cape Town where they entered informal settlements, destroyed shacks, and `removed’ entire populations. Why does that sound familiar?

What is the investment in evictions? There’s the financial investment, but there’s more. In this period where staying at home, whatever that home looks like, can mean staying alive, what `inspires’ police and their avatars, who are just people like you and me, to render individuals, families, communities homeless, to turn fellow human beings into raw material for the global manufacturing of death and destruction? While the excuses and explanations are manifold and easily available, they all fall short when you put them face-to-face with the people who actually do the deed. What is our investment in evictions that, despite everything we know and think we know and feel and think we feel, we let them go on, a little dissipated in volume and velocity, perhaps, but as lethal as ever? 

(Credit for Everett Shinn, Eviction (Lower East Side): Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Covid Operations: The ticking time bomb has a dangerous history

In the era of Covid-19, in the current pandemic moment, the world has “discovered” that prisons, jails, immigration detention or removal centers, juvenile detention centers, and any place of confinement is predictably overcrowded, under-resourced, and, suddenly, dangerous to our public health. This “discovery” is described as the time bomb or, more dramatically, the ticking time bomb. While the ticking time bomb scenario suggests concern for the incarcerated and those who work within incarcerated spaces, the phrase “ticking time bomb” has its own history, especially in the last twenty years, a history we would do well to recall.

Here are some ticking time bomb scenarios from the past 24 hours or so. Across the United States, “rural America is left with not only a health care crisis but a potential ticking time bomb if these jails become hot spots of contagion.” Meanwhile, there’s a “health time bomb that could all too easily detonate in locked juvenile facilities.” In Wisconsin, the local ACLU explains, “Right now Wisconsin’s overcrowded prisons are a ticking time bomb that threatens the health of all Wisconsinites, especially people of color who are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration”. In Mexico, the shelters along migrants’ routes understand that lack of information and misinformation can create its own time bomb: “We try to avoid this sort of mass panic among the people in the shelter, because that could be a time bomb.” In Panama, “overcrowding in prisons is seen as a time bomb”. In Haiti, “the prison network is an epidemiological ticking time bomb.” Peru’s prisons are “a time bomb” as are those in Colombia, the Dominican Republic. In the Philippines, “jails are a COVID-19 time bomb”.  Overcrowded Cambodian prisons and drug detention centres “are a ticking time bomb for the country and potentially its neighbours.”

That’s 24 hours, and that’s 24 hours. Remember the television series, 24, in which counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer, every week, found himself in a situation in which he had 24 hours in which to stop a massive terrorist attack? The fact that there was a finite, definite and even definitive time frame meant that Bauer could ethicallytorture suspects in order to gain the vital information. That, in a nutshell, is the ticking time bomb scenario. From September 11 on, for well over a decade, a subject of passionate debate among some was whether or not torture was ever justified, much less ethical. Despite so-called liberal traditions, some claimed that within weeks, the U.S. populace overwhelmingly embraced the logic of the ticking time bomb. 

While the ticking time scenario lit up the recent and long dark night of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and beyond, its origins are said to Jeremy Bentham’s 1804 essay “Means of extraction for extraordinary occasions”: “Suppose an occasion to arise, in which a suspicion is entertained, as strong as that which would be received as a sufficient ground for arrest and commitment as for felony — a suspicion that at this very time a considerable number of individuals are actually suffering, by illegal violence inflictions equal in intensity to those which if inflicted by the hand of justice, would universally be spoken of under the name of torture. For the purpose of rescuing from torture these hundred innocents, should any scruple be made of applying equal or superior torture, to extract the requisite information from the mouth of one criminal, who having it in his power to make known the place where at this time the enormity was practicing or about to be practiced, should refuse to do so?”

For over 200 years, so-called liberal democracies officially took on that supposition and rejected it. In 2001, that all seemed to change. What changed was not the practice of torture but the official practice of torture; what changed was also the ostensible vox populi. The point is that, historically, the invocation of a ticking time bomb has been more than a warning of impending and catastrophic violence and harm. The invocation of the ticking time bomb has been used to justify the abrogation of due process, of Constitutionally protected rights, and of both humanity and a sense of humanity. Remember that. Those currently living in prisons, jails, immigration detention centers, juvenile detention centers face the real and immediate danger of deaths in epic number. They need neither discoveries nor metaphors; they deserve dignity and respect, and they need to be released now.  

(Image Credit: San Francisco Gate)

Covid Operations: Where is the State that practices grace?

For many religious and faith-based communities, these are days of thanks and reflection. Easter. Passover. Ramadan. Days of grace, days of saying grace. Where is the State of grace, where is the nation-State that practices, that is made of practices of, pardon, forgiveness, clemency, mercy? Where is the nation-State whose actions form a daily and constitutive prayer of grace? Where is the State that is grateful for humanity?

Here’s some news from the past day or so. Predictably, the national iterations of the global lockdown has “resulted” in a spike in domestic violence, especially in home-based violence against women and girls: ZimbabweSouth Africa,  Trinidad and TobagoMexicoIndiaChinaFranceSpainItaly,  across the United States, and around the world. This spike was predictable, and national governments did nothing, often did less than and worse than nothing, to address the “shadow pandemic”. In many ways, the reporting naturalizes the situation. Boys will be boys, men will be men, women will be beaten and sacrificed. It’s a shame, but really … what can we do? We can shut off access to reproductive health, GBV survivors’ support, and HIV testing. We can do that. While some have noted the ways in which individual national responses “are failing women”, the situation is more direct, aggressive and violent. Nation-States have sacrificed women, en masse and particularly, reprising the femicidal practices of witch hunts, replete with sanctimonious speeches of rule of law, morality and faith. These are days of thanks and reflections, days of grace.

Where is the State that practices grace? While Governors and individual state Departments of Correction debate releasing prisoners to avert a prison-based massacre, at the national level, the United States government has “quietly” ended asylum processes and sped up deportation proceedings. In the past couple weeks, the United States has expelled 6,300 “undocumented migrants”, including unaccompanied children. Children at the border are being turned away rather than turned over to shelters. Children already in shelters are being forced to go to court, often without any legal representation, and then are shipped off like so much cargo. First, we reiterate the witch hunt, then we repeat the human cargo ships of the slave trade. And then we say grace. 

A while ago, Korean-American poet Emily Yungmin Yoon also reflected on how `we’ say grace, how the nation-State says grace:

Say Grace

In my country our shamans were women
and our gods multiple until white people brought
an ecstasy of rosaries and our cities today
glow with crosses like graveyards. As a child
in Sunday school I was told I’d go to hell
if I didn’t believe in God. Our teacher was a woman
whose daughters wanted to be nuns and I asked
What about babies and what about Buddha, and she said
They’re in hell too and so I memorized prayers
and recited them in front of women
I did not believe in. Deliver us from evil.
O sweet Virgin Mary, amen. O sweet. O sweet.
In this country, which calls itself Christian,
what is sweeter than hearing Have mercy
on us. From those who serve different gods. O
clement, O loving, O God, O God, amidst ruins,
amidst waters, fleeing, fleeing. Deliver us from evil.
O sweet, O sweet. In this country,
point at the moon, at the stars, point at the way the lake lies,
with a hand full of feathers,
and they will look at the feathers. And kill you for it.
If a word for religion they don’t believe in is magic
so be it, let us have magic. Let us have
our own mothers and scarves, our spirits,
our shamans and our sacred books. Let us keep
our stars to ourselves and we shall pray
to no one. Let us eat
what makes us holy.”

Amen.

(Image of Lantern Tree by Georgia O’Keeffe: Wadsworth Atheneum)

Covid Operations: I want to talk about compassion … and the compassionate state

i want to talk about gratitude.
i want to talk about compassion.
i want to talk about respect.
how even the desperate deserve it.
                                    Lenelle Moise

Haitian American poet Lenelle Moise begins her poem, “quaking conversation”, as follows:

“i want to talk about haiti.
how the earth had to break
the island’s spine to wake
the world up to her screaming.

how this post-earthquake crisis
is not natural
or supernatural.
i want to talk about disasters.

how men make them
with embargoes, exploitation,
stigma, sabotage, scalding
debt and cold shoulders.”

I want to talk about compassion. Like “kind”, “compassion” was once an active, transitive verb, meaning to have compassion on and with. You could compassion someone, we could compassion one another. Today, compassion is supposed to suggest that we suffer together, that seeing the suffering of another, one suffers if not identically equally. I want talk about compassion and ask, “Where is the State that is compassionate? That suffers with the suffering?”

Here’s some news from the past 24 hours. Law enforcers kill and brutalize during SA lockdown. Still in South Africa, municipalities defy Covid-19 eviction moratorium. Those evicted want to know how can children wash their hands if they’re homeless? National governments watch and do nothing concerning overcrowded, toxic conditions in refugee `camps’ in Greeceimmigrant detention centers, prisons, and jails across the United States and elsewhere. Corporations force workers to show up for work and then provide little to no protection and no consideration or benefits: AmazonTargetFedEx. Meanwhile gig workers, casual workers, `informal’ workers across the country experience erasureUndocumented workers become the new generation to live Silence = Death, which begins as Invisibility = Death. Exclusion is a death sentence. We continue to debate who is an essential worker, essential workers continue to die. Meanwhile, across the United States, Coronavirus is “ravaging Black communities”; African Americans are “dying at an alarming rate during the pandemic”. This is a partial list of less than 24 hours in the day in the life. Exclusion = death. It always has.

In the current state of exception, we must dream, demand, and create exceptional states, states that refuse the necropolitical, exclusionary diktat of acceptable collateral damage. At the end of March, as the death tolls rose and rose, Spain extended unemployment benefits to domestic workers. While it’s not perfect, it is an expansion of rights and recognition by the State. In South Korea, the city of Ansan decided to extend “livelihood security support benefits” to all residents, including foreign residents. Again, it’s not perfect, but, again, it is an expansion of rights and recognition by the State. Anything less is a death sentence. A status quo built on exclusion is a death sentence and always has been. We must talk about compassion and we must work to build a compassionate State. I want to talk about compassion. 

(Image by Mimi Zhu: National Museum of Women in the Arts)

The women held hostage in Yarl’s Wood demand freedom now! #ShutYarlsWood

England built a special hell for women: Yarl’s Wood. This week, women held in Yarl’s Wood, where last week a “resident” tested positive for Covid-19, sent a petition to Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary, demanding their release immediately: “Free us all now!!! Shut Down the Detention Centre!”.

The petition reads:

“1. COVID-19 IS IN YARL’S WOOD, OUR VISITS HAVE BEEN CANCELLED, WE ARE ISOLATED AND OUR MENTAL HEALTH IS SUFFERING.

2.  SOME OF US HAVE ASTHMA, HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE & OTHER CONDITIONS THAT MAKE US MORE VULNERABLE TO COVID-19, AS WELL AS BEING SCARED FOR OUR OWN HEALTH, SCARED FOR OUR FAMILIES ON THE OUTSIDE AND WE WANTED TO BE WITH THEM.

3. WE CANNOT GET THE HEALTHCARE WE NEED IN DETENTION, THEY JUST GIVE US PARACETAMOL. SERCO CANNOT KEEP US SAFE. PEOPLE WILL DIE.

4. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DO SOCIAL DISTANCING IN OUR WINGS, WE HAVE NOT HAD ANY TRAINING ON HOW TO USE THE MASK AND GLOVES THEY GAVE US.

5. OUR SOLICITORS CANNOT VISIT US AND OUR BAIL HEARINGS ARE BEING CANCELLED AND MOVE TO PAPER DECISIONS. WE ARE DENIED JUSTICE. 

6. WE CANNOT BE PUT ON FLIGHTS ANY TIME SOON BECAUSE OF THE TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS.

7. IT IS INHUMAN AND UNJUST THAT WE ARE HELD IN DETENTION DURING THIS PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS. SOME OF US HAVE COMMITTED NO CRIMES, ALL OF US WITH CONVICTIONS HAVE SERVED OUR TIME AND EVEN LONGER BECAUSE OF DETENTION.

8. HUNDRED HAVE BEEN RELEASED IN THE PAST TWO WEEKS, BUT IT IS TAKING TOO LONG.

FREE US ALL NOW!!! SHUT DOWN THE DETENTION CENTRE! ”

Twenty-seven of approximately thirty women in one wing at Yarl’s Wood signed the petition. 

In 2015, the Chief Inspectorate of Prisons for the United Kingdom found that Yarl’s Wood failed to meet the needs of vulnerable women. Yarl’s Wood didn’t fail, it refused to meet the needs of vulnerable women, because it refuses to recognize the humanity of any women. Every year since 2015, the situation has worsened and intensified, and then came Covid-19. Every day, more women are sent to Yarl’s Wood, during the pandemic. How impoverished must the United Kingdom be in every way conceivable that it cannot absorb some 300 or so women with a few children? How poor a nation. Release the women from Yarl’s Wood immediately. Shut it down, once and for all. Refugees and asylum seekers are not, and never have been, the crisis. The crisis is our inhumanity, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, nationalism. The time for concern and for discussion is over. The time for justice, and for reparations, is upon us and long overdue. Shut Yarl’s Wood down; do it now … in the name of health! FREE THEM ALL NOW!!! SHUT DOWN ALL DETENTION CENTRES!

(Photo Credit: Politics.co.uk) (Image Credit: Detained Voices)

Covid Operations: Be a force of kindness, not of might. Close the detention centers!

“For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”  Matthew 7

South Africa is in the second day of a 21-day lockdown, monitored and enforced by the police and armed forces, as well as neighbors, family and other less threatening people. Before sending the armed forces to wander the streets where people live and, for the rare few, work, President Cyril Ramaphosa urged the army to “be a force of kindness and not of might. Deliver your duties in a way that does not violate our people’s rights either intentionally or unintentionally.” Be a force of kindness, and not of might. On the same day that invocation of kindness was reported, it was also reported that the city of Swakopmund, in Namibia, would provide free water to those living in its informal settlements. The day before it was reported that Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek, would reconnect “defaulters’ water”. We are awash in stories of kindness and unkindness, and we will be judged by the deeds we do and the words we say and write. At the same time, so many of the reports of “acts of kindness” are individual acts, acts within and of civil society writ large, and not acts of the state. While individual acts matter terrifically, as we have learned to our detriment in the United States, the nation-State must be the State as well as the nation. 

Be a force of kindness, not of might. Tell that to ICE and its supporters. On March 21, ALDEA-The People’s Justice Center in Reading, the Rapid Defense Network in New York, and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, in San Antonio, Texas, representing scores of children, sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney General. Their suit opens: “This case presents the question of whether the government can recklessly expose Petitioners … to conscious shocking risk of exposure to contracting the deadly Covid-19 virus in the midst of a global pandemic by failing to take the most minimal precautions to prepare for the all too foreseeable catastrophe in crowded family detention. The answer is no.” Berks. Dilley. Karnes. The answer is no.

In the three so-called family detention centers, people are living in close quarters with little to no attention to sanitation or hygiene, “a tinderbox that, once sparked, will create a crisis that threatens the lives of women, men and children”. In Dilley, a pregnant Honduran woman, identified as O.M.G., stays with her 4-year-old daughter, who has started coughing, “I must be close to others all the time. I fear for my life, and the life of my daughter and unborn child.” In Berks, a 5-year-old was taken to the hospital after weeks of coughing. According to Bridget Cambria, Executive Director of Aldea, that girl won’t be the last child whose health is endangered at Berks, “Children can’t social distance on their own. They’re going to put things in their mouth. They’re going to touch other children. It’s not like people can go to a different room to be by themselves.

Across the country, the stories of immigrant detention come to the same conclusion, “It’s basically torture.” And it’s not only women and children being tortured. This week, the ACLU of Pennsylvania sued to release elderly and infirm `detainees’, more like hostages, from immigrant detention centers. In San Diego, people seeking asylum end up in “the Icebox”, “La Hielera”, where the temperature is kept intentionally extremely low, and of course it’s overcrowded. From sea to shining sea … 

There is a saying in Zulu, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”. A person is a person through other people. Ubuntu. I am because you are. I am because, together, we are, mutually, reciprocally. Once upon a time, a long long time ago, the word “kind” was an active, transitive verb, meaning to treat kindly or with good will. You could kind someone, we could kind one another. Once upon a time, a long long time ago … 

(Image Credit: Velaphi Mzimba / Everard Read – Cape Town) (Video: YouTube)

Nicoletta Dosio: “I will carry to the end with joy”

Nicoletta Dosio

Nicoletta Dosio is a 74-year-old Italian activist, feminist, Communist who, in 2012, protested against the Turin – Lyon high speed rail project, TAV. At the end of last year, Nicoletta Dosio was arrested, tried, and convicted to a year in prison, in Turin. From her prison cell, Nicoletta Dosio has written, “I’m fine, I’m happy with the choice I made because it is the result of a just and beautiful cause, the NoTav struggle which is also the struggle for a different model of society and stems from the awareness that the present world is not the only possible world. I feel collective solidarity and personally experience what a fighting family is. The support and affection you showed me when I was arrested, and the demonstrations whose echos reach me from afar, confirm that I made the right choice, which I will carry to the end with joy. I tell the other inmates about you, I tell them that the solidarity given to me is for all the women and men locked behind these brutish walls.”

Italian novelist, poet and translator, Erri De Luca, has written an open letter to Nicoletta Dosio:

Rome, March 23, 2020

Dear Nicoletta,

In these days, I reread. Once again, I have Rosa Luxemburg’s letters on my lap, the letters she wrote from Berlin prison. In one, addressed to Mathilde Jacob on February 7, 1917, Rosa recounts the cry of the chickadee, tss-vi, tss-vi. She knows how to imitate it so perfectly that the chickadee approaches her bars.

Rosa writes, `Despite the snow, the cold and the loneliness, we believe, the chickadee and I, that spring is on the way.’

And so here we are, in the days that announce that winter has ended. You were secluded in prison, and by some mysterious solidarity, an entire people locked themselves in their homes. The streets are empty, the North of Italy is emigrating to the South, and families fill the balconies. The economists have vanished, and the medical doctors are in charge.

Standing in my field, I watch the trees in bud. In Italian, the word for “bud” and “gem” is the same, “gemma”. For us, the buds are precious stones, and Spring is a necklace of jewels open to all who know how to appreciate them.

Here, now, in the name of politeness, people are staying away and avoiding one another.

But for you, in your prison cells, there is not enough room to turn in. People with pneumonia lack air, you are all forced to breathe and gasp together. The overcrowded, criminally overstuffed prisons have become laboratories of suffocation.

But the valley for which you fought and for which you are in prison continues to produce and breathe its own political oxygen, which rises from within the community, which strengthens its fibers, and thus gives the right of citizen to those whom the authorities have treated as feudal subjects. Treated as a rebellious province, your valley continues to refuse the rape of its territory.

Your inflexible and indomitable calm is that of your community. It emerges manifest when a people awaken.

I am proud to be able to address you, dear Nicoletta, as a close friend, proud to be one with you.

I wait for you here, and I promise you that, when you leave that prison, you will find the same union and the same spring.

Fervently yours,
Erri De Luca

(Translated by Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Nicoletta Dosio)

Covid Operations: How is this (not) unprecedented? Let us count the ways …

“They knew that their country’s devastation—before the earthquake as now—was not inevitable. They knew that traditional “recovery” would fail to recover much of anything except the previous inequities. They knew that reconstruction could be, had to be, grounded in democracy, where all had a say. And they were organizing.”
                                             Beverly Bell. Fault Lines: Views Across Haiti’s Divide

The emergence and efflorescence of Covid-19 has produced its own distinct discourse: social distancing, flatten the curve, social isolation, care mongering, and the list goes on. Words matter, rhetoric matters. One term that has been recirculated through the interpretive landscape of dismay, disorder and governmental dithering is to claim that everything is unprecedented … and so how could we have known? This claim of unprecedence has resulted in some curious contortions. For example, the stock market collapse is both unprecedented and the worst since 1987. The pandemic itself is unprecedented and the worst since the 1918 pandemic, the so-called Spanish flu. Well, which is it, unprecedented or the worst since? It doesn’t matter, because the claim of everything being unprecedented, rather than seriously and existentially dire, is always already an alibi. What is the alibi, and were we all really completely unaware?

For decades, political economist after political economist has warned that neoliberal models of development, and in particular austerity, would leave the world with severely diminished health care systems and seriously stretched economies. Four decades of slow to no growth and just in time production chains have produced “lean economies” which [a] only work for the very rich, [b] widen inequality rapidly and increasingly, and [c] increase risk. How did `we’ emerge from the infamous 1987 crash? The infamous Greenspan Put, in which the Fed “injected liquidity” into the market. What that means is that speculators are protected from risk and so are encouraged to take even riskier investments. The very opposite of no pain, no gain, this solution is All gain for a few, all and intense pain for everyone else. That was how `we’ emerged from 1987 … 1997 … 2000 … 2008. Unprecedented? Hardly.

Four years ago, Rob Wallace’s Big Farms Make Big Flu was published. Recently, Wallace noted, “The real danger of each new outbreak is the failure –or better put—the expedient refusal to grasp that each new Covid-19 is no isolated incident. The increased occurrence of viruses is closely linked to food production and the profitability of multinational corporations. Anyone who aims to understand why viruses are becoming more dangerous must investigate the industrial model of agriculture and, more specifically, livestock production. At present, few governments, and few scientists, are prepared to do so. Quite the contrary. When the new outbreaks spring up, governments, the media, and even most of the medical establishment are so focused on each separate emergency that they dismiss the structural causes that are driving multiple marginalized pathogens into sudden global celebrity, one after the other … There are no capital-free pathogens at this point … The capital-led agriculture that replaces more natural ecologies offers the exact means by which pathogens can evolve the most virulent and infectious phenotypes. You couldn’t design a better system to breed deadly diseases … These companies can just externalize the costs of their epidemiologically dangerous operations on everyone else.” The other term for the Greenspan Put is moral hazard, “any situation in which one person makes the decision about how much risk to take, while someone else bears the cost if things go badly.” That’s Paul Krugman writing, in 2009, about the crash of 2008. Unprecedented? No.

Despite the experience, and warning signs, of both SARS and Ebola, the lessons for health care were ignored in favor of profit. Cut workers’ access to health benefits, both by directly slicing health care benefits and transferring large sectors of the labor force to precarious `self contractors’. Defund public health and privatize health care as extensively and deeply as possible. Invest in pharmaceutical research that generates maximum profits and whatever you do, stay away from research in preventive medicine. Big Pharma “loves to design cures. The sicker we are the more they earn.” Keep the system `lean’ and `efficient’, meaning no extra beds, no extra anything. This is the legacy of austerity, and it has been widely criticized, certainly 40 years ago at the beginning of the period of neoliberal development, but with greater insistence, research and documentation over the past ten years. Unprecedented? Nope.

The claim of “unprecedented” is an alibi to the same extent that it provides ideological cover for the same old same old. This is not about gotcha; this is about how we understand “reconstruction”. Many are, rightly, concerned that nation-State governments will declare a State of Emergency or a State of Disaster and thereby erode civil and human rights. Even if that does not happen, we must pay critical attention to those who call for a “return to normalcy”, which would mean a `return’ to growing inequality, decreasing access to decent health care, mounting evictions, increased incarceration, increasing hunger, and more and more unprecedented pandemics.

(Image credit: NPR)

Covid Operations: Stop intoning “bearing the brunt”

The emergence and efflorescence of Covid-19 has produced its own distinct discourse: social distancing, flatten the curve, social isolation, care mongering, and the list goes on. Words matter, rhetoric matters. One phrase that has been recycled through the interpretive landscape of dismay and disorder is “bearing the brunt”. Let’s consider that.

“Bearing the brunt” has blossomed in the past few weeks. How Women Will Bear the Brunt of This Pandemic. “Perhaps the greatest economic lesson the U.S. will glean from the coronavirus is not only that slow-acting fiscal policy leaves the vulnerable more vulnerable. It’s also that any fiscal policy, slow-acting or not, without the gender lens leaves women to bear the brunt of a financial crisis.” “Poverty experts said that in times of natural disasters and large-scale emergencies, low-income families who are already living on tight budgets with overdue bills, unstable housing, poor health care and unsteady employment often bear the brunt of the pain.” “The lowest-wage workers will bear the brunt of the layoffs.” “Together, we can create systems built to ensure that low-income communities and communities of color do not repeatedly bear the brunt of acts of nature like the coronavirus, or the human-made acts of inequitable laws and policies.” “As more countries fight to curb increasing numbers of Covid-19 infections, a virus of fear is sweeping the globe – and the most vulnerable in our communities are bearing the brunt of it.” These are just a few examples from the last few days.

Individually, the statements are incisive, perceptive, critical, but taken together, they suggest something else, a way in which the phrase “bearing the brunt” is meant to suggest that the author is somehow both insightful and compassionate. We care about those bear the brunt … don’t we?

Three articles in one day: “Black women bear the brunt of domestic violence”; “lesbians bear the brunt of military discharges”; “children bear the brunt of the deepening economic crisis”. Those three articles appeared in one day … in October 2009. On another day, in December 2009, we learned that in KwaZulu Natal urban women bear the brunt of AIDS, while in Honduras, women bear the brunt of human rights abuses. In 2010, when food prices soared, analysts explained that the poorest would bear the brunt.

Last year, the climate crisis produced a crop of brunt bearings. In a just a few weeks, the following appeared. “Bangladesh’s rural families bear the brunt of climate change … Households headed by women are under even greater pressure.” “Women bear the brunt of extreme weather events because they lack economic, political and legal power.” “Women and children often bear the brunt of water shortages.” “The female population is more likely to bear the brunt of natural disasters.” “In less-developed regions, it falls to women to gather food and water for their families. If crops can’t grow, those women will lose both their livelihoods and their food source. At the same time, as extreme weather events become more frequent, huge populations of women and families are forced to leave their homes. Women will bear the brunt of the crisis.” “It is the world’s most vulnerable people who are made to bear the brunt of climate change, though they are the least responsible for causing it, and are ill-equipped to deal with the consequences.” “Feminism helps me understand what underpins our climate crisis — systems like extractivism, patriarchy, and capitalism. Feminism helps us see the genderdifferentiated impacts of climate breakdown and how women disproportionately bear the brunt of the harm.” “Women farmers bear the brunt of the crisis—and may be the key to limiting its impact. But that’s only possible if there is gender equality in the agriculture sector.” “Those with fewer resources are bearing the brunt of the crisis, and many of the world’s poorest are women. In times of scarcity it’s often mothers who go without to make sure their families can eat. When extreme weather hits, because women still primarily look after children and the elderly, they are the last to evacuate; leading to higher female death tolls. Around 90% of the 150,000 people killed in the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone were women.”

What does “bearing the brunt” mean, and why must women and childrenfulfill that role? Can community exist without some group, and specifically women and children, bearing the brunt? A brunt is “an assault, charge, onset, violent attack….The shock, violence, or force (of an attack)…. The chief stress or violence; crisis.” To bear can mean so many things, from carry to bring forth fruit or offspring, but when it comes to bearing the brunt, it means “to suffer without succumbing, to sustain without giving way, to endure.” Bearing the brunt is an acceptable facet of everyday life and, as such, is a perversion of any sense of justice or wellbeing. Women “bear the brunt” in a social, economic, political order in which peace, wellbeing, justice, prosperity, joy are understood as military engagements. In that world, rights are hollow, reconciliation is empty, and love is abandoned. This is not unprecedented. To the contrary, it is us, and has been for decades.

(Image Credit: Al Jazeera / Muhammad Ansi / John Jay College)

Covid Operations: What happened to a half century of mass incarceration? Covid-19

In the past week, news agencies and advocacy organizations have discussed the role of prisons and jails in spreading the novel coronavirus. Some are longstanding advocates for just solutions to the incarceration crisis; others, especially news agencies, are just now `discovering’ that prisons, jails and immigration detention centers form an archipelago of infectious morbidity and mortality. Headlines from the past three days include: To Arrest the Spread of Coronavirus, Arrest Fewer People.  Visits halted in federal prisons, immigration centers over virusHow Coronavirus Could Affect U.S. Jails and PrisonsPrisons And Jails Worry About Becoming Coronavirus ‘Incubators’Our Courts and Jails Are Putting Lives at RiskTo contain coronavirus, release people in prison. In Virginia, the Legal Aid Justice Center noted, “Adults and youth held in Virginia’s prisons, jails, and detention centers are particularly vulnerable to the spread of disease and deserve to be protected with adequate sanitation and medical care or, if possible, be released.” England and Wales developed “emergency plans to avoid disruption” in their prisons. Also in England, immigrant advocates called on the government to release hundreds of immigration detention center detainees, noting, “There is a very real risk of an uncontrolled outbreak of Covid-19 in immigration detention”. In France, prisoners, supporters, staff, and advocates are concerned and see no way out of coronavirus running rampant through the prison system.

While this attention is welcome, the question that lingers, and haunts, the current carceral controversy is, “Why now?” Public health researchers have long documented prisons’ role in the spread of infectious disease. From a public health perspective, prisons so dangerous because they’re overcrowded and their systems of care provision, such as they are, have intentionally gone from bad to worse. A half century of mass incarceration married to a global programme of austerity has left us with prisons waiting to pump out HIV and AIDS, TB, Ebola, SARS, opioid addiction, and now Covid-19. 

Earlier this year, a special issue of The Lancet began as follows, “About 11 million people are currently being held in custody across the globe and more than 30 million individuals pass through prisons each year, often for short but disruptive periods of time .… The health profile of the detained population is complex, often with co-occurring physical and mental health disorders, and a backdrop of social disadvantage. Detention can also expose people to new and increased health risks, yet the profiles of the population behind bars and their health needs have often been neglected.”

Last year, The Lancet editorial board noted, “The sheer scale of imprisonment in the USA and its unequal burden on people from minority and poor backgrounds raises concerns about its impact on the health and wellbeing of the national population …. Being in prison worsens several health outcomes and might even drive the spread of disease.” Elsewhere, medical researchers noted, “There is a growing epidemic of inadequate health care in U.S. prisons. Shrinking prison budgets, a prison population that is the highest in the world, and for-profit health care contracts all contribute to this epidemic.”

Inadequate health care in prisons across the globe is the growing pandemic that preceded the current pandemic. Where are the women in this pandemic scenario? Women are the fastest growing prison population. What does that “growth” look like? “As adults, women who are incarcerated have enduring reproductive health issues such as unintended pregnancies, adverse birth outcomes, cervical dysplasia and malignancy, and sexually transmitted infections. Women who are pregnant or parenting a newborn during their incarceration are at high risk for poor outcomes, and just like individuals in the community they need prenatal care, supports with labor, postpartum bonding, and breast-feeding support. Women who have returned to the community or are under community supervision face similar health issues as women who are incarcerated and may lack access to care.”

Repeatedly, public health researchers have described the situation in prisons and jails as a crisis. For women – and especially women of color and poor women – that crisis stretches across their lifespan in two ways. First, the health consequences of even short stays in detention endure a lifetime. Second, detention itself lasts a lifetime: “Over 1.2 million women in the United States were on probation, parole, or incarcerated in jail or prison facilities at the end of 2015, the most recent year for which data are available.”

The decades of mass incarceration, in which women have consistently been the fastest growing prison population, are built on systemic neglect. While the current pandemic is in no sense an opportunity, it is a moment in which we can turn that neglect on itself and pay attention, not only to this particular instant but to the decades that prepared the ground, toxically, for it. Immigrant detentionjailprison are always bad for health. The only route to a healthy world is decarceration.

(Image Credit: Prison Policy Initiative)