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-MAHATMA GANDHI
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-EUGENE V. DEBS
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-JOHN MADALEY

Thoughts

THE PATHOGENIC SOCIETY:

HOW STRUCTURAL VIOLENCE LED TO THE CURRENT PANDEMIC AND HOW STRUCTURAL CHANGE IS THE PATH FORWARD TO PUBLIC HEALTH

May 19, 2020

Una mattina mi son svegliato
E ho trovato l'invasor
la canzone partigiana, "Bella Ciao"

The year of the rat indeed. A pandemic is plaguing the world. We woke up to a foreign, merciless invader that is infecting many and arrested the rest. We perceive that we are in a crisis and on the cusp of catastrophe. Yet the etymology of the word "crisis" is instructive. It derives from a medical term in Ancient Greek used by Hippocrates, krisis (κρίσις), meaning the critical point of a disease in which the patient either recovers or dies. To recover, we must not simply address the symptoms, but the underlying cause of what has brought us to this point. The pillage of the poor and of our environment has provided a fertile ground for the mutation and transmission of zoonotic infections, including the current pandemic. If we are to recover, public health policy must address the health of our institutions which pervade and instrumentalize our lives and have clinical physical and mental consequences. The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the inequalities and inequities in our society and it is also caused by these. Municipal and international law have been the use of force in masquerade, establishing and entrenching subject positioning while this structural subjugation has masqueraded as the empowerment of individual rights. Structural violence has left billions without proper sanitation, clean air and water, housing, healthcare and education which even under putative democracies, effectively denies them any civil and political rights. Yet even these dismal civil and political rights, that are but words on paper if one does not have the means to enforce them, may be lost as we divert our vision to the invisible virus, away from the social pathologies that have caused this malady, which during our diversion, may be exacerbated and fortified by it. The best way to ensure we are not defeated is to politically unite and establish a system which allows for a rights regime that is capacity-based and where economic and social rights, including the right to health, are recognized as instrumental and inseparable from civil and political rights. The only way we will survive is to realize that public health and environmental health are inseparable and public health requires sustainable environmental practices. Recovery or death.

We have sent to rovers to Mars, created antibiotics, created vaccines for a number of diseases, spliced the nuclei of cells to produce humans from three parents, developed the internet, manufactured trains that run on magnetic levitation, rocket boosters that return and teleported qutrits. To name but a trifle of humanity's scientific achievements. Yet an invisible, passive organism is bringing us to heel. However, just as our immune system's response is sometimes the reason for our deaths from disease, for instance the "cytokine storm" from the overproduction of immune cells in the lungs from various strains of the flu and corona viruses, including SARS, MERS and now COVID-19; how we react to this pandemic may be the real test of whether we survive this malady. The rampant inequalities in our society have been exacerbated by the current pandemic and have also contributed in on no small part to its cause both by the effects of anthropogenic climate change and the stresses imposed on habitats as well as the socio-environmental stresses upon the working poor. In order to survive, we need to heed these lessons and inform our actions accordingly.

For hundreds of years we have been practicing a protracted process of ecological suicide, rapaciously and insouciantly plundering our environment to produce products that in turn cause more destruction to our environment, as if we are not dependent on our environment and exist outside of it. As we imperil ourselves and move the planet into a heating feedback loop, some have already given up on our speck of blue dust and have been smitten by our neighbour's crimson hue. Perhaps we can terraform Mars, which of course would necessitate not only the engineering of its climate and atmosphere but the production of a magnetic field in order to protect these, while somehow not dying from radiation in the interim. We may not achieve these necessary technological feats before we reach the point of climatic calamity that may exterminate us. If we do, and Mars is the way to our survival, at least for some time, it is in any case the survival of but a privileged few. There is no Planet B.

We have known for decades that climate change will lead to depleted freshwater sources, loss of land from rising sea levels and food insecurity, increase in the incidence and intensity of stochastic events, and increase in the incidence of disease. It is also something that we no longer need to read papers on but can perceive with our own eyes.  Our national ecological treasures are being eviscerated so that they will merely be stories we can tell our great grandchildren, who will stare mesmerized at photos of the Great Barrier Reef as we ponder photos of Jupiter. My sons have grown up in a climate sensitive world, in which our daily lives are continually disrupted because of a climatic disturbance. Twice we've been through periods in which we've stayed indoors and worn masks outside from increased particulates in the air from vicious wildfires brought about by California's drought. A few months ago, we were worried for our relatives and friends across the Pacific as wildfires raged across Australia. My friends sent me photos as they evacuated southern New South Wales, where Australia deployed the navy to evacuate people from beaches, as the flames engulfed their towns. I stood horrified. The photographs looked doctored, incredible, apocalyptic. A scarlet sky as if a scar above the wound of a scorched earth, carnivorous flames set to engulf it. Now we're in quarantine and my boys police the quarantine shuffle of staying 6 feet away from others, pointing out people in groups they've determined not to be a family unit and for my three year old, "lasering the corona" from anyone he passes (much to my chagrin). Climate change is not something that will happen, but that is happening. Granted stochastic rates are not new and fires are seasonal. The Aborigines developed their efficient back-burning method in Australia precisely because they dealt with the peril of uncontrolled fire tens of thousands of years ago. In my childhood, bushfire season was routine and numerous times we planned for evacuation any moment – yet back then, fire was a contained danger. Now, fire season is longer, the fires spark up in more places scorching more vegetation and burn for far longer. And now we have a pandemic. This is not an unfortunate coincidence, but part and parcel of anthropogenic ecological stresses.

Anthropogenic climate change has caused a greater incidence of waterborne and vector-borne diseases through increases in precipitation and temperature in certain areas increasing both the viral reproduction rate and the seasonality and distribution of vectors, for instance ticks and mosquitos. Climate change is exposing an additional five hundred million people to mosquito-borne disease. West Nile fever is now a seasonal scourge in Connecticut. Dengue fever is now present in New York. Urbanization, deforestation, habitat destruction and agricultural intensification, including concentrations of livestock have provided a favourable climate for zootonic infections by providing several autobahns for microbial organisms and consequent cross-species infection. More than 75% of all known viruses are from wildlife and as concentrations of people encroach and destroy animals' natural habitat, the viruses are presented with a new mode of transmission to humans. Transmission can occur in numerous ways, from infecting livestock to infecting humans directly, including by their faeces' drops or by being eaten. Zoonotic diseases have quadrupled in the past fifty years and have been the cause of major outbreaks in recent decades, including Ebola, SARS and COVID-19. Big Ag's concentrated animal feeding operations pose significant danger in this regard on multiple levels. Animals from different herds are placed in close proximity allowing for ready transmission of pathogens to animals that do not share their herd immunity, the animals are prone to infection by the environmental stresses imposed on them which has led to a rampant overuse of antibiotics which in turn flows into the human food chain and results in antibiotic resistance and additionally, these operations result in significant environmental stresses on other animals, both via air and water pollution and significant greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn leads to animals migrating to where humans are located, increasing human exposure to their infections (listen to Cristina Stella's interview on the conditions and enviro-social consequences of CAFOs in "The Slaughterhouse Straitjacket: How Big Ag Gags and Guts Our Speech").

Soderbergh's Contagion, released in 2011 and finding a resurgence in popularity during this pandemic, ends with a deforestation scene. The film's pandemic is based on a real virus, the Nipah virus, named after Sungai Nipah in Malaysia, the site of the first known outbreak in 1999. Like much of South-East Asia, the area was subject to rapid deforestation for the planting of palm oil plantations, which monoculture leads to decreased biodiversity and accelerates climate change (listen to Etelle Higonnet's interview "The Rest Is Silence: How Commodity Agriculture Turns Forests into Cemeteries"). Habitat destruction drew the bats to populated areas where people raised pigs. As a line from the film states, "the wrong pig met the wrong bat" (or something of the sort). NiV, which causes encephalitis and respiratory failure, killed over 100 people in the first outbreak. There have been several contained outbreaks of NiV in Malaysia, India and Bangladesh since 1999. The vaccine for NiV is currently in human testing, but the virus may mutate in the interim and in any case there are numerous viruses in bats and rodents, another major reservoir species, and our increasing proximity to them is imperiling our survival as a species.

The current pandemic is also due to our ecological rampage. While there is focus on the wet market in Wuhan as the possible epicenter of the current pandemic, little attention is paid to Wuhan's proximity to the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydro-electric project which displaced numerous species, including bats that carried viruses and likely COVID-19. Moreover, the pangolin, the mammal which is thought to be the possible intermediary between the transmission of the bat virus to a communicable human disease is an endangered species and is the world's most heavily trafficked animal. Environmental policy and public health policy are inter-dependent and we require the advent of holistic, inter-disciplinary policies.

Economic policy is also inextricable from public health. It is not only the increased exposure of humans to animals that has led to the incidence of infections, but the weakened immune systems of the working poor that are consistently lambasted with environmental pathogens. The environmental stresses imposed upon the working poor of the world, including lack of clean water, sanitation, exposure to pathogens at work, in their diet and domestic environment has contributed to the reception of zoonotic infections. This is not new. Throughout history, pandemics have generally started among the working poor and have always trickled up until the government is marshalled to mitigate the circumstance. London's cholera outbreak in the 19th century is instructive. The disease at first affected the working poor in the East End who lived and worked together in unhygienic and concentrated circumstances. The disease was thus thought to be of moral character because it affected the poor who were thought to be poor because of their lax morality (in a moral universe in which making a fortune of others' misery was rather deemed a national service). Dr. John Snow relentlessly researched the cause of the cholera outbreak in a double-blind experiment leading to the discovery of the contaminated Broad Street pump. Dr. John Snow confirmed that cholera was a contagion and that it was not a moral disease. Rather, he analyzed, it was the squalid environmental conditions of the poor, in particular the decreased sanitation services provided to them, that predisposed them to both reception of the disease and increased rates of mortality.

The environmental and social conditions that have contributed to the current pandemic are not a consequence of natural and immutable circumstances but have been generated by political decisions. Habitat stress, increased exposure between humans and animals and the environmental stresses on the working poor are all political decisions of a pathological society that has maliciously and myopically placed short-term profits of the few over our species' survival. The transmission between animals and humans occurs when both the animals and the humans are living under environmental stress. The animals have been forced out of their habitat due to development policies and the humans are living in poor conditions in close proximity to animals. In Wuhan, as in other Chinese cities, the working poor, including rural migrants in search for employment live in squalid and crowded conditions in proximity to animals which provide a perfect environment for the transmission of zoonotic infection. These policies not only directly contribute to the spill-over infection transmission to humans, but to human to human transmission in this current and in prior pandemics.

The Spanish flu (named as it was the first publicized infection spread in Europe, possibly due to Spain's neutrality and the infection of its monarch, King Alfonzo XIII) was also a zoonotic infection that is believed to have mutated from a benign seasonal flu into its pandemic form in the stygian conditions of the French trenches in World War I. The environmental stresses imposed upon the troops in the trenches allowed for the ready mutation and transmission of the disease. The British and French conscripted their troops across their empires so that men from all inhabited continents converged into the abysmal conditions of the trenches in which Allied Generals, looking at dry maps miles away, moved pieces on a board that resulted in the sacrifice of young men's lives, claiming in the interest of cloth, but one inch of mud. This Lost Generation inhabited the densely populated trenches where they were exposed to each other's foreign pathogens and the environmental stresses of the elements, poor diet and lack of sanitation including the proximity of live animals and corpses, the latter, which were in such abundance that rats left whole bodies untouched but for the liver. The constant stress of war, Owen Wilfred's "shrill demented choirs", gas attacks and injuries, provided ample opportunity for mutation and transmission. Men sick with human disease, made susceptible to such sickness from the squalid and stressful conditions they were thrust into, with lambasted immune systems, likely became sick with both a human and pig strain of flu providing the viruses a means to swamp genetic material, leading to H1N1. The vast majority of Persching's men, for instance, died from the Spanish flu. The troops that survived, carried the virus back with them to their respective homes all around the world and led to the pandemic that killed tens of millions on every inhabited continent in the world, despite the lack of mass international transit.

Our stratified societies, which cause crowded and unsanitary conditions for the poor amongst the globe and increasing displacement of populations from climate change and wars, is leading to large refugee populations interned in even more densely populated and unsanitary camps which provides fertile ground for the mutation and transmission of disease.

Environmental and public health are inseparable and public health is dependent on our weakest link. If we continue to impose continued exposure to pathogens on the working poor, diseases will continue to flourish and the next pandemic may be more virulent with a higher fatality rate. Thus, even those unpersuaded by the morality and justice of a more equitable system, may perhaps be persuaded that this is necessary for everyone's survival. It is for this reason that disease has been termed the "great equalizer" because in a pandemic everybody is vulnerable. We are all human and all susceptible to disease irrespective of our bank account, social stature or celebrity. Yet, it is our social stature that affects our exposure to disease as well as its affect- thus even if disease is a fervent proponent of equal opportunity we do not provide an equal reception to it. We are seeing this play out now. While we are all affected by the pandemic and the attendant imposition of quarantine throughout the globe, we are affected in unequal measure. This pandemic, as others before it, does not equalize, but rather exacerbates inequalities.

While some people can work from home, others cannot and will lose their livelihoods. Still others perform jobs in essential services that necessarily demands that they have direct contact with the infected (such as healthcare workers) or consistent contact with the potentially infected (such as public transportation workers or food delivery workers). Some people have cars, others are forced to commute in mass transit, increasing their exposure to the disease. Some people are quarantined in palatial estates with lush bucolic gardens and pools or have left their luxurious inner-city apartments for their country estates, able to practice social distancing with ease. Others are crammed in tiny crumbling apartments (what in real estate lingua would be described as "cosy" with "old world charm") in congested areas, increasing their exposure. Some do not have laundry and must balance social distancing with hygiene. Some people are forced to spend longer hours with their abusers, increasing their susceptibility to abuse. Still others are told to "stay in shelter" but have none or share toilets or water sources with their neighbours and are a forced to break quarantine, which in some places leads to fines and others incarceration, simply because they have to perform daily human functions to survive. Thus, the risk of exposure is not the same. Nor may the effect of infection be the same.

Not only do the working poor have more exposure to a pandemic but they are likely more vulnerable to its effects due to the consistent exposure to pathogens and environmental stress. COVID-19 fatality rate increases with age but also comorbidities, including chronic respiratory issues, hypertension and diabetes. Environmental factors, including political decisions relating to urban planning and industrial placement, combined with decreased access to healthcare and wholesome food, have contributed to these comorbidities in the poor. Louisiana is a fine (and shameful) example of how political decisions have led to deleterious impact on public health. The heavily polluted area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge has been termed "Cancer Alley" because of the abnormally high cancer rates in the communities – working class and predominantly of colour – that are forced to live among the highest concentration of industrial plants in the United States. In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency released the 2014 National Air Assessment in which the town of Reserve, Louisiana is noted to have numerous toxic chemicals in the air resulting in a cancer rate of 50 times the national average. Shockingly, rather than remedying this situation, more plants are set to begin production in the area and increase noxious emissions there. In Lowndes County, the state has abdicated its government function and failed to provide sanitation services leading to the incidence of hookworm, which if left untreated, leads to impaired cognitive function and fatigue in turn leading to impaired education and employment opportunity. Hookworm is both caused by and entrenches one in poverty (for a more detailed look at the shameful state of poverty across this "great" nation, listen to the interview with Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in "The American Illusion: Chained to Poverty in the Land of the Free").

COVID-19's fatality rate is based upon the existence of comorbidities which in turn are in part caused by environmental factors. Respiratory illness, hypertension and diabetes all have contributing environmental factors, such as living under air pollution, eating a poor diet and being denied proper and preventative healthcare in order to curb the onset of chronic conditions. A recent study by Yaron Ogen at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg shows correlation between exposure to nitrogen dioxide, which has a deleterious impact on the lungs and fatality from COVID-19. Out of 66 infected administrative regions throughout Italy, France, Spain and Germany, 78% of deaths occurred in the five most heavily polluted areas. In the United States, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles have high fatalities and also high air pollution comparative to other cities in the United States. This corresponds with studies of prior pandemics which found correlation between air pollution and increased fatality. Dr. Zuo-Fend Zhang from the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA, found that during the SARS epidemic in China, patients located in areas of high air pollution were twice as likely to die as patients located in areas with lower air pollution. A Cambridge University study found that there was an increased incidence of fatalities from the 1918 pandemic in coal burning areas. Locations with poor air and water quality are areas where the working poor live, and in the United States, this is also racially demarcated in practice,

with this environmental injustice imposed upon working class communities of colour. Numerous occupations across diverse industries cause various chronic lung conditions, including but not limited to miners, who are exposed to silica and coal dust, workers in aerospace exposed to beryllium and textile workers exposed to nylon fibers. Meatpacking workers hardly work in better conditions than those exposed by Uptown Sinclair in his brilliant and heart wrenching novel of the conditions endured by the largely immigrant workers of Chicago's meatpacking industry, The Jungle. In the United States, fatality rates from New York City show that the majority of deaths from COVID-19 are from poor parts of The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. As class and race intersect in the United States, black Americans are dying at much higher rates than their white counterparts, from NYC, to Chicago to New Orleans. For instance, in Louisiana, where black Americans make up 32% of the population, they make up 70% of COVID-19 fatalities. The Navajo nation has the third highest infection rates in the United States after New York and New Jersey despite mandatory lockdowns because of the poverty of its people (a poverty caused by the colonists' manifest destiny and the Federal government's current breaches of its treaty obligations), including congested living conditions, the absence of running water and electricity and chronic health conditions linked to environmental poverty markers, including diabetes, obesity, respiratory illness and heart disease. Socio-economic circumstances cause increased exposure to the disease as well as environmental markers of poverty that have caused comorbidities thus providing for a ready reception of the disease.

The pandemic is affecting people unequally and some, sometimes catastrophically. Our most vulnerable, people with health conditions outside of COVID-19, undergoing cancer treatment or with chronic conditions requiring consistent medical care such as dialysis, are not only more vulnerable to the infection itself, but may face problems from attendant diversion of resources and staff to fighting the pandemic. People are still giving birth, which has its own possible health complications which are now exacerbated. Women give birth without their birthing partners and those suspected of being infected must labour in masks. There are pregnant women working in essential services, including medical personnel and nursing home staff, who are still continuing to have contact with infected patients despite compromised immune systems and decreased lung capacity, which is shocking and shameful. Prisoners and immigrants in detention centres are at a heightened risk of COVID-19 both from its spread in its contained and concentrated environment and being immunocompromised due to the deleterious environmental conditions of prison, including the containment, concentration, poor diet, intense stress and inadequate access to medical care. In turn, prison and detention staff are at a higher risk of exposure to the pandemic. For instance, NYC has one of the highest rates of infection and Rikers had 7 times the infection rate of NYC.

Some people have lost their livelihoods and more than 36 million people have filed for unemployment in the United States since the various quarantines have been imposed (and this is likely to go well past 40 million). People that before were not even deemed employees, such as food delivery workers, have now been considered "essential" workers, which means they can continue to serve but they have not been provided any protection against their continued exposure to the virus (which makes one wonder whether "essential" is merely a euphemism for "expendable"?). Small businesses in the service industry that rely on physical contact and/or presence, including restaurants, bars, cafes, exercise studios, gyms, pools, yoga studios, hair salons, to name but a few have to pay payroll and rent without being able to provide services and generate income (and of course the burlesque of CARES has resulted in a myriad of businesses being denied the loans they desperately need to stay afloat). Some of these businesses are online and retaining some customers, but others, such as pools, rely on their custom to continue to pay membership fees without being able to utilize online services. Schoolchildren and university students have lost a whole semester of learning. Younger children in particular are forced to learn online with the help of their beleaguered parents of which the majority are without childcare and requested to juggle fulltime work and childcare from home. School closures and online teaching has exacerbated the inequalities of the student body. Some students only received fresh daily meals from their schools and do not have access to computers and the internet in order to utilize online classes and are drastically falling behind in their studies. School districts are attempting to curb this divide by continuing to provide meals for pickup and loaning computers to students in need, but this fails to address the needs of students that cannot pickup meals, because they don't have the means of private transport, nor does it address lack of internet services.

As school, work and even medical care goes online, people living in underserved communities that either do not have access to the internet at all or for instance, don't have sufficient speed to meet the increased domestic demand, when parents and their kids are all expected to be on various video conferencing platforms concomitantly. The pandemic is thus exposing and exacerbating the digital divide, with tens of millions of Americans left offline, impacting their current and future education and employment.

Women are disproportionally affected by the pandemic and inequalities may be exacerbated. According to the UNFP, women make up seventy percent of the world's health and social sector workforces. Women are thus disproportionality on the frontlines, as they work in medical, palliative and homecare environments, which provide increased exposure to the pandemic. They are also disproportionally in employment that cannot be performed online and are more economically vulnerable. Additionally, as both men and women who work full time are asked to perform their fulltime jobs concomitantly with full time childcare and homeschooling, partners may prioritize the job of the high earner, which continues to be for the majority of households around the world, the male's employment.

The exposure of this rampant inequality may however lead to a more equitable system. For one, while some are more exposed than others, in the end, there is a trickle up effect and everyone is exposed. If the people that grow your food and/or deliver your food are exposed, they can infect you. The person delivering your mail exposes themselves each day and by extension, may expose you. These people cannot practice social distancing. Nor can the people across the world that have no private access to water, a toilet or shelter.

We were already experiencing a global pandemic of mental illness and this pandemic is only exacerbating this. However, in a pathogenic society, where billions struggle to survive on a global level while others are running a gauntlet without cease until they expire, nobody is going to be mentally unscathed. Eric Fromm theorized that societies can be ill and that nobody in an insane society could be sane. Indeed, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and dementia have plagued society. Mental illness allows for the ready reception of physical illnesses, which exacerbates the effects of the mental illness and in turn that of the physical illnesses. Mental illness causes physical illness and schizophrenia has been linked to bacterial infection (so that we should treat these diseases with antibiotics rather than anti-psychotics). Poor stomatic health is in turn linked to lifestyle and access to healthcare. Mental and physical health are determinates of each other, patients with mental illness have two to three times higher the mortality and morbidity rates. There is pervasive malaise in our society that at times turns, clinical. Many of us wonder whether there is another realm of reality that we cannot perceive yet have some visceral sense of. This turns many to institutionalized religion, others to the thought that perhaps we are merely code in some future simulation. Perhaps the feeling that we live in some superficial environment and yearn for "reality" is the unconscious understanding that we have constructed a mediated world of mediated relations and our wish to break free from the social realities we have incarcerated ourselves in.

This current pandemic is exposing our policy failures. While it may be logically circumspect to argue that simply because something occurred it was therefore inevitable and obvious, the world's virologists and epidemiologists have been sounding alarms that we needed to prepare for a pandemic and this pandemic's consequences are exposing how woefully inadequate our public health and socio-economic policies are. Numerous countries have found themselves with inadequate medical equipment and personal protective equipment, which has led to a catastrophic and inexcusable number of deaths of patients, doctors and nurses. This is the result of policy choices that used public funds elsewhere, including subsidizing polluting industries that cause more stress on stripped healthcare services. If we cannot protect the people that serve to protect us, who can we protect? Several nations are struggling because of austerity measures imposed while others, like Iran and Cuba are enduring the epidemic under economic sanctions that cripple their capacity to address the pandemic (while Cuba, admirably, nevertheless has sent its doctors around the world, including in Italy in international solidarity). This underscores the injustice and inutility of these policies in the first place. Austerity is purportedly meant to bootstrap these failing economies but leaves them even more battered, while sanctions are meant to achieve regime change even though they have shown repeatedly that they do the obverse. The cruelty of sanctions fortifies a dictatorship's hold over its people by exposing Western hypocrisy which in turn can be utilized in the service of the dictatorship's propaganda. How did denying proper medical care to millions of Iraqi children serve to protect the world's security interests? How is compromising Iran's response to COVID-19 aiding the world's security interests now?

Then there is the recognized problem of infection throughout the prison system and its spill-over into the general population from staff and visitors. In the United States, numerous states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons are scrambling to prevent COVID-19's spread throughout the various systems by accelerating decarceration- too little, too late. Many people are imprisoned in remand, awaiting trail,

due to discriminatory bail policies that require payment and stable residency, thus incarcerating people for being poor (and this is also overt, as many American cities have criminalized homelessness). Other people are incarcerated because they have accepted plea bargains in fear of the draconian minimum terms they face, others because they live in over-policed neighbourhoods and are charged for crimes that many people commit in the privacy of their own homes away from the police (such as drug use). Most prisoners are thus caged by and in poverty. Labor protections are not applicable in prison and provide labour that is not subject to minimum wages and overtime, mandated breaks, occupational health and safety regulations nor maximum hours and is contracted out in service to private entities by UNICOR. These labor unicorns are exploited by fashion and other industries, including military contractors, that deceptively parade that they are making "U.S." goods which consumers may likely mistake as the company supporting rather than under-cutting the U.S. workforce. Prisoners working for the military and defense contractors not only assemble missiles but decontaminate tanks from combat without sufficient protective gear to protect against the toxic chemicals that they are exposed to, including depleted uranium. Understanding the ripple effect of a pandemic and the wider dissemination in the community from a prison epidemic, numerous systems are letting people go but without any resources so that they are essentially being dumped to fend for themselves on the street. To make matters worse, the police are continuing to arrest people and retain them in jail. The NYPD is aggressively policing (non-white) New York, ostensibly to ensure social distancing, while not practicing social distancing themselves. These policies make no sense and one may wonder whether it's stupidity or something more sinister at work, as older, high risk prisoners are being dumped onto the streets while younger people are being brought in to the prison system to endure more time in remand as courts are adjourned, to preserve the prison labour force (for a look at the injustices of our criminal law system and how it is pervaded by institutional discrimination and serves to entrench inequality, listen to the interviews, "Stifling Dissent: Activism Between the Stick and Slap" with Rachel Meeropol, "Bars to Chance: A Nation Caged Under a Criminal Justice System Without Justice" with Nazgol Ghandnoosh, "Innocence Inviolate: The Menace of the Years" with Lisa Starr and Todd Fries and "Juvenile Injustice: How the Juvenile Justice System Reproduces and Entrenches Inequality" with Marsha Levick) .

COVID-19 will catastrophically impact the poorest countries in the world which health systems are ill- equipped to deal with the crisis and which have vulnerable populations due to the prevalence of chronic environmental conditions and malnutrition. In prior epidemics, including of Ebola, survival was correlated with a person's preceding nutritional status. Hence malnutrition increases the risk of fatality which is exacerbated by the fact that malnutrition exists in countries where healthcare capacity is significantly strained. In Yemen, the brutal civil war, in which the Saudi and Emirati coalition forces, supported by the US and the UK, have attacked civilians, hospitals, water facilities, mosques and UNESCO world heritage sites, less than half the hospitals are functional. The UN has termed the malnutrition and cholera epidemic in Yemen as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. COVID-19 has started to spread in Yemen and the results could well be stygian (for a detailed look at the consequences of the conflict in Yemen, listen to Radhya Al-Mutawakel's interview "A People Fracutured: Shells, Strikes and Starvation in Yemen").

In addition, the economic effects of the pandemic will exacerbate food insecurity around the world. Before COVID-19 became a pandemic, David Beasley, the Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Program, informed the U.N. Security Council that 2020 would be the worst food security crisis we have endured around the globe since World War II due to environmental instability including the effects of natural disasters as well as continuing armed conflict. Countries hit hardest include Yemen  and Syria, the latter being a decade long conflict which was in large part caused by the environmental conditions of severe drought that brought farmers to the city in search of non-existent work leading to protest and brutal government opposition and finally, the enduring war (in no small part as a result of upstream Turkey's Greater Anatolia Project with its 22 reservoirs and 19 hydro-electric projects decreasing and polluting flow downstream). The UNFD has opined that the pandemic will exacerbate the food insecurity of millions around the globe and will lead to a famine of "biblical proportions" due to decreased humanitarian aid, loss of tourism and price collapses of exported commodities (for instance, the negative price of oil, which at first blush may appear as a dream for a greener future, has the potential to cause great instability, and in countries such as South Sudan where 99% of exports are from oil, may be horrific).

Refugees in congested camps are inherently vulnerable to the pandemic and its effects, not only because they live in such congested circumstances that there is little possibility in adequate or any social distancing and rife transmission but due to inadequate health services and the risk that states will reduce humanitarian aid for refugees and close their borders to asylum thus rendering whole populations imprisoned in pestilent purgatory.

The Gaza Strip, which conditions have long been a humanitarian crisis and a cause of world shame, in which nearly two million people have been congested in 365 sq. km. in environmentally dangerous conditions, with contaminated water and an inadequate sanitation system and has been under a blockade by Israel since 2007.  More than 80% of the population rely on humanitarian aid and residents rely on permits for entry into Israel to secure adequate medical care as the Strip has grossly inadequate health services with only 2,500 beds. There have already been confirmed infections but even if Israel allowed all the infected to seek medical care in Israel, this may not be enough because Israel does not have sufficient health resources for even its own population. Israel must not allow its blockade to prevent adequate medical supplies and other necessities to get to the Palestinian population (for a detailed look at the situation in the Occupied Territories, listen to the interview "In Exile at Home: Fifty Years of Human Rights Abuses in the Occupied Territories" with Amit Gilutz).

Compound extremes will affect us all and in particular those that inhabit areas at the frontline of the environmental crisis. Stochastic events, which climate change has increased the rate and intensity of, are not impeded by this pandemic. We are entering flood and tornado season and will head into fire and hurricane season. To "flatten the curve" we are told to stay in shelter and practice social distancing but how are we meant to do this in the event of a natural disaster that may take our home? Natural disasters cause people to lose their homes and when this occurs, people are temporarily placed in communal shelters and such communal surroundings are rife for viral transmission. We need to be planning for mitigating the effects of as well as adapting to compound extremes and existential threats, such as the eruption of super volcanoes. While it's impractical to have, say Londoners and New Yorkers plan for mega-tsunamis from a Plinian eruption of Cumbre Vieja, not having an intergovernmental policy group in place to address this issue may result in the needless loss of whole cities or much worse.

It's time to question our misplaced policies that do not serve the public and perhaps, a time to unravel the great Ponzi scheme that is our society.One cannot tout that people are poor or unemployed by their own doing when the means of their employment is forbidden. Hence, there is a putative rescue, albeit it serves corporate interests more than the working poor. Something needed to be seen to be done. As David Hume theorized, each ruling class is numerically inferior to the subjected class and reliant on segments of the subjected class for their protection, which requires social consent of their rule through the achievement of a conforming hegemony. Our society has steadily grown more unequal. This is in part due to globalization. As Karl Marx presciently theorized in Grundrisse, an international system will lead to less protections of workers as they will no longer need to be paid enough for disposable income in order to buy the products they make (the capitalism espoused by Ford and his theory of mass production and consumption). However, he did not predict the change from the industrial phase of the economy to the information age, which has developed automation which in the next coming decades will eviscerate a substantial segment of jobs throughout numerous industries and the attendant need for the mining of more behavioural data in order to augment and perfect artificial intelligence. This has catalyzed the movement for a Universal Basic Income from both the right and the left. On the former side, this would serve as a counter-revolutionary need as well as "grow the economy" as if it were a plant one had to nurture as opposed to our social structure and mode of production, which means increasing the profits of those that benefit from the social relations we have created. Aggregate demand has been slumping, hurting the economy and economists tend to agree that the economy relies on people spending money, but if people don't have enough for necessities, how are they going to splurge to keep the economy going? The answer lies in an affordable UBI which will pacify the population and increase demand to churn further production and profit.

Even Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, the great libertarians, were in favour of UBI understanding its counter-revolutionary arsenal. Some may argue this stance is hypocritical, but then libertarianism as a political philosophy is logically fallacious.  The linchpin of the so-called "free" society espoused by libertarians, including Robert Nozick and Milton Friedman, is security. Libertarians claim that taxation is tantamount to forced labour, because people do not receive the full fruit of their labour (under the thinking that in their system the market would dictate the true "full" price of everyone's labour). They proffer a society in which there is no government, but rather essential services such as garbage disposal, fire-fighting and notably, policing, would be performed by private companies. No one will be forced to pay for these services, but if they refuse to pay, they will also not be "protected" which is merely a different shade of the mafia, camorra, ‘nd'gharata, yakuza etc or whatever is your local flavour.  As companies are jurisdictional creatures and as in these free societies, people will continue to do business with each other and gain and hold private property, there is a necessity for a quasi-legal system of private arbitrators to settle disputes. Of course, settlement means nothing without enforcement, so private arbitrators would have their own security forces to enforce their decisions. As some of these security syndicates will indubitably be more efficient in their enforcement methods than others, libertarians admit this would tend toward a natural monopoly. Security for some, means violence for others. Thus, the "free" society envisioned by libertarians is one that is held together by violence.

Slavoj Žizek has analyzed how physical violence linked to an identifiable perpetrator is easily understood as violence but the structural violence of our economies and societies, which Zizek terms "systemic violence" (and others term "institutional violence"), in which some are sacrificed for others, is not apparent or easily able to be addressed. For instance, it is violent to throw a rock at an unoccupied car or other piece of property, but the system of repression in which some are born without the means to access the nutrition, medicine, nurture and education they require, perhaps the reason for the protesting throw, is not.

Structural violence does not require bombs nor bullets to subjugate and it is thus more powerful, particularly because for one to rebel against a power, one must first recognize it. It is the structural violence of subject positioning both on a global and domestic level that has led to the current pandemic. Our rapacious economy is the real pathogen. It has resulted in the environmental stresses for zoonotic transmission of the virus and its current communication. Public health, both physical and mental, requires that we dismantle what Paul Farmer termed "pathologies of power" that dominate and subjugate us. It doesn't serve to personally attack billionaires for instance, they are as much moulded by the system as the people that are struggling to survive. Some people indeed are fervent impact investors and use their money to help others. This is at once admirable as also worrying, for if we truly want to live in a democracy, it should not be up to such private individuals to dictate what problems should be tackled and how. We need a new positive conception of rights which takes into account capacity and effectuation, both at the practical level and with respect to access to the courts. Otherwise rights are just words on paper. Worse, they operate to entrench subject positioning.

For instance, the 6th Amendment, espoused domestically and across the world as the crux of the US criminal system, in effect operates as a "trial penalty" leading to 99% of cases being pleaded out. This in turn, as Michelle Alexander has so luminously laid out in her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, leads to conviction rates that then allow for legal discrimination and entrenchment of subject positioning of the convicted person. The First Amendment appears laudable at first blush but its jurisprudence is a trample of other rights in support of social stratification and commercial exploitation, including protecting commercial speech and with it direct to consumer drug advertising, hate speech and unlimited money in elections.  The Fourth Amendment has been nullified by our ready use of third-party platforms which surveil and store our data for exploitation in predictive behavior markets, which in turn allows a court to impute that we have no reasonable expectation to privacy and allows the government to access this information. Our system is inherently flawed as imposing meditation of equal abstract rights onto a socially stratified society merely entrenches inequality and subject positioning within it.

Aristotle, who lived in a democracy in which the demos was a small section of the population (excluding for instances the enslaved and all women, who were silent and veiled), theorized that you cannot have political equality without economic equality. The two are inseparable. The fault of our current rights' regime is the fallacious conception of a dichotomy between justiciable negative rights enforced against the state and non-justiciable programmatic social and economic aspirations not considered rights. We are not disembodied rational actors acting in a vacuum and to impose a neutral, de-contextualized system of justiciability and violation is anything but neutral. For neutrality imposed on intersecting inequalities of income, race and sex that in turn operate and exacerbate each other, entrenches and fortifies the inequalities and inequities in society. If we are all entitled to life, liberty and dignity, then why do we neglect people to live on the streets? Where is dignity without breakfast? Empty liberty is but a word. If we have a right to liberty, then it is freedom to do something.

Isiah Berlin's fallacious conception of liberty informs and governs our rights' regime. Under Berlin's thesis, the enemy of liberty was the state, thus the system of rights functions as system limiting state incursion. True rights are "negative" rights preventing the state from imposing its will. This allows for rampant abuse by private actors amongst each other. It also establishes a fallacious positive/negative distinction. Under Berlin's conception of liberty, you cannot be physically forced to dig a hole by a gun to your head. Digging a hole under the compulsion of hunger, which is also a physical force, is however not an infringement of your liberty. If we craft digging a hole under compulsion of hunger as a choice one has made, then presumably, there are other choices available, yet we understand that many people have no choice but to perform the jobs that they do (or cannot find any jobs at all). This goes back to our inability to recognize structural violence. In the first scenario, we have a definitive actor that is threatening force. In the second scenario, the violence is structural and therefore not recognized.

The distinction between economic and social rights on the one hand and civil and political rights on the other, is a fallacious dichotomy, with the refusal to recognize the former, eviscerating the putatively legal regime of the latter. Economic and social rights do not exist in a vacuum, just as they inform social and political rights, they are determinatives of each other. For instance, the right to sanitation, housing, food and education, in turn, inform and govern our health. We are told that "health" is too complex to be justiciable. Indeed, it is complex because it pervades all our policies, from urban planning, to energy, to education, the economy, our criminal justice system and environmental policy. Public health is the linchpin and determinative of all effective public policy for the social good and it is necessary that we look through each policy imitative through its lens and ask how will this affect the public's health, both mental and physical? We need to the political will to make these necessary decisions. This also includes legislating for access to healthcare for everyone, both for treatments and for preventative healthcare, including yearly checkups, or appropriate shorter terms for those in risk groups. Many countries around the world already provide for this to their citizens. For those that only see policy in monetary terms, the American way is as grossly inefficient as amoral. We spend more on healthcare than other countries but cannot provide healthcare for our people. Rather than provide for better access to housing, we have criminalized homelessness, even though prisons are more expensive than subsiding or providing affordable housing, and this conviction for homelessness in turn prevents people accessing government subsided housing (for a look across the United States at laws criminalizing homelessness and food sharing, listen to Eric Tar's interview "Housing Not Handcuffs, recorded a few years before Eric argued Boise v. Martin 920 F.3d 584 (9th Cir. 2019), the en banc decision which the Supreme Court denied certiorari last year that rightly holds that it violates the 8th Amendment to criminalize people from sleeping in public places if they have no other choice, propelling a  proposal in California's senate to make housing a constitutional right in the state).

The great myth is that economic and social rights can only come in the form of a repressive, all- encompassing government such as the Stalinist state with its NKVD and that we must give up civil and political rights in order to obtain a solid social net for everyone. In the United States, "socialism" is equated in the political mindset as the subversion of the individual. These "conservatives" who are opposed to "big government" are however, rather in favor of big military budgets, subsidizing polluters and bringing the government into the bedroom. They are also the greatest proponents of the most egregious threats to individualism by planning to eviscerate social programs that prevent choice and autonomy for people, thus preventing them the ability to individualize. The United States, the land of the "free" which has the highest rates of incarceration in the world, high rates of maternal and infant mortality, shocking underemployment and stunted social mobility, there is little choice for the majority of the population. For every Oprah, there are millions that will spend their whole lives struggling to survive day by day (in fact the system requires an Oprah to perpetuate the myth that if she can do it and you can't, it's because of your own faults, not your social predicament, so you must work harder). For those that have sufficient material conditions to be able to individualize, they are socially constructed and rather individualized by insidious cultural forces that divert and distract them, moulding them into ready subjects of power with created desires that entrench the status quo.

The theorists of the Frankfurt School, including Louis Althusser, Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse have well explicated how we are not individuals but rather individualized by the cultural forces around us so that what is political is understood as natural and immutable – and thus not politically challenged. Our desires are informed by insidious cultural forces that divert and distract us from political unity and change. Guy Debord's La Société du Spectacle was prescient in its depiction of our current society in which we mediate our relations through reproductions of ourselves, meticulously constructing the appearance of a life lived rather than directly living it and having personal relations. People tend to organize their lives and attend events so that they take images of themselves at these and it this reproduction, this image that is vital, rather than the actual experience, even though the experience is nullified by its reproduction. How many parents have videotaped their children's performance and watched them solely through the camera lens?

When our desires are constructed, so is our desire for revolt which desire tends to fuel cultural production and imagery which serve to reinforce our existing power structures by diverting dissent into entrenchment activities. Capitalism is a medium of relations, not a message and subverting or demistifying its message, to be sold and consumed through capital exchange, merely supports the system by on the one hand, diverting dissent to activities that do not threaten the system and on the other, perpetuating the very exchange that solidifies it. The fetish of the message fortifies the medium. Perhaps nobody put it more succinctly than Gil Scott-Heron- "the revolution will not be televised".

 Shoshana Zubanoff has meticulously explicated in her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power how we have been turned into raw resources for extraction of our data, or "behavioural surplus", not only for advertising and the construction of artificial intelligence but for governing our actions and informing our desires (has Google, for instance, ever asked you to develop its machine intelligence by ostensible security questions that require photographic subject identification?). We are living in Gilles Deleuze's sociétie de contrôle, in which we are constantly surveilled and modulated, "dividuals" lacking direction and decision but not being able to perceive the snake that coils around us. We live in subservience to our "online" images, in search of "likes" and in that process spend our disposable time and income to the achievement of this imposed goal so that we do not question whether this is a goal that serves us or is even our own. Zubanoff's prescient analysis of this new mode of production, that of the incessant extraction of our data, combined with automation (which is the real reason jobs are dwindling in industry and agriculture, not because of immigration, which debate between the Republican and Democratic parties seemed to entrench a policy paradigm so that nobody would question the acceleration of automation which it appears the major political parties have little answers for and understand doesn't serve the polarizing function of immigration in an election year) is leading to new economic relations. The call for UBI, which will likely occur, is in service to the new mode of production which requires people to have some disposable income and time to have the internet and use various applications and platforms for the ready extraction of their data. It also serves to pacify the population. You get free money to watch movies and post on Instagram and Twitter – what else do you want?

Other people are shackled by "golden handcuffs" in which they receive quite decent renumeration but in exchange give up their lives for it, living to work rather than working to live in a toxic corporate culture. Individualism requires choice and autonomy, otherwise we are merely bees in a hive, working for the Queen and she in turn, is subjected to recursive reproduction on behalf of the colony.

The atrophied, apocryphal democracy of the United States is a great example that representative democracy is merely a representation of democracy. People perceive the current administration is somehow diametrically opposed to the previous administration. Yet it is merely the rapid escalation of neoliberal policies. Obama was a charmer, but a progressive he was not. Trump simply did away with the masquerade, perhaps because he lacks the ability to perform it. People were appalled by Trump's use of psychographics, but Obama did it first. People love to hate Trump. To some extent this is a great failing because we fail to perceive the structural elements that are at work, including how a failed real estate mogul turned TV reality star could win an election. The two-party system has established a political paradigm. Carter, for instance, is accepted as being diametrically opposed to Raegan. Yet it was Carter that began rampant deregulation in the United States that Raegan continued with a vengeance and it was Carter that propped up the brutal dictatorship of the Shah, that led to the Islamic revolution in Iran. Clinton ramped up incarceration, slashed welfare, continued sanctions on various countries that denied vital medical aid, including Iraq and committed war crimes by bombarding civilian populations, including with cluster bombs that are indiscriminate and usually lead to the fatalities of children. By limiting electoral choice to two parties, the system sets the paradigm of debate and political contestability.

The constitution provides cadaverous civil and political rights that are eviscerated by economic and cultural subject positioning. Millions of people are legally disenfranchised because they have been convicted of a crime (and which due to prevalence of plea bargains they may even be innocent of), millions more are effectively disenfranchised by gerrymandering laws, including the old trick of utilizing populations ineligible to vote (such as prisoners) to prop up electorates (just as people forced into slavery were counted as 3/5 of a person so that the South could get more electoral clout without having to give people their freedom) which serve to disenfranchise the poor communities, and even more so poor black communities. Thus, as Michelle Alexander pointed out, black Americans were denied the vote because they were enslaved, then because of invidious polling taxes and other determinatives that were designed as and effectively served as instruments of disenfranchisement and now insidious seemingly race-neutral conviction disqualifications and identification barriers. Same emperor, different clothes.

Corporations have lobbied Congress and achieved subsidies and deregulation. Unlimited amounts of money have been poured into the coffers of electoral candidates that pursue policies favourable to their backers. And there is the revolving door. How can our regulators effectively regulate companies that they later want to be employed by? These are impediments to effective regulation and have led to politicians championing self-regulation, which is akin to having a doctor that doesn't believe in medicine in care of your health.As the Constitution only regulates the government's powers, the government has found a loophole in utilizing private industry to achieve what it could not. Zubanoff illustrates how Congressional impetus towards privacy restrictions was shunted by the attack on September 11, 2001 when the U.S. government realized they could partner with Silicon Valley to gain information that they otherwise were prevented from constitutionally obtaining on their own, with the CIA funding several Silicon Valley startups. This election cycle has concentrated on our privacy incursions by Big Tech, yet the pandemic has lulled these for we have a newfound need for Silicon Valley for contact tracing. Admittedly the genius contact tracing being developed by Google and Apple appears to be respectful of privacy, not merely because it will be opt-in but because it doesn't track an individual's location. However, one may wonder whether this is a diversionary tactic, a means to obtain political goodwill and/or another acculturation, for what cannot be achieved in one fell swoop can be achieved incrementally – are we frogs in the pot?

Our current rights' regime is the result of a particular tension in the mode of production in which the mercantile class realized its power and wanted to establish both the right of property as paramount to protect its interests as well as dismantle the old aristocratic system. Hence, the rights are civil and political, meant to curb the power of the monarchy in the social and economic interest of the mercantile class. Americans tout their revolution as one of democracy, but the intent of the revolution was merely to establish a republic to protect the system of unequal property, which in 1776, included the de jure ownership of people. The founding fathers grappled with the problem of universal (male) suffrage and repeated the arguments made famous by the Putney debates in 1647, in which the Levellers argued for universal suffrage and Oliver Cromwell argued against it, fearing it would lead to the dismantlement of private property. Why would men, being in the majority, not dismantle a system that subjugates them? James Madison theorized that factionalism, including religious differences, would ensure that the lower classes would not attain a majority and he was right. In the United States, a racial bridge between the white poor and the white upper classes has allowed for a racial politics in which the black poor continue to be more intensely subjugated while the white and black poor fail to see their respective material interest in collective action (as the venerable Martin Luther King Jnr. was bent on revealing when he was assassinated to become a martyr of civil rights). This is simply the old adage of divide and conquer.

As Marx theorized, the granting of abstract equal rights upon a socially stratified society entrenched inequality in actuality. Property was withdrawn from the suffrage as it was withdrawn from the political "public" sphere and into the realm of the "private", economic sphere, which is a fetishization of space that we accept as natural and informs our actions within them. The legal geography of the international space mirrors its municipal realm and is structured to impose and entrench subject positioning (listen to Rachel López's interview "Grit and Gravity in International Law"). International law has its origins in colonization, developing rules to justify the conquest and genocide of whole civilizations, for silver and gold in South America, rubber in the Congo and oil in the Middle East and demarcate the various exploits between the European powers (establishing borders that had little to do with the cultural differentiation of the subject communities and everything to do with the Europeans' demarcation of resources between them). When the League was established, mandate systems were put in place to continue colonization's claws and when independence movements finally gained legal independence for their states, the international sphere was bifurcated into "public" and "private" spaces to ensure that the colonial powers continued to have control over their resources under a legal logic in which the colonized people had made enforceable and purely commercial contracts for corporations to come in and plunder them. Bondage continued under new institutions of debt for development of economies in the image of the colonizers, who were now termed "peace keepers" and "capacity builders" and when the rules of trade, written by the powerful states to serve their own interests (such as the protection of agricultural subsidies), resulted in inadequate payments, Structural Adjustment Policies were imposed, denying people basic necessities and contributing to civil unrest. The rule of law on both the municipal and international law fronts, has been the rule of force in masquerade.

Our space is socially structured, reified by cultural abstractions and we and our desires, are constructed within it. It is a distinct and continuing human trait that we allow abstract concepts that we have created to inform and govern our actions. People speak of the "market" for instance as if it has a life of its own rather than simply being a politically defined space of social relations that we have created and thus, have the power to change. This fetish of projecting mystical direction upon what exists merely through our continued interpellation of its supposed qualities provides the very structure of our society with its abstract entities, institutions, and spaces. It is through this mediation and the reification of our roles that we perpetuate injustice against each other. The head of one country is entrusted only to care for his or her own citizenry and in this protective role, implements policies that imperil the citizens of other countries. The head of a corporation must make decisions to improve shareholder value and employment and environmental policies are structured in subservience to this aim. The jurisprudential creature of the corporation is the mechanism par excellence of mediated relations by which we have absolved its members of personal responsibility and codified psychopathy as not only a good but a duty.  What we would never do person to person, we commit against each other when we reify ourselves into these roles. The sin qua non of our maladies has been mediation or rather depersonalization, "it's nothing personal, it's just business" has been a pernicious philosophy that has mired millions in misery. The only way to a just society is to have more personal and less mediated relations.

Sigmund Freud theorized that the evils of World War I occurred because of civilization's repression of our natural sexual and aggressive instincts. Yet the massacre was caused and perpetuated by the power politics of an extended family that had come to own all of Europe (leading to the British royals deciding that their anti-German propaganda would be better served under the name Windsor, discarding their Germanic name, the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) and the mechanics of bureaucracy. An arms race, a system of alliances, railway timetables for mobilization and military theory, primarily German's Schlieffen plan from 1905 which dictated that in any perceived threat of war by France and Russia it had to strike a fast blow at France first through Belgium, as well detailed by the famous historian AJP Taylor, is what led to the First World War, not the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, which merely precipitated these events when the expiring empire of Austria (its wane so wonderfully and comically detailed by Robert Musil in the first part of his genius and unfinished magnum opus, The Man Without Qualities) decided it had to invade Serbia for its perceived obstinance. The men that were sent to the trenches were informed the war would be quick and that they would be home by Christmas. Historians debate whether the apocryphal soccer game between French and German soldiers in the no-man's land between their trenches on Christmas Day, 1914, occurred. However, there are primary sources attesting to fraternization, dairy entries and photographs of French and German soldiers sharing their cigarettes. Perhaps the game stands as a good allegory for a soldier's part in the war, conscripted, following the rules of the game, to be momentarily in competition with the other team. Yet the horrors of war change people. It is not surprising that this fraternization was early in the war and that it did not occur later once the soldiers reified the opposing side as their nemesis, whom they perceived imposed them to suffer through their stygian circumstance, rather than their own Generals.

The horrors of World War II and of the Shoah, are less horrors of brutality unleashed than depersonalization, the absolute denial of people's humanity. "Evil" doesn't aptly connote the surgical sadism employed by the Nazis for their methodical murders, meticulously noting in precise detail the personal belongings and characteristics of people that they killed as if it were a mechanical exercise. People stripped of their identities, their communities, their relationships, their belongings taken, even the gold in their teeth - and meticulously calculated while identification as if they were property and not people, inked into their veins. Crimes against humanity were committed in service to mathematical formulas that were dictated by hands that signed papers signaling souls as mere numbers. For instance, under Unternehmen Strafgericht (Operation Punishment), in occupied Yugoslavia, the Nazi formula for addressing a resistance in an attempt to quash further mutiny was simple mathematics. Fifty people were to be killed for every German injury and one hundred people killed for every German fatality in any Partisan action. In the town of Kragujevac on Monday, October 21, 1941, the Nazi quota in exacting punishment for Partisan persistence was 2,300 deaths. In the service of one equation, having more people to murder in order to achieve it, the Nazis permanently interrupted a school and shot everyone in the football field (the setting of Desana Maskimovic's Krvava Bajka (Bloody Fable)). Hannah Arendt well describes the "holes of oblivion" of Eichmann and his counterparts – he was an opportunist, a paper pusher, a rule follower, one that that even dared to defend his duty as a Kantian exercise when he participated in one of the most egregious violations of Kant's categorical imperative. Torture and mass murder were effectuated by bureaucracy and to its apparatchiks, banal work.

King Leopold II was also merely performing business when he killed ten to fifteen million Congolese in his holocaust which for him was merely the business of obtaining rubber. Villages in the inaptly named "Congo Free State" were set rubber quotas that if unfulfilled were tied to various listed punishments, including arson, rape and amputation. As Mark Twain's brilliant soliloquy of the king exclaimed in his ironic apologia "circumstances make this discipline necessary", that of increasing the King's coffers. The rest was just business.

It was also business when the CIA carried out a coup d'etat in Guatemala to overthrow the democratically elected social democrat Jacobo Árbenz Guzman which began a civil war ending in the dictatorship of Carlos Castillo Armas and successive brutal regimes. In this case it was a problem of bananas. Facing rampant poverty and illiteracy, Árbenz passed Decree 900 which expropriated large tracts of uncultivated land as well as forcing a buy-out of the United Fruit Company's banana fields. Árbenz's compensation matched the United Fruit Company's stated land value, but in an effort to pay less tax to Guatemala, the company's accountants had severely understated its land's value which provided the company a great grievance. The United States purportedly was running on its "domino theory" which later led this arsenal of democracy to invade Vietnam to prevent democratic national elections under which the national hero against the French colonialists, Uncle Ho, was fated to win, in order to support Diem's southern corrupt dictatorship where he was attacking Buddhists (the self-immolation of one Buddhist in protest being one of the more known photographs of the 20th century), in usurping Arbenz. However, the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, CIA Director, Allen Dulles, both had ties to United Fruit and had sat on its board. They took umbrage at this attack on their bananas, and ensured that while successive dictators brutalized the locals and committed genocide against the native Mayans, the bananas and the profits of United Fruit, would remain unscathed.

It's just business when Nestlé and Cargill buy chocolate from farms in Côte d'Ivoire that use forced child labour (to learn more on this travesty and the court case, listen to Gravity's interview "Chained to Chocolate: Child Slavery in the Cacao Industry" with Terry Collingsworth under the Alien Tort Statute) It's just business when farms throughout the United States use child labour, due to the agricultural exception under the Fair Labor Standards Act (listen to Zama Neff's interview, "Of Strawberries, Cigarettes and Sorrow: The Prevalence of Children Laboring in Our Fields"), which, along with the exclusion of domestic workers, was a holdout by Southern Democrats to retain the indenture of black Americans under Jim Crow, as they were mostly employed in the agricultural and domestic sectors (this racial animus makes this exclusion unconstitutional).

"It's just business" may seem like there is nothing personal, but the very decision to decide that one's impact on other people and the planet is not something to concern oneself with, is a decision one has personally made. If we can't justify our actions eye to eye, then we should not be able to justify them on paper. To paraphrase a quote attributed to Stalin, who directed more people die in World War II than even Hitler, "one person dead is a tragedy, one million dead is a statistic". It is depersonalization, not our animal instincts, that has mired us in misery and the path out is more personal relations. The paper is signed and the order is executed by its working hands, for as Dylan Thomas best expressed, they lack "tears to flow". It is only hands that Dr. Seuss illustrates to represent the Once-ler and his family that are enslaved to "biggering" their Thneed fabrication, polluting the environment to such an extent that they destroy the natural habitat of all the animals that live there and in the end even destroy their own business, for they cut down every single one of the Truffula trees- claiming all the while to the Lorax that it's not personal, just business – and business needs to "bigger". All but profit have become mere externalities, which is a severely misanthropic (whether realized or not) and myopic perspective.

Hence, while there is much criticism of our society as too focused on the individual and not enough on society, it appears the exact opposite is true. The etymology of "individual" is instructive as it comes from the Latin individuus meaning "indivisible". We are geared towards continuous divisions of ourselves as we dissect ourselves into diverse roles that we then distance from in order to deflect accountability.  We are "divuduals", not merely because we are meticulously monitored and modulated, but perpetually parceled. Progressive politics is thus not merely an exercise in creating common spaces between the "self" and the "other" but the nurturing of an internal holistic and indivisible space in which we face the "other" in ourselves.

Depersonalization is what fuels and entrenches the structural violence in our societies which effects are no different than physical violence. In David Graeber's view, structural violence should be understood not as the effects of exploitation but of the constant, insidious and subdued- but nevertheless very real- threat of physical violence. Take the issue of consent with respect to the police asking to inspect your backpack (and concomitantly ponder that over-policed neighbourhoods are overwhelmingly working class black neighbourhoods where this is a common occurrence). If you refuse consent, you fortify the police's suspicion and this may lead to the use of physical force upon you – what we understand as violence. If you provide consent, then you have abdicated your Fourth Amendment right from unreasonable searches and seizures and cannot contest the search. Yet the consent was provided under the threat of physical force, which in reality is no consent at all but is not recognized as such legally. On the international plane, self-determination and democracy are allowed so long as the decolonized don't ungraciously vote for leaders that will put these policies into effect but simply continue their subjugation in different fashion under a different cloth. Just ask Patrice Lumumba or Salvador Guillermo Allende Gossens, two amongst many leaders that put their people in front of Western corporations' coffers. Of course, you can't, because they were assassinated precisely to be silenced, well before their time.

Graeber also analyzed how the abstract quality of structural violence allows for a diffusion of accountability. Mediation is the sin qua non of diffusing accountability, which in turn allows for the ultimate rejection of responsibility. The etymology of the word "bureaucracy" is instructive. It is the Anglicization of the French bureaucratie which literally translates to office power or rather table power, bureau being the French word for "office" as the bureau was the office desk, with drawers (with the term then also used for a dresser) and the French suffix in turn developed from the ancient Greek suffix kratia, in turn developed from the ancient Greek kratos (kράτος), meaning power. There is no humanity in bureaucracy which seeks merely to compartmentalize complex contextualities into conforming schematics. You are but a file to be placed in the appropriate drawer in the desk. This process effects a dual dehumanization, both of the person governed, who becomes a mere statistic as well as the person at the desk who is so obliterated by their environment that they are reduced to a desk, the carcass of what was once a living being. This reduction of humanity to mere equations is being escalated by the imposition of supposedly neutral algorithms that however will serve only to entrench and fortify existing power structures by perpetuating systemic and institutional prejudices via, for instance, selection bias producing confirmation bias and a consequent feedback loop. In predictive policing, for instance, this merely results in the over-policing of already over-policed communities. The seeming neutrality of the algorithm combined with its lack of transparency, as it is owned by private entities that secure their profits through the protection of their trade secrets, further diffuses accountability – the algorithm has calculated – emboldening our current power structures in what Cathy O'Neil has termed "weapons of math destruction" (for how this exacerbates discriminatory policing listen to the interview with Kristian Lum and William Isaac "Bytes on the Beat: How Predictive Analytics Amplifies Discriminatory Police Practices").

Garry Kasparov, the grand chess master that lost to Deep Blue on May 11, 1997, once quipped that automation should be hardly a surprise because we have been training people to work as machines and machines are better at being machines than humans. Automation exacerbates our mediated affairs. It also allows for unprecedented surveillance; a Panopticon such that Jeremy Bentham, and even the NKVD and the Stasi could only marvel at. Private entities and in the turn the government have access to our location, the news we read, the products we buy, the public image we display on various sites to our friends and acquaintances, the private messages we send our friends and family, our family videos and photos and even data that we do not know about, including our heart rate. Numerous households have invited Google or Amazon to their homes to be able to be privy to their most intimate details for the sake of convenience. We are told that these devices only "switch" on if they hear you call their name, but they must be listening in the first place- to everything- to be able to be activated. The other eve, in discussing the death of privacy with my husband and the possibility of Trump utilizing the pandemic to create chaos and a power vacuum to usurp power, Siri woke up and said "I couldn't hear you quite clearly. Can you repeat that?" Which made us pause, even though Apple products putatively retain your information on their devices only. "Smart" appliances certainly have their positive effects, for instance, a device measuring your heart rate can discern when you are about to have a stroke or heart attack before you are consciously aware of it and perhaps may even call the ambulance so that you can get timely care at the hospital. However, the more information you give up about yourself and the more your outsource your decisions, for instance, a "smart" fridge which can tell you when you are running out of necessities, or instantly calculating and supplementing inventory – perhaps doing so from businesses which are co-owned by the same company – the more information you give these parties for persuading you to buy more from them.

First, our choices are confined, then they are defined. In using more and more devices for "convenience" to calculate and implement what we could easily do, we are losing our ability to do these tasks. A recent study by Amir-Homayoun Javadi has shown that utilizing GPS rather than our own spatial memory is resulting in a decreased hippocampus, which use may be protective against Alzheimer's disease. Anyone who has spoken another language knows that your brain continually needs to train, if you don't use it, you lose it and a language you were once fluent in, not spoken for years may lead to a sputter and smatter of sentences that you can only cringe at. Simply put, we are exchanging intelligence for convenience and in the end that is hardly convenient and entrenches obedience.

This prison with its bars of bytes and bits is one that we have putatively consented to in the United States (of course in some states the government openly surveilles its population and uses the surveillance as a means to imprison human rights activists, listen to Scott Gilmore's interview "Bytes With Teeth: the Digital Dangers of Repression and Resistance"). Yet I haven't met one human, including lawyers, that have actually read the terms of privacy for the various sites and applications they use. After all, everyone can discern these are unilateral agreements and that there is no ability to negotiate its terms (so much so for the fact that contracts are meant to be a meeting of the minds). There is always the choice of not using a service, but the time saving factor for many services – a created need from the fact that the vast majority of people work long hours – tends to be primary. We are also being acculturated to accept constant surveillance as something inevitable and therefore something that cannot be changed nor questioned. Zubanoff well analyzes how when acculturation has not worked as fast as companies have liked, they have turned to work uses, where employees are forced to utilize these "convenient" surveillance devices that once accepted as routine in the workforce can mission creep into the domestic realm. Acculturation also needs to target the young. In watching one of my kids' favourite shows, Space Racers, I was initially shocked to watch a scene in which the computer informs one of the main characters that she is always listening to them, even during their "private" and "embarrassing" moments and that the character's response was but a shrug of acknowledgement – of course that's the way things are. It couldn't be any other way. When discussing the incursion of our privacy, I've noticed that many of my friends that justify having Alexa/Echo or Google Home devices do so in exactly the same way, bringing up two reasons, one of convenience, they work hard and manage multiple children. Anything that makes life easier is accepted. Second, they point out they have nothing to hide. This justification is said without a hint of insinuation that anybody that chooses not have a surveillance device in their home has something to hide, but I wonder at what point this is going to change and it's going to appear at least a little suspect that you have chosen not to open up your home, your car and the internal workings of your body to constant surveillance. In such a state, there is no need for a secret police, because we police ourselves, becoming self-correcting subjects conforming to the norm, including using and buying surveillance devices to show we are not a threat and have nothing to hide.

Michel Foucault paraphrased Carl von Clausewitz when he stated "society is the continuation of war by other means" understanding that power is not static or spatial but a relation between people that is inherently fluid and productive. Foucault analyzed how power creates resistance, for it creates the desire for the ruled to rebel against their rulers. It also renders the relationship inherently vulnerable and creates an anxiety in power for at any moment, subjects may rebel. This in turn produces a need to discipline the subjects of power, including through demarcation, surveillance and the production of desire, to render them docile and rationalize their subjugation.

Frantz Fanon and Wendy Brown have analyzed how the historically and politically contingent production of inherently referential, reflexive and hierarchical identities entrenches the social architecture by creating a divisive polity, in which people's non-material interests are in competition preventing what has been termed "class consciousness" but can simply be termed common interest. Subjects perceive their positioning to be due to identity which produces a desire to overcome this injury that reinforces subject positioning. For instance, Brown wrote that the struggle for marriage equality entrenched the institution of marriage. Fanon wrote how the subject of race, which is a social construction (think of the fluidity of the racial class "white" which for instance, did not include the Irish, until relatively recently), desires to overcome this subjugation and can thereby become the perfect subject of capital. However, merely because identities are social constructions and thus are a product of our social relations, does not mean that they do not operate over social relations. Rather, identities are both produced by and produce social relations to demarcate and divide the polity. They have real consequences. Recently, in California, a police officer beat a fourteen-year-old boy. The police officer was white, the boy was black. This would be abhorrent whatever the race of the police officer and the boy, yet we don't hear of black police officers physically assaulting young white boys and we hear a barrage of brutality in which white police officers beat and murder black people, including children. Across the country, in Georgia, Ahmaud Arbery, a twenty-five year old young man was murdered by two strangers while out on a jog. The gun-toting strangers are white, Ahmaud, black, and it appears his murderers assumed that a young black man running through the nieghbourhood must have been running because he committed crimes that they had apparently heard occurred in the area and took it upon themselves to detain him. Such a deplorable assumption and its worse consequence, the cold-blooded murder of a young man, evince how the social construction of race and its consequent subject positioning continues to pervade and pervert the American polity.

Subjugation occurs in a multi-faceted form in which each socially constructed identity imposed upon a person intersects and exacerbates the others, what Kimberlé Crenshaw termed "complexities of compoundness".  In order to adequately address and redress the consequences of discrimination in our society, we must understand and confront structural intersectionality. Take the issue of sex discrimination. All women may experience sex discrimination in its numerous forms but where and how they are discriminated and the consequences of that discrimination operate differently and entrench the hierarchies within the "female" subject. Take for example, the issue of abortion. If we viewed this through the sexism lens alone, as a means for men to control the bodies of women, we fail to address the fact that these restrictions, including the targeted restrictions of abortion providers, operate to effectively deny these to poor women. Roe v. Wade 410 U.S. 113 (1971) was unfortunately decided as a matter or privacy, rather than equality, allowing for the Hyde amendment to be quickly inserted to prevent federal funding for Medicaid for abortions. This restriction was relaxed slightly in 1994 to allow for abortions on Medicaid when the procedure is immediately necessary to save the mother's life or in the event of the pregnancy resulting from incest or rape. Hence, access to a constitutional right depends on one's economic stance. It is also important to note that women denied under the Hyde amendment are disproportionately black (30% of Medicaid enrollees) and Latina (24% of Medicaid enrollees). Abortion, thus, cannot be effectively analyzed and redressed without analyzing the structural intersectionality of class and race.

Abortion is not a sui generis example, but rather, an example of the normal operations of the intersectional operation of the structures of subjugation. The effects of the pandemic fall within this paradigm, disproportionally affecting women of colour, with black and Latine (I agree with Terry Blas this is a much better gender-neutral neologism than the lingual ligature of "Latinx") women both due to their race and ethnicity.

Communities of colour have a higher incidence of infection and mortality, including due to higher rates of employment in "essential services" and pre-existing health disparities, including the higher incidence of chronic conditions and decreased access to healthcare. Black and Latine communities are also disproportionally being policed under the lockdown. A recent report in ProPublica stated that in New York City, 68% people arrested have been black but black people only make up 24.3% of the population. The article quoted the Brooklyn DA's released statistics of arrests through May 4 for violation of the lockdown, as published by ProPublica, and out of 40 people arrested, 35 were black, 4 were defined as Hispanic and 1 was white. This is not an isolated example but is the norm. For instance, in Toledo, Ohio, where black people comprise 27% of the population, they comprised 78% of arrests – but not one white armed protestor has been arrested. Hence, the effects of the virus, the lockdown and the policing of the lockdown disproportionally affect communities of colour.

Women, and in turn women of colour, disproportionally work in health care and social services, including childcare, which have been deemed essential industries and which therefore impose a higher risk of exposure to the virus, with women of colour disproportionally represented comprising 30.3% of workers. Women, and in turn women of colour, disproportionally worked in affected industries and lost their employment – women account for 53.8% of workers in food services and accommodation industries and women of colour are disproportionally represented comprising 24.3% of the workforce. The increased risk of exposure to the virus and its economic effects is compounded by the economic and familial situation of women of colour who are disproportionally the breadwinners of their families, with 67.5% of black women being the primary earner in their families and 41.4% of Latinas according to data analyzed by the Center for Progress from the U.S. Census Bureau of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This financial vulnerability is compounded by the fact that women of colour earn the lowest wages and have the lowest amount of savings and net worth. School closures have in turn compounded this as women are forced to home school or find childcare while somehow maintaining their family's income. Additionally, with millions of out of work and looking for employment post-pandemic and decreased jobs on the market, women of colour may face discrimination in finding new employment.

Intersectional redress is thus a necessity. However, it is not sufficient. While classical Marxist theory has lost much its utility (including because there is more of a heterotopia respecting class, with people able to be both "upper" and "working" class, both the oppressor and the oppressed at the same time), its resounding impact and continued relevance is the understanding that the mode of economic relations is the base of a society and that the superstructure, what we may term our law, culture, religion and politics, is subject to service of the base. Put simply, we cannot have non-exploitative social relations if labour relations continue to be exploitative for it is the demands of the latter that produce the demarcations of social division and hierarchy. Identity as a polarizing and positioning classification can be seen by consistency in the boundaries speaking to a history of subjugation or dominance. Why should not my interest in abstract art and absurdist literature not demarcate my identity rather than my race, ethnicity, sex, gender and sexual orientation? Why should not someone's proclivity to gymnastics be their identity? This is because "identity" says little about the individual compared to what it speaks socially – to be identified and compartmentalized in the pecking order.

Stavros Stavrides in his thoughtful book The City of Thresholds points out that identities, which express, diffract and conceal social relations must of necessity require distance. The "other" is necessarily foreign. Familiarity breeds intimacy and denies the Manichean distinction between the "self" and the "other". Yet Stavrides warns that the dissolution of the "other" can lead to homogeneity, with the "other" being subsumed into the prior dominant demarcation. Intimacy warrants some space. The etymology of "familiarity" is instructive on this point, for it derives from the Latin familia meaning the household, which is in turn derived from the Latin famulus, meaning servant. A homogenous culture will necessarily be stunted and less rich of human experience and may deny individual growth. We need to creative spaces of conversation which allows us to develop concomitantly as individuals and as a community.

For years, I've been infatuated, thanks in no small part to the legendary Goran Bregović (whom I have introduced to my various neighbours in gradients of gratitude and grimace) with "Bella Ciao" la celebre canzone della resistenza. Perhaps it has a visceral allure due to my childhood indoctrination in which I would sing songs against fascism in preschool, smrt fašizmu/I sloboda narodu death to fascim/freedom to the people. Perhaps because unlike the more lugubrious partisan songs, such as "Non ti recordi mamma quella notte", beautiful in their melodies and in the truth of their tragedies, it has an easily accessible and energized beat. A bandiera for diverse progressive movements. There are versions in multiple languages, including by Chia Madani and even recently in English by the legendary Tom Waits. Its origins are virulently disputed by ethnomusicologists, with some theorizing it was a post-war construct. Whatever its origins, it has a lasting enchantment over the progressive movement and continues to be current, from the Kurdish struggle to the Movimento delle Sardine in Emilia-Romagna. One origin theory, whatever its veracity, is instructive. This theory is that the partigiani utilized a song composed by female labourers in the rice fields. Whatever the chronology and association of the two songs, one is a song by a partigiano, the other is a song delle mondine– one against fascism, the other against back-breaking, soul-stifling and little paid rice weeding women, whom dealt with the dual persecution of being poor and female. The themes of the songs are merely gradients on a plane, for fascism is capitalism on steroids, with both denying people's humanity in the service of their interest.

Fascism has been a word that has come back in vogue, yet historians have not been able to construct a firm ideology. The Axis powers all had their distinct versions of fascist regimes and the term fascismo was constructed by Mussolini, who was at first putatively a socialist and the editor of Avanti! but ever a political opportunist, to denote the fasces from Ancient Rome. It originates from the Latin fascis, meaning "bundle" for the bundle of sticks and axe that was a metonym to denote the power of the Roman magistrates who just like most things that we perceive as quintessentially Roman was taken from somewhere else (even the Romans realize this for in their mythology, their father is a Trojan and their mother is a Latin), in this case purportedly from the Etruscans. The only things fascism in all its variants has in common are the political use of unmasked force, consequent jingoist foreign policy and production on steroids. Before its darkness was revealed by Italian planes gassing villages in Ethiopia, people would marvel that trains in Italy ran on time. People were expected not to question and to labour. "Work shall set you free" seems like a fitting slogan for the ills of capitalism and its discontents. It is also the slogan that marked the entrance to Auschwitz and other concentration camps, Arbeit Macht Frei. Capitalism is fascism in masquerade and fascism is simply capitalism donning a black shirt and taking out the club.

Fascism feeds off and requires social and economic rest which is a prerequisite for it in order to reconstruct social values to its form. Throughout history people have been drawn to "extreme" politics during extreme economic turmoil. In July 1932, for instance, hyper-inflation and its dire consequences led to the Nazi and the Communist parties having the most votes in the Weimar election, (with the Nazis, albeit having more votes, unable to form a majority via the election alone). The confusion and disturbance we are experiencing now is rife for such elements – and this is not a perversion of capitalism but its natural, unimpeded progression. Fascism still requires the consent of the majority – through active or silent complicity. Will the pandemic be our Reichstag fire?

It is instructive to note that capitalism has always been a pejorative word to criticize liberal-bourgeois economic relations (its proponents tend to use terms such as "free market economics" which readily obfuscates the fact that markets are constructed spaces and not a natural environment) and presupposes a system of exploitation in which the few enjoy wealth that creates more wealth on the labour of others, who are denied the means to enjoy the wealth they produce and is geared towards creating artificial demand for recursive production. The etymology is from the Latin capitalis, meaning head and later property, with the French version being chatel and in English becoming "chattel", which was used to denote personal property, including slaves. The United States, the quintessential capitalist state, became an imperial power due both to its aggression outside its borders as well as its oppression of people within its borders, including its profit from cotton from the labour of generations of people enslaved and then indentured, even under a constitution which paraded that all men were free and equal. Much has been written on the fact that de jure emancipation was eviscerated by the express exception of criminal conviction in the Thirteenth Amendment. People convicted of even petty crimes could not afford the array of fines that were levied on them for utilizing the justice system, were sentenced to imprisonment and leased out for hard labour to corporations, including to work in mines. The end of slavery brought about mass incarceration. Today, people are jailed under penal codes that deny bail without payment of a fee and that impose punishment as either a fine to be paid or imprisonment, which imprisons those that cannot pay. Same emperor, different clothes.

Yet there is also something else striking expressed in the Thirteenth Amendment. It expressly excepts "voluntary servitude". Nobody can be compelled to work. Yet, there is no need to compel somebody to do something by law that they are forced to do in practice. People that received de jure emancipation in the South had to eat and freedom didn't come with bread, let alone forty acres and a mule. As equals before the law, the emancipated slaves owning nothing and their former plantation-owning masters,

entered into contracts of "voluntary servitude". These sharecropping contracts were for a pittance and allowed the free and equal labourer to take an advance which he was compelled to do under misfortunates of weather to survive which mired people in debt to their former "owners" and was thus no different in practice than slavery. The Anti-Peonage Act of 1867, passed under the enforcement power of the Thirteenth Amendment, rightly prohibited this vassalage. However, Southern states which economies were dependent on this cheap labour found new creative loopholes, including "criminal sureties" in which black men were cited for petty crimes the fines for which their employers paid and for which they had to work to pay off the debt or be subject to yet another criminal penalty – perpetuating a cycle of servitude. In U.S. v. Reynolds 235 U.S. 133 (1914) the Supreme Court rightly held that these criminal surety contracts are a form of debt peonage violated the Anti-Peonage Act of 1867 and the Thirteenth Amendment. The crux of the question presented according to Justice Day, who wrote the majority opinion, was that the labour was performed "under such coercion as to become a compulsory service" [emphasis mine]. And herein lies the quintessential contradiction in our system.  The law constantly has to walk a tightrope between on the one hand recognizing and ameliorating the worst effects of the contextual coercion of our economic system that subverts and perverts our laws in practice and concomitantly deny that coercion is a visceral and inextricable part of our economic system. For "voluntary servitude" is oxymoronic. This inherent contradiction is what props up our economic system in which people work to survive by menial labour, expose themselves to pathogens and carcinogens and take out usurious pay-day loans. It's also why there's a constant battle over the counters of coercion in the courts. Debt bondage was recognized as unconstitutional, but are not payday loans a form of debt peonage? The counters of coercion respecting the provision of capital and imposition of debt can be tested but never invalidated in court. Debt bondage is unconstitutional yet criminal fines, cash bonds system and imprisonment for contempt of court abound. People that can't pay their insurmountable pay-day loans or medical debts can be imprisoned for not showing up to court for breaching their obligations and as these are civil charges, do not have the right to representation under the 6th Amendment.

The inherent contradiction between liberal democracy and capitalism and its continuing tension is evinced by self-effacing clauses present in the constitutions of liberal democracies in which exigent circumstances that threaten the social order allow for derogation of citizens' rights.

 While in liberal theory, the raison d'etre of the state is the mediation of its citizens' rights and the citizenry is sovereign, the inherent derogation clauses in times of emergency, which include public rebellion, evidences that the true power of this polity lies not in the public, but in those who decide the exception. Gorgio Agamen has well detailed and analyzed that all human rights instruments and historically, the constitutions of all liberal democracies, contain express derogation and deviation clauses in their constitutions in times of emergency and have been repeatedly enacted such that the exception has become part of the normal political paradigm. The most notorious example is Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution which allowed Hitler, utilizing the Reichstag fire to label his main opposition, the Communist Party, as a national security threat to enact the Enabling Act and with it to dismantle the Reichstag and assume dictatorial power. International and regional human rights instruments, with the sole of exception of the African Charter (which however expressly allows for limitations of rights to such an extent that the absence of derogation is moot) expressly include derogation in times of proclaimed public emergency which threaten the state. Article 4 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights allows for derogation as well as expressly limits the derogation outlining numerous non-derogable rights under Article 4 (2). In a public emergency the government may not arbitrarily deprive people of their life, torture them, enslave them, imprison them for failure to pay contractual obligations, remove their right of recognition before the law and prohibit the right of thought, conscience and religion. The latter right however, under Article 18, is already sufficiently limited to render its non-derogation moot, for the right to thought or faith are under Article 18 (3) limited by the law and as necessary to "protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others", which necessarily would be further limited in a state of public emergency. Despite the politics of Carl Schmitt, who utilized his legal theories as an apologia for the Nazi state and died unrepentant, his analysis that sovereignty lies in the ability to decide the exception, is infallible.  The state of exception allowing for the decimation and derogation of rights is decided by the state on behalf of its compelling interest to continue its rule. Agamen's historical detail evinces that the state of exception, also termed as an emergency decree or the state of siege, has been readily utilized by governments to suspend liberties in times of both war and economic crisis. The inherent and express derogations in liberal constitutions evince that there is no effective sovereignty by the people under political systems that deny the people the power to participate in government. When those in power equate their political preservation in the state interest, l'état c'est moi, they utilize the state of exception to indefinitely preserve their power.

While most people do not think that the Queen is in practice wielding power over her dominions, the constitutions of the Commonwealth provide for reserve royal power. This "royal prerogative" which is of nebulous expanse, is the sovereign power that can be utilized by the Commonwealth to wield emergency powers and even suspend parliament and call for elections to suspend a troublemaking Prime Minister, as was the case of Australian Prime Minister's Gough Whitlam's demise in 1975. The Republic of the United States of America hardly fares better. The very first article of the United States Constitution expressly suspends habeas corpus in cases of "rebellion" or "invasion". Moreover, and perhaps more surreptitiously, is the terming of what should be an inalienable right as a "privilege" – it is but a definition, but in law, definition is everything. American jurisprudence has been a history of the encroachment of the executive on Montesquieu's balance of power between the three government arms, including with the development of the political question doctrine in which certain decisions of national security and foreign policy are deemed to be non-justiciable (because one can never challenge executive discretion, only executive power). National security has been utilized to curb constitutional rights, including the First Amendment's right to free association which is the sin qua non of the polity. Widespread limitations on the Communist Party during the Cold War continue, including preventing naturalization of Communist Party members (those that have been naturalized may remember that during their green card and naturalization interviews they were asked whether they are or were members of the Communist Party) and state laws, such as in California, where joining the Communist Party subjects one to dismissal from state employment. In United States v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258 (1967), in which the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of an indictment on First Amendment grounds, Chief Justice Warren stated that the government could not use its war power to indiscriminately penalize all forms of association with groups linked to Communist "action" and stated that it would be "ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of…freedom of association- which makes the defense of the nation worthwhile". In his dissent in Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), which dealt with an American born citizen of Japanese ancestry who refused to leave his residence in San Leandro and go to an internment camp, Justice Jackson, who would later prosecute the Nuremberg defendants, noted that the judiciary's rationalization of a military order during an emergency as conforming to the Constitution "for all time has validated the principle" behind the order, in that instance, outward racial discrimination. Jackson warned "the principle then lies about like a loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need. Every repetition imbeds {sic} that principle more deeply in our law and thinking and expands it to new purposes". U.S. Presidents from Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, to Woodrow Wilson in World War I, to Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II and the Great Depression to George W. Bush have commandeered their authority as the Commander in Chief to utilize war powers and abrogate rights. The U.S.A. Patriot Act, which as Gore Vidal well pointed out that time, was hardly written in the few weeks after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 but was laying in waiting for an opportune moment, was passed into law- with none of our representatives having read it- as an exception during "the war against terror". Except that such an amorphous enemy allows for its ready continuation. While set to expire on December 31, 2005, it is still law. It has become normalized.

The pandemic is a public emergency and an opportune time for further abrogation of our rights under emergency decrees that once accepted may become the new norm. The plenary police power of states is above all, the power to protect public health and impose quarantine. Foucault beings his chapter on Panopticism relating the confinement of a plague- stricken town, the surveillance and confinement of its citizens the par excellence of disciplinary government. In these exigent circumstances, most of us understand and agree to greater government control to protect the public's health. Yet while exigent circumstances may warrant emergency powers, we run the risk of these emergency powers being normalized. Rights once given up are harder to regain. We adjust to the new normal and habituate to horror. My cousin joked that we could be like the protagonists of Kusterica's masterpiece Underground, being told the virus or some other virus is out there for years to come, warranting our continued social distancing and in some states, martial law.

We are already seeing how the pandemic is providing opportunists to push through and cement their puissance. Hungary's Viktor Orban swiftly cemented his rule by emergency decree to remain undisturbed as long as the pandemic continues, which it appears will continue as long as he is of the opinion it does. There will be no elections and "fake news", for instance, one may suppose an article that the pandemic has ended and thus his plenary powers, will be punishable by 5 years' imprisonment. The Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte also wider powers to attack people spreading "fake news" over a country under lockdown and people seemingly violating the lockdown are shot in the street.  COVID-19 is another elixir for the modern Lazarus, Benjamin Netanyahu, whose political career somehow never dies. Even amongst a failed election and corruption charges, he nevertheless continues to be Prime Minister under what Haaretz has described as an "alliance of scoundrels" that seek to pervert Israeli democracy (does anyone really see Netanyahu rotating the office to Benny Gantz in 18 months?). Netanyahu utilized the pandemic to shut down the economy and all non-essential court proceedings on the cusp of his criminal trial, which included his own corruption trial, which is now scheduled for May 24, but may be delayed again. Israeli Supreme Court did not take lightly Netanyahu's deployment of the ISA, or Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence agency for surveillance of the population for contact tracing and ordered the government to cease surveillance on April 30 but as surveillance of the population also entrenches Netanyahu's power, it is unlikely this will in actuality stop and that legislation will be enacted to let it continue in conformity with a legal loophole in the court order. Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India and the former Chief Minister of Gujarat, who in 2002 stood by heinous unspeakable crimes perpetuated against the Muslim community, notified the people of India at 8 pm on March 24 that a strict lockdown would go into effect at midnight. This caught millions of migrant workers with no shelter in the cities with no choice but to walk home, many brutalized by the police and some stopped from entering their home states due to border shutdowns. While the federal and state governments have vociferously denied this claim, there are reports that a government hospital in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, is segregating Muslim and Hindu patients  while there is rampant vilification of Muslims, with "CoronaJihad" trending on Twitter, a boycott of Muslim food stalls in Uttar Pradesh with a militant Hindu group, the RSS, strong-arming Hindu sellers to hoist a saffron flag to be easily identifiable and violent attacks on Muslims, under the guise of causing and spreading the virus in India.

In the United States, the Clown in Chief, has declared numerous times he is a "war time" President and that we are waging war against the virus. Our kakistocractic government is  commandeering the President's Commander in Chief authority and his non-justiciable powers that are deemed "political" and not subject to judicial review. In late March of this year, the Justice Department was already exploring the constitutionality of deeming the virus an "invasion" to allow the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. One wonders whether the attacks on the accuracy of mail-in voting (which 13 states including California allow routinely with no necessity for an excuse) and the concomitant decimation of USPS (which relies on its sales to stay afloat and has not received government funding in years) are connected in an effort to delegitimize the results fearing Biden's victory. Or perhaps the intent is to delay the election – something only Congress can do- ostensibly to protect the public health in an effort to create utter chaos? It would be catastrophic because whatever the result, there is no clear constitutional answer which would delegitimize the acting government, perhaps paralyze it and such internecine rivalries may in turn further delay holding elections – or worse.

Under Article II Section 1 Clause 6 the U.S. Constitution allows Congress to make laws regarding succession in the event that the President and Vice President cannot serve. The current law in effect is the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 which provides for the Speaker of the House to act as President. However, particularly in our politically polarized environment, Nancy Pelosi has two issues. The first is that many constitutional scholars argue that the Presidential Succession Act is unconstitutional. There are numerous arguments as to why, including that it violates the incompatibility clause under Article I, Section 6, paragraph 2, clause 2 which prohibits a person from simultaneously holding offices in both the executive and legislative branches. There is also the argument that the succession clause which allows for Congress to make laws for an "officer" only means a person holding an office of the executive branch (the prior Succession Act of 1886 did just that), for instance, the Secretary of State. The other issue Nancy Pelosi will have is that if there is no election, she will not be an officer at all as her term expires at noon on January 3, 2021 (this is however unlikely to occur as California has routine mail voting, albeit perhaps she will not be elected). So while one can argue that Nancy will not be in breach of the incompatibility clause, her appointment would be in breach of the succession clause as she will not be an officer. Setting aside issues with the incompatibility clause, the next person in line would be the president pro tempore of the Senate, currently held by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa who is not up for reelection. However, the post is chosen by Senators and has customarily been the most senior person (in terms of their senate posts) in the majority party. More Republican senators are up for election this year than Democratic senators, which may result in Timothy Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, being the current senate president pro tempore emeritus (a recent ceremonial position of the most senior member of the minority party having previously been a president pro tempore) – which of course, is subject to legitimacy arguments on numerous levels. If the election is not delayed, but only some states vote, neither Biden nor Trump may achieve sufficient votes in the electoral college or they may, but the other side will protest the legitimacy due to the fact that not all states participated. The Supreme Court would again have to resolve the legality as it did in Bush v. Gore 531 U.S. 98 (2000) but in this more polarized environment, one wonders whether its decision will be accepted as legitimate or may lead to perilous polarizing politics. We are nearing what may be in plain terms, a constitutional clusterfuck.

Chaos and calamity provide fertile ground for seismic social shifts. Naomi Klein's seminal work on the shock doctrine years ago is instructive. When there is collective shock, whether from a natural disaster or war, companies have used this distraction for massive privatization and reallocation projects. Pandemics are the perfect disaster for such pernicious policies. Not only are we distracted, struggling whether financially or compelled to work as an essential worker with no protection and wondering whether showing up to work to survive is a death sentence or even balancing being a full-time employee and parent at home, but we are forbidden to associate and protest.

The Big Grab is already occurring. The CARES Act was purportedly meant to support small businesses with less than five hundred employees but provided an exception for restaurants and hotels (an industry in which the President has numerous assets), which was readily utilized by large and public companies, for instance Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and Shake Shack (which took and then under public pressure returned $20 million and $10 million respectively). Without proper management of loan applications to businesses that were struggling to stay afloat due to the pandemic and could not find financing, numerous biotech companies for which the pandemic is providing a catalyst for growth applied for and received what may be essentially free public money money in order to grow their business, rather than stay afloat and thereby decrease the pot for businesses in dire need. Other profitable companies applied for "small business" payment protection programs, such as the LA Lakers, that employs around 300 people and received a $4.6 million loan (they returned this money after purportedly discovering that the funds had run out). The second round of funding crashed the system on Monday as nearly 30 million businesses applied for loans. If anyone knows a small business, they would likely hear that they the owners have spent hours trying to apply for loans and have received numerous emails notifying them of the receipt of the application without receiving the processing of their application and the required funds. Most small businesses that are on the brink of bankruptcy require emergency injections in the tens of thousands rather than the millions and needed these funds – yesterday. One wonders whether processing loans through the SBA is a means to appear as if something is being done, without actually doing what is needed. Surely there was a more efficient method but then efficiency depends on your intent.

The economic rescue package that purportedly is aimed to help businesses that have been impacted by the current pandemic has snuck in large tax breaks, estimated at $179 billion, which are not specifically aimed at the small businesses that are trying to survive the crisis but large businesses, including the undoing of numerous limitations in the tax breaks of 2017. Public Citizen and The Intercept has documented how the lobbyists in D.C. are now lobbying to ensure that in a new relief package the trade associations they work for are allowed payroll protection, including lobbyists of the fossil fuels industry. In addition, the Fed has announced a revamped financing program which would allow the fossil fuels industry to borrow money at low rates and refinance their debts and thus support an industry that we should be focused on supplanting. It is little surprise that Ted Cruz, the Republican Senator from Texas (and the prior Attorney General for the state who whilst in office thought it was wise to spend state funds on litigating to prevent the sale of sex toys) has been pushing this agenda.

While Trump vacillated over using the Defense Production Act to produce personal protective equipment and ventilators, he wasted no time in utilizing the Defense Production Act to keep meat processing facilities open that were going to close because of outbreaks in the workforce. Even worse, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued non-binding guidelines for worker safety while informing the meat processers that it will not penalize them for breaching occupational health and safety regulations if they were breached because they were "not feasible". That is an utter abdication of its role, following the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA's memo on March 26 notified the public and industry of its retroactive policy effective from March 13, with respect to the its enforcement discretion during the exigent circumstances of the pandemic, including under-staffing of its regulated entities. The EPA considers the current pandemic a force majeure and will not penalize entities for failure to provide integrity testing and compliance reporting if the failure was due to documented under-staffing. The memo does not apply to court enforced consent decrees but the EPA has stated that defendant entities should provide force majeure notices and consequently will not oppose any such claim made by a defendant for lack of compliance. This is not a carte blanche respecting pollution, but the relaxation of standards may encourage entities to not comply when they otherwise would have. A precautionary approach may have been a lock-down of non-necessary industry. The most worrisome part of the memo however is the lack of a definitive temporal period. While we do not know how long the exigent circumstances will continue, clear time-lines for reviewing the continued application of the policy rather than the establishment of a new policy that will be in effect indefinitely until further notice was warranted to ensure strict temporal and application limits. These indefinite exigent policies can become the new normal – which would be calamitous.

California's Geologic and Energy Management Division, which mandate is to protect public and environmental health in its oversight of the oil, natural gas and geothermal industries issued 24 permits for fracking on April 3, after Governor Newsom, quietly, ended the moratorium on fracking in our state in early March.

A number of U.S. states, including Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia are shamelessly utilizing the pandemic to elevate their fight against women's reproductive rights claiming the right to terminate is an "elective procedure". This imperils the mental and physical health of women that are forced to seek later term abortions. Unfortunately, the 5th Circuit has recently- and wrongly- upheld the Texas ban (which applies to all chemical and procedural abortions not necessary to immediately protect the life of the mother) (for more information on abortion restrictions in the United States listen to the interview "Gone With the Wind: Reproductive Rights in Retreat" with Jill E. Adams and Melissa Mikesell).

Perhaps one of the worst examples of utilizing the distraction of the pandemic has been by Alberta's Premier, Jason Kenney, the former Immigration Minister under the Harper government, to pass legislative amendments to deregulate the oil and gas industry. Reporting and monitoring requirements have been suspended, workers in the industry have been deemed "essential" and new and publicly disfavoured pipelines are being constructed. Kenney has been so brazen to even use Federal money meant for pandemic relief to subsidize the industry, including an investment of $1.5 billion in the Keystone XL pipeline, which is environmentally disastrous (for more information on the Alberta tar sands and its impact on the environment and indigenous communities, listen to the interview with Robert Janes and Karey Brooks, "A Crude Affair in Canada: The Alberta Tar Sands and First Nations").

The most foretelling, however, may be Andrew Cuomo's big power grab in New York. Cuomo, who acted too late in New York but due to Trump's farcical "leadership" has witnessed his popularity rise even for calls for him to run for President, utilized the pandemic to hold the New York Senate hostage by declaring he would shut the government down, including the Department of Health, if his budget on back-room deals was not approved. The new budget signed into law by Cuomo on April 3 provides Cuomo power to slash the budget from once a year to any time during the year and rolls-back much needed- and public approved -  bail reforms which eliminated the cash requirement for bail for most offences (in other words the requirement that keeps people in jail for being poor). While New Yorkers are understandably panicked under the pandemonium and peril of the pandemic, Cuomo has provided New Yorkers with what Naomi Klein, writing for The Intercept, has termed a "Screen New Deal" in which New York's public education system is set go online and public health moves to telehealth, increasing inequities due to the continued prevalence of the digital divide and increasing surveillance of the population. New York's civic life is being remodeled with partnerships with Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet owned company. Big Tech was already signifying to us that the technological future they had envisioned was manifest destiny and the pandemic has provided the perfect precipitant for it.

Technology has no intrinsic qualities. It is what we make it. We can use artificial intelligence to print new organs and provide clean energy or we can use it for control, surveillance and war. In the late 19th century, railroads between states were hailed a miracle and this new connection between people was deemed to mean the end of war. Instead, the Kingdom of Prussia utilized railroads effectively to bring France to heel and allowed Otto von Bismarck to declare a German Empire in la galerie des Glaces at Versailles, deeply humiliating the French (so much so that the French ensured that the Germans signed the armistice of World War I, agreeing to reparations, in the same salon). It is not technology that needs to be changed or its development stopped, but its control. It should be remembered that the Luddites were not protesting technology on any other grounds but the insecurity of their employment. In the coming years, tens of millions of people- if not much more- around the world will have their jobs automated. This is not necessarily bad. After all, if a factory job can be done by a machine, perhaps it was never meant to be performed by human day in and day out who yearns viscerally for creative stimulation and development. Automation only becomes an issue if it denies the people that used to be employed, employment rather than offering an opportunity to do something that is stimulating for the individual and productive for the social good.

Cash has been slowly receding in commerce and this pandemic may provide the catalyst for its final curtain call. If this occurs, the anonymity of cash exchange will not exist which has certain social benefits but of course leads to greater surveillance. It will also exacerbate inequality. In 2017, I noticed that a few cafes, restaurants, bars and food trucks were going cashless in San Francisco and New York City (where the same locales refused to accept anything but cash until recently). In 2018, cashless custom spread like a contagion in these cities and indubitably in others. Now, shopping with masks without disposable bags, all our local shops have gone cashless and I doubt that they will return to accepting cash. While the government has to accept all legal forms of money, including cash, private businesses, if they have legitimate businesses reasons, can limit what they accept. There are certainly legitimate reasons to go cash free. It's more hygienic, its more secure for the owners as all money in and out is documented and its more secure for the workers as there is no target cash-register for robberies but it also denies people who are deemed undesirable custom, service. Not everyone has access to a credit card or even a bank account, yet these people may at times have enough cash to splurge on a morning latte – but will not be able to do so because no business will take their money and allow them to sit in the café. Of course, we can redress the issue by other means, such as addressing why people don't have enough money to open and retain bank accounts in the first place but removing cash in the first instance will only exacerbate inequality and entrench segregation between the rich, not-so-poor and the starving.

The end of cash will also allow for greater surveillance and control of the population, removing the anonymity of cash exchange. My credit card says a lot about me and as I am a creature of habit, it even reveals my routine (outside of the current quarantine). If you had my history, you would know I patronize a certain café on a certain day and you would find me there. Of course, my phone can tell you that too because my phone is always on me. My Amazon account probably tells you a lot about me and even my children. My Google history would reveal what journals I read, what I'm interested and probably that I'm a hypochondriac and shocking speller (I tend to search for words to clarify the spelling). Imagine having access to someone's credit card history, Amazon purchase history, Netflix/Amazon/other streaming service history, location from your phone and car, Google or other search history and their health apps where people volunteer a disturbing amount of health history and that's without access to their email or anything they say at home with Alexa an earshot away. You would be able to pinpoint someone's routine, where they are at any given time, where they may likely stand on issues presented to them, where they would have obtained their information from in order to inform their opinions and perhaps even their emotional state. Women have found it convenient to use menstrual applications and while it's convenient to understand your cycle, even if you are not concerned about pregnancy, these applications are voluntarily fed the most intimate details of a woman's life – from emotional state, to pain levels, to stress (which may result in irregular cycles) to when a woman has had sex. And this of course provides a fertile opportunity for marketing products, particularly if the woman inputs details, such as consistently having sex during her fertile time, that she wants to get pregnant. This is a bonanza to the fertility industry (for a deeper dive on Big Fertility and the lack of regulation in the industry listen to the interview "When the Boardroom Enters the Bedroom: The Art of Profit and Predation in the ART Industry" with Naomi Cahn and June Carbone), which is booming and "biggering" and also to parties that are focused on products and services for pregnant women and babies. This information is usually not protected by HIPAA, as these health applications are generally not "covered entities" (health care providers and clearinghouses) or even "business associates" (engaged to help covered entities operate) and thus not regulated under HIPAA.

The choice currently is not to use an application and not have the convenience of and the power of knowledge about your health, for instance, and the ability to share with your medical professional who is bound by confidentiality, or to utilize an application and retain its benefit while allowing its owner access to intimate details that it can sell to third parties to sell their products to you. We need a third option, one that prevents the use and sale of our information and not merely without illusory consent.

It is shameful that we have not yet learnt our lesson and are thus, as George Santayana warned, are doomed to repeat it. It's a testament to our cognitive dissonance. We've known that we were committing ecological suicide for decades, yet we continue to imperil ourselves, through fires, cyclones, even fracking induced earthquakes, depleted freshwater sources and now, this pandemic. Perhaps however we can change and form a more equitable and just society. One under which justice is not personified as a blind-folded woman wielding a sword but one that has her eyes open and hands extended.

Pandemics perhaps expose most acutely that we cannot live in isolation and that we do not want to. We are social creatures. The pandemic exposes how connected we are and how our actions affect others. Each person infected affects others so that the communication rate is exponential. There is an old Indian legend of a king playing chess with a visiting sage (who is Lord Krishna in disguise). When the king wanted to award the sage, the sage merely asked for a grain of rice on one square of a chessboard to be doubled on each square. Simply doubling a grain leads to the loss of a kingdom and a debt that cannot be repaid. Likewise, communicable disease, particularly a disease such as COVID-19 which has a relatively long incubation period and where it appears nearly a quarter of the infected can be asymptomatic, allows for exponential infection. It was out duty to act fast and forcefully to protect the public. The states that did that, suffered little, including foremost Taiwan and New Zealand. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has yet again shown she is an effective leader, one that acted quickly to protect the people's health, including by closing borders to non-residents and imposing a strict lock-down (albeit later that most countries chronologically but not respecting the rate of infection) which prohibited both association and recreational activities that may divert health and rescue resources but did so through consistent and open communication, including live chats from her home and now as COVID-19 has been deemed to be currently eliminated in New Zealand, lockdown restrictions are being slowly relaxed. Part of the reason that New Zealand did so well (apart from the geographical benefits of having a small and uncongested population to start with which makes it far easier to navigate and control a pandemic than for instance, NYC) was that, apart from a few hiccups, including by the Health Minister, Kiwis generally agreed and complied with Ardern's "go hard and go early" policy. Partly this was because Ardern's compassionate and transparent leadership style has solidified trust from her constituency, including calling her citizens a "team of five million people". It is also of course because Ardern and her government don't just use words to make their policies pliable. Understanding that people are asked not to work but still need to eat, the government has provided billions in wage subsidies to protect its people.

The legendary Arundhati Roy has written that the pandemic is a portal and that we can choose to walk through it with our current prejudices and inequities or re-imagine the world. By exacerbating current inequalities and stratifications, the pandemic can either fortify these or by showing a mirror to our ills, allow us to recognize that we want to see ourselves in a different way.Most people have understood the need for lockdowns and have cooperated under the common understanding that we are in this together. We are more attuned to how our interactions ricochet across rivers and ravines, let alone our neighbourhoods. We have not descended into the brutality and blindness of the brilliant José Saramagio's Ensaio sobre a cegueira.

Our great ethnographic experiment has also doubled as an environmental one with some promising results. The International Energy Agency has estimated that global greenhouse emissions could drop by 8% this year due to the pandemic (in April average global daily emissions were 17% lower than that of 2019, according to an article published in Nature Climate Change). The ESA's tropospheric monitoring from its Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite has shown that air pollution over Hubei and northern Italy markedly dropped when lockdowns were put into effect, in particular nitrogen dioxide levels, which have a severe respiratory effect and contribute to shortening life spans and child mortality. Within just one week of the lock-down, Aclima's monitoring of the Bay Area's air showed promising data that correlates the lock-down with marked decreases of air pollutants. Aside from ozone going up (+11%), air pollutants have substantively decreased: nitrogen dioxide (-20%), black carbon (-29%), particulate matter (-16%) and carbon monoxide (-16%). Data from the Central Pollution Control Board of India's Environment Ministry showed that nitrogen dioxide dropped 71% in Delhi in just one week of lockdown. The environment is resilient. It's not too late for a cleaner future and we should not be apathetic. The pandemic has exposed both its causes and its consequences in misplaced environmental policy, which in turn has its roots in misplaced economic policy. Milan, which suffered greatly, has learnt its lesson and has endeavoured to embark on urban planning that will reduce air pollution, including designating 35 km of road for pedestrian and cyclist use. London is also unveiling plans for the largest car-free zone in the world to ensure its denizens continue to have better air. Hopefully these policies will be replicated throughout the world as is warranted by public health. Local initiatives, however, are necessary but insufficient and we need new energy policies that favour clean energies to support public health.

While all political theories have their upsets, for as Jacques Derrida has so well explained, all our information is propped up by infinite regressions, the pandemic and its effects may be fertile ground for the resurgence of Millsian utilitarianism for we can readily perceive how connected we are to other people. Aren't we always in it together? "I" presupposes a "you". Who am I apart from my interactions with people which interactions inform and develop me?

Instituting John Stuart Mill's harm principle as a primary policy directive would respect individual space until the individual's activities encroach upon another individual's space. Environmental destruction harms everyone and is the greatest harm, for its claws clasp future generations. Limiting harm and promoting the general good requires a robust public health system, one in which everyone has access to adequate healthcare and in which we understand that public health is not merely an industry in itself, in which we focus on regular check-ups and access to testing and treatments but a holistic view which understands that public health must of necessity pervade all policy, from urban planning to energy. To fail to do this is to promulgate and exercise pathogenic policies.

As John Donne wrote, "no man is an iland, initre of itselfe" – our actions have consequences beyond ourselves. While some people scoff at pejoratively termed "paternalistic" policies, such as the rule of wearing a helmet on a bike or motorcycle and choosing to protect their brain over their coiffure, these policies prevent these capillary catastrophes from harming people around them. Not wearing a helmet causes much social harm, including use of health resources, diverting people and family members to care for the injured person and psychological harm imposed on all those involved in the accident and consequent care. Failing to vaccinate likewise is not an individual action. Not only are parents risking their children's health but impeding herd immunity and imposing a greater risk on people with compromised immune systems that cannot be vaccinated. The Supreme Court in Jacobson v. Massachusetts 197 U.S. 11 (1905), upheld a Massachusetts law on compulsory vaccination, reasoning that the state had the right to protect the public health through vaccination and that its citizens could not "freeload" on herd immunity refusing to be vaccinated. Organ donation is another area that should have radically different policies, for currently the rights of the dead are respected over those of the living. Some people have understood that their religion forbids them to donate organs (based on texts written thousands of years ago when the people writing such texts could not have foreseen organ donation but could comprehend infection from cadavers, which texts in other sections assert the preeminence of helping your fellow human beings) and to vaccinate or accept blood transfusions and other life-saving treatments. Yet refusing a blood transfusion imposes the harm on oneself, refusing to vaccinate and not donate organs at death, on others also. Apart from religious views, there are people that have an aversion to utilitarian policies in general and to organ donation and vaccination in particular due to fear. People fear that vaccines are harmful to health and only serve the profit of pharmaceutical companies (however vaccines are but a blip relative to lifestyle drugs) and that doctors will not work to rescue them in an emergency because they will care more for obtaining organs for interminably long donor lists. It is tempting to scoff at these views as ignorant and selfish and fail to address the underlying fear that drives both these aversions. For we live in a stratified society and the fear that the common good is interpreted as one to retain the stratified status quo per se is not illogical. If we had a more participatory government, in which people had more control and transparency into the workings of our society and there was clear accountability for decisions, we would garner trust in our institutions and have less opposition to socially-minded policies. In the interim, we can nudge people to take decisions for society's benefit. People tend to conform to default settings, so changing the choice architecture for organ donation or even contact tracing during this pandemic, for instance, from "opt in" to "opt out" will result in a dramatic increases in donation and participation as Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein have written in Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness.

Participatory democracy is the only way to ensure that utilitarian policies will serve the common good for otherwise it would just be donning on a different suit of subjugation. What purported to be communism in the 20th century was nothing communal. In the Stalinist U.S.S.R., you had no freedom of movement, no right to question the government and no food. Yet the Politburo chiefs had their dachas and their stocked-up stores. Only with participatory democracy, can we ensure that policies are transparent, accountable and in accordance with the social good – for what is the social good but not the sum of its individuals? Active political participation may seem idealistic, yet all the reasons people propose against it evidence the problems of our current political model. For instance, the complaint that people have no time to engage in public policy. This speaks more to our current social stratification and ill-conceived mores of recursive production, with people working three jobs to make ends meet while others, no matter their millions, are gutted to a gauntlet in order to ensure they are continually producing, with few genuinely happy. Perhaps if automation results in computers eviscerating more of our jobs, this is not something to be feared, but welcomed, for it allows for space for other projects, including political debate and participation. Another castigation is that people are too ignorant to be able to vote on legislation. One can argue the obverse, that policy makers are too removed from the circumstances on the ground to make effective policy so that unintended consequences can pervert the legislative initiative. Excoriating direct political participation by stating that people are too ignorant of policy says more about our current education system than anything else. It also speaks to the pressures imposed on parents, who may not have the time and energy after work to nurture their young kinds to engage in critical thinking at the critical time of their major brain development before school officially starts. Another complaint is participatory government is impractical. Yet technology has made it practical. Our legislators are voting remotely due to the pandemic, why can't we electronically participate and engage in debate and vote on legislation? Participatory government would ensure that special interests do not fill the coffers of candidates and they would obviate the problem of the revolving door. What else is a "government of the people, by the people, for the people" but one where people actively debate public policy and participate in their government?

It is my hope that post-pandemic, once we come out of this global ethnographic experiment, we will see the way to a future for us all is with us all. We need to move towards a pluralistic, polyphonic, participatory and proactive polity. We need to implement holistic, multi-disciplinary approaches to policies, understanding that due to the complex nuances of our modern life, unintended consequences and the ripple effect may not always reap the best results– but we will have accountability and transparency of both how we developed policies and how we monitored policies so that we can readily mitigate and adapt ill consequences. We will garner a more equitable and open society and transparency and accountability in government. We have the technology to do it. We spend a lot of time on social media already, perhaps we can devote this time to actively debate policies and vote on legislation. Rather than the dystopian technological future that pervades our predictions, perhaps we need to propel this vision – that this future is inevitable. Context and capacity must inform and govern our law and our rights so that laws purporting to solve a problem do not end up exacerbating it, such as the prior entrenchment of equal rights on a stratified society. Justice cannot be blind.

Albert Camus wrote La Peste, which I brought off the shelf to re-read during this pandemic as many indubitably have, during and right after the WWII. The plague is as much a book about disease as it is about war and the plague is a metaphor for war. Its relevance continues to resound, particularly in this pandemic. Camus well notes how both instances of war and plague, though common throughout history, take each population by surprise. We continue to have the impenetrable faith of self-denial against existential threats. War and plague happened back then, they occur over there – the bell never tolls for us. This cognitive dissonance against the rational signs of existential threat, which are present in our inability to institute necessary and substantive socio-economic changes to avoid climatic catastrophe, is concomitantly our gravest impediment to survival and the means of our survival. It is what allows us to be caught in the quagmire of quotidian quests, quelling compelling questions concerning our community and confining others to the mere quixotic. Camus is not the only author to explore this human trait. It proliferates in literature. Yet his stark expression resonates. Eugène Ionesco's Le Rhinocéros is another brilliant political satire which explores people's refusal to accept a paradigm shift and their subsequent rationalization and acceptance of it. In Ionesco's play, vocal opponents of the malignant metamorphosis become its proponents and join the crash just as quickly and as vociferously as they initially opposed their stampeding invaders. Political contagion can be as pestilent and spread as exponentially as the plague.

In the novel, the town of Oran was a bustling burgh bent on "business", so much so that there was no shortage of making business out of the plague on the black market during the quarantine (which just like ours, lasted a lot more than the forty days of its Venetian origins). Yet the plague also tears at the town's social tapestry and with impending death, the characters come alive. The reader wonders whether the softer characterizations of minor characters at the end of the novel has as much to do with their personal growth through communal suffering as well as the narrator's expanded empathy. Rambert stops attempting to escape and understands he "belongs" to the city due to his identification with communal suffering and his attendant recognition that he must do what he can against the pernicious pathogen. This a fine narrative of identity, which is a marking of socially constructed and historically contingent stratification and suffering. Grand's ambition to write a novel is stunted at the first sentence which he recursively rewrites. His struggle is reminiscent of the rivalries of the Left that lost the Spanish Civil War and laid the way for fascism in the 1930s which is the political context in which the novel was written and which the novel retells through its narrative of disease. The Left's self-laceration continues today. Despite much talk of solidarity, ideological differences have prevented a solidified progressive polity and an ossification of debate proliferating in the past few years. Biden may not be the most progressive candidate and the electoral system in the United States has many impediments but it is what we have at this moment and every progressive must vote for him or we face another four years of Chump – and then work to make the electoral system more democratic in the future (including by instituting preferential voting and later direct participation in government). Grand's struggle for the stellar sentence exemplifies the tragic irony of humanity and our Sisyphean struggle for transcendence. Yet as Grand does, perhaps we can be at peace with the fact that all we can do is strive. Dr. Rieux, the narrator, exemplifies the importance of praxis and the inherent contradictions of any theory. Not being able to save his spouse, he resigns himself to what he cannot change and focuses on what he can, tirelessly working to heal as many people as he can. One day at a time, one patient at a time. The novel ends with the end of the epidemic, yet the reader is warned that the plague is merely dormant. Tarrou, the character who eschewed his family's privilege as it was built on rational murder, his father having prosecuted death penalty cases, which exemplifies that the state is not inherently opposed to violence, committing murder itself, but seeks to monopolize it, warns the reader that we are all infected with the plague. Indeed, in an ill society, we are all infected and none of us is immune from its disease. As Martin Luther King Jr. warned, "silence is betrayal".

We are now at a precipice. The current pandemic, caused by social inequity, is exacerbating it and precipitating the advent of the military-technological complex. We are distracted and our energy is depleted. During this constellation of chaos and calamity, we must ensure that democracy, as limited as it is currently, does not drown into the abyss. Drowning, for all its theatrical display of splashing, is in reality, silent and quick. The person lacking air, does not have the energy to splash let alone call out and  dies in seconds. This is an opportune time for the ruling elite carve out and contain greater power – if we let them.

Yet it is also an opportunity for a more open, equitable society where no child breathes miasmic air, lacks sufficient access to clean water, lacks housing, healthcare, education or goes to bed hungry. We can move from an apocryphal, representative democracy to a more equitable and pluralistic, participatory democracy. In which we understand that we are not disembodied rational actors that operate in a vacuum. In which we understand that codified civil and political rights are mere words without the economic and social rights to effectuate them. That we are not individuals if we have no choice nor autonomy. That we are not individuals if we are divisible into reified roles. That reification reduces and diffuses responsibility and that mediation has allowed for the grave injustices we have perpetuated against each other. That the individual requires a community and that a community is nothing if not a composition of individuals. That the individual and the community are complementary and not in opposition to each other. That we cannot externalize our environment but are dependent on it and impact it. That we cannot be sovereign unless we govern.

We didn't wake up to find an invader, we woke up and looked in the mirror.The pestilence was always there in our pathogenic society. It is time to change ourselves so that we can look into the mirror and like what we see. And how do we get there? With a step in the right direction- the determination to start a new, just and equitable world. The Zapatistas said it best – we don't impose, but rather, preguntando caminamos.

This essay was intermittently written from March 19 through May 19, 2020. For updated facts, see https://ourworldindata.org/


Requiem for a Republic

Apr 13, 2017

Last week in an attempt to show puissance and divert eyes away from his domestic train wreck, Trump bombed Syria. The strike was as appalling as it was laced with hypocrisy. Bombing to keep the peace is as effectual as using pregnancy for contraception. Purportedly the President was moved by images of the victims of Assad's chemical attack (which Assad has today refuted with barely a wisp of verisimilitude). Aside from his inconsistent tweets in this regard- and one can certainly mire themselves in the madness of the President's cyber chirps which weave a sinuous narrative of accusations and recriminations replete with grammatical and typographical errors wrapped up and hurled at the world in hubris as the first rays of sunshine gloss our side of the world- this rings hollow. The Syrian people have faced ineffably horrific assaults from all parties involved in the war for over six years and the world has been complicit, allowing the torture, mass murder, bombing, imposed starvation (including by preventing access to humanitarian supplies), rape and enslavement of the population to continue while at the same time shutting the door in the face of people scrambling to leave. The chemical attack was unfortunately not the only war crime of the war (nor was it the only chemical attack) but one of a multitude of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by most, if not all the parties involved in the carious conflict and it seems rather brash to say that somehow Trump has only now discovered within the dredges of his demons an emaciated empathy waiting to be unchained. His argument that he was upholding international law which prohibits the use of chemical weapons is also fallible for his strike was in violation of international law as it was not authorized by the U.N. Security Council (albeit the colonial makeup of the five permanent members that continue to alone hold a veto warrants reconstruction in the interest of a less politically positioned international law, but that is for another time). Moreover, he violated domestic law by committing an act of war without the consent of Congress (but perhaps we can forgive this indiscretion considering that this domestic law has been most honoured by its continual and flagrant breach with most military actions having occurred by executive order - in fact, the last time the U.S. formally declared war was World War II). Most hypocritical of all is of course the fact that the U.S. has itself used chemical weapons in Syria (as well as other places, including Iraq and Serbia) by using toxic and carcinogenic depleted uranium munitions on ISIS strongholds, which invariably will seep into the environment and into the Syrian people.

The most grotesque part of this action, however, is the fact that we are bombing the Syrian people to purportedly protect them while refusing to grant them asylum. If Trump were really moved by the macabre images he saw, then he should have immediately avowed to lift his ban and welcome with open arms the Syrian people that have been fortunate enough to escape their stygian conflict. He has instead decided to firmly shut the door in their face and use his weapons against them, as if a little child exploring a new toy, while at the same time he has relaxed the rules for civilian causalities for U.S. military conduct. It's reprehensible.

The strike appears to have been a rather be diversionary 'wag the dog' tactic to improve his dwindling approval rates and counteract the rising acceptance that he is a mere marionette serving Putin's geopolitical ambitions. The Democrats have pummeled this point domestically, perhaps because it is the one point that can cross the increasingly pestilent domestic political divide. Perhaps because by blaming Putin and pointing to the Steele dossier (and it may sniff suspicious that 19.5% of Rosneft was sold to an investor in December whose identity is masked by a bastion of shell corporations after Trump's election was solidified by the Electoral College), Americans have attempted to absolve themselves from having elected an authoritarian kleptocrat. Yet the fact remains that America, as Marcuse so long ago predicted, may be the first democracy to have voted in a fascist (it is worth noting that Hitler became the Chancellor through an emergency decree and not by a popular vote and only when he made the popular Communist Party illegal). No one has accused Putin of actually changing the results, in fact the only accusation levelled against the actual counting of the popular vote has been by Trump with the baseless claim that Clinton's lead in the popular vote was due to cheating (and again one wonders whether this a political ploy to divert media attention to disputing a baseless claim while he clandestinely purges the State Department which continues to run in a cadaverous state or is simply the reflex of a narcissist?). As terrible as the Russian meddling in our national elections is, some may note an irony in our reaction, for while international comity warrants that countries not intervene and respect each sovereign's elections, the U.S. has been an incorrigible meddler and often through force. The Americans overthrew a democratically elected social democratic government in Guatemala in 1954 primarily to protect the profits of The United Fruit Company, to which the Dulles brothers, then Secretary of State and Director of the CIA, had ties. The U.S. went to war in Vietnam to support Ngo Dinh Diem, a dictator who refused to allow national elections because he knew that Uncle Ho would win (Thich Quang Durc's self-immolation, one of the many photos used for the anti-war movement, was in protest of Diem's persecution of Buddhists). The Chileans will surely never forget September 11, 1976, when democratically elected social democrat Salvador Allende was murdered by a coup d'etat led by Pinochet, with active support from the U.S, who then proceeded to institute a reign of terror on his populous.

But I digress. The U.S. cannot and should not be able to strike with impunity based on its own interpretation of international law. A concerted international effort is required - and has long been required - to end the conflict in Syria (and then to back off and allow the Syrian people to choose their own government and govern in their interest). Bombing is not going to be the answer to this and will only lead to further suffering of the Syrian people for indubitably Assad has a well stocked bunker he can inhabit while his people must face another assault from the skies. Sanctions and air raids alone hurt civilians most and have been proven to be ineffectual, if not counter to regime change as it allows dictators to fortify their weakened people and utilize the outside bombing to entrench their propaganda that they are protecting their people against an outside attack (regime change begins at home). Nevertheless, fuelled by ulterior motives, the Trump administration has stampeded forth with this new militant agenda (and today has dropped the most destructive non-nuclear bomb, the GBU-43/B on an ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan with Trump praising our military prowess - it's nauseating).

The U.S. attempted earlier this week to unsuccessfully to secure Security Council authorization in an effort to legitimize its actions, but Russia has predictably vetoed it and both Putin and Trump claim that relations are worse as if they hope that this charade would now obscure the Russian shadow over Trump's election. It is unfortunate if diplomatic relations have actually been strained because better relations with Russia was one of only two sensible polices that Trump had (the other is to fix the flailing infrastructure across the U.S., but unfortunately I doubt they will start with fixing the corroding water pipes which continue to poison children around the U.S.). When Trump took office, the doomsday clock reverted back to two and half minutes to midnight where it stood at the height of the Cold War. The geopolitical situation is incendiary and delicate and requires rather an arabesque of diplomacy - the continuation of war by other means, to invert a quote from Carl von Clausewitz. Yet we have a bumbling bellicose buffoon whose interactions with his homologues is full of misunderstandings, personal vendettas and pretension (did not Merkel's expression say it all?). We may be witnessing the final fury of the last fight of an expiring empire as the scepter moves West.

There is a growing jingoist trend across the world as those guttered by globalization are finding solace in demagogues. In an article I recently read from the March issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, the author astutely commented that we are seeing, with respect to recent history, continual unprecedented acts in politics and Trump is merely the American manifestation of this portentous pattern. From Modi in India (who should not be cleansed from the violence that engulfed Gujarat when he was Chief Minister there in 2002), to the Hanson resurgence in Australia, to Brexit, to Beppe Grillo's Trumpisti in Italy (and where L'Espresso predicts that Berlusconi will immediately run for office next year when he is legally allowed to, currently cleansing his image to paint himself as a man of stability in an increasingly politically divisive climate- as the electorate is led to the polls as a lamb to slaughter, he's pictured hugging goats and feeding them bottles of milk). Now the French, where Hollande has had unprecedented power and where the country continues to be under a state of national emergency, are set to go to the polls with Marine Le Pen dutifully following her father's stead. Yet as the right advances, so does the left and what we're experiencing is not so much the swing of a pendulum, but the stretching of a rubber band as the contradictions of capitalism have catapulted them to the centre. Trump won the election, but Bernie is stronger than ever and rightfully so (go Bernie! Go!). The latest undulation in the French polls is the wave of support for Melenchon. Not all is lost.

There comes a time, as Dr. King said, when silence becomes betrayal. As the band tightens, we must take a stand before we lose our legs. Since Trump took office, the administration has launched a blitzkrieg upon our rights and the institutions that protect them (Columbia University Law School has provided us useful tracker for the human rights violations of this administration http://hrlr.law.columbia.edu/trump-human-rights-tracker/). John Cleese said it best when he commented on the Trump administration being stocked like a pirate ship, including appointing a pro-oil climate change denier to lead the EPA with an eviscerated budget, a Secretary of Education with no experience in public education with a proselytizing bent and a member of C-Fam, a group that is dedicated to reducing women's reproductive rights and gay people's rights, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center has labelled a hate group, to our delegation to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. All of his appointments follow the cognitive dissonance of the far right - the gutting of all social programs in the interest of 'small government' and the promotion of conservative Christian policies in the misguided and unconstitutional interpretation of religious liberty only covering Christianity and being utilized to encroach upon other people's rights. These groups have long been political bed fellows and took a surge under Reagan who deliberately romanced them for a governing formula that essentially equates to small government when it concerns breakfast, big government when it concerns the bedroom. Then there's the warmongering, for the government governs with two arms, hypocrisy and hysteria. As Machiavelli opined, it is better to have people fear you than love you, for love is fickle. The Trump administration may embark on another war which will indubitably fill corporate coffers when reconstruction contracts are handed out to U.S. companies and which, considering Trump's dalliance with Eric Prince, the owner of Blackwater (and of some note, Betsy's brother), the biggest private security force contractor in the second Iraq war, may turn out to be in no small way fought by mercenaries who are not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (albeit under Trump's watch this may be relaxed to naught). We wake each day to an Orwellian landscape in which we can be told, without apparently any irony, that there are 'alternative facts' as if Trump were an evangelical solipsist (meanwhile Conway is currently facing misconduct violations that were filed against her with the D.C. Bar in respect of her hyperbolic statements as porte-parole for The Don).

The budget is dispositive of the intentions of the new administration - it ossifies the paltry social welfare programs and drastically expands our current over-spending on our somewhat ironically termed defense budget (more money for weapons and rockets - is the Toddler-in-Chief treating the Treasury like his toy chest?). The administration's porte-parole on the budget, Mick Mulvaney, did not shy from explaining why there is no educational utility for providing school children a meal that will otherwise go hungry, as if callousness were now a virtue. As the budget cuts the lifeline for children (and saves barely any money as a result), Melania Trump is pictured on the cover of Mexican Vanity Fair ignobly eating diamonds. How are they not embarrassed? There is no longer any shame, not even a nod to decency nor convention nor the constitution - rather than obscuring his conflict of interest, the President flaunts them.

He continues to run and profit from his businesses, continues to seek weekend retreats at his estate (at a cost to taxpayers many times more than the feigned humility in refusing the state salary) and has populated his cabinet with his family. In what is an unprecedented move, the Trump administration didn't merely send lower level officials to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights during its recent session to review the Trump's administration immigration and detention policies and the approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline, it just didn't show up.

However, this may not be a volte-face from the general trend of previous administrations (for instance private contractors were about 1 to 4 ratio during the war in Iraq) but simply an intensification of the executive's mission creep. The trick of the two party system has entrenched a political paradigm that serves ruling interests - American democracy is an oligarchy in masquerade and the two main parties are arguably more different in style than in substance. As our society has become more deeply stratified, more unequal, and as tensions percolate to a nearing boiling point, Trotsky's analysis of fascism comes to mind - liberalism is the face of the ruling class when it's not afraid and fascism is its face when it is, or rather, the mask has been discarded and the menace revealed. For instance, the Obama administration continued and expanded indefinite detention, drone attacks and utilized the Espionage Act to criminalize whistleblowing more times than any other administration, among other human rights violations. The Obama administration was also notorious in deporting people and amped up deportations to such an extent that Obama was called the Deporter-in-Chief. Yet the new administration is a greater menace, its daggers glistening from its serpentine smile. It doesn't deport furtively but puts a limelight on it. It proudly asserts its cruelty, including separating undocumented parents from their children (and what deterrence will the U.S. achieve by this cruel tactic of forcing parents to decide whether to leave their children or take them from the only home they'd ever known? What does the U.S. achieve by placing these children in foster care? It's despicable). It publicizes a portentous list of 'crimes' committed by undocumented immigrants and established an office to collect victim reports (the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office) and since such office has a very partisan strategy, one may wonder how diligently it would investigate the veracity of any such reports. The Trump administration's rhetoric is devoid of any effort to sanitize its pernicious policies but is actively denying people's humanity by carving people out in groups. These lists should scream warning. Who is next?

This repellent rhetoric has emboldened those that would otherwise scurry in the shadows with their stygian schemes. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that hate crimes increased during the election and after Trump took office (https://www.splcenter.org/issues/hate-and-extremism). On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the administration acknowledged it purposefully did not mention the Shoah at a time when there have been more attacks against Jewish people, synagogues and cemeteries thus making the administration at the least extremely reckless, if not complicit in these attacks. Violence against minorities - against transgender people, homosexual people and black people is also the rise - the media focuses on terrorism by Islamic groups but this terrorism- for this is exactly what is- should not be discounted (nor should our own government's terrorism across the world and upon minorities internally - is not the police harassment and abuse, and at times, murder, of unarmed black persons, terrorism?).

Fascist elements tinge the administration. Fascism is not a clear set of defined principles - after all the founder of fascism, Benito Mussolini, started off as a socialist (he was the editor of Avanti! before being expelled) and was more of a political opportunist than anything else. Yet fascism, from fasces or the bundle of rods that was the symbol of the guard of Roman magistrates, has certain qualities that have manifested itself across a spectrum of systems as diverse as Hitler's Germany to Franco's Spain. It is authoritarian and tends to cultivate a cult of personality of the leader in charge (keeping a chokehold on the Fourth Estate), it is jingoist, it places importance on the home and women's conservative, reproducing role within it, it aims for autarky, it tends to be expansionist and militaristic and it is a form of state capitalism, with the state supporting its corporations. The current administration fits the bill and one may wonder whether this current proto-fascist stance will only intensify. Trump is producing executive orders and dropping bombs as if they were official tweets. He is holding victory rallies and the rapacity and fragility of his ego is astounding (almost as is his allergy to truth). He is propping up the religious right (a draft memo of an executive order violating the anti-establishment clause of the First Amendment was leaked in February, which purports to provide the Christian right a greenlight to discriminate). His vilification of minorities is emboldening hate groups and carving further division in an already intensely divided country. He has even allegedly directly incited violence at protestors at one of his campaign rallies last year (this issue is being heard in Nwanguma et. al. v Trump before the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Kentuky with Trump proffering a misguided First Amendment defense, which does not defend such incitements). He has now wormed his way away from an isolationist stance to warmongering.

The administration sees utility in the shock of its stampede, providing fodder for acerbic satire - Trump has crafted a caricature of himself, his insistence that his inauguration crowd was bigger than Obama's, Sean Spicer comparing piles of paper - is this carious circus a deliberate attempt to divert attention away from more clandestine carnage this administration will wreak? The callous and unconstitutional travel ban, which at first also covered dual nationals and permanent residents - was it a ploy? Was it a diversionary tactic to avoid prying eyes while it purged the State Department and appointed Steve Bannon to the National Security Council (a move which ultimately and thankfully failed)? To avoid discussion as to why Trump announced his candidacy for 2020 on the same day that he took office, a highly unusual move that allows him to receive campaign contributions immediately and clamours for bribery?  To avoid discussion as to why Trump is forming his own Praetorian Guard, answerable only to him? Or was it a way to test our institutions? To see if the judiciary would keel over in deference to the executive branch as it attempted to cut down Montesquieu's tree, to see whether government departments would follow the judiciary (for after all the executive is meant to enforce the interpretation of the law by the judiciary and the law is only as good as its enforcement) or remain loyal to the President. To see which justices were loyal, which executive officials obeyed before another purge? Is the onslaught on our institutions also an intended assault upon our own consciousness? Are we daily pummeled by shock after shock of this pernicious pantomime in a war of attrition until we've lost our resolve and are mere husks of hope, succumbing to the abyss of apathy? Until we interpellate a new political paradigm as natural and immutable?

Certainly I've had days in which I've been mired in malaise, reading the noxious news in a blitzkrieg of nail biting, with my toddler, who acutely registers my brood, anxiously imploring me with his diaphanous eyes to muster up felicity, in response to which I've resorted with a policy of blackout days from the news (except admittedly scanning the headlines of B92 in Serbian where the English 'u' must be written as an 'a' in the Latin script, just so I can see a photo of our President with a Serbian headline attached, as 'Tramp' is so much more of a befitting proper noun- sometimes, it's the little things that provide us pleasure)- and yet this is exactly what we should not be doing. An oubliette may seem inviting but we must resist this temptation. The administration is just getting started. Hitler used the burning of the Reichstag to dismantle the Communist Party, his main opponent, and to ensure enough seats by his National Socialist party to enact Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution and dismantle the Weimar democracy. The Bush administration used the horrific acts on September 11, 2001 to dispense with rights under an act that hardly any representative read under the weight of its sententious title (an Act that as Gore Vidal pointed out was drafted and ready in waiting for some time for an incident to occur that would provide it blind acceptance)- for which representative wanted to be seen at a time that the country was seemingly under siege, of being unpatriotic (the most pejorative term in the American political lexicon)? What will be Trump's Reichstag fire? Will we understand it's a ploy and not let his pestilent policy permeate through the polity?

The title to this post may be a misnomer, for I want to end on a positive note. Trump's election has galvanized a resistance and his nefarious and spurious ways have spurred apolitical people to action. The protest marches were far larger than his inauguration crowds. People are regularly calling their representatives and urging them to take a stand. Clinton may have had much of the same policies, at least with respect to foreign policy and the economy, albeit executed in a more delicate fashion, and the opposition would probably have been tepid at best. Trump's offensive, febrile manner has been a gift to the progressive resistance. Opposition to Bannon, whose paper waxes vitriol and who holds far right nationalist policies, has been successful (a narcissist has a fragile ego which can be well manipulated) and Democracy's watchdog is barking away at Trump's mistakes (Jack Shafer rightly termed it a 'journalistic spring' in an article for Politico earlier in the year). Earlier in the year, the media excoriated Trump for the killing of eight year old Nasser al-Awlaki, who was an innocent victim of Trump's first Yemeni drone attack. Yet Obama's drone attacks, including through cluster bombs, killed many Yemeni people, including Nasser's sixteen year old brother Abdulraham. Obama didn't get a chastising front page headline from a major paper, nor much opprobrium for his war in Yemen, but rather received a Nobel peace prize (but then again so did arch carpet bomber Kissinger in one of history's great ironies). The bark is back. This a step forward. The far right is claiming victories, but so is the left. Mississippi has HB 1523, but it is rightly being challenged and the 7th Circuit (though another circuit, Mississippi as well as Texas are in the 5th), has just handed down Hively v. Ivy Tech which rightly interprets Title VII's sex discrimination coverage to include discrimination on sexual orientation (this is how the EEOC and DOJ had interpreted it under Obama). Trump wants to run ram shod on the environment by Maryland just banned fracking. One of the benefits of our checks and balances system is that we have three branches and three levels of government to prevent a cancer in one becoming malignant. If the Federal government is intent on seppuku, the State and Local governments must step in. This will result however in the fact that the people most hurt by Trump's policies will be Trump voters - but maybe they will rebel and a Democratic sweep in the congressional elections may not be so far-fetched. The Democratic Party is being revitalized and is taking on a more progressive platform- will it be Bernie 2020?

Divide and conquer is a well-tested way for an unpopular government to control a population, for as Hume pointed out, the ruling class only ever rules with the consent, however obtained whether through propaganda, fear or apathy, of the population, who are always greater in number. Dr. King was assassinated at a time when he moved from civil rights to economic rights and viewed race relations as a product of class relations (which as Fanon pointed out reifies pigmentation so that the subject of capital understands themselves as the subject of race). We must build bridges, instead of walls. The left's greatest failing has been our internecine rivalries and divided, the right has conquered. Our eponymous belatedness, stemming from the  pernicious punctuality of the Girondists, is a constant reminder that we're late to the game. Franco only secured victory in Spain due to the internal squabbling between the centrist Republic and the leftist groups, from anarchists, to Stalinists, to Trotskyites, which together could have easily defeated him. The carious circus of the Trump administration, its conspicuous callousness, may be just the odious opponent we need to come together. As the band tightens, for there is a fissure in the hegemony, we need to ask ourselves, where will we be when it snaps?


In Support of AB1687 and its Expansion - A Discussion of IMDB.COM v. KAMALA HARRIS

Dec 5, 2016

California’s AB 1687 goes into effect January 1, 2017 and will prevent online entertainment employment service providers from failing to remove a subscriber’s age upon request from their site and sites under their control. The law resulted from a failed suit by an actress against IMDb for displaying her real age without her consent which resulted in direct employment discrimination by casting directors who deemed her too old to play roles for which she looked the part. IMDb has already filed suit for declaratory relief that the law is facially unconstitutional. IMDb claims that the law infringes free speech by not being narrowly tailored to its purpose of preventing age discrimination, that it is vague, that it violates the dormant commerce clause and IMDb is entitled to the § 230 safe harbor under the Communications Decency Act. In its complaint, IMDb points to its humble origins as a fan database but IMDb and its sister site, IMDbPro are no longer merely fan databases but are instrumental in the industry. IMDb touts this in its own promotional materials in which it states that the content that it provides is both accurate and the most extensive in the industry. IMDb cannot on the one hand solicit subscriptions from employers based on having verified information of potential employees and on the other claim that it is not a content producer. IMDb has no claim to the § 230 affirmative defense.

IMDb’s dormant commerce clause argument should fail under the Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc., 397 U.S. 137, 142 (1970) test which holds that states have limited power to legislate over areas affecting inter-state commerce, so long as they are primarily legislating for a local benefit and do not cause an undue burden on business. California is legislating for the primary benefit of one of its main industries and the burden can hardly be characterized as undue for IMDb does not have to take on a policing function but merely has to remove information when requested to do so by a subscriber. A decision against California would be disastrous, considering how much of our activity takes place online and that the new Federal administration is set to go on a rampage of deregulation (the wisdom of electing regulators who intend to govern by deregulating, akin to going to a doctor that does not believe in medicine, is left for another post).

Additionally, it is not so clear cut as many pundits have already vociferously voiced, that AB1687 won’t pass First Amendment muster. While IMDb argues for strict scrutiny based on content-regulation, their speech should be interpreted as commercial speech and subject to a lesser standard. Additionally, while IMDb points to recent California appellate cases that have accepted that film credits on IMDb and on screen are in the public interest (which cloak IMDb extends to age information of film employees), these cases, of which the gravamen were contractual credit disputes, can be distinguished from information that have no place being put under the nose of prospective employers. In Dyer v. Childress (2007)147 Cal.App.4th 1273, 55 Cal.Rptr.3d 544, the court held that while films and their themes are in the public interest and protected speech, not all speech within a film (and one can extend this to speech connected to a film) is thereby similarly protected and must be viewed with specificity. While it is inarguable that films are in the public interest, the demographics of the people involved in the film should not enjoy such blanket protection, particularly when it exposes them to discrimination in employment.

IMDb’s complaint suggests that California’s law will have no impact on age discrimination and will chill speech, opening the floodgates for California to police all sites and not just IMDb, but for anyone that knows how the industry currently works in practice, this argument is fallible and even mendacious, for IMDb well knows how it works and serves its own ends. Casting directors, particularly for low budget projects, are impelled to make very quick decisions and it is becoming standard practice to simply rifle through IMDbPro and IMDb profiles (not just IMDbPro profiles as IMDb contests). Thus while Wikipedia may have an actor’s age, a casting director may not have the time to access it. More importantly, as SAG-AFTRA has well explained and IMDb continues to impudently ignore, the crux of the issue is that IMDb displays protected class information (for the issue is wider than simply age) to prospective employers even if such employers do not wish to see this information and/or were not looking for it and allows rife ground for unconscious bias to influence employment decisions. Additionally, Wikipedia and other, even for-profit sites, are not primarily an employment engagement service like IMDb’s sister site, IMDbPro. IMDb by creating IMDbPro has directed its purpose towards employment and thereby should be enveloped within the restraints of employment law.

While the gravamen of Huong’s suit was age discrimination, which is rife in the entertainment industry and disproportionally affects women, she did not file any employment claims (nor did she file in California due to conceding the Washington State choice of law and not being a California resident). However, for California residents, it may be possible to frame both Title VII and FEHA arguments against IMDb (assuming in the case of the latter that one could resist both a motion to compel arbitration on unconscionability grounds and against the contractual choice of law due to being contrary to a fundamental public policy of California, preventing employment discrimination in a major state industry).

Both statues expressly state that liable employers include their “agents” and while appellate authority has considered that this should not impose personal liability upon employees as agents of their employer, this renders the statutory language superfluous (for the fictional company entities are only ever held liable under respondeat superior). This reasoning was supported by public policy arguments against holding employees personally liable, including that they did not have the pockets to withstand a damages award and that it would impede personnel decisions as management would be hyper sensitive and solely make choices that would result in the least risk of personal liability. Holding a major profit making venture like IMDb, that directly profits from placing demographic information showing that a person is in a protected category to prospective employers would allow for sufficient damages and would not impede personnel decisions. Further, it would deter discrimination because employers sometimes only look to IMDb- and this is what IMDb itself touts in its promotional materials of being the most authoritative and accurate one stop shop for casting- and therefore cannot but see protected class information which allows for unconscious bias to frame decisions. FEHA helps us even further by allowing an “aiding and abetting” claim. This FEHA claim has also been unsuccessfully argued to impose personal liability on supervisory employees as the court reasoned that only third parties can “aid and abet” corporations, since their employee actions are taken to be their own. IMDb is exactly such a party, willingly and knowingly refusing to delete protected class information that is shown to prospective employers as they review prospective employees.

While AB1687 is restricted to age discrimination, IMDb’s impudent refusal to delete demographic information has a greater societal impact. Its policy is particularly harmful to transgender persons and the law should be expanded to allow transgender persons to request deletion of their demographic information and the association of their past birth names on their current profiles. IMDb’s obstinate refusal fails to treat transgender persons as their true gender by retaining inaccurate gendered pronouns, retaining the posting of private biographical information such as past birth certificates and association of past credits under birth names is not only utterly disrespectful of its own customer base (outside of normal human decency which we all owe each other) but extremely harmful. It is well known that transgender persons have an extremely elevated suicide rate. Further, it exposes the transitioned status of below-the-line artists that are not otherwise in the public eye and constantly nooses them to their former lives when they were imprisoned within their own skin. This exposition, apart from the harmful emotional effects, leaves them at risk of employment discrimination and hostile work environments.

Discrimination against transgender persons is also pervasive in the acting world - on the one hand, transgender persons are mostly relegated to transgender roles, on the other, the most acclaimed and pivotal transgender roles have been given to cisgender actors. This is tantamount to accepting that being transgender is a state that one slips in and out of, as if transgender persons are appearing in one permanent performance, so that cigender persons can flow in and out of the same experience and relegates us back to the times when men played female roles and white people played back roles, practices which we currently find insupportable. Additionally, by relegating transgender persons to transgender roles, we deny their gender and thereby deny their personhood. IMDb may argue that biological sex information, which is really tantamount to health information that we otherwise accept is private, should be in the public interest, but if a court accepts this, what kind of society are we reflecting? Is it really someone else’s concern what concoction of hormones or reproductive organs someone was born with? How does this information aid our commonwealth, in particular when the dire consequences upon transgender persons are so severe? Further, while IMDb’s policy exposes transgender persons to employment discrimination and denies them privacy, it also exposes them to the risk of violence (this year alone, there have been at least 21 murders of transgender persons, mostly of black transgender women, including Dhee Whigham, a young woman who was stabbed 119 times).

The current legal battle between California and IMDb is restricted to a law that is aimed at the mischief of facilitating age discrimination in the entertainment industry, a vital industry for the state, which is a worthy end goal in itself, but the ramifications of this battle are wider. If the law survives constitutional challenge, California should expand the law to prevent the revelation of other demographic information that reveals protected categories and leaves entertainers exposed to discrimination. Foremost is the needed protection of transgender persons who continue to be exposed to employment discrimination, harassment, invasions of privacy, emotional distress and risks of violence by IMDb’s unflinching policies.


NEVER SAY NEVER - THE DANGEROUS DIVIDE IN AMERICAN POLITICS AND THE PROSPECT OF DISUNION

Nov 11, 2016

I have been angered, frustrated and disillusioned with results before, but I have never cried. Wednesday I was riven with a deluge of tears as I tried to process the electoral results and the seething rancor they revealed, for the electorate has deemed legitimate Trump's parade of pestilence. I am not alone - it is evident that nearly half the country believes it is encased within a collective nightmare trying to scream itself awake.

I was proud to vote in my first U.S. election. Albeit I was not voting by sex, I was pleasantly cognizant of the fact that my candidates for the Presidency, the Senate and the House were all women. I was not a fervent Hillary supporter - I voted for Bernie in the primary-but I increasingly admired her resilience throughout the election as she waded through a mesh of misogyny and I was not disenchanted to vote for her. Around me, I could see incipient smiles, trying to best contain a dripping enthusiasm that on the one hand stemmed from being on the cusp of an historic moment of electing the first female President and on the other, a realization that our ballot was cast in a Manichean battle against a fascist foe with a carnivorous smile armed with sharpened daggers.

I was also a nervous wreck. In San Francisco and New York, my friends were increasingly jubilant throughout election day while I attacked my nails in a blitzkrieg of anxiety. Later, as we watched the Electoral College incarnadine, my husband assured me that Clinton would still win, utterly incredulous that any other result were possible. Living in the Bay Area bubble, it was an easy mistake to make. This was electile disfunction at its worst.

I didn’t predict this stygian result, yet I was circumspect that a Clinton victory was assured. Possibly it was because as an immigrant American, one stemming from Europe and Australia, I harbored a fear of middle America that my fellow American friends did not share - that frightful particular American mix of arrogance and ignorance that imposes itself on the world stage in all its putrid splendor. This election proved true all my worst fears. Presidents in this country seem not to be elected on policy but on the cult of personality. The country was besotted by Trump - either people loved him or loved to hate him and we were all mired into his madness, all caught up in the Trump circus. With the benefit of hindsight, it should have been obvious to us that a B grade celebrity who talks so impudently would be loved by a gun toting, geographically challenged, xenophobic, myopic, rapaciously religious, racist and misogynist electorate. Trump tapped into the America that is stereotyped across the world, the America that educated, liberal Americans are embarrassed to be associated with.

Trump is the epitome of everything that the world despises and fears about Americans - a country that believes it has the manifest destiny to stampede across the world and proclaim its right to do so with gleaming, sharpened teeth. Trump, in his impudence, pugnacity, uncouthness and arrogance may just be the anthropomorphic version of this country. American arrogance is nauseating to foreigners. As someone who was raised in Australia, with its Anglo-Celtic tradition of self-deprecation and our “cultural cringe” which nourishes an appetite to savor all of the world’s various tastes, it is distasteful to hear Americans proclaim they have the “greatest country in the world”. This apocryphal adage lambasts the electorate at every turn and Trump whipped this into a fine frappé - he knew it was style over substance that mattered and he had an acute understanding of his Electoral College math.

We remain deeply afraid of Trump's presidency - of a resurgence of jingoism and military actions abroad, of the destruction of the environment (at a time when it is most vulnerable) and the dismantling of our rights - and yet as afraid as we are of Trump, we are as afraid of our fellow Americans who lapped up his lies and who voted for a candidate that would go to Washington and say “you’re fired” and vent their frustration without a feasible plan as to what to do next. Trump said everything that a large proportion of the white working class wanted to say and his election will indubitably embolden these acrid sentiments.

As much as we are afraid of those that voted for Trump, as aghast and appalled and downright flabbergasted that fellow human beings - particularly in a supposedly sophisticated country like ours - can think and behave in such fashion, their tastes have been artfully constructed by social neglect and propaganda, by religious instruction and not education. It has been and continues to be an effective means to divide and conquer economic interest that should, but for constructions of identity which have imbued political significance to and reified pigmentation and sex, be aligned. It is no coincidence that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech before his assassination was in support of striking workers and that he was moving towards an understanding that civil rights were moot without economic rights. He well understood that the racial divide served the ruling class and that a bridge between the racial divide was necessary, for there is power in plurality.

Tragically, the people that voted for Trump, did so because they were effectively disenfranchised, because they have been neglected and because they are in crisis - because they have been pushed to their limits and pushed back with an insufferable candidate. Trump’s campaign was ignoble to say the least but he to some extent accurately inveighed in crude, simple terms against a crumbling, corrupt system, against the revolving door between government and private industry, against international trade liberalization which has led to democratic deficits and increased income inequality (as Marx so presciently predicted would occur in Grundrisse). Trump’s rallying cry resonated because he reflected a segment of the population’s real concerns. The fact that he was a beneficiary of the system didn’t seem to matter for he effectively painted himself, a billionaire, as an outsider and blamed “career politicians” for all the people’s ills using Clinton’s vast experience – one of her main strengths – against her, while concomitantly painting his own inexperience as a strength.

It may be that people voted for Trump despite the pestilence and pantomime and because of his avowed protectionism. After all, Trump triumph followed Bernie’s victory in the primaries, another candidate whose platform was premised against government corruption and trade liberalization. Unfortunately, we did not get Bernie, but a candidate who as much as he disparaged “career politicians”, ironically defeated his opponent by mastering realpolitik and exploiting supra-economic divisions within the electoral pie to carve out the biggest piece.

Thus the working class canvassed, voted and fell for Trump – and yet they will suffer more from a Trump presidency, in which social stratification will be further entrenched. This is of course the central problem of democracy - that without a diligent demos it is held hostage by demagogues that spur factionalism to divide and conquer. The media, the Fourth Estate, is supposed to be democracy's watchdog, but while it may be protected by the First Amendment (for now), it has no duty to perform its role and is a creature of the corporate form which is in servitude to profit. Democracy is only as good as its demos and in a country in which people are struggling to survive, without access to proper healthcare and education, without prospect, battered and bludgeoned by sensationalist news (I have developed a nervous tick which is activated when I hear the word “email”), a noxious nihilism has taken hold that has produced a pantomime for a President. For some, it’s not about rising up, it’s about bringing everyone else down. We must be clear on this - they have a right to be angry. They have been stomped and abused and exploited and to some extent, forgotten in the current political lexicon. For some in this country, the battle is being able to use a particular bathroom, for others, it’s the ability to access any bathroom, yet supra-economic divisions comprise the majority of our contemporary public sphere and masquerade the pervasive economic tensions that fuel these divides (for instance, reproductive rights are as much economic rights as rights to inter alia, dignity and bodily integrity). Unfortunately for all of us and not the least the vast majority of Trump voters, the trajectory of their febrile fury is misdirected and has only served to widen the social schism.

The results of this election have revealed a deep divide among the American public and albeit there are pockets of progression in the Rust Belt and below the Mason-Dixon line, the rift is largely along geographic lines and rural-urban divide. America has always been a country of paradoxes, of cavernous contradictions. To some extent, this has been its strength. However, I would not be surprised, depending on how much power the Federal government aims to exercise with all three arms now gripped by one prurient party, in Montesquieu’s nightmare, whether these states will not continue to be so united. The rift is rife and seems to be widening. Protests across the country to dump Trump may point to the fact that Clinton won the popular vote and that they feel disenfranchised by the Electoral College which they find archaic and undemocratic and indeed so do I – it lends itself to the gerrymandering of districts in which the parties in power can ensure their constituents more weight (and it may be worthwhile to note that Republicans hold the majority of gubernatorial positions and House and Senate seats)- but if we are to continue our Federal system, we must continue, in some way, to accommodate the less populous states.

Indubitably the results of this election have fortified the Californian independence movement. I would wager that my fellow citizens of California largely found out about this movement after they googled secession reeling from the septic shock of the election results. California may not be the only state to consider this. Will a rich, progressive state want to subsidize the Federal government when its people are not provided public services from the Federal government and when such money is instead used by the Federal government to wage imperialist wars which the people disagree with? Should not those same taxes go to a state government which aims to protect the environment, fund education and healthcare? As some states delve deeper into a theocracy which runs rampant over people’s rights under the guise of religious freedoms while others move toward an accepting and open society, we are increasingly living in different Americas. We may be witnessing the first spell of depression of a country contemplating suicide.

I was born in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a country that no longer exists and I am well aware of how malleable our geographic borders and national identities are. My parents fled the country before the war, understanding that when the results of a referendum revealed that most people considered themselves a Serbian or Croatian first and then a Yugoslav, the future there was dismal and not for them.

As we process the ballot’s belly flop and ask ourselves after this virulent vitriol who we are and where we want to go, whether we consider ourselves, for instance, a New Yorker first, a Californian first, or an American, the seeds of what some may term secession and some may term sedition will spurt forth their fruit. It is a frightening prospect. Succession is never easy and may lead to war. I trust many people would scoff and say “well it can’t happen here” even though it happened here in historic terms just a moment ago. The last thing people tend to agree on at the precipice of war is that “it can’t happen here” but as Thucydides noted, history repeats and surely this election has taught us that we can never say never.

I’m mindful of an article I read a few weeks ago discussing the contrast between the risks of the different types of death that pervaded the news and their statistical probability (albeit I am wary of their seeming neutrality and accuracy). The odds, as I remember them, of being killed by a terrorist attack were close to one in a million. The risk of suicide was 1 in 6. Our biggest threat leers behind the mirror. The biggest threat to America is America and Mr. Trump- you can’t build a wall around that.

About

Gravity episodes produced and presented by Alexandra Arneri-Matsis
Gravity blog written by Alexandra Arneri-Matsis

Alexandra is a Partner at the bicoastal firm Cittone Demers & Arneri LLP where she has a litigation and transactional practice in intellectual property, media and entertainment and employment law. Alexandra has a public interest practice and provides pro bono assistance to artists and activists.

Alexandra writes Ninja Belly on the beautiful madness of parenthood (ninjabelly.com) and exhibits her art from time to time http://drawnandconfused.com/).

Gravity Logo by Delia Gosman
Original Gravity Compositions by Paul Pryor-Lorentz
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