Coronavirus disease 2019 and a Case for Environmental Socialism

Writing about the politics of public health whilst we are the midst of a major global pandemic is a peculiar combination of churlishness and critical necessity. At the time of writing, there are 425,000 confirmed cases, and 19,000 deaths, and in a few days that number will double, and then double again, and then double again. It is worth remembering that the first 100,000 diagnoses took from December to March, the second from March 5 to 17, and the third from March 18 to 21, and the fourth from March 22 to 24. It is the single greatest health risk of this century, in part due to the relatively high rate of fatalities (approximately 4.1% of diagnosed cases), and significantly due to the relative ease of transmission. Most of all, however, the greatest risk is the effects of the ease of transmission and fatality rate combined, that is, how it overwhelms our health-care systems, which are woefully unprepared for an event such as this.

But it is not as if that the knowledge was not there. There have been plenty of warning signs, such the previous outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in late 2002 to mid-2003, which is related to COVID-19, to the extent that academics warned of SARS as "an agent of emerging and reemerging infection". SARS had a fatality rate of 9.6% across 17 countries, with approximately 8,000 people infected. SARS was also highly infectious (R0 value of 2-4), but was successfully contained. Then in 2009, there was the Pandemic H1N1/09 virus ("swine flu"), which had a higher infection rate than seasonal influenza, and a similar fatality rate. In comparison Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), also a coronavirus, has a high fatality rate (36%) but a low transmission rate (R0 value of 0.3 to 0.8).

Recognising these rather impressive precursors, certain individuals also have tried to raise concerns. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, argued in 2005 that "Time is running out to prepare for the next pandemic. We must act now with decisiveness and purpose", and in 2017 had his book, "Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs" published. Virologist and flu expert Robert G. Webster warned of an upcoming 'flu pandemic, “Flu Hunter: Unlocking the secrets of a virus" late last year. The US Intelligence Team has warned about the possibility of a pandemic for years. Dr. Luciana Borio, once a member of the White House National Security Council (NSC) team responsible for pandemics, warned of pandemic threats; the team was disbanded under the Trump administration. Famously, Bill Gates argued in a TED talk in 2015, that we simply were not prepared.

Problems with Bernie's Climate Plan

Bernie's climate plan is deficient in three respects and, consequently, is guaranteed to fail. Firstly, he has abandoned carbon pricing, which was a central part of his platform in 2016. Secondly, he has vowed to ban all nuclear energy (including thorium). Thirdly, he has sworn off any reliance on carbon capture or geoengineering. These three deficiencies make Bernie's plan not just imperfect but destined for failure. It will be impossible to meet our energy needs under his plan without reliance on nuclear and it will be impossible to meet the emissions reduction goals he has set without carbon pricing and carbon capture.

This essay is going to be a bit longwinded and full of wonky details, but it is necessary to understand climate policy a little bit in order to understand why Yang's plan is so much better than Bernie's. If you are a climate change skeptic, check out my four-part series of articles on The Ecological Crisis & Its Solution, where I explain the science in a simple and easy-to-verify way.

February 18 is Bramble Cay Melomys Day

The 18th of February 2020, is the first anniversary of the Bramble Cays melomys being pronounced extinct. This was the 100th species to be driven to extinction since European colonisation of Australia and the first Australian species to go extinct as a direct result of climate change.

The recent fires have also pushed many of our endangered animals perilously close to extinction. Many Australians have been grief-stricken by the deaths of more than a billion Australian animals in these fires. This particularly includes our fire-fighters and first responders who have personally witnessed the agonising deaths of many iconic Australian animals, the conservation scientists who have seen decades of work destroyed, the wildlife carers and vets treating injured animals, and the First Peoples of Australia to whom Australia's plants and animals are of immense cultural importance, but also includes all the everyday Australians who have done what they can to confront our incalculable losses.

Victorian Parliament Homelessness Inquiry Submission

On 7 June 2019, the Legislative Council directed the Legal and Social Issues Committee to inquire into homelessness, and in particular, directed that the Committee should:

* provide an independent analysis of the changing scale and nature of homelessness across Victoria;
* investigate the many social, economic and policy factors that impact on homelessness; and
* identify policies and practices from all levels of government that have a bearing on delivering services to the homeless.

The Committee has since called for public submissions to this inquiry.

The following is the submission of the Isocracy Network, Inc., an incorporated non-profit association in Victoria (A0054881M).

Scale and Nature of Homelessness

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) defines a person as homeless "if they do not have suitable accommodation alternatives and their current living arrangement:

* is in a dwelling that is inadequate;
* has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable; or
* does not allow them to have control of, and access to space for social relations."

The ABS Census on Housing and Population recorded (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016) that 116,427 people were counted in the Census as being homeless on Census night, of which 24,817 were in Victoria. This is an increase from 102,439 in the 2011 Census, which itself was an increase from 89,728 in 2006. Of that number, 58% were male, 42% were female, 20% (or 23,437) are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, a figure down from the 26% in 2011, but still vastly disproportionate to the percentage of the population which is 3%, as determined by the ABS. Homelessness increased in all 18+ age groups, with the most significant increase being in the 25-34 year old group.

Review: "Isocracy: The Institutions of Equality"

Like most terms referring to governance, "Isocracy" means "equal" (iso-) "rule" (-cracy). The first time we here of this phrase is in reference to the famous Attic orators, Isokrates, who was noted for his pragmatic approach to teaching and use of skills in context, and his desire for an educated, multicultural society. Robert Southey referred to William Goodwin, the first modern anarchist, as promoting isocracy. Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge has a proposed utopian experiment called "pantisocracy" ("equal government for all"), Grant Allen used the term in the founding documents of the Independent Labor Party in 1893 and wanted the ILP to be called the "the Isocratic Party". From there there is a handful of references, most importantly by the reputable Italian political scientist Giovanni Sartori in 1957 in his "Democrazia e Definizioni". The Isocracy Network, founded in Melbourne is a political organisation that embodies the principle of self ownership and, by extension informed consent, natural resources as the source of public income and the use for the common good, combining the best elements of the modern traditions of liberal, socialist and anarchist thought. The ten-point-plan of the Isocracy Network provides a practical implementation of this theory.

Recently, there has been an English language edition by Palgrave Mcmillan of Nicolò Bellanca's "Isocracy: The Institutions of Equality", a translation from the Italian Isocrazia: Le istituzioni dell’eguaglianza. which was published by Castelvecchi Editore in 2016. Nicolò Bellanca is an academic at the University of Florence, Department of Economics. It is this book that we now review and from the outset it should be expected that this is a contribution to debate over the meaning. After all, there are many books on the practical implementation and meaning of "democracy", and we should expect little different over "isocracy". Certainly it is clear that others are looking at these political traditions as a way to qualitatively improve existing democracies. This is both pragmatic and principled; isocracy does not seek to provide utopia, which of course, translates as "no place", but perhaps a "eutopia", a good place. Bellanca explicitly states this, saying that isocracy is not uopia, but rather "something close", "a good place to live", and offers the following definition: "We can define isocracy as a kind of society where people do not rule or obey, a place where there is order without power, and a non-hierarchical cooperation" (p.v). As such, it follows our existing tradition of combining 20th century liberal, socialist, and anarchist thought into a new synthesis. It is also clear indication that we are in the beginning of a new social ideal.

A Second Look at Bernie Sanders' Federal Job Guarantee Program

When one thinks of Bernie Sanders' federal job guarantee proposal, one may be inclined to associate it with Louis Blanc's The Organization of Labor, the 1839 socialist tract, which supposedly introduced the idea of a "right to work". But one can also find this "right to work" idea in classical republican theorists like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.

Thomas Paine says in Rights of Man, part 2, that the government should ensure "[e]mployment at all times for the casual poor." And Thomas Jefferson says in a 1785 letter to Madison, "The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on. If for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be provided to those excluded from appropriation." That is to say, if we allow some men to own the land so that others cannot just freely live off the land, we have to guarantee employment to those who are deprived of ownership. Both of these American Founding Fathers speak of a "right to work." In Franklin Delano Roosevelt's famous Second Bill of Rights, he speaks of "[t]he right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation."

Smoko The Saviour Has Returned

For the past several weeks there have been dramatic and intense bushfires in Australia, especially in New South Wales. It has affected almost fourfive million hecatres, has destroyed approximately 2500 houses, has resulted in a (thankfully few) eleven deaths. The Prime Minister has only just announced that he'll be cutting his holiday in Hawaii short and returning to Australia to respond to the crisis and that he "deeply regrets" any offense caused by his absence, comparing it to taking an extra plumbing contract instead of picking up the kids. This is, of course, the same Scott Morrison, who brought a lump of coal into parliament, cradling his pet rock and earnestly declaring that we shouldn't be scared of it.

Morrison was here for what can now be considered the early days of Australi's 2019-2020 fire season. As the initial houses burned and fatalities occurred he offered "thoughts and prayers". Apparently with no minders checking his tweets and the expenditure on an empathy consultant not helping, he followed up a few days later with:

"Going to be a great summer of cricket, and for our firefighters and fire-impacted communities, I’m sure our boys will give them something to cheer for."

Strikes against the French pension reforms

From thelocal.fr It was one of Emmanuel Macron's top items in his electoral manifesto back in 2017: France’s pensions system must be reformed. Obviously 'reformed' in the mouth of the former investment banker at Rothschild & Co. actually meant "fed to the private funds" and so, after a two-and-a-half-year wait, the government have finally revealed what they wanted to do with our pensions system, and the people have responded in protest. Demonstrations last week saw up to 1,5 million (CGT figures) in the streets protesting the plans, which apart from seeking a simpler system also seeks to reduce pension payments.

Now it must be said that France's pensions system is very complex. Whenever someone retires, they have to spend weeks if not months assembling all the paperwork needed for their pension. Depending on the branch they have worked in, on how many kids they've had, on whether they worked full-time or not, etc. etc. the French Pensions Agency will compute their yearly pension, which will then usually increase each year based on inflation. So that is the angle of attack the Macronists have chosen: "the system is too complex, let’s make it simpler!". Their solution? (a) collapsing the 40+ systems into a single-one and (b) making the new system a point-based one. Easy-peasy: when you retire, you have amassed a certain amount of points, and each point entitles you a given amount of euros per annum, to be established by the government.

The 2019 UK election - blame Corbyn

The United Kingdom is about to start voting in their general election, and while many thought this would be the Brexit election, it's actually turning out to be the Corbyn election. And so if by tomorrow the polls have been proven correct (not a certainty I'll admit, but we'll see) and the Conservatives are not only returned but with an increased majority, all blame and ire must focus on the Labour leader, and how he lost what should have been an unloseable contest [1]. In the four opinion polls conducted in December, Boris Johnson has an average -13% approval rating. In those same four polls Jeremy Corbyn has an average approval rating of -40%. (This, by the way, represents something of an improvement, in recent months this number has dipped as low as minus 60 [2].) Meanwhile Labour's policies are consistently popular with voters, and the country is weary of not only the Brexit they created, but also years of Tory cuts and austerity. So I ask, why is a government and prime minister that is so widely disliked about to be returned to office with an increased parliamentary majority? Because of one man, or rather more accurately, the politburo of his reactionary cretins who have taken over the Labour Party, and the foaming hordes of extremists who, by propping this rabble up, are handing the country over to the Conservatives for the foreseeable future, at least while People's Commissariat Corbyn remains in charge.

The United Kingdom is Falling Apart

This coming Thursday, December 12, the United Kingdom will go to an election. If the opinion polls are to be believed, it will result in another election win for the Tories, under the openly racist, bigoted, classist, and homophobic [1] leadership of Boris Johnson, although we are reminded that opinions polls were not very accurate [2] last time. Nevertheless, even with this caveat in place, it seems reasonable to grimly predict that Johnson and the Tories are most likely to be returned. Such as result will be the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom. The return of Johnson will witness an enrichment of a section of the national ruling (landlord and capitalist) class, greater austerity and less public services, greater authoritarianism, increasing pressure from the Celtic nations for leaving the Union, more protracted negotiations on Brexit with relative economic losses, and the transformation of the UK into a rump client-state of Trump's United States.

One may justly ask: How did such an unholy mess come about? Can it be prevented? What can be done if and when there is a return of a Johnson government? In exploring these questions, there are two major subjects. Firstly, is the relationship between economic austerity and Brexit, secondly, the relationship between democracy and informed public opinion. It must also be remembered that this election is being called under unusual circumstances. only two and a half years after the previous general election in June 2017. Following the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011, elections are supposed to take place every five years, with the exception of a vote of no-confidence in the government, or if a resolution is supported by at least a two-thirds majority of the House. Following several failures of the former Prime Minister, Teresa May, to pass an Brexit agreement (January 15, February 14, March 12, March 29), leading to her resignation in July, and replacement with Johnson. Johnson, to give credit to a certain political cunning, has turned around the Conservative Party's fortunes by taking up votes that were leaking to the Brexit Party, and the latter has engaged in a tactical choice of noting running in Conservative-held seats.

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