The Coronavirus Pandemic, Like Other Global Catastrophes, Reveals the Limitations of Nationalism

We live with a profound paradox.  Our lives are powerfully affected by worldwide economic, communications, transportation, food supply, and entertainment systems.  Yet we continue an outdated faith in the nation-state, with all the divisiveness, competition, and helplessness that faith produces when dealing with planetary problems.

As we have seen in recent weeks, the coronavirus, like other diseases, does not respect national boundaries, but spreads easily around the world.  And how is it being read more

A Tale of Two Stockpiles

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Anniversary of his Murder in a Pandemic Year

April 4, 2020

The United States Strategic National Stockpile of essential medical supplies maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, seems unable to respond to the present COVID-19 crisis.  There is much discussion in today’s news about who is responsible for the shortcomings. Did Trump find the shelves empty or full when he took office after President Obama? Is the stockpile meant to read more

One Earth, One Chance: Six Activists Discuss Climate

UPDATE: Now included in this video is the Q&A portion.

Here’s a video I encourage you to watch above or at this LINK. The part that I’m in, which addresses climate and war, starts around minute 40, but I encourage you to watch the whole thing.

This was an event in Charlottesville, Va., on February 28, 2020, featuring activists whose portraits have been painted by Robert Shetterly. Meeting other such activists has been a major read more

A Department of Actual Defense in a Time of Coronavirus

When a few thousand people were murdered on September 11, 2001, I was actually stupid enough – I kid you not – to imagine that the general public would conclude that because massive military forces, nuclear arsenals, and foreign bases had done nothing to prevent and much to provoke those crimes, the U.S. government would need to start scaling back its single biggest expense. By September 12th it was clear that the opposite course would be followed.

Since 2001, we have seen the U.S. government read more

“He’s Got Eight Numbers, Just Like Everybody Else”

by Kathy Kelly

April 3, 2020

On April 4, 2020, my friend Steve Kelly will begin a third year of imprisonment in Georgia’s Glynn County jail. He turned 70 while in prison, and while he has served multiple prison sentences for protesting nuclear weapons, spending two years in a county jail is unusual even for him. Yet he adamantly urges supporters to focus attention on the nuclear weapons arsenals which he and his companions aim to disarm. “The nukes are not going to go away by themselves,” read more

Huge layoffs = major recession; Raging infections and deaths = major epidemic: This Crisis Is Not Going to Be Short

By Dave Lindorff

Thursday morning the bottom fell out of the US economy, as the US Department of Labor reported that an unprecedented 6.6 million more workers in the US had been laid off and had filed claims for unemployment compensation payments with their state Unemployment Offices last week. That stunning news followed the already shocking news from last week that 3.3 million workers had lost their jobs and had filed for benefits the week before. This means that over read more

Tomgram: Michael Klare, What Planet Are We On?

This article originally appeared at To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the exploding coronavirus pandemic (we’re #1!) has taken a tad of our attention lately and the definition of “the future” has largely become: When will this be over?

Not surprisingly, then, much real news about our future planet has largely gone missing in action. Take, for example, a story that’s received next to no attention in this country, a report on the massive bleaching of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef this year thanks to record warming waters. Think of it as Australia’s oceanic equivalent of the staggering wildfires that burned through parts of that country in such an unprecedented fashion earlier in 2020. And coral reefs around the world, crucial to the life systems that rely on them (and that we humans rely on), are suffering similarly on a planet being transformed by human activity in ways large and small. Among those ways, none is worse than the burning of fossil fuels, still being promoted by governments run by arsonists like Donald Trump.

Almost nine years ago at this site, TomDispatch regular Michael Klare wrote what I now consider a prophetic piece, “The Planet Strikes Back.” In it, he focused on ways in which we humans have been inviting “the planet’s ire,” exploring in particular what was known then about the depredations of human-induced climate change. As he put it at the time, “We inhabit a new place, already changed dramatically by the intervention of humankind. But we are not acting upon a passive, impotent entity unable to defend itself against human transgression. Sad to say, we will learn to our dismay of the immense powers available to Earth, the Avenger.”

In the midst of the present global coronavirus pandemic, that old piece of his came to mind and I asked him to do a 2020 version of it. So take a deep breath, as so many of us sit here in self-isolation of one sort or another, and think with him about this moment, not to speak of similarly difficult moments to come, on a planet that is both endangered in radical ways and truly capable of striking back. Tom
Avenger Planet
Is the Covid-19 Pandemic Mother Nature’s Response to Human Transgression?
By Michael T. Klare

As the coronavirus sweeps across the planet, leaving death and mayhem in its wake, many theories are being expounded to explain its ferocity. One, widely circulated within right-wing conspiracy circles, is that it originated as a biological weapon developed at a secret Chinese military lab in the city of Wuhan that somehow (perhaps intentionally?) escaped into the civilian population. Although that “theory” has been thoroughly debunked, President Trump and his acolytes continue to call Covid-19 the China Virus, the Wuhan Virus, or even the “Kung Flu,” claiming its global spread was the result of an inept and secretive Chinese government response. Scientists, by and large, believe the virus originated in bats and was transmitted to humans by wildlife sold at a Wuhan seafood market. But perhaps there’s another far more ominous possibility to consider: that this is one of Mother Nature’s ways of resisting humanity’s assault on her essential life systems.

Let’s be clear: this pandemic is a world-shattering phenomenon of massive proportions. Not only has it infected hundreds of thousands of people across the planet, killing more than 40,000 of them, but it’s brought the global economy to a virtual stand-still, potentially crushing millions of businesses, large and small, while putting tens of millions, or possibly hundreds of millions, of people out of work. In the past, disasters of this magnitude have toppled empires, triggered mass rebellions, and caused widespread famine and starvation. This upheaval, too, will produce widespread misery and imperil the survival of numerous governments.

Understandably, our forebears came to view such calamities as manifestations of the fury of gods incensed by human disrespect for and mistreatment of their universe, the natural world. Today, educated people generally dismiss such notions, but scientists have recently been discovering that human impacts on the environment, especially the burning of fossil fuels, are producing feedback loops causing increasingly severe harm to communities across the globe, in the form of extreme storms, persistent droughts, massive wildfires, and recurring heat waves of an ever deadlier sort.

Climate scientists also speak of “singularities,” “non-linear events,” and “tipping points” — the sudden and irreversible collapse of vital ecological systems with far-ranging, highly destructive consequences for humanity. Evidence for such tipping points is growing — for example in the unexpectedly rapid melting of the Arctic icecap. In that context, a question naturally arises: Is the coronavirus a stand-alone event, independent of any other mega-trends, or does it represent some sort of catastrophic tipping point?

It will be some time before scientists can answer that question with any certainty. There are, however, good reasons to believe that this might be the case and, if so, perhaps it’s high time humanity reconsiders its relationship with nature.

Humans vs. Nature

It’s common to think of human history as an evolutionary process in which broad, long-studied trends like colonialism and post-colonialism have largely shaped human affairs. When sudden disruptions have occurred, they are usually attributed to, say, the collapse of a long-lasting dynasty or the rise of an ambitious new ruler. But the course of human affairs has also been altered — often in even more dramatic ways — by natural occurrences, ranging from prolonged droughts to catastrophic volcanic activity to (yes, of course) plagues and pandemics. The ancient Minoan civilization of the eastern Mediterranean, for example, is widely believed to have disintegrated following a powerful volcanic eruption on the island of Thera (now known as Santorini) in the 17th century BCE. Archaeological evidence further suggests that other once-thriving cultures were similarly undermined or even extinguished by natural disasters.

It’s hardly surprising that the survivors of such catastrophes often attributed their misfortunes to the anger of various gods over human excesses and depredations. In the ancient world, sacrifices — even human ones — were considered a necessity to appease such angry spirits. At the onset of the Trojan War, for example, the Greek goddess Artemis, protectress of wild animals, the wilderness, and the moon, stilled the winds needed to propel the Greek fleet to Troy because Agamemnon, its commander, had killed a sacred deer. To appease her and restore the essential winds, Agamemnon felt obliged — or so the poet Homer tells us — to sacrifice his own daughter Iphigenia (the plot line for many a Greek and modern tragedy).

In more recent times, educated people have generally seen coronavirus-style calamities as either inexplicable acts of God or as explicable, if surprising, natural events. With the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution in Europe, moreover, many influential thinkers came to believe that humans could use science and technology to overpower nature and so harness it to the will of humanity. The seventeenth-century French mathematician René Descartes, for example, wrote of employing science and human knowledge so that “we can… render ourselves the masters and possessors of nature.”

This outlook undergirded the view, common in the last three centuries, that the Earth was “virgin” territory (especially when it came to the colonial possessions of the major powers) and so fully open to exploitation by human entrepreneurs. This led to the deforestation of vast areas, as well as the extinction or near-extinction of many animals, and in more recent times, to the plunder of underground mineral and energy deposits.

As it happened, though, this planet proved anything but an impotent victim of colonization and exploitation. Human mistreatment of the natural environment has turned out to have distinctly painful boomerang effects. The ongoing destruction of the Amazon rain forest, for example, is altering Brazil’s climate, raising temperatures and reducing rainfall in significant ways, with painful consequences for local farmers and even more distant urban dwellers. (And the release of vast quantities of carbon dioxide, thanks to increasingly massive forest fires, will only increase the pace of climate change globally.) Similarly, the technique of hydraulic fracking, used to extract oil and natural gas trapped in underground shale deposits, can trigger earthquakes that damage aboveground structures and endanger human life. In so many ways like these, Mother Nature strikes back when her vital organs suffer harm.

This interplay between human activity and planetary behavior has led some analysts to rethink our relationship with the natural world. They have reconceptualized the Earth as a complex matrix of living and inorganic systems, all (under normal conditions) interacting to maintain a stable balance. When one component of the larger matrix is damaged or destroyed, the others respond in their unique ways in attempting to restore the natural order of things. Originally propounded by the environmental scientist James Lovelock in the 1960s, this notion has often been described as “the Gaia Hypothesis,” after the ancient Greek goddess Gaia, the ancestral mother of all life.

Climate Tipping Points

Posing the ultimate threat to planetary health, climate change — a direct consequence of the human impulse to dump ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, potentially heating the planet to the breaking point — is guaranteed to generate the most brutal of all such feedback loops. By emitting ever more carbon dioxide and other gases, humans are fundamentally altering planetary chemistry and posing an almost unimaginable threat to natural ecosystems. Climate-change deniers in the Trumpian mode continue to insist that we can keep doing this with no cost to our way of life. It is, however, becoming increasingly apparent that the more we alter the climate, the more the planet will respond in ways guaranteed to endanger human life and prosperity.

The main engine of climate change is the greenhouse effect, as all those greenhouse gases sent into the atmosphere entrap ever more radiated solar heat from the Earth’s surface, raising temperatures worldwide and so altering global climate patterns. Until now, much of this added heat and carbon dioxide has been absorbed by the planet’s oceans, resulting in rising water temperatures and the increased acidification of their waters. This, in turn, has already led to, among other deleterious effects, the mass die-off of coral reefs — the preferred habitat of many of the fish species on which large numbers of humans rely for their sustenance and livelihoods. Just as consequential, higher ocean temperatures have provided the excess energy that has fueled many of the most destructive hurricanes of recent times, including Sandy, Harvey, Irma, Maria, Florence, and Dorian.

A warmer atmosphere can also sustain greater accumulations of moisture, making possible the prolonged downpours and catastrophic flooding being experienced in many parts of the world, including the upper Midwest in the United States. In other areas, rainfall is decreasing and heat waves are becoming more frequent and prolonged, resulting in devastating wildfires of the sort witnessed in the American West in recent years and in Australia this year.

In all such ways, Mother Nature, you might say, is striking back. It is, however, the potential for “non-linear” events and “

read more

Could this virus and economic crisis be a revolutionary moment?: Marx on COVID-19

By Ron Ridenour

Copenhagen“A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre ofCovid-19. For Marx and Engels writing the Communist Manifesto, in 1848, that spectre was communism, their political system of choice. This flaring ghost they described frightened the capitalist class, which endeavored to exorcise its breath.

The contemporary specter (thesis-see note) is a new corona virus, code named COVID-19. The spectre of communism lurks for a rebirth as the capitalist read more

Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, Feminism in the Time of Coronavirus

This article originally appeared at To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Let me state the obvious: Right now, we could hardly be in a more unsettled moment on a more unsettled planet. And I feel it personally. This old man has deserted New York, the city where I was born almost 76 years ago, the streets where I grew up, the place I returned to in 1976 and have lived in ever since. I’ve left what’s now being called the “epicenter” of the coronavirus pandemic and headed for a possibly (but who knows?) safer place on a planet that, in so many ways, couldn’t feel less safe.

Everything seems ever less familiar to me in a once-familiar world on the brink of who knows what in both health and economic terms. Today, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes, considers in striking fashion just how unsettling this coronaviral moment of ours has been (and will be) for women in ways large and small, global and local. Tom
The Future May Be Female
But the Pandemic Is Patriarchal
By Rebecca Gordon

Before I found myself “sheltering in place,” this article was to be about women’s actions around the world to mark March 8th, International Women’s Day. From Pakistan to Chile, women in their millions filled the streets, demanding that we be able to control our bodies and our lives. Women came out in Iraq and Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Peru, the Philippines and Malaysia. In some places, they risked beatings by masked men. In others, they demanded an end to femicide — the millennia-old reality that women in this world are murdered daily simply because they are women.

In 1975 the Future Was Female

This year’s celebrations were especially militant. It’s been 45 years since the United Nations declared 1975 the International Women’s Year and sponsored its first international conference on women in Mexico City. Similar conferences followed at five-year intervals, culminating in a 1995 Beijing conference, producing a platform that has in many ways guided international feminism ever since.

Beijing was a quarter of a century ago, but this year, women around the world seemed to have had enough. On March 9th, Mexican women staged a 24-hour strike, un día sin nosotras (a day without us women), to demonstrate just how much the world depends on the labor — paid and unpaid — of… yes, women. That womanless day was, by all accounts, a success. The Wall Street Journal observed — perhaps with a touch of astonishment — that “Mexico grinds to a halt. Hundreds of thousands of women paralyzed Mexico in an unprecedented nationwide strike to protest a rising wave of violence against women, a major victory for their cause.”

In addition to crowding the streets and emptying factories and offices, some women also broke store windows and fought with the police. Violence? From women? What could have driven them to such a point?

Perhaps it was the murder of Ingrid Escamilla, 25, a Mexico City resident, who, according to the New York Times, “was stabbed, skinned and disemboweled” this February. Maybe it was that the shooting of the artist and activist Isabel Cabanillas de la Torre in Ciudad Juarez, a barely noted reminder to an uninterested world that women have been disappearing for decades along the U.S.-Mexico border. Or maybe it was just the fact that official figures for 2019 revealed more than 1,000 femicides in Mexico, a 10% increase from the previous year, while many more such murders go unrecorded.

Is the Pandemic Patriarchal?

If it weren’t for the pandemic, maybe the Wall Street Journal would have been right. Maybe the Day Without Women would have been only the first of many major victories. Maybe the international feminist anthem, “El violador eres tú” (You [the patriarchy, the police, the president] are the rapist), would have gone on inspiring flash-mobs of dancing, chanting women everywhere. Perhaps the world’s attention might not have been so quickly diverted from the spectacle of women’s uprisings globally. Now, however, in the United States and around the world, it’s all-pandemic-all-the-time, and with reason. The coronavirus has done what A Day Without Women could not: it’s brought the world’s economy to a shuddering halt. It’s infected hundreds of thousands of people and killed tens of thousands. And it continues to spread like a global wildfire.

Like every major event and institution, the pandemic affects women and men differently. Although men who fall sick seem more likely than women to die, in other respects, the pandemic and its predictable aftermath are going to be harder on women. How can that be? The writer Helen Lewis provides some answers in the Atlantic.

First of all, the virus, combined with mass quarantine measures, ensures that more people will need to be cared for. This includes older people who are especially at risk of dying and children who are no longer in school or childcare. In developed countries like the United States, people fortunate enough to be able to keep their jobs by working from home are discovering that the presence of bored children does not make this any easier.

Indeed, last night, my little household was treated to a song-and-dance performance by two little girls who live a couple of houses down the street. Their parents had spent the day helping them plan it and then invited us to watch from our backyard. What they’ll do tomorrow, a workday, I have no idea. A friend without children has offered to provide daily 15-minute Zoom lessons on anything she can Google, as a form of respite for her friends who are mothers.

As recently as a week ago, it looked as if shuttered schools might open again before the academic year ends, allowing one New York Times commentator to write an article headlined “I Refuse to Run a Coronavirus Home School.” An associate professor of educational leadership, the author says she’s letting her two children watch TV and eat cookies, knowing that no amount of quick-study is going to turn her into an elementary school teacher. I applaud her stance, but also suspect that the children of professionals will probably be better placed than those of low-wage workers to resume the life-and-death struggle for survival in the competitive jungle that is kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade education in this country.

In locked-down heterosexual households, Helen Lewis writes, the major responsibility for childcare will fall on women. She’s exasperated with pundits who point out that people like Isaac Newton and Shakespeare did their best work during a seventeenth-century plague in England. “Neither of them,” she points out, “had child-care responsibilities.” Try writing King Lear while your own little Cordelias, Regans, and Gonerils are pulling at your shirt and complaining loudly that they’re booored.

In places like the United Kingdom and the United States, where the majority of mothers have jobs, women will experience new pressures to give up their paid employment. In most two-earner heterosexual households with children, historic pay inequalities mean that a woman’s job usually pays less. So if someone has to devote the day to full-time childcare, it will make economic sense that it’s her. In the U.S., 11% of women are already involuntarily working only part-time, many in jobs with irregular schedules. Even women who have chosen to balance their household work with part-time employment may find themselves under pressure to relinquish those jobs.

As Lewis says, this all makes “perfect economic sense”:

“At an individual level, the choices of many couples over the next few months will make perfect economic sense. What do pandemic patients need? Looking after. What do self-isolating older people need? Looking after. What do children kept home from school need? Looking after. All this looking after — this unpaid caring labor — will fall more heavily on women, because of the existing structure of the workforce.”

Furthermore, as women who choose to leave the workforce for a few years to care for very young children know, it’s almost impossible to return to paid work at a position of similar pay and status as the one you gave up. And enforced withdrawal won’t make that any easier.

Social Reproduction? What’s That? And Why Does It Matter?

This semester I’m teaching a capstone course for urban studies majors at my college, the University of San Francisco. We’ve been focusing our attention on something that shapes all our lives: work — what it is, who has it and doesn’t, who’s paid for it and isn’t, and myriad other questions about the activity that occupies so much of our time on this planet. We’ve borrowed a useful concept from Marxist feminists: “social reproduction.” It refers to all the work, paid and unpaid, that someone has to do just so that workers can even show up at their jobs and perform the tasks that earn them a paycheck, while making a profit for their employers.

It’s called reproduction, because it reproduces workers, both in the biological sense and in terms of the daily effort to make them whole enough to do it all over again tomorrow. It’s social reproduction, because no one can do it alone and different societies find different ways of doing it.

What’s included in social reproduction? There are the obvious things any worker needs: food, clothing, sleep (and a safe place to doze off), not to speak of a certain level of hygiene. But there’s more. Recreation is part of it, because it “recreates” a person capable of working effectively. Education, healthcare, childcare, cooking, cleaning, procuring or making food and clothing — all of these are crucial to sustaining workers and their work. If you’d like to know more about it, Tithi Bhattacharya’s Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression is a good place to start.

What does any of this have to do with our pandemic moment? How social reproduction is organized in the United States leaves some people more vulnerable than others in a time of economic crisis. To take one example, over many decades, restaurants have assumed and collectivized (for profit) significant parts of the work of food preparation, service, and clean up, acts once largely performed in indvidual homes. For working women, the availability of cheap takeout has, in some cases, replaced the need to plan, shop for, and prepare meals seven days a week. Food service is a stratified sector, ranging from high-end to fast-food establishments, but it includes many low-wage workers who have now lost their jobs, while those still working at places providing takeout or drive-through meals are risking their health so that others can eat.

One way professional class two-earner couples in the United States have dealt with the tasks of social reproduction is to outsource significant parts of their work to poorer women. Fighting over who does the vacuuming and laundry at home? Don’t make the woman do it all. Hire a different woman to do it for you. Want to have children and a career? Hire a nanny.

Of course, odds are that your house cleaner and nanny will still have to do their own social reproduction work when they get home. And now that their children aren’t going to school, somehow they’ll have to take care of them as well. In many cases, this will be possible, however, because their work is not considered an “essential service” under the shelter-in-place orders of some states. So they will lose their incomes.

At least here in California, many of the women who do these jobs are undocumented immigrants. When the Trump administration and Congress manage to pass a relief bill, they, like many undocumented restaurant workers, won’t be receiving any desperately needed funds to help them pay rent or buy food. Immigrant-rights organizations are stepping in to try to make up some of the shortfall, but what they’re capable of is likely to prove just a few drops in a very large bucket. Fortunately, immigrant workers are among the most resourceful people in this country or they wouldn’t have made it this far.

There’s one more kind of social reproduction work performed mostly by women, and, by its nature, the very opposite of “social distancing”: sex work. You can be sure that no bailout bill will include some of the nation’s poorest women, those who work as prostitutes.

Women at Home and at Risk

It’s a painful coincidence that women are being confined to their homes just as an international movement against femicide is taking off. One effect of shelter-in-place is to make it much harder for women to find shelter from domestic violence. Are you safer outside risking coronavirus or inside with a bored, angry male partner? I write this in full knowledge that one economic sector that has not suffered from the pandemic is the gun business., for example, which sells ammunition online in all but four states, has experienced more than a three-fold increase in revenue over the last month. Maybe all that ammo is being bought to fight off zombies (or the immigrant invasion the president keeps reminding us about), but research shows that gun ownership has a lot to do with whether or not domestic violence turns into murder.

Each week, Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax hosts a chat line offering suggestions for help of various sorts. For the last two weeks, her readers (myself included) have been horrified by messages from one participant stuck in quarantine in a small apartment with a dangerous partner who has just bought a gun. Standard advice to women in her position is not just to run, but to make an exit plan, quietly gather the supplies and money you’ll need and secure a place to go. Mandatory shelter-in-place orders, however necessary to flattening the curve of this pandemic, may well indirectly cause an increase in domestic femicides.

As if women weren’t already disproportionately affected by the coronavirus epidemic, Senate Republicans have been trying to sneak a little extra misogyny into their version of a relief bill. In the same month that Pakistani women risked their lives in demonstrations under the slogan “Mera jism, meri marzi” (“My body, my choice”), Republicans want to use the pandemic in another attempt to — that’s right — shut down Planned Parenthood clinics.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent recently revealed that the $350 billion being proposed to shore up small businesses that don’t lay off workers would exclude nonprofits that receive funds from Medicaid. Planned Parenthood, which provides healthcare for millions of uninsured and underinsured women, is exactly that kind of nonprofit. Democratic congressional aides who alerted Sargent to this suggest that Planned Parenthood wouldn’t be the only organization affected. They also believe that

“…this language read more