Washington DC 09 20 2021. More than 600,000 white flags honor lives lost to COVID, on the National Mall. The art installation " In America: Remember" was created by Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg.

Depoliticizing Social Murder in the COVID-19 Pandemic

­­By Nate Holdren

Lire en français.

The present pandemic nightmare is the most recent and an especially acute manifestation of capitalist society’s tendency to kill many, regularly, a tendency that Friedrich Engels called “social murder.” Capitalism kills because destructive behaviors are, to an important extent, compulsory in this kind of society. Enough businesses must make enough money or serious social consequences follow — for them, their employees, and for government. In order for that to happen, the rest of us must continue the economic activities that are obligatory to maintain such a society.

That these activities are obligatory means capitalist societies are market dependent: market participation is not optional, but mandatory. As Beatrice Adler-Bolton has put it, in capitalism “you are entitled to the survival you can buy,” and so people generally do what they have to in order to get money. The predictable results are that some people don’t get enough money to survive; some people endure danger due to harmful working, living, and environmental conditions; some people endure lack of enough goods and services of a high enough quality to promote full human flourishing; and some people inflict the above conditions on others. The simple, brutal reality is that capitalism kills many, regularly. (The steadily building apocalypse of the climate crisis is another manifestation of the tendency to social murder, as is the very old and still ongoing killing of workers in the ordinary operations of so many workplaces.)

The tendency to social murder creates potential problems that governments must manage, since states too are subject to pressures and tendencies arising from capitalism. They find themselves facing the results of social murder, results they are expected to respond to, with their options relatively constrained by the limits placed on them by capitalism. Within that context governments often resort to a specific tactic of governance: depoliticization.

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Supreme Court of the United States.

The Bind We’re in — And How the Supreme Court Put Us There

By Jennifer Bard

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages into its third year of global death and destruction, the Supreme Court of the United States has effectively thwarted every measure by federal or state government to implement the public health tools that for hundreds of years have been used to stop the spread of contagious disease. They have done so by operationalizing what were previously fringe and relatively harmless academic views in ways that extend their powers beyond any previous boundaries. These include, but are not limited to, extending the protection for religious exercise past any previously imagined, and limiting Congressional authority to respond to emergencies by imposing impossible standards of specificity on its delegation of authority to the agencies which it creates, funds, and directly oversees.

In so doing, the Court has not only undermined the health of the nation, and pushed millions of people into unnecessary long-term disability, which our fragmented health care and social security system is unequipped to handle. It has also threatened our national security by infecting what is already more than half of the children in the country with a virus that has the potential to damage every organ in their bodies, from heart to brain.

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCT. 8, 2019: Rally for LGBTQ rights outside Supreme Court as Justices hear oral arguments in three cases dealing with discrimination in the workplace because of sexual orientation.

Affirming Nondiscrimination Rights: HHS Needs to Acknowledge a Private Right of Action for Section 1557 Violations

By Cathy Zhang

Last week, on the heels of attacks on trans youth and their families in Texas, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a notice and guidance expressing support for transgender and gender nonconforming youth and highlighting the civil rights and privacy laws surrounding gender affirming care.

OCR all but names the Texas attacks as unlawful under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability by federally funded health programs or activities. It notes that for federally funded entities, restricting medically necessary care on the basis of gender — such as doctors reporting parents of patients to state authorities — “likely violates Section 1557.”

The guidance directs those who have been discriminated against on the basis of gender identity or disability in seeking access to gender-affirming health care to file a complaint through OCR. HHS can go further, however, by formally acknowledging that individuals have a legal right to enforce Section 1557 when they have experienced prohibited health care discrimination.

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Professional business teleworkers connecting online and working from home for their corporate company, remote working and networks concept.

Introduction to the Symposium: Build Back Better? Health, Disability, and the Future of Work Post-COVID

By Chloe Reichel, Marissa Mery, and Michael Ashley Stein

This week marks the two-year anniversary of World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom declaring COVID-19 a pandemic.

It is at this particular moment that we, in the United States, are beginning to see the sociological construction of the end of the pandemic: metrics measuring COVID-19 transmission have been radically revised to reshape perceptions of risk; masks are, once again, being shed en masse; and remote workers are being urged back to the office. “It’s time for America to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again with people,” President Joseph Biden said during his March 1, 2022 State of the Union address.

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Person filling syringe from vial.

The Beginning of the End of Federalism

By Jennifer Bard

Friday’s emergency hearing by the Supreme Court regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) vaccine-or-test mandate was extraordinary both in that it happened at all and what took place.

The hearing came in a response to a petition by a coalition of states and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) to halt an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) issued by OSHA mandating that all employers with over 100 employees “establish minimum vaccination standards” including “vaccination verification, face covering, and testing requirements.”

That the Court heard the case on an emergency basis signaled their concern that OSHA, in issuing the ETS, was overreaching its authority, as they ruled the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had done in issuing an eviction moratorium.

But what made the colloquies particularly unsettling is that the ETS was carefully crafted to be, as Professors Larry Gostin and Dorit Rubinstein Reiss explain lucidly, well within contemporary standards for an exercise of federal power affecting a health matter usually within the jurisdiction of a state. It applies only to employers already obligated to follow OSHA workplace standards and fell far short of a vaccine mandate. Moreover, however severe the risk of COVID when this was drafted six months ago, the risk from the Omicron variant is many times greater.

Yet the sympathetic ear given by the majority of the Justices to the arguments made by the lawyers seeking a stay made it possible to wonder if the whole thing was happening in either one of DC or the MCU’s multiverse. This is because the questioning, directly and by implication, calls into doubt what past Courts have identified as the framework of federalism — a nickname for the Constitution’s balancing of a strong federal government against the rights of individual states. We cannot know the extent to which the Justices will adopt any of the arguments offered them for limiting federal agency power, but from this hearing we can anticipate substantial strengthening of an individual state’s ability to resist federal regulation.

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Desolate winter scene.

A Timeline of Biden’s Pandemic Response, Part 4: Winter of Death (December 2021 – Present)

This series, which will run in four parts, has been adapted from “A year in, how has Biden done on pandemic response?” which was originally published on January 5, 2022 on Medium. Read the first, second, and third parts here.

By Justin Feldman

On December 1, 2021, the CDC issued a press release announcing that it had identified a case of the Omicron variant in the U.S. for the first time.

White House insiders admit that they were unprepared for Omicron, just as they were unprepared for Delta. Vice President Harris recently told an interviewer that the administration was caught flatfooted because their scientific advisors never warned that such variants could crop up (at least two of these advisors, Rick Bright and Celine Gounder, begged to differ).

While vaccination still provides powerful protection against hospitalization and death due to infection from Omicron, protection against symptomatic illness is weaker than before, particularly among those who have not received boosters. And though evidence is mounting that the risk of hospitalization and death is lower for each person infected compared to Delta, Omicron’s extremely high transmissibility means that a large fraction of the population will become infected in a short time period, particularly in the absence of additional public health measures.

On December 21, as the highly contagious variant started to sweep the country, President Biden delivered remarks about the new threat. For the hundred million Americans who remain unvaccinated, the president’s speech warned of the imminent risk of hospitalization and death. For the vaccinated and boosted, Biden’s message was: Keep Calm and Carry On, all will likely be fine. And for Wall Street, the speech was meant to provide a crucial piece of reassurance: There would be no federal support for public health measures that restrict commerce.

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Empty toolbox.

A Timeline of Biden’s Pandemic Response, Part 3: We Have the Tools (Sept. – Dec. 2021)

This series, which will run in four parts, has been adapted from “A year in, how has Biden done on pandemic response?” which was originally published on January 5, 2022 on Medium. Read the first and second parts here.

By Justin Feldman

Over the summer of 2021, concern grew that the vaccines were not providing the near-perfect protection against symptomatic disease and transmission that had first emboldened the administration to jettison other public health measures.

It was initially unclear whether the issue was Delta’s higher transmissibility or waning immunity from vaccines, as the first groups had been vaccinated nearly a year prior. There was noticeable concern from CDC, which acknowledged the “war has changed” in a set of leaked slides from July 29, 2021. Of particular concern were case reports from Massachusetts and internationally of high viral loads observed among those who were vaccinated and infected. In late July, CDC reversed course on its mask guidance and recommended indoor masking for all, including the fully vaccinated, in counties with high transmission. In late September 2021, CDC reversed course on its quarantine guidance, which had previously stated that fully vaccinated people should not quarantine after a known SARS-CoV-2 exposure.

These changing epidemiologic realities could have brought about a course correction and a push for other public health policies to complement vaccination. Instead, the administration mostly adapted by shifting its messaging.

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Vial and syringe.

A Timeline of Biden’s Pandemic Response, Part 2: A Pandemic of the Unvaccinated (May – Sept. 2021)

This series, which will run in four parts, has been adapted from “A year in, how has Biden done on pandemic response?” which was originally published on January 5, 2022 on Medium. Read the first part here.

By Justin Feldman

Framing vaccination as a way to opt out of the pandemic, and understanding the unvaccinated to be political enemies, has helped absolve the Biden administration of its responsibilities to protect the public’s health and facilitated the relentless push to restore “normalcy” (i.e., full economic activity).

The administration knows better: In September 2020, while the vaccines were still being tested, key figures in Biden’s orbit warned that it was unlikely vaccination alone could sufficiently control the pandemic.

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

From Shutting Down the Virus to Letting it Rip: A Timeline of Biden’s Pandemic Response

This series, which will run in four parts, has been adapted from “A year in, how has Biden done on pandemic response?” which was originally published on January 5, 2022 on Medium. 

By Justin Feldman

Welcome to our “winter of severe illness and death.”

Hospitals are becoming overwhelmed in various parts of the U.S., and one model predicts more than 120,000 COVID deaths will occur in the first two months of 2022.

How did we get here? How is our Democratic president — who ran, in part, against Trump’s horrid pandemic response — letting the virus rip? How did we get to a point where a key organizer of the Great Barrington Declaration, a right-wing libertarian campaign opposed to public health measures, has stated that Republican and Democratic states alike have adopted policies in line with their philosophy? As hospitals fill up around the country, why are political leaders doing nothing to at least try to “flatten the curve”?

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