January 12, 2022
It’s Wednesday and I have been digging a bit into what appears to be a growing coalition opposing lockdowns, mask wearing, vaccine rules, and vaccinations in general. The claims are that none of these things work and that the economy is better off without them. I am not writing today about these matters (I have in the past) but rather about the nature of these coalitions. One of the things that has held back progressive causes in the past is the tendency of social democratic type interests to adopt the mainstream macroeconomics, which not only limits what they can do but exposes them to accusations that the government will run out of money and cause inflation if they have ambitious programs. The pattern of progressive interests aligning with non-progressive voices is thus not new. I am seeing it again in the context of the public health debate, which, in part, explains why our world is in such a Covid-mess. It isn’t all bad today – there is some nice music to finish, being Wednesday.
Why are the progressive left mixing with the dark right on Covid?
Coalitions form in all walks of life as people seek ways to gain voice and power. Sometimes, they make sense, bringing together parties that are mostly alike but choose for their own reasons to remain as separate entities. They work well together though and justify the coalescing of interests.
Other times it is more about raw desire for power or naivety.
I wrote yesterday about the ‘rainbow coalition’ that has formed in Germany – with the SPD teaming up with the right-wing FDP.
FDP promotes deregulation, privatisation and ‘sound finance’, whereas the SPD, historically, at least, was more progressive and interventionist.
In this Covid era, I am seeing weird coalitions form to promote the anti-vax, anti-lockdown, and anti-mandate messages.
There are those who purport to represent the ‘Left’ position, lecturing us about how lockdowns and vaccine requirements are a betrayal of the progressive cause and only fascists would support them.
They regularly provide social media support for others, who by any assessment, are on the neoliberal right, who also oppose lockdowns and mandates (including being required to wear masks).
Several of these characters, who regularly receives social media support from ‘socialist’ commentators, are involved in the creation of a new ‘academic’ (ha) venture at a little-known college in Michigan – Hillsdale College – called the “Academy for Science and Freedom”.
The ‘Academy’ (ha) claims in its press release that its mission is to engage in a “free exchange of scientific ideas … in the pursuit of truth” and was inspired by the “worst public health fiasco in history”.
What is Hillsdale College?
This Politico article (May 12, 2018) – The College That Wants to Take Over Washington – tells us that Hillsdale College is a breeding ground for young, right-wing, Christian conservatives.
Just the type that progressive socialists would dream of forming a coalition with!
The College ‘cosied’ up to the Trump Administration and its president was a strong Trump supporter and advertises for funds on Fox News.
It provides a conduit for conservative politicians – speechwriters and other administrative roles.
Its former president, was a vocal critic of “big government” while pushing a conservative Christian morality. He came unstuck, as many of these types do, when his daughter-in-law committed suicide after allegations that she was having sex with him over a 19 year period. There were question marks about whether she actually committed suicide.
His successor had come from a ‘think tank’ that promoted the construction of a ‘conservative citadel’ which advocated anti-government messages.
This Politico article (July 21, 2021) – Trump ally Hillsdale College pitches 1619 Project counterweight – tells us that Hillsdale College, had deep ties with the administration of Donald Trump and was involved in pushing his “patriotic education” venture, which among other things, contains teaching material where students would learn about American history and race and:
… “resurrect and reinforce in students that they ought to judge, vcalue, and treat people differently” base on skill color …
The curriculum also takes a sympathetic tack on slaveowners.
So not the sort of place that progressives would find succour within.
In my database archives, I dug out this article from December 15, 2015 – Koch brothers supersize higher-ed spending – which reported that the conservative, right-wing brothers were expanding their already considerable financial support for selected US higher education institutions, as an exercise in building:
… a massive organizational network fighting to enact deregulatory government policies and elect conservative political candidates … [and] … promoting free markets and laissez-faire capitalism in the United States.
The brothers also attach “certain strings to their contributions”:
… such as control over curriculum, and more recently, obtaining personal information about students.
Hillsdale College was a beneficiary of Koch money.
Fast track to 2022 with the Omicron variant of Covid spreading fast around the world and causing havoc.
We learn that Hillsdale and the Koch Network has become involved in opposing public health measures designed to attenuate the spread of the virus and rising death rates.
Researchers associated with the US-based – Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) – which investigates “the corruption that undermines our democracy, environment and economic prosperity”, published research showing that a Koch Foundation was bankrolling the new venture at Hillsdale College.
The article (December 22, 2021) – How The Koch Network Hijacked The War On COVID – reports that the “public health fiasco” that the new centre is attacking include:
… government pandemic measures like mask and vaccine mandates, contact tracing, and lockdowns.
It has recruited several fringe academics including “Scott Atlas, Jay Bhattacharya, and Martin Kulldorff” – who are “connected to right-wing dark money attacking public health measures.”
Some of this trio authored the “Great Barrington Declaration”, which advocated letting the virus rip so that we gain “herd immunity”.
Millions have already died from Covid, who would not have died any time soon, otherwise.
The Hillsdale College venture is an attempt to make respectable and legitimise the on-going and well-funded attack on public health policies.
Charles Koch has been a highly visible critic of the health measures designed to attenuate the spread of the deadly virus. His motivation is obvious – his private company is “the largest privately held fossil fuel company in the world” and the health measures certainly cut our usage of the products that make him profits.
All sorts of undesirable, right-wing organisations are part of this campaign to override health measures and let the virus rip.
We learn that:
Groups funded by the Kochs and their colleagues also turned to a more insidious form of combat adapted from Tea Party strategies: building an academic and intellectual network that would create and promote its own “science” to attack COVID mitigation policies.
The Great Barrington Declaration advocated a sort of segmentation of the population into those that would be ‘free’ (to get the virus) and those – the “vulnerable” – who would remain behind closed doors away from the virus.
The question of how sick and frail aged care citizens can survive without interacting with the rest of the ‘free’ population was never solved.
Their proposal also runs counter with the idea of social solidarity.
If we are all in this together then we should all share the costs – even if the threats of the virus are different (which is not yet conclusively known).
The CMD articles notes that while the ‘Declaration’ appeared to have “academic legitimacy” and was unveiled at a “conference hosted by the auspicious-sounding American Institute for Economic Research (AIER)”, the reality was that it:
… arose out of the world of right-wing dark money and corporate interests, and many of its signatories aren’t verified. AIER … is a Koch-tied libertarian think tank …
AIER also receives funding from “anti-regulation” groups and is deeply tied up with the Mont Pelerin Society and “the Koch-backed Cato Institute”.
Among its “trustees” are those “known for … defense of sweatshops” for low paid workers.
Jay Bhattacharya, whose Tweets are regularly re-tweeted by so-called progressive socialists, was part of the Hoover Institution, which received significant funding from the Charles Koch Foundation and “the dark money fund Donors Trust”.
Donald Trump promoted the ‘Declaration’ as did Boris Johnson.
A widespread array of medical professionals considered the ‘Declaration’ should be disregarded – some said it was unethical.
One epidemiologist said:
Never in the history of public health has anyone suggested infecting the entire population with a pathogen with which we have no long term experience as a strategy for managing a pandemic.
My view is that the ‘natural immunity’ approach is grossly irresponsible.
The lockdowns definitely reduce the spread of the virus and in some circumstances, such as the island continent of Australia, virtually eliminated the virus until incompetent quarantine policies exposed us to global trends.
Australia could have maintained a zero Covid position indefinitely until more was known about the virus.
We were largely free of the virus and our economy was recovering.
The problem was not the lockdowns that delivered that state but the fact that the penny-pinching federal government did not provide sufficient income support to the low-paid workers and their families.
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