Article 43

 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Next Depression Part 56 - Coronavirus

image: america the plentiful

Straggling in a Good Economy, and Now Struggling in a Crisis
The coronavirus pandemic has shown how close to the edge many Americans were living, with pay and benefits eroding even as corporate profits surged.

By Patricia Cohen
NY Times
April 16, 2020

An indelible image from the Great Depression features a well-dressed family seated with their dog in a comfy car, smiling down from an oversize billboard on weary souls standing in line at a relief agency. World’s highest standard of living, the billboard boasts, followed by a tagline: “There’s no way like the American Way.”

The ECONOMIC SHUTDOWN caused by the CORONAVIRUS pandemic has suddenly hurled the country back to that dislocating moment captured in 1937 by the photographer Margaret Bourke-White. In the updated 2020 version, lines of cars stretch for miles to pick up groceries from A FOOD PANTRY; JOBLESS WORKERS spend days trying to file for unemployment benefits; renters and homeowners plead with landlords and mortgage bankers for extensions; and outside hospitals, ILL PATIENTS LINE UP OVERNIGHT to wait for virus testing.

In an ECONOMY that has been hailed for its record-shattering successes, the most basic necessities food, shelter and medical care - are all suddenly at risk.

The latest crisis has played out in sobering economic data and bleak headlines most recently on Thursday, when the Labor Department said 5.2 MILLION WORKERS FILES LAST WEEK FOR UNEMPLOYMENT benefits.

That brought the four-week total to 22 million, roughly the net number of jobs created in a nine-and-a-half-year stretch that ended with the pandemic’s arrival.

Certainly, the outbreak and attempts to curb it have created new hardships. But perhaps more significantly, the crisis has revealed profound, longstanding vulnerabilities in the economic system.

“We built an economy with no shock absorbers,” said Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-winning economist. “We made a system that looked like it was maximizing profits but had higher risks and lower resiliency.”

Well before the coronavirus established a foothold, the AMERICAN ECONOMY had been playing out on a split screen.

On one were impressive achievements: the lowest jobless rate in half a century, a soaring stock market and the longest expansion on record.

On the other, a very different story of stinging economic weaknesses unfolded. Years of limp wage growth left workers struggling to afford essentials. Irregular work schedules caused weekly paychecks to surge and dip unpredictably. Job-based benefits were threadbare or nonexistent. IN THIS ECONOMY, four of 10 adults don’t have the resources on hand to cover an UNPLANNED $400 EXPENSE.

Even middle-class Americans, once snugly secure, have become increasingly anxious in recent decades about their own fragile finances and their children’s prospects.

Since the recession’s end, the economy has pumped out enormous wealth. Workers, though, have gotten a smaller slice of those rewards. Companies prioritized SHORT-TERM GAINS and stockholder returns at the same time that employee bargaining power was eroding.

In less than two decades, the share of income paid out in wages and benefits in the private sector shrank by 5.4 percentage points, a McKINSEY GLOBAL INSTITUTE STUDY found last year, reducing compensation on average by $3,000 a year, adjusted for inflation.

The result is that a job - once the guarantor of income security - no longer reliably plays that role.

“For many working families, wage growth has not been strong enough to allow them to meet their basic needs on their own,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston concluded in a report last year.

Work is available - but it is often UNSTEADY and POORLY-PAID.

Roughly seven of 10 people enrolled in public health care in New England were employed, the bank study found. So were nearly half of those who qualified for temporary cash assistance from the government.

Employers who pay low wages and don’t offer benefits have in effect been subsidized through programs providing publicly funded medical insurance, rent money and food stamps to their workers.

Now individual employees with few resources - rather than companies or partners - are compelled to absorb some of the routine risks and uncertainties of running a business. Scheduling software that constantly changes a worker’s daily shifts to match an unexpected slowdown or rush improves a business’s bottom line but can ruin a household’s by causing wages to fluctuate widely from one week to the next. Such shifting not only scrambles family life, but also makes it more difficult to schedule other paid work.

At large companies, employees have seen their spending on HEALTH CARE because of higher deductibles, premiums and co-payments - increase twice as fast as their wages over the past decade, according to the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker.

At the same time, the cost of other necessities like housing has shot up. Millions of renters spend more than half their incomes on housing. Middle-income households, too, have been hit by escalating housing costs. Since 2000, a steadily growing share of this group has spent more than a third of earnings on rent.

For years, households have strained to navigate this cut-to-the bone economy with varying success. The coronavirus shock has made the economic precariousness - usually seen in scattershot fashion - evident everywhere at once.

“A lot of the people in the economy are living at the edge, and you have an event like this that pushes them over, Mr. Stiglitz said. “And we are unique in the advanced world in having people at the edge without a safety net below them.”

Powerful forces like advancing technology and globalization are partly to blame for workers economic instability. But Mr. Stiglitz also criticized the short-term mind-set prevalent in corporate America. Airlines җ now being propped up with emergency government aid used billions of dollars in profits to buy back their stock, he said, instead of investing in employees and productive capacity or building up reserves to withstand a downturn.

In 2018 alone, companies in the S&P 500 ח flush from windfalls resulting from steep cuts in corporate taxes spent $806 billion repurchasing their own shares at boom-time prices in search of quick profits.

When the outbreak began to shutter the economy, many of these companies laid off millions of workers, ending their health insurance.

“Employer-based health insurance is a wrecking ball,” the Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton wrote this week in The New York Times. The couple, the authors of ”DEATHS OF DESPAIR” and the “Future of Capitalism,” argue that over time this system has {destroyed} THE LABOR MARKET FOR LESS EDUCATED workers.”

The patched social service network that runs through individual states is now struggling to handle the millions of unemployment claims that have poured in as well as a flood of new applicants trying to tap existing programs. But assistance doesn’t necessarily arrive quickly. In Louisiana, for example, THE BACKLOG OF APLICATIONS for food stamps filed since businesses were closed in mid-March already exceeds 87,000.

In the meantime, nongovernmental organizations are trying to meet the demand. Fulfill, a food bank that operates in Monmouth and Ocean Counties in New Jersey, has served an additional 364,000 meals in the last three weeks, a 40 percent spike.

“We went from 0 to 60 in five seconds,” said Kim Guadagno, Fulfills chief executive and president. “Hurricane Sandy in 2012 was devastating,” she said, but this is worse because “the need is widespread, with no end in sight”

“Last year, before the pandemic, Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks, fed 40 million individuals, many of them children,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, the chief executive. “It does underscore the fact that so many people in our country live on a precipice” she said.

Housing also feels less secure. A RECENT SURVEY by SurveyMonkey and Apartment List, an online rental marketplace based in San Francisco, showed that a quarter of renters paid only part or none of their rent this month.

“These numbers are extremely worrying,” said Igor Popov, the chief economist at Apartment List. In a typical economic downturn, when incomes take a hit, many families can downsize or move in together to minimize their rent payments. At a time when we’re sheltering in place, even moves to downgrade housing are difficult.

Those who have been squeezed the most can expect to be squeezed even more.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Destination: Home, a Silicon Valley nonprofit that works to prevent homelessness, was on track to give $7 million in financial assistance to about 1,000 families. In March, the organization raised an additional $11 million for coronavirus relief, but was overwhelmed with demand - 4,500 requests in three days - and stopped accepting applications. The waiting list has close to 10,000 people and is growing each day.

“I thought there was nothing that I haven’t been involved in when it comes to homelessness,” said Jennifer Loving, chief executive of Destination: Home, “but this is incomprehensibly catastrophic.”

In a REPORT ON THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF THE CORONAVIRUS, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond warns that the largest burdens will fall on people who are already the most vulnerable - people in low-paying, insecure jobs.

That is also a group with an outsize share of minorities and immigrants.

As a MCKINSEY REPORT released this week noted, “the unfolding public-health and economic disaster resulting from the pandemic will disproportionately impact black Americans.”

It is another echo of Bourke-Whites “American Way” photo, where the contented family in the car is white and the grim faces waiting for aid are black and brown.

Conor Dougherty and Nelson D. Schwartz contributed reporting.

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Posted by Elvis on 04/19/20 •
Section Dying America • Section Next Recession, Next Depression
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Monday, April 13, 2020

Preying On The Job Seeker 18

image: job application

While shopping for a new car a few years ago, the salesman asked for my name, address and phone number for his records.

No problem, I gave it to him.  All dealers do that, so they can call you with deals.

.

While signing up for credit monitoring on the internet after the OPM THING, I had to pick the right answer from some pop up that queried the credit bereaus - one of them being “Which of the four addresses below did you not live at the past ten years?”

Sounds like a great question to help prove you’re you.

.

Back to the car dealer.  I looked over the guy’s shoulder and seen he had a list of every address I ever lived at - for the past 30 years !

Then a bell in my head went off - whenever I shop for a new car, I give my name, phone and address to whoever the salesperson is, at whatever dealer I’m shopping at, in whatever city I’m living in - and just now realizing dealers likely share this information that can easily be used for fraud. 

.

Fast forward to today.

Ever fill out an internet job app for FEDEX ?

I just did, then abandoned it on the last page, because it wanted the addresses I lived at the past ten years, to maybe get hired.

There’s nothing on the form that says what they need that info for, and will or won’t do with it:

Residency History
Please enter all of your addresses for the last 10 years with a date range for each address.
You MUST begin with your CURRENT residence and work backwards.
Click “Add Another” to enter additional addresses.
Click “Next” when you are finished entering the addresses for the 10 year period.

Physical addresses only. No P.O. Boxes.
If you were homeless, please enter “homeless” into the address field and list the city and state you were homeless in.

Fedex Express requires the full 10 year period to be completed, BEGINNING with your CURRENT address.
Failure to provide the full 10 year period will result in your application not being considered.

So much for an exciting new career stacking boxes.

No way am I filling that thing out.

Especially with no conditions.

More Preying on the job seeker articles:

[1] - [2] - [3] - [4] - [5] - [6] - [7] - [8] - [9] - [10] - [11] - [12] - [13] - [14] - [15] - [16] - [17]

Posted by Elvis on 04/13/20 •
Section Job Hunt
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Monday, March 09, 2020

DNS Tunneling

image: cybercrime

How Hackers Use DNS Tunneling to Own Your Network

By Ron Lifinski, Cyber Security Researcher
Cynet
October 22, 2018

DNS Tunneling

Most organizations have a firewall that acts as a filter between their sensitive internal networks and the threatening global Internet. DNS tunneling has been around for a while.  But it continues to cost companies and has seen hackers invest more time and effort developing tools.  A recent study[1] found that DNS attacks in the UK alone have risen 105% in the past year.  DNS tunneling is attractivehackers can get any data in and out of your internal network while bypassing most firewalls. Whether it֒s used to command and control (C&C) compromised systems, leak sensitive data outside, or to tunnel inside your closed network, DNS Tunneling poses a substantial risk to your organization. Heres everything you need to know about the attack, the tools and how to stop it.

Introduction

DNS tunneling has been around since the early 2000s, when NSTX[2] an easy to use tool has been published to the masses. Since then there was a clear trend - tighter firewall security led to more widespread DNS tunneling. By 2011 it had already been used by malware such as Morto[3] and Feederbot[4] for C&C, and by the popular malicious payload for point-of-sale systems FrameworkPOS[5] for credit card exfiltration.

Why It’s a Problem

DNS was originally made for name resolution and not for data transfer, so its often not seen as a malicious communications and data exfiltration threat. Because DNS is a well-established and trusted protocol, hackers know that organizations rarely analyze DNS packets for malicious activity. DNS has less attention and most organizations focus resources on analyzing web or email traffic where they believe attacks often take place. In reality, diligent endpoint monitoring is required to find and prevent DNS tunneling.

Furthermore, tunneling toolkits have become an industry and are wildly available on the Internet, so hackers don’t really need technical sophistication to implement DNS tunneling attacks.

Common Abuse Cases (and the tools that make them possible)

Malware command and control (C&C) Malware can use DNS Tunneling to receive commands from its control servers, and upload data to the internet without opening a single TCP/UDP connection to an external server. Tools like DNSCAT2 are made specifically used for C&C purposes.

Create a “firewall bypassing tunnel” - DNS Tunneling allows an attacker to place himself into the internal network by creating a complete tunnel. Tools like IODINE allow you to create a common network between devices by creating a full IPv4 tunnel.

Bypass captive portals for paid Wi-Fi A lot of captive portal systems allow all DNS traffic out, so it’s possible to tunnel IP traffic without paying a fee. Some commercial services even provide a server-side tunnel as a service. Tools like YOUR-FREEDOM are made specifically for escaping captive portals.

How It Works

image: dns tunnel

The attacker acquires a domain, for example, evilsite.com.

The attacker configures the domains name servers to his own DNS server.

The attacker delegates a subdomain, such as “tun.evilsite.com” and configures his machine as the subdomain’s authoritative DNS server.

Any DNS request made by the victim to “{data}.tun.evilsite.com” will end up reaching the attacker’s machine.

The attacker’s machine encodes a response that will get routed back to the victim’s machine.

A bidirectional data transfer channel is achieved using a DNS tunneling tool.

References

[1] www dot infosecurity-magazine.com/news/dns-attack-costs-soar-105-in-uk

[2] thomer dot com/howtos/nstx.html

[3] www dot symantec.com/connect/blogs/morto-worm-sets-dns-record

[4] chrisdietri dot ch/post/feederbot-botnet-using-dns-command-and-control/

[5] www dot gdatasoftware.com/blog/2014/10/23942-new-frameworkpos-variant-exfiltrates-data-via-dns-requests

[6] github dot com/iagox86/dnscat

[7] github dot com/yarrick/iodine

[8] heyoka dot sourceforge.net/

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 03/09/20 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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The Politics of Depression

image: capitalism isnt working

[W]e find that we endogenously produce our incapacity to even try, grow sick and depressed and motionless under all the merciless and circulatory conditions of all the capitalist yes and just can’t, even if we thought we really wanted to.
- Anne Boyer, A Handbook of Disappointed Fate

Future with No Future: Depression, the Left, and the Politics of Mental Health
By Mikkel Krause Frantzen
Los Angeles Review of Books
December 16, 2019

“How do you throw a brick through the window of a bank if you CAN’T GET OUT OF BED?” This question, formulated by Johanna Hedva in SICK WOMAN THEORY, has been with me for quite some time now. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. Why? Because it points to a situation familiar to too many of us (but who is that us?) : a situation characterized by despair and depression. A situation in which you really cant get out of bed. This situation is also, in most cases, saturated by politics and by the economy. Contrary to mainstream psychological and psychiatric discourse the reason why you can’t get out of bed is not because you have a bad attitude, a negative mindset, or because you have somehow chosen your own unhappiness. Nor is it merely a matter of chemistry and biology, an imbalance in the brain, an unlucky genetic disposition, or low levels of serotonin. More often than not it is a matter of the world you live in, the work that you hate, or the job that you just lost, the debt that haunts your present from the future, or the fact that the planet’s future is going still faster and further down the drain.

This essay, then, is an attempt, based on a dissertation and some personal experience I had a postpartum depression in 2013/2014 to think about depression and politics; to think about the political economy and the psychopathologies of the present. It is animated by a fact, a claim, and a call. The fact first: as the Danish Mental Health Foundation makes clear, more and more people in Denmark are diagnosed with depression. At any given time, four to five percent of the population is depressed, or, more accurately, diagnosed as such. Indeed, according to the Danish Health Authority more than 450,000 Danes bought antidepressants in 2011, a figure which has almost doubled over the past decade. This tendency can be observed all over the Western world. The US National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 7.1 percent of the adult American population - 17.3 million people suffers from depression. Other data suggest that depression affects one in every five Americans. These numbers have led the World Health Organization to conclude that depression is the most common mental disorder and the prime cause of disability and suicide, affecting around 350 million people worldwide. No wonder, then, that the global consumption of SSRI antidepressants has gone through the roof with sales now approaching $14 billion annually, according to the market research firm alliedmarketresearch.com, which also, in some very clumsy prose indeed, points out that “[t]here are many factors including genes, factors such as stress and brain chemistry that could lead to depression.”

The claim: Depression makes manifest the contemporary subject’s alienation, in its most extreme and pathological form. As such, the psychopathology needs to be related to a world of capitalist realism, where there really is no alternative, as Thatcher triumphantly declared, and the future seems frozen once and for all. The crisis embodied by depression thus becomes a symptom of a historical and capitalist crisis of futurity. It is a kind of structure of feeling, as Raymond Williams would say. Consequently, any cure to the problem of depression must take a collective, political form; instead of individualizing the problem of mental illness, it is imperative to start problematizing the individualization of mental illness. The call is for the left, for these specific reasons, to take seriously the question of illness and mental disorders. Dealing with depression and other forms of psychopathology is not only part of, but a condition of possibility for an emancipatory project today. Before we can throw bricks through windows, we need to be able to get out of bed.

The best political thinker of depression remains the late Mark Fisher, who suffered from and in the end took his own life because of depression. His whole oeuvre is an ongoing meditation on depression as a personal experience and a social and political experience. In the book Capitalist Realism from 2009, he connected depression to what I have already referred to as capitalist realism, ēthe widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it. In this book, depression becomes a paradigm case of how capitalist realism operates, a symptom of our blocked and bleak historical situation. In the essay “The Privatisation of Stress” from 2011, later reprinted in K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004 - 2016) from 2018, Fisher wrote that one difference between sadness and depression is that while sadness apprehends itself as a contingent and temporary state of affairs, depression presents itself as necessary and interminable: the glacial surfaces of the depressive’s world extend to every conceivable horizon, and because of that, because of that specific characteristic of depression, a strange resonance exists between ԓthe seeming realismђ of the depressive, with its radically lowered expectations, and capitalist realism. And in the text Good for Nothing from 2014, Fisher stated that his depression always involved a deep and ineradicable conviction that he was literally good for nothing. He wrote that he offered up his own experiences of mental distress not because he thought there was anything special or unique about them, but “in support of the claim that many forms of depression are best understood and best combatted - through frames that are impersonal and political rather than individual and psychological.” The importance of arriving at a political understanding of depression cannot be overstated. If the reader only takes one thing away from my text let it be this: depression has a set of causes and a concrete context that transcend any diagnostic manual, as well as the neoliberal ideology of focusing on subjects, not structures; personal responsibilities, not collective ones; chemistry, not capital.

However, to understand depression through political frames does not mean that the problem of depression can be immediately solved by political means. There is a horror to depression that cannot and must not be translated too quickly into the sphere of politics, regardless of our critical and revolutionary aspirations. As anyone who has been depressed - or been around someone who has knows, it is literally hell on earth. The physical pain is unbearable, your body is inert and feels too heavy, your mind is not functioning, and you cannot escape the feeling of being stuck, stagnated, that the race is run and that the present - which is hell is all there is and all that can ever be imagined to be. It would be an offense to say, well, it’s just politics. By the same token there is absolutely no need to romanticize what has become known as depressive realism, since that realism only runs in tandem with and supports the realism of capitalism: that there are no alternatives, that there really is nothing to be done about the current state of affairs. This is another thing to take away from this. Let’s also not forget that depression is the major contributor to suicide deaths, which number close to 800,000 per year according to a recent report from WHO.

A third and final thing to be considered here is that it is indeed difficult to writeabout depression. By this I do not only mean that it is difficult to writeabout your own depression; it is also just difficult to writeabout the immense suffering while at the same time finding a position in relation to depression or developing a discourse on depression that is not in itself utterly depressing. Not less so after Mark Fisher’s tragic death.

We have a lot of facts about depression, but the facts do not speak for themselves. The sale of antidepressants does not correspond exactly to occurrences of depression, as SSRIs are not exclusively used for treating depression, but used to treat a range of other mental illnesses as well. The frequency of diagnoses does not necessarily mirror the frequency of depressions, and thus the increase in diagnoses could testify to a growing number of depressed people or to an escalating tendency to pathologize common, A normal affects such as sadness, translating them into the diagnostic category of depression (the latest example of this tendency is the inclusion of grief in the new editions of diagnostic manuals such as the DSM and ICD). We also have to wonder, why does there seem to be so much comfort in psychiatric diagnoses? Because there is comfort in the diagnosis of depression. So that’s why I feel so bad! Depression! A chemical imbalance in the brain! In this way, the diagnosis provides momentary meaning to meaningless misery. The suffering gets a name and a cause: a lack of serotonin. But this cause has causes which in the diagnostic system and in the capitalist world as a whole - remain undiagnosed and untold.

As Mark Fisher writes in Capitalist Realism:

It goes without saying that all mental illnesses are neurologically instantiated, but this says nothing about their causation. If it is true, for instance, that depression is constituted by low serotonin levels, what still needs to be explained is why particular individuals have low levels of serotonin. This requires a social and political explanation; and the task of repoliticizing mental illness is an urgent one if the left wants to challenge capitalist realism.

Before going into the causality of depression, however, let me first describe the morality that surrounds depression. Take, as an example, a SELF-HELP VIDEO, “Why am I depressed?,” by a man called Leo Gura. He is, according to HIS TWITTER PROFILE, a professional self-development junkie, life coach, video blogger, entrepreneur, and speaker, who helps people design awesome lives.

Gura, a bald man with a goatee and the founder of actualized.org, starts the video by saying that he wants to answer the question of the title, Why am I - you [raising eyebrows, while forming with his hands a parenthesis in the air as if around the word] depressed? And the answer is simple: you are depressed because your psychology sucks. It should be noted that this is also the title of a video work by the artist duo Claire Fontaine, who in their ready-made video Untitled (Why Your Psychology Sucks) from 2015 has an African-American actress perform an almost exact verbatim copy of Guras talk, unfolding a pungent and quite comical criticism of the neoliberal self-help industry’s ideological personalization of depression and generalized responsibilization of the subject as such. Claire Fontaine is one of the artists who have worked in the most concentrated and consistent way with the problem of depression. In their work, depression is always already political and must be understood in relation to its real basis in social conflicts within a capitalist economy of debt and financial speculation.

Back to the original video, where a flashing sequence of catchphrases or keywords succeeds Gura’s introductory remarks. In the order given, the words read: “Success, happiness, self-actualization, life purpose, motivation, productivity, peak performance, creative expression, financial independence, emotional intelligence, positive psychology, consciousness, peak performance, personal power, wisdom.” (Apparently, the concept of peak performance is so important that it must be repeated.) Then, Gura delivers his message, his shocking truth: “Here is the deal. I’m going to blunt with you here, because the bottom line is that the reason you’re depressed is because your psychology sucks. Alright, you’ve got shit psychology. I’m not blaming you, I’m telling you a fact.” He goes on to clarify that he is not talking about people who are “clinically depressed,” and who thus have legitimate depression. He is talking about the rest of us, the majority who get a diagnosis of depression and whom he is not blaming, except that he is. The video lasts a little more than 20 minutes, and at one point Leo Gura boldly and bluntly declares: “You are causing your depression. There is something wrong with your mental and cognitive apparatus, your psychology is shit.” Stop being a victim and take ownership of your psychology! Peak performance!

It is easy enough to laugh at the video and make fun of its logic, but the logic is the dominant one in the world of today even if it is sometimes articulated in more moderate ways - and it has real effects. The logic is this: people create their own reality. Thoughts alone can change things. This means that you weave the thread of your own fate, there are no external circumstances and no excuses either.

A Danish sociologist with a quasi-royal name, Emilia van Hauen, expresses the same logic when writing on her homepage that happiness is a choice - your choice, and fellow Danish therapist, Eva Christensen, sings along (again in my own translation):

Happiness is a personal responsibility. Happiness is not something you can expect to get from others. Everybody has the key to their own happiness. And hence also the responsibility to put the key in the right lock. Happiness is created from the inside, it is not other people’s responsibility to make us happy, it is our own responsibility. Just as we cannot change other people, only ourselves.

If the individual is responsible for her own happiness, then she is also responsible for her own unhappiness. If the keys are in our own hands, each of us is personally responsible for almost everything. Success or failure, and health or illness are a matter of subjective willpower, lifestyle, and choice alone. While we may not be able to change other people, or the world for that matter, we certainly can work on changing ourselves and our selves. Structural change, a change of the system, is abandoned in favor of subjective change, a change of the self. Every problem, however social, political, or economic in nature, is personalized and even criminalized, the subject is made responsible for its own unhappiness, and made to suffer alone and to feel guilty, at the same time, for feeling unhappy, for not being a good and productive citizen, for not coming to work, for not getting out of bed.

These processes of personalization and responsibilization that positive psychology and the imperative of happiness entail, these processes go hand in hand. Mark Fisher was attuned to this logic, or should we say ideology. Depressed people are encouraged to feel and believe that their depression is their fault and their fault only. Individuals will blame themselves rather than social structures, which in any case they have been induced into believing do not really exist,ԓ as he wrote in Good for Nothingԓ implicitly referencing another of Thatcherԗs claims, that society does not exist. This is where the problem of depression feeds into a more general problem: the model of subjectivity advocated in the original self-help video by Leo Gura is identical to the model of the autonomous, self-determining, competitive individual, the fiction of capitalist subjectivity. In the video the viewer,ғ the you,ԓ is the cause of his or her own depression, but consequently also the only cure. What the video wants to do is to teach you how to master your psychologyԓ and eventually put you in a state of total bliss and happiness.ԓ It is a deeply moral message. Failing to be happy is simply immoral. If you are such an immoral and bad person that you have become unhappy or depressed ԗ it is you, and you alone that is to blame. This is the blaming cult of contemporary capitalism: you are causing your own depression even when evidently you are not.

Capitalism, in other words, inflicts a double injury on depressed people. First, it causes, or contributes to, the state of depression. Second, it erases any form of causality and individualizes the illness, so that it appears as if the depression in question is a personal problem (or property). In some cases, it appears to be your own fault. If you had just lived a better and more active life, made other choices, had a more positive mindset, et cetera, then you would not be depressed. This is the song sung by psychologists, coaches, and therapists around the world: happiness is your choice, your responsibility. The same goes for unhappiness and depression. Capitalism makes us feel bad and then, to add insult to injury, makes us feel bad about feeling bad.

From my own experience of depression except that it is not really - my own experience - and from having written a dissertation on the topic, I think it is beyond doubt that we need another analysis of depression, and, also, another kind of cure. The personalization of depression must be answered by a politicization of depression. At the level of analysis and social causation, the phenomenon of depression should be connected to issues of labor and work and unemployment, since stats show that unemployed people are more susceptible to get depressed than people in jobs, regardless of how much these people hate their job. It should be connected to our brutal, neoliberal culture of competition (Happy Hunger Games and may be odd be ever in your favor!) and to the concomitant ideology of happiness, which forces all of us to smile and BE HAPPY NONSTOP, even or especially when we are fighting among each other, fighting to make ends meet and just get by another day. Depression should, moreover, be connected to the realm of education: it is obvious to me that so many of the students at the University of Copenhagen, where I work and teach, are struggling with countless mental illnesses. I cannot even begin to imagine how it must be in the United Kingdom or United States, where students don’t have the benefit of free education as is the case Denmark but are driven ever deeper into a spiral of debt. No matter where we look, students are depressed, anxious, stressed out, burned out.

In the wake of the economic crisis, a plethora of studies have looked into the psychopathological consequences of debt. In 2012, economist John Gathergood published a study showing that people awash in a sea of debt experience and exhibit a variety of mental problems, including depression. By all accounts, it seems that BEING INDEBTED can, and indeed does, lead to an increased risk not only of depression but also suicide. Another study found that “[t]hose in debt were twice as likely to think about suicide after controlling for sociodemographic, economic, social and lifestyle factors.” And in The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu have conducted an epidemiological research project which demonstrates that austerity policies rather than recession as such - have disastrous consequences for the state of public and private health. At one point in their book, Stuckler and Basu refer to a particular study of Americans over the age of 50 which found that between 2006 and 2008, people who fell behind on their mortgage payments were about nine times more likely to develop depressive symptoms.” Their bleak conclusion is that austerity not only hurts, but kills, exemplified by the tragic case of the Greek Dimitris Christoulas, who on April 4, 2012, put a gun to his head in front of the Greek parliament and declared: “I am not committing suicide. They are killing me. Then he pulled the trigger.”

These conditions are real, and so are the causal connections. Obviously, the causes are many, and complex. But the symptoms of depression are also symptoms of something else. And the fact is that the economy of debt causes deep distress as indebted people, students and otherwise, are forced to pawn their own future. Yet the psychiatric and public discourse remain bent on treating depression as a personal problem devoid of context. Nowhere is this clearer than in the discourse of the diagnostic manuals a discourse that increasingly dominates public opinion where mental illnesses are addressed solely in terms of symptoms, without any regard for the historical, social, and economic context of the person suffering. An important task, then, for a leftist analysis of the present is not only to insist on the context but also and perhaps above all to insist, with Hedva, that “it is the world itself that is making and keeping us sick.” Not the world in any abstract sense, but the concrete, capitalist world in which we live, or plod our way through. This is the reason why so many of us lie in bed, and cant get out of it. Or as queer theorist Ann Cvetkovich argues in her book Depression: A Public Feeling:

Epidemics of depression can be related (both as symptom and as obfuscation) to long-term histories of violence that have ongoing impacts at the level of everyday emotional experience. “What gets called depression in the domestic sphere is one affective register of these social problems and one that often keeps people silent, weary, and too numb to really notice the sources of their unhappiness (or in a state of low-level chronic grief or depression of another kind - if they do).

The history of depression is a history of our contemporary capitalist world and also, in the words of Cvetkovich, a history of violence: the violence that people of color, or LGBT people, or asylum seekers, experience on a daily basis, a violence both physical and psychic. Data are, again, overwhelming on this point, but suffice it to mention the 38 percent of low-income mothers and mothers of color who develop postpartum depression, to quote from Sophie Lewis’s Full Surrogacy Now; the half of LGBT people who have experienced depression in the past year; and the 61 percent of all the kids in Sjlsmark Udrejsecenter, a prison-like camp for rejected asylum seekers in Denmark, who would meet the criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis. In many instances, depression bears the mark of such violence and vulnerability, though it is not, sadly, the only mental health issue at stake.

Up until this point I have not mentioned the climate crisis, but on the evidence of what has been said so far, it doesn’t risk exaggeration to say that ecology and mental health stands in an intimate relation. This is not to neglect the material reality, only to hint at the profound psychic effects of ecological losses and a warming globe. Again, the young generation of today, sometimes called the fucked-up generation, is worth mentioning (Phil Neel writes about this generation, the first in a grand parade of the futureless, in his brilliant book Hinterland). They are living in a world where tomorrow will most likely be worse than today, where there really are no alternatives and no future, not least because of how the climate crisis quite literally annihilates the future as such. Who can blame them for being depressed?

All of this to say that the current social, political, economic, ecological crisis is thus a mental health crisis as well. The perpetuum mobile of capitalism and its exhaustion of resources also pertains to mental resources. The economic and the psychological seem to have become indistinguishable from each other, as the double meaning of depression would also suggest. Naturally, we are not all in the same boat, or in the same bed. We are not all depressed (and those of us who are are experiencing it in the same way, or for the same reasons). We are not equally fucked (up). Some strata of society have access to futurity in ways that others do not, some bear the burden more than others, and some simply die sooner than others. People in Greece during the Euro Crisis, or people in the US higher educational system, are not indebted or depressed in the same way. As shown above, the violence and social suffering are differentially distributed along axis of class, gender, and race; so is the climate crisis insofar as citizens of Copenhagen are not feeling the devastating weight of it as those in Chittagong.

Insisting on the politics of illness, mental health, and depression, it is crucial to keep such local and global differences in mind. This should not, however, lead to a competition of social suffering. Competition is precisely what capitalism is all about, and seeks to intensify, so that we are, simultaneously, alone in our suffering and fighting among each others suffering selves. But it should lead to a recognition that a critique of capitalism will need to take into account the contextualized psychopathology of depression as well as other mental illnesses. Furthermore, it gives us an idea of a possible cure, of what needs to be done, of how we get out of bed (or maybe, why we even want to get out of bed).

The first thing to note is that an adequate diagnosis of depression and its context - is not enough in itself. It is common wisdom, however, that the diagnosis does not necessarily entail the cure. Just because we know whats wrong does not mean that we will be able to deal with it. On the contrary, one of the primary symptoms of depression is that what you need to do is precisely what you cannot do, at least NOT ALONE and on your own. Or in the plain words of Ann Cvetkovich: “Saying that capitalism (or colonialism or racism) is the problem does not help me get up in the morning.” Also, there is no reason to believe that abolishing private property ownership, or realizing a global and absolute cancellation of private debt, will relieve the suffering of depressed people with a single stroke, as if by magic. But, in an act of speculation, I am tempted to say that revolution is the best antidepressant there is, it makes for a better world, true happiness. But, alas!, in order to do revolution, we need to get out of bed. A real dialectical catch-22 of depression.

Maybe a good place to start, then, with regards to the politics of depression, is to collectivize suffering, externalize blame, communize care. At this point, the question of responsibility returns in all its force. The neoliberal responsibilization of the depressed subject must be rejected, and, also, replaced by an idea of collective responsibility. The same goes for any kind of therapeutic project, and Italian thinker Franco Bifo Berardi - who is, admittedly, a bit loose and careless when it comes to precision in the clinical vocabulary may be right when he asserts that “in the days to come, politics and therapy will be one and the same.” Therapy as resistance, not as reactionary obedience to the given order. Therapy as a collective project, not an individual one. Therapy as the overcoming of alienation.”

What might such collective and emancipatory “therapy” look like? We have an archive of feminist and artistic projects of care, self-care, and collective care from Audre Lorde to Claire Fontaine to, rather recently, Danish artist and activist Jakob Jakobsen and the Hospital for Self Medication that he initiated after a severe depression and several months of hospitalization. We need a language that joins this archive to a movement and separates it from institutional psychiatry, neoliberal therapies, and the capitalist pursuit of profit. This is care that transcends the hospital, the clinic, the family, the state, the insurance company, Capital as such (even if one does not have access to those institutions in the first place). This is care which, based on a politicized understanding of mental illness, moves beyond care in its commodified and capitalist form. When bodies take care of each other, when responsibility is redistributed, and individual collapses are transformed into collective intimacies, the future can be (re)built in the name of a communist, shared, and sustainable one. As poet Wendy Trevino writes:

We can’t individually win in this world
and simultaneously create another
Together.

This would be one way of imagining a cure for depression without reinforcing conformity and the status quo. What is certain is that any left politics worthy of its name must go beyond saying capitalism is the problem (even if it surely is) and confront the question of how to get up in the morning. This problem is as practical as it is revolutionary. Of course, sometimes staying in bed can be a revolutionary act in itself, a kind of strike, the epitomization of an exhausted and negative No, I cant in a world that revolves increasingly around an emphatic and positive Yes, I can. But there are also people finding new ways to get out of bed: I’ll just mention in passing, as an encouraging sign, that THERE ARE CRACKS IN THE EDIFICE OF CAPITALIST REALMISM that Mark Fisher didn’t live to see.

Regardless, the point is obviously not to get out of depression so that we can get back to the work that caused the depression to begin with. The point must be, rather, to destroy the material conditions that make us sick, the capitalist system that destroys people’s lives, the inequalities that kill. Thus, creating another world together. But to do that, to get to where that becomes possible, what is called for is not competition among the sick, but alliances of care that will make people feel less alone and less morally responsible for their illness. In alliance with each other, people might eventually be able to get up and throw some bricks.

Adapted from the book Going Nowhere, Slow, out on Zero Books November 29, 2019.

MIKKEL KRAUSE FRANTZEN holds a PhD from the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen, and is currently postdoctoral fellow at University of Aalborg, Denmark. He is the author of GOING NOWHERE SLOW - THE AESTHETICS AND POLITICS OF DEPRESSION (Zero Books, 2019).

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Posted by Elvis on 03/09/20 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America • Section Spiritual Diversions • Section Personal
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Friday, February 14, 2020

Just Married T-Mobile and Sprint

How the T-Mobile-Sprint Merger Legitimizes Monopoly
A federal judge has just deepened Americas corporate concentration crisis.

By Sandeep Vaheesan
Washington Monthly
February 11, 2020

Judge Victor Marreros Tuesday ruling that let T-Mobile take over Sprint just deepened America’s already dire CORPORATE CONCENTRATOIN crisis. By allowing the nations third- and fourth-largest wireless carriers to combine, Marrero has dealt a clear blow to competition in the wireless market and empowered all corporations seeking dominance through mergers and acquisitions.

The Obama administration wisely said no to consolidation that would reduce the number of national wireless carriers to just three. Indeed, the deal will effectively create a new carrier with more than 100 million users. As the states in the case argued, that will likely cost subscribers roughly $4.5 billion annually, as the market will effectively be concentrated between just T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration - and now a federal judge - have rejected the Obama-era policy and permitted a dangerous new level of CONCENTRATION. Tuesday’s decision underscores the need for bright-line rules that deter harmful mergers and acquisitions and instead direct business strategies toward product improvement and investment in new capacity.

Equally disconcerting, the judges decision subverts the Clayton Act, the principal federal anti-merger statute. Passed in 1914 and strengthened in 1950, the law expanded the scope of business activities covered by the Sherman Antitrust Act and outlawed mergers that threaten to reduce competition or tend to create a monopoly.

Judge Marrero’s ruling permits otherwise illegal mergers if the merging corporations can establish productive efficiencies or show that one of the corporations involved is a weakened competitor.

But the Supreme Court clearly rejected these defenses in a series of rulings in the 1960s because they are contrary to the text and purpose of the Clayton Act. While there is a limited failing firm defense - which allows a merger that would create a less competitive market if the company is in danger imminent business failure - Sprint didn’t satisfy its requirements, nor did Marrero purport to apply it. Sprint may not be doing as well as its executives and shareholders would like, but it is not on the verge of collapse or insolvency.

Marrero’s ruling, therefore, leaves it to state attorneys general to keep anti-merger law alive and protect the public. Theyre now the best positioned to take a stand and appeal this decision to the Second Circuit - the most important thing they can do. It is critical they send a strong message to all corporations that they will uphold the law. Powerful firms in concentrated markets shouldn’t be allowed to consolidate even further.

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Posted by Elvis on 02/14/20 •
Section Dying America
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