Art for Fresh Hell.
Jason Arias
The Baffler,  September 11

Fresh Hell

The best dispatches from our grim new reality

Jason Arias
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Into the Meat Grinder 

As Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act this April in an attempt to ensure no red-blooded American went without the sweating, saran-wrapped slabs of beef that are their birthright, workers at meat processing plants were falling ill with Covid-19 at a disproportionate rate. This week, the Department of Labor fined Smithfield Foods (2019 revenue: $12.59 billion)—whose Sioux Falls plant was the site of 1,300 infections and four deaths—a whopping $13,494 for safety violations, the equivalent of $10.38 per sick employee.

 

A Little Price-Gouging Never Hurt Anyone

It wasn’t only entrepreneurial individuals who stocked up on pandemic essentials like hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes this spring in order to bilk panicked friends and strangers for a quick buck: corporations wanted in on the fun, too! Despite Amazon’s claims that any price-gouging on their online marketplace has been the result of rogue actors, a consumer watchdog group found continued price increases of up to 1,000 percent on products that Amazon sells directly, including Dial hand soap. But can you blame them? It takes more than a little luck to grow your personal fortune by $24 billion in the midst of an interminable mass death event.

 

Halfway House of Mouse 

Just outside the gilded gates of the Happiest Place on Earth, in a city with one of the most acute low-income housing shortages in America, is a strip of decrepit motels that have long served as make-shift shelters for the housing insecure—for a price. One such motel, the Star, was recently abandoned to its residents, who are now responsible for tens of thousands of dollars in utility fees as the building crumbles around them. Meanwhile, at Disney’s newly reopened West Coast outpost, “cast members” are blowing the whistle on the entertainment behemoth’s attempts to cover up coronavirus cases among its staff. Perhaps they have been a little too busy genuflecting to architects of ethnic cleansing to adopt adequate safety measures . . .

 

Through Clenched Teeth

Worry not for America’s legion of dentists: if their practices suffered during strict lockdown, post-reopening they’re awash in tooth fracture patients. Turns out we’ve spent the last several months collectively destroying our choppers through a combination of non-stop anxiety, WFH-induced bad posture, and disrupted sleep, all of which lead to more grinding at night. Say cheese!

 

Blood Diamonds

Six months after she was killed in her sleep by a group of Louisville police officers, Breonna Taylor became a meme, then a magazine cover subject. Now, her name has been lent to a $240 necklace, part of a jewelry line created from glass smashed during Black Lives Matter protests in May by Charleston couple Paul Chelmis and Jing Wen, neither of whom are black. While the South Carolina art museum that was originally slated to hawk these obscene baubles nixed them after an entirely predictable backlash, other planned pieces included a $290 bolo tie named for Eric Garner and a $45 pair of earrings named for Tamir Rice.

 

Show Them Who’s Girlboss

 A congressional investigation has revealed that the Trump administration’s top Medicaid official, Seema Varma, has spent more than $3.5 million taxpayer dollars on a range of GOP-aligned consultants charged with helping her network, promoting her for awards, and crafting her social media persona, all so that she might have more time to dedicate herself to the extremely feminist cause of attempting to dismantle an overwhelmingly popular social program that provides health care to more than sixty-six million Americans. Yassss, queen!

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