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US capitalism’s response to the pandemic: Nothing for health care, unlimited cash for Wall Street!

16 Mar

 

Over the weekend the coronavirus pandemic continued to rise throughout the world’s population, with the number of cases in Italy and the United States doubling and infections reported in 146 countries.

On Sunday, Italy announced a staggering 3,590 new cases, and 368 new deaths, while the United States added 834 new cases and 12 new deaths. Worldwide, the number of cases hit 170,000, with more than 6,500 deaths.

Over the weekend, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that “it’s possible” that millions of people in the United States may die from the pandemic.

A disaster of unprecedented dimensions is unfolding in the US and all over the world. Precious time and lives are being squandered by the failure of governments to respond to the crisis.

Throughout Europe and America, the message is the same: the ill are being turned away from hospitals. Testing for the virus—the only way to seriously contain the pandemic—is unavailable for most people who request it, with less than 15,000 tests performed in the United States.

Countless viral social media statements from around the country document the Catch-22 of doctors and patients pleading for coronavirus testing, only to be told that they cannot be tested because they have not come into contact with anyone who had tested positive.

Beyond worrying about being infected with the deadly disease, millions of families in the US are worried over how they will take care of their children, with schools closing throughout much of the country, and how they will feed their families with store shelves emptied.

As the pandemic mounted, two developments over the weekend made clear the real priority of the capitalist class in responding to the crisis.

On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi falsely claimed that the House of Representatives had voted for legislation that “secures… two weeks of paid sick leave and paid medical leave for those affected by the virus.”

In fact, the paltry bill does nothing for 80 percent of workers, exempting both large employers and small companies that claim hardship. Members of Congress argued that allowing paid sick leave would encourage sick employees to stay home—which is precisely the purpose of the program. As a result, workers will be forced to choose between going to work sick and endangering their coworkers or forcing their families to go hungry.

Nothing will be done for workers threatened by the deadly pandemic. But when it comes to bailing out the banks and propping up share values, there is no limit to the resources the government is willing to mobilize.

On Sunday US President Donald Trump announced that the Federal Reserve had just slashed interest rates to zero percent, in yet another hand out to the financial oligarchy. “I would think there are a lot of people on Wall Street that are very happy, and I’m very happy,” Trump beamed.

From the beginning, the Trump administration, speaking for the entire US political establishment, made clear that it sees the pandemic not as a public health crisis, but as a threat to the wealth of the financial oligarchy.

To that end, the White House and Federal Reserve have made effectively unlimited funds available to Wall Street, while doing nothing to actually combat the disease or provide resources for workers who fall ill.

In addition to slashing interest rates a full percentage point—faster than it had ever cut rates before—the Federal Reserve also announced that it would restart its quantitative easing program, pumping an additional half-a-trillion dollars into the financial markets.

 

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The move followed an 0.5 percentage point rate cut earlier in the month, which was followed just 10 days later by an additional infusion of $1.5 trillion into the financial markets on Thursday—a figure two times higher than the original bank bailout implemented in 2008.

The message to Wall Street was clear: The White House and Federal Reserve will do whatever is necessary to prop up stock values. No matter the cost, investors will be made whole.

As usual, Trump expressed no sympathy for the 700 people who lost their lives worldwide on Sunday. He did not express sympathy for those suffering from the disease or those who have lost loved ones, and told people desperately seeking to find supplies on picked-over store shelves to “relax.”

As the World Socialist Web Site argued Friday, the ruling classes are carrying out a policy of “malign neglect” in response to the pandemic:

On the surface, this response appears to be chaotic, disorganized, and improvised. All of this is true. But out of this chaos a definite policy emerges, which can be defined as malign neglect. That is, governments are making a deliberate decision to minimize their response, to adopt an attitude of indifference to the spread of the virus.

Over the weekend, the British government made this unspoken policy explicit, with Sir Patrick Vallance, the Johnson government’s chief scientific adviser, declaring: ‘It’s not possible to stop everyone getting it, and it’s also not desirable.”

This is in line with a growing number of statements in the press advocating the infection of more people, with British Telegraph columnist Jeremy Warner declaring that “COVID-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents.”

On Sunday, William Hanage, a Harvard epidemiology professor, excoriated the British government’s policy, commenting: “Your house is on fire, and the people whom you have trusted with your care are not trying to put it out.”

But when it comes to the financial crisis sparked by the pandemic, the government is carrying out an unprecedented and massive intervention, putting all of society’s wealth at the disposal of the capitalist class.

Sunday’s developments make clear the urgent need for workers to intervene politically in the present crisis. The working class must demand that the trillions of dollars being funneled into shoring up the stock markets and banks be used to fund a massive expansion of testing and an unprecedented investment in public health. The necessary resources must be urgently allocated to building hospitals, buying respirators and ensuring medical workers and their support staff are provided with a safe environment.

The pandemic is exposing capitalism in the eyes of millions of workers and young people as a system whose only aim is to enrich the capitalist minority at the expense of the overwhelming majority.

Yet in Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, which was dominated by discussion of the pandemic, neither man said the two words critical to understand the disease and its impact: “capitalism” and “socialism.”

The fact is that the demand for a serious effort to fight the pandemic is inseparable from the struggle to end the capitalist system and reorganize society on a socialist basis.

Andre Damon

Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International; World Socialist Web Site; WSWS.ORG

 

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How power profits from disaster; by Naomi Klein:

16 Mar

After a crisis, private contractors move in and suck up funding for work done badly, if at all – then those billions get cut from government budgets. Like Grenfell Tower, Hurricane Katrina revealed a disdain for the poor. By 

 

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There have been times in my reporting from disaster zones when I have had the unsettling feeling that I was seeing not just a crisis in the here and now, but getting a glimpse of the future – a preview of where the road we are all on is headed, unless we somehow grab the wheel and swerve. When I listen to Donald Trump speak, with his obvious relish in creating an atmosphere of chaos and destabilisation, I often think: I’ve seen this before, in those strange moments when portals seemed to open up into our collective future. One of those moments arrived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as I watched hordes of private military contractors descend on the flooded city to find ways to profit from the disaster, even as thousands of the city’s residents, abandoned by their government, were treated like dangerous criminals just for trying to survive.

I started to notice the same tactics in disaster zones around the world. I used the term “shock doctrine” to describe the brutal tactic of using the public’s disorientation following a collective shock – wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters – to push through radical pro-corporate measures, often called “shock therapy”. Though Trump breaks the mould in some ways, his shock tactics do follow a script, and one that is familiar from other countries that have had rapid changes imposed under the cover of crisis.

This strategy has been a silent partner to the imposition of neoliberalism for more than 40 years. Shock tactics follow a clear pattern: wait for a crisis (or even, in some instances, as in Chile or Russia, help foment one), declare a moment of what is sometimes called “extraordinary politics”, suspend some or all democratic norms – and then ram the corporate wishlist through as quickly as possible. The research showed that virtually any tumultuous situation, if framed with sufficient hysteria by political leaders, could serve this softening-up function. It could be an event as radical as a military coup, but the economic shock of a market or budget crisis would also do the trick. Amid hyperinflation or a banking collapse, for instance, the country’s governing elites were frequently able to sell a panicked population on the necessity for attacks on social protections, or enormous bailouts to prop up the financial private sector – because the alternative, they claimed, was outright economic apocalypse.

The Republicans under Donald Trump are already seizing the atmosphere of constant crisis that surrounds this presidency to push through as many unpopular, pro-corporate policies. And we know they would move much further and faster given an even bigger external shock. We know this because senior members of Trump’s team have been at the heart of some of the most egregious examples of the shock doctrine in recent memory.

Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, has built his career in large part around taking advantage of the profitability of war and instability. ExxonMobil profited more than any oil major from the increase in the price of oil that was the result of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It also directly exploited the Iraq war to defy US state department advice and make an exploration deal in Iraqi Kurdistan, a move that, because it sidelined Iraq’s central government, could well have sparked a full-blown civil war, and certainly did contribute to internal conflict.

 

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As CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson profited from disaster in other ways as well. As an executive at the fossil fuel giant, he spent his career working for a company that, despite its own scientists’ research into the reality of human-caused climate change, decided to fund and spread misinformation and junk climate science. All the while, according to an LA Times investigation, ExxonMobil (both before and after Exxon and Mobil merged) worked diligently to figure out how to further profit from and protect itself against the very crisis on which it was casting doubt. It did so by exploring drilling in the Arctic (which was melting, thanks to climate change), redesigning a natural gas pipeline in the North Sea to accommodate rising sea levels and supercharged storms, and doing the same for a new rig off the coast of Nova Scotia.

At a public event in 2012, Tillerson acknowledged that climate change was happening – but what he said next was revealing: “as a species”, humans have always adapted. “So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around – we’ll adapt to that.”

He’s quite right: humans do adapt when their land ceases to produce food. The way humans adapt is by moving. They leave their homes and look for places to live where they can feed themselves and their families. But, as Tillerson well knows, we do not live at a time when countries gladly open their borders to hungry and desperate people. In fact, he now works for a president who has painted refugees from Syria – a country where drought was an accelerant of the tensions that led to civil war – as Trojan horses for terrorism. A president who introduced a travel ban that has gone a long way towards barring Syrian migrants from entering the United States.

A president who has said about Syrian children seeking asylum, “I can look in their faces and say: ‘You can’t come.’” A president who has not budged from that position even after he ordered missile strikes on Syria, supposedly moved by the horrifying impacts of a chemical weapon attack on Syrian children and “beautiful babies”. (But not moved enough to welcome them and their parents.) A president who has announced plans to turn the tracking, surveillance, incarceration and deportation of immigrants into a defining feature of his administration.

Waiting in the wings, biding their time, are plenty of other members of the Trump team who have deep skills in profiting from all of that.

 

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Between election day and the end of Trump’s first month in office, the stocks of the two largest private prison companies in the US, CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America) and the Geo Group, doubled, soaring by 140% and 98%, respectively. And why not? Just as Exxon learned to profit from climate change, these companies are part of the sprawling industry of private prisons, private security and private surveillance that sees wars and migration – both very often linked to climate stresses – as exciting and expanding market opportunities. In the US, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (Ice) incarcerates up to 34,000 immigrants thought to be in the country illegally on any given day, and 73% of them are held in private prisons. Little wonder, then, that these companies’ stocks soared on Trump’s election. And soon they had even more reasons to celebrate: one of the first things Trump’s new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, did was rescind the Obama administration’s decision to move away from for-profit jails for the general prison population.

Trump appointed as deputy defence secretary Patrick Shanahan, a top executive at Boeing who, at one point, was responsible for selling costly hardware to the US military, including Apache and Chinook helicopters. He also oversaw Boeing’s ballistic missile defence programme – a part of the operation that stands to profit enormously if international tensions continue to escalate under Trump.

And this is part of a much larger trend. As Lee Fang reported in the Intercept in March 2017, “President Donald Trump has weaponised the revolving door by appointing defence contractors and lobbyists to key government positions as he seeks to rapidly expand the military budget and homeland security programmes … At least 15 officials with financial ties to defence contractors have been either nominated or appointed so far.”

The revolving door is nothing new, of course. Retired military brass reliably take up jobs and contracts with weapons companies. What’s new is the number of generals with lucrative ties to military contractors whom Trump has appointed to cabinet posts with the power to allocate funds – including those stemming from his plan to increase spending on the military, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security by more than $80bn in just one year.

The other thing that has changed is the size of the Homeland Security and surveillance industry. This sector grew exponentially after the September 11 attacks, when the Bush administration announced it was embarking on a never-ending “war on terror”, and that everything that could be outsourced would be. New firms with tinted windows sprouted up like malevolent mushrooms around suburban Virginia, outside Washington DC, and existing ones, such as Booz Allen Hamilton, expanded into brand new territories. Writing in Slate in 2005, Daniel Gross captured the mood of what many called the security bubble: “Homeland security may have just reached the stage that internet investing hit in 1997. Back then, all you needed to do was put an ‘e’ in front of your company name and your IPO would rocket. Now you can do the same with ‘fortress’.”

That means many of Trump’s appointees come from firms that specialize in functions that, not so long ago, it would have been unthinkable to outsource. His National Security Council chief of staff, for instance, is retired Lt Gen Keith Kellogg. Among the many jobs Kellogg has had with security contractors since going private was one with Cubic Defense.

According to the company, he led “our ground combat training business and focus[ed] on expanding the company’s worldwide customer base”. If you think “combat training” is something armies used to do all on their own, you’d be right.

One noticeable thing about Trump’s contractor appointees is how many of them come from firms that did not even exist before 9/11: L-1 Identity Solutions (specialising in biometrics), the Chertoff Group (founded by George W Bush’s homeland security director Michael Chertoff), Palantir Technologies (a surveillance/big data firm cofounded by PayPal billionaire and Trump backer Peter Thiel), and many more. Security firms draw heavily on the military and intelligence wings of government for their staffing.

Under Trump, lobbyists and staffers from these firms are now migrating back to government, where they will very likely push for even more opportunities to monetise the hunt for people Trump likes to call “bad hombres”.

This creates a disastrous cocktail. Take a group of people who directly profit from ongoing war and then put those same people at the heart of government. Who’s going to make the case for peace? Indeed, the idea that a war could ever definitively end seems a quaint relic of what during the Bush years was dismissed as “pre–September 11 thinking”.

 

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And then there’s vice-president Mike Pence, seen by many as the grownup in Trump’s messy room. Yet it is Pence, the former governor of Indiana, who actually has the most disturbing track record when it comes to bloody-minded exploitation of human suffering.

Before we delve into Pence’s role, what’s important to remember about Hurricane Katrina is that, though it is usually described as a “natural disaster”, there was nothing natural about the way it affected the city of New Orleans. When Katrina hit the coast of Mississippi in August 2005, it had been downgraded from a category 5 to a still-devastating category 3 hurricane. But by the time it made its way to New Orleans, it had lost most of its strength and been downgraded again, to a “tropical storm”.

That’s relevant, because a tropical storm should never have broken through New Orleans’s flood defense. Katrina did break through, however, because the levees that protect the city did not hold. Why? We now know that despite repeated warnings about the risk, the army corps of engineers had allowed the levees to fall into a state of disrepair. That failure was the result of two main factors.

One was a specific disregard for the lives of poor black people, whose homes in the Lower Ninth Ward were left most vulnerable by the failure to fix the levees. This was part of a wider neglect of public infrastructure, which is the direct result of decades of neoliberal policy. Because when you systematically wage war on the very idea of the public sphere and the public good, of course the publicly owned bones of society – roads, bridges, levees, water systems – are going to slip into a state of such disrepair that it takes little to push them beyond the breaking point. When you massively cut taxes so that you don’t have money to spend on much of anything besides the police and the military, this is what happens.

It wasn’t just the physical infrastructure that failed the city, and particularly its poorest residents, who are, as in so many US cities, overwhelmingly African American. The human systems of disaster response also failed – the second great fracturing. The arm of the federal government that is tasked with responding to moments of national crisis such as this is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), with state and municipal governments also playing key roles in evacuation planning and response. All levels of government failed.

It took Fema five days to get water and food to people in New Orleans who had sought emergency shelter in the Superdome. The most harrowing images from that time were of people stranded on rooftops – of homes and hospitals – holding up signs that said “HELP”, watching the helicopters pass them by. People helped each other as best they could. They rescued each other in canoes and rowboats. They fed each other. They displayed that beautiful human capacity for solidarity that moments of crisis so often intensify. But at the official level, it was the complete opposite. I’ll always remember the words of Curtis Muhammad, a longtime New Orleans civil rights organizer, who said this experience “convinced us that we had no caretakers”.

The way this abandonment played out was deeply unequal, and the divisions cleaved along lines of race and class. Many people were able to leave the city on their own – they got into their cars, drove to a dry hotel, called their insurance brokers. Some people stayed because they believed the storm defenses would hold. But a great many others stayed because they had no choice – they didn’t have a car, or were too infirm to drive, or simply didn’t know what to do. Those are the people who needed a functioning system of evacuation and relief – and they were out of luck.

Abandoned in the city without food or water, those in need did what anyone would do in those circumstances: they took provisions from local stores. Fox News and other media outlets seized on this to paint New Orleans’s black residents as dangerous “looters” who would soon be coming to invade the dry, white parts of the city and surrounding suburbs and towns. Buildings were spray-painted with messages: “Looters will be shot.”

Checkpoints were set up to trap people in the flooded parts of town. On Danziger Bridge, police officers shot black residents on sight (five of the officers involved ultimately pleaded guilty, and the city came to a $13.3m settlement with the families in that case and two other similar post-Katrina cases). Meanwhile, gangs of armed white vigilantes prowled the streets looking, as one resident later put it in an exposé by investigative journalist AC Thompson, for “the opportunity to hunt black people”.

 

 

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I was in New Orleans during the flooding and I saw for myself how amped up the police and military were – not to mention private security guards from companies such as Blackwater who were showing up fresh from Iraq. It felt very much like a war zone, with poor and black people in the cross hairs – people whose only crime was trying to survive. By the time the National Guard arrived to organize a full evacuation of the city, it was done with a level of aggression and ruthlessness that was hard to fathom. Soldiers pointed machine guns at residents as they boarded buses, providing no information about where they were being taken. Children were often separated from their parents.

What I saw during the flooding shocked me. But what I saw in the aftermath of Katrina shocked me even more. With the city reeling, and with its residents dispersed across the country and unable to protect their own interests, a plan emerged to ram through a pro-corporate wish-list with maximum velocity. The famed free-market economist Milton Friedman, then 93 years old, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal stating, “Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.”

In a similar vein, Richard Baker, at that time a Republican congressman from Louisiana, declared, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” I was in an evacuation shelter near Baton Rouge when Baker made that statement. The people I spoke with were just floored by it. Imagine being forced to leave your home, having to sleep in a camping bed in some cavernous convention centre, and then finding out that the people who are supposed to represent you are claiming this was some sort of divine intervention – God apparently really likes condo developments.

Baker got his “cleanup” of public housing. In the months after the storm, with New Orleans’s residents – and all their inconvenient opinions, rich culture and deep attachments – out of the way, thousands of public housing units, many of which had sustained minimal storm damage because they were on high ground, were demolished. They were replaced with condos and town houses priced far out of reach for most who had lived there.

And this is where Mike Pence enters the story. At the time Katrina hit New Orleans, Pence was chairman of the powerful and highly ideological Republican Study Committee (RSC), a caucus of conservative lawmakers. On 13 September 2005 – just 15 days after the levees were breached, and with parts of New Orleans still under water – the RSC convened a fateful meeting at the offices of the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC. Under Pence’s leadership, the group came up with a list of “Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices” – 32 pseudo-relief policies in all, each one straight out of the disaster capitalism playbook.

 

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What stands out is the commitment to wage all-out war on labour standards and the public sphere – which is bitterly ironic, because the failure of public infrastructure is what turned Katrina into a human catastrophe in the first place. Also notable is the determination to use any opportunity to strengthen the hand of the oil and gas industry. The list includes recommendations to suspend the obligation for federal contractors to pay a living wage; make the entire affected area a free-enterprise zone; and “repeal or waive restrictive environmental regulations … that hamper rebuilding”. In other words, a war on the kind of red tape designed to keep communities safe from harm.

President Bush adopted many of the recommendations within the week, although, under pressure, he was eventually forced to reinstate the labour standards. Another recommendation called for giving parents vouchers to use at private and charter schools (for-profit schools subsidized with tax dollars), a move perfectly in line with the vision held by Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Within the year, the New Orleans school system became the most privatized in the US.

And there was more. Though climate scientists have directly linked the increased intensity of hurricanes to warming ocean temperatures, that didn’t stop Pence and his committee from calling on Congress to repeal environmental regulations on the Gulf coast, give permission for new oil refineries in the US, and green-light “drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge”.

It’s a kind of madness. After all, these very measures are a surefire way to drive up greenhouse gas emissions, the major human contributor to climate change, which leads to fiercer storms. Yet they were immediately championed by Pence, and later adopted by Bush, under the guise of responding to a devastating hurricane.

It’s worth pausing to tease out the implications of all of this. Hurricane Katrina turned into a catastrophe in New Orleans because of a combination of extremely heavy weather – possibly linked to climate change – and weak and neglected public infrastructure. The so-called solutions proposed by the group Pence headed at the time were the very things that would inevitably exacerbate climate change and weaken public infrastructure even further. He and his fellow “free-market” travelers were determined, it seems, to do the very things that are guaranteed to lead to more Katrinas in the future.

And now Mike Pence is in a position to bring this vision to the entire United States.

 

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The oil industry wasn’t the only one to profit from Hurricane Katrina. Immediately after the storm, the whole gang of contractors who had descended on Baghdad when war broke out – Bechtel, Fluor, Halliburton, Blackwater, CH2M Hill and Parsons, infamous for its sloppy Iraq work – now arrived in New Orleans. They had a singular vision: to prove that the kinds of privatized services they had been providing in Iraq and Afghanistan also had an ongoing domestic market – and to collect no-bid contracts totaling $3.4bn.

The controversies were legion. Relevant experience often appeared to have nothing to do with how contracts were allocated. Take, for example, the company that Fema paid $5.2m to perform the crucial role of building a base camp for emergency workers in St Bernard Parish, a suburb of New Orleans. The camp construction fell behind schedule and was never completed. Under investigation, it emerged that the contractor, Lighthouse Disaster Relief, was in fact a religious group. “About the closest thing I have done to this is just organised a youth camp with my church,” confessed Lighthouse’s director, Pastor Gary Heldreth.

After all the layers of subcontractors had taken their cut, there was next to nothing left for the people doing the work. Author Mike Davis tracked the way Fema paid Shaw $175 per sq ft to install blue tarps on damaged roofs, even though the tarps themselves were provided by the government. Once all the subcontractors took their share, the workers who actually hammered in the tarps were paid as little as $2 per sq ft.

“Every level of the contracting food chain, in other words, is grotesquely overfed except the bottom rung,” Davis wrote, “where the actual work is carried out.” These supposed “contractors” were really – like the Trump Organization – hollow brands, sucking out profit and then slapping their name on cheap or non-existent services.

In order to offset the tens of billions going to private companies in contracts and tax breaks, in November 2005 the Republican-controlled Congress announced that it needed to cut $40bn from the federal budget. Among the programmes that were slashed: student loans, Medicaid and food stamps.

So, the poorest people in the US subsidized the contractor bonanza twice: first, when Katrina relief morphed into unregulated corporate handouts, providing neither decent jobs nor functional public services; and second, when the few programs that assist the unemployed and working poor nationwide were gutted to pay those bloated bills.

New Orleans is the disaster capitalism blueprint – designed by the current vice-president and by the Heritage Foundation, the hard-right think tank to which Trump has outsourced much of his administration’s budgeting. Ultimately, the response to Katrina sparked an approval ratings freefall for George W Bush, a plunge that eventually lost the Republicans the presidency in 2008. Nine years later, with Republicans now in control of Congress and the White House, it’s not hard to imagine this test case for privatised disaster response being adopted on a national scale.

The presence of highly militarised police and armed private soldiers in New Orleans came as a surprise to many. Since then, the phenomenon has expanded exponentially, with local police forces across the country outfitted to the gills with military-grade gear, including tanks and drones, and private security companies frequently providing training and support. Given the array of private military and security contractors occupying key positions in the Trump administration, we can expect all of this to expand further with each new shock.

The Katrina experience also stands as a stark warning to those who are holding out hope for Trump’s promised $1tn in infrastructure spending. That spending will fix some roads and bridges, and it will create jobs. Crucially, Trump has indicated that he plans to do as much as possible not through the public sector but through public-private partnerships – which have a terrible track record for corruption, and may result in far lower wages than true public-works projects would. Given Trump’s business record, and Pence’s role in the administration, there is every reason to fear that his big-ticket infrastructure spending could become a Katrina-like kleptocracy, a government of thieves, with the Mar-a-Lago set helping themselves to vast sums of taxpayer money.

New Orleans provides a harrowing picture of what we can expect when the next shock hits. But sadly, it is far from complete: there is much more that this administration might try to push through under cover of crisis. To become shock-resistant, we need to prepare for that, too.

 

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Corona-virus Shows Capitalism Is a Razor’s Edge!

13 Mar

THURSDAY, MAR 12, 2020, 10:20 AM BY SARAH LAZARE Sarah Lazare is web editor at In These Times.
She comes from a background in independent journalism for publications including The Intercept, The Nation, and Tom Dispatch. She tweets at @sarahlazare.

 

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My best friend works as a standardized patient, which means she is a practice patient for medical schools to train and test students. One day she’ll play an older woman with a pulmonary embolism, her face stricken with worry, the next someone with depression, limp and listless. Each workday medical students fumble at her bedside, and at her body, some nervous and gentle, others over-confident and brusque, as she guides them through learning their craft. It’s not bad for wage work, with each gig paying somewhere between $16 and $25 an hour, although this doesn’t always cover the time spent learning the part, let alone biking miles through Chicago’s potholed streets so she can make it from one 3-hour gig to the next.

Even though it’s not bad, she’s living—like most people in this country—on a razor’s edge. One of her gigs this week was cancelled because of the COVID 19 outbreak, which is now officially a global pandemic. Her employer paid her for the job, because she got less than 24-hours notice, but she will receive no pay for the other upcoming events this and next week that have been cancelled. One of her other gigs (all her jobs are non-union) has a two-week cancellation policy, a source of comfort to her. But what if that workplace gets shut down for more than two weeks? What if all of her jobs are shut down for six? If her income dries up, there’s no designated person to swoop in and help her, no bailout or government agency that has her number and will make sure she’s okay. She’s about two months out from not being able to pay rent or buy food.

My friend’s situation is unremarkable. She’s slightly better off than many Americans, 40% of whom don’t have enough money in the bank to weather a $400 emergency. She’s got $1,960 in her checking account, and $2,010 in her savings—although the latter will all go to her taxes, which are high because she’s classified as an independent contractor at some of her jobs. Perhaps most critically, she has access to extended networks of white wealth that people of color don’t have, and she can call on them in a pinch.

But like 27 million Americans, she doesn’t have health insurance. Of the last two bike accidents she got in, one was serious, but she couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, so she instead relied on friends who are nurses. One diagnosed her with a concussion over the phone. According to a Gallup poll from 2019, 25% of people in the United States say they or a family member “put off treatment for a serious medical condition in the past year because of the cost.” My friend, like all these people, can’t afford to miss work due to sickness, let alone treat what’s wrong with them when there’s not a global pandemic. What will she do if she gets COVID 19?

 

12. Pacific Garbage Dump—Did You Really Think Your Plastic Was Being Recycled? | Project Censored

 

The GOP just blocked an emergency paid sick leave bill from advancing in the Senate. Oil and gas companies are pressing the White House to grant them a bailout from a downturn linked to COVID 19, and at the same time urging the Trump administration to avoid supporting any paid sick leave policy. Just like we lack a federal paid sick leave law, we have no guaranteed paid bereavement leave in this country. And in case we’d forgotten our precarity, Joe Biden just reminded us by suggesting that if he were president he’d veto Medicare for All—a universal, single-payer healthcare program—because it’s too expensive.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, higher-earning wage workers are “more than three times as likely to have access to paid sick leave as the lowest paid workers.” But only 30% of the lowest paid workers—who are more likely to have contact with the public in restaurants, daycares and retail outlets—get paid sick leave. Workers are not taking this sitting down. In New York, Chipotle employees are walking off the job and publicly protesting the company for allegedly penalizing workers who call in sick. “They want us to shut up,” worker Jeremy Pereyra, who says he was written up by Chipotle for calling in sick, told Gothamist. “They want us to stop. But we’re not going to stop until things get better.”

The first round of job losses is already here. The Washington Post reports that some drivers at the Port of Los Angeles were sent home without pay, others laid off. Travel agencies in Atlanta and Los Angeles let people go, as did a hotel in Seattle, a stage-lighting company in Orlando, and Carson’s Cookie Fix bakery in Omaha, hit by declining customers. “If my job’s laying off people, I can only imagine other employers are as well,” said Baiden King, who lost her job at the bakery, telling the Post she plans to move back in with her parents. “I’m not sure anyone will be hiring.”

Even before this crisis, workers were held captive by the stock market—most gaining nothing directly from its rise, which largely lines the pockets of rich people and distributes wealth upwards when it’s doing well. But workers feel its decline in the form of lost jobs and increased precarity. Now that stocks are tumbling amid the virus outbreak, this extortion racket is escalating, and the fundamental instability and savagery of capitalism is being laid bare.

The systems that are breaking down in this crisis were already broken before it began, and a radical reimagining of what could replace them is the best and only option—for this public health crisis, and for the ordinary, everyday crises that go unremarked. Universal income, Medicare for All, an immediate end to the brutal sanctions regime worsening the outbreak in Iran and around the world, a moratorium on evictions, the freeing of prisoners: Anything less than full social mobilization in the name of solidarity will leave us falling without a net. Or biking without health insurance, to a job that could evaporate.

 

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A Corrupted Capitalist System holds no future for the Working Masses A Political Revolution Does! New & Used Left-Wing & Progressive Books,         www.facebook.com/Fahrenheit451bookstore/

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