Archive | April 10th, 2020

The Staggering Cost of the Zionist regime to Americans: The Facts

The Staggering Cost of Israel to Americans: The Facts

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The Staggering Cost of Israel to Americans: The Facts

A stack of 3.8 billion dollar bills would reach the International Space Station. The new package to Israel will give Israel ten times that much money. An Israeli official gloated that the package was obtained “despite budget cuts, including defense cuts, in the U.S.” (Image by If Americans Knew)

The U.S. gives Israel over $10 million per day of Americans’ tax money, approximately $7,000 per minute. On average, the US has given Israelis over 7,000 times more than to other people around the world. And on top of this, the US gives Egypt and Jordan large aid packages on behalf of Israel. And there is more…

This is largely due to the powerful and pervasive Israel lobby, and continues even though most Americans feel we give too much aid to Israel, and despite the fact that Israel is not an ally, has spied on the U.S, stolen American technology, tried to sink a U.S. Navy ship and has a long record of human rights violations.

(See videos below article)

Learn about Congressional legislation to expand the $38 billion aid agreement signed under President Obama.

Reposted from If Americans Knew

Israel has a population of approximately 8.7 million, roughly equal to the state of New Jersey. It is among the world’s most affluent nations, with a per capita income slightly below that of the European Union.[1] Israel’s unemployment rate of 4.3% is better than America’s 4.4%,[2] and Israel’s net trade, earnings, and payments is ranked 22nd in the world while the US sits in last place at a dismal 202nd.[3]

Yet, Israel receives more of America’s foreign aid budget than any other nation. The US has, in fact, given more aid to Israel than it has to all the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean combined—which have a total population of over a billion people.[5]

And foreign aid is just one component of the staggering cost of our alliance with Israel.

Given the tremendous costs, it is critical to examine why we lavish so much aid on Israel, and whether it is worth Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars. But first, let’s take a look at what our alliance with Israel truly costs.

Before the Iraq War in 2003

Direct Foreign Aid

According to the Congressional Research Service, the amount of official US aid to Israel since its founding in 1948 tops $134 billion (adjusting for inflation, roughly $252.7 billion as of March 2018), and in the past few decades it has been on the order of $3.1 billion per year.[6] (In 2014, for example, this amounted to $8.5 million every single day, and today totals over $10.4 million per day)

But this money is only part of the story. For one thing, Israel gets all of its aid money at the start of each year, rather than in quarterly installments like other countries.[7] This is significant: It means that Israel can start earning interest on the money right away – interest paid by the US since Israel deposits these funds into an interest-bearing account at the New York Federal Reserve Bank.[7.1] In addition, because the US government operates at a deficit, it must borrow money in order to give it to Israel and then pay interest on it all year. Together these cost US taxpayers more than $100 million every year.

Israel is also the only recipient of US military aid that is allowed to use a significant portion annually to purchase products made by Israeli companies instead of US companies. (The costs to Americans caused by this unique perk are discussed below.)

In addition, the US gives roughly $1.2 billion per year to Egypt and Jordan in aid packages arranged largely in exchange for peace treaties with Israel. The treaties don’t include justice for Palestinians, and are therefore deeply unpopular with the local populations.[8]

On top of this, the US gives around $250 million to the Palestinian Authority each year,[9] much of it used to rebuild infrastructure destroyed by Israel and to bolster an economy stifled by the Israeli occupation.[10] This would be unnecessary if Israel were to end the occupation and allow the Palestinians to build a functioning and self-sustaining economy.

Yet, there’s still much more to the story, because parts of US aid to Israel are buried in the budgets of various US agencies, mostly the Department of Defense. For example, since at least 2006, the American Defense budget has included between $202 and $729 million per year for missile defense programs in Israel.[11]

In all, direct US disbursements to Israel are higher than to any other country, even though Israelis only make up 0.1% of the world’s population. On average, Israelis receive 7,000 times more US foreign aid per capita than other people throughout the world, despite the fact that Israel is one of the world’s more affluent nations.[12] And that number rises significantly when one considers disbursements to Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority and Defense spending on behalf of Israel.

Additional Ad hoc support for Israel

Dr. Thomas Stauffer, a Harvard economist and Middle East studies professor who twice served in the Executive Office of the President, wrote a comprehensive report about all components of the relationship with Israel’s cost to American taxpayers for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs in 2003. He wrote:

“Another element is ad hoc support for Israel, which is not part of the formal foreign aid programs. No comprehensive compilation of US support for Israel has been publicly released. Additional known items include loan guarantees… special contracts for Israeli firms, legal and illegal[13] transfers of marketable US military technology, de facto exemption from US trade protection provisions, and discounted sales or free transfers of ‘surplus’ US military equipment. An unquantifiable element is the trade and other aid given to Romania and Russia to facilitate Jewish migration to Israel; this has accumulated to many billions of dollars.”[14]

Israel has often used its privileged access to US military technology against both the US government and US corporate interests. According to the Associated Press in 2002,

“In France, Turkey, The Netherlands and Finland, Israeli companies have edged such U.S. firms as Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and General Atomics out of arms deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years. The irony, experts say, is that tens of billions of U.S. tax dollars and transfers of American military technology helped create and nurture Israel’s industry, in effect subsidizing a foreign competitor.”

The AP article quoted a vice president at the Aerospace Industries Association of America, who bluntly said, “We give them money to build stuff for themselves and the U.S. taxpayer gets nothing in return.”[15]

Meanwhile, according to the Christian Science Monitor, Israel has also “blocked some major US arms sales, such as F-15 fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia in the mid-1980s. That cost $40 billion over 10 years.”[16]

Even worse, Israeli weapons “buttress the arsenals of nations such as China that the United States considers strategic competitors, alarming US military planners,” the Associated Press article went on to report. “[In 2001] US surveillance planes flying along China’s coast were threatened by Chinese fighter jets armed with Israeli missiles… Had Chinese fighter pilots been given the order to fire, they could have brought down the US planes with Israeli Python III missiles… US defense chiefs say Israel sold China the missiles without informing the United States.”[17]

Lost jobs, trade, and standing

One of the most devastating indirect costs of the US alliance with Israel was the Arab oil boycott of 1973. The Arab states imposed the boycott in protest of U.S. support of Israel during the 1973 war, in which Arab countries attempted to reclaim lands Israel had invaded and occupied in 1967.

“Washington’s intervention triggered the Arab oil embargo which cost the U.S. doubly: first, due to the oil shortfall, the US lost about $300 billion to $600 billion in GDP; and, second, the US was saddled with another $450 billion in higher oil import costs,” wrote Stauffer in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.[18]

Then there’s the cost in lost jobs. “US policy and trade sanctions reduce US exports to the Middle East about $5 billion a year, costing 70,000 or so American jobs,” Stauffer estimates. “Not requiring Israel to use its US aid to buy American goods, as is usual in foreign aid, costs another 125,000 jobs.”[19]

But perhaps the most damaging cost to the US has been its loss of standing in the Arab and Muslim worlds, where US largesse towards Israel as it commits human rights violations[20] provokes deep resentment. “To many of the world’s Muslims, it places the US taxpayer on the Israeli side of its conflicts with Arabs,” observed the Associated Press article.[21]

According to Harvard professor Stephen Walt, “The 9/11 Commission reported that 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s ‘animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with US foreign policy favoring Israel.’ Other anti-American terrorists—such as Ramzi Yousef, who led the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center—have offered similar explanations for their anger toward the United States.”[22]

There are many more potential categories of costs that are even more difficult to quantify. All in all, Stauffer estimates that Israel cost the US about $1.6 trillion between 1973 and 2003 alone—more than twice the cost of the Vietnam war.[23]

Costs since Stauffer’s study in 2003

Israel’s cost to American taxpayers has remained high since Stauffer’s 2003 study. From 2009 to 2016, the US gave Israel an average of nearly $3 billion a year in military aid, under an agreement signed in 2007 by the Bush administration to transfer $30 billion to Israel over ten years.[24] This includes about $800 million for Israel to spend on local security products every year.

Recently, aid has been increased even further. On September 12, 2018, the Ileana Ros-Lehtinen United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, requiring that a minimum of $3.8 billion of aid be given to Israel annually until 2028. [25] Included in the bill’s provisions are strong measures to prevent aid from being withheld by the U.S., which has historically been attempted by nearly every president since Eisenhower in order to stop Israel from committing human rights violations or illegally confiscating Palestinian land.

Each military aid agreement with signed by Israel with the U.S. since the 1980’s has included an “Off Shore Procurement (OSP)” clause, which permits Israel to exchange 26.4 percent of the aid funds from dollars to shekels, which were then spent on military equipment from Israeli companies rather than purchasing American military goods. Because of this arrangement, the U.S. has subsidized Israel’s military industry by hundreds of millions of dollars yearly for close to thirty years. [26]

Israel has also spent roughly 13% of the yearly aid – $400 million – on different varieties of fuel for the IDF in recent years, in particular jet fuel for aircraft. Israel is unique among all U.S. aid recipients in being allowed to use aid funds in local markets and on fuel.

Combining the Off Shore Procurement (OSP) and fuel purchases, Israel is spending $1.2 billion each year (about 40% of yearly aid) to directly support its domestic budget. All of the other extras and costs remain and in some cases have increased since 2003. For example, “Despite a tough economic climate and expected US budget cuts—including drastic cuts to the US military budget—US lawmakers will provide $236 million in fiscal 2012 for the Israeli development of three missile defense programs,” reported Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.[27]

In addition, the US government “has provided $205 million to support the Iron Dome, manufactured by Israel’s state-owned Raphael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. The system uses small radar-guided missiles to blow up in midair Katyusha-style rockets with ranges of 3 miles to 45 miles, as well as mortar bombs… Legislation moving through the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives would give Israel additional $680 million for the Iron Dome system through 2015.”[28]

And if, as many experts believe, the US would not have invaded Iraq without intense and sustained pressure from Washington insiders who advocate actively on behalf of Israel,[29] this adds yet another dimension of staggering cost to the equation: “hundreds of billions of dollars, 4,000-plus U.S. and allied fatalities, untold tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths, and many thousands of other US, allied, and Iraqi casualties,” according to retired US foreign service officer Shirl McArthur.[30]

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes put the cost of the Iraq War at over $3 trillion, and incalculably more if you take into account the opportunity costs of the resources spent on this unproductive war. For example, higher oil prices due to the war have had a devastating impact on America’s economy, and so have the surging federal debt and the servicing of that debt. Without the war, the 2008 financial crisis almost certainly would not have been as severe, and the Afghanistan war most likely would have been shorter, cheaper, and more effective.[31]

The Israel lobby and partisans are currently gunning for a war with Iran with the same zeal they showed in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[32] By all estimates, the costs of a war with Iran will be much higher than the Iraq war. In addition to the loss of life, analysts predict, for example, that if Iran’s oil production were taken out of the world market, gas prices would rise 25-70 percent.

If the Straits of Hormuz (straits adjacent to Iran through which 20% of the world’s oil production passes on a daily basis) were attacked or blockaded, the cost of oil would skyrocket to a level never seen before, and the economic recession or depression that followed would be nothing short of “apocalyptic,” according to Matthew Yglesias writing for Slate.[33]

Reasons and Consequences

So now we are back to the question of why America continues to pour money into a state that commits daily human rights violations, defies US strategic interests,[34] provokes rage and resentment among billions of people,[35] competes with and crowds out US interests using technology subsidized by US taxpayers, and sells America’s military secrets to its enemies.[36]

The answer is simple and summed up well by professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer in their ground-breaking article in the London Review of Books, “The Israel Lobby,”[37] and their book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.[38]

“Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?” the article asks. “One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.

“Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby.’ Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country—in this case, Israel—are essentially identical.”[39]

AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is consistently ranked in the top two most powerful lobbies in Washington.[40] And it is only one arm of the much larger, multi-faceted, and well-financed Israel lobby.[41]

According to Congressman Jim Moran, “AIPAC is very well organized. The members are willing to be very generous with their personal wealth. But it’s a two edged sword. If you cross AIPAC, AIPAC is unforgiving and will destroy you politically. Their means of communications, their ties to certain newspapers and magazines, and individuals in the media are substantial and intimidating. Every [Congress] member knows it’s the best-organized national lobbying force.”[42]

Senator Joseph Lieberman proudly stated, “Any attempt to pressure Israel, to force Israel to the negotiating table by denying Israel support, will not pass in Congress… Congress will act against any attempt to do that.”[43]

It’s true: The US Congress, along with the executive branch, overwhelmingly support virtually any action or wish of the Israeli government, no matter how at odds with US national interest or security,[44] primarily because of the power of the Israel lobby.[45]

Even when two AIPAC employees were indicted on espionage charges in 2005, and it was determined that they had obtained classified US government information illegally and passed it to Israeli agents, the charges were quietly dropped on technicalities.[46] AIPAC fired both employees and issued a statement that they were fired because their actions did not comport with AIPAC standards.[47] One of the fired employees, Steven Rosen, filed a lawsuit for defamation, claiming his actions were, in fact, common practice at AIPAC.[48]

When Israel attempted to sink a U.S. Navy ship, the USS Liberty, in 1967, killing 34 Americans and injuring over 170, it still failed to put a dent in aid to Israel.[49] Indeed, aid quadrupled the following year.[50]

Though Congressmen receive payments and support from the lobby in exchange for their loyalty, the American taxpayer is left footing the bill. As detailed above, the total cost has run from a bare minimum of $121 billion since 1948 (the cost of foreign aid alone) to $1.6 trillion or more, factoring in Defense appropriations, oil crises, the destruction to the USS Liberty (causing the $40 million ship to be scrapped), the heightened risk of terrorism, lost trade and co-opted technology, and countless other factors. If the Iraq war and the increased risk of a war with Iran are factored in, the cost skyrockets even higher.

Critics point out how much brighter our future would be if we had invested these billions or trillions in veteran rehabilitation and care, education, job creation, social security, housing, environmental clean-up and prevention, roads, bridges, health care, and scientific and health research. Or if Americans had simply held onto their tax dollars and used them as they saw fit, in our own economy. If some of the higher estimates are closer to the mark, our support for Israel could easily have covered the $700 billion TARP bailout with a great deal left over for massive stimulus spending and/or tax breaks.

If Israel were using these funds for a good purpose, one could debate whether the price was worth it. But Israel uses most of the money to prolong a 47-year military occupation (which regularly involves gross violations of international law),[51] commit egregious human rights violations,[52] and destroy billions of dollars worth of Palestinian homes and infrastructure[53](resulting in still more U.S. tax money being sent to Palestinians to rebuild demolished homes, hospitals, and schools), while building illegal, Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land.[54]

It makes the prospect of peace ever more distant, creates dangerous hostility to the US, placing Americans in peril, and puts the US Congress in violation of the Arms Export Control Act,[55] all for the sake of campaign contributions.

There is no good reason to keep throwing good money after bad in a failed, ill-founded policy. It’s long past time for a fundamental rethinking of the American government’s blank check to Israel.

#

This report was produced by If Americans Knew analysts, particularly Pamela Olson, a President’s Scholar at Stanford University 1998-2002. It updates the groundbreaking 1998 work by Richard Curtiss, “The Cost of Israel to U.S. Taxpayers,” published in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Mr. Curtiss, following military service in World War II, served for 30 years as a career Foreign Service Officer. He received the U.S. Information Agency’s Superior Honor Award and the Edward R. Murrow award for excellence in Public Diplomacy, USIA’s highest professional recognition. Upon retirement, Mr. Curtiss co-founded and the American Educational Trust, which produces the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. He was also the author of two books on U.S.-Middle East relations. A more extensive bio can be read here.


[1] “Country Comparison: GDP Per Capita (PPP),” CIA World Factbook, 2012. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2004rank.html

[2] “Country comparison: Unemployment rate,” CIA World Factbook, 2012. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2129rank.html

[3] “Country comparison: Current account balance,” CIA World Factbook, 2012. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2187rank.html

[4] US Department of State, “State and USAID – FY 2013 Budget, February 13, 2012. https://2009-2017.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/02/183808.htm

[5] Richard Curtiss, “The Cost of Israel to the American People,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 1998. http://www.ifamericansknew.org/download/cost-new.pdf

[6] Jeremy Sharp, “US foreign aid to Israel,” Congressional Research Service, August 7, 2019. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf Ora Coren and Nadan Feldman, “U.S. aid to Israel totals over 233.6b over six decades,” Ha’aretz, March 20, 2013. http://www.haaretz.com/business/u-s-aid-to-israel-totals-233-7b-over-six-decades.premium-1.510592

[7] Clyde R. Mark, “Israel: US Foreign Assistance,” Congressional Research Service, April 26, 2005 http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/IB85066.pdf (Particularly noteworthy is the subsection of this report entitled, “Special Benefits for Israel.)

[7.1] Jeremy M. Sharp, “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” Congressional Research Service, August 7, 2019 https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf

[8] USAID, “Foreign Aid By Country,” 2016. Egypt: https://explorer.usaid.gov/cd/EGY?implementing_agency_id=1 Jordan: https://explorer.usaid.gov/cd/JOR?implementing_agency_id=1 Retrieved on November 13, 2018.

[9] Jim Zanotti, “US foreign aid to the Palestinians,” Congressional Research Service, November 2, 2018. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS22967.pdf

[10] “Sustaining Achievements in Palestinian Institution-building and Economic Growth,” World Bank, September 18, 2011. http://unispal.un.org/pdfs/WBank09-2011_AHLCReport.pdf Quote from the report: “Ultimately, in order for the Palestinian Authority to sustain the reform momentum and its achievements in institution-building, remaining Israeli restrictions must be lifted.” See also: Dan Murphy, “Amid Palestinian statehood push, a grim World Bank report on the West Bank, Gaza,” Christian Science Monitor, September 14, 2011. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Backchannels/2011/0914/Amid-Palestinian-statehood-push-a-grim-World-Bank-report-on-the-West-Bank-Gaza Quote from the article: “The World Bank says that recent economic growth in Gaza and the West Bank has been almost entirely thanks to foreign aid, that a slowing of foreign aid delivery has presented the PA with a possible fiscal crisis, and that Israeli policies continue to stand in the way of sustainable economic improvement in the territories.”

[11] Jeremy Sharp, “US foreign aid to Israel,” Congressional Research Service, August 7, 2019. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf

[12] US Department of State, “State and USAID – FY 2013 Budget, February 13, 2012. https://2009-2017.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/02/183808.htm

[13] ‘Illegal transfers’ refers to several instances in which Israel has been accused of violating the Arms Export Control Act, which prohibits the use of US military assistance for purposes other than legitimate self-defense. For example, during Israel’s invasions of Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, the Israeli air force dumped tens of thousands of cluster bomblets over wide civilian areas, resulting in horrific and long-lasting civilian casualties with dubious military utility. That’s not even to begin to touch on daily Israeli violations of human rights in the Palestinian territories. Despite overwhelming evidence of Israeli violations of international law using US-supplied weapons, the US Congress has done little to comply with its own laws against funding such violations.

[14] Thomas Stauffer, “The Costs to American Taxpayers of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: $3 Trillion,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 2003. http://ifamericansknew.org/stat/stauffer.html

[15] Jim Krane, “U.S. Aid to Israel Subsidizes a Potent Weapons Exporter,” Associated Press, June 20, 2002. http://ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/p-krane.html

[16] David Francis, “Economist tallies swelling cost of Israel to US,” Christian Science Monitor , December 9, 2002. http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/1209/p16s01-wmgn.html

[17] Jim Krane, “U.S. Aid to Israel Subsidizes a Potent Weapons Exporter,” Associated Press, June 20, 2002. http://ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/p-krane.html

[18] Thomas Stauffer, “The Costs to American Taxpayers of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: $3 Trillion,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 2003. http://ifamericansknew.org/stat/stauffer.html

[19] David Francis, “Economist tallies swelling cost of Israel to US,” Christian Science Monitor , December 9, 2002. http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/1209/p16s01-wmgn.html

[20] For a small sampling of Israeli human rights violations, see Amnesty International’s “Annual Report: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories 2013” http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/annual-report-israel-and-the-occupied-palestinian-territories-2013, Human Rights Watch’s most recent reports https://www.hrw.org/publications?country%5B0%5D=9638, and the publications of B’Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) http://www.btselem.org/publications

[21] Jim Krane, “U.S. Aid to Israel Subsidizes a Potent Weapons Exporter,” Associated Press, June 20, 2002. http://ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/p-krane.html

[22] Stephen Walt, “Whiff of Desperation,” Foreign Policy, April 25, 2011. https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/04/25/whiff-of-desperation/

[23] David Francis, “Economist tallies swelling cost of Israel to US,” Christian Science Monitor, December 9, 2002. http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/1209/p16s01-wmgn.html

[24] Shirl McArthur, “A conservative estimate of total direct US aid to Israel: more than $130 billion,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2008. http://ifamericansknew.org/stat/130bill.html

[25] Feied, Nicole, “Israel would get far more than $38 billion under the new deal,” Israel-Palestine News, September 18, 2018. https://israelpalestinenews.org/israel-gets-far-more-than-38-billion-under-the-new-deal/

[26] Barak Ravid, “U.S. Seeks to Increase Aid to Israel – With More of It to Be Spent on American Equipment,” Ha’aretz, July 2, 2016. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-u-s-seeks-to-increase-aid-to-israel-with-less-local-spending-1.5404367

[27] Natasha Mozgovaya, “Obama signs bill that includes added U.S. military assistance to Israel,” Haaretz, December 24, 2011. http://www.Haaretz.com/blogs/focus-u-s-a/obama-signs-bill-that-includes-added-u-s-military-assistance-to-israel-1.403268

[28] “U.S. eyes funding boost for Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ shield,” Reuters, May 17, 2012. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/18/us-usa-israel-irondome-idUSBRE84G10P20120518

[29] John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “The Israel Lobby,” London Review of Books , March 23, 2006. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/john-mearsheimer/the-israel-lobby See also: Stephen J. Sniegoski, “The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel,” Ihs Press, September 1, 2008.

[30] Shirl McArthur, “A conservative estimate of total direct US aid to Israel: more than $130 billion,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2008. http://ifamericansknew.org/stat/130bill.html

[31] Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, “The true cost of the Iraq war: $3 trillion and beyond,” Washington Post , September 5, 2010. http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2010/09/stiglitz-and-bilmes-the-true-cost-of-the-iraq-war.html (Update: the original article has been removed from the Washington Post website, as well as the cache.)

[32] See articles at http://www.councilforthenationalinterest.org/new/?page_id=134

[33] Matthew Yglesias, “War for No Oil,” Slate, March 7, 2012. http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2012/03/oil_speculators_are_right_a_war_with_iran_would_devastate_the_economy_.html

[34] See, for example: Mark Landler, “Obama Presses Netanyahu to Resist Strikes on Iran,” New York Times, March 5, 2012. www.nytimes.com/2012/03/06/world/middleeast/obama-cites-window-for-diplomacy-on-iran-bomb.html And: “Biden condemns new Israeli settlement plan,” USA Today, March 9, 2010. http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2010-03-09-Israel_N.htm

[35] Andrew Sullivan, “Why Continue to Build the Settlements?” Originally published on The Daily Beast, March 30, 2012. http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2012/03/30/why-beinart-matters/ Excerpt: “The deliberate population of occupied lands violates the Geneva Conventions. The occupation itself enrages the Arab and Muslim world and creates a huge drag on the US’s strategic need to build up allies among emerging Arab democracies, and defuse Jihadism across the globe.” See also: Philip Weiss, “Former State Department official says Obama calls for human rights and democracy are ‘undercut’ by position on Palestinians,” Mondoweiss , April 2, 2012. http://mondoweiss.net/2012/04/former-state-dept-official-says-obama-calls-for-human-rights-and-democracy-are-undercut-by-position-on-palestinians.html

[36] Jim Krane, “U.S. Aid to Israel Subsidizes a Potent Weapons Exporter,” Associated Press, June 20, 2002. http://ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/p-krane.html

[37] John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “The Israel Lobby,” London Review of Books , March 23, 2006. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/john-mearsheimer/the-israel-lobby

[38] John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 2007.

[39] John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “The Israel Lobby,” London Review of Books , March 23, 2006. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/john-mearsheimer/the-israel-lobby An earlier book by former Congressman Paul Findley, They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby, first exposed this in 1985. Findley and others founded the Council for the National Interest to try to counter this.

[40] Jeffrey Birnbaum, “Washington’s Power 25: which pressure groups are best at manipulating the laws we live by?” CNN Money , December 8, 1997. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1997/12/08/234927/index.htm Other top contenders include the American Association of Retired Persons, with over 40 million members, and the National Rifle Association.

[41] “Introduction to the Israel lobby,” Council for the National Interest , August 19, 2011. http://www.councilforthenationalinterest.org/new/?page_id=33

[42] Michael Lerner, “The Israel Lobby,” Tikkun Magazine , September/October 2007. http://www.tikkun.org/article.php/Lerner-the-israel-lobby

[43] Jeremy Sharp, “US foreign aid to Israel,” Congressional Research Service, August 7, 2019. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf

[44] Max Fisher, “Should U.S. Veto UN Measure Condemning Israeli Settlements?” The Atlantic Wire, January 20, 2011. http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2011/01/should-u-s-veto-un-measure-condemning-israeli-settlements/21438

[45] “Even if Democrats and Republicans bicker on every other issue, AIPAC leaders seemed constantly eager to stress that one thing on which the parties can come together is unswerving devotion to Israel.” Gregory Levey, “Inside America’s powerful Israel lobby,” Salon , March 16, 2007. http://www.salon.com/2007/03/16/aipac Just recently has there been some high-level pushback against AIPAC’s hegemonic power in Washington. See, for example: Robert Dreyfuss, “AIPAC: Still the chosen one?” Mother Jones , September/October 2009. http://motherjones.com/politics/2009/09/aipac-still-chosen-one And: Alex Kane, “Sunlight on the lobby: AIPAC’s push for war exposed in ‘Atlantic’ magazine blog,” Mondoweiss , February 24, 2012. http://mondoweiss.net/2012/02/sunlight-on-the-lobby-aipacs-push-for-war-exposed-in-atlantic-magazine-blog.html

[46] Wikipedia, “Steven J. Rosen.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_J._Rosen#Indictment

[47] Nathan Guttman, “AIPAC Gets Down and Dirty in Pushback vs. Defamation Suit,” The Forward, November 16, 2010. http://forward.com/articles/133172/aipac-gets-down-and-dirty-in-pushback-vs-defamatio

[48] Jeff Stein, “Ex-AIPAC official got at least $670,000 from donors,” Washington Post, November 19, 2012. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/spy-talk/2010/11/ex-aipac_official_got_670000_from_private_donors.html

[49] The findings of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Israeli Attack on the USS Liberty , the Recall of Military Rescue Support Aircraft while the Ship was Under Attack, and the Subsequent Cover-up by the United States Government can be read at http://ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/ul-commfindings.html

[50] Jeremy Sharp, “US foreign aid to Israel,” Congressional Research Service, August 7, 2019. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf

[51] Jeremy R. Hammond, “Rogue State: Israeli Violations of U.N. Security Council Resolutions,” Foreign Policy Journal, January 27, 2010. http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2010/01/27/rogue-state-israeli-violations-of-u-n-security-council-resolutions

[52] For a small sampling of Israeli human rights violations, see Amnesty International’s “Annual Report: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories 2013” http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/annual-report-israel-and-the-occupied-palestinian-territories-2013, Human Rights Watch’s most recent reports https://www.hrw.org/publications?country%5B0%5D=9638, and the publications of B’Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) http://www.btselem.org/publications

[53] See Rory McCarthy, “Hamas offers $52m handouts to help hardest-hit Gazans,” The Guardian, January 25, 2009. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/26/hamas-payout-gaza-infrastructure And :The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. http://www.icahd.org/

[54] “Israeli Settlements on Palestinian Land,” If Americans Knew, May 2002. http://www.ifamericansknew.org/stat/settlements.html

[55] The Arms Export Control Act prohibits the use of US military assistance for purposes other than legitimate self-defense. Despite overwhelming evidence of Israeli violations of international law using US-supplied weapons (a few of them outlined in citations above), the US Congress has done little to comply with its own laws against funding these violations.


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Amazon Retaliation: Workers Striking Back

by MATT SMITH

Photograph Source: Fibonacci Blue – CC BY 2.0

Amazon and its contractors have a pattern of retaliating against and intimidating employees who speak out. I know – because they also tried to do it to me.

Last week, my Amazon coworkers in New York took the courageous step of walking off the job to protest our company’s lack of action to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Amazon workers in Detroit and Chicago have followed suit, demanding that Amazon shut down any warehouse where positive cases of the virus are found, to ensure a thorough cleaning.

Out of a selfish concern for their profits, Amazon has refused to take this basic step, despite repeated requests from Amazon workers, including a petition signed last month by over 4,500 of us.

Now, Amazon employees have tested positive in at least 19 warehouses around the country, and the situation has become dire. So my coworkers are taking action.

But rather than act to protect our health, Amazon’s wealthy executives have chosen to retaliate against employees who speak out. In a brazen attempt to suppress employee dissent, they responded to the Staten Island walkout by firing its main organizer, Chris Smalls.

This decision came from the highest levels of the company. In leaked meeting notes between Jeff Bezos and company executives, Amazon Senior Vice President and General Counsel, David Zapolsky, made racist, anti-worker remarks against Chris, calling him “not smart or articulate” and arguing the company should make him “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”

The billionaires and executives at Amazon want control, and they are terrified by the idea of workers getting organized to demand things like paid sick leave, hazard pay, and safe working conditions that might have the slightest impact on their billions of dollars in profits. The executives are nervous at the increased questioning by their rank-and-file, including tech and corporate employees. That’s why they are desperate to prevent workers like Chris from speaking out. As Chris put it in an interview with socialist Seattle councilmember Kshama Sawant, by firing him, Amazon is “trying to cut off the head of the snake.”

Chris is not alone. Amazon and its contractors have a pattern of retaliating against and intimidating employees who speak out. I know – because they also tried to do it to me.

Retaliation and Intimidation at Amazon

I work as a cargo handler in Kent, WA, at an Amazon delivery station called HBF2. And like many Amazon delivery workers, I work for a third-party contractor.

As far back as February, when COVID-19 first began spreading in Washington state, my coworkers and I have had growing concerns. We have not received basic health supplies like hand sanitizer and face masks from our employer. We have also not received additional paid sick leave, for those of us who might come down with symptoms of COVID-19.

Amazon was not protecting us and neither was our contractor, so I began talking with coworkers about what we could do—organizing meetings outside of work and circulating a petition with a list of changes that were needed.

When my manager found out about it, he pulled me into the office, telling me that he had heard about me “organizing people into groups” and “trying to organize a union”. In a blatant attempt at intimidation, he told me, “it will not be tolerated.”

Threats and retaliation like those against me and Chris are not an aberration. They are a central part of Amazon’s business model.

Just last year, at that same warehouse on Staten Island, Amazon fired another employee, Justin Rashad Long, in retaliation for trying to organize a union. And earlier this year, Amazon made headlines for threatening to fire tech workers who dared to criticize the company’s lack of action on climate change.

In another clear example of Amazon’s anti-worker maneuvers, a management training video was leaked in 2018 from Amazon’s Whole Foods business. The video instructed managers to be vigilant against signs of union activity, including any workers who were asking for a “living wage”!

In addition to silencing its own employees, Amazon also hires well known anti-union contractors like my employer Estes. These contractors act as Amazon’s enforcers. In addition, the company uses this complicated web of contract employment to make it even more difficult for warehouse workers to unite and demand what we deserve.

Amazon Workers Need to Get Organized

There is a reason that Amazon’s wealthy executives want to stop me and my coworkers from getting organized. They know that if we do, we can actually win.

In two Minnesota warehouses, organized groups of Amazon workers have staged walkouts and successfully forced the company to the negotiating table, winning important reforms ranging from increased parking spaces to accommodations for Muslim employees during Ramadan.

In Sacramento, a group of workers organized under the name Amazonians United and staged a successful protest last year to get two employees reinstated who had been wrongfully terminated. That group, along with an Amazonians United group at a warehouse near Chicago, followed up their victory with a campaign to demand Paid Time Off for part-time workers. Workers gathered hundreds of petition signatures and threatened a walkout, eventually forcing the company to grant PTO to part-timers not just in Chicago and Sacramento, but at all of their warehouses.

Amazon workers need to take lessons from these victories. We cannot give in to the company’s bullying and threats. This will only make things worse, and Amazon will continue to put our lives and our security at risk. In order to win necessary changes, we will need to get organized and fight for them, as the warehouse workers in New York, Chicago, and Detroit are doing.

One important step would be the formation of volunteer committees at each warehouse to advocate for the necessary changes like paid sick leave, hazard pay, and adequate cleaning of facilities. Committees could draw up a list of demands, circulate petitions to coworkers, and demand negotiations with management. Facebook or text groups could be set up at each warehouse to facilitate these actions. This will of course have to be done with full recognition of the anti-worker, hostile threats to come from management once committees are discovered.

In addition to forming these committees, it is vital that all workers stand in solidarity with Chris and others against retaliation by the company. We need to make clear to the billionaires at Amazon that “an injury to one is an injury to all”, and that any abuse of our coworkers will not be tolerated.

We know where Amazon’s profits come from. They come from the warehouse workers who sort, load, and deliver packages; they come from the grocery workers, delivery workers and other frontline workers during the crisis; and they come from the tech workers who write the company’s algorithms and create the company’s apps. If we don’t work, Amazon’s profits go away.

Amazon of course is not alone in trying to sacrifice workers’ health and lives for profit, nor did this priority begin with the pandemic. Instacart workers are facing similar conditions, and have gone on strike around the country for basic safety and hazard pay. Healthcare workers are putting their lives on the line everyday without adequate support or the desperately needed personal protective equipment (PPE). Big corporations and corporate politicians nationally are preparing to try to force workers back to workplaces at the cost of thousands of lives. Here in Seattle this week, Boeing is attempting to force workers back to its plants by April 8, risking further spreading of the virus all around the state. This is the nature of the rotten capitalist system, which at all times puts the greed of the billionaires ahead of the lives and needs of working people.

This is why I’m a socialist and member of Socialist Alternative. Here in Seattle, we’re also helping lead a campaign to Tax Amazon and the biggest businesses to fund a major jobs and housing program. They can certainly afford it, while increasingly ordinary people can’t even afford their rent in this crisis. If you’re in Seattle you should sign our online initiative petition to get our Amazon Tax on the ballot.

Ultimately, it should be workers and the community who run these huge and “essential” companies like Amazon. We should run them ourselves on the basis of public need, not profit. This will require building strong organization and a movement to take these companies into democratic public ownership, because we can’t control what we don’t own. It is only in this way, in the fight for a socialist world, that we can ensure that the health and needs of ordinary people and the planet come first.

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Super PAC is backing pro-Jewish Democrats for House races

Super PAC is backing pro-Israel Democrats for House races

CONTACT@IFAMERICANSKNEW.ORG 

Super PAC is backing pro-Israel Democrats for House races

Stacy Schusterman donated $1 million to Democratic Majority for Israel. Schusterman is chair of the Schusterman foundation. (Schusterman)

The PAC’s biggest donor is Stacy Schusterman, who has donated $1 million this election cycle and is also a national council member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The second largest donor is Gary Mark Lauder, who also has links to AIPAC. His uncle is president of the World Jewish Congress. After spending $1.4 million on ads opposing Bernie Sanders, the PAC is now focusing on Congressional races…

By Ilma Hasan, reposted from OPENSECRETS NEWS

hybrid PAC that opposed Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) presidential bid is switching its focus to congressional races and recently announced it will endorse four moderate Democrats facing progressive primary challengers.

Established last year, the Democratic Majority for Israel says its mission is to “defend Israel’s legitimacy” and was formed to mobilize leaders in the Democratic party to support Israel. The group, which spent $1.4 million on ads opposing Sanders, attacked him for receiving endorsements from lawmakers who support boycotting Israel.[Editor’s note: The group supports Israel despite its long record of human rights violations and apartheid-like system.]

The hybrid PAC is now backing eight Democratic congressional candidates who have a history of supporting Israel. They include six incumbents, a former congressman and the former chairwoman of a major Jewish group.

Two candidates supported by the pro-Israel group won their March 3 primary contests: Rep. Henry Cuellar in Texas‘ 28th District and Kathy Manning, the former chairwoman of Jewish Federations of North America, running for the recently redrawn North Carolina’s 6th District.

As the coronavirus outbreak delays some House primaries, the hybrid PAC is supporting other moderate Democratic candidates who have a history of supporting Israel. It is backing two New York incumbents facing primary challenges, Rep. Eliot Engel in the state’s 16th District and Rep. Carolyn Maloney in New York’s 12th District.

Engel, who has served 16 terms in Congress and is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has consistently received support from pro-Israel groups. His progressive primary opponents have criticized him for supporting the Iraq War and opposing the Iran Nuclear deal. He has raised almost $1.2 million in his reelection bid so far. His biggest rival is middle school principal Jamaal Bowman, who has raised over $351,000 and is being backed by the progressive Justice Democrats.

Maloney, who has raised nearly $1.4 million, received significant contributions from employees of NASDAQDeloitte LLP and BlackRock Inc. She faces progressive NYU lecturer Suraj Patel, who has raised less than half Maloney’s take.

The hybrid PAC contributed to Cuellar, Manning, Engel and Maloney recently, according to filings with the Federal Election Commision.

The PAC is also endorsing incumbent Rep. Alcee Hastings from Florida’s 20th District and Rep. Joyce Beatty who faces a younger progressive candidate in Ohio’s 3rd District. Hastings has raised over $212,000 this election cycle, and faces minor opposition. Beatty has raised significantly more than her Democratic contenders with over $1.4 million.

Two-term Rep. Josh Gottheimer from New Jersey’s 5th District is also being backed by Democratic Majority for Israel. Last year, Gottheimer drafted an amendment to a resolution supporting the existing two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, along with reaffirming U.S. military aid to Israel. Gottheimer has raised over $3.4 million this cycle, considerably more than any other candidate in the race on either side of the aisle. He represents a Republican-leaning district and is a top target of GOP groups.

The hybrid PAC is also endorsing Kweisi Mfume in a crowded Democratic primary for Maryland’s 7th district, which will elect the successor to the late Rep. Elijah Cummings. Mfume’s biggest competition is law professor F. Michael Higginbotham, who put $451,000 of his own money into the campaign, nearly 78 percent of what he’s raised. Mfume has raised over $266,000.

The pro-Israel PAC has also endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden in his presidential bid and announced its support for certain House Democratic candidates after Sander’s campaign started losing steam. Biden won 10 of 14 Super Tuesday states and won almost all major contests since then.

The PAC’s biggest donor is Stacy Schusterman, an energy executive, who has donated $1 million this election cycle and is also a national council member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. [She is also chair of her family’s foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.] Other big donors to the group include Gary Mark Lauder and Milton Cooper who gave $500,000 and $150,000 respectively. Both also have links to AIPAC, The Intercept reported. [Gary Mark Lauder is an Estée Lauder heir and nephew of World Jewish Congress president Ron Lauder.  Gary’s father Leonard Lauder, a WJC supporter, has a current net worth of about $14 billion (this fluctuates.]

After running $1.4 million worth of ads against Sanders in Iowa and Nevada, the outside group announced in February that it would focus on Democratic congressional races.

“We will be involved in congressional races and in some cases those are Democrats running against Republican and in some case, those are pro-Israel champions running against anti-Israel challengers,” Mark Mellman, president of the outside group, told Jewish Insider.


Ilma Hasan is a Money-in-politics reporting intern at OpenSecrets.org. Center for Responsive Politics Columbia University – Graduate School of Journalism.


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Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZI, CampaignsComments Off on Super PAC is backing pro-Jewish Democrats for House races

Videos around the world urge freedom for Palestinian prisoners amid COVID-19 pandemic #FreeOurPrisoners

Organizers and activists around the world are joining the video campaign to call for the immediate release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association along with many activists in Palestine launched a call for people around the world to record themselves in short videos and post them using the hashtag #FreeOurPrisoners. The appeal has found a strong response around the world, especially amid the threat that the global COVID-19 pandemic presents to Palestinian prisoners suffering in unsafe, unsanitary conditions amid institutional Israeli medical negligence.

Samidoun’s U.S. coordinator, Joe Catron, recorded a video urging the prisoners’ release:

As did the comrades of Collectif Palestine Vaincra, members of the Samidoun Network in France:


Collectif Palestine Vaincra@CollectifPV
Le Collectif Palestine Vaincra s’associe à l’appel d’@Addameer afin d’exiger la libération de tou·te·s les prisonniers palestiniens qui font face à la gestion raciste et répressive de l’épidémie de COVID-19 par l’occupation israélienne ! #FreeOurPrisoners#COVID_19

In the United States, organizations like the Palestinian Youth Movement and Students for Justice in Palestine in Chicago joined the call for the prisoners’ freedom:


PYM-USA@PYM_USA
We demand the IMMEDIATE FREEDOM of all Palestinian prisoners in Zionist prisons being subjected to harsh conditions & medical neglect that is only exacerbated by COVID-19! We call on all allies, friends & comrades to join us in an urgent campaign to free all Palestinian prisoners

Mario Martone of Scientists for Palestine spoke about the campaign, discussing the threat of the spread of COVID-19 in Ofer prison and throughout the system and the imprisonment of Palestinian-American researcher Ubai Aboudi:

@Addameer We stand in solidarity with with 5000 Palestinian Prisoners in Israeli jails and demand for their release due to COVID19. #freeourprisoners#covid19#freepalestine#sjpchicago#palestine

Aboudi’s family also joined the campaign, with Khaled, Ubai’s son, sending a message for freedom via video:


Addameer –الضمير@AddameerFrom Mario Martone, release Palestinian prisoners and save them from the corona-virus. Take a short of video of yourself, less than one minute, and post it on your social media accounts. #FreeOurPrisoners#COVID_19

757 views0:00 / 1:191:19757 views7:25 PM · Apr 2, 20202524 people are talking about this

udi, meaning that I haven’t seen him for a long him, it also means that I’m scared for him from corona, release my dad.” #FreeOurPrisoners

The Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain (PCPE) joined the campaign with a video message from its general secretary Carmelo Suarez supporting Palestinian prisoners:


Samidoun@SamidounPPThe Partido Comunista de los Pueblos de España (@webpcpe) and its general secretary, Carmelo Suarez, join the campaign to #FreeOurPrisoners – expressing solidarity and calling for the release of all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. @Addameer

The International Union of Pensioners and Retirees – Pensionistas y Jubilistas, affilated to the World Federation of Trade Unions also urged freedom for imprisoned Palestinians:


Samidoun@SamidounPP
The International Union of Pensioners and Retirees – Pensionistas y Jubilistas, affilated to the #WFTU#FSM – calls for the freedom of all Palestinian prisoners! #FreeOurPrisoners@Addameer

The Internationalist Anti-Imperialist Front (FAI) also issued calls in Spanish, English and French urging the immediate liberation of Palestinian prisoners:

Manuel Pardo of Cadiz and writer Sara Rosemberg of Madrid also joined in the videos of the FAI:

Manuel Pardo of Cadiz and writer Sara Rosemberg of Madrid also joined in the videos of the FAI:

Jose Luis Ruiz of GUK alliance in Getxo (Basque Country) called for the liberation of Palestinian prisoners:

And Juan Manuel Hernández Legazcue of the Ezkerretik Foroa called on the Red Cross to take action for the freedom of all Palestinian prisoners amid the COVID-19 pandemic:

Many more activists joined the campaign, including members of the Jeunes communistes (Young Communists) in France, activists from El Salvador, Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica, and many others around the world:

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network encourages activists, organizations and people of conscience around the world to continue the campaign and share their videos and images in support of Palestinian political prisoners fighting for their lives, their freedom and their people during the COVID-19 pandemic under the hashtag #FreeOurPrisoners. Feel free to tag us on Twitter (@SamidounPP) in addition to @Addameer or send us a link on our Facebook page

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, Campaigns, Health, Human RightsComments Off on Videos around the world urge freedom for Palestinian prisoners amid COVID-19 pandemic #FreeOurPrisoners

COVID-19 and the Lessons of Life in Exile

by ARIEL DORFMAN

Everything is unsettled.

Whatever you thought was steady and predictable has now turned out to be alien and dangerous. You can no longer interact with your family or friends or other members of your community face to face — never mind hug or touch them. Your routines and habits have been upended, and you face new deprivations, a reversal for which you were unprepared. Nor can you depend on long-standing safety nets that would supposedly always be there for you. As for strangers, you can’t tell which ones could imperil your safety, and who might offer assistance. Distance becomes the norm.

That’s a description of life for countless millions in the times of the coronavirus. Yes, but it also captures the daily experience — from the very beginning of history — of vast numbers of exiles and migrants as they discover how to survive a journey into the unknown.

Is it possible, then, that these uprooted men, women and children who left their homes behind for a new land — whether in search of more auspicious prospects or because they were fleeing a catastrophe — have some lessons to teach us now that the pandemic has, in some sense, made exiles of us all?

As someone who comes from a family of refugees — and who has spent his own life wandering, losing and gaining countries and languages — I trust that there is much to learn from the experience of extreme dislocation suffered by humanity’s expatriate multitudes.

First of all: the knowledge that you can subsist on less, that much of what you assumed was necessary for your well-being and satisfaction is not, after all, that indispensable.

Migrants soon perceive what has priority in an emergency, how to embrace and appreciate what is truly valuable and essential to our survival: the fact that we all have an inalienable need for lodging, food, safety, reassurances, health, for example — and, above all, the love and kindness of others. If you can hold onto that awareness beyond the current pandemic crisis, you may perhaps emerge from it a wiser person, more attuned to our basic human condition.

But we are a long way from the end of this crisis. When you are vulnerable, as exiles and migrants perpetually are, when you are close to the abyss, it is easy to be preyed upon. Morbid situations throw up a cast of unsavory characters, hustlers, cheats and demagogues, full of false promises and empty boasts of quick salvation. When one is adrift in unfamiliar, menacing circumstances, that is when extra care must be taken not to succumb to these unscrupulous seductions; what matters is to judge others by the consistency of their actions, and not be led astray by the momentary appeal of those whose words are ever-changing.

There will be grievous losses during this crisis, illnesses of those you love that you cannot alleviate, and funerals you cannot attend. As well as family births and birthdays that you cannot observe — festivities, marriages, anniversaries, graduations, all the glorious events that mark and make sense of the time allotted to us on this earth.

The emigres who are forced to witness from afar so many deaths without the consolation of their beloved kin nearby, who have also been robbed of celebrating the wonderful rites of passage back home, have come up with ways to cope with this pain of separation. They mourn by renewing their bonds with the dead that they must carry inside from now on. And they internalize the significance of more joyful festivities forbidden to them, fighting detachment and loneliness with a feast of memories and faith. Such trials can make you grow, test your resilience, take stock of the constancy of your connections.

Such a voyage of self-discovery is not an easy one, Again, like exiles and migrants, you now belong to two worlds: what was left behind and what lies ahead. Use the occasion to learn to look at the circumstances you now inhabit with new, disenchanted eyes; examine carefully, as strangers in a strange land might, what this calamity has revealed about our civilization. As happens often when disasters strike, this is a chance to reexamine what seemed the unshakable foundations of your social order, foundations that turned out to be built on dubious pillars and unquestioned presuppositions.

And when you go back to normality — just as exiles and migrants do, if they are lucky enough to revisit their homelands — behold with your new eyes the country you now return to, and remember that what seemed normal and enduring did not train you well for the threat that changed your life, and other threats to come. You — and perhaps large majorities — may conclude that the old “normal” world needs restructuring, too.

When you resurface, do not forget to look back on the dark night of the soul and the body you have gone through. Remember when you feared that there would be no room for you or those you loved at the hospitals, when you wondered if you might be among those denied the welcome and care required to heal. Try to connect that dread and potential denial to what so many remote refugees — usually viewed on TV, or on other screens — undergo every hour of every day, confronted by walls and border crossings, tumultuous seas and foreboding edicts: no room, no room. Our country is full. The ones who, right now, have no soap, no water, no distancing to protect themselves.

Think of these homeless and grief-stricken people when better times arrive and open your hearts and doors and cities to them. If you only listen, these displaced brothers and sisters will help you to understand that each of us may sicken and die one by one, but that it is the many who will save us — all of us together, one humanity in this era of mass migration and plague.

Posted in USA, HealthComments Off on COVID-19 and the Lessons of Life in Exile

government contempt for disabled people

In the first in a series of frontline responses to Covid-19, Jamie Hale explains the challenges facing disabled people – and their demands of the British government. Published in partnership with The World Transformed

By: Jamie Hale

As a disabled adult, I’ve been epidemic-watching for a while, getting increasingly worried about Covid-19 as it came closer. Now that wave is about to break over the UK, and intensive care units are already becoming overwhelmed.

I’m significantly impaired – reliant on a variety of pumps and equipment, from feeding tube to non-invasive ventilation machine – and at very high risk if I catch Covid-19. I’m also completely reliant on a 24/7 care package, from people who do everything from personal care and managing my equipment to supporting me in my work and personal life, organised through a scheme called direct payments, in which I am given the funding to employ and manage my own personal assistants.

While we’ve heard a lot about the risks of Covid-19 for older people, less has been said about younger and working-age disabled people. Like people over 70, many of us have been told to self-isolate, either for being at increased risk of catching it, or increased risk of complications if we do catch it. Not only us but also the people we live with also have to self-isolate or practice extreme social distancing.

Our own efforts will be in vain, however, if the government doesn’t step in and offer us the support we need, and that’s what’s currently lacking.

Disabled people have been given very little information on the risks we face or the steps we should take to mitigate those. How do you practice social distancing when you have care workers coming in and out of your house constantly?

Those of us living independently on direct payments haven’t been allocated any personal protective equipment or the funding to purchase it. This means I’m making face masks out of t-shirts, trying to make my own hand sanitiser, and putting disposable gloves through the wash. I’m spending lots of money on buying clothes for PAs to wear at work, doing extra laundry, and buying what equipment, hand soap, etc I can to try to stay safe.

I have no funding to offer sick pay. This means that my employees, if they get ill, have to choose between risking my life or being unable to pay their rent. This situation is not fair on either them or me – especially as some of the people I employ don’t even work enough hours to earn statutory sick pay.

Terrifyingly, the legislation that keeps disabled people living safely at home is now being removed. The government’s Coronavirus Bill will make changes to the Care Act 2014 which remove the legal duty on local authorities to provide care, except where not providing it would breach people’s human rights. This could, in one fell swoop, wipe out most of adult social care – with no guarantee it will ever be replaced.

As well as these threats, the effects of social isolation are also significant. I am unable to see the high-risk people I love, even if they become ill. I’m in work and while I’m lucky to be able to work from home, many disabled freelancers have seen their incomes evaporate, while employees facing four months at home may instead lose their jobs.

Amidst this, a series of demands are emerging from disabled people:

  • Removing the suspension of the Care Act from the Coronavirus Bill, to protect our right to live independently in the community;
  • Adequate pay (living wage) for personal assistants and carers who all work in inherently high-risk roles, including those working for care agencies as well as doing direct payment work;
  • Funding for full sick pay for PAs and carers whether employed through care agencies, direct payments, or other measures so they aren’t forced by financial circumstances to come in when ill;
  • Enough Personal Protective Equipment for PAs and carers working with disabled people, whether through agencies or direct payments, to be provided urgently and free of charge;
  • Flexibility in using direct payment budgets to pay different people, pay people more, or buy equipment as needed during the pandemic;
  • Extra care funding for disabled people who have to hire PAs and carers at short notice to cover shifts as people fall ill;
  • A guarantee from the government that disabled people won’t be deprioritised for access to treatment for the complications of Covid-19, as is happening in areas where health systems are being overwhelmed.

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John Lennon in Quarantine: a Letter From Havana

by MERRIAM ANSARA

John Lennon is in quarantine. He, or at least his bronze sculpture, sits on a bench in the leafy park at 17th & 6th Street in Vedado, as though inviting visitors to sit next to him and have a chat. At the foot of the bench is the inscription in Spanish: You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

The park is in the Carmelo district of Vedado. Until March, the park received a steady stream of foreign visitors arriving both in Havana’s famed classic cars and on foot. The guard on duty, from a group of local retirees called back into to service, held on to Lennon’s famous glasses, bringing them over to the visitors so they could sit on the bench and have their picture taken with John Lennon (the retirees were hired after quite a few of John Lennon’s glasses were stolen). Nearby in the early mornings a regular group of elders would practice Tai Chi with one of the hundreds of Sports Institute and Wushu Institute trained instructors, usually also retirees. On the weekends a famed Cuban baseball pitcher who lived in the neighborhood would come out for coaching sessions with the neighborhood youngsters.

El Carmelo is also home to another Cuban institution well known to visitors and Cubans alike: El Fabrica del Arte, a former oil factory that for at least a decade has housed a complex of discos, art galleries, restaurants and other event venues.

And it also is home to the best Guarapo stand in Havana, at 17th and 24th. Here the sugar cane stalks are ground directly into a bucket of ice and served up sweet and cold, 1 peso for a small glass, 2 pesos for a large.

Though Old Havana is known as the city’s tourism center, Vedado has also long been known for its rotating population of foreign visitors, both living in its many rental units and B&Bs and frequenting its many restaurants and other venues. For this reason also it was not surprising to find that a number of cases of Covid-19 were found in that neighborhood. All Covid-19 cases to date have been from either visitors from abroad or Cubans returning from abroad or direct contacts with these two groups. Only recently have there been cases that have jumped to a third person, known as “local spread”.

All regular activity came to a halt on Friday evening, April 3, 2020, at 8:00 pm. On March 23rd, 12 days after the first case of Covid-19 in Cuba, the government had activated the Councils of Defense, Cuba’s Civil Defense famed worldwide for its ability to respond rapidly and efficiently to any kind of natural disaster. The Havana Defense Council had determined that there was a grave danger of Covid-19 spread in the neighborhood. The Muncipal Delegate, the People’s Council, and the entire infrastructure of family doctors and policlinics agreed.

As of 8 pm, the entire neighborhood that stretches from 6th Street to 28th, Malecon to 21st, roughly the area between Paseo and the Almendares River below 23rd Street, is closed to entry and exit. Anyone with a need to enter or leave must prove that they have been tested and are free of Covid-19. The Civil Defense will ensure that all necessary supplies are brought into the neighborhood stores. The medical personnel will be checking regularly on the most vulnerable in the population. Social workers will be enlisted to help and will also help with classes. Buses traveling through the area will be restricted.

This approach to epidemic is not new in Cuba in my memory. I remember in the 1980s a section of Vedado being shut off following discovery of a single tetanus case. I also remember in the 1970s troops of patrolling nurses in white seeking out anyone not vaccinated against measles in the neighborhood in which I and my little daughter then lived. They were an impressive and determined sight. Just a few years ago when a friend contracted dengue, neighborhood patrols went searching for the source of standing water that could breed the dengue (Aedes aegypti, also a carrier of chickunguynya, Zika, Mayaro and yellow fever) and so most likely responsible for the friend’s dengue. The source was found and the resident responsible was fined.

How many cases of Covid-19 occasioned this lock down? 8 as of Friday. That may not seem like many, but Cuba takes its approach to public health very very seriously. 8 cases in such a limited area means that there is local spread, as discovered previously in another neighborhood locked down in Pinar del Rio’s Consolacion del Sur. Local spread, unlike community spread, means that you can trace the virus as it hops from person to person. Community spread means that you can’t trace the virus and it’s rapidly moving out of control. This the Cuban authorities are trying to prevent, so far, 21 days into the virus, successfully. And hence the lockdown of El Carmelo.

As a matter of fact living in Havana these days as I am feels liking being enfolded in a warm blanket of care and concern. Every day there is a televised press conference at 11 am with detailed information on the number of new cases and how each of the patients is doing. Each day there is a meeting of the President and Cabinet, the details of which are relayed by television to the population. Each day there are special concerts by the country’s leading musicians broadcast over the airwaves. Each day there is the Mesa Redonda on television starting at 6 pm or 7 pm where the country’s leaders explain exactly what is happening and what needs to be done. Each day at 8 pm on the news there is more information. Each day there are programs about what you need to do, what you can do, how Cuba’s laws and regulations work, what the best ways are to protect yourself and others. Each day there are teams of medical students knocking on your door to ask how you are. At the family doctor’s office where I am volunteering mornings, there is a steady stream of people in and out, consulting the doctor, bringing babies for regular vaccinations, or even telling the doctor what’s available that day at the neighborhood store. In the afternoons, Dr. Marta spends visiting her elderly or otherwise vulnerable patients, taking shifts at the neighborhood policlinic, or following up on the findings of her medical student volunteers. As well, she supervises a group of Kenyan medical students doing their residency in Cuba.

At today’s press conference, the National Director of Epidemiology, Dr. Francisco Duran, after running through each and every case and how they are doing (we are up to 312 cases), said he wanted to take some time to explain the difference to us between the various tests that are being used. Yesterday he explained the evolution period of the disease. Today he said that the rapid test kits that Cuba has just been able to get are to measure the antibodies in people who are suspected of harboring the virus (these are the kits that Cuba had trouble getting into the Island, I believe, because the owner of Alibaba balked at challenging the US embargo); they don’t actually rule out the virus; they are a quick and reliable way to see who needs further following up on. The PCR test is a real time proof positive test. He explained how each is used and how we can understand. That is a hallmark of everything we are being told: The health authorities believe that if we have the most information possible, we will be able to make the best judgments. (Information has been a hallmark of the Cuban Revolution since the very beginning; it was the basis of the Literacy Campaign: An educated population will make the best decisions about building their own and our collective future.)

Everyone is wearing cloth masks in the streets. The Public Health authorities have been unequivocal about this since the beginning: Too many people are asymptomatic or don’t show symptoms until it is too late. Social distancing is an established protocol (Quedate en la casa!) but one not always easy to enforce in Cuba, especially in Havana. Too many people, in fact everyone, must go to the store regularly and form lines when scarce and needed goods like chicken or detergent come in. Cuba has dealt with epidemics before: Hemorraghing dengue at home; Cholera in Haiti; Ebola in Africa. You cannot control people coughing sneezing spitting. In a society without cars and dependent on daily shopping it is not feasible for everyone to stay indoors all of the time. A physical barrier between each person’s nose & mouth and everyone else’s is a reasonable precaution. There are endless programs and signs on how to care for your masks, how to make them so you have more than one, how to clean yourself before you reenter your house, what precautions to take when you go out. All stores and the few remaining restaurants (mostly take out) have bottles of Hypochlorite, this country’s low cost solution to personal and houdehold disinfectant, at the door. Police are on hand to try to ensure that people in the long lines in front of stores are maintaining 2 meters distance. Some stores are trying novel approaches, such as handing out tickets for your turn.

Face masks are now taken for granted in this society of ours here. We’re used to hearing the President’s voice a bit muffled behind his mask. We’re used to seeing his cabinet sitting every other chair, sporting a variety of homemade masks of different colors and patterns. We’ve gotten used to people crossing the street when they see us coming and don’t take it personally. We’ve gotten used to the smell of chlorine in hypoclorito and to the rituals of entering our homes: take off shoes, sprinkle hypochlorite on hands and rub vigorously, clean off the dog’s paws with hypochlorite and then water, open the door and then clean off key and doorknob with hypochlorite, shed clothing and mask as soon as step in the door, wash hands, take shower, don inside clothes, carry on.

This is still Cuba, though, irrepresible as ever. The other evening I asked my nephew to take me to a friend’s house in Atares. It was her birthday and I had some chicken for her. As we rode down Calzada de Cerro we marveled at how empty it was; how there was almost no foot traffic and the buses were half empty. Erik had just commented on how proud he was of his fellow Cubans even keeping the children inside. Then we turned into Atares and pre-Covid Havana came into view: Every doorway had one or two people sitting in it, people strolled the street, children played marbles in a bunch. The only difference was that everyone was wearing a face mask.

Some of my Cuban friends will complain that I don’t understand Cuba; I’m not Cuban. It’s just because Cubans feel that they are so well taken care of by the government that they don’t need to comply 100%. In this, though, I think that Cubans are very much like everyone everywhere: there is a degree to which the danger is simply not real; and in Cuba’s case, the nature of the Cuban people is not to go shopping or do other such practices that we might consider risky but to hang out with their neighbors.

And I might add, while there is Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, there is no Zoom. When you try to go to the Zoom site it says: 403 Forbidden. What’s with that? The rest of the world is using Zoom and we in Cuba can’t?

So back to John Lennon. The thing about John Lennon is that in many ways he sums up many of the ideals of the Cuban Revolution, or at least Cubans see it that way. His dream was of world peace; Cuba’s dream is even broader: not just world peace, but world community and collaboration. Everyone here — everyone — is supportive of every step Cuba is taking to send help wherever they are asked. Oh, I’m sure you can find a few disaffected whiners and complainers, but the goals of the Cuban Revolution are deeply, deeply ingrained in even the most alienated youth or hardened elders. Fidel planted the seeds of solidarity: Revolution is the sense of the historic moment; it is changing everything that must be changed; it is full equality and liberty; it is being treated and treating all others as human beings;…it is defending the values in which we believe at any cost; it is modesty, lack of self interest, altruism, solidarity and heroism…

These seeds, though, fed the essential nature of the people of Cuban and I think mostly likely would feed all humans allowed to flourish within the cosmos of such caring. We see in the United States so many people rising to be their best selves in the face of this adversity, despite the cringing narcism, bullying, misrepresentation and lack of values at the top. Cuba is exceptional, but it is exceptional because it has been asked and made the decision to be so: Cuba knows that it is fighting for its own survival and that its own survival depends on the survival of all of us.

Every night at 9 pm. We all go out on our balconies or lean out our windows and we clap and clap. We clap for our medical personnel, at home and abroad. We clap out of enthusiasm and out of kindness. We clap for the essential workers keeping our society going. We clap our expectations and hopes for the future.

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Samidoun salutes the martyr Helin Bölek of Grup Yorum

Posted by: Sammi Ibeahem,Sr

Helin Bölek, before and during her strike. Photo credit: @FreeGrupYorum, Twitter

Helin Bölek, revolutionary musician in Turkey and Grup Yorum band member, was martyred during the morning of Friday 3 April 2020 after 288 days of being on hunger strike. She was on hunger strike together with fellow Grup Yorum member Ibrahim Gökçek, who is continuing his strike now for 291 days.

Grup Yorum, established by students in 1985, is a revolutionary music band composed of Turkish and Kurdish members. Their songs are about the struggle for freedom, the daily struggles and international solidarity. Grup Yorum is one of the most popular bands in Turkey, with concerts being attended by hundreds of thousands of people. The band has been a target of Turkish state repression for a long time. Their offices and cultural centres have been raided multiple times and dozens of members have been arrested and tortured.

Three weeks ago, on 11 March, the house where Helin Bölek and Ibrahim Gökçek were on hunger strike was raided by Turkish forces. Helin and Ibrahim were taken to Ümraniye Training and Research Hospital to be force fed. Both refused all force feeding and insisted on their right to resist through their hunger strike. After six days of torture in the hospital, including stress positions and prohibition of sanitary facilities, Helin and Ibrahim returned to their Resistance House in the neighborhood Küçük Amurtlu in Istanbul.

The hunger strike of Helin Bölek and Ibrahim Gökçek aimed for more than their own freedom. Rather, they formulated five clear demands:

  • End the police raids against İdil Cultural Center were Grup Yorum organizes.
  • Remove all Grup Yorum members from the wanted lists.
  • Remove the ban on the concerts of Grup Yorum.
  • Drop the lawsuits filed against Grup Yorum members.
  • Release all arrested Grup Yorum members, seven in total.

Even after Helin Bölek was released from Turkish prison in November 2019, and Ibrahim Gökçek three months later, both continued their hunger strike for these five demands. They made clear that their hunger strike was a death strike: they would continue until their five demands were met.

The death of Helin Bölek in the liberation struggle shows the deadly nature of the Turkish state, which continues to imprison tens of thousands political activists, lawyers, politicians, journalists and musicians. It is exactly against this system of mass imprisonment and repression that Helin Bölek was struggling.

In a statement, the People’s Front of Turkey said, “While the AKP has continued all this exploitation and persecution, it has attacked all sectors other than itself in order to silence the people in the face of all their injustices. To silence the people, to make them swear allegiance to its system, it has to silence the revolutionaries first. It has directed its greatest attacks upon the revolutionaries and tried to silence them with its policies of detention, imprisonment and massacres.”

When Samidoun participated in the Anti-Imperialist Symposium in February this year, we heard from Helin Bölek and people close to her. While it was clear her health condition was deteriorating, her spirit was extremely high. It was clear that she and her fellow hunger striker Ibrahim Gökçek would continue until their demands were met. With the martyrdom of Helin, it is our duty to continue her struggle and support Ibrahim and the Grup Yorum prisoners.

Helin stands with Palestine.

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network salutes the life and legacy of Helin Bölek, who struggled her whole life for people’s liberation in Turkey and Kurdistan. Her music, organizing and hunger strike has inspired thousands of people to stand up against Turkish state repression. We join all those who are continuing the struggle of Helin Bölek and we demand the immediate release of all Grup Yorum members and an end to their repression.

We end with the lyrics of Grup Yorum’s song “Zafere Kadar” (Until Victory), which was released in support of the second Intifada:

Every house is a castle
Our home is a school
“Revolution to Victory” in our language

A resistance in every home
A fedayeen (militant) in every home
“Revolution to Victory” in our language

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, Campaigns, Human Rights, TurkeyComments Off on Samidoun salutes the martyr Helin Bölek of Grup Yorum

Time to requisition empty homes

The government’s actions to try and house rough sleepers are inadequate. The acquisition of empty homes for the homeless is a viable short and long-term solution, argues.

By: Adam Peggs

The United Kingdom is already facing appalling levels of homelessness, and the coronavirus outbreak is beginning to highlight the state of day-to-day life in the country after a decade of cutbacks and widening inequality. Concerns over how the homeless will self-isolate have proliferated, almost glossing over the need for people to be housed in the first place.

In mid-March the government announced an emergency fund to help those sleeping rough during the pandemic. Yet this £3.2 million fund is patently inadequate – and risks leaving people out in the cold during a period where charitable support is drying up. In its latest research, the charity Shelter suggests that there are now around 320,000 people homeless in the UK – around 1 in every 200 people. A crisis on the scale of the coronavirus outbreak will leave these people under potentially unprecedented threat.

Now, the government has requested that all councils do all they can to get accommodation for rough sleepers, with the BBC reporting that Whitehall has offered to procure accommodation. The homelessness charity Crisis have already cast doubts on how much this move will actually achieve and have called for a national appeal for accommodation. But we need more than a national appeal – a better route would be to transfer empty homes from their owners to councils.

Empty houses

We live in a country with no shortage of financial resources and more homes than there are people. In 2018, more than 216,000 homes had been empty for six months while thousands – some 28,000 according to UK councils – slept rough on our streets; record levels in London were reached in late 2019. And around 23,000 homes have sat empty for more than five years. To top this, there are a substantial number of long-term empty commercial premises in the country – in London in 2018 there were 11,000 such buildings that had stood empty for at least two years.

Greenpeace

Meanwhile, the total value of second homes (including buy-to-let properties) in Britain has reached nearly £1 trillion – up 50 per cent since the turn of the millennium. If that wealth were distributed evenly, that would translate to about £150,000 of housing wealth per head for the whole population, or about £180,000 per adult. Second home ownership has risen by 30 per cent in the same timeframe.

Empty housing, and the broader maldistribution of housing in the United Kingdom, are longstanding and entrenched problems. Even looking past the problems of empty buildings and vast inequalities in housing wealth, the UK has a problem of under-utilising housing. As the authors of the Labour Party’s Land for the Many wrote last year, the ‘number of dwellings in the UK has been growing faster than the number of households’ and ‘we have more bedrooms per person than ever before’. This ‘reflects an increasingly unequal distribution’.

Solutions available

Transferring long-term empty homes to councils is already in line with Labour Party policy, passed unanimously at 2019’s conference. Homelessness, and depriving many of the very poorest in our society of human dignity, are political choices. With the country under lockdown, and in perhaps the worst public health crisis in living memory, it is time to step in and do what is necessary to guarantee people homes.

In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn called for empty flats in Kensington to be subject to Compulsory Purchase Orders or requisitioned in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. While he was mocked at the time, similar powers had been used in the same borough during the Second World War to house Gibraltarian refugees. Far from advocating for draconian measures, Corbyn was responding to an emergency by prioritising social needs rather than continuing to appease narrow private interests.

We are now seeing enormous state intervention in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, beyond anything witnessed in our lifetimes. There is a significant danger however – a likelihood even – that the increased size of the state and its activities are not being deployed for the collective good, but to shore up capital. While it is positive that some rough sleepers in London have been given accommodation at discounted rates in hotel rooms, we should question whether it is right that private companies should profit from this.

It would be apt to take these companies into public ownership, potentially turning them into providers of housing for those in the greatest need.

Beyond crisis

Some of these measures – even most of them – needn’t be temporary. When the Second World War ended requisitioning powers were maintained in order to deal with the post-war housing crisis. After all, if we can house the homeless in a public health crisis why not provide housing to all in the first place?

Councils already have the powers to raise council tax on empty homes and to compulsorily purchase or otherwise bring empty homes back into usage, but they have rarely been used. Homes left empty long-term and empty properties owned by landlords with large portfolios could be requisitioned and used to house the homeless, while those left empty for the shorter term should face a higher tax burden – with the proceeds directed toward homeless reduction and support. And where appropriate, in the longer-term, empty commercial properties could be turned into residential accommodation and appropriated for the homeless and for those on the vast social housing waiting list.

As more people in London sleep in the cold than at any time on record, it is time to think of organising housing provision based on common need, not private interest, and not merely in times of global crisis.

Posted in Health, UKComments Off on Time to requisition empty homes

Gig work in the coronavirus crisis

How long are we willing to turn a blind eye to the vulnerabilities of essential workers on the bottom of the employment hierarchy, asks the Fairwork Foundation

Black Friday demonstration against Deliveroo in Berlin in 2018. Photo by Leonhard Lenz

Black Friday demonstration against Deliveroo in Berlin in 2018.Photo by Leonhard Lenz.

In her short story The ones who walk away from Omelas, Ursula le Guin describes a utopian city with a caveat: its orderliness, serenity, joyfulness and beauty requires that a single unfortunate child is kept in misery, darkness and despair. Le Guin’s story draws attention to a known philosophical dilemma: how far are we willing to go in sacrificing the rights, happiness, and wellbeing of the minority, for the happiness of the majority? And how far is too far? Amid the coronavirus crisis, this question is turning from hypothetical to real.

As new coronavirus cases are rapidly increasing across the world, gig workers are on the front lines of this crisis. They are delivering food and household essentials to those self-isolating or practising social distancing and are providing much needed care services to those in need. As such, they are among the ‘key workers’ the UK government announced: those ‘who are maintaining essential public services during the Covid-19 response’.

The unaffordable luxury of self-isolation

Essentially, the nature of their roles means that many gig workers are doing the opposite of social distancing. They directly interact with restaurants, shops, and customers, in public and private spaces. Subsequently, their exposure to risk is very high. Governments around the world are advising anyone with symptoms to self-isolate, while an increasing number of countries are implementing lockdown measures, obliging people to stay at home unless for necessary activities.

But for gig workers, this is easier said than done. Not working means not having the means to pay rent and put food on the table for their families. Not working also means facing their accounts being blocked by the platforms or losing the level of incentives they have accumulated. Thus, their physical presence in our streets and in front of our doors affords platforms to scale up their orders amid the crisis. For workers who need to pay rental or loan costs on their work equipment or vehicles, not working means going deeper into debt and facing financial ruin. For gig workers, self-isolation is an unaffordable luxury.

Policies stated but not practised

To see how platforms have been responding to the crisis, the Fairwork team has been systematically collecting any policies that they have put in place to mitigate the risks that gig workers face. Our results show that from India to the UK, from the US to South Africa, their responses are insufficient. In most cases, they pay lip service to protection without investing meaningfully in action that would actually protect their workforce. We’ve seen some platforms, putting a lot of energy into telling customers how they are protecting workers, without actually informing the workers themselves.

Greenpeace

In Germany, for example, there is evidence that Lieferando workers learnt about new policies from the media rather than their platform. Indeed, several of the measures taken by the platforms for protection against coronavirus seem primarily designed to protect customers and businesses. Among the 60+ platforms we have surveyed across the world, the single most common response is contact-free delivery and providing hand sanitisers or masks to workers. Many platforms, at least initially, have even refused to provide these protections, by arguing that workers are self-employed and they do not have the obligation to guarantee their health and safety.Policies on paid leave are rare and even when they exist, they are hard to access

Policies on paid leave for those who need to self-isolate either due to themselves getting ill or their family members, are rare and even when they exist, they are hard to access. Deliveroo, for instance, announced that workers would be able to have access to paid leave for up to 14 days, if they get ill. Similarly, Uber is providing financial support for 14 days to drivers who have been diagnosed. However, the small print in the policy notes, paid leave is conditional on producing a sick note. Given that the people with coronavirus symptoms should refrain from physically visiting a doctor, it is unclear how workers can actually benefit from this policy.

In some countries, such as France or the UK, health authorities are only testing those with severe symptoms, further reducing the possibility for gig workers to be diagnosed with the virus. In our research, we have documented that several platforms are aware of the financial uncertainty gig workers are facing and they say they are taking the needed measures against them, by introducing ‘hardship funds’. But again, when we dig deeper, we notice that they do not specify how workers can access these funds or for how long.

A Foodpanda delivery rider in Singapore. Photo

A Foodpanda delivery rider in Singapore. Photo by Lgh_9.

Our interviews with workers for the Fairwork project suggest that some of these policies and safety regulations are stated, but not actually practised. As a driver who works for Uber in Bangalore told us:

‘Uber has not reached out to us regarding any safety regulations or precautions yet, either via call or messaging. No masks or sanitisers have been provided either. Rides per day have gone down too from almost 15 a day to now barely five. Me and my friends have been reaching out to other travel vendors for any outstation jobs. We’ve given up on these platforms [Uber and Ola] for now… there are no customers since everybody is working from home.’

The situation now is, of course, vastly different to any utopia. The coronavirus crisis is dominating the news today, and eventually, the world will recover. Until then, how long are we willing to turn a blind eye to the vulnerabilities of those workers who provide the essential services in society? When sacrificing the wellbeing of those who are the bottom rungs of the employment hierarchy to stock the shelves, to deliver food, to care for children, the sick or elderly – how far are we willing to go? If we do not want platforms to determine the moral compass of our societies, we need to hold them accountable for their policies.

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