Archive | May 23rd, 2020

‘Reopening’ Means Workers Will Die

The wealthy may be fine with sacrificing the vulnerable, but workers are fighting for the sanctity of human life.

byNegin Owliaei

As other countries have shown with far more grace, the alternative isn’t shutting down forever — it’s investing in testing and social safety nets. (Photo: Shutterstock)

As other countries have shown with far more grace, the alternative isn’t shutting down forever—it’s investing in testing and social safety nets. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Every morning for the last two months, I’ve checked the news in my home state of Florida with growing concern.

First came the photos of unemployed people lining up to file for benefits in person, denied access to an overburdened system. Then came the news that only a tiny percentage of unemployment claims were paid out by late April.

Now, barber shops and nail salons are reopening, even as the state saw its deadliest week yet. Altogether, the news paints a horrifying picture of a government cruelly uninterested in protecting human life.

The overwhelming majority of Americans continue to support social distancing and stay at home orders. But right-wing forces across the country are demanding an end to life-saving lockdowns, cheered on by a White House well aware of how devastating the loss of life could be.

The government estimates a death count as high as 3,000 people a day. Despite those horrifying numbers, some states are encouraging employers to report workers who are afraid that returning to their jobs could amount to a death sentence, kicking them off unemployment.

As other countries have shown with far more grace, the alternative isn’t shutting down forever — it’s investing in testing and social safety nets.

Every level of the U.S. government has shown, time and again, that the default setting is to leave the vulnerable behind. But Americans themselves are challenging that approach.

Senegal, which has 50 ventilators for its population of 16 million, is building more through 3D printing, all while it trials a $1 testing kit. The world took note of South Korea’s quick and vigorous testing system. Countries across Europe have relied on existing social safety nets to prevent the mass layoffs we’ve seen here in the U.S.

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo provided necessary perspective: “We know how to bring the economy back to life,” he said. “What we do not know is how to bring people back to life.”

By contrast, the Trump administration’s callousness has become more evident than ever.

Experts have been sidelined in favor of fumbling volunteers from private equity and venture capital firms, who botched the procurement of medical supplies. And when Trump finally invoked the Defense Production Act, it was to force meatpacking workers — who are mostly Latinx and Black — to work through unsafe conditions at the very plants that have emerged as outbreak hotspots.

Indeed, those demographics may help explain the government’s willingness to risk lives.

It seems like no coincidence that the far-right pushback became stronger as evidence mounted showing the virus disproportionately killing already marginalized people of color, especially black Americans. And it was hard to miss the Nazi slogan prominently displayed at a “re-open” protest in Illinois, or the Confederate flags featured as far north as Wisconsin.

Government disregard for vulnerable lives is hardly new. Who can forget the New Orleans residents stranded on their rooftops after Hurricane Katrina? Or the disabled New Yorkers left stranded for days after Hurricane Sandy?

Every level of the U.S. government has shown, time and again, that the default setting is to leave the vulnerable behind. But Americans themselves are challenging that approach.

Workers at General Electric protested to switch production to ventilators, a move that could save jobs and lives. Teachers have promised more strikes if schools open against medical advice.

Nurses, in addition to treating the sick, have faced “re-open” protesters head on. And they’ve stood outside the White House, reading the names of their colleagues killed by government inaction and demanding more protections.

Add these actions to the wave of strikes and sickouts from essential workers across the country, and a clear picture emerges: The wealthy may be fine with sacrificing the vulnerable. But workers understand the sanctity of human life, and will fight for it.

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The Trump Depression Could Be Worse Than the Great Depression

Avoiding a dystopian future requires as a first step repairing the elements of fragility in our political economy.

by: John Buell

Attacks on the welfare state from the seventies on along with racial polarization fostered at least among some citizens characterization of the unemployed as lazy and unmotivated. The consequence was further denigration of the government perceived as helping these others.  (Photo: Shutterstock)

Attacks on the welfare state from the seventies on along with racial polarization fostered at least among some citizens characterization of the unemployed as lazy and unmotivated. The consequence was further denigration of the government perceived as helping these others.  (Photo: Shutterstock)

Friday May 8 unemployment statistics were as dire as many had expected. The US Department of Labor released an unemployment rate for April of 14.7%, the worst since the Great Depression and far surpassing the worst days of the Great Recession. In light of these numbers it is not surprising that cries for “opening up” the economy would gain traction among many working class citizens. Nonetheless the push for resuming normal economic activity, present from the earliest days of many state lockdowns, raises an important question. The CARES act, despite its many flaws, did include substantial relief for unemployed workers. Often more than their initial incomes, as Lindsey Graham complained. Yet even from the earliest spike up of the unemployment rate not only did many object, large numbers flocked to food banks, often for the first time in their lives. Many food banks were soon overrun. Shocking as this was, few in the corporate media pursued in any depth the question of why the US had become as economically fragile as it was ecologically.

Paycheck to Paycheck

Both President Trump and much of the corporate media often touted historically low unemployment rates. Yet a generation of working class economic stagnation had left its mark. According to an investigation by The Guardian, demand at food banks has increased by eight times in some areas. About a third of people interviewed by the outlet at food banks last month had never before needed food assistance.

Kristin Warzocha, CEO of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, said the trend was not surprising considering the precarious circumstances working Americans are accustomed to living in, 78% of workers living paycheck to paycheck and 45% reporting that they have no savings account.

Unemployment Rate: What is in a Number?

Another Part of the answer as to why food banks were overwhelmed is that bad as recent unemployment numbers have been they understate the degree of the economic collapse.

The headline number is deceptively optimistic, though not because the counters are being dishonest or manipulative. Bureau of Labor economists treat a worker doing a part time job while looking for full time work as being fully employed. In addition, they treat workers who are discouraged by labor market conditions as not being part of the labor market. These conceptual decisions tilt the final unemployment number down. How much is a function of overall labor market conditions.

If there are few full time jobs available many will, quite sensibly, cease looking. The search for a job is itself a financially and psychologically costly endeavor. In such cases an unemployment number that does include involuntary part times and discouraged workers may be considerably higher than the headline number. The Economic Policy Institute calculates that if both of these factors were accounted for the current unemployment rate would be 23.7%

In addition to understating the numbers of the unemployed, most standard accounts neglect the anxieties occasioned by the whole process. The entire unemployment insurance system treats the unemployed as always having to prove that they are worthy of assistance. In addition the system continually conveys the impression that the individual’s salvation depends on his/her alone. This message can often evoke panic or despair and desperation.

Losing a job is more than just a job, and healthcare is life itself’

By virtue of historical accident the United Sates ties health insurance to jobs. Even before the arrival of Covid-19 the invitation to a disaster was apparent. Common Dreams reported on one major study of this vulnerability: while many people who lose their coverage will be eligible to enroll in Medicaid, the HMA report notes that “one-third of all jobs” are located in states that have opted not to expand the program.

As a result, the report warns, the total number of uninsured Americans could rise from around 28 million today to 40 million, with the impact disproportionately falling on the millions of people living in states that have not expanded Medicaid.

The consequences are already horrific and bound to get worse. As a Yale University study just demonstrated, 65,000 to over 100,000 Americans die every year because they do not have health insurance (see the Yale study here), and see Commondreams.org for workers losing healthcare.

Laws in DC mean little if the Federal government and the states are dysfunctional and illegitimate

Statistics about the number of people who could afford a surprise bill are scary enough by themselves. But the implications are more dire when we consider the broader performance of the US welfare state. One is fortunate to get an unemployment check in a week. Just as with the affordable care act roll out, state systems were overwhelmed by numbers of first time claimants. But why this problem? Years of budget crunching austerity have thinned the public sector. The program itself is a complex mixture of state and federal regulations, and over the years fewer and fewer unemployed were eligible. The Pew Research Center has found that, “although more than 11 million Americans filed first-time unemployment claims in March, the wide variety of methods states and territories use to administer their jobless programs have resulted in wide disparities in who has received their payments, and how much those payments were worth. As a result, only 29 percent of jobless Americans received benefits in March” Just in time supply chains seem to be a well supported corporate goal but hardly a priority for desperately needed and well deserved worker benefits.

During the Depression the sheer scope of unemployment changed perceptions of the unemployed. But attacks on the welfare state from the seventies on along with racial polarization fostered at least among some citizens characterization of the unemployed as lazy and unmotivated. The consequence was further denigration of the government perceived as helping these others.

Some Concluding Thoughts

Much of the discourse on Covid-19 treats the virus as though it is an external dragon-like creature that must be slayed before the economy can get going. But what if an aggressive capitalism and the Covid-19 dragon have a symbiotic relation and grow together. An inegalitarian racially polarized society whose government is distrusted and shrinking is fertile ground for explosion of the virus. The deaths entailed often feed a deeper politics of demonization of minorities and foreigners, who often become disposable commodities sacrificed in the interest of toxic forms of growth. Trump’s constant attacks on China hide the role his bashing the CDC played in accelerating the global pandemic. He then takes the vast carnage and the necessary regulations it has required as an opportunity to “open the economy.” It sounds good to some but in practice amounts to doubling down on the financial, health, and safety deregulatory strategies that have left so many of our citizens so vulnerable.

Avoiding a dystopian future requires as a first step repairing the elements of fragility in our political economy. Historian Heather Cox Richardson argues: ”If the protesters really wanted to protect workers, wouldn’t they be demanding laws that replaced lost wages? Other developed countries have passed exactly those sorts of measures, putting their economies into a holding pattern as the pandemic passes.” Trump’s maniacal deregulatory agenda must be rolled back. Food, shelter, and clothing do not require abandonment of clean water standards. During the pause a robust safety net provides workers and communities can debate and implement safe, just, and sustainable forms of economic growth.

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Return of the Brown Shirts? US Federal and State Governments to Hire Contact Tracers to ‘Hunt Down New Covid-19 Cases

By Timothy Alexander Guzman

The US federal and state governments are now hiring “Contact Tracers” to track those who are infected with the Coronavirus. The Daily Beast, a liberal online news site claims that in order to reopen businesses and institutions, the government needs to hire thousands of Contact Tracers, the article ‘Contact Tracing Is Vital to Reopening the Country. These States Are Recruiting Thousands’ calls for a mass hiring of Contact Tracers since “health experts are pressing more than ever the need for contact tracing”the article claims that “It’s a tool that proved effective in past epidemics like SARS and Ebola, and it’s regarded as essential to safely reopening the country with the looming threat of higher surges in cases.” Currently, there are around 2,000 contact tracers or disease detectives, but they are estimating that the US workforce will need between 100,000 to 300,000 contact tracers, and that is just the beginning:

Former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden estimates that the country needs at least “several hundred thousand” in order to effectively trace the network of those infected with COVID-19. The National Association of County and City Health Officials recommends 15 tracers per 100,000 people in normal times, increasing to 30 tracers during a pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that contact tracers will “identify an infected person and track down every person and location that might have been exposed “for a prolonged period of time” during the incubation period. They’re not told the identity of who might have exposed them.” Then contact tracers will notify potential carriers through “via phone, email, or social media” the article claims. “But a big challenge is that state and local public health departments need a huge amount of people and resources to conduct widespread tracing.” There will be various agencies that will be hiring this new breed of “professionals”. The Daily Beast mentioned Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration chief under President Trump reportedly claimed in a recent interview with NPR that “as many as 180,000 contact tracers will be needed “if we want to enter into the fall with the kinds of resources we need to try to trace infection to prevent large outbreaks.” Another mainstream media network who knows how to put the fear in people was published by CNN ‘Experts say the US needs teams ready to hunt down new Covid-19 cases. But so far, there aren’t nearly enough’“hunt down” sounds like they will be hunting down criminals. “Contact tracing is a widely used method in public health that relies on identifying every person who tests positive with an infection, isolating them, and then finding anyone that person could have infected” CNN reported. It seems that Trump is also on board with a massive hiring phase which would give him an opportunity to claim that he has provided jobs while the job market is in a downfall:

Trump unveiled a three-phase return-to-normal plan to all 50 state governors on Thursday. It outlines steps each state should take once they meet a certain threshold for number of cases declining over two weeks and certain level of capacity and ability to care for all patients in hospitals. The 17-page document makes a brief mention of contact tracing, saying states should have the ability to do it, but does not offer guidance on how to do it, how many people will be needed to do it, or explain how the federal government will help build up contact tracing systems

Many states are quickly moving into this direction. An NBC News report, ‘Inside an ‘army’ of COVID-19 contact tracers in Massachusetts’ said that “the program in Massachusetts has a virtual workforce of 1,000 contact tracers. Roughly 9,000 applied in the first 24 hours, and the job pays the rate of a federal census worker, $20 to 25 an hour.” NBCinterviewed Christian Arthur, who was formally employed at a addiction recovery center in South Boston until he found a job as a contact tracer:Trump to Reopen US Economy in May?

Christian Arthur was out of a job when the addiction recovery center in South Boston where he worked closed last month. It took him two weeks to find a new one — as a “contact tracer” on the virtual front lines of Massachusetts’ effort to halt the spread of COVID-19. “There’s an army of us,” Arthur, 29, told NBC News

To justify these positions, NBC made sure to mention that contact tracing has been around for some time:

Contact tracing has long been used in the U.S. and other countries to help curb the spread of such diseases as tuberculosis, cholera and Ebola. It has also been used to great effect to mitigate the virus in countries like South Korea and Germany, public health experts say

Under Massachusetts Governor, Charlie Baker, the chief medical officer of the Boston-based Partners in Health Dr. Joia Mukherjee is in charge of the contact tracing program. The president and executive director of Partners in Health, Ophelia Dahl, was recently on a Clinton Global Initiative University online video discussion with Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton with governors Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom about contact tracing.  Dahl and both governors all basically said the same thing, and that is a significant “army” of contact tracers is needed to fight Covid-19.  Dr. Joia Mukherjee is currently overseeing the recruiting, training and the deployment of newly hired contact tracers throughout the state of Massachusetts:

The program in Massachusetts has a virtual workforce of 1,000 contact tracers. Roughly 9,000 applied in the first 24 hours, and the job pays the rate of a federal census worker, $20 to 25 an hour, according to Mukherjee. The job is done exclusively by phone and the workers are trained in handling what could be difficult conversations

NBC News mentioned was Krysta Cass, a 2010 West Point graduate and a former orthopedic physician assistant who was an Army officer for eight years in Afghanistan and other countries in the Middle East before she became a supervisor in the Massachusetts tracing program:

Cass now oversees a team of 100 contact tracers, divided into 10 units with two to three case investigators in each. The case investigators interview those who tested positive and then pass along the list of contacts and places they went to the contact tracers in the unit.

“Most military recruits volunteer for public service in response to a global need,” said Cass, whose team focuses on Boston. “The people I’m working with are so similar. They care about the mission”

The state of California under its governor, Gavin Newsom wants to increase the number of contact tracers to at least 20,000 according to a report produced by CBS13.com, a news network based in Sacramento, California. During a recent press conference, Newsom said that “This is all foundational so that we can more quickly move to modify our stay-at-home order.” The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) are now offering Online contact tracer academies the report said. The Daily Beast said that “Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in late April that the state would immediately launch a “nation-leading” coronavirus contact tracing program, with between 6,400 and 17,000 tracers—equivalent to 30 per 100,000 residents.” Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is partnering with Governor Cuomo to collaborate within the tri-state area in the East coast “The program, in collaboration with former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s charity, “will be done in coordination with the downstate region as well as New Jersey and Connecticut.”

The main question that has to asked is what if the government, multi-national corporations including major pharmaceuticals and the private billionaire class and others with special interests might find this new contact tracing model appealing? With billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates supporting and funding Covid-19 tracing programs and mass vaccination campaigns in the US and around the world, individual liberties are slowly being taken away. This same system can be used to create an “army” to combat any perceived crisis they see fit.  What if they targeted anti-war groups, civil rights activists, anti-GMO groups to pro-2nd Amendment organizations, to regular citizens who hold different political views? The point is that they can use a tracing program model for almost any situation they see as a threat to their agenda.

It definitely reminds me of the history of Nazi Germany with their creation of “the brown shirts” or The Sturmabteilung, a legion of both the unemployed and the underemployed German people, high-school students and others who became “political soldiers.” The brown shirts were originally created to protect rallies who supported the Nazi Party and fought against those who opposed them including the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) known as the Red Front Fighters League, the Romani, Jews and others.

With an increasing unemployment rate with more than 30 million people who had lost their jobs so far since the Covid-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic thus forcing businesses to close and companies to lay-off a massive amount of workers in an already fragile economy. It is estimated that more than 18.6% of the labor force is now unemployed. The more realistic picture of the unemployment numbers should be measured in U-6 unemployment rate because it counts people who have given up looking for jobs and those that are working part-time but would prefer working full-time and are considered underemployed. The Federal Bank of St. Louis (see this) states that the U6 unemployment rate as of April stands at 22.8% and it could be allot worse.

The US population will certainly face an economic decline and a pending world war with one of Washington’s adversaries, but one of the immediate effects they will encounter is long-term unemployment. The unemployment numbers are only going to increase in coming months and even years as more businesses close or lay-off workers due to the already weak economy and Covid-19 pandemic scare. A recession has essentially started and its starting to take its toll on the working class. Many people will apply for these contact tracing jobs in desperate times, and a certain percentage of government-trained recruits will violate the civil rights of ordinary citizens just like those incidents in the past that occurred with the TSA at US airports. The US government and the 50 states of the union are actively hiring a new army of contact tracers as the unemployment numbers gets worse, creating a complete totalitarian police state.

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Poll: Americans Oppose U.S. Recognition of the Nazi regime Annexation

Poll: Americans Oppose U.S. Recognition of Israeli Annexation

GRANT F. SMITH

IRmep Polls

IRmep Poll: “Israel has said it will annex the West Bank, which has a population of 3 million Palestinians and 300,000 illegal Israeli settlers. Should the U.S. formally recognize this move?”

Source: IRmep representative poll of 1,639 American adults through Google Surveys on May 10-12, 2020. Answer order randomly reversed. RMSE score sample bias 3.7 percent.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu campaigned promising to annex large swaths of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Annexation is included in the new unity agreement between the governing coalition—Likud and Blue and White—in the Israeli parliament. Netanyahu, battling serious corruption charges and due to hand over power to his unity government partner Benny Gantz in October of 2021, plans to bring up the initiative in parliament this summer. The Trump administration, which has tilted toward Israel in all major issues since taking office, has indicated it will support Israeli territorial designs.

Much of the rest of the world views Israel’s longstanding occupation of Palestinian lands and imminent annexation plans as violations of United Nations resolutions and international law.

A plurality of Americans oppose any formal U.S. recognition. When asked, 37.3 percent responded that the U.S. should not recognize Israeli annexation, while 34.2 percent said that it should. Other responses were offered by the remaining 28.5 percent, with many responding they had insufficient information to state an opinion.  

Israel and many nodes of its enormous U.S. lobby refer to imminent annexation with the same euphemism: “application of sovereignty.” However, even longtime operatives at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s think tank appear to believe that unilateral annexation may finally kill the American goose that has laid golden eggs for Israel since its founding. David Makovsky and Dennis Ross cautioned that “we think that all unilateral annexation is a mistake and hope the prime minister refrains from doing so.”

Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, Saeb Erakat, urged world leaders to take concrete action against Israel. “What we’re telling them is that Netanyahu can survive statements of condemnation, but he needs to hear that there will be backlash and consequences as well.”

Additional poll question and editorial input provided by Janet McMahon and Jeffrey Blankfort.

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Low-Balling the Unemployed in the Era of the 2020 Great Recession

by JACK RASMUS

Photograph Source: Raymond “Dmitri” Beljan – CC BY 2.0

This past Friday, May 8, the US Labor Dept. released its latest jobless figures. The official report was 20 million more unemployed and an unemployment rate of 14.7%.

Both mainstream and progressive media reported the numbers: 20 million more jobless and 14.7%.  But those numbers, as horrendous as they are, represent a gross under-estimation of the jobless situation in America!

One might understand why the mainstream media consistently under-reports the jobless. But it is perplexing why so many progressives continue to simply parrot the official figures. Especially when other Labor Dept. data admits the true unemployment rate is 22.4% and the officially total unemployed is 23.1 million.

Here’s why the 20 million and 14.7% is a gross under-representation of the magnitude of jobless today:

Only Half Month Data

First, the 20 million for April is really only for data collected until mid-April.  Nearly 10 million more jobless workers filed, and received, unemployment benefits after mid-April. And likely millions more jobless have been attempting to get benefits but haven’t.  Even officially, more 33.5 million have filed for benefits, with several millions more in the pipeline.  So the April numbers of jobless—both receiving benefits and not yet getting them—are more than 20 million!

Only Full Time Employed Layoffs

An even greater misrepresentation is that the official 20 million unemployed represents only full time workers becoming unemployed. It’s the figure from the government report that is the category called U-3, or full time workers.  There are between 50-60 million more workers who are part time, temp, contract, gig and otherwise ‘contingent’ workers (i.e. not full time) who are not considered in the 20 million and 14.7%.

Check out the Labor Dept’s own data, in Table A-8, which shows for March and April no fewer than 7.5 million part time workers became unemployed. In April jobless in this group doubled over the previous month, rising by about 5 million in April, according to the Labor Dept.’s own monthly ‘Employment Situation Report’.  5 million  to 7.5 million represent what’s called the U-4 government unemployment rate.

But there’s still more. It’s what’s called the U-5 and U-6 unemployed. Who are they? They are what the government calls workers without jobs who are ‘marginally attached’ to the labor force and workers who are too ‘discouraged’. They are just as ‘jobless’ as full time and part time workers. But they’re put in another category simply because they haven’t actively looked for a job in the most recent four weeks.

You see the US government defines unemployed as that subset of jobless who “are out of work and actively looking for work”. If you haven’t looked in the last four weeks, you may be jobless but aren’t considered unemployed! Go figure.  Add them to the U-3 unemployed, and the totals for unemployed in America rise to 22.4%.  Add in those who filed for benefits in the last half of April, or tried to, and we get closer to the publicly admitted 33.5 million without jobs and receiving unemployment benefits.

The Disappeared 8 Million Unemployed

But that’s not even the whole real picture.  The way the government defines unemployment a worker must be part of the labor force. The labor force is composed of two groups: those who have jobs and those who are officially unemployed—i.e. out of work and looking for work in past four weeks. If you are not looking, you’re ‘marginally attached’ (U-5, U-6). It assumes if you have stopped looking in the past four weeks you are part of the 850,000 ‘marginally attached’. But that figure is not credible. Somehow there are less than a million jobless who simply haven’t tried to find a job in the last four weeks? Really? There are many millions.

A government stat that suggests there are likely millions more not in the labor force who are jobless nonetheless  is called the ‘Labor Force Participation Rate’. It estimates the percent of the working age population who either have a job or are officially unemployed.

There’s approximately 164.5 million employed/officially unemployed in the US labor force as of May 1, 2020.  In February 2020 the labor force participation rate was 63.4% of the US labor force. As of May 1, that had dropped to only 60.2%. Over the past 12 months, roughly 8 million have dropped out of the labor force. And remember: if they aren’t in the labor force they can’t be counted as unemployed. So where did the additional 8 million dropping out go?

The US government doesn’t consider them unemployed so they don’t show up in the U-3 or even U-6 statistics! But if they aren’t in the labor force they are jobless by definition. Perhaps 850,000 are counted as the ‘marginally attached’. But what about the remaining 7.2 million or so? The government has no category for them except the estimation of them in the labor force participation rate. It tries to explain the large number away by saying they retired or went back to school. But did 7.2m (63.4% in Feb. drop to 60.2% in April) retire in 2 months? And they certainly can’t have gone back to school in mid-March/April 2020.

Another government statistic that corroborates this ‘missing 8 million’ in the labor force participation rate is called the Employment to Population Ratio stat. It measures how many are in the labor force as a percent of the total US population of nearly 340 million.

If the EPOP percentage goes down, then fewer are working even though they’re obviously still alive and part of the US population. That figure has declined from 61.1% of the US population employed to 51.3% of the population employed as of May 1, 2020. That’s a nearly 10% drop. 10% of 340 million is about 34 million. And 34 million is not 20 million for April, or even the Labor Dept.’s total 23.1 million.

So both the labor force participation rate and the employed to population ratio both suggest the Labor Dept.’s official U-3 (or even U-6) unemployed figures are grossly under-representations of the total Americans without jobs today.

Voluntary Jobless Are Not ‘Unemployed’

One possible reason for the discrepancies between the official unemployed of 23.1 million vs. the 33.5 million receiving benefits, or the 7-8 million not being counted per the labor force participation rate and EPOP ratio, may be due to the government in this current crisis choosing not to count as unemployed those workers forced to leave work since February to care for dependents.

Remember the government’s driving definition of unemployed is the worker must be ‘out of work and actively looking for work’. Millions of workers who have been forced by the current crisis to leave their job to care for elderly and disabled family members, or to care for young children forced to stay home due to school closures, are not ‘actively looking for work’. Few Americans can afford nannys to watch their young children so they can work. But those in this situation are not considered unemployed by the US Labor Dept. because they don’t fit the definition of ‘actively looking for work’! It’s not clear how many in this category the Labor Dept. has recently refused to acknowledge as officially unemployed.

In America you may be jobless, but that doesn’t necessarily mean per the government you are unemployed!

The above stats and data show that the under-reporting of the jobless in the US is not some kind of conspiracy by the Labor dept. and the government. The data are there, buried in the monthly labor reports beyond the executive summaries.  The government stats, moreover, are not perfect. There are serious problems related to raw jobs data recovery, to the various assumptions on that raw data the government makes to come up their jobs ‘statistics’ (always operations on raw data with assumptions which data to count and how).  There are conflicting conclusions often between this or that data or statistic. Furthermore, in recent years changes in statistical processing have sought repeatedly to change definitions and processes in order to ‘smooth out’ swings in the statistics—whether employment, unemployment, wages, or inflation. The government has a vested interest in ensuring the smoothing. It reduces government (and especially business) costs of programs and operations.

If there’s a conspiracy of sorts, it’s in the media that purposely seems to always ‘cherry pick’ the most conservative stat to report. Thus we get the media trumpeting every month the nearly worthless statistic of the U-3 unemployment rate—a stat that applies only to full time workers and ignores part time, temp and other contingent labor who make up now nearly a third of the US labor force; a statistic based on a narrow definition of unemployed that has become an oxymoron when estimating unemployed; a statistic based on questionable assumptions and data gathering; and a statistic that can’t be reconciled with other statistics like the labor force participate rate.

The real unemployment rate is not the U-3 figure of 14.7% but easily 25% today. And the real total jobless are not the U-3 20 million, or even 23 million, but somewhere between 35-40 million… and rising!

However, what’s really disappointing is that many progressive and left economists simply parrot the government’s and mainstream media’s misleading U-3 statistic. One can understand why the corporate mainstream media keep pushing the U-3 stat and thus trying to make the unemployment situation look better than it is (or today not as bad as it is). But progressive economists should know better.

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“Making It Up As They Go Along:” Boris Johnson and COVID-19

by: KENNETH SURIN

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

As I write (the weekend of 9-10 May), the UK’s death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic has reached 31,855. The UK, unlike the US, has started counting deaths in care homes.

This toll is the highest in Europe, and the second in the world after the US. The UK has a fifth of the US’s population, so translating the UK figure into US terms would amount to 160,000 US deaths from the virus (the US’s death toll as of this weekend is a little more than 80,000).

Meanwhile, the Tory government’s catalogue of errors and oversights advances daily.

Channel 4 News obtained detailed stock lists revealing that almost 80% of respirators in the national pandemic stockpile were out of date when COVID-19 hit the UK.

The UK had to send about 50,000 coronavirus samples to the US after “operational issues” prevented them from being processed in British laboratories.

On 25 March, receiving flak for shortfalls in testing, but boasting in his typically mendacious fashion, BoJo Johnson said that the UK was doing better than other countries: “We are going up from 5,000 to 10,000 tests per day, to 25,000, hopefully very soon up to 250,000 per day”.

On 2 April, BoJo’s health minister Matt Hancock emerged from self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, stood at the daily press conference podium, and echoed his boss:

“I’m now setting the goal of 100,000 tests per day by the end of this month. That is the goal and I’m determined we’ll get there”.

When 31 April came, lo and behold, the target of 100,000 tests a day was announced to have been met, though it soon became clear this figure had been massaged heavily. Up to 9th May it has only been met for 2 days.

In a way Hancock can’t be blamed for his deviousness. BoJo has failed so lamentably at his job that he and his handlers are setting-up this or that individual to be their fall guy, and the leading candidate for this is Hancock. Understandably, Hancock is already starting to protect his rear end.

Also being set-up for this role as fall guy(s) are BoJo’s medical and scientific advisers—torn between serving their charlatan political master and maintaining respect for their professional standards (which of course serve as a severely unfavourable indictment of their boss), they appear at the briefing podium with him wearing deeply fatalistic facial expressions.

They are Ukania’s equivalent of the US’s Drs Fauci and Birx, though mercifully BoJo has not so far asked Drs Whitty and Vallance if they think warm Clorox enemas could be an appropriate treatment for COVID-19.

Their only hope is that a future commission of inquiry into the pandemic will half-exonerate them.

Such Ukanian analogies with Trumpian America are not misplaced. BoJo’s party has a pro-business rightwing which wants everything to be reopened for business as soon as possible, deaths and all be damned.

These businesses must reward their shareholders, at the cost of their workers’ lives, and the wealthier shareholders in turn donate handsomely to the Tory party. It is impossible to be too cynical about this— these Ukanians conduct themselves in the same manner as Trump, who wants his now dormant resorts and hotels to reopen quickly so they can reenter his “revenue stream”.

But how is the Labour party, under its new leader Sir Keir Starmer, responding to the deeply and malignly incompetent Tories?

Starmer succeeded Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party. I attended the Labour party conference in September last year as a member and have an enduring memory of the conference’s closing event.

Corbyn summoned his shadow cabinet to the platform and greeted them individually. There were hugs for the leftist stalwarts who stood by Corbyn while he was being traduced by the rightwing Tory rags, and undermined, as we know now in a shocking leaked account, by Blairites in Labour’s HQ.

But for Starmer there was a perfunctory handshake, a gesture no one in the conference hall could fail to notice.

In any event, Labour suffered a resounding defeat at the hands of the Tories– campaigning exclusively on the mendacious three-word slogan “Get Brexit Done” — in the December 2019 election, and Corbyn resigned shortly afterwards.

Starmer, the rightwing Blairite candidate, prevailed after the convoluted selection process to choose Labour’s leader.

As a party member, I did not vote for Starmer in the leadership election. The last thing Labour needed, Corbyn’s putative failings notwithstanding, was another Tony Blair.

Another reasoning for not wanting Starmer is strategic. His staunch backing of a second referendum on UK membership of the EU was highly instrumental in Labour’s biggest election defeat for 80 years, when it lost 59 constituencies, many in Leave supporting areas. Former Labour voters in these Leave areas are probably not going to vote for Starmer the Remainer in a future election.

When he became Labour Starmer sacked about a dozen prominent “Corbynistas” from Labour’s frontbench team, while he promoted “soft left” Blairites to his shadow cabinet.

We’ll soon have a dozen or more books analyzing the failures of Corbyn and the Corbynista movement. This though was the crux, knowing Corbyn’s long history— while a member of parliament, he was never really a parliamentarian, believing as he did that real change could only come from forces outside the UK’s sclerotic parliamentary system.

In this Corbyn is absolutely right.

But elections are fought and won in this self-same parliamentary system, and though Corbyn’s Labour came close in the 2017 election, when the Tories lost their overall majority, the 2019 election was enacted on a different scenario.

In 2019, the combination of a concertedly hostile rightwing media; the now proven plotting against Corbyn by Blairites in the party who wanted him to lose the 2017 election (and by extension the 2019 election); and his “constructive ambiguity” on Brexit, while BoJo campaigned on his deceitful “Get Brexit Done” slogan; combined to do in the Corbynite movement.

Corbyn and his movement faced other problems in the 2019 election, primarily a manifesto that was right on the issues and popular in polls when they were not identified with Corbyn (renationalization of services privatized by the Tories since Thatcher, ending Tory austerity, safeguarding the NHS, greatly increased spending on education, massive investment in infrastructure, increased taxes on the rich, and so on), but which was a PR disaster when introduced.

This ambitious manifesto, while popular, was presented to the public as a totality, when finessing was required. There was little or no sequencing of these priorities, which the pro-Tory trash rags (Murdoch!) were then able to portray as “irresponsible tax and spend”, “magic money trees”, “nutty utopianism”, “Stalinism”, and so forth.

Coupled with Labour’s hedging on Brexit and Corbyn’s media-orchestrated unpopularity, the disordered introduction of the manifesto helped sink Labour.

The irony in the current pandemic is that the Tories, in order merely to keep the UK’s economy afloat, are having to spend sums hugely in excess of Labour’s spending commitments in its 2019 manifesto.

There is nary a mention of “magic money trees” this time, which probably demonstrates the fictive nature of such charges when they are foisted on Labour.

CounterPunchers will of course know that the basis of government spending is always a conjuring act, based not on economic “necessity”, but political expediency (just read Dean Baker and Michael Hudson in CounterPunch!). Then pose this very issue to Steve Mnuchin in the US, or Rishi “Rich Snack” Sunak, his UK equivalent who was a Goldman Sachs banker before he entered politics, and listen to their flummery and equivocations.

So how is Keir Starmer doing as Corbyn’s successor?

Starmer has a lot on his plate where internal party matters are concerned.

Starmer accepts donations from the UK’s Zionist lobby, and is under pressure from that lobby to resolve Labour’s antisemitism “crisis”. This “crisis” is a demonstrable hoax (polls show that the Tories have more members with antisemitic beliefs than their Labour counterparts), motivated by a desire to discredit and marginalize Labour’s many pro-Palestinian supporters, Corbyn included.

Starmer also needs to conduct and complete the investigation into the attempts, evidenced by leaked documents and transcripts, by Labour’s Blairites to undermine Corbyn in the run-up to the 2017 election. The problem here is that Starmer, though not implicated in the plot to undermine Corbyn, is himself a Blairite.

Starmer has been very low key so far, and disconcertingly so. He even pledged his support for Johnson in the latter’s stumbling attempts to deal with the pandemic!

Starmer’s successes have been in the virtual sessions of parliament’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) held so far. In these modified sessions the leaders of the two main parties face each other in the House, though without Members attending unless they maintain social distancing on the benches, while those not in attendance can pose questions on a CCTV link.

Starmer, who used to be the UK’s chief prosecutor before he entered politics, made mincemeat of the two Tories appearing so far.

The first session involved the deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, standing in for his boss, with Raab performing like a fledgling lawyer being toyed around by a master of his profession.

Next came BoJo, and he was crushed in the equivalent of a law-court cross-examination. The low-key Starmer’s questions were directed at the Tories mismanagement of the pandemic.

In the past, BoJo dealt with Starmer’s Corbyn’s earnest but unforensic methods by relying on the massed ranks of Tory MPs behind him to shout-down Corbyn and howl their approval at their master’s bluster and bullshit.

Without his supporting cast due to the quarantine, BoJo was ripped to shreds as Starmer asked him obvious questions pointing to the sheer incompetence of BoJo and his colleagues.

When BoJo prevaricated, or did not give an answer, Starmer provided the answers himself, and simply asked the prime minister for his assent or dissent to the answer tendered on the latter’s behalf (an obvious court-room technique, known to everyone who watches courtroom dramas on TV).

A newspaper commentator said it was so easy for Starmer that he would have had a harder time defending a shoplifter in a local magistrate’s court.

To show that he was at least doing something, on Sunday BoJo announced a new slogan, #StayAlert, to replace the previous #StayHome. This induced much mockery on social media, since it is utterly meaningless— as a nurse pointed out, how do you “stay alert” regarding something you could not see, smell, taste, or hear? “Alert for what?”, asked someone else. To add to the confusion, a request for clarification produced the reply that the new slogan subsumed the old one, so Brits had to stay home after all!

At the same time BoJo announced a 5-tier alert system to rank the threat from COVID-19, designed to mirror the UK’s terror alert system, which ranks the threat to the public from “low” to “critical” and helps determine what protective measures should be followed. The current threat level of the pandemic will be classified on a scale of 1 to 5 in different parts of the country, using assessments made by a “joint biosecurity centre”.

As is the case with the terror alert system, experts said it was not evident how beneficial the scheme would be.

BoJo is caught between a rock and a hard place, as he is tugged one way by the pro-business right of his party, and the other by his scientific and medical advisers.

The outcome is confused messaging, coming at a time when China, Germany, and South Korea report an upsurge in new cases.

Posted in Health, Politics, UKComments Off on “Making It Up As They Go Along:” Boris Johnson and COVID-19

Class Struggles and Social Distancing

by: SCOTT TUCKER

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

On the day after armed protestors stormed the Capitol building in Michigan to demand that the whole economy be re-opened, the news included reports that Michigan has the highest current death rates in the United States from the novel coronavirus. That is a serious problem.

Voluntary good will in avoiding risks of infection during a pandemic is also problematic. Why? Because those of us able to shelter in place must still rely on those we call essential workers to work in hospitals and supermarkets, to transport products, and to haul trash. If those workers do not get essential protection gear and support to do their jobs, in some cases they also become expendable workers.

In any complex society there will be a division of labor. That does not mean that drastic divisions in wages and classes follow like a law of nature. This pandemic is also a public demonstration of the fractures and failures of the health care, housing and education systems in the United States.

Elon Musk recently called social distancing rules that limit production in one of his factories “fascist.” Thomas Friedman wrote a column in The New York Times praising Sweden’s more relaxed public rules as a model for reopening our own economy, without mentioning the much higher public trust of Swedish citizens in their public institutions. Even so, Sweden does have a higher death rate, especially among the elderly, than other Scandinavian countries with similar histories of social democracy.

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, has promised to veto any single payer Medicare for all bill that he may be asked to sign. This pandemic has not yet changed his mind.

Joe Biden, what a guy! With his public record of collegiality with southern white supremacists, with his support for war and empire, with his opposition to gay marriage before gay voters were courted in earnest, and with his pawing and sniffing of women– just cue the tune here from H.M.S. Pinafore — is he the very model of a modern major Democrat?

Oh, but we have ventured far beyond satire when Linda Hirshman, a veteran feminist campaigner, writes a column titled “I believe Tara Reade. I’m voting for Joe Biden.” And got it published on May 9, 2020, in The New York Times. Sacrifices must be made, she argues, and no sacrifice is too great if only Trump loses the White House and Biden gains it.

Any reforms we might gain in the electoral system, including ranked choice voting, will still not change the class structure of this country. The New Deal was not a Christmas present from FDR. It was extracted from the capitalist state by workers willing to strike and even occupy workplaces. Direct class struggle against managerial union captains and against politicians loyal to the corporate state is part of American history. Whenever more workers go back to work, the lessons learned from past labor struggles and from this pandemic will also advance a new era of class struggles.

As for the middle classes, we can appeal to morality without relying on moralism. A considerable number of middle class people are indeed thinking people, and many have working class members in their extended families. Others are simply devoted to the gospel of Me and Mine.

Quite aside from any moral appeals, however, a good number of voters and citizens will respond to the case for enlightened self-interest. In countries that have raised the ground floor of social democracy in basic goods and services such as health care, housing, and education, the public record shows that the middle classes also gain a more secure standard of living.

The Civil War in this country divided many family members from each other, neighbors from neighbors, friends from friends. Given the dominant Christian religion, there was also a strong narrative of national redemption after that war. Yet in the era of Reconstruction, a counterrevolution was waged against the legal rights of black people, even as big business waged an ongoing economic war on all workers. Indeed, Abraham Lincoln stated in a letter to a friend not long before his death that the growing power of corporations made him even more anxious than had the Civil War, and he regarded that power as an even greater threat to the republic.

All political language now in use by the career politicians of the corporate parties is corrupt. If we are present among “progressives” who only snipe at Trump but otherwise vote by rote, then we have a duty to change the conversation. Among family members, among neighbors, among friends. Better we should have these civil arguments before the legitimate course of class struggles takes the more dangerous turn of a civil war.

If our social circles include persons who are political imbeciles– whether through habitual exits from reality, or through the deforming power of their class and education– then a choice must be made. Either talk about anything except politics to preserve the peace, or decide to put social distancing to a new use.

Whether the Democratic Party is worth the effort of reform is an old argument not yet resolved. Certainly Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, and a few others are among the better members of Congress. Even so, Congress remains the front office of the ruling class. However you decide to vote, you can also choose to fight the corporate state.

Posted in USA, HealthComments Off on Class Struggles and Social Distancing

Discouragement Gap in College Dreams Brings Civil Rights Value to Real COVID-19 Relief

by GREG MOSES

Photograph Source: Steve Snodgrass – CC BY 2.0

Assaults on Civil Rights can be loud, with microphones or guns, but the effects of structural racism are often hushed, in the silence of dreams deferred. Whether we hear it or not, the Civil Rights rollback of 2020 is well underway.

To feel how Civil Rights are rolling back in a quiet, ebbing tide of college enrollments, take a look at two Austin, TX, high schools. The Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA) is three miles away from the Northeast Early College High School, but the two schools are worlds apart, according to the “schools comparison” tool at the Austin Independent School District.

The High School Divide

At LASA, ten percent of students are economically disadvantaged, compared to 91 percent percent of students at Northeast. And while LASA reports a 100 percent pass rate for state reading exams, with only a half-dozen English language learners out of 1,280 students enrolled, the Northeast school, with 450 English language learners out of 1,140 students enrolled, has a reading pass rate of 54 percent.

In terms of supports for students and families, Northeast is a community school with breakfast in the classroom, child care during the day, after-school meals, and community mentoring. LASA, a magnet school, has none of the above. LASA is 48 percent white, 23 percent Asian, 21 percent Hispanic, and 2 percent African American. Northeast is 80 percent Hispanic, 14 percent African American, 3 percent white, and 2 percent Asian.

Comparing these schools helps to grasp the meaning of the FAFSA completion rate, a measure of how many high school students have filled out the tedious federal application for college financial aid. At LASA, compared to last year, the FAFSA completion rate is up about 40 percent. At Northeast, compared to last year, that completion rate is down 65 percent.

Across the country and under our watch, 50,000 fewer high school students have completed the FAFSA application this year over last, reports the National College Attainment Network (NCAN). As our tale of two schools shows, within the overall decline lies a discouragement gap, where a 40 percent uptick at one school is contrasted against a 65 percent drop-off at another.

“In 2018, high school graduates missed out on $2.6 billion in free assistance for college because they did not submit a FAFSA,” says an Apr. 23 letter to the Department of Education (ED), signed by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and 25 other members of Congress. “2020 is on track to be even worse, with FAFSA completion rates continuing to decline during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The letter asks ED to boost visibility of FAFSA and reach out to students more proactively.

Doggett’s district includes the LASA campus. The Northeast campus is captured within the district lines of Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX), who was not a signatory to the Doggett letter. A May 9 search for “FAFSA” at McCaul’s official House website “yielded no results.”

The Retention Slide

While lagging FAFSA completion rates are troubling enough among economically disadvantaged high school students, an even larger problem is brewing among students already in college who are not renewing their FAFSA applications.

NCAN’s data guru Bill DeBaun reported May 6 that a quarter million college students who could be returning in the Fall have not yet completed their FAFSA renewals. “This cycle’s declines in FAFSA renewals have more than doubled since Feb. 29,” reports DeBaun, calling attention to a date two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic was officially declared a national emergency by the President on Friday the 13th in March.

As our two-school comparison illustrates, declines are steeper in FAFSA rates among our most economically disadvantaged students. “With more data points now available, a grim picture for future enrollment at higher education institutions is beginning to emerge,” writes Owen Daugherty, staff reporter for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA).

Civil Rights

Polling results confirm these grim anticipations. Based on a late-April survey conducted by the women-owned firm SimpsonScarborough, 26 percent of enrolled college students say they are not likely to come back in the Fall. That’s a 12 percentage-point increase in pessimism compared to late March.

The SimpsonScarborough report documents a few more civil rights impacts of the COVID-19 landscape. Forty one percent of “minority” high school seniors are reluctant to commit to college in the Fall, compared to 24 percent of white students.

Thirty three percent of minority students report that “their top choice school has changed” due to COVID-19, compared to 15 percent of white students. And, among today’s enrolled college students, 32 percent of minority students say it’s unlikely they will go back to college in the Fall, compared to 22 percent of white students.

On the other hand, 18 percent of “minority” students would rather go ahead and finish with an online-only education, compared to 13 percent of white students.

Solutions Delayed

As the writings of Rep. Doggett, NCAN, and NASFAA demonstrate, there is a vigilant and organized community of support for disadvantaged students. The question is, will there be leverage enough to ensure that college student relief is amply funded in the next rescue package, styled HEROES.

Public funding for higher ed has already taken two big hits this century. And while the Recovery Act of 2009 filled a sizable pothole at the time, some states “are still well below pre-recession levels of state funding while a handful have recovered,” says a comprehensive review by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO). “Most states have increased tuition revenues to more than make up for cuts in state funding for higher education, but almost one-third still have lower total revenue than before the Great Recession.”

As the real SHEEO tells it, slowly but surely, public support for higher education has eroded throughout the century, offloading more of the financial burden onto tuition, which in turn gets shoveled into multi-decade burdens of student-loan debt.

The battle for college relief in HEROES is not just about filling the pothole that the pandemic is causing these days. The deeper question of HEROES is whether America is going to wake up to the social value of higher education as we enter the third decade of the 21st Century. Rip Van Winkle slept for 20 years. Don’t we think it’s time to wake up?

College students do benefit, by and large, from their college experience. They are more prosperous as a group and have greater well-being. Furthermore, the communities that surround college campuses are nourished by the relative well-being of college life.

The question is, do we want to continue making college students to pay an increasing share of the complete structure of higher ed, like some fee for service, or do we want to start increasing our support from the public treasury, because a well-educated state is a wise public investment.

Student Leadership

Young Invincibles last Wednesday released a 5-point plan to protect young people: (1) job creation through tax credits and subsidies, (2) stimulus payments that do not swerve way around young people or DACA families, (3) food subsidies that reach more than three percent of college students, and (4) Medicaid expansion combined with access to the Affordable Care Act that, again, does not fence out DACA students. The final point (5) calls on Congress to “Make Higher Education Work Better for Students.

“At a time of unprecedented investment in the national economy and direct support for individuals, Congress should move to make a long-overdue commitment to public higher education,” argue Young Invincibles. “Congress should form partnerships with states that preserve student access and affordability.”

Finally, Young Invincibles speak of the elephant in the room: the student loan system of higher ed finance.

“More than 43 million Americans bear a collective total of more than $1.7 trillion in outstanding student loan debt,” state the Young Invincibles. Two months ago that sounded like a whole lot of money, that is, until the first CARES Act rang up a bill of $2 trillion or until the Federal Reserve Bank announced what Brookings calls “$2.3 trillion in lending to support households, employers, financial markets, and state and local governments” plus “$1 trillion in daily overnight repo.”

Whichever way we calculate the cost of doing too little for higher ed right now, we cannot forget that any average estimate of social damage in America always hides a discouragement gap that intensifies negative impacts along Civil Rights lines. Real support for young people across the board will be necessary to any rising tide in Civil Rights.

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Who Are You Kidding? The Democratic Party and the Joe Biden Fiasco

by GABRIEL KUHN

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The accusations against the projected Democratic Party presidential nominee, Joe Biden, trouble and confuse U.S. liberals. As a result, they say surprising and, at times, outrageous things. I suppose this is the consequence of deeming Joe Biden to the most likely candidate to oust Donald Trump from office, something so important that you’re ready to sacrifice both reason and compassion.

We are told that this is a “messy affair.” If that means that any accusation of sexual misconduct is messy without witnesses or independent evidence, it is but a truism. If it means that the Joe Biden situation in particular is messy, it is false.

I am neither a U.S. citizen nor resident. I lived in the country for several years and received some of my formal education there, but I haven’t been allowed to visit since 2005. I follow the political developments in a manner that anyone with political interest is forced to do, no matter where they live, because what happens in the U.S. is highly relevant for us all. But, emotionally, I feel rather detached at this point and the ins and outs of U.S. realpolitik are of little concern to me. Maybe that is why the Biden affair doesn’t look particularly messy to me at all but rather clear-cut. What follows is a short sketch of what it looks like to me from the safe distance of northern Europe.

If Joe Biden did what Tara Reade accuses him of, anyone who doesn’t share the Trumpian notion of personal morals being nothing but inconvenient baggage on the way to personal success would have to consider him unfit to occupy the highest public office in the country. As, in all likelihood, no one will ever know for sure what happened between Tara Reade and Joe Biden except for Tara Reade and Joe Biden, it means that everyone endorsing him, campaigning for him, and joining his team must give him the benefit of the doubt. Sadly, the script has been all too familiar: First, you remain silent and hope that the accusation will just go away. When it doesn’t, you deploy longtime allies as character witnesses: “Joe Biden? Can’t be!” Then you say loud and clear, but without providing any explanation, that you didn’t do it. If you’re a liberal, you might have learned to add some lip service, emphasizing the accuser’s right to “be heard” or to “speak her truth” – all the while missing the irony that these generous concessions are entirely meaningless when you’ve already called the accuser a liar. Regardless, if the accusation doesn’t go away at this point, you sulk.

The fact that it is hypocritical of conservative pundits to call Joe Biden and his supporters hypocrites doesn’t change the fact that they are. Given the reactions of prominent Democrats to similar accusations of political opponents, they have exactly two options in this case if they want to maintain at least some level of integrity. The first is to give the benefit of the doubt to Tara Reade, not Joe Biden. The second is to concede that matters such as these are messier than what they made them out to be under different circumstances. I have not seen much of either in Democratic Party ranks, and none in the “establishment.” Instead, we are served a mixture of denial, hand-wringing, and verbiage.

Meanwhile, the public doesn’t even get to hear the least it deserves. We know that something out of the ordinary must have happened during Tara Reade’s spell at Biden’s office, otherwise she wouldn’t have disappeared at short notice. If the reason wasn’t the one she claims it was, which one was it? To declare without end that no one among Biden’s staff was aware of anything related to this is laughable and no better than what we are used to hearing from Trump circles. By not offering its own version of the story, the Biden camp sends one message only: “Please, please, let us move on to other things!” Hardly satisfying for a party that wants us to believe that it can do so much better for America than the vicious clown in office now.

In a New York Times piece titled “I believe Tara Reade. I’m Voting for Joe Biden Anyway”, Linda Hirshman conveyed a simple message: Like it or not, Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee, he is better than Donald Trump, and so we have no choice but vote for him, no matter what happened to Tara Reade. I think there are good reasons to disagree with this conclusion, but at least it is honest and coherent. Yet, it doesn’t resolve what might be the most disturbing political aspect of this sad affair, namely the Democratic Party’s apparent belief that their best shot at replacing the most ludicrous president in U.S. history is to field a 77-year old white Washington veteran with – to say the least – a dubious relationship with both women and the truth. Really? This is the best you can do? In that case, no matter the outcome of the next presidential elections, you have already lost.

Posted in USA, PoliticsComments Off on Who Are You Kidding? The Democratic Party and the Joe Biden Fiasco

Who’s in a Catch-22?

by JOSEPH NATOLI

Photograph Source: Jeanne Menjoulet – CC BY 2.0

“Sadly, one can image someone – Trump?, Kushner? – calculating the trade-off between business and the human cost, and saying, “they are expendable.”

– David Rosen, “They Are Expendable”: Who’s Paying to Reopen Business?” CounterPunch

The pandemic has put President Trump and his beloved market in a Catch-22 situation, one that not all of us are in.

The mutually conflicting conditions on a first level of observation are these: 1. Open to pre-pandemic business level, give wage earners wages and give businesses consumers, and, 2. Shelter in place until deaths diminish and testing and tracing are on top of things.

Unless Federal laws enforce a gradual opening of business, all businesses will very quickly open. American business pushes through pandemics the way Blitzkrieg pushed through Poland. A rise in deaths would close up shops again, including the essential nail salons, if the country wasn’t prepared to adapt to a rise in deaths. It’s clear that President Trump is prepared to so adapt. Apparently, to some minds, its patriotic for the old, the sick, the poor and the soon to be poor to sacrifice themselves.

The escape valve from this cynical scenario is broadcasting our national self-proclaimed humanitarian priorities, pace Wall Street. In this situation it amounts to our proclamation that the old and the immune system compromised continue to shelter in place until a vaccine comes along. Okay, so we won’t sacrifice them. Just the poor and the strapped.

Just as businesses can be reopened for wage earner workers, schools can be opened for their children. The wealthy will make other arrangements for their children, just as they have made arrangements other than the necessity of working for a paycheck to pay bills.

We seem to have resolved what seemed to be a Catch-22 situation. If the pandemic comes in again like the tide and the death count makes the headlines (Gov. Ron De Santis of Florida is citing privacy rights as reason to block Covid-19 statistics), we may be ourselves full of protective, psychological antigens to these deaths, or anxious to move onto something new and therefore bored and angry with the media’s reminders of the pandemic’s casualties. Our attentions want to stream elsewhere, and our fingers yearn to find new apps. When celebrities die, we review their lives; when wage earners die, owners re-hire.

The real Catch-22 is not Trump’s, but the wage earner’s. They need wages to pay this month’s bills but the jobs they return to endanger their lives. It wasn’t Trump who caught the virus, but his valet, whom he knew but didn’t know. There’s an entire message in those words. The wage earner who dies isn’t known or able to make himself or herself known. Ironically, if we lose all such service people, Trump will have to welcome replacements from south of the border.

Those who live on dividends and interest from investments face no Catch-22. Private planes take them where they think they will be safer. Sheltering in place on your yacht with a serving crew is a safe sort of isolation. It’s in fact not much different that life before the pandemic. A cell phone and zoom keep you actively tending your horde. A top 20% meritocratic class has already been working from home, not bound by office or punching a wage clock. Life’s not much different for them. Nannies and tutors, daily tested, can handle, as usual, the offspring. Someone — not you — will cook and clean. Life’s not much different. No Catch-22 here.

I would be very surprised to see the media showing us these anointed lives and hear their stories of how they’re getting along, how life is so different from pre-pandemic days. Instead, what we get are tearful accounts of the unemployed, the crushed, and all those who lived paycheck to paycheck and so, without a paycheck, don’t know how to live.

We cannot make the post-pandemic changes that I’m sure Bernie sees on the horizons by tears shed now in pandemic time when tears haven’t moved the country before. We are more suspicious and fearful of others than loaded down with compassion for them, pace Facebook. The pandemic’s impact would not be crushing wage earners now if inequities long existing had been dissolved. Maybe they weren’t seen because the troubled live among the troubled and the surplus leisure live among the surplus leisure and never the two shall meet.

Nevertheless, what 80% of Americans need to see, these Everyday, wage earning Americans, is clear portraits of those living parasitically and in undisguised predatory style on not work done but money invested. Pandemic is a time to get a clear view of wealth disparities natural to plutarchy but not egalitarian democracy.

This invested segment of Americans, the not Everyday sort, will need some 80% of the population to go back to work so that businesses owned, operated and invested in continue to stoke their financial furnaces. The pyramids always need to be built, a “growing” of the economy that a pandemic will not be permitted to end.

That’s our president’s message, though he replaces capitalism with himself. He will not let the pandemic counter his will, regardless of how many people not tough enough to survive die.

And so, we are not all in this together, regardless of how much money is spent to implant this stupidity in our minds. And if we observe that this pandemic has been handled in true market rule style, competition and not sharing, money to the moneyed and scant to the wage earners, why would we expect that post-pandemic, if we’re alive, we’ll be living like Danes?

What this pandemic, in the early stages, has shown is a Darwinian red in tooth and claw survival competitiveness, despite all the “feel good about our humanity” stories bombarding us. The Winners share nothing but are entirely willing to see wage earners go into battle and die. The president’s Congressional arm, Mitch Mc Connell, won’t supply rations because such Federal largesse erodes the will to win, increases taxes on the wealthy, and moves us back to New Deal politics. The Losers promise themselves they’ll hoard more in the future, everything from toilet paper to face masks, while the burials and mourning they go through will darken any vision of “the common Good.”

President Trump declared himself The War President fighting a war for all of us and so far this war has been conducted like all our wars since WWII: the dispensable wage earner, the already invisible black and brown without any political or social leverage give their lives as profiteers make their profits and leaders proclaim victory.

Indeed, if we valued the lives of those Ayn Rand dismissed as losers, parasites and low humanity, we would all now be in a Catch-22 situation, wrestling with a deeply moral dilemma and hopefully choosing the lives of people and not profit to shareholders. Unfortunately, our economics of self-interest, capitalist rapacity, and zero-sum competitiveness see no situation and no conditions countering its own will to profit. Not even a Coronavirus pandemic.

Posted in USAComments Off on Who’s in a Catch-22?

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