Archive | August 21st, 2020

Ebola Hysteria Fever: A Real Epidemic

BY: Dean BakerTruthout

Watching for Ebola

(Image: CDC Globalchecking blinds via Shutterstock)Thus far, the Ebola virus has infected three people in the United States that we know of, however Ebola hysteria seems to have infected somewhere close to 300 million. There are reports of kids being pulled out of schools and even some school closings. People in many areas are not going to work and others are driving cars rather than taking mass transit because they fear catching Ebola from fellow passengers. There are also reports of people staying away from stores, restaurants, and other public places in order to avoid the deadly plague.

This would all be comic if there were not real consequences. People not going to work are going to lose needed paychecks. Our kids need to go to school to get an education. And the cost of the hysteria may grow enormously depending on how the government reacts.

The current fad among politicians is the idea of ban on travel for people from Liberia and other countries where the epidemic is concentrated. This policy is in the “we have to do something” category.

It is reminiscent of the soldier who reports to his commanding officer that their platoon is surrounded by enemy troops. The commanding officer thinks for a moment, then takes big swing and decks the soldier. When the soldier asks officer why he decked him, the officer says, “I had to do something.”

Doing something stupid is not always better than doing nothing. And imposing a travel ban is high on the list of stupid things. Apart from what this would do to efforts to contain Ebola in the countries now suffering from the epidemic, there is the more basic problem that it won’t work.

The travel banners may have enormous faith in the competence of government, but as a practical matter a travel ban will not keep everyone who has been Liberia out of the country. People will come through third countries and simply lie about their travel history. Passport marks will be smudged or removed.

Travel banners may have great confidence in the ability of our immigration authorities to prevent such trickery, but those of us in the real world know that many people will slip by. And, thanks to the travel banners, these people who may have been exposed to Ebola will be hiding from the health authorities because they have broken the law to get into the country. Now isn’t that a great way to control the virus?

One obvious way to control Ebola would be to spend some money developing a vaccine. Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health thinks that we would have had an effective vaccine by now had it not been for the cuts to the agency over the last decade.

Needless to say, many of the politicians who are now the biggest promulgators of Ebola hysteria fever were also the ones pushing the budget cuts over the last decade. No doubt they are much happier to spend large amounts of money trying to contain the disease now, and treating victims in the United States, then they would have been spending money a decade ago to develop a vaccine against a disease whose primary victims are Africans.

If we can get the victims of Ebola hysteria fever to come down for a minute, it is useful to remind them that they face an enormously greater risk of being killed in a car accident than they do from being killed by the Ebola virus. But if that sounds like too much of an abstraction, there is an even simpler point that can be made.

There have been several outbreaks of Ebola in Sub Saharan Africa over the last three decades. Each of them has been successfully brought under control. This means not only that it is possible to contain the virus and keep it from infecting an ever larger group of people, but that the governments in Sub Saharan Africa were able to muster the resources to accomplish this goal. These are among the poorest countries in the world.

If Sudan, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), and Gabon can bring Ebola under control, surely the United States can do the same. Unfortunately, Ebola Hysteria Fever may be a bit harder to contain.

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Racist Attitudes Could Aid and Abet the Spread of Coronavirus

BY: Amy GoodmanDemocracy Now!

Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Laurie Garrett talks about the spread of coronavirus and why it is more dangerous than anything the world has seen since the arrival of HIV.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. The coronavirus outbreak continuing to spread, with the death toll in China beyond 360, over 17,000 confirmed cases of the infection worldwide. A man in the Philippines the first death outside of China has been attributed to coronavirus. And the U.S. has declared a public health emergency, barring foreign nationals who have recently traveled to China from entering the United States.

Laurie, in Part 1, we talked about the gutting of the public health system in the United States. Now we’re back to China, where the heart of the epidemic is, 17,000 people and rising. How do you think the coronavirus should be dealt with? I mean, you dealt with SARS. You were in China during that time. That was what? Seventeen years ago. What about now?

LAURIE GARRETT: You know, this is really hard, Amy, because China is doing things that really no other nation on Earth could do. It’s a combination of an authoritarian government and, you know, tremendous infrastructure. They built a thousand-bed hospital in Wuhan in eight days. It’s admitting patients today. I witnessed them building hospitals in the provincial areas in six days, seven days. And I’m not talking about a slapdash little shed. It’s a real, sophisticated, you know, negative air pressure hospital. But the measures they’re having to resort to are so extreme. You know, basically, 100 million people in the nation right at this moment are in some form of shutdown or lockdown. They have to move hundreds of billions of pounds of food all over the country in mass convoys to the locked-down population. I mean, Wuhan is 11 million people. And Beijing is essentially under a de facto quarantine.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how it is. I mean, we’ve seen movies with plagues. But how — actually what does it look like? You can’t drive outside. You’re met by men with guns?

LAURIE GARRETT: Well, they don’t point guns at you.

AMY GOODMAN: They cut down the public transportation system.

LAURIE GARRETT: But yeah, you can’t go through usual train stations, airports, any of that. In some places, those are completely shut down. In others, you will have to go through a whole set of fever checks and questions and so on, by people in the spacesuits, the PPEs, to determine whether or not it’s safe for you to move on. Are you a potential disease carrier? And if you are driving, you’ll be stopped every roughly 10 miles, and you’ll have to get out of your vehicle. Your vehicle will be disinfected with sprays. And you will have to go through yet another fever check. So, it wasn’t uncommon during SARS, and I’m hearing the same thing from colleagues there now, to have myself go through a dozen to 20 fever checks a day. Just almost every building would require it, whatever you were doing.

And the scale of this, I just can’t underscore enough. There’s no other nation on Earth that could do this right now. We certainly couldn’t. Nor would we. Can you imagine how many days it would take just to get approval for a piece of land to build a hospital on in the United States? Here in New York City, we’d be bickering on it, you know, two years from now. To build a high-end hospital in eight days, there’s no other country. Forget it. We should be watching what they’re having to go through, and thinking, “Well, what will we do if it comes here? Where’s our resources?” You know, it’s a harder thing to fight an epidemic in a democracy. It’s a harder thing to fight when the internet can just scream all kinds of lies, whereas they’ve been locking people up in China for going on Weibo and telling the truth. And they’re still locking people up.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what that truth is.

LAURIE GARRETT: Well, for example, there’s a young doctor who’s an ophthalmologist in Wuhan who was one of the first to spot that there was a new kind of pneumonia afoot. And he thought it looked a lot like SARS. He went on social media, on Weibo. He put out his analysis of it, and they immediately arrested him, and he was thrown in prison. He was recently released from prison. He went back to treat patients. And he’s come down with the coronavirus and is now fighting for his life.

Anybody who’s giving information — for example, some of you may, if you’re following this, you’ve seen these horrible pictures of people who’ve died and are — their body is just sitting on the sidewalk. They’re in a hallway. They’ve careened with their car, died trying to get to a hospital and smashed into a tree, and they’re just sitting there in the car. And no one comes because they’re afraid to touch these bodies. If you social media, tweet those images in the United States, that’s OK. But in China, that could get you in prison, it it’s tracked that you’re the one that’s been posting those images. So, what’s happening now is that there’s almost a lockdown of information, on top of everything else.

So, let me just say what is the appropriate way that Americans should be looking at this right now, because we’re at that danger moment in the United States between sort of being disease voyeurs, watching what’s unfolding overseas, with some strange interest, versus going into panic because we think it’s coming to us. And we’re in an election year. We’re in — with a government that has pared back its own ability to respond, and with a public that is very panic prone and addicted to looking at their telephones. You put all this together, we have a recipe for a possible really severe overreaction, that would include, you know, clamping down on Chinese-descendant people inside the United States, that could include all sorts of measures that would be hideous. And meanwhile, just the fear of something that’s actually thousands of miles away has made us run out of masks. And I challenge your viewers to go out and find a face mask right now, an appropriate one, an actual medical, not a dust mask, not a construction mask, but one that’s actually designed to block viruses.

AMY GOODMAN: What are they called, the ones that are designed to block viruses?

LAURIE GARRETT: Well, it won’t help to tell you, because now on social media everybody’s advertising, quote, N95 masks, and they’re just dust masks. So, it’s doesn’t matter what — everybody’s lying. People are making huge profits. There’s hoarding of masks all over the world. The fact is, almost all the face masks that work — they’re medical face masks — are not made in the United States. They may be distributed by a U.S. company, but they’re made in? Fill in the blank. China and the Philippines, for the most part. And we go down the list of things, and we can see there’s already panic buying. You’re hard-pressed to find medically designed latex gloves right now in drugstores anywhere in the United States. Amazon’s out of masks. So, if you hit the point where Amazon.com can’t fill it, well, then, you know, you’re in real trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: How does the coronavirus relate to the flu? And that goes to the flu vaccine and what’s happening. I mean, I think there is a push to develop a coronavirus vaccine, right?

LAURIE GARRETT: Yeah, but we won’t have one anytime soon.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how does the flu and the toll it’s taking, let’s say just in the United States, and then around the world, compare?

LAURIE GARRETT: Well, certainly the numbers of people who every year get the flu dwarfs anything — any epidemic. So, you could use that, and people always do, as a red herring to say, “So why are we so worried about this other epidemic? it’s trivial compared to the flu, blah, blah, blah.”

Well, there’s two big things to think about with flu right now. One is, yeah, why do we keep having this high death rate from flu? I mean, that’s an indication that the American people are not listening to public health. They’re not getting vaccinated. They’re not taking precautions, and they sort of have a lackadaisical attitude towards it until they get really sick. So, that shows the level of the struggle for the public health system.

But also, you don’t want to get the flu right now and have it be mistaken for coronavirus. And since both have respiratory symptoms and high fever, that would be a problem. So this is all the more reason you should get vaccinated and reduce your chances of getting the flu and being misdiagnosed or having your real coronavirus missed because they thought it was the flu.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that China is now making up for lost time? What would you say are China’s biggest mistakes they’ve made so far? And what about what they’re doing now?

LAURIE GARRETT: Well, they covered up. I mean, this is typical, what I’ve seen every time in China, every outbreak I’ve been in there, is that — you know, outsiders don’t understand. China really has two governments that run in parallel. One is the official government, with people with titles, you know, minister of whatever. And the other is the party, the Communist Party. And one trumps the other, and that’s the Communist Party. And it’s essentially kind of a shadow government, in the sense that not everybody knows who the party official is in charge of X, Y or Z. But the mode of the party is to always strive for stability. And that’s the most common word in the Chinese political lexicon, you know, “stability,” “stability.” So nothing can rock the boat. Nothing can upset the order of society.

Well, what’s upsetting to order of society more than an epidemic? And so the initial response of party officials whenever there’s an outbreak is to stifle it as quickly as possible and stifle all news and information about it and spend as much time arresting, as I wrote about several weeks ago when this was first starting, that they were spending more energy arresting people for talking about this epidemic — almost all of them healthcare workers, by the way — than they were in dealing with it and confronting it. So, by the time they actually put out honest numbers and actually start telling the world the true toll, we’re several weeks in, and we have a huge problem on our hands. And then, now they’re just racing to keep up. The Hong Kong University has a spectacular team of epidemiology statisticians, who’ve been through SARS, been through bird flu, on and on down there, and they’ve been analyzing the numbers of cases and reports through a variety of means. And they’ve shown the underreporting rate is pretty consistently by more than 50% — in fact, considerably more — so that they say this currently reported toll total of about 17,000-and-change cases in mainland China, actually, that’s the number it probably was about 10 days ago. And the true number at this moment is significantly larger.

AMY GOODMAN: So, where do you see this going? How do you see this playing out? And maybe base it on what you saw. What happened with SARS?

LAURIE GARRETT: Well, when you ask, “Why did SARS end?” you know, you get different answers. In China, one of the most common responses is to say, “Because the weather changed,” as if the virus somehow was related to cold weather, and that as summer approached and it got hotter, the virus disappeared. That makes no sense to me biologically at all. It may make sense in terms of surfaces. Certain cooler surfaces may harbor virus longer than a hot surface. But other than that, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

What I observed was that China basically stopped it by doing a massive fever and quarantine program across the entire nation. So it was brought to a stop by a level of vigorous and robust action. But, you see, they’re doing the same thing now. And as I mentioned before, it’s all based on fever checks, and we now know this virus can spread from people who don’t have fevers. So, they’re building a policy that biologically is flawed, won’t work. So, when people ask me, “Where is this all going?” I say, “Look, this is much worse than SARS.” It is not as terrifically dangerous as a virulent flu epidemic. But it’s far more dangerous than anything we’ve seen on our horizon since the arrival of HIV.

AMY GOODMAN: The World Health Organization says the issue is when it leaves China, not China’s response. What do you think of that?

LAURIE GARRETT: That’s not exactly what they said, just to be fair to WHO, because they’ve taken a lot of criticism for their slow response. What I think WHO is actually saying is they see that China is taking it seriously now. They’re taking, you know, hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of measures to try and boost their economy and at the same time be on lockdown. And so, WHO is loath to criticize China and their response.

But one way of delaying a kind of declaration of a global health emergency is to insist that there has to be secondary transmission in another country, meaning human-to-human spread elsewhere, not just China. Well, we have human-to-human spread elsewhere. And one of the places where we have human-to-human spread is bracing to have the big quadrennial event, the Olympics, and that’s Japan. And Japan is really racing to control the spread inside Japan, make sure it doesn’t go beyond this handful of cases and imperil the Olympics. Meanwhile, we have human-to-human spread in two cases, two clusters, in the United States already. And we have human-to-human spread in Thailand, in a number of other overseas countries. So, then you ask, “Well, OK, you were waiting for human-to-human spread. Is that the magic? Well, maybe you’re waiting for deaths in other countries.” Well, we now have had the first non-China death, that in the Philippines.

Today the physicians and nurses of Hong Kong went on strike and have shut down all their services, because they’ve been through this so many times now. This is the third big epidemic coming their way from the mainland, where they pay a huge toll and where healthcare workers in particular have died in past outbreaks in Hong Kong. And they want Carrie Lam to shut down the entire border with Shenzhen and Guangzhou and seal Hong Kong off from mainland China. Well, politically, you couldn’t ask for a more volatile thing at a moment when they’ve been in protest demonstrations against Beijing now since last August.

And I think what we’re seeing now unfolding is nations are going to their flu pandemic threat playbook and executing whatever they had on their shelf. You know, “Let’s look up our — what was the plan we came up with in 1994 for this?” And so, it’s, you know, shut down your airport, close off the flights from country X, start screening everybody, build a quarantine center, pass laws against people from country X, pass laws against all their ethnic descendants within your country, blame them as if it is they, not the virus, that is the issue. And so, we see country after country all over the world has now started to ban travel to and from. They’re following the Americans. We did it first. And, in fact, we did it, Pompeo announced it, just hours after WHO declared a global health threat and specifically said there is no reason to cut travel, flights or trade. So the U.S. basically did this [flicks chin] to WHO and this [flicks chin] to China. But, you know, it doesn’t work. Nowhere in the world have we stopped an epidemic in our modern era of globalization and air travel by shutting down airports.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at the secretary general of World Health Organization’s comments. He said, “The speed with which China detected the outbreak, isolated the virus, sequenced the genome and shared it with WHO and the world are very impressive, and beyond words. So is China’s commitment to transparency and to supporting other countries. … [T]he only way we will defeat this outbreak is for all countries to work together in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation. We are all in this together, and we can only stop it together. This is the time for facts, not fear. This is the time for science, not rumours. This is the time for solidarity, not stigma. Thank you.”

LAURIE GARRETT: Yeah, I’m not sure I would go as far as he did in praising China for its early response. But he’s right about all the rest of it. We’re not going to get out of this by waving political sticks at each other. The virus doesn’t know the race, the politics, the religion of the human it infects, nor does it give a darn. It’s only we who aid and abet, and we’ve seen this in one kind of epidemic after another, the worst case one being HIV. It is we humans who aid and abet the spread of disease by carrying out our own discriminatory, racist, bigoted attitudes towards other humans rather than tackling the virus.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Laurie Garrett, I want to thank you so much for spending this time with us. Laurie Garrett, a former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer, author of several books, including Ebola: Story of an OutbreakThe Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance and Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health. And we will link to your piece that you just recently wrote, Laurie, called “Trump Has Sabotaged America’s Coronavirus Response.”

This is Democracy Now! To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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Is Coronavirus Panic Sending Us Back to the Days of Racist Quarantines?

A passenger in a bus wears a face mask
Passengers who were stranded on the Diamond Princess ship in Japan arrive at Chun Yeung estate to begin their 14 days of quarantine in Hong Kong, China, on February 20, 2020.

BY: Sasha AbramskyTruthout

Despair and Disparity: The Uneven Burdens of COVID-19

As global fears around the coronavirus outbreak intensify, the United States and many other countries have opted for wholesale travel bans of Chinese nationals as well as foreign nationals who have recently been to China, and for mass quarantines of U.S. citizens returning from impacted parts of China.

This Friday, Kuwait announced restrictions on travel in and out of IranIsrael banned South Koreans from entering the countryNorth Korea began quarantining all foreigners in the country. Meanwhile, violent protesters in Ukraine tried to block the return of Ukrainians being repatriated from Wuhan province, China, out of fear the disease would spread in the Ukraine too. And cities in California sued to block the establishment of quarantine facilities in their neighborhoods.

Around the world, virus hotspots are now flaring up, in Iran, in Italy, in South Korea. In each case, we are seeing quarantines and strict movement restrictions imposed, the shuttering of schools, the banning of public gatherings — and, at the same time, increasingly panicked public reactions — from panic buying at supermarkets to sell-offs in stock markets. On Monday, markets around the world plummeted, making a global economic downturn far more likely.

Currently several hundred U.S. residents are being quarantined or have been quarantined on military bases in California and in Texas. Thousands more are voluntarily “self-quarantining.” The Trump administration has indicated that anyone who returns from a virus hotspot, currently only in China, but a designation likely to expand over the coming weeks and months, may face a mandatory government-imposed quarantine. It has already designated 11 military bases as potential quarantine sites.

Meanwhile, some states are also imposing their own wildly broad quarantines, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which forced 16 students — none of whom showed any symptoms of illness — into a mandatory 14-day quarantine at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster simply because they had traveled to China during their winter break. In New York City, Barnard College has also quarantined students; and on other campuses students are being encouraged to self-quarantine if they have recently returned from a hot zone.

There is a long history of sweeping quarantines in the U.S. During the deadly Spanish flu pandemic just over a century ago, U.S. cities imposed draconian limits on public gatherings, shuttering saloons, dance halls and other places where crowds congregated. They also staggered workplace hours to limit how many people would be in a factory at any one time and discouraged the use of public transport. In many ways, these restrictions were precursors of the emergency rules that Chinese authorities have put in place in recent weeks in cities such as Wuhan — rules that may not necessarily be the most effective way to contain the epidemic.There is a long and ignoble history of panics around immigration that conflate fears of cultural change and an influx of foreigners with fears of disease and of social dissolution.

There is a broad consensus about the need to quarantine and track those who have actually had documented exposure to the virus, but both health officials and civil liberties advocates have raised questions about the overly broad application of quarantines and travel bans, with some public health experts suggesting they might actually encourage people to cheat and to lie about their travel itineraries as a way to evade quarantines. The end result could, paradoxically, actually worsen the epidemic.

World Health Organization experts have expressed skepticism as to both the effectiveness and justification of catch-all travel bans. Moreover, racial justice groups have noted that they play into a widespread perception that people are dangerous not because they personally have been exposed to the virus but simply by virtue of their ethnicity. Indeed, there has been a documented uptick of anti-Chinese hostility in many countries as the crisis has intensified. Chinatowns from London to Paris to New York have been largely emptied of tourists and business customers.

Today’s fears are shaped by the specific crisis at hand. But, beyond the particulars of the coronavirus outbreak, there is a long and ignoble history of panics around immigration that conflate fears of cultural change and an influx of foreigners with fears of disease and of social dissolution.

More than a century ago, during a period of large-scale immigration into the United States, the federal government processed millions of incoming migrants through Ellis Island in the New York Harbor, and beginning a couple decades later, through Angel Island off San Francisco. Those migrants were subjected to health inspections, and the few who were flagged as having contagious diseases were either turned back or quarantined during their sickness. In particular, doctors looked for diseases such as trachomasmallpox, bubonic plague, yellow fever and other mass killers that had haunted humans in recent centuries.

In the last years of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th century, most migrants through Ellis Island were, however, processed and allowed to come ashore in New York within a matter of hours or days.

But the fear of immigrants bringing infectious diseases into the U.S. was only one part of a much larger conversation about the desirability of mass migration. The Asians who made up a large percentage of the migrants to the West Coast during the late 19th and early 20th centuries butted up against the provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act, as well as much broader notions of racial purity. At Angel Island, whites were generally allowed to come ashore in San Francisco shortly after their boats docked at the island. Asians — in particular Chinese and Japanese immigrants — by contrast, were frequently held for weeks or months. Many Asian immigrants were then deported, following intrusive questions about their family origins and their purported relationship to people already living in the U.S. — questions seeking to enforce the draconian restrictions imposed by the Chinese Exclusion Act.

In the 1920s, the anti-immigrant policies that played out at Angel Island were broadened to include non-Northern Europeans as well. Following decades of mass migration, there was a huge backlash, pushed by nativist politicians in D.C. such as Sen. William P. Dillingham. As a part of this backlash, quota systems were imposed, which had the effect of strictly limiting the numbers of migrants from southern and eastern Europe, as well as from virtually all non-European countries, and the United States became almost entirely closed to foreigners.The confluence of fears surrounding deadly diseases and nativist movements has the potential to whip up a particularly noxious brew of political responses.

The similarities to today are hard to miss. The confluence of fears surrounding deadly diseases and nativist movements — this time championed by the occupant of the White House — has the potential to whip up a particularly noxious brew of political responses.

Trump has made it a point of principle to exclude millions of poor people and millions of immigrant families from access to the health care system. He has pushed his Justice Department to argue that the entire edifice of the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. At the urging of his anti-immigrant adviser Stephen Miller, his officials have redefined “public charge” to exclude immigrant families not only from cash welfare benefits but also from any access to publicly funded health care as well. These new, restrictive rules are slated to kick in this week. Moreover, Trump is making a full-court effort to allow states to replace their open-ended Medicaid systems with workfare- and block-grant-based programs that would have the effect of excluding huge numbers of able-bodied adults from health care coverage.

In other words, just at the minute when people in the United States most need effective, easy-to-access, primary health care so as to catch coronavirus cases early and to track those who have been in contact with carriers, the federal government is pushing health care systems to exclude ever larger numbers of people.

Such policies make it far more likely that the virus will start spreading within the U.S., posing the most acute risk to people who have been pushed outside of the health care umbrella.

The U.S. already has networks of detention camps along the southern border in which thousands upon thousands of would-be immigrants and asylum seekers are held. There already are camps on the bridges linking the U.S. and Mexico, as well as on the Mexican side of the border, where families are denied access to the sanitation and health care necessary to stay well as they wait to present their legal case for asylum in court. These facilities and camps have already seen outbreaks of flu, of measles and mumps, and other contagious viruses.

Coronavirus outbreaks would only make an already dangerous situation that much worse. Such outbreaks would, inevitably, set the conditions for even more extreme and dangerous anti-immigration policies from a White House itching for any and all excuses to lock down the U.S. as Senator Dillingham and the other nativists did a century ago.

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How Can the US Confront Coronavirus With 28 Million People Uninsured?

A woman wearing a face mask walks by a public train
A woman wears a protective mask while walking on the subway on February 27, 2020, in São Paulo, Brazil.

BY: Sasha AbramskyTruthout

Despair and Disparity: The Uneven Burdens of COVID-19
Fighting for Our Lives: The Movement for Medicare for All

As the coronavirus continues to spread around the world, we don’t yet know either the full scale of the unfolding global health disaster or the cumulative impact economically. But over the past week, as virus hotspots have emerged in South Korea, in Iran, in Italy and elsewhere, and as more and more countries find cases of the disease, we’re beginning to get a sense of the magnitude of what is unfolding.

China has spent two months trying to contain an outbreak. As an authoritarian country it hasn’t shied away from locking down megacities, even cocooning entire residential communities — allowing only one household member out every couple of days to go looking for food. Tens of millions of people are now living a dystopian existence essentially barricaded within their own apartment walls. Yet even with these emergency responses, large numbers have fallen sick and thousands have died. Meanwhile, consumer spending in the world’s second largest economy has all but ground to a halt. Month-on-month car purchases in the country are down by a staggering 92 percent.

South Korea has imposed extraordinary controls in Daegu, a city of roughly 3 million people. Italy has quarantined tens of thousands of people, deploying police and military to stop them from leaving the region that is at the center of that country’s outbreak. In Turkey, on Tuesday, a plane from Iran with a person on board suspected of carrying the virus was met at the airport by health officials and all the passengers were promptly quarantined for two weeks.

Until this week’s stock market swoon, the inevitable economic toll had gotten lost in the panicked coverage of the virus’s spread. When countries shut down rail and air and road routes in and out of regions, when schools are closed, when public gatherings are discouraged or banned, when curfews are imposed, and when nonessential businesses are shuttered, the economic cost is immense.

The intricately interconnected parts of the global trade and supply chain systems are unraveling at warp speed as the disease spreads, and, assuming these lockdowns last, the consequences will likely be economically devastating. If the stock market continues to sink, if factories remain shuttered, and if consumers pull back from spending, over the coming months there could be massive, and unexpected, spikes in unemployment and poverty, even in places not directly experiencing the mass transmission of the virus within their populations.

Trump’s Pollyannaish statements on coronavirus in the U.S. notwithstanding, this country will not, of course, remain inured to the epidemic’s consequences. That belated realization among investors was what triggered this week’s panicked stock market sell-off. Between Friday of last week and the close of business on Tuesday, the Dow Jones shed roughly eight percent of its value. On both Monday and Tuesday, the market dived on a scale reminiscent of the chaotic days during the summer and early autumn of 2008, as the housing crisis morphed into a broader financial crisis.Trump’s Pollyannaish statements on coronavirus in the U.S. notwithstanding, this country will not remain inured to the epidemic’s consequences.

If the bad news about the virus’s spread continues, that market retraction will also continue over the trading days and weeks ahead, making what happened in the first days of this week only a prelude to a larger and longer crisis. Public health experts at the CDC and in the universities increasingly think it’s only a matter of time before the United States, too, experiences serious outbreaks. Indeed, the announcement late Wednesday afternoon that a Californian who had neither traveled to a hot zone nor been in close contact with someone who had has the virus signifies it is likely already starting to circulate within the U.S. If it is, the impacts will be huge, not just on the country’s overstretched health systems, but on the political and economic infrastructure. It’s not a stretch to imagine global stock market collapses over the coming weeks and a stark contraction of consumer spending and of employment in their wake.

Even if this dislocation doesn’t grow to the cataclysmic scale of the 1918-19 Spanish Flu, the coming months will surely force the U.S. to confront some glaring policy shortcomings — and to do so at speed.

Roughly 28 million Americans lack health insurance. That number has gone up every year of the Trump presidency and will continue to go up so long as current policies are in place that drive immigrants ever further outside the safety net, that encourage states to limit Medicaid access, and that make it harder for individuals to access health care exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act. It’s pretty much impossible to rein in a pandemic, especially of a disease that is communicable before a sufferer becomes sick enough to visit the ER, with so many people entirely excluded from primary care coverage. Millions more, who do have insurance, are so under-insured and have such high deductibles that, in practice, they too do not visit primary care doctors nearly as often as they should.

So far, the Democratic candidates running for the presidency haven’t linked the virus outbreak to their calls for expanded and more affordable health care coverage. It’s past time for them to do so. With this outbreak, not only does the moral imperative for universal health care grow, but so does the pragmatic rationale: Germs don’t obey class and ethnic and national boundaries. If poor, uninsured people don’t get treated for viral pneumonia in proper facilities, they will spread that disease throughout the community. It will be impossible to bring regional outbreaks under control if huge swathes of the population cannot access doctors either because they are afraid they will be bankrupted by medical bills, or because they are terrified they will render themselves vulnerable to deportation by putting themselves onto medical system and government radars. And the more people remain untreated, the more the virus will spread, creating a cascading effect of health and economic consequences. Economically, it would likely prove to be far less expensive to expand health coverage to everyone now, rather than try to clean up the mess of an epidemic made worse by massive numbers of people being uninsured.It’s pretty much impossible to rein in a pandemic with so many people entirely excluded from primary care coverage.

This isn’t an issue that can wait for a long policy debate post-election. In an emergency, policies have to meet new needs at speed. And right now, there’s an unprecedented need to expand the health care umbrella to everyone who lives in the United States.

But that alone is only one part of a much larger puzzle. Forty percent of Americans are only one missed paycheck away from poverty — they have no, or only minimal, savings to fall back on, and no cushion for paying monthly bills such as rent or mortgage, utilities, and car payments in the event of an unexpected economic jolt. If a region in the U.S. were to be locked down in the way that cities have been in China, South Korea, Italy and Iran, a vast number of that region’s residents would be quickly bankrupted, and a large proportion of small businesses that rely on a constant flow of customers would go under. Of course, this isn’t just about individuals; it’s also about the cascading economic impact on entire communities. Prolonged quarantines and lock-downs could devastate already financially on-edge neighborhoods as surely as de-industrialization devastated the Rust Belt and the 2008 housing crisis devastated everywhere from California Central Valley cities such as Stockton to urban regions of Nevada.

Unlike most of our peer nations, in the U.S. there is no legal right to paid sick leave, although the Family and Medical Leave Act does allow for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. In practice, the country’s sick leave rules are so ludicrously weak that they provide a strong disincentive for people, even in food processing and restaurants and other industries where germs spread particularly fast, to stay off work when sick. That’s as backward an approach as possible during a pandemic when health officials are urging the precautionary principle be adopted, and asking people to self-quarantine if they think they may have been in contact with a sick person. Again, while candidates such as Bernie Sanders have pushed for paid sick leave, they haven’t, as yet, linked it to the issue of quarantine.With this outbreak, not only does the moral imperative for universal health care grow, but so does the pragmatic rationale.

During World War II, Winston Churchill’s government set up an insurance system, under the War Damages Act, in the U.K. to ensure that victims of the blitz who lost homes or businesses to the aerial bombardment wouldn’t be left to sink on their own. The insurance system was paid for out of tax receipts, and was designed so that that the state would cover these losses and large numbers of individuals, and communities heavily hit by the bombing, wouldn’t be left destitute. Surely, in an age of pandemic, of mass quarantines, and of sudden lockdowns, such an insurance system is similarly imperative in the U.S.

Yet, nothing in the Trump administration’s approach suggests it is thinking big-picture. Instead, it has asked Congress to appropriate a relatively paltry $2.5 billion to fight the virus’s spread — and half of that money will come from raiding other existing public health funds. That’s barely one-third of the amount that it is demanding from the Pentagon over the coming months to work on Trump’s border wall. While there seems to be no shortage of funds for the military and for crackdowns on asylum seekers and destitute migrants, the pool of resources isn’t there for a massive effort to buffer the impacts of coronavirus. Nothing suggests the administration would, for example, roll back tax cuts on the wealthy and on corporations to fund a mutual insurance program for its economic victims.

We are on the edge of the unknown, facing the possibility of a pandemic — and accompanying economic dislocation — on a scale not seen for generations. In the face of this, big and bold policy responses will likely be required, and required fast. Unfortunately, the Trump administration doesn’t inspire any confidence that it’s up to this enormous task.

Posted in USA, Health, Human RightsComments Off on How Can the US Confront Coronavirus With 28 Million People Uninsured?

Voters Head to Polls With Anxiety Over Medical Bills as Coronavirus Spreads

South Carolinians stand in line for early voting at the Richland County Election Commission February 27, 2020, in Columbia, South Carolina.
South Carolinians stand in line for early voting at the Richland County Election Commission February 27, 2020, in Columbia, South Carolina.

BYMike LudwigTruthout

Despair and Disparity: The Uneven Burdens of COVID-19

As Democratic primary voters head to the polls in South Carolina ahead of Super Tuesday, a new poll found that the American public is more worried about being able to afford unexpected medical bills, insurance deductibles and prescription drug costs than about being able to pay for housing, food and transportation.

The poll, which revealed intense public anxiety about the cost of health care, came as Democrats slammed the Trump administration’s response to the global outbreak of a novel strain of coronavirus that appears likely to spread within the United States after triggering global panic. The findings could also provide new ammunition for presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, who routinely criticizes the private health care industry’s profiteering when promoting his Medicare for All proposal. Sanders is currently pushing to secure his position as the definitive frontrunner in the Democratic primary.

In a nationwide survey of 1,207 adults released by the Kaiser Family Foundation on Friday, about two-thirds said they are either “very worried” (35 percent) or “somewhat worried” (30 percent) about paying unexpected medical bills because a medical service was not covered by their insurance plan or a provider was out of their plan’s network. Nearly 50 percent of insured adults said they worried about being able to afford their insurance deductible, which is the annual amount patients must pay up front for health care before insurance kicks in. Four in ten worry about affording their insurance premiums to begin with.

Prescription drug prices ranked third on the list of financial worries, just ahead of making mortgage and rent payments, with 45 percent of respondents saying they are worried about affording the medicines they need. Respondents were generally less worried about paying for their home utility bills and buying food for their families, although more than a third said they worry about affording these basic human necessities.

The poll was conducted from February 13 to 18, when the coronavirus was generating increasingly alarming international headlines. While pollsters did not mention the coronavirus, dozens of suspected and confirmed cases in the U.S. of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are stoking anxiety nationwide. To what extent the coronavirus will either spread or be contained by public health efforts remains anybody’s guess, but experts have cast doubt on a number of statements issued by President Trump and other top administration officials.

Trump Under Fire for Coronavirus Response

Over the past week, the White House has come under intense fire for proposing funding cuts to infectious disease programs, deploying unprepared health workers to coronavirus quarantine sites, spreading misinformationdownplaying the danger of the outbreak and routing its public messaging through the office of Vice President Mike Pence, who has a questionable record of responding to outbreaks of disease. The administration is reportedly diverting funds from other public health programs to pay for the federal coronavirus response, including a heating bill assistance program that helps lower-income families stay warm during the wintertime.A new poll revealed intense public anxiety about the cost of health care.

In Congress, Democrats slammed the White House this week for initially lowballing its emergency funding request to combat coronavirus and refusing to guarantee that a COVID-19 vaccine would be widely affordable and accessible once developed.

Taxpayers have already invested $700 million in publicly-funded research on coronaviruses and vaccines since the SARS outbreak in 2002, largely through the National Institutes of Health, according to watchdogs at Public Citizen. However, Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive and Trump’s health czar, told lawmakers this week that “price controls” would hamper private investment in coronavirus vaccines and would be out of the question.

Zain Rizvi, a drug pricing expert at Public Citizen, said U.S. taxpayers are routinely forced to pay twice as much for medicines used around the world.

“The National Institutes of Health spends over $41 billion a year on biomedical research, and that is the foundation of much innovation in this country,” Rizvi said in an interview. “Industry often uses the research funded by taxpayers to help develop new products and turns around and charges taxpayers exorbitant prices.”

Democrats Pounce as White House Frets Over Economy

As Saturday’s crucial primary vote in North Carolina approached, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and other Democratic presidential contenders roundly criticized Trump as unprepared to address a potential public health crisis while Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren renewed calls to overhaul the nation’s broken health care system.

On Friday, Sanders continued his campaign for a national health plan that would cover everyone regardless of their ability to pay, which the democratic socialist has pledged to pass quickly after taking office.

“Besides passing Medicare for All so everyone can see a doctor or get a vaccine for free, my administration will greatly expand funding for the Center for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health, work with the international community, including with the World Health Organization, and invest in research and technology to make vaccines available quickly,” Sanders said in a statement.

Warren, who has backed away from campaigning on Medicare for All, proposed transitioning toward Medicare for All over a three-year period and establishing a public insurance option in the meantime. Other leading Democrats in the presidential race favor a “public option” but oppose Medicare for All.

On Thursday, Warren introduced symbolic legislation would divert funding for Trump’s wall on the Mexican border to public health efforts and previously released a plan for containing a coronavirus outbreak.

“Rather than use taxpayer dollars to pay for a monument to hate and division, my bill will help ensure that the federal government has the resources it needs to adequately respond to this emergency,” Warren said in a statement.

In their public statements, White House officials close to Trump have appeared preoccupied with the outbreak’s impact on Wall Street. Trump has planned to give himself credit for a healthy economy in his reelection campaign, and reports suggested his advisers worry that the coronavirus outbreak could harm the economy and endanger his chances at a second term.

Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, told reporters on Friday that the U.S. economy remains strong while global markets fell into a tailspin.

“I just think everybody, whether you’re an investor or whether you’re an ordinary mainstream person, people should not overreact,” Kudlow said.

Pence and other administration officials have touted Trump’s punitive travel restrictions as an effective guardrail against the spread of coronavirus, but critics say these efforts play into the president’s nativist base and will not prevent new infections in the U.S. The Warren and Sanders campaigns did not respond to a request for comment from Truthout by the time this article was published, but Sanders said in an earlier statement that the nation needs a president who “does not play politics with our health and national security.”

Whether the coronavirus will have a long-term impact on the economy and the presidential race remains to be seen. However, Trump and Republicans in Congress have made a number of high-profile attempts to slash health care coverage and spending, and if the latest polling is any evidence, voters are already worried about affording a doctor’s visit if they get sick.

Posted in USA, Health, Human RightsComments Off on Voters Head to Polls With Anxiety Over Medical Bills as Coronavirus Spreads

هل حقاً عاد غورو؟ هل حقاً أن فرنسا تعد لانتداب جديد على لبنان؟ (Has General Gouraud really returned to Lebanon? Will France reimpose its mandate over Lebanon?)

On calls for France to reimpose its mandate over Lebanon
بقلم منذر هنداوي

تم التوقيع في لبنان على عريضة للمطالبة بعودة الانتداب الفرنسي. هذه العريضة أثارت حفيظة كثير من الناس. بعض التخوف من هذه العريضة محق لأسباب وطنية تتعلق بالسيادة. لكن أغلب التخويف والتهويل من مخاطر عودة الاستعمار له مآرب لا علاقة لها بالوطنية و لا بالسيادة ولكن باستمرار التركيبة الحالية للأنظمة الراهنة. فجأة ظهر التخويف المفاجئ من عودة الجنرال الفرنسي غورو و كأنه يقف الآن على أبواب بيروت! وفجأة تثار الشبهات حول زيارة الرئيس ماكرون وكأنها بداية العودة للاستعمار الفرنسي

الاستعمار أو الانتداب الأجنبي لن يعود، ليس لأننا نرفضه في بلادنا وحسب بل لأنه مرفوض من القوى الأجنبية ذاتها. فمن له مصلحة وقدرة على حكم مجتمعات تنتشر فيها الميليشيات والمافيات بكل أنواعها وكذلك الأسلحة والقدرة على تصنيعها محليا. لو وقع مليوني شخص في لبنان على العريضة وليس فقط ٣٦ ألف لرفضت فرنسا العودة لانتداب لبنان. الانتداب كان ممكنا قبل قرن حيث عدد السكان محدود وحيث لم تمتلك البلاد وقتها الامكانيات الادارية على حكم نفسها. فقد كانت البلاد العربية تعيش حالة من الأمية والجهل والتخلف وقلة السكان، مما أعطى المبررات النظرية للانتداب في عصبة الأمم المتحدة.

غورو لن يعود مطلقا. لكن السؤال الحقيقي ليس في عودة غورو بل فيما إذا كان في بلادنا من هم أسوأ من غورو؟ من أوصلوا لبنان إلى هذه المِحنة من تفقير الناس ونهب مدخراتهم وتدمير بيوتهم وسفك دمائهم أليسوا أسوأ من غورو!؟ بلى إنهم أسوأ بألف مرة منه. لم يحصل دمار في عهد غورو مثل ما نراه يحصل في المنطقة برمتها على ايادي قيادات من أهل البلد. الانتداب الفرنسي بنى المدارس والإدارات الحكومية الحديثة وأسس لدولة القانون و أرسى بعض قواعد الديموقراطية. فماذا فعلت القيادات الوطنية المتحكمة في هذا القرن الحادي والعشرين؟! كل النخبة السياسية المتحكمة في لبنان أسوأ من غورو. و من يخوّف الناس من عودة غورو عليه قبل ذلك أن يسأل لما وصل الاحباط لدى الناس حدا صاروا يستغيثون به بالانتداب؟ من يتجاوز هذا السؤال، ويراوغ كي لا يجيب عليه إنما هو متحالف مع شياطين أسوأ من غورو.

'We want democracy

رد على مقالة الديمقراطية و الشورى (Response to the article Democracy and Shura)

In “QuickPress”

The Other

القبول بالآخر مفتاح الديموقراطية

In “QuickPress”

Lebanese sectarian democracy

أكذوبة الطائفية الديمقراطية (The lie of democratic sectarianism)

In “QuickPress”

Posted in France, Lebanon, PoliticsComments Off on هل حقاً عاد غورو؟ هل حقاً أن فرنسا تعد لانتداب جديد على لبنان؟ (Has General Gouraud really returned to Lebanon? Will France reimpose its mandate over Lebanon?)

هل المحكمة الدولية المختصة بقضية الحريري مسيسة؟ (Is the Special Tribunal for Lebanon politicised in relation to the Hariri case?)

Lebanon special tribunal
بقلم منذر هنداوي

ما معنى أن تكون المحكمة مسيسة؟ إنها تعني أن احكامها لا تستند إلى الادلة والشواهد، بل إلى المصالح السياسية، أي أن دور القاضي في المحكمة المسيسة يشبه دور مفتي السلطان الذي يتلاعب بالقوانين ليصدر أحكاما لا تتوافق مع القانون أو روح الشريعة، بل تتوافق مع رغبات السلطان أو الحاكم. 

صحيح  أن تعبير مفتي السلطان اشتهر في الدولة العثمانية إلا أن ما يشبه هذا المفتي كان موجوداً في العهود الماضية في قضاء الدول الغربية. لكن مع تحول البلاد الغربية إلى ملكيات دستورية أو جمهوريات تسودها أنظمة ديمقراطية ترسخ الفصل بين السلطات الثلاث التشريعية و التنفيذية و القضائية. 

هذا الفصل جعل من الصعب جداً على السلطة التنفيذية أن تُمارس الضغط على أي قاض كي يحكم لها وفق ما تريد. قد تحصل أخطاء في حكم القضاة، و قد يكون بعض القضاة متحيزين ضد متهمين، لكن عندما يتم الكشف عن مثل ذلك الانحياز تسجل فضيحة كبرى في القضاء. فضيحة تستوجب استقالة القاضي أو عزله أو حتى سجنه من قبل محكمة مختصة. لا يوجد في الغرب ملك او رئيس أو رئيس وزراء فوق القضاء. كلهم تحت سلطة القانون و تحت حكم القضاة الذين يحكمون بالقانون. حتى ترامب الذي كثيرا ما تلاعب، فإنه إن ضبط بذنب يحاسب عليه القانون، لا يمكنه أن يؤثر على القاضي الذي يحاكمه. 

في قضية الحريري تتلاحق الاتهامات في بلادنا ضد المحكمة بأنها مسيسة. قبل إصدار الحكم كان حزب الله لا يتوقف عن اتهام المحكمة بأنها مسيسة. وهو بذلك يعني أن الساسة في الدول الغربية وجهوا القضاة كي يصدروا حكما ضد حزب الله. بعد اصدار قرار المحكمة تغير الوضع قليلا فصار كثير من خصوم حزب الله يتهمون المحكمة بأنها مسيسة. أي أن القضاة حكموا بأوامر من الساسة الغربيين على براءة حزب الله. 

كلا الموقفين باطل و يتغذى من أفكار، أو ربما من أوهام التفكير المؤامرتي الذي يصور الغرب في حالة تآمر مستمر على بلادنا. كلاهما يستند إلى ما اعتدنا عليه في دول القهر والاستبداد من تلاعب الحكام بالقضاء. كثيرا منا لا يدرك جيداً معنى استقلال القضاء. لا نستطيع تصديق أن القضاء يحاكم وزيرا أو رئيساً. وقد لا نستطيع استيعاب أن القضاء الإسرائيلي وضع رئيس الوزراء الاسرائيلي السابق إيهود أولمرت بالسجن ١٨ شهرا بعد إدانته بالرشوة. قد لا نصدق أن رخصة السواقة سحبت من الأمير فيليب زوج الملكة البريطانية نتيجة ارتكابه مخالفة سير. 

طبعا هناك دوافع أخرى لاتهام المحكمة بالتسييس و خصوصا من المتآمرين الفعليين الذين يروجون لنظرية التسييس ونظرية المؤامرة الكونية ضدهم. و بالتحديد فإن ترويج حزب الله لنظرية التسييس لا يعني أن على خصومه أن ينقادوا إلى مواقف مشابهة باتهام المحكمة بالتسييس. 

من يريد أن يتوصل إلى الحقيقة عليه ألا يرد على اتهامات الخصم باتهامات معاكسة. بل عليه أن ينصت إلى صوت الحقيقة و يعرف كيف يعمل القضاء ليبني حكما يطمئن له. الاتهام سهل لكن إثباته يحتاج جمع الأدلة و إعمال العقل فيها قبل إصدار حكم. علينا أن نتعرف ولو قليلا على طرق عمل القضاء المستقل. القاعدة الأولى في القضاء أن المتهم بريء حتى تثبت إدانته. أي انه مهما كانت الأدلة شبه دامغة فلا بد من تفحصها بدقة و التأكد من مضامينها ثم عرضها على هيئة محلفين من خلفيات مختلفة للاستئناس بآرائهم لما عرض عليهم من أدلة. 

لو فجر شخص مبنى حكومي بمن فيه فلا يستطيع القاضي التسرع في إصدار حكم ضده إلا بعد الكثير من التدقيق بالدوافع والفحوصات بما في ذلك الفحوصات النفسية. المتهم ليس مجرما حتى و لو قبض عليه بالجرم المشهود. يصبح مجرما فقط بعد إصدار الحكم عليه من المحكمة. أنت كمواطن قد تقتنع أنه مجرم و لكن هذا يبقى رأيك و ليس حكم محكمة. 

وبالعودة إلى الحكم الصادر فإن المحكمة وجدت دوافع سياسية لحزب الله في الاغتيال، وهذا بالتحديد ما قالته: “ترى المحكمة أن سوريا وحزب الله ربما كانت لهما دوافع للقضاء على السيد الحريري وحلفائه السياسيين، لكن ليس هناك دليل على أن قيادة حزب الله كان لها دور في اغتيال السيد الحريري وليس هناك دليل مباشر على ضلوع سوريا في الأمر”.

المحكمة أدانت سليم جميل عياش المنتمي إلى حزب الله، لكن هذا لا يعني أنه تصرف باسم حزب الله، أو مدفوعا من قيادة حزب الله. ربما تكون انت أو أنا مقتنعين بأن الحزب أمر باغتيال الحريري، لكن في القضاء هذا يحتاج إلى أدلة. أنا بالتأكيد لا أدافع عن حزب الله، بل عن طريقة عمل المحكمة و طرق إدانتها للمتهمين. فمن وجهة قانونية ربما يكون تصرف المحكوم عليه سليم عياش من منطلقات شخصية أو من جهة لا علاقة لها بحزبه. الاتهام في هذا الحال يجب أن يتوفر له أدلة مباشرة. و اشدد على كلمتي أدلة مباشرة. 

الأدلة ضد حزب الله لن تقود إلى حكم يدين الحزب ما لم يخضع هذا الشخص المحكوم عليه للمسائلة واستكمال الأدلة عن تورط حزب الله كمؤسسة. لكن بغير ذلك لا يمكن الإدانة من وجهة قانونية.

و الآن تبقى القضية ما إذا كان حزب الله سيسلم هذا المحكوم عليه سليم عياش إلى المحكمة أم لا! أغلب الظن أنه لن يسلمه. وهذا يعني أن الشبهات حول دور حزب الله في اغتيال الحريري لم تنته بعد و خاصة أن المحكمة وجدت دوافع سياسية لدى حزب الله لاغتيال الحريري.

Corona myths vs reality

المؤامرة بين الخرافة و الواقع (The conspiracy: Between myth and reality)

In “QuickPress”

Donald Trump with mouth open

ترامب أصبح رئيساً بما يشبه المعجزة، و سيحتاج إلى معجزة كي يستمر (Trump became president by something like a miracle but will need a miracle to continue)

In “QuickPress”

Introspection

العيب فينا (The defect is in us)

In “QuickPress”

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZI, C.I.A, LebanonComments Off on هل المحكمة الدولية المختصة بقضية الحريري مسيسة؟ (Is the Special Tribunal for Lebanon politicised in relation to the Hariri case?)

How the UK government provides cover for Jewish crimes

How the UK government provides cover for Israel’s crimes

MP Alister Jack
By Stuart Littlewood

For example, by issuing carefully scripted but misleading “pro forma” letters of reply for MPs responding to voters’ concerns about Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine

MP Alister Jack has finally replied to my question asking where he and the UK government stand on the threat by Israel to annex more Palestinian territory known as the West Bank. It seems the government has urged them not to do it.

I doubt if his letter, reproduced below, is his own work. It is sprinkled with the humbug and deceit repeated for decades by Tory and Labour governments and was likely penned at least 20 years ago by a Foreign Office scribbler vaccinated with an Israeli embassy gramophone needle. It is still used as a reply template by MPs and ministers who dare not speak their own minds or are plain clueless.View in Full Screen

As usual, Her Majesty’s Government wants “a safe and secure Israel” but only “a viable and sovereign Palestinian state”. What a deplorable statement. Viable means workable in the most meagre sense. And when it comes to safety and security why can’t Mr Jack be evenhanded? His words (if they are indeed his) express clear racial prejudice favouring the wellbeing and prosperity of one people at the expense of another which, I’d have thought, deserves a sharp rap on the knuckles.

He says there can be no changes to the status quo without a negotiated agreement between the parties. Mr Jack is surely aware that the status quo is itself illegal and breaches umpteen UN resolutions. And why does he feel the Palestinians must “negotiate” their freedom? Picture the scene with the invader holding a gun to the head of the victim whose land the invader has occupied under brutal military control and in defiance of international law for 70-plus years. Why is Mr Jack joining his colleagues in calling for more lopsided negotiations instead of pushing for law and justice?

“Nothing shall be done to prejudice the rights of non-Jewish communities…” Sorry, forget that.

So many experts are saying that a negotiated two-state solution is impossible. Does anyone seriously think the Israelis will voluntarily give up their ill-gotten territorial gains which are crucial to their Greater Israel dream? The only peaceable way to change their mind is through the persuasive power of BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and other sanctions. For that reason BDS is under relentless Zionist attack and is fiercely opposed by the servile UK government. The reason why the West endlessly waffles about “negotiations” is their cowardly failure ever since 1948 to confront Israel’s greedy ambition for expansion and domination. That inconvenient bit in Britain’s 1917 pledge to Rothschild and the Zionist Federation about “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” is best forgotten. It’s so much easier for the UK government to say and do nothing while their Zionist “friends” surreptitiously complete their programme of creeping annexation. And never mind the 70-plus years of grief this has caused innocent Palestinians.

Mr Jack refers to Boris Johnson’s article in Yedioth Ahronoth which appeared on the very day Binyamin Netanyahu was supposed to be carrying out his crazed threat. “Annexation would represent a violation of international law… I profoundly hope that annexation does not go ahead,” he wrote. “If it does, the UK will not recognise any changes to the 1967 lines, except those agreed between both parties.” But Israel has repeatedly violated international law and repeatedly been rewarded, so why should it care what the UK thinks about boundary changes? They have been changing all the time. Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem (including the Old City) in 1967 was a flagrant breach of international law, and what did the UK or anyone else do about it? “I want to see an outcome that delivers justice for both Israelis and Palestinians,” says Johnson absurdly. He has no interest in justice otherwise he’d be leading the charge for implementing international law and UN resolutions which have already ruled on the issue.

As for Israel’s annexation misfire it looks like world hostility gave Netanyahu cold feet and he and Trump cast around in desperation for a face-saver. They found it the United Arab Emirates’ “MBZ” [Muhammad bin Zayid bin Sultan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi] with whom they cobbled a deal for full diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE provided Israel suspended annexation, and this is touted as a triumph. No-one of course insisted on actually abandoning annexation and you can bet the piecemeal ethnic cleansing, destruction of Palestinian homes and confiscation of their lands will continue unabated.

Mr Jack then says he’s proud that the UK supports UNRWA [UN Relief and Works Agency, the refugee agency] and is providing £34.5 million funding this year. If the Palestinians were allowed their universal right to freedom of movement and self-determination in their homeland there’d be no need to keep throwing our tax money at agencies like UNRWA. It’s scandalous that money for our own schools and hospitals has been diverted to subsidise Israel’s long-running programme of thieving, collective punishment, dispossession and the trashing of the Palestinian economy.

Mr Jack goes on to say: “The UK’s position on Israeli settlements is clear.” Well no, it isn’t. They are illegal and even constitute a war crime yet the UK government doesn’t mind if companies or individuals profiteer from using and endorsing those squats to the detriment of the Palestinians. And he seems to agree with his government’s opposition to the UN’s business and human rights database. Back in March 2016, UN Human Rights Council’s Resolution 31/36 mandated the High Commissioner’s Office to produce a database of all businesses engaged in activities related to Israel’s settlement enterprise and having implications for the rights of the Palestinian people. Fair enough, you might think. But a year ago 103 local, regional and international organisations felt it necessary to call on the High Commissioner to release the database expressing deep concern that the document and names of the companies facilitating the settlement programme had been withheld from circulation for three years due to political pressure. In the meantime the Israeli government had escalated the construction of new squats and broadcast its intention to formally annex parts of the West Bank in further violation of international law.

“The database will bring an important degree of transparency on the activities of businesses which contravene rules and principles of international humanitarian and human rights law as a result of their operations in or with illegal Israeli settlements,” they said.

Amnesty International commented:

Naming the businesses which profit in the context of this illegal situation sends a clear message from the international community that settlements must never be normalised. These companies are profiting from and contributing to systematic violations against Palestinians.

And Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights said:

The UK government abstained on the vote of this Human Rights Council resolution in March 2016… It was the only state to declare that the database was “inappropriate” and that “it would not cooperate in the process’ of its implementation”. LPHR felt that the reasons given for the government’s position “did not individually or cumulatively amount to an adequate basis for justifiably opposing the UN database”. One such reason was that the UK government thought the Human Rights Council should focus on states rather than private companies. LPHR says this contradicts the UK’s earlier agreement, along with the rest of the international community, that companies as well as states have vital responsibilities in protecting and advancing respect for human rights.

I won’t trouble Mr Jack for an explanation for all this. It’s enough that voters and campaigners are aware of the skullduggery.

It rains rocket from Gaza, never bombs from Israel

Stuart Littlewood relates how Britain’s Israel stooges in Parliament operate, from giving lopsided information to help soften Israel’s public image, to asking planted questions on behalf of the pro-Israel lobby.

In “British stooges”

Overlapping Israeli and UK flags

Israel’s manipulation of UK politics: time for zero tolerance

In “British stooges”

Israeli London embassy spy Shai Masot

How many British MPs are working for Israel?

In “British stooges”

Posted in ZIO-NAZI, Human Rights, UKComments Off on How the UK government provides cover for Jewish crimes

Chomsky and Pollin: To Heal From COVID-19, We Must Imagine a Different World

Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin tackle the questions of what lessons we can learn from this pandemic and how society may organize moving forward.
Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin tackle the questions of what lessons we can learn from this pandemic and how society may organize moving forward.

BYC.J. PolychroniouTruthoutPUBLISHEDApril 10, 2020SHAREShare via FacebookShare via TwitterShare via Email

Despair and Disparity: The Uneven Burdens of COVID-19

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) caught the world unprepared, and the economic, social and political consequences of the pandemic are expected to be dramatic, in spite of recent pledges by leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies to inject $5 trillion into the global economy in order to spur economic recovery.

But what lessons can we learn from this pandemic? Will the coronavirus crisis lead to a new way of organizing society — one that conceives of a social and political order where profits are not above people?

In this exclusive interview with Truthout, public intellectual Noam Chomsky and economist Robert Pollin tackle these questions.

C. J. Polychroniou: Noam, what are some of the deeper lessons we can draw from the global health crisis caused by coronavirus?

Noam Chomsky: Pandemics have been predicted by scientists for a long time, particularly since the 2003 SARS pandemic, which was caused by a coronavirus similar to COVID-19. They also predict that there will be further and probably worse pandemics. If we hope to prevent the next ones, we should therefore ask how this happened, and change what went wrong. The lessons arise at many levels, from the roots of the catastrophe to issues specific to particular countries. I’ll focus on the U.S., though that’s misleading since it is at the bottom of the barrel in competence of response to the crisis.

The basic factors are clear enough. The damage was rooted in a colossal market failure, exacerbated by the capitalism of the neoliberal era. There are particularities in the U.S., ranging from its disastrous health system and weak social justice ranking — near the bottom of the OECD — to the wrecking ball that has taken over the federal government.

The virus responsible for SARS was quickly identified. Vaccines were developed, but were not carried through the testing phase. Drug companies showed little interest: They respond to market signals, and there’s little profit in devoting resources to staving off some anticipated catastrophe. The general failure is illustrated dramatically by the most severe immediate problem: lack of ventilators, a lethal failure, forcing doctors and nurses to make the agonizing decision of who to kill.

The Obama administration had recognized the potential problem. It ordered high-quality low-cost ventilators from a small company that was then bought by a large corporation, Covidien, which shelved the project, apparently because the products might compete with its own high-cost ventilators. It then informed the government that it wanted to cancel the contract because it was not profitable enough.

So far, normal capitalist logic. But at that point the neoliberal pathology delivered another hammer blow. The government could have stepped in, but that’s barred by the reigning doctrine pronounced by Ronald Reagan: Government is the problem, not the solution. So nothing could be done.

We should pause for a moment to consider the meaning of the formula. In practice, it means that government is not the solution when the welfare of the population is at stake, but it very definitely is the solution for the problems of private wealth and corporate power. The record is ample under Reagan and since, and there should be no need to review it. The mantra “Government bad” is similar to the vaunted “free market” — easily skewed to accommodate exorbitant claims of capital.

Neoliberal doctrines entered for the private sector too. The business model requires “efficiency,” meaning maximal profit, consequences be damned. For the privatized health system, it means no spare capacity: just enough to get by in normal circumstances, and even then, bare bones, with severe cost to patients but a good balance sheet (and rich rewards for management). When something unexpected happens, tough luck.

These standard business principles have plenty of effects throughout the economy. The most severe of these concern the climate crisis, which overshadows the current virus crisis in its import. Fossil fuel corporations are in business to maximize profits, not to allow human society to survive, a matter of indifference. They are constantly seeking new oil fields to exploit. They do not waste resources on sustainable energy and dismantle profitable sustainable energy projects because they can make more money by accelerating mass destruction.

The White House, in the hands of an extraordinary collection of gangsters, pours fuel on the fire by its dedication to maximizing fossil fuel use and dismantling regulations that hinder the race to the abyss in which they proudly take the lead.

The reaction of the Davos crowd — the “masters of the universe” as they are called — is instructive. They dislike Trump’s vulgarity, which contaminates the image of civilized humanism they seek to project. But they applaud him vigorously when he rants away as keynote speaker, recognizing that he has a clear understanding of how to fill the right pockets.

These are the times we live in, and unless there is a radical change of direction, what we are seeing now is a bare foretaste of what is to come.

Returning to the pandemic, there was ample evidence that it was coming. Trump responded in his characteristic manner. Throughout his term, budgets for health-related components of government were slashed. With exquisite timing, “Two months before the novel coronavirus is thought to have begun its deadly advance in Wuhan, China, the Trump administration ended a $200 million pandemic early-warning program aimed at training scientists in China and other countries to detect and respond to such a threat” — a precursor to Trump’s fanning “Yellow Peril” flames to deflect attention from his catastrophic performance.These are the times we live in, and unless there is a radical change of direction, what we are seeing now is a bare foretaste of what is to come.

The defunding process continued, astonishingly, after the pandemic had struck with full force. On February 10, the White House released its new budget, with further reductions for the beleaguered health care system (indeed anything that might benefit the population) but “the budget promotes a fossil fuel ‘energy boom’ in the United States, including an increase in the production of natural gas and crude oil.”

Perhaps there are words that can capture the systematic malevolence. I can’t find them.

The American people are also a target of Trumpian values. Despite repeated pleas from Congress and the medical profession, Trump did not invoke the Defense Production Act to order companies to produce badly needed equipment, claiming that it is a “break the glass” last resort and that to invoke the Defense Production Act for the pandemic would be to turn the country into Venezuela. But in fact, The New York Times points out that the Defense Production Act “has been invoked hundreds of thousands of times in the Trump years” for the military. Somehow the country survived this assault on the “free enterprise system.”

It was not enough to refuse to take measures to procure the required medical equipment. The White House also made sure that stocks would be depleted. A study of government trade data by Congresswoman Katie Porter found that the value of U.S. ventilator exports rose 22.7 percent from January to February and that in February 2020, “the value of U.S. mask exports to China was 1094 [percent] higher than the 2019 monthly average.”

The study continues:

As recently as March 2, the Trump Administration was encouraging American businesses to increase exports of medical supplies, especially to China. Yet, during this period, the U.S. government was well aware of the harms of COVID-19, including a likely need for additional respirators and masks.

Writing in The American Prospect, David Dayen comments: “So manufacturers and middlemen made money in the first two months of the year shipping medical supplies out of the country, and now they’re making more money in the next two months shipping them back in. The trade imbalance took precedence over self-sufficiency and resiliency.”The defunding process continued, astonishingly, after the pandemic had struck with full force.

There was no doubt about the coming dangers. In October, a high-level study revealed the nature of the pandemic threats. On December 31, China informed the World Health organization of an outbreak of pneumonia-like symptoms. A week later, it reported that scientists had identified the source as a coronavirus and sequenced the genome, again providing the information to the general public. For several weeks, China did not reveal the scale of the crisis, claiming later that the delay had been caused by failure of local bureaucrats to inform the central authorities, a claim confirmed by U.S. analysts.

What was happening in China was well-known. In particular, to U.S. intelligence, which through January and February was beating on the doors of the White House trying to reach the President. To no avail. He was either playing golf or praising himself on TV for having done more than anyone in the world to stem the threat.

Intelligence was not alone in trying to get the White House to wake up. As The New York Times reports, “A top White House adviser [Peter Navarro] starkly warned Trump administration officials in late January that the coronavirus crisis could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death … imperiling the lives of millions of Americans [as shown by] the information coming from China.”

To no avail. Months were lost while the Dear Leader flipped up and back from one tale to another — ominously, with the adoring Republican voting base lustily cheering every step.

When the facts finally became undeniable, Trump assured the world that he was the first person to have discovered the pandemic and his firm hand had everything under control. Throughout, the performance was loyally parroted by the sycophants with whom he has surrounded himself, and by his echo chamber at Fox News — which also seems to serve as his source for information and ideas, in an interesting dialogue.

None of this was inevitable. It was not only U.S. intelligence that understood the early information that China provided. Countries on China’s periphery reacted at once, very effectively in Taiwan, also in South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. New Zealand instituted a lockdown at once, and seems to have virtually eliminated the epidemic.

Most of Europe dithered, but better organized societies reacted. Germany has the world’s lowest reported death rate, benefiting from spare capacity in reserve. The same seems to be true of Norway and some others. The European Union revealed its level of civilization by the refusal of the better-off countries to help others. But fortunately, they could count on Cuba to come to their rescue, providing doctors, while China provided medical equipment.

Throughout, there are many lessons to learn, crucially, about the suicidal features of unconstrained capitalism and the extra damage caused by the neoliberal plague. The crisis shines a bright light on the perils of transferring decision-making to unaccountable private institutions dedicated solely to greed, their solemn duty, so Milton Friedman and other luminaries have explained, invoking the laws of sound economics.

For the U.S. there are special lessons. As already noted, the U.S. ranks near the bottom of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in social justice measures. Its privatized for-profit health care system, pursuing business models of efficiency, is a disaster, with twice the per-capita costs of comparable countries and some of the worst outcomes. There is no reason to live with that. Surely the time has come to rise to the level of other countries and institute a humane and efficient universal health care system.The crisis shines a bright light on the perils of transferring decision-making to unaccountable private institutions dedicated solely to greed

There are other simple steps that can be taken at once. Corporations are again rushing to the nanny state for bailouts. If granted, strict conditions should be imposed: no bonuses and pay for executives for the duration of the crisis; permanent ban on stock buybacks and resort to tax havens, modes of robbery of the public that run to tens of trillions of dollars, not small change. Is that feasible? Clearly so. That was the law, and was enforced, until Reagan opened the spigot. They should also be required to have worker representation in management and to adhere to a living wage, among conditions that quickly come to mind

There are many further short-range steps that are quite feasible and could expand. But beyond that, the crisis offers an opportunity to rethink and reshape our world. The masters are dedicating themselves to the task, and if they are not countered and overwhelmed by engaged popular forces, we will be entering a much uglier world — one that may not long survive.

The masters are uneasy. As the peasants are picking up their pitchforks, the tune in corporate headquarters is changing. High-level executives have joined to show that they are such nice guys that the well-being and security of all is assured if left in their caring hands. It’s time for corporate culture and practice to become more caring, they proclaim, concerned not just with returns to shareholders (mostly very wealthy), but with stakeholders — workers and community. It was a leading theme of the last Davos conference in January.

They aren’t reminding us that we’ve heard this song before. In the 1950s the phrase was “the soulful corporation.” How soulful, it did not take long to discover.

C. J. Polychroniou: Bob, can you help us understand the economic shock of coronavirus? How severe will the socioeconomic impact be, and who is likely to be most affected?

Robert Pollin: The breakneck speed of the economic collapse resulting from COVID-19 is without historic precedent.

Over the week of April 4, 6.6 million people filed initial claims to receive unemployment insurance. This is after 6.9 million people filed the previous week, and 3.3 filed the week before that. Prior to these three weeks, the highest number of people filing claims was in October 1982, during the severe Ronald Reagan double-dip recession. At that time, the record number of claims added up to 650,000. This disparity between 1982 and today is eye-popping, even after one takes account of the relative size of the U.S. labor force today versus in 1982. Thus, in 1982, the 650,000 unemployment insurance claims amounted to 0.6 percent of the U.S. labor force. The 6.6 million people who filed claims in the first week of April and 6.9 million the week before both equaled fully 4 percent of the U.S. labor force. So as a percentage of the labor force, these weekly filings for unemployment claims were 7 times higher than the previous record from 1982. Adding up the past three weeks of unemployment insurance claims gets us to 16.8 million people newly unemployed people, amounting to over 10 percent of the U.S. labor force. The expectation is that this figure is going to keep rising for many more weeks to come, potentially pushing unemployment in the range of 20 percent, a figure unseen since the depths of the 1930s Great Depression.The breakneck speed of the economic collapse resulting from COVID-19 is without historic precedent.

The situation for unemployed people in the U.S. is worse still because a large share of them had health insurance coverage through their employers. That insurance is now gone. The stimulus bill that Trump signed into law on March 27 provides no funds for treating people who are infected. The Peterson-Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that treatment could cost up to $20,000, and that even people with health insurance coverage through their employer could end up with $1,300 in out-of-pocket bills. Thus, fully in the spirit of our corporate-dominated and egregiously unfair U.S. health care system, COVID-19 will hit millions of people with major medical bills at exactly when they are most vulnerable. If Medicare for All were operating in the U.S. today, everyone would be covered in full as a matter of course.

In addition to the situation for people losing their jobs, we also need to recognize conditions for people working in front-line essential occupations. These people are putting themselves at high risk by showing up at work. A report by Hye Jin Rho, Hayley Brown and Shawn Fremstad of the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows that more than 30 million U.S. workers (nearly 20 percent of the entire U.S. workforce) are employed in six broad industries that are now on the front lines of the response. These workers include grocery store clerks, nurses, cleaners, warehouse workers and bus drivers, among others. Fully 65 percent of these workers are women. A disproportionate share of them are also low-paid and lack health insurance. These essential workers are putting themselves at high risks of infection, and if they do become infected, they will face the prospect of a severe financial crisis on top of their health crisis.More than 30 million U.S. workers (nearly 20 percent of the entire U.S. workforce) are employed in six broad industries that are now on the front lines of the response.

The coronavirus is also hitting low-income African American communities in the U.S. most brutally. Thus, in Illinois, African Americans account for more than half of all deaths from COVID-19, even while they account for only 14 percent of the state’s population. In Louisiana, 70 percent of those who have died thus far are African American, while the African American share of the population is 32 percent. Comparable patterns are emerging in other states. These figures reflect the simple fact that lower-income African Americans do not have the same means to protect themselves through social distancing and staying home from their jobs.

As severe as conditions are now for people in the U.S. and other advanced economies, they are going to seem mild once the virus begins to spread, as it almost certainly will, with catastrophic impacts, in the low-income countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. To begin with, the strategies of social distancing and self-isolation that have been relatively effective in high-income countries in slowing down the infection rate will be mostly impossible to implement in the poor neighborhoods of, say, Delhi, Nairobi or Lima, since people in these communities are mostly living in very tight quarters. They also largely have to rely on crowded public transportation to get anyplace, including to their jobs, since they cannot afford to stay home from work. This problem is compounded by the conditions of work in these jobs. In most low-income countries, about 70 percent of all employment is informal, meaning workers do not receive benefits, including paid sick leave, provided by their employers. As the Indian economists C.P. Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh write, these workers and their families “are clearly the most vulnerable to any economic downturn. When such a downturn comes in the wake of an unprecedented public health calamity, the concerns are obviously multiplied.”In Illinois, African Americans account for more than half of all deaths from COVID-19, even while they account for only 14 percent of the state’s population.

In addition, most low-income countries have extremely limited public health budgets to begin with. They have also been hard-hit by the collapse of tourism as well as sharp declines in their export revenues and remittances. Thus, in recent weeks, 85 countries have already approached the International Monetary Fund for short-term emergency assistance, roughly double the number that made such requests in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. The situation is likely to get worse very quickly.

C. J. Polychroniou: Noam, will coronavirus kill globalization?

Noam Chomsky: Globalization in some form goes back to the earliest recorded history — in fact, beyond. And it will continue. The question is: in what form? Suppose, for example, that a question arises as to whether to transfer some enterprise from Indiana to northern Mexico. Who decides? Bankers in New York or Chicago? Or perhaps the workforce and the community, perhaps even in coordination with Mexican counterparts. There are all sorts of associations among people — and conflicts of interest among them — that do not coincide with colors on maps. The sordid spectacle of states competing when cooperation is needed to combat a global crisis highlights the need to dismantle profit-based globalization and to construct true internationalism, if we hope to avoid extinction. The crisis is offering many opportunities to liberate ourselves from ideological chains, to envision a very different world, and to move on to create it.

The coronavirus is likely to change the highly fragile international economy that has been constructed in recent years, profit-driven and dismissive of externalized costs such as the huge destruction of the environment caused by transactions within complex supply chains, not to speak of the destruction of lives and communities. It’s likely that all of this will be reshaped, but again we should ask, and answer, the question of whose will be the guiding hands.As severe as conditions are now for people in the U.S. and other advanced economies, they are going to seem mild once the virus begins to spread in the low-income countries.

There are some steps towards internationalism in the service of people, not concentrated power. Yanis Varoufakis and Bernie Sanders issued a call for a progressive international to counter the international of reactionary states being forged by the Trump White House.

Similar efforts can take many forms. Unions are still called “internationals,” reminiscent of dreams that do not have to be idle. And sometimes are not. Longshoremen have refused to unload cargo in acts of international solidarity. There have been many impressive examples of international solidarity at state and popular levels. At the state level, nothing compares with Cuban internationalism — from Cuba’s extraordinary role in the liberation of southern Africa, described in depth by Piero Gleijeses, to the work of its doctors in Pakistan after the devastating 2005 earthquake, to overcoming the failures of the European Union today.

At the level of people, I know of nothing to compare with the flow of Americans to Central America in the 1980s to help victims of Reagan’s terrorist wars and the state terrorism that he supported, from all walks of life, some of the most dedicated and effective from church groups in rural America. There has been nothing like that in the prior history of imperialism, to my knowledge.The crisis is offering many opportunities to liberate ourselves from ideological chains, to envision a very different world, and to move on to create it.

Without proceeding, there are many kinds of global interaction and integration. Some of them are highly meritorious and should be actively pursued.

C. J. Polychroniou: Governments around the world are responding to the coronavirus economic fallout with massive stimulus measures. In the U.S., the Trump administration is prepared to spend $2 trillion of stimulus money approved by Congress. Bob, is this enough? And will it test the limits of how much more debt the U.S. can bear?

Robert Pollin: The stimulus program that Trump signed into law in March is the largest such measure in U.S. history. At $2 trillion, it amounts to roughly 10 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), which the government aims to distribute quickly in the coming months. By contrast, the 2009 Obama fiscal stimulus was budgeted at $800 billion over two years, or about 3 percent of GDP per year over the two years.

Despite its unprecedented magnitude, it is easy to see that the current stimulus program is too small, and will therefore deliver too little, in most of the ways that matter. This is while recognizing that, adding everything up, the stimulus provides massive giveaways to big U.S. corporations and Wall Street — i.e. the same people who benefited the most only 11 years ago from the Obama stimulus and corresponding Wall Street bailout. I noted above the fact that the stimulus provides no health care support for people infected by COVID-19. It also offers minimal additional support for both hospitals fighting the virus on the front lines as well as for state and local governments. State and local governments are going to experience sharp falls in their tax revenues — from income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes — as the recession takes hold. During the 2007-09 Great Recession, state and local tax revenues fell by 13 percent. We can expect a drop now of at least equal severity. Absent a large-scale injection of funds from the federal government — i.e. an injection of roughly three times what has been allocated thus far through the stimulus — state and local governments will be forced to undertake large-scale budget cuts and layoffs, including for school teachers, health care workers and police officers who, in combination, represent the bulk of their payroll spending.The stimulus provides no health care support for people infected by COVID-19.

Even the Trump administration appears to recognize that the stimulus bill is far too small. That is why both Trump and the congressional Democrats are already talking about another stimulus bill that could amount to another $2 trillion. The U.S. does have the capacity to maintain borrowing these enormous sums. Among other considerations, as was true during the 2007-09 Great Recession, U.S. government bonds will be recognized as the safest assets available on the global financial market. This will place a premium on U.S. bonds relative to every other credit instrument on the global market. The Federal Reserve also has the capacity, as needed, to buy up and effectively retire U.S. government bonds if the debt burden becomes excessive. No other country, or entity of any sort, enjoys anything like this privileged financial status.

Working from this position of extreme privilege, the Fed has now committed to providing basically unlimited and unconditional support for U.S. corporations and Wall Street firms. Indeed, between March 18 and 31 alone, the Fed purchased $1.14 trillion in Treasury and corporate bonds, at a rate of over $1 million per second. The Financial Times reports projections that the Fed’s asset holdings could reach $12 trillion by June — i.e. 60 percent of U.S. GDP — with further increases to follow. By comparison, just prior to the 2007 -2009 financial crisis, the Fed’s bond holdings were at $1 trillion. They then spiked to $2 trillion during the crisis — a figure equal to only about 1/5 where the Fed’s interventions are heading over the next couple of months.

The U.S. and global economy do need a gigantic bailout now to prevent suffering by innocent people resulting from both the pandemic and economic collapse. But the bailout needs to be focused, in the immediate, on delivering to everyone the health care provisions that they need and to keeping people financially whole.

Taking a broader structural perspective, we also need to stop squandering the enormous financial privileges enjoyed by the U.S. on propping up the neoliberal edifice that has denominated economic life in the U.S. and the world for the past 40 years. The fact that the U.S. government has the financial wherewithal to bail out giant corporations and Wall Street twice within the past 11 years means that it also has the capacity to take control over some of the most dysfunctional and anti-social private enterprises. We could start by replacing the private health insurance industry with Medicare for All. The federal government could also take a controlling interest in the fossil fuel industry that must be put out of business, in any case, over the next 30 years. Other targets for at least partial nationalizations should include the airlines that face desperate straits now, but that squandered 96 percent of their cash on buybacks over the past decade. The Wall Street operators that helped engineer such financial practices need to face both strong regulations and competition from large-scale public development banks capable of financing, for example, the Green New Deal.Neoliberal indoctrination has pampered big business and Wall Street into believing that corporate socialism will always be theirs for the asking.

In short, the U.S. economy that will emerge out of the present crisis cannot be permitted to return to the neoliberal status quo. It was clear during the Great Recession that some of the biggest U.S. corporations and Wall Street firms could not survive without government life supports. Now, only 11 years later, we are about to rerun the same movie, only this time on a jumbotron screen. Forty years’ worth of neoliberal indoctrination has pampered big business and Wall Street into believing that corporate socialism will always be theirs for the asking — that they can hoard profits for themselves at will while foisting their risks, as needed, onto everybody else. At this moment especially, if businesses want to insist that they exist only to maximize profits for their owners, then the federal government needs to sever their lifelines. Progressives should keep fighting hard for these principles.

C. J. Polychroniou: Noam, coronavirus seems to be producing an uplift in solidarity among common people in many parts of the world, and perhaps even the realization that we are all global citizens. Obviously, coronavirus itself won’t defeat neoliberalism and the resulting atomization of social life that we have been witnessing since its advent, but do you expect a shift in economic and political thinking? Perhaps the return of the social state?

Noam Chomsky: Those possibilities should remind us of the powerful wave of radical democracy that that swept over much of the world under the impact of the Great Depression and the anti-fascist war — and of the steps taken by the masters to contain or crush such hopes. A history that yields many lessons for today.

The pandemic should shock people to an appreciation of genuine internationalism, to recognition of the need to cure ailing societies of the neoliberal plague, then on to more radical reconstruction directed to the roots of contemporary disorder.

Americans in particular should awaken to the cruelty of the weak social justice system. Not a simple matter. It is, for example, quite odd to see that even at the left end of mainstream opinion, programs such as those advocated by Bernie Sanders are considered “too radical” for Americans. His two major programs call for universal health care and free higher education, normal in developed societies and poorer ones as well.

The pandemic should awaken us to the realization that in a just world, social fetters should be replaced by social bonds, ideals that trace back to the Enlightenment and classical liberalism. Ideals that we see realized in many ways. The remarkable courage and selflessness of health workers is an inspiring tribute to the resources of the human spirit. In many places, communities of mutual aid are being formed to provide food for the needy and help and support for the elderly and disabled.

There is indeed “an uplift in solidarity among common people in many parts of the world, and perhaps even the realization that we are all global citizens.” The challenges are clear. They can be met. At this grim moment of human history, they must be met, or history will come to an inglorious end.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Posted in USA, Health, Politics, WorldComments Off on Chomsky and Pollin: To Heal From COVID-19, We Must Imagine a Different World

If Trump Had Followed Vietnam’s Lead on COVID, US Would Have Fewer Than 100 Dead

Donald Trump
Donald Trump gestures as he speaks outside Mariotti Building Products in Old Forge, Pennsylvania, on August 20, 2020.

BYC.J. PolychroniouTruthout

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, exposing to the fullest the glaring weakness of our inequitable health system, and as the unemployment situation goes largely unaddressed, it’s becoming more than obvious that the U.S. is in dire need of fixing. An advanced social welfare state, with a full employment agenda, is the way out, argues world-renowned progressive economist Robert Pollin in this exclusive interview with Truthout. Pollin is distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and co-author (with Noam Chomsky and me) of the forthcoming book The Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet.

C.J. Polychroniou: Bob, the coronavirus crisis is wreaking havoc on the economy, but it has also revealed how poorly equipped the United States is in dealing with major economic crises. In fact, as economist Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out, “We built an economy with no shock absorbers.” With that in mind, and with millions of Americans unemployed and even struggling to meet basic needs, can you offer us a straightforward assessment of the Trump administration’s economic response to the coronavirus crisis?

Robert Pollin: The short answer is unequivocal: The Trump administration’s response has been nothing short of disastrous. Let’s begin with figures on lives that have been needlessly lost in the U.S. due to Trump’s toxic combination of indifference, hostility to science, and racism. As of August 17, we are approaching 170,000 deaths from COVID in the U.S., more than triple the total U.S. death toll from fighting in Vietnam. We have no evidence that the death rate will be declining significantly anytime soon. This level of U.S. deaths from COVID amounts to 514 per 1 million people. By comparison, Canada’s death rate is less than half that of the U.S., at around 239 deaths per million, even while Canada itself is also a relatively poor performer. Germany’s death rate, at 110 per million, is 80 percent lower than the U.S., but Germany is still only a middling performer. Among the strong performers, the death rates are 15 per million in Australia, 9 per million in Japan, 6 per million in South Korea and 3 per million in China, even though the virus first emerged in China. If the U.S. had managed the COVID pandemic at the level of, say, Australia, fewer than 5,000 people would have died as of today as opposed to nearly 170,000.

Vietnam is the most extraordinary case. It has experienced a total of 22 deaths in a country of 95 million people, which amounts to a death rate of 0.25 per million. This is for a country in which the average per capita income is about 3 percent of that in the U.S. It is also a country, of course, that U.S. imperialists tried to destroy a generation ago. If the U.S. had handled COVID at Vietnam’s level of competence over the past eight months, then fewer than 100 U.S. residents in total would be dead today from the pandemic.

In terms of managing the pandemic-induced economic collapse, the massive $2 trillion (10 percent of U.S. GDP) stimulus program that Congress passed and Trump signed in March, the CARES Act, did provide substantial support for unemployed workers. Fifty-six million people — 35 percent of the entire U.S. labor force — filed unemployment claims between March and August. For the most part, they all received $600 per week in supplemental support, which more than doubled what most would have received otherwise.

The CARES Act did also deliver huge bailouts for big corporations and Wall Street. Adding everything up, it was clear even at the time of passage that the CARES Act was not close to meeting the magnitude of the oncoming crisis. Among other features, it provided only minimal support for hospitals on the front lines fighting the pandemic, and even less support for state and local governments. The Upjohn Institute economist Timothy Bartik estimates that state and local governments are staring at upward of $1 trillion in budget shortfalls through the end of 2021, equal to between 20-25 percent of their entire budgets. If these budget gaps are not filled in short order, we will begin to see mass layoffs of nurses, teachers, school custodians and firefighters. Of course, these budget cuts will only spread and deepen the ongoing economic crisis.If the U.S. had handled COVID at Vietnam’s level of competence over the past eight months, then fewer than 100 U.S. residents in total would be dead today from the pandemic.

The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives did pass a second, and even larger, $3 trillion stimulus measure, the HEROES Act, back in May. It included $1 trillion in support for state and local governments. But Trump and the Senate Republican majority have blocked action on this for the past three months. Meanwhile, 16 million workers have now lost their $600 per week in supplemental benefits and state and local governments are teetering on collapse. Trump appears to want to make unemployed workers and public sector programs starve, perhaps so he can appear to swoop in and bail them out right before November’s election. Trump has held out a “compromise” proposal with Democrats. This would feature a payroll tax cut that would permanently decimate Social Security and Medicare. Trump also wants any new stimulus program to also incorporate his current top priority, which is to destroy the U.S. Postal Service in time to prevent people from voting against him through mail balloting.

The U.S. and Europe have addressed coronavirus-induced unemployment in fundamentally different ways, with the European approach seeking to maintain a stable work environment through subsidies to companies and by effectively nationalizing payrolls, while the U.S. approach seeks to foster a flexible labor market, and in fact, encourage workers, as Ivanka Trump put it, to “find something new” because old jobs are not coming back. The end result is that while unemployment levels have skyrocketed in the U.S. due to the coronavirus pandemic, many European countries have seen an increase of less than 1 percentage point in the jobless rate. Isn’t this strong enough reason why the U.S. needs a European-style social-welfare state?

Back in April, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington, a leader of the House Progressive Caucus, introduced the Paycheck Guarantee Act. Under this proposal, the federal government would provide grants to all private- and public-sector employers of all sizes to enable them to maintain their operations and keep all of their workers on payroll, despite the falloff in revenues these entities will have experienced resulting from the pandemic and lockdown. Through this program, there would not have been significant increases in unemployment. Workers would also not have lost their employer-based health care coverage. This plan was similar in design and scope to policies that were in place in several European economies, including Germany, the U.K., Denmark and France.

Four months later, the results of the failure of the U.S. to pass the Jayapal proposal are before us. As of the most recent figures of this past June and July, U.S. unemployment was at 10.2 percent, while the rates for countries that had Jayapal-type programs in place included the U.K. at 3.9 percent, Germany at 4.2 percent, Denmark at 5.8 percent and France with the highest rate, at 7.7 percent. The average for the full European Union was 6.2 percent. For the U.S. economy, the difference between having an unemployment rate of 10.2 percent versus 6.2 percent translates into 6.4 million people without work — i.e. more people than the entire populations of Los Angeles and Chicago combined. In addition, a minimum of 15 million people — including unemployed workers and their family members — lost their employer-sponsored health insurance as U.S. unemployment rose.35 percent of the entire U.S. labor force filed unemployment claims between March and August.

So yes, certainly, on average, Europe has handled the unemployment crisis much better than the U.S. But this is not the time to be making sweeping endorsements of recent policies [and] actions in Europe. In terms of managing the COVID crisis, the U.K., France, Italy, Spain and even Sweden have death rates comparable to that in the U.S. Unemployment is 15.6 percent in Spain under a Socialist government, and is at 9.2 percent in Sweden under the Social Democrats.

In fact, European policymakers have been undermining their welfare state policies for 40 years now, since the ascendance of neoliberalism, beginning with the election of Margaret Thatcher in the U.K. in 1979. It is a valuable exercise for us to envision what the late, great economist Robert Heilbroner used to call “slightly imaginary Sweden.” But in doing so, we need to recognize that egalitarian policies in Sweden today bear only a weak resemblance to the robust welfare state that operated 40 years ago.

According to many health experts, coronavirus may never go away even when vaccines arrive, and the coronavirus recession may indeed become a long depression. In such a case, how can we best combat cyclical unemployment and ensure that there is no precipitous decline in the standard of living for working-class and middle-class Americans?

I am certainly no expert for assessing how long it is likely to take to bring COVID-19 under control in the U.S., or assessing the likelihood that it could remain as a public health threat indefinitely. But in the event that we are faced with a virus that we cannot adequately control, even through universal vaccinations, then I would say it is time to start learning from Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, and — in a great historic irony — maybe especially Vietnam about how to create a public health system that minimizes the spread of the illness. Step one would be to establish Medicare for All, so that every U.S. resident has access to good-quality health care, without having to fear financial ruin should they get sick with COVID or anything else. Creating something resembling a minimally effective public health system through Medicare for All would, in turn, enable us in the U.S. to advance a sustainable recovery on the foundation of a Green New Deal.It is time to start learning from Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, and maybe especially Vietnam about how to create a public health system that minimizes the spread of the illness.

Over the longer-term horizon, the Green New Deal can equally serve as the foundation for building a full employment economy. As a technical matter, it is not hard to figure out a policy framework that can deliver full employment. The Western European countries, after all, ran near-full employment economies from roughly the end of World War II to the mid-1970s. Indeed, the main accomplishment of neoliberalism in Europe, starting with Margaret Thatcher, was to break the back of this then-dominant full employment policy framework. To sustain full employment over the long-term, we first and foremost need government policies committed to maintaining levels of public investment that will be sufficient to create an abundance of decent jobs at all levels of society. It is also obvious that, at this historical juncture, we desperately need large-scale public investments for at least a generation to build a green economy. As such, the full employment policy framework merges fully with the matter of saving the planet.

Should the Biden-Harris ticket win in November, do you expect that we will see fundamental changes in government response to the quadruple crises of health, climate change, racial injustice and a ravaged economy?

It is no secret that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are both corporate- and Wall Street-friendly Democrats. If we are going to wait for them to enact fundamental changes in U.S. government policies, it is going to be an awfully long wait. But it is also clear that the Democratic Party can be pushed to the left — or, to put it more accurately — the Democrats can be pushed to support, among other things, a public health system that can save lives and deliver quality health care at much lower costs than we now pay, and a Green New Deal program that can prevent a climate catastrophe while also serving as the foundation of a full employment economy. Stamping out racism and sexism will also have to be central to any such agenda. Making progress in fighting racism and sexism will, in turn, also be greatly strengthened within a broad agenda advancing equality and ecological policy.

We know that the Democrats can be pushed in this direction by comparing the official platform they are enacting this week relative to what they passed in 2016. The current platform is far more progressive than the 2016 version under Hillary Clinton. It’s true that such platforms are almost entirely ignored the day after they become ratified at the party’s conventions, if not sooner. But that brings us to the real question, which is: Who is capable of effectively pushing the Democratic Party to embrace the truly progressive features of the party platform? It will have to be the range of organizations and people that have been committed to such projects for a long time — including grassroots groups, such as the Labor Network for Sustainability, Jobs with Justice, and many more, as well as progressive groups, such as Progressive Democrats of America and the House Progressive Caucus. If we are going to succeed in building a transformative political project emerging out of our current historic moment of multiple and severe crises, grassroots and progressive groups are the ones who will make it happen — certainly not Joe Biden or Kamala Harris.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Posted in USA, Health, Human RightsComments Off on If Trump Had Followed Vietnam’s Lead on COVID, US Would Have Fewer Than 100 Dead

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