As we face the stark reality that one in seven Americans are projected to have resources below the poverty level in 2021, the world demands systemic solutions. No problem as widespread as poverty in America and across the world can be blamed entirely on the individuals and families that poverty affects — though some would certainly argue this point.
Approaching poverty systemically may be the only way we can make progress at any significant rate. From minimum wage to criminal justice reform, systemic changes have the potential to make a real impact on poverty at a national level. Adopted at scale, systemic solutions can help end the global travesty that is poverty.
But understanding potential fixes requires first assessing the causes of poverty. With a systemic approach, we can broaden the picture and give context to the millions of families struggling with a lack of resources. In turn, working solutions can become much clearer.
Assessing the Causes of Poverty
A host of factors contribute to the problem of poverty. From geographical locations where access to jobs and opportunities is scarce to faulty education systems that add to the problem of generation poverty, the causes of inequality on a massive scale are far-ranging and nebulous. While a world without any poverty may be difficult to imagine, addressing the root causes behind the millions without access to resources — even in countries as wealthy as America — can help give us the tools to make systemic changes.
Here are three of the most prominent causes of widespread poverty:
Often, the poverty problem goes hand-in-hand with a lack of access to jobs that pay a living wage. Either these are leaving cities in the post-industrial economic shift, or the jobs that remain simply do not pay enough. In fact, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that as many as 11.4% of full-time, year-round American workers were not being paid enough to break past poverty thresholds. For CEOs, however, the situation is much different. From 1978 to 2019, CEO pay increased by 1,167%. For typical workers, wages grew only 13.7% in the same period.
The problem of wage inequality is only compounded by the social injustice still commonly experienced by women and minorities in the sectors of the economy they more often occupy. The EPI found that female workers were paid poverty wages at a greater rate than men (13.5% compared to 9.6% of men). Meanwhile, destructive austerity policies like those employed in the UK disproportionately impact women, children, and minorities, pushing vulnerable families into greater levels of poverty. Social injustice keeps certain groups from getting ahead, a problem caused by poor governmental representation, underpayment in sectors of the economy like service, and limited access to other necessary resources like childcare.
Lack of Resources
Finally, the limits of resources and their even geographical spread equate to greater levels of poverty. For example, UNESCO has found that if all students in low-income countries were given the education to acquire elementary reading skills, as many as 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty. Limited access to education, clean water, food, and healthcare all contribute to poverty around the world. Now, climate change threatens access to food and water in various regions, meaning the problem will only get worse without systemic solutions.
Applying Systemic Changes
Applying solutions on a scale large enough to make a real difference requires understanding the causes of poverty and combating them at their source. With that achieved, we can propose informed solutions at a systemic level that may play a role in elevating families out of poverty and establishing greater levels of equality throughout the world. From federal minimum wages to education systems, this is much more possible than you might imagine.
Addressing Pay Disparities and Social Injustice
First, we can address the problem of wage inequality. This can start with a minimum wage increase, which has the power to impact the lives of 32 million workers. The Raise the Wage Act of 2021, for example, is projected to make a huge difference in the lives of workers relegated to low-wage work, which are disproportionately people of color. In fact, by lifting the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, the 23% of the workforce made up of Black women and Latinas would experience an annual income boost between $3,500 and $3,700 per individual.
Additionally, we can create legislation that ties CEO pay to that of their workforce. There is no conscionable reason that CEOs should be making hundreds of times more a year than their employees. Shareholders often do not even understand the pay packages they offer CEOs, and higher rates of pay have been associated with poorer market performance. With tax incentives for more equitable pay ratios, we can better combat inequality on a systemic level.
Building Better Resources
Then, we can better address the resource discrepancies on a global scale. From education to criminal justice systems, resources are needed to mitigate the damages of poverty and curb the cycles of poverty born by system problems. Social workers are needed to empower and advocate for communities all over the world, educating them about the resources available to them and providing even more. Schools must support their students with programs designed to elevate them based on specific needs, while criminal justice reform must support re-entry.
All these resources can help a family survive unexpected financial hardships, especially after COVID. In the era of mass global financial instability, giving communities across the world the means to succeed will help eradicate poverty. Through education, opportunity, and equity, we can ensure that talent and ability aren’t lost to the shackles of social injustice that hold too many individuals back. But we must ensure that systemic solutions are built with and for the families they target.
By advocating for systemic change, you can support a richer, better world. Start now by exploring the needs of your community and supporting legislation that improves pay and resource accessibility.
To conceal the economic and social decline that continues to unfold at home and abroad, major newspapers are working overtime to promote happy economic news. Many headlines are irrational and out of touch. They make no sense. Desperation to convince everyone that all is well or all will soon be great is very high. The assault on economic science and coherence is intense. Working in concert, and contrary to the lived experience of millions of people, many newspapers are declaring miraculous “economic growth rates” for country after country. According to the rich and their media, numerous countries are experiencing or are on the cusp of experiencing very strong “come-backs” or “complete recoveries.” Very high rates of annual economic growth, generally not found in any prior period, are being floated regularly. The numbers defy common sense.
In reality, economic and social problems are getting worse nationally and internationally.
“Getting back to the pre-Covid standard will take time,” said Carmen Reinhart, the World Bank’s chief economist. “The aftermath of Covid isn’t going to reverse for a lot of countries. Far from it.” Even this recent statement is misleading because it implies that pre-Covid economic conditions were somehow good or acceptable when things have actually been going downhill for decades. Most economies never really “recovered” from the economic collapse of 2008. Most countries are still running on gas fumes while poverty, unemployment, under-employment, inequality, debt, food insecurity, generalized anxiety, and other problems keep worsening. And today, with millions of people fully vaccinated and trillions of phantom dollars, euros, and yen printed by the world’s central banks, there is still no real and sustained stability, prosperity, security, or harmony. People everywhere are still anxious about the future. Pious statements from world leaders about “fixing” capitalism have done nothing to reverse the global economic decline that started years ago and was intensified by the “COVID Pandemic.”
In the U.S. alone, in real numbers, about 3-4 million people a month have been laid off for 13 consecutive months. At no other time in U.S. history has such a calamity on this scale happened. This has “improved” slightly recently but the number of people being laid off every month remains extremely high and troubling. In New York State, for example:
the statewide [official] unemployment rate remains the second highest in the country at just under 9%. One year after the start of the pandemic and the recession it caused, most of the jobs New York lost still have not come back. (emphasis added, April 2021).
In addition, nationally the number of long-term unemployed remains high and the labor force participation rate remains low. And most new jobs that are “created” are not high-paying jobs with good benefits and security. The so-called “Gig Economy” has beleaguered millions.
Some groups have been more adversely affected than others. In April 2021, U.S. News & World Report conveyed that:
In February 2020, right before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, Black women had an employment to population ratio of 60.8%; that now stands at 54.8%, a drop of 6 percentage points.
The obsolete U.S. economic system has discarded more than half a million black women from the labor force in the past year.
In December 2019, around the time the “COVID Pandemic” began to emerge, Brookingsreported that:
An estimated 53 million people—44 percent of all U.S. workers ages 18–64—are low-wage workers. That’s more than twice the number of people in the 10 most populous U.S. cities combined. Their median hourly wage is $10.22, and their median annual earnings are $17,950.
The Federal Reservereports that 37 percent of Americans in 2019 did not have $400 to cover an unanticipated emergency. In Louisiana alone, 1 out of 5 families today are living at the poverty level. Sadly, “60% of Americans will live below the official poverty line for at least one year of their lives.” While American billionaires became $1.3 trillion richer, about 8 million Americans joined the ranks of the poor during the “COVID Pandemic.”
And more inflation will make things worse for more people. A March 2021 headline from NBC Newsreads: “The price of food and gas is creeping higher — and will stay that way for a while.” ABC News goes further in April 2021 and says that “the post-pandemic economy will include higher prices, worse service, longer delays.”
Homelessness in the U.S. is also increasing:
COVID-driven loss of jobs and employment income will cause the number of homeless workers to increase each year through 2023. Without large-scale, government employment programs the Pandemic Recession is projected to cause twice as much homelessness as the 2008 Great Recession. Over the next four years the current Pandemic Recession is projected to cause chronic homelessness to increase 49 percent in the United States, 68 percent in California and 86 percent in Los Angeles County. [The homeless include the] homeless on the streets, shelter residents and couch surfers. (emphasis added, January 11, 2021)
Perhaps ironically, just “Two blocks from the Federal Reserve, a growing encampment of the homeless grips the economy’s most powerful person [Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell].”
Officially, about four million businesses, including more than 110,000 restaurants, have permanently closed in the U.S. over the past 14 months. In April 2021 Business Insiderstated that, “roughly 80,000 stores are doomed to close in the next 5 years as the retail apocalypse continues to rip through America.” The real figure is likely higher.
Bankruptcies have also risen in some sectors. For example, bankruptcies by North American oil producers “rose to the highest first-quarter level since 2016.”
In March 2021 the Economic Policy Institutereported that “more than 25 million workers are directly harmed by the COVID labor market.” Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are more than 100 applicants for each job opening in some sectors.
Given the depth and breadth of the economic collapse in the U.S., it is no surprise that “1 in 6 Americans went into therapy for the first time in 2020.” The number of people affected by depression, anxiety, addiction, and suicide worldwide as a direct result of the long depression is very high. These harsh facts and realities are also linked to more violence, killings, protests, demonstrations, social unrest, and riots worldwide.
In terms of physical health, “Sixty-one percent of U.S. adults report undesired weight changes since the COVID-19 pandemic began.” This will only exacerbate the diabetes pandemic that has been ravaging more countries every year.
On another front, the Pew Research Centerinforms us that, as a result of the economic collapse that has unfolded over the past year, “A majority of young adults in the U.S. live with their parents for the first time since the Great Depression.” And it does not help that student debt now exceeds $1.7 trillion and is still climbing rapidly.
Millions of college faculty have also suffered greatly over the past year. A recent survey by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) found that:
real wages for full-time faculty decreased for the first time since the Great Recession[in 2008], and average wage growth for all ranks of full-time faculty was the lowest since the AAUP began tracking annual wage growth in 1972. After adjusting for inflation, real wages decreased at over two-thirds of colleges and universities. The number of full-time faculty decreased at over half of institutions.
This does not account for the thousands of higher education adjuncts (part-time faculty) and staff that lost their jobs permanently.
In April 2021, the Center on Budget & Policy Prioritiesstated that, “millions of people are still without their pre-pandemic income sources and are borrowing to get by.” Specifically:
54 million adults said they didn’t use regular income sources like those received before the pandemic to meet their spending needs in the last seven days.
50 million used credit cards or loans to meet spending needs.
20 million borrowed from friends or family. (These three groups overlap.)
The pandemic’s disruption has created inescapable financial strain for many Americans. Nearly 2 of 5 of adults have postponed major financial decisions, from buying cars or houses to getting married or having children, due to the coronavirus crisis, according to a survey last week from Bankrate.com. Among younger adults, ages 18 to 34, some 59 percent said they had delayed a financial milestone. (emphasis added)
The U.S. economy has seen a long-term decline in capacity utilization in manufacturing, which has averaged 78 percent from 1972 to 2019—well below levels that stimulate net investment. (emphasis added, January 1, 2021).
Capitalist firms will not invest in new ventures or projects when there is little or no profit to be made, which is why major owners of capital are engaged in even more stock market manipulation than ever before. “Casino capitalism” is intensifying. This, in turn, is giving rise to even larger stock market bubbles that will eventually burst and wreak even more havoc than previous stock market crashes. The inability to make profit through normal investment channels is also why major owners of capital are imposing more public-private “partnerships” (PPPs) on people and society through neoliberal state restructuring. Such pay-the-rich schemes further marginalize workers and exacerbate inequality, debt, and poverty. PPPs solve no problems and must be replaced by human-centered economic arrangements.
The International Labor Organizationestimates that the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs have been lost globally as a result of government actions over the past 13-14 months.
In March of this year, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations reported that, “Acute hunger is set to soar in over 20 countries in the coming months without urgent and scaled-up assistance.” The FAO says, “”The magnitude of suffering is alarming.”
And according to Reuters, “Overall, global FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] had collapsed in 2020, falling by 42% to an estimated $859 billion, from $1.5 trillion in 2019, according to the UNCTAD report.” UNCTAD stands for United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
The international organization Oxfamtells us that:
The coronavirus pandemic has the potential to lead to an increase in inequality in almost every country at once, the first time this has happened since records began…. Billionaire fortunes returned to their pre-pandemic highs in just nine months, while recovery for the world’s poorest people could take over a decade. (emphasis added, January 25, 2021)
According to the World Bank, “The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed about 120 million people into extreme poverty over the last year in mostly low- and middle-income countries.” And despite the roll-out of vaccines in various countries:
the economic implications of the pandemic are deep and far-reaching. It is ushering in a “new poor” profile that is more urban, better educated, and reliant on informal sector work such as construction, relative to the existing global poor (those living on less than $1.90/day) who are more rural and heavily reliant on agriculture. (emphasis added)
Pew Research Center, using World Bank data, has estimated that the number of poor in India (with income of $2 per day or less in purchasing power parity) has more than doubled from 60 million to 134 million in just a year due to the pandemic-induced recession. This means, India is back in a situation to be called a “country of mass poverty” after 45 years. (emphasis added)
In Europe, there is no end in sight to the economic decline that keeps unfolding. The United Kingdom, for example, experienced its worst economy in literally 300 years:
The economy in the U.K. contracted 9.9 percent in 2020, the worst year on record since 1709, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a report on Friday (Feb. 12). The overall economic drop in 2020 was more than double in 2009, when U.K. GDP declined 4.1 percent due to the worldwide financial crisis. Britain experienced the biggest annual decline among the G7 economies — France saw its economy decline 8.3 percent, Italy dropped 8.8 percent, Germany declined 5 percent and the U.S. contracted 3.5 percent. (emphasis added)
Another source also notes that, “The Eurozone is being haunted by ‘ghost bankruptcies,’ with more than 200,000 firms across the European Union’s four biggest nations under threat when Covid financial lifelines stop.” In another sign of economic decline, this time in Asia, Argus Mediareported in April 2021 that Japan’s 2020-21 crude steel output fell to a 52-year low.
Taken alone, on a country-by-country basis, these are not minor economic downturns, but when viewed as a collective cumulative global phenomenon, the consequences are more serious. It is a big problem when numerous economies decline simultaneously. The world is more interdependent and interconnected than ever. What happens in one region necessarily affects other regions.
One could easily go country by country and region by region and document many tragic economic developments that are still unfolding and worsening. Argentina, Lebanon, Colombia, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, Jordan, South Africa, Nigeria, and dozens of other countries are all experiencing major economic setbacks and hardships that will take years to overcome and will negatively affect the economies of other countries in an increasingly interdependent world. And privatization schemes around the world are just making conditions worse for the majority of people. Far from solving any problems, neoliberalism has made everything worse for working people and society.
It is too soon for capitalist ideologues to be euphoric about “miraculous economic growth and success.” There is no meaningful evidence to show that there is deep, significant, sustained economic growth on a broad scale. There is tremendous economic carnage and pain out there, and the scarring and consequences are going to linger for some time. No one believes that a big surge of well-paying jobs is right around the corner. Nor does anyone believe that more schemes to pay the rich under the banner of high ideals will improve things either.
Relentless disinformation about the economy won’t solve any problems or convince people that they are not experiencing what they are experiencing. Growing poverty, hunger, homelessness, unemployment, under-employment, debt, inequality, anxiety, and insecurity are real and painful. They require real solutions put forward by working people, not major owners of capital concerned only with maximizing private profit as fast as possible.
The economy cannot improve and serve a pro-social aim and direction so long as those who produce society’s wealth, workers, are disempowered and denied any control of the economy they run. Allowing major decisions to be made by a historically superfluous financial oligarchy is not the way forward. The rich and their representatives are unfit to rule and have no real solutions for the recurring crises caused by their outmoded system. They are focused mainly on depriving people of an outlook that opens the path of progress to society.
There is no way for the massive wealth of society to be used to serve the general interests of society so long as the contradiction between the socialized nature of the economy and its continued domination by competing private interests remain unresolved. All we are left with are recurring economic crises that take a bigger and bigger toll on humanity. To add insult to injury, we are told that there is no alternative to this outdated system, and that the goal is to strive for “inclusive capitalism,” “ethical capitalism,” “responsible capitalism,” or some other oxymoron.
But there is an alternative. Existing conditions do not have to be eternal or tolerated. History shows that conditions that favor the people can be established. The rich must be deprived of their ability to deprive the people of their rights, including the right to govern their own affairs and control the economy. The economy, government, nation-building, and society must be controlled and directed by the people themselves, free of the influence of narrow private interests determined to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone and everything else.
The rich and their political and media representatives are under great pressure to distort social consciousness, undermine the human factor, and block progress. The necessity for change is for humanity to rise up and usher in a modern society that ensures prosperity, stability, and peace for all. It can be done and must be done.
While a new American administration presides over what many believe is a return to normal after the more openly blatant worship of wealth and Israel of the Trump regime, what’s missed is that what passes for normal is what needs radical change. As long as market normalcy in the USA means hundreds of thousands of people are homeless, millions more live in poverty and millions more than that are so much deeper in personal debt than ever before in our history that the World Bank warns of the possibility of social collapse, what passes for normal is not just highly judgmental but criminally immoral. Especially when a mincing step forward domestically is accompanied by a crippled giant stride backward in foreign policy.
This while more than half a million Americans have died in a pandemic that has already wreaked economic havoc among almost all the general population while some millionaires have become multi millionaires, some multi millionaires have become billionaires and some billionaires approach becoming trillionaires. As this market “normality “awaits the hopeful arrival of a Green New Deal, named after the world war two version which created a middle class by spending billions of public dollars to aid survival of the richest while allowing enough of their money to trickle down to pass for a welfare state form of capitalism, it now actually threatens to bring on even more dreadfulness to an even greater population.
A couple of trillion in government spending is proposed now when tens of trillions are needed but will never be found under the market forces of private profit normalcy. The goal must be a radical restructuring of the political economic value system that treats earth, air, water and human beings as commodities to be bought, sold and rented in pursuit of enormous private profit for an ever shrinking number as hundreds of millions diversely sink lower in class status under the burden of bearing the staggering public loss of dollars, humanity and nature itself.
While this seemingly hopeful program of another new deal for domestic progress is proposed in order to save capitalism once again by muffling if not smothering calls for more radical change, the old deal of the murderous warfare state is even more dangerous than ever, with the amateurs of the Trump regime replaced by more experienced creators of policies of mass murder to preserve the alleged chosen people status of American capital and its servant class of more diverse than ever professionals who arrange minority rule and convince people it‘s democracy.
The old cold war against communism and socialism in Russia and China is more fervently being waged against those now capitalist nations offering a greater menace to what is called “western civilization”. This is defined as peace, democracy and humanism to disguise its base on colonialism, slavery and the mass murders of world wars one, two and the great slaughters that followed in Asia and the rest of the world not worthy enough to be rated as civilization by creatures who would make savage predatory beasts seem humanitarians, poets and lovers by comparison.
Naturally, this new Chinese and Russian capitalism is treated as massive terror and desperately in need of trillions spent on the military, which adequately protects the American troops ringing the Russian border and American ships sailing the South China Sea but is helpless to protect Americans being murdered in America by neighbors, workmates, the police and other patriots. Nor are they/we protected by having tens of thousands of military personnel at hundreds of military bases thousands of miles from America’s shores. This is sold to a mentally imprisoned population as a defense of America and rationalized by a brilliant leadership that might have trouble understanding that it should put its socks on before not after its shoes while spending trillions on warfare and offering no help at all to tens of millions of Americans without health care or shelter.
Despite the unrelenting intellectual and moral sewage being forced into the mental diet of innocent participants in what is called our sacred democracy, newer generations contain more critical numbers than ever speaking out, organizing and showing signs of no more tolerance for this weaponized mass murdering drivel. Even while under assault reducing the common needs of all to alleged minorities by our ruler imposed doctrines of identity to reduce a majority to squabbling over which group has suffered more with least suffering getting the most, far more are resisting that divide and conquer program to save the system by divisive race, ethnic and sexual bigotry.
Current mind mashing daily bulletins about Putin’s being a murderer and Chinese preforming genocide on Islamic people are part of the daily diet of intellectual sewage that passes for reporting in the news marketplace, more minds are being destroyed while more wealth is created by the media servants of capital. Daily bulletins inform (?) us that China is brutalizing Islamic Chinese and committing “genocide”, the popular term to use when anybody dies anywhere but where the term and the idea were born, while we lecture them on how to destroy the Islamic world for Israel and capital, commit mass murder and slaughter tens of thousands, destroy nations and reduce millions to poverty. If there were a judgmental, righteous and vindictive deity such as the one created by the more sadistic episodes of Old Testament mythology that had one destroy the planet because of false worship or a bad migraine, there might be a cataclysmic explosion, earthquake, holocaust and plague every fifteen minutes until our nation was obliterated. Luckily, we only have to deal with the largest population of earth dwellers growing fed up with a material reality forced on them by allegedly higher forms of humans practicing a form of political economics that might create a Department of Rape and call it a Ministry of Love
Rather than having to deal with a strengthened coalition of nuclear armed nations sick and tired of suffering abuse from an international bully and able to respond to any attack with their own powers of mass murder, we can only hope that Eastern Capitalist media may soon retaliate by offering lessons in humanity to the western civilization (?) by describing how it is possible to end poverty by investing in people rather than murdering them.
In China, a nation of nearly one and a half billion people, nearly 90% of them own their own homes. In Russia, another brutal capitalist horde assaulting our mythological democracy, which has never elected a president by majority of the electorate, 80% of the people own their homes. Worst of all, the savage state of communist Cuba has 90% of its people in homes they own, and this accomplished under years of brutal economic assault by an alleged “great power” 90 miles away. Isn’t that terrifying?
A part of Islamic teaching claims there is no god but god, which is a belief system that can work for good or bad because it’s a faith-based belief. Material reality says that there is no race but human and that is a material fact, a scientific reality and not simply a belief. The sooner we rise above good or evil teachings about cultural truths (?) and face material reality which is just that, we who identify as human beings can create democracy, the best deal for humanity.
In the words of an anonymous Vegas dealer, we don’t need a new deal: we need an entirely new deck. To bring that about, the people will have to take ownership of not just the gambling casino but every aspect of material reality that affects the public good. That sounds strange because it represents democracy, a deal we’ve never had as a people but only a charade of our rulers and their professional – and more “diverse” than ever – servant class. We need to give meaning to the word, and very soon, which means we need a political party that represents the public good, and an economy that does the same. Give that whatever label makes you feel best, but do it soon or we might not have much of a later.
The American Rescue Plan (ARP) was passed in the House this past week and now heads to the Senate, where it will no doubt be changed before it becomes law some time in mid-March. The current unemployment benefits expire on March 14.
While we don’t know what the final bill will look like, at least now we can get an idea of what is in it. Overall, as expected, the provisions in the bill will help to provide some financial assistance to some people, but they won’t solve the crises we face. And the Biden administration is backtracking on promises made on the campaign trail.
As Alan Macleod writes, Biden has abandoned raising the minimum wage, ending student debt and the promised $2,000 checks. His focus is on forcing people back to work and school even as new, more infectious and more lethal variants of the virus causing COVID-19 threaten another surge in cases and deaths. There is only one promise Biden appears to be keeping, and that is one he made to wealthy donors at the start of his campaign when he said, “nothing would fundamentally change.”
Despite this, people are organizing across the country for their rights to economic security and health and an end to discrimination. These struggles are necessary as we cannot expect either of the capitalist parties to act in the people’s interest. But together, we can demand that one of the wealthiest nations on earth upholds its responsibility to provide the basic necessities for its people. This is consistent with a People(s)-Centered Human Rights approach.
What is and isn’t in the ARP?
The current version of the American Rescue Plan contains provisions that would provide money to people earning less than $75,000 per year. One is the one-time $1,400 check. Another is raising the tax credit for families with children, which will benefit those who file tax returns but leave out the millions of poor people who don’t.
The ARP will also extend unemployment benefits until the end of August and increase the enhanced benefits to $400/week. Unlike the previous bills, this one includes workers who left their jobs because of unsafe conditions and those who had to leave work or reduce their hours to care for children. The benefits are retroactive for some workers who were denied benefits.
While this will temporarily improve the economic situation for many people, it is not a plan to address the poverty crisis in the United States nor is it sufficient to support people through the current recession and pandemic. People will still face barriers to receiving the aid. Instead of making the programs something that people have to apply for, the government could provide monthly checks to everyone with incomes under a certain amount automatically. Numerous examples show that putting money into people’s hands, such as through a guaranteed income or giving unrestricted lump sums, improves their well-being.
An increase in the federal minimum wage to $15/hour, a promise of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, is in the House version of the bill, but it will not be in the Senate version unless the White House or Democrats intervene, which they seem unwilling to do. The minimum wage increase is being blocked by the Senate Parliamentarian, but the Vice President could override the decision or the Democrats could take steps to work around the Parliamentarian, as has been done in the past on other issues. They are choosing not to take this stand.
The ARP also fails to extend the eviction moratorium, which will expire at the end of March. While it does contain funds for rental assistance, they are being given to the Treasury Department to disburse to the states, so it is not clear how these funds will help people directly. A recent study found that corporate landlords received hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks last year but continued to evict thousands of people. When the eviction moratorium ends, those who cannot pay the back rent risk being evicted.
The health benefits in the ARP are not only inadequate but they are set to further enrich the medical-industrial complex, as I explain in “Biden’s Health Plan Shifts Even More Public Dollars into Private Hands.” The ARP is fulfilling a laundry list provided by private health insurers, hospitals and medical lobbying groups. It will subsidize the cost of insurance premiums but leave those who have health insurance still struggling to pay out-of-pocket costs and at risk of bankruptcy if they have a serious accident or illness.
And finally, another group that is being left out is those who have student debt. I spoke with Alan Collinge of Student Loan Justice on Clearing the FOG this week. He said the current student loan burden is likely over $2 trillion and that the vast majority of debtors will never be able to repay . Collinge argues that it is imperative the Biden administration cancel student debt using an executive order, which he has the power to do, rather than leaving it to Congress. If the President does it, then the debt disappears (tax payers have already paid for the loans), but if Congress does it, which is unlikely to happen, they would have to offset the ‘cost’ through cuts to other programs or by raising taxes. Collinge also explains that cancelling student debt would be a significant economic stimulus.
All in all, the current ARP is another attempt by Congress to throw more money at a failed system that doesn’t change anything fundamentally. We must demand more.
The case for wealth redistribution
Lee Camp recently made the case for a massive change in the direction of wealth redistribution based on a new study that finds “the cumulative tab for our four-decade-long experiment in radical inequality has grown to over $47 trillion from 1975 through 2018. At a recent pace of about $2.5 trillion a year, that number we estimate crossed the $50 trillion mark by early 2020.” This amounts to over $1,000 per month per person in wealth that has been redistributed to the top or almost $14,000 per year.
It is time to reverse the direction of this wealth redistribution from one of consolidation at the top to one that creates greater wealth equality. This could be accomplished in a number of ways. In the middle of the last century, it was done through extremely high taxes on the wealthy and government investment in programs for housing and education. Camp advocates for taking all wealth over $10 million and redistributing it to the bottom 99.5% in a way that benefits the poorest the most.
Raising wages is another way to redistribute wealth. Professor Richard Wolff explains there are ways to raise wages without harming small businesses by providing federal support to them to offset the costs. Think of it as a reversal of the hundreds of billions in subsidies that have been given to large corporations, which they use to buy up and inflate the value of their stocks, to the small and medium businesses. It is smaller businesses that are most likely to keep wealth in their communities, unlike large corporations that extract wealth, and are the major drivers of the US economy. Small businesses alone comprise 44% of US Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
If workers earned higher wages, it would also save the government money that is currently spent on social safety net programs such as Medicaid and food stamps for low-wage workers. These programs enable large corporations to profit off worker exploitation, especially Walmart, Amazon and McDonalds, according to the DC Report.
Robert Urie points out that another price society pays for the gaping wealth divide is state violence and incarceration. He writes, “At $24 per hour, the inflation and productivity adjusted minimum wage in the U.S. from 1968, workers were still being added to employer payrolls. The point: $24 – $7.25 = $16.75 per hour plus a rate of profit is one measure of economic expropriation from low wage workers in the U.S. Maintaining an unjust public order is critical to the functioning of this exploitative political economy. Most of the prison population in the U.S. comes from neighborhoods where the minimum wage affects livelihoods.” Imagine the many ways that greater economic security would positively benefit families and communities.
People are fighting back
In our current political environment, we cannot expect Congress and the White House to do what is necessary to protect the health and security of people without a struggle that forces them to do so. There are many ways people are fighting locally for their rights through resistance and creating alternative systems. Here are a few current examples.
On February 16, fast food workers in 15 cities went on strike to demand $15 an hour. Other low-wage workers joined them. Last Monday, in Chicago, Black owners of McDonalds franchises began a 90-day protest outside of the McDonalds headquarters because of discrimination against them. They say, “McDonald’s has denied the Black franchisees the same opportunities as white operators and continually steer them to economically depressed and dangerous areas with low volume sales.”
In Bessemer, Alabama, workers are conducting a vote to start the first union for Amazon employees. If they succeed, it will be an amazing feat considering that Alabama is a right-to-work state and Amazon is doing what it can to stop them. In Arizona, another right-to-work state, workers at two universities are leading an effort to unionize all higher education employees in the state. They are concerned that federal funding provided to keep universities open will not be used in a way that protects all workers. They cite recent practices that prioritize the financial well-being of the universities over worker health and safety.
Some workers are taking power in other ways. Bus drivers in Silicon Valley organized with the support of community members to stop fare collections and only allow boarding in the rear, moves designed to aid passengers during the recession and protect drivers during the pandemic. They were committed to doing this whether management agreed to it or not. Others are building worker-owned platform cooperatives to challenge platform corporations that exploit their labor such as Spotify and Uber.
Others are working to meet people’s basic needs through mutual aid. Food not Bombs has been feeding people throughout the pandemic in various cities. In Santa Cruz, CA, they are out every day to feed the houseless despite being hassled by the city and moved around. A rural area in Canada that includes 65,000 people pulled together it local resources to make sure everyone is fed through a food policy council of elected officials, organizations and stakeholders. They reallocated their budget from events and travel to food security. They opened their seed banks to support local gardening efforts and commandeered unused buildings as spaces for assembling food boxes that were delivered to those in need.
These examples illustrate the tremendous power people have to force changes and create support networks in their communities when they organize together. While we should continue to expose and pressure Congress and the White House to invest in programs that provide for people’s needs, that is a function of government after all, we also need to organize in our communities to build popular power and create alternative systems that will slowly build the society we need.
Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can quietly become a power no government can suppress, a power than can transform the world.
A December 2017 statement from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights notes that, while the US manages to spend “more [money] on national defence than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan combined”, US infant mortality rates were, as of 2013, “the highest in the developed world”.
The Special Rapporteur provides a barrage of other details from his own visit to the US, during which he was able to observe the country’s “bid to become the most unequal society in the world” – with some 40 million people living in poverty – as well as assess “soaring death rates and family and community destruction wrought by prescription and other drug addiction”.
Capitalism, it seems, is a deadly business indeed.
A demonstrator from the Occupy Wall Street campaign seen with a dollar taped over his mouth as he stands near the financial district of New York September 30, 2011. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
How the Cookie Crumbles
She’s 80, comes from Ayr, Scotland, lives in a sea town along the Oregon Coast. She is caretaker for her 55-year-old nephew. Her heart-failed husband, liver shot through, dialysis weekly, is another of her charges.
Imagine, she and her family ran a small chain of shops — clocks, another locksmith, another fish and chips. That was in Bonnie Scotland.
Her sister married a bloke in the US Air Force, and she shipped out with him. Pregnant. Child Drew, early on, in Tucson at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, he was diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. Life for her changed, and then her sister promised if anything happened to this sister, Aunt Regina would take care of Drew. That was a long long time ago.
Regina’s sister and her sister’s husband immolated in a crash coming back from El Paso. Boy Drew left with a younger sister — the boy age 20, sis 16.
For 35 years, our Regina and her Bob raised the boy. Drew is now 55, and part of my job is to support him in his job at a grocery store. He’s been there more than 15 years, and he makes $12.01 an hour.
Forget that economic injustice for a moment. Listen to how the crumbling cookie goes in predatory capitalism — Regina has not been back to the old country in 20 years. She has two knees that are shot. She needs two replacements, but she is the caretaker for the chronically-sick husband. Drew lives with them, getting his two-times a week work at the grocery store as a bagger.
He’s got the infectious personality, and he also has some “issues” glomming onto female staff. Regina was not told that adults with Downs Syndrome many times have lost the synoptic connections tied to urgency for urination and defecation.
Sweet drinks he gulps down, like a lost man in the Sahara. He scarfs down or wolfs down his food.
Like anyone, Drew wants to be in a relationship, married, on some piece of property with a horse, dogs and big garden. He works eight hours a week, and receives under $800 in social security payments.
The state pays Aunt Regina for his care. Her biggest worry is Drew losing his job because of the bathroom accidents or the sexual harassment.
Regina is kind but firm, and her bedside manner isn’t from the latest holistic and enlightened training around people who live with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“I tell Drew, that if he messes up one more time, the grocery store will fire him. The job is more than pocket change for him. He gets out, has responsibilities, is growing some from the integrated employment, and, mind you this is a big AND, I get him out of the house for a few hours a week so I can gain some sense of sanity. I don’t know if he has to be put into a state institution.”
Luck of the draw, luck of the gene expression, luck of the accidental car mortalities, luck luck luck.
That’s the way the cookie crumbles, and in capitalism, we are not judged by how we treat our aged, infirm, vulnerable, youth, sick, disabled, poor. The worse we treat “them,” the more “they” have to struggle, the more daily fear “they” have of failing, faltering, flipping out mentally, the more successful those Capitalists and those Investors and those Finance Wizards and those Upper Economic Class are!
Redistribution of wealth for “them” is taking every last penny from “them,” us. Working people at $12.01 an hour after 15 years in a national/international chain.
A mentality that posits that “they” meant to do that, defecate in their pants, or, oh, “they” know better, and, oh, “they” are gaming the system and pulling the wool over your bleeding heart social services worker heads.
Heartless in a Time of Plague
Our Scottish Regina is worried about what will happen to Drew once she kicks the bucket, or when she is no longer physically capable of carrying on and running a household with a very demanding Drew and a very failing Bob, her 86-year-old husband.
We talk about the old country’s National Health Service. We talk about the failures of a society that has been ripped open time and time again by the purulent investors — another word for making money anyway they can.
Gutting medical care, gutting entitlement programs, gutting progressive taxation, gutting the measures for health and safety for and by the public. Where oh where will Drew go once his aunt and uncle pass on?
Think of every dollar and penny pinched, and then think of how much we the taxpayer shell out for every nanosecond of the crimes of corporations eating at the belly of communities, and every penny taken in light speed for everything run by the imposters, the misanthropes.
Every million$ here, every billion$ there. Grifters and grabbers. How much did the first Billionaire’s “impeachment” cost us? How much does an Alex Jones or Tom Brady or Michelle Obama get paid for their insipid bolstering of their self-referential mythology? Each speech? Each rot gut book penned?
Every rivet sunk into a Hellfire missile, every pound of fuel used in US Military Terrorism Toys, every nanosecond million made through illegal and unethical investing through algorithm?
That Moon shot by India, or that Mars rover by Japan, or Israel gunning for more surveillance. How much is every human lifetime worth, if we are lumped together in that big pile of “other” and “non-human”?
That heartless cookie crumbling capitalism is rotten to the core. The joke is, though, by the filthy rich, the Art of War Friedman’s and Bezos and all the Google middling’s and upper crust, that if all the billions were taken from the filthy rich, and dumped into the majority on planet earth — the poor, the uneducated, the misbegotten, the terminal, the dysfunctional, the Jerry Springer protagonists and antagonists, in five years all that and more would be back in the hands of the Star Chamber 1,000 or 2,000 Multi-Billionaires.
“We’d just get it all back, because the masses are inherently stupid, know nothing about the value of a dollar, would buy all the junk and shit and whoring dreams we create to sell. We’d have all that so-called ‘redistributed’ wealth back in our hands.”
That myth is coupled with another one, where the rich and the rest of us, having collectively, as much as the 1,000 or millionth richest? Christian Parenti lays it out simply and clearly here:
The 85 richest in the world probably include the four members of the Walton family (owners of Wal-Mart, among the top ten superrich in the USA) who together are worth over $100 billion. Rich families like the DuPonts have controlling interests in giant corporations like General Motors, Coca-Cola, and United Brands. They own about forty manorial estates and private museums in Delaware alone and have set up 31 tax-exempt foundations. The superrich in America and in many other countries find ways, legal and illegal, to shelter much of their wealth in secret accounts. We don’t really know how very rich the very rich really are.
Regarding the poorest portion of the world population—whom I would call the valiant, struggling “better half”—what mass configuration of wealth could we possibly be talking about? The aggregate wealth possessed by the 85 super-richest individuals, and the aggregate wealth owned by the world’s 3.5 billion poorest, are of different dimensions and different natures. Can we really compare private jets, mansions, landed estates, super luxury vacation retreats, luxury apartments, luxury condos, and luxury cars, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars in equities, bonds, commercial properties, art works, antiques, etc.—can we really compare all that enormous wealth against some millions of used cars, used furniture, and used television sets, many of which are ready to break down? Of what resale value if any, are such minor durable-use commodities? especially in communities of high unemployment, dismal health and housing conditions, no running water, no decent sanitation facilities, etc. We don’t really know how poor the very poor really are.
The books and discourse and deep discussions and analyses have already been posited and published, and yet, we are in 2021, and the school system, the media system, the propaganda machines of government-military-resource extraction-big ag/med/pharma/AI/finance continue to cobble truth, censor the reality of the penury system that is consumer-corporate-criminal-corrupt Capitalism.
Here, a hodgepodge of readings ramifying the thesis in this essay of mine —
Chris Hedges and Richard Wolff: Capitalism Does Not Work for the Majority of the People
Make No Mistake: The Rule Of The Rich Has Been A Deadly Epoch For Humanity
Michael Parenti: Does Capitalism Work? (2002)
The 1% Pathology and the Myth of Capitalism
Capitalism: The Systematic Poverty and Exploitation of Human Beings by Finian Cunningham
Michael Parenti: These Countries Are Not Underdeveloped, They Are Overexploited (1986)
Luxury Eco-Communism: A Wonderful World is Possible
The Growing Disparity In Living Conditions and Its Consequences by Rainer Shea
Covid-19 and the Health Crisis in Latin America by Yanis Iqbal
The Start Of The Great Meltdown For Industrial Civilization by Rainer Shea
MFTN: Poverty Will Kill More Of Us Than Terrorism
The Rich Are Only Rich If We Let Them Be by Dariel Garner
Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World by Michael Parenti
The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger + How Economic Inequality Harms Societies
Wealth Belongs To All Of Us – Not Just To The Rich by Dariel Garner
We Are So Poor Because They Are So Rich by Dariel Garner
It all comes back to the rackets — war, banking, big ag, law, prisons, military, computing, finance, insuring, retail, lending, investing, for-profit medicine, education, utilities.
The rackets of putting garnishments on all of our wages. The punishment rackets of fines, foreclosures, levies, taxes, fees, surcharges, add-ons, user fees, disposal fees, tolls, late fees, interest fees, penalties, wage attachments, wage theft, any-government-revenue/policing/judicial entity having the legal right to crack into any savings or checking or real estate holding they want to….And steal!
Imagine that freedom, uh? My Drew or my Don, they work for pittances, and they have their measly wages garnished if they make too much above the allowable social security benefit level. Imagine all of the flimflam, all those middle and peripheral and shadowy and underhanded people and agencies each taking a gram of flesh until that human life has been pecked away.
Stuck in a closet somewhere. Huddled around a TV, surrounded by the deadly products of a food industry responsible for billions dead. Food (sic) more deadly than cancer sticks, AKA cigarettes.
Think hard how those children-who-come-to-me-as-adults as their social services manager, wanting me to help them find jobs in a dog-eat-dog culture, where the cookie isn’t just crumbling, but rather smashed into smithereens by the capitalists. All those poisons in food, all the polluting, toxin-laced, dam-building, river-tainting, air-staining processes that bring us better living with plastics-fastfood-shelf lives of a decade. Better living through chemistry, pharmaceutics, chronic illness, disease management, pain regulating.
Then, we cannot discuss the possibilities of a society with more and more allergies, more and more chronic illnesses, more and more learning disabilities, more and more developmental disabilities, more and more intellectual disabilities, more and more trauma and PTSD and generalized anxiety and physiological premature weathering.
And poverty does more than just kills. Poverty eats at the soul, drives people to unsafe harbors like consumerism, disposability, obsessions, addictions, inattentiveness, collective Stockholm Syndrome, perversions, empty calories-entertainment-thinking.
There are numbers just for one aspect of our consumer-retail-exploitative societies competing in a trans-national gallery of dirty capitalism — 4.2 million premature deaths annually? Five million? More? Exposure to air pollution caused over 7.0 million deaths and 103.1 million disability-adjusted life years lost in one year.
Attributed to dirty (polluted) air. Not dirty water. Not dirty food. Not dirty drugs. Not smoking. Not boozing. Not war.
The study uses existing data from IHME on global burden of diseases (Mortality and Disability Adjusted Life Years) related to air pollution such as Trachea, Bronchus and Lung cancer, COPD, Ischemic heart disease and Stroke. This study shows that air pollution is one of the major environmental risk factors for the global burden of disease in 1990-2015 and has remained relatively stable for the past 25 years. By region, the largest burden of disease related to air pollution is found in Western Pacific and South-East Asia, reflecting the heavy industry and air pollution hotspots within the developing nations of these regions. Moreover, the rates of Disability Adjusted Life Years increased because of increase in pollution, especially in South-East Asia region, African region, and Eastern Mediterranean region where populations are both growing and ageing.
I’ve written about this for years — how there is so much disconnect in Criminal Capitalism, where the marketing ploys and psychological tricks force babies and then toddlers and then kindergarteners and then grade schoolers and then more and more millions of growing minds to adapt to counterintuitive thinking, to accept death, slow or otherwise, as part of the social contract. Dog-eat-dog, predation, big fish/small pond, and the roots of America after decimating Turtle Island, one smoke and mirror show after another snake oil sales pitch.
Which sane or humane person would accept a PayDay loan scam? Which humane person would accept forced arbitration clauses? Which caring human would not endorse clean, well-run, full coverage public transportation? Which caring mother would not demand prenatal care, and medicine and clinics on demand? Where is the logic of old men and old women (look at the senate, the congress, the administration) running the lives of the unborn, newborn and youth into the ground.
Even the thirty-somethings in Brooks Brothers suits look, sound, smell, and espouse OLD. I don’t mean old and wise, or elder thinkers, or experienced and well traveled. I mean old in decayed.
If the world is saved, it will be saved by people with changed minds, people with a new vision. It will not be saved by people with old minds and new programs. It will not be saved by people with the old vision but a new program.
The Takers accumulate knowledge about what works well for things. The Leavers accumulate knowledge about what works well for people.
— Daniel Quinn, Ishmael
These flimflam artists, these liars and cheaters and pontificators and media monsters, they are antithetical to a good governance, good society, good people.
They not only do not know the stories of Drew and his Aunt Regina and Uncle Bob, but they have no forward-thinking solutions to the aging old foster parents and the still healthy middle-aged Drew. With all his beauty. With all his kindness. With all his adept knowledge of how to get on, get along, get his day going. Drew, born in the cookie crumbles crap shoot. Regina, who was on her way back to the UK, Scotland, when she answered the call to take care of Drew and his sister.
This story is repeated a million times a month, worldwide. The penalty for living, for being human, for being not one of them (rich, powerful, greed-wielding) and for stopping their lives to do the right thing.
You wake up one day and believe you have a worthy life. You wake up and take account of what good you have done. You wake up and look in the mirror and wonder what it is you actually dreamt, thought, spoke, cared for, read, built, protected, grew, sheltered, did, held sacred, envisioned, husbanded, parented, fostered, ate, drank, created.
Did any of that living have purpose, or some connection to the humanity that is the real culture of Homo Sapiens, mother culture?
Daily, I have a million intersections with culture and cultures — Big D for deaf or small d for disabled? Brain-injured at birth, or hit by a truck at age 11. Traumatic Brain Injury from an early childhood beating, or massive psychological trauma from a rape at age 20. Born with any number of diagnosed maladies, or any expression of “being born on the autism spectrum.” Fragile X or fetal alcohol affective disorder. Or Downs Syndrome.
The luck of the draw is one enormous field of chance, and the outcomes are not just tied to the abilities — emotional, spiritual, economic, personal — of those you call family, but how the society at large and each community gauge the value of life, the value placed on those whose luck of the draw came up short in some areas.
But the world is fragile, and those on some neuro typical scale and those atypically neuro, can we build our culture together, and heal and protect and shelter and engender and facilitate and teach and learn from?
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will ACT like lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.
Some of the truths the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing about the United States are its racial disparities in health and access to health care. Black and Indigenous people are more likely to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 than white people. They are two to three times more likely to be hospitalized and two to two and a half times more likely to die than white people. There are a number of factors that contribute to this.
Another related truth that is being exposed by the pandemic is the relative failure of capitalist countries to contain the virus and limit deaths when compared to socialist countries. Even some relatively poor countries, many of which are targeted by the US’ illegal economic warfare, are outperforming wealthy countries because they have socialized systems.
This shouldn’t be surprising because capitalism as a system is designed to profit from emergencies, not provide for people’s needs. The response, or lack of it, to the winter storms in the South last week was a stark example. Millions of people froze without power and water because Texas failed to invest in its infrastructure to prepare for an emergency and those who had electricity are now facing energy bills of thousands of dollars because the market prices for energy soared.
But all in all, the Global South, mainly composed of Indigenous, Black and other people of color, is struggling during the pandemic as are their brothers and sisters in the United States. Wealthy western nations are hoarding more supplies than they need. They are protecting the profits of their corporations at a cost of human lives and allowing the pandemic to rage across the planet, mutating into more infectious and deadly strains as it goes.
People are organizing to end this medical apartheid. This is an important opportunity to address the longstanding causes of these disparities and build systems that uphold all of our human rights to health. This is a struggle that calls for solidarity from people in the US with the Global South.
People hold up a banner while listening to a news conference outside San Quentin State Prison Thursday, July 9, 2020. (ERIC RISBERG AP.)
The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on the overall health of people in the United States, but Indigenous, Black and Latino people are impacted the most. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that life expectancy in the United States fell by a year in the first half of 2020, and it is likely to be a larger decline once the data for the entire year has been analyzed. Black people lost almost three years and Latino people lost almost two years of life while the decline for white people was less than a year. The CDC did not report on the life expectancy of Indigenous people.
There are multiple reasons for the disparity. As the Economic Policy Institute found last year, Black workers are suffering more during the pandemic in part because they are less likely to be able to work from home than white workers. Black people are more likely to have lost their job or to be an essential worker where they risk contracting COVID-19 and introducing it to their families and communities.
Prisons, where Black people are more likely than white people to be incarcerated, are sites of a high proportion of COVID-19 cases. As Marc Norton writes, prisons are super spreader sites infecting not only inmates but the surrounding community as well. One inmate who was involved in protests over the conditions at the Justice Center in St. Louis Missouri explains that inmates are not being tested, are not being given adequate access to what they need to protect themselves and are being housed with infected people. Although it is difficult to find data for prisoners who have COVID-19 categorized by race, the ACLU of West Virginia reports that the percent of Black inmates with COVID-19 in a number of states is nearly twice as high as the percentage of them in the prison population. For example, in Missouri, Black people are about a third of the prison population but are 58% of the COVID-19 cases.
Racial disparities are present in long term care facilities too, another site of high numbers of COVID-19 infections. Less than one percent of the population is in a long term care facility, but that is where five percent of the infections are occurring. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that there were more COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes with a high percentage of non-white residents than in nursing homes with a low percentage of non-white residents.
And rural areas, which in the South and Southeast tend to be majority Indigenous, Black and Brown, also contribute to the racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths. For the last decade, rural communities have been losing their hospitals and with that, their health professionals. There is also less access to telehealth services. But cities are problematic too.
The authors of this article in the Gothamist explain that, in New York City, “Black and Latino residents by and large suffer the highest death rates, which are attributable to inequitable access to health care and housing.” They also find great disparities in vaccination rates. White residents are being vaccinated at three times the rate of Black and Latino residents.
Disparities in vaccination rates exist elsewhere too. In Philadelphia, 44% of the city residents are black but they make up only 12% of those who have been vaccinated. To change this, the Black Doctors COVID-9 Consortium is taking vaccines directly to Black neighborhoods to immunize people. In Baltimore, while more than 60% of the people living in the city are black, only 5% of the people who have been vaccinated are black.
In the United States, a big reason for the racial disparities in who is being vaccinated has to do with the lack of a coordinated plan to make sure that those who are most impacted are vaccinated first. The US lacks the public health infrastructure to administer a mass vaccination campaign. There are different guidelines and methods of getting vaccinated in different parts of the country.
If the United States had a universal healthcare system like national improved Medicare for all, then vaccination programs could be run through primary care practices where the patients and health professionals know each other. Practices would know who in their patient population needs the vaccine most and could contact them. In the current environment, people have to sign up online, which disadvantages those who do not have access to the internet, and in some areas people can only get vaccinated in drive-through centers that exclude people without cars.
Instead of primary care practices doing the vaccinations, vaccines are being distributed through for-profit pharmacy chains. In California, healthcare workers have to go to a pharmacy chain or Costco to get vaccinated instead of getting the vaccine at work. This creates another barrier for workers. In Florida, the Governor has politicized the vaccine rollout by prioritizing zip codes that are mostly Republican and allowing the grocery chain Publix to be the sole distributor. Publix donated heavily to the Governor’s campaign.
As Margaret Kimberley explains, the underlying problem is capitalism. She writes, “Donald Trump was blamed for the poor response in 2020 but it is clear that Americans are in trouble regardless of who occupies the White House because profits determine the response to a health care crisis.”
Funk Rally in DC (Nicolas Moreland)
Recently, Popular Resistance co-hosted a webinar called “COVID-19: How Weaponizing Disease and Vaccine Wars Are Failing Us.” It featured some of the authors and editors of the book, “Capitalism on a Ventilator,” who gave an update to it. It is clear that countries that treat health care as a public good and that have socialized governments, such as China, Vietnam, Cuba, and Nicaragua, were able to take immediate steps to control the pandemic. They had the healthcare system and infrastructure in place to get information to people about how to protect themselves, to identify people who were infected and to provide what they needed to quarantine or receive medical treatment. They were able to coordinate getting health professionals and supplies to the areas where they were needed. And they are treating immunization as a public health necessity instead of a profit-making venture.
The situation in the United States has been the opposite. There was no centralized plan. City and state governments scrambled to put in place what was needed and engaged in bidding wars with each other for basic supplies and equipment. Some areas were overwhelmed and could not provide necessary care to everyone. Health professionals and others on the front line worked in hazardous conditions. People who needed care delayed seeking it out of fear of the cost. Hunger and poverty are now growing as the government failed to provide needed support financially and in other ways such as housing, health care and food.
In the United States, immunizations are being treated as a profit-centers instead of public goods. The United States government spent $12.4 billion on “Operation Warp Speed” to produce vaccines using private corporations that are now reaping the profits. Spending on the vaccine delivery side was only in the hundreds of millions while the actual cost is billions of dollars. States are struggling to afford their vaccine programs as they wait for Congress to pass another spending bill. This is likely a factor in driving states to turn to for-profit entities like pharmacy chains to administer the vaccines.
The United States and other wealthy western nations have also been acting on a global scale to thwart the efforts of other countries to handle the pandemic. Early on, as countries worked together by sharing information, supplies and health professionals, the United States withdrew from these efforts and increased its economic warfare in the form of sanctions on countries such as Venezuela and Iran. The results have been devastating.
This week, the United Nations special rapporteur on the impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights, Alena Douhan, released her preliminary report on the dire situation in Venezuela. In an interview with Anya Parampil, Douhan said that the economic blockade shrunk Venezuela’s government revenue by an astounding 99%. On top of that, the United States, United Kingdom and Portugal are withholding $6 billion of Venezuela’s assets, money that Venezuela had agreed to use to purchase food, medicine and other necessities from the United Nations. The sanctions are also preventing Venezuela from purchasing vaccines through the COVAX program. Douhan is calling on the US and others to end the sanctions and give Venezuela access to its money, but so far the Biden administration has refused.
Sign the petition telling the Biden administration to end the sanctions. Register for the Sanctions Kill webinar to learn more about what sanctions are, who they impact and what we can do to end them at bit.ly/SKtoolkit.
When Russia announced its COVID-19 vaccine last August, a vaccine produced by state agencies, the United States quickly moved to impose economic sanctions on those research centers seemingly out of spite. Similar sanctions were forced on China, which has produced five different COVID-19 vaccines and plans to share its vaccines with less developed countries at a low cost to them.
The United States and other wealthy western nations are responsible for the global vaccine apartheid. Instead of putting policies in place to make sure that all people, especially in the vulnerable Global South countries, have vaccines, they are buying up the vaccines in quantities greater than they need, causing scarcity and driving up prices.
In These Times reports that ten wealthy countries have administered 75% of the vaccine doses given so far to their people while 130 countries have not given any doses. African countries are struggling to buy vaccines even through the COVAX program, which is short on supplies. Hadas Thier writes, “AstraZeneca, despite claiming a ’no-profit’ pledge during the pandemic, is charging South Africa $5.25 per dose and Uganda $7 per dose. The European Union, by contrast, has paid just $2.16 per dose.” Doctors who are on the front lines are dying from COVID-19 because they aren’t protected, leaving African countries that already lack sufficient doctors in a worse situation.
Another issue that is driving the vaccine apartheid as well as limiting access to lifesaving medications is corporate monopolization of patent information. If other countries had access to that information, they could produce the vaccines and therapeutics themselves. Pressure is being put on the World Trade Organization (WTO) by 40 countries and 200 organizations to exempt COVID-19 medications and vaccines from patent restrictions, called a “TRIPS waiver,” at their meeting next month but the US and other wealthy nations are blocking it. Your organization can sign onto their letter here (deadline is Feb. 24).
The G7 nations met on Friday and agreed to provide a small portion of their vaccines to developing nations. Global Justice Now, one of the organizations pushing for open access to the patents for medicines and vaccines, says the G7 nations’ offer is a ‘fig leaf’ that is inadequate to address the problem: “Promising donations ‘at some point in the future’ fails to tackle the real problem: urgent lack of supply caused by Big Pharma’s patents.”
A stark example of vaccine apartheid is occurring in the Occupied Palestinian Territory where Israel, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, is refusing to give the vaccine to Palestinians. The United States could use its power to pressure Israel to stop this practice, but it isn’t. The United States has been a strong supporter of Israel’s genocidal actions.
The People’s Vaccine Alliance, a group of organizations pressuring the WTO to lift the patents, states that if the situation doesn’t change, “90% of people in poor countries won’t be able to get the vaccine in 2021.” Some countries in Latin America are taking matters into their own hands. Cuba is developing its own vaccine, the Sovereign 2, and plans to produce 100 million doses this year, far more than it needs, so that it can make it available to other countries at no or low cost. Argentina and Mexico are working with Astra Zeneca to start producing its vaccine together. The manufacturing process will begin in Argentina and be finished in Mexico.
Nurses and health care workers outside at a hospital in New York City demand better protection against the COVID-19 virus (Giles Clarke)
The COVID-19 pandemic and global medical apartheid affect all of us. The more the virus is allowed to proliferate, the more likely there is to be mutations, like the ones in the strains coming from the UK and South Africa. The UK strain is more infectious than the original strain and appears to be more lethal. It is widespread in the US now and may cause another surge of cases in the coming weeks or months. The South African strain is also in the US. It is more infectious and seems able to evade the body’s immune system.
If the world does not get the pandemic under control, all of our lives are at risk. It is in our interest to make sure that enough people are vaccinated quickly to stop the spread before new strains arise that are resistant to the vaccines. It is also critical that people who need medications to treat COVID-19 have access to them no matter where they live.
The Biden administration claims to be concerned about racial inequities. If that is the case, it must address these inequities wherever they occur or be called out for failing to do so. The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to transform the world in a way that ends the great inequities that exist.
Health care must be viewed worldwide as a public good, not a profit-making venture.
Instead of competition, there must be an open sharing of information to tackle the healthcare crises we face.
The Global South, which comprises the most vulnerable populations, must be prioritized for access to medications and vaccines so it can resolve the crisis quickly with less impact on its struggling economies.
And, the United States must end its illegal actions around the world including economic sanctions, military interference and support for major human rights abusers such as Israel.
We in the United States can hasten this transformation by putting pressure on our government to change. This is a way to show solidarity with people around the world who, like us, are struggling for the right to a life of dignity and prosperity. What our government does abroad, it also does at home because we all suffer under the capitalist system. Together, we can create a better world.
The social and economic destruction engulfing the U.S. and dozens of other countries remains out of everyone’s control and more chaos, instability, and insecurity now mark the global landscape.
The ruling elite have repeatedly shown their inability to tackle any serious problems effectively. They are at a loss for how to deal with current problems and refuse to consider any alternative to their obsolete economic system. The best they can do is recycle old ideas to maintain their class power and privilege. Their efforts to block the New focus mainly on promoting disinformation about “new and better forms of capitalism,” including oxymorons like “inclusive capitalism,” “responsible capitalism,” and “ethical capitalism.”
Since the outbreak of the “COVID Pandemic” in March 2020 every week has been a roller coaster for humanity. The economy and society keep lurching from one crisis to another while incoherence and stress keep amplifying. It is said that 1 in 6 Americans went into therapy for the first time in 2020.
Unemployment, under-employment, inequality, mental depression, anxiety, suicide, environmental decay, inflation, debt, health care costs, education, and poverty are worsening everywhere. Thousands of businesses that have been around for years keep disappearing left and right.
Top-down actions in response to the “COVID Pandemic” have made so many things worse for so many people. Many are wondering which is worse: the covid-19 virus or the top-down response to the pandemic. Governments everywhere have steadfastly refused to mobilize the people to solve the many problems that are worsening. The moral climate is low and more people are worried about the future.
An atmosphere has been created whereby people are supposed to feel like the exhausting “COVID Pandemic” will last forever and we can all forget about getting back to any normal healthy non-digital relations, activities, and interactions. No society in history has worn face masks for an entire year. We are told over and over again that there is no returning to anything called “normal.” Moving everything online and repeatedly asserting that this is great, “cool,” and wonderful is proving to be unsatisfactory and unfulfilling. People want and need real, direct, non-digital connections and interactions with other human beings. Life behind a screen is not life.
Even with all the restrictions and shutdowns the virus, according to the mainstream media, continues to wreak havoc at home and abroad. It is almost like none of the severe restrictions on people’s freedoms made any difference. People have had to endure this humiliation while also not being permitted any role in deciding the aim, operation, and direction of the economy or any of the affairs of society; they are left out of the equation every step of the way and not even asked for superficial “input” that always goes unheeded anyway. Existing governance arrangements are simply not working to empower people or affirm their rights. The people’s interests and will are blocked at every turn by an outdated political setup that advances only the narrow interests of the rich.
Despite intense pressure to blindly rely on the rich and their political representatives to “figure things out,” this is not working. Nor does it help that the mainstream media approaches multiple crises and issues with endless double-talk, disconnected facts, catchy sound-bites, dramatic exaggerations, angry voices, political axe-grinding, and lots of confusion. Coherence and a human-centered outlook are avoided at all costs. People are constantly left disoriented. Jumping arbitrarily and rapidly from one thing to another in the most unconscious way is presented as useful analysis and information. This is why sorting out basic information has become a full-time job for everyone. People are understandably worn-out and overwhelmed. Disinformation overload degrades mental, emotional, and physical health.
The world has become an uglier and gloomier place—all in the name of “improving health.” It is no surprise that a recent Gallup Poll shows that the majority of Americans are extremely dissatisfied with government, the economy, the culture, and the moral climate.
In this hazardous unstable context, there are two ever-present key pieces of disinformation operating side by side. Both are designed to deprive working people of any say, initiative, outlook, or power.
First there is the “once everyone is vaccinated things will be much better” disinformation. This ignores the fact that capitalist crises have endogenous causes not exogenous causes and that the economic crisis started well before the “COVID Pandemic.” More than 150 years of recessions, depressions, booms, busts, instability, chaos, and anarchy have not been caused by external phenomena like bacteria, germs, and viruses but by the internal logic and operation of capital itself. A so-called “free market” economy by its very nature and logic ensures “winners” and “losers,” “booms” and “busts.” It is called a “dog-eat-dog” fend-for-yourself competitive world for a reason. The modern idea that humans are born to society and have rights by virtue of their being is alien to “free market” ideology.
Despite the fact that millions have been vaccinated at home and abroad, poverty, inequality, unemployment, debt, and other problems continue to worsen. Businesses continue to suffer and disappear. Hospitality, leisure, recreation, and other sectors have been decimated in many countries. Air travel is dramatically lower. So are car sales. It is not enough to say, “Yes, the next few months will be rough and lousy economically speaking but we will get there with more vaccinations. Just be patient, it will all eventually work out.” This is not what is actually unfolding. The all-sided crisis we find ourselves in started before the “COVID Pandemic” and continues unabated. Such a view also makes a mockery of economic science and the people’s desire to decide the affairs of society and establish much better arrangements that exclude narrow private interests and do not rely on police powers.
In the coming months millions more will be vaccinated but economic decline and decay will continue. Both the rate and amount of profit have been falling for years. And owners of capital are not going to invest in anything when there is no profit to be had and when it is easier instead to balloon fictitious capital and pretend everything is a stock market video game. The lack of vaccinations did not cause the economic collapse the word is currently suffering through, nor will more vaccinations reverse economic decline and decay. The “COVID Pandemic” has largely made some people vastly richer and millions more much poorer. The “COVID Pandemic” has significantly increased inequality. Unfortunately, the so-called “Great Reset” agenda of the World Economic Forum and Pope Francis’s recent call for a “Copernican Revolution” in the economy will make things worse for millions more because they will perpetuate the existing moribund economic system. Such agendas are designed to fool the gullible, block working class consciousness and action, and keep the initiative in the hands of the global oligarchy.
The same applies to so-called “stimulus packages.” Various versions of these top-down monetary and fiscal programs have been launched in different countries, and while they have assuaged some problems for people, they have not been adequate or fixed any underlying problems. They have not prevented poverty or mass unemployment. Economies remain mired in crisis. In most cases “stimulus packages” have made things worse by increasing the amount of debt that many generations will have to repay. This is in addition to the many other forms of debt Americans suffer from and rent payments that will one day have to be paid.
Many are also wondering why trillions of dollars can be printed and instantly turned over to the banks and corporations with no discussion but the same cannot be done for social programs, public enterprises, and the people. Why, for example, can all not get free healthcare or have taxes eliminated? Why can’t various forms of personal debt be wiped out instantly? If the government can print money for “them” why can’t they print money for “us”? Who is government supposed to serve? Billionaires?
Nether the CARES Act of 2020 nor the stimulus package passed in December 2020 nor the one President Biden is pushing for in March 2021 will be adequate or solve any major problems. Many felt that the $600 stimulus checks that went out in December 2020 were pathetic and insulting.
The problem lies with a socialized productive economy run by everyone but owned and controlled by a tiny handful of competing private interests determined to maximize profit as fast as possible regardless of the damage to the social and natural environment. There is no way for the economy to benefit all individuals and serve the general interests of society so long as it is dominated by a handful of billionaires. The social wealth produced by workers cannot benefit workers and the society if workers themselves do not control the wealth they produce and have first claim to.
The outlook, agenda, and reference points of the rich must be rejected and replaced by a human-centered aim, agenda, direction, and outlook. The current trajectory is untenable and unsustainable. The situation is dangerous in many ways, but perhaps one good thing to come out of the accelerated pace of chaos, anarchy, and instability are the contradictions that are presenting new opportunities for action with analysis that favors working people.
Since January 4, 2021, student protests have been going on in Turkey. At Bogazici University in Istanbul, rectors are elected through free and fair elections by faculties. The only time in the institution’s history when these democratic processes were suspended was in the aftermath of the 1980 coup d’état. In today’s time, it is again being done.
Curtailing Academic Autonomy
On January 1, 2021, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appointed a rector to Bogazici without any consultations with the university staff or students. The appointee, Professor Melih Bulu, has been a member of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) since its foundation in 2002 and had run a campaign for nomination for the parliamentary elections in 2015. The appointment of Bulu is another step in Erdogan’s attempt to extend his influence over Turkey’s social and cultural life.
He also faces allegations of plagiarism in his PhD thesis. Bogazici University faculty fear a number of negative consequences, including hiring based on political affiliation; malicious investigations against critical faculties; budget cuts to humanities and social sciences; and opening up the university’s iconic campus for private developers.
Students addressed an open letter to the president.
This appointment makes anyone who has even the tiniest sense of justice revolt with indignation…Your attempts to pack our university with your own political militants is the symptom of the political crisis that you have fallen into. Do not mistake us for those who obey you unconditionally. You are not a sultan, and we are not your subjects.
Agitations have escalated sharply as the government seized artwork with LGBT+ flags displayed at a student exhibition. Erdogan said there was “no such thing” as LGBT+ in a “moral” country such as Turkey and called the protesters “terrorists”. He has also accused them of taking instructions from “those in the mountains,” a reference to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Hundreds of students from Bogazici have been arrested as they have joined demonstrations. They have been tear-gassed, shot at with rubber bullets, had snipers trained on them and been sexually assaulted and forced to strip while in custody. Undeterred, the protests have now culminated in the formation of a new opposition alliance, the United Fighting Forces (BMG). The alliance includes the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP), Partizan, the Revolutionary Party and the Democratic Regions Party (DBP). Istanbul neighborhoods have lent the students support, banging pots and pans from their balconies at 9 p.m.
Origins of Authoritarianism
The AKP emerged on the Turkish political scene in 2001. It stitched together narrower Islamist political parties such as Refah (Welfare), Dogru Yol Partisi (True Path) and Fazilet (Virtue). In 2002, the AKP won the parliamentary election with a parliamentary majority – 34% percent of the vote translated, because of Turkish electoral rules, to 60% of the seats in the parliament.
After its first electoral victory, the AKP continued to receive 35 – 50% of all votes until the presidential elections in 2014, when the party leader Erdogan received more than 50% of votes and became the president of the Turkish Republic. Afterwards, in 2015, the AKP became the first party in a general election and regained the parliamentary majority in a snap election in the same year.
In the 2010s, the AKP altered the balance of power in Turkey. In 2014, it broke off relations with one of its closest allies, the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, and accused him of masterminding the failed coup attempt of July 2016. When the AKP came to power in early 2000s, they had popular support but not the support of the military and bureaucratic cadres. Therefore, they made an alliance with Fethullah Gulen, a former imam who led a tight community, and who had become rich and powerful beginning in the 1980s by investing money in education.
The Gulen movement provided the AKP with loyal military personnel, judges, teachers, police, and other bureaucratic personnel, and in return the AKP allowed Gulen members to control these institutions. Gulenists initiated high-profile trials against all actors that could challenge the AKP. The Ergenekon and Balyoz trials targeted high-level military officers, journalists, and opposition lawyers for plotting a coup against the government.
The Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK) trial targeted pro-Kurdish intellectuals and activists. Gulen-affiliated lawyers used fabricated evidence, and violated the rules of the trial procedure. Yet, from 2014, this alliance broke down due to internal power struggles. Gulenists released voice recordings related to major AKP corruption scandals. In return, the AKP declared war on the Gulen movement. They took over their television stations, newspapers, universities, schools, and major holding companies and began to clear them from the military, police forces, and judiciary.
With the military coup attempt of July 2016, Turkey took a major turn. Since the power of the military had been lessened over the preceding decade, the incidence took all observers by surprise. This diminishment in power led the military – notorious for being able to carry out successful coups – to attempt a poorly coordinated intervention. Within a few hours, Erdogan pointed the finger at Gulen and called upon citizens to descend into the city centres and stop the coup.
Erdogan’s followers blocked tanks and lynched soldiers, many of whom did not even know that they were part of a coup. As soon as the threat had passed, Erdogan declared a state of emergency and forcefully purged anyone he viewed as being linked to the Gulen movement, along with other Kurdish and left-wing opposition members.
In the post-coup-attempt purges, some 150,000 government personnel were dismissed, 100,000 individuals were detained and 50,000 arrested, 149 media outlets were shut down, 150 journalists jailed, 17 universities closed, 8,000 academic personnel were dismissed, vast quantities of property were confiscated, and close to 1,000 allegedly Gulen-affiliated businesses e taken over by the state. During emergency measures, access to Twitter and YouTube was also blocked
Beneath the cacophony of authoritarian measures, a neoliberal economy is fully operational, pushing people into hardships of various kinds. The policies implemented by Erdogan in the pandemic have left millions of workers unemployed or on unpaid leave with only $156 monthly in 2020, increased to approximately $200 in 2021. The government extended this unpaid leave until July 2021. Millions have also been forced to take a short-time working allowance.
The cost of living is rapidly increasing. The Turkish Statistical Institute estimated that Turkey’s 2020 inflation rate stood at 14.6% – nearly three times more than the official 5% target of Central Bank (TCMB). Turkey is one of a few countries with a double-digit inflation rate. Many studies suggest the real inflation figure is much higher.
The Inflation Research Group (ENAG) has used the standards of “Classification of Individual Consumption According to Purpose” (COICOP) of the United Nations (UN) Statistics Department, a common inflation calculation method adopted by many countries. It calculated the 2020 annual inflation rate at 36.72%. The ENAG found that annual price increases for staple products was even higher: 55% for butter, 80% for sunflower oil, 66% for olive oil, 35% for cheese, 67% for olives, 53% for chicken and 130% for eggs.
Erdogan, and the right-wing regime he leads – comprised of AKP and its fascistic ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) – urgently need the appearance of grandeur, as the situation is rather grim: poor handling of COVID-19, falling approval ratings, a severe economic crisis, and an emboldened opposition. Aware of its precarious position, the ruling bloc has consolidated its methods of authoritarian governance, repressed dissidents domestically, passed laws to weaken civil society and opposition mayors, and used chauvinist and sexist propaganda.
From the start of the protests, students have situated their resistance as part of the bigger fight against authoritarianism and made links beyond the university. They have named Bulu a “trustee rector” in reference to the government-imposed trustees that have replaced almost all the democratically elected Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) mayors. The initial protests that started at Bogazici University have spread to all major cities – including Ankara, Izmir and Bursa – with thousands on the streets and not only students. Protests like these will keep intensifying as the dynamic of neoliberal authoritarianism clashes head-on with the revolutionary aspirations of the people.
The events of January 6, 2021 in Washington D.C. were historic and will be analyzed for some time to come. Many were rattled and shaken to their core by what unfolded that day in the nation’s capital. Others were excited, relieved, and hopeful.
Since then, all sorts of disinformation, confusion, and illusions have filled mainstream accounts of what happened that day and why, but it is already clear that certain things are emerging that once again do not bode well for the people. It is always important to ask: “when a major event happens, who ultimately ends up benefitting from it?”
As with past events and crises, and keeping in mind the role and significance of “disaster capitalism,” it is not unreasonable to assume that the events of January 6, 2021 will be used by the rich and their political and media representatives to expand police-state arrangements under the banner of high ideals (e.g., “protecting the citadel of democracy” and “our democracy is in peril”). The irony of the situation did not escape numerous world leaders and millions around the globe who proclaimed in unison: “Finally the U.S. is getting a taste of its own medicine. The U.S. has actively organized ruthless coups, conflicts, wars, rebellions, and insurrections in more than 100 countries over the past 200 years.” For many, the events of January 6 further lowered the credibility of “representative democracy” in the “bastion of democracy.”
Further degrading the legitimacy of outmoded governance arrangements, the world saw how Washington D.C. was recently turned into a large military camp with armed soldiers and armed state agents everywhere. Many police and military forces will remain in and around the area well after the January 2021 presidential inauguration and contribute to establishing a “new normal” of police presence. How does this look at home and abroad? Like a robust vibrant democracy which is the envy of the world, or a scandalous troubling situation? The massive militarization of Washington D.C. has only added to the dystopian, humiliating, and bizarre life everyone has been forced to endure since March 2020 when the never-ending and exhausting “COVID Pandemic” started in earnest.
But contrary to media accounts the struggle today is not between democrats and republicans. It is not between those who support Trump or revile him. It is not between racists versus anti-racists, pro-diversity or anti-diversity advocates, or “progressives” versus “right-wingers.” Nor is it between “right-wing thugs” versus the police, or ANTIFA versus right-wing militias. These are facile dichotomies that consolidate anticonsciousness and further divide the polity. Such superficial characterizations miss the profound significance of what is unfolding—an intense legitimacy crisis—and the fact that no one is talking about how to empower the people as sharp conflicts among factions of the ruling elite intensify and ensnare people. Ramzy Baroud reminded us recently that:
While mainstream US media has conveniently attributed all of America’s ills to the unruly character of outgoing President Donald Trump, the truth is not quite so convenient. The US has been experiencing an unprecedented political influx at every level of society for years, leading us to believe that the rowdy years of Trump’s Presidency were a mere symptom, not the cause, of America’s political instability.
In the current fractured, chaotic, and dangerous context, all manner of inflammatory and provocative remarks are still being made by a range of politicians, media outlets, and “leaders.” Words like “treason,” “insurrection,” “violent mob,” “coup,” “rebellion,” and “sedition” are being thrown around loosely and quickly. There is no sense of how such discourse takes us all further down a dangerous road. Different individuals, groups, and factions are being lumped into overly-simplistic categories and classifications while ignoring the long-standing marginalization of the polity as a whole and the continued failure of “representative democracy.”
In this foggy context, it can be easy to forget that whether you are a democrat, republican, or something else, the economy and society are not operating in your interests. Debt, poverty, inequality, hunger, homelessness, unemployment, under-employment, stock market bubbles, environmental decay, and generalized anxiety continue to worsen nationwide and harm Americans of all political stripes while the rich get much richer much faster. Existing governance arrangements marginalize more than 95 percent of people. Working people have no real mechanism to effectively advance their interests in the current political setup. They are reduced to perpetually begging politicians and “leaders” to do the most basic things. There is an urgent need for democratic renewal.
In the coming months we will not only see more economic collapse but also more police-state arrangements put in place in the name of “security” and “democracy.” A main focus will be “domestic terrorism,” leading to the further restriction of freedom of speech and criminalization of dissent. Freedom of movement will also be constrained. This will be far-reaching, affecting everyone, even those currently throwing around words like “sedition,” “coup,” and “insurrection.” Already, the atmosphere has been chilled; many are more carefully self-monitoring their speech and actions so as to not be targeted by the state.
At the end of the day, conflicts, divisions, social unrest, political turmoil, and economic deterioration will not go away so long as the existing authority clashes with the prevailing conditions and the demands emerging from these conditions. Objective conditions are screaming for modernization and solutions that the rich and their entourage are unable and unwilling to provide.
Unemployment, under-employment, hunger, homelessness, poverty, debt, inequality, despair, and generalized anxiety do not care if you are black or white, democrat or republican, right-wing or left-wing, a “Trumper” or “anti-Trumper.” Concrete conditions are screaming for the affirmation of basic rights like the right to food, shelter, education, healthcare, work, and security.
Their struggles and demands may take different forms and express themselves in different ways, but it is the long-standing absence of these rights that people from all walks of life are striving to bring into being.
And while their policies may differ in some respects, the different factions of the rich and their political representatives have only more of the same to offer people: more inequality, more debt, more under-employment, more worry and insecurity, more stock market bubbles, and more empty promises. Lofty phrases and grand “plans” from the rich and their representatives won’t change the aim and direction of the economy. People are not going to suddenly become empowered because one party of the rich or the other holds power now. Divisions, dissatisfaction, and marginalization are not going to disappear just because a different section of the rich wields power. Many believe that the road ahead will be very rocky.
Democratic renewal does not favor the rich or their representatives, it is something only working people themselves will benefit from and have to collectively fight for. In this regard, it is key to consciously reject the aims, outlook, views, and agenda of the rich and develop a new independent aim, politics, outlook, and agenda that favors the polity and the public interest.
The Capitol building riot of January 6 marked the messiest transition in recent history of ruling class power from one chief executive of the capitalist world to the next. If that history is any guide, the change of guard neither portends better treatment of working people nor a reduction of the threat of fascism.
Trump may have been booted off the mainstage, but the next act promises to be worse. Beyond the particularities of either Mr. Trump’s or Mr. Biden’s personalities or even the parties they represent, fundamental institutional factors have and will likely determine the trajectory of neoliberal capitalism towards an ever more authoritarian state, austerity for workers, and imperialism abroad.
Trajectory of neoliberalism
Neoliberalism is the current form of capitalism in the US, replacing the New Deal regime that incorporated elements of social democracy. Jimmy Carter foreshadowed the neoliberal era with his mantra of deregulation and small government. The “small” referred to the state’s role to ensure the social well-being of its constituents, but not its coercive functions, which would expand.
Next came the full-blown neoliberal Reagan Revolution. When Democrat Bill Clinton became president, he did not reverse the trajectory of neoliberalism. Instead, he extended it by passing NAFTA, ending “welfare as we know it,” contributing to mass incarceration, deregulating banking, and launching wars of his own. And in those endeavors, he was assisted by then Senator Joe Biden.
While Republicans and Democrats are not the same, no lesser an authority than then President Obama explained that the “divide” is “not that wide” with “differences on the details” but not on “policy.” Differences between the two parties lie in their “rhetoric and the tactics verses ideological differences.”
Biden may bring some relief: he will be better about wearing COVID masks and he is rejoining the voluntary Paris Climate Agreement. Otherwise, there will be more distinctions without differences as with the two parties’ response to the existential threat of global warming: one denies it; the other believes in it but fails to combat it. Under oilman George W. Bush, US oil production declined. Under his Democratic successor, production nearly doubled with Obama bragging, “we’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some.”
According to the rulebook for bourgeois democracy, the POTUS serves the interests of the owners of capital. To legitimize this arrangement, elections are staged to give the appearance of choice, but only those who can raise billions of dollars can successfully run. The blatant buying of candidates by the rich is protected as “free speech” by the US Supreme Court.
The presidential primary is an audition contest where the hopefuls prove they can appeal to the voters while being vetted by the funders. Donald Trump gamed the extravaganza riding on his TV reality show celebrity and personal wealth. He was lavished with billions of dollars of free TV coverage because his antics boosted ratings. Hillary Clinton and the DNC, as revealed by Wikileaks, abetted his campaign.
Against expectations, Trump became number 45. His rule, through most of his presidency, was garden variety neoliberalism with a veneer of racist, nativist populism. Despite hyperbole from left-liberals, Trump was no more a fascist than was Biden socialist.
Trump erratically made rhetorical feints against establishment orthodoxy “to get out of endless wars to bring our soldiers back home, not be policing agents all over the world.” He railed: “Unelected deep state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy itself.” Last spring and into summer such maverick utterances gave way to anti-China, anti-BLM, and anti-socialist rants. The veneer of hard right populism became increasingly Trump’s essence as he careened towards the debacle of January 6.
Was January 6 a riot or a coup?
The event of January 6 was a demonstration turned riot, leaving five fatalities. But did it rise to the level of a coup?
After storming the Capitol building and taking selfies, the demonstrators simply left after a few hours. Regardless of the intentions of the inscrutable Mr. Trump, the clumsy and violent attempt to influence the electoral process by disruption did not and could not have led to the seizure of state power because all the institutions of state were aligned against him along with a nearly unanimous ruling class.
The Democrats, most of corporate media, and much of theleftreported a premeditated attempted coup, focusing on the violence, collusion by police and Republican politicians, and the racist nature of elements of the crowd. Their emphasis afterward has been on punishment of the Trumpsters so as not to “embolden” fascism, while downplaying the need to address root causes: treating the symptoms and not the disease.
Some rightwing media claimed that the Trump walked into a trap designed to discredit and isolate him. A poll taken shortly after the incident found 68% of Republicans believed Antifa incited the violence. Although such involvement is highly unlikely, the poll suggests many Trump partisans did not favor the violence and thought it was a false flag operation.
Putting the event to the cui bono test (who benefits), the outcome went badly for Donald Trump. The flight into the Democratic Party’s big tent precipitously accelerated by members of Trump’s own party, his administration officials, military brass, and security state spooks, leaving a sitting president with little more than his next of kin to comfort him. His prime creditors, the Deutsche and Signature banks, dropped him. Cutting to the quick, even the US Professional Golfers’ Association canceled their scheduled tournament at one of his golf courses.
The present danger lies in the preparation for fascist rule
Fascism is a form of capitalist rule where the legitimizing role of elections is done away with in favor of more authoritarian means of maintaining elite hegemony. If the façade of bourgeois democracy can be maintained, the ruling elites have no need to impose a dictatorship over themselves to preserve their class rule.
Analogies made of Trump to Hitler are misleading. While material conditions for many Americans are distressing, they are not as dire as Weimar Germany. Nor do the Proud Boys and company approximate the hundreds of thousands of trained and armed paramilitaries under Hitler’s direct command. Most important, the mass working class Communist and Socialist parties in pre-Nazi Germany were positioned to contend for state power.
As long as such contending forces are absent, the US ruling elites have little incentive to resort to fascist dictatorship. But that does not mean that they need not prepare for the contingency of fascist rule, which is where the present danger resides.
The collateral damage of the Democrats’ offensive against Trump may turn out to be the left. Bans from social media and broad definitions of sedition have been and will be used to suppress progressive expression and action. Particularly misguided is the leftist acquiescence to the establishment’s call for yet new repressive legislation, such as Biden’s domestic anti-terrorism measures. Even existing hate crime legislation has been used to disproportionately target people of color.
Already on the books, Obama’s abrogation of habeas corpus and Biden’s incarceration state legislation facilitate fascist rule. The Democrats’ romance with the FBI, CIA, and other coercive institutions of the unelected permanent state may be harbingers of a dystopian future. That super-majorities of Democrats in Congress voted to extend the Patriot Act and for the war budget should be warnings that supporting Democrats to defeat Republicans risks falling into the pit of preemptive fascism.
Proposed cures for Trump’s purported fascism may cultivate the disease. The blowback from the victory over Trump is criminalizing resistance to the government.
Trump’s second impeachment
The left-liberal framing of January 6 as a violent fascist assault has some validity, though it paints the tens of thousands of demonstrators all in one color, failing to put to the forefront the underlying causes of right populism. Underplayed is the distress that has fed the movement led by Trump.
That 74 million voted for such a repugnant figure is proof that folks are hurting and looking for relief. Not all Trump voters identify with the racist, populist right veering towards fascism. Many are traditional Republicans, fiscal conservatives, and simply people – seeing the bankruptcy of liberalism – who voted for what they perceived as the lesser evil. Within that assemblage, from a progressive point of view, are those that can be won over, those to be neutralized, and those to be defeated.
The second impeachment of Trump was a gift allowing the Democrats to appear to take decisive action. This symbolic gesture did not cost their donor class, nor did it address relief from the pandemic and the economic turndown. Had timely $2000 stimulus checks been distributed, some of the wind might have been taken out of the Stop the Steal demonstration on the 6th.
With Democratic majorities in both houses, Congress refuses to vote on Medicare for All at a time when record numbers of people have lost their health insurance while being threatened by a deadly virus. The Squad demonstrated that they were more beholden to their party’s leadership than their constituents’ health but got off the hook of #ForceTheVote with the distraction of the Capitol building riot.
The neoliberal order’s impending crisis of legitimacy
Neoliberal capitalism is heading into a crisis of legitimacy as the system proves itself increasingly incapable to meeting the needs of its people. Class disparities during an economic recession are ever more evident.
US billionaires added $4 trillion to their net worth since the onset of the pandemic. That obscene windfall was a product, not of a rising economy, but of a bi-partisan policy to benefit the class the politicians serve. Meanwhile the politicians are still bickering over a stimulus package which will be a fraction of what was already gifted to the super-rich.
Petty partisan sectarianism by both major parties is on full display. Republicans believe the Democrats stole the 2020 election; Democrats believe the Russians stole the 2016 election. Three-quarters of the US population agrees the country is heading in the wrong direction. Overall, the failing institutions of bourgeois democracy are being seen as fraudulent.
Although conditions appear ripe for fundamental challenges to the capitalist system, incipient challenges have either been defeated or coopted. The November presidential election was noteworthy, given two truly unattractive candidates. Rather than rejection of the two corporate parties through abstention and third-party resurgence, the opposite happened with the absorption of a historically vast popular mobilization contained within the two major parties of capital.
Trump’s and Sanders’s campaigns both spoke to popular discontent, though with different messages. That these potential insurgencies could be contained within the two-party duopoly is a testament to the current strength of bourgeois institutions. Trump’s stepped out of bounds and was crushed. The other attempt was derailed by the DNC, and the campaign coopted into supporting neoliberalism.
Bernie Sanders has been unfairly criticized for not leading a progressive insurgency out of the Democratic Party. But Sanders has always been a principled epigone in the Democratic Party who would not bolt for fear of facilitating a Trump victory. Sanders is kept around for his ability to give the Democrats a false patina of progressivism.
Had the Resistance been the genuine article and not the Assistance, the political landscape would have been different. Instead, the progressive movement massively capitulated.
The slogan “dump Trump and then battle Biden” of the self-described “progressive thinkers” was at best ingenuine, because they surrendered their guns – their vote – before going into battle. Now these leftists of faint heart – having passed the “we have to hold our nose and vote Democratic” phase – are in the “hopeful” phase of their perpetual four-year lesser-evil cycle. This soon will be followed by the predictable “so terribly disappointed” phase and then a brief “we’ve been sold out” phase.
The Trumpsters are more perceptive; they go directly to the “sold out” phase. Ashli Babbitt recorded a video, yelling “you guys fail to choose America over your stupid political party.” Shortly thereafter, draped in a Trump flag, she was silenced, fatally shot by Capitol Police. The system failed her and millions more, and it is at our peril to ignore their cries of anguish. She had no illusions about failed liberal pretentions, which is a clue why right wing populism is on the rise in the US and globally.
Indicative of the current state of the left is that “red states” are right-wing. Ralph Nader has been haranguing the liberal-left to get outraged for decades. No one has to make that plea to the populist right, whose outrage is manifest and dangerous. Trump may recede, but right populism will not because the conditions that foster it continue.
As the neoliberal state’s crisis of legitimacy matures, anti-terrorism laws and the institutional apparatus of fascist repression are being perfected to use against future insurgencies. The left is faced with serious challenges, from (1) the neoliberal state and (2) right populism precipitated by failures of that state, and will need to develop effective means of struggle on both fronts.