Category Archives: Unemployment

Screwing with the Unemployment Statistics

Unemployment benefits application line at noon running for half a block out onto the sidewalk in Brooklyn, NY (photo by Tricia Wang 王圣捷 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Something is screwy about unemployment numbers coming out of Washington.

In late July, just before the end of the supplemental $600 weekly checks for people collecting unemployment benefits, the New York Times reported that 30 million were receiving those checks.

That’s 30 million laid-off workers who qualified for unemployment benefits, which is not everyone who was laid off, since many people who get work for a wage don’t qualify for unemployment compensation.

For example, between mid-March and the end of the first week of May, according to US News, 33 million laid off workers applied for unemployment compensation benefits. At least three million of them were denied benefits for one reason or another. That of course doesn’t count the people who lost work but hadn’t worked enough weeks to qualify and who never even bothered to file. It also doesn’t count many “independent contractors” who were not being defined as employees by the companies paying them, which would include many people working as gardeners, roofers, carpenters, in nail salons and as cab drivers. But just for the hell of it, let’s just go with that 33 million number, and say that is the number of unemployed in the US.

Now recall that the US has a population of almost 330 million.

How many of those people are working age? We can define working age, for the sake of argument, as 18 to, say, 67. (I’m assuming that latter number, situated midway between 65, when people qualify for Medicare and often decided to retire, and 70, the age when a person can collect the maximum amount of Social Security benefits per month, will balance out.) Using Census Bureau data (which I tinkered with to get the number of 18 and 19 year-olds, as well as of 66-69 year olds), I come our with about 219 million. Now a lot of those people don’t get classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as part of the labor force either because they are full-time students, or have never worked (stay-at-home parents, for example, with no access to or funding for daycare, or those disabled and unable to work, or already retired), but again for the sake of argument, let’s just call them all workers.

Well, what percent of 219 million is 33 million? The answer is 15%. I’d say that means that the US has clearly got an unemployment rate of at least 15%. So what is the BLS saying the unemployment rate is? Well, in their unemployment report for July, the BLS was listing the jobless rate as being 10.2%. That figure is 50% lower than the percent of workers who are receiving unemployment benefits!

How can that be? It can’t. It’s just wrong.

Part of the problem is that the BLS, which maybe should be just called the BS, doesn’t consider someone to be unemployed and part of the labor force if they have not looked for work in more than a month. But of course, there are good reasons why someone who is able-bodied and who needs a job may not look for one. In an economy like this one, there simply may not be any jobs for certain people with certain skills. In certain parts of the country, if you’re not willing to move, you just have to wait for the economy to improve before you’ll be able to find a job. Take waiters. With restaurants closed or only able to operate at 25% or 50% capacity, there just aren’t as may jobs for waiters or other restaurant staff. That means people with those job backgrounds need to compete with people in other service sector jobs that are also probably not hiring. Under such circumstances looking for work is an exercise in futility.

At any rate, clearly the unemployment rate is at least to 15% just based on the number of people who had jobs and are now eligible for unemployment benefits (at least until those short-term programs run out). But it is actually worse than that because a more honest figure would include those who would like a job if they could find one, or who have a part-time job but used to have, and would like to have a full-time one. The BLS actually has that number. It’s called the U-6 unemployment figure. In July it was 18.3% But I suspect it must be higher, because all those 33 million people getting unemployment benefits are required by their state labor departments to be actively looking for a job, so they wouldn’t be in that category of worker included in the U-6 figure. That means unemployment or under-employment must really be well above 20% of the working population. I would guess that it’s probably close or equal to the 25% unemployment that the US reached during the depth of the Great Depression.

In any event, it’s clear that the government is not doing a good job of describing the current economic crisis facing the country and its people in this pandemic-induced depression. And the news media, which for the most point print the monthly and weekly BLS statistics on jobs and layoffs and total unemployment, after putting a positive spin on tiny optics in hiring or drops in the unemployment rate. How under those circumstances can the public and elected officials make appropriate decisions on economic policy, on who to vote for in November and on their own lives (whether to buy a house or a car, or to go to college or have a child, etc., for example).

When the country was in this type of dire situation situation back in 1936, the government, headed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, was creating public jobs to build roads and bridges, develop national parks, build electric networks and dams, was even funding artists, musicians, writers, orchestras, the production of plays, basically anything to get people back to work and earning a paycheck.

Now the government in Washington cannot even see its way clear to pass a bill to hand everyone adult a second $1200 check to help pay the rent or put food on the table.

One reason is that the depth of this crisis is being hidden from us.

The numbers prove it, but you have to do a little work to find them.

The post Screwing with the Unemployment Statistics first appeared on Dissident Voice.

No Going Back: It’s All Got to Change

It’s been a weird time, the last six months, and so it continues; perhaps it always was.  It’s certainly been an unjust violent mess in varying degrees of severity, for as long as most can remember. With selfishness, division and pleasure firmly in the driving seat, and the planet beautiful, slowly choking to death under the weight of human greed and stupidity.

After Covid-19 erupted, widespread lockdowns like a blunderbuss were enforced in many countries, and for a brief interlude hush descended on towns and cities across the world. Whole populations from Europe to New Zealand and most points in between were forced to desist from ‘going out’ and socializing, made to curtail their habitual shopping urges and change their work patterns. A strange and uncertain time, aggravating pre-existing anxieties, triggering depression, threatening economic meltdown.

A rare space opened, is still available, creating the opportunity to reflect on how life was and is being lived, individually and collectively; an opportunity to redefine what is important, and for those so inclined, to ponder life after the virus. A feeling of post-pandemic hope circulated among the hopeful. Could, will, ‘things’ change for the good at last?  Would corporate governments emerge with a new attitude towards public services, ‘key workers’ – who had suddenly become heroes – the environment and national health care systems (where they exist, and where they don’t with a recognition that they should), refugees and migrant workers.

Will the many acts of community kindness foster lasting social responsibility, can the pause in consumerism, manufacturing, and travel, ignite a major shift in political and social attitudes, leading to a change in policies and collective behavior rooted in environmental and social responsibility? Many hope for such a long overdue bonanza, but as countries tentatively begin to emerge from the shadow of Covid the political rhetoric and corporate talk is depressingly predictable.

Saddled with huge national debt, the prospect of an economic ‘slump’, or ‘slowdown’ and mass unemployment, anxious politicians lacking vision, and business leaders (understandably) concerned with survival and profit, repeatedly, and desperately talk about getting back to ‘normal’; re-starting the economy – the very economy that has polluted the air, the oceans and the land – and speedy recoveries. It is predictable lunacy; no, no, no, not business as chuffing usual, many cry. This is a chance to think outside the existing foul paradigm, to creatively re-imagine how life could be. If we are to face the most pressing issues of the day, there must be real change.

The term ‘new normal’ is routinely bandied around by politicians, business leaders and commentators these days; it’s often used to describe the changes to working methods – Zoom meetings for example, education bubbles in schools, one-way systems and hand sanitation in shops, face coverings on public transport. Cautionary health care measures, but nothing of substance; nothing that will save the planet, mitigate the ecological vandalism being perpetrated by humanity; create social justice, end violent conflict, racism and starvation; banish malnutrition, reform education, offer justice and support to migrants, and house the homeless in every land – for example.

We do not need a ‘new normal’, referring as it does to the old, decrepit, inadequate, poisoning ‘normal’ that has cast a cloak of misery and insecurity everywhere it is found, and it’s found everywhere.  99.9% of people around the world, and the natural environment require revolutionary change. Fundamental socio-economic change, true and lasting shifts in attitudes and behavior, not simply Covid-19 enforced adjustments encased in the existing structures and values – manipulations of an inadequate socio-economic model, which needs dismantling. As author Phillip Pullman put it: “It’s all got to change. If we come out of this crisis with all the rickety, flyblown, worm-eaten old structures still intact, our descendants will not forgive us. Nor should they. We must burn out the old corruption and establish a better way of living together.” And if you take a walk through a shopping area, an industrial site or office island, it’s clear; the old is dying before our very eyes, not due to the pandemic, but because it is devoid of vitality, totally and utterly. It’s finished, let it go, and let’s turn our attention to re-imagining society and the systems under which we all live; allow the transition into the new to creatively and harmoniously take place.

Save Our Planet (S.O.P.)

For months Covid-19 has stolen the headlines and dominated mainstream media programs, but within a burgeoning list of interconnected crises, of which the current pandemic is one, it is the complex environmental emergency that screams out as the single greatest issue facing humanity. And if humanity is to rise to this greatest of challenges, wholesale change is needed. Under lockdown the environment appeared to be given a respite, the air somewhat cleaner, rivers lighter, but, perhaps surprisingly, greenhouse gas emissions have been barely affected. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) expects this year’s annual emissions to be reduced by just 6-8%. This, they make clear, will have no measurable impact on carbon concentrations, or climate warming. In fact, 2020 is on track to be hottest year on record, on the back of subsequent hot years. According to the UK Met Office, a 10% drop is needed “to have a noticeable effect on the rising CO2 concentrations, but even then concentrations would still be rising.”

The principle cause of the environmental catastrophe is consumerism, insatiable ignorant human consumption of stuff, most of it unnecessary, and, crucially, animal-based food produce, and if we are to Save Our Planet (S.O.P.) and provide a viable world in which our children and grandchildren can live and grow, radical changes in our modes of living are needed, alternative values encouraged. Changes that move humanity in a new direction completely, that negate totally the urge, tempting or inevitable as it may appear to many to be, to resurrect the terminally sick economy and pursue the Growth Genie. Rooted in endless consumption, greed and competition such obsessive behavior has, in addition to strengthening nationalism and division, pushed the planet into critical care and, if we continue to be hypnotized by the pursuit of transient pleasures, will lead, if we are not already there, to irreparable climatic disorder and chronic ecological disease – and soon.

Returning to ‘normal’ means re-igniting the consumer-based economy, encouraging consumerism and affirming negative, habitual patterns of behavior. That’s what the politicians and the corporate voices are concerned about, and, while they may include the words ‘green’ or ‘alternative’, ‘renewable’, or ‘eco’, in their rousing duplicitous rhetoric, their principle goal is not salvaging the environment, changing behavior and encouraging simplicity of living; it is generating profit, perpetuating ‘growth’. And the way that’s achieved is by populations consuming, irresponsibly and in excess. An economic system based and reliant upon limitless consumption, in all its facets, including animal agriculture, is completely incompatible with the health of the planet, and the well-being of people.

Instead of excess, simplicity and sufficiency need to be the goals; responsible consumerism, in which goods and services are bought based on need, and choices/decisions are determined by the impact on the natural world. This requires personal effort and worldwide education. National public education programs, run by governments in collaboration with environmental groups, are needed to make people aware of the impact of their behavior on the environment, including animal agriculture; cutting out all animal food produce is the single most significant step individuals can take to help reduce their impact on the environment.

Changes in behavior are essential, but governments, long-term political policies and corporations have the biggest impact; while the rhetoric from some in office may be resonant, it is difficult to see any politicians within the current crop who have the breadth of vision and the will to enact the radical measures needed if the environmental emergency is to be overcome. All are married to the existing structures and appear to believe in the pervasive socio-economic ideology. Intense public pressure then, like the actions undertaken by Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, the Schools Strike for Climate and others, is crucial and must be applied, consistently and forcefully if, and it is a loud and deeply troubling if, the needed actions to Save Our Planet and heal our societies – for the two are inextricably linked – are to take place within the time frame required.

The post No Going Back: It’s All Got to Change first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Green New Deal for Workers

Workers in 2020 have a unique opportunity to vote to put two fellow workers in the White House. Howie is a recently retired Teamster and Angela is a dump truck driver. We know the economic realities that working people face in the United States. This Labor Day we call for a better class of people in the White House than the corporate crooks and flunkies that have been occupying it.

The COVID pandemic and economic collapse have highlighted the race and class inequalities in our society. With more than 35 million jobs lost, millions have lost their employer-connected health insurance in the middle of a pandemic. COVID-19 deaths are disproportionately afflicting working-class people, particularly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. The case for universal healthcare through a publicly-funded Medicare for All has never been stronger.

As income disappears, the rent — already too high — has become impossible for many to pay. The threat of eviction is with many of us every month. Even if eviction has been stopped by a temporary moratorium for some of us, we see our rent piling up each month so that we will be evicted anyway when the moratorium ends. We need a federal emergency housing relief program that helps people make their rent and mortgage payments during the emergency. To fix the fundamentals of the housing crisis requires a major investment in public housing, this time not just as segregated housing for the poor but as high-quality mixed-income developments that include middle-income workers and professionals.

Congress and the president are responding to the economic collapse so poorly that the nation is falling into a depression. A poll this week reported that 50% unemployed workers, 8.3 million people, were unable to cover their basic expenses in August.

Trump and Biden rely on private enterprise alone to pull us out of this economic hole. Their public economic recovery spending proposals feature corporate welfare grants, loans, and tax breaks that will supposedly trickle-down to working people as new jobs. But with working-class consumer demand depressed, it is too risky for corporations to make job-creating productive investments. Instead, they will again invest their stimulus money in stocks, bonds, and derivatives, just rearranging and further concentrating who owns the productive assets we have rather than creating new ones.

Our alternative is large-scale public investment in new public enterprises and services to benefit the working-class majority. Our ecosocialist Green New Deal will create 30 million jobs in manufacturing, construction, transportation, energy, and agriculture to rebuild our production systems for zero-to-negative carbon emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030. It provides for a Just Transition of up to five years wage and benefits maintenance for workers displaced by this economic transition, but few will need it for very long with all the new jobs that will be created.

We create 8 million more jobs with an Economic Bill of Rights to a living-wage job, a guaranteed income above poverty, affordable housing, universal health care, lifelong tuition-free public education, and a secure retirement for every senior by doubling Social Security benefits.

The two corporate parties, who represent their Wall Street and big business donors, continue to undermine the rights of workers and let employers get away with breaking labor, health, and safety laws. It is time to repeal repressive labor laws, starting with the Taft-Hartley law that restricts labor’s ability to organize, act in solidarity, and engage in political activity. We need to enact new laws that enable union organization, including card check union recognition and the repeal of anti-union “right-to-work” laws.

We call for a Workers Bill of Rights, including workers rights to unions, to living wages, to portable defined-benefit pensions, to information about chemicals used at work, to refuse unsafe work, and to participate in enterprise governance. In order to increase economic security and strengthen workers’ power, we must replace employment-at-will laws, which let employers discharge workers for any reason or no reason, with just cause termination laws, where workers can only be fired for nonperformance or economic reasons. We must extend constitutional rights into the workplace, including free speech, association, and assembly, and freedom from warrantless employer surveillance, search, and seizure.

Even before the pandemic health and economic crisis hit, three super-rich Americans owned more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population, who earn a poverty-level median income of $18,000 a year.

Now, mounting COVID-19 deaths, economic depression, accelerating economic inequality, and climate collapse are all reasons to restructure our economy into a socialist economic democracy where the working-class majority is empowered to protect its interests and receive the full value of its labor. The first step is the ecosocialist Green New Deal for economic recovery as well as climate recovery.

The post A Green New Deal for Workers first appeared on Dissident Voice.

American Workers Have Been Given a Raw Deal Throughout the Trump Era

Although Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that American workers are “thriving” during his presidency, this contention rings hollow.  The mishandled coronavirus pandemic, of course, has created levels of unemployment, hunger, and misery in the United States not seen since the Great Depression.  But even in the years before the pandemic, when Trump claimed he had created “the greatest economy in history,”  that economy left American workers far behind.

During pre-pandemic years, the labor market was shifting, producing a rising percentage of workers concentrated in low-paying jobs.  A study released by the Brookings Institution in late 2019 reported that 44 percent of American workers (53 million people) earned low wages, with median annual pay of $17,950 per year.  Low-wage work was often precarious, with unpredictable schedules, reduced benefits, and unsteady employment.  Low-wage workers usually remained stuck in these jobs, and even workers in the middle class were “more likely to move down the occupation ladder than up.”  Unable to cover their living costs, substantial numbers of Americans worked at two or more jobs.

Overall, wages remained stagnant during the Trump era, with gains in take-home pay eaten up by inflation, leaving “real wages” for workers the same as 40 years before.  By contrast, the compensation received by their bosses rose dramatically, leading to an executive-to-worker pay ratio of 339 to 1.

Millions of American workers also suffered injury and even death on the job.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 alone private sector employers reported 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses.  Fatal work injuries numbered 5,280.

Moreover, despite legal restrictions on child labor, it remained remarkably widespread.  According to the U.S. Labor Department, in 2017 there were 2.5 million child workers in the United States.  Child labor was particularly common in agriculture, where it was perfectly legal for a 12-year old to work 50 to 60 hours a week in the fields, exposed to toxic pesticides and extreme heat.  When Human Rights Watch interviewed child tobacco workers in four Southern states in 2019, most reported symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning, including nausea, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness.

American workers faced other kinds of mistreatment, as well.  Enormous numbers filed official complaints of gender, race, age, and religious discrimination.  In late 2017, a Pew Research poll of U.S. working women found that 42 percent said they faced gender discrimination on the job.  Another survey, conducted in 2018, reported that 38 percent of women and 13 percent of men claimed that they had experienced sexual harassment at work.  McDonald’s, one of the largest employers in the United States (with over 800,000 employees), became notorious for the sexual attacks experienced by its workers, who even staged a nationwide strike over the issue.

Perhaps most significant, American workers were largely stripped of a key protection against exploitation:  labor unions.  Thanks to union activism, union members are more likely than other workers to have good wages, employer-provided health insurance, paid vacations, sick leave, and pension plans.  And even workers without unions gain when union agitation leads to improved working conditions and pro-worker legislation.  But unscrupulous U.S. employers effectively used legal and illegal tactics—including harassing union organizing drives, firing union sympathizers, and waging vicious, anti-union campaigns—to deprive workers of union representation.  As a result, although nearly two-thirds of Americans approved of unions and roughly half of unorganized workers said they would join one if they could, union membership in the United States fell to an all-time low, with severe consequences for workers.

But how does the record of United States compare with that of other advanced industrial countries?

In 2016 (the last year for which comparative statistics are available), the death rate for U.S. workers on the job was considerably higher than the rate in comparable nations—more than twice as high as in Japan, three times higher than in Canada, and more than five times higher than in Sweden.  Moreover, in 2019, U.S. unemployment insurance benefits were considerably lower than in many advanced industrial societies.

Among the three dozen industrial nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States, in 2019, was exceeded only by Latvia in having the highest percentage of low-wage workers.  This is not entirely surprising, as the U.S. minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, placing the United States behind Luxembourg ($13.78), Australia ($12.14), France ($11.66), New Zealand ($11.20), Germany ($10.87), Netherlands ($10.44), Belgium ($10.38), Britain ($10.34), Ireland ($9.62), Canada ($9.52), and Israel ($7.94).

Furthermore, American workers put in many more hours on the job than did their foreign counterparts.  At the beginning of 2020, full-time U.S. workers had a longer work week than full-time workers in 24 OECD nations.  In addition, the United States remained the only country with an advanced industrial economy that did not guarantee workers a paid vacation.  The European Union guaranteed workers at least 20 paid vacation days a year, with some countries mandating as many as 30.  Although the United States had no legally mandated paid holidays, most advanced industrial countries offered at least six per year.  As a result, close to one in four Americans had no paid vacation and no paid holidays, while the average American worker in the private sector received only 10 paid vacation days and six paid holidays—far less time free of employment responsibilities than in almost every other country with an advanced economy.  The United States also remained the only advanced industrial nation that failed to guarantee paid maternity leave to workers.

When it comes to unions, the story is much the same.  American unions represented a much smaller portion of the workforce than labor organizations in comparable societies.  In 2019, when union membership in the United States fell to 10.1 percent, it stood at 90.4 percent in Iceland, 66.1 percent in Sweden, 54.2 percent in Belgium, 34.3 percent in Italy, 25.9 percent in Canada, 24.2 percent in Ireland, and 23.2 percent in Britain.  Union membership in OECD nations averaged 16 percent.

Not surprisingly, in a 2020 report, the International Trade Union Confederation, representing 200 million workers in 163 countries, ranked the United States as the worst among the nations with the world’s leading economies for workers’ rights.

Against this backdrop, it’s hard to take seriously Trump’s claim that U.S. workers have thrived during his presidency.  Indeed, even before the disasters wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, American workers received a raw deal.

The Great Election Fraud: Will Our Freedoms Survive Another Election?

Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest—forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries.

― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism,  1951

And so it begins again, the never-ending, semi-delusional, train-wreck of an election cycle in which the American people allow themselves to get worked up into a frenzy over the misguided belief that the future of this nation—nay, our very lives—depends on who we elect as president.

For the next three months, Americans will be dope-fed billions of dollars’ worth of political propaganda aimed at keeping them glued to their television sets and persuading them that 1) their votes count and 2) electing the right candidate will fix everything that is wrong with this country.

Incredible, isn’t it, that in a country of more than 330 million people, we are given only two choices for president? How is it that in a country teeming with creative, intelligent, productive, responsible, moral people, our vote too often comes down to pulling the lever for the lesser of two evils?

The system is rigged, of course.

It is a heavily scripted, tightly choreographed, star-studded, ratings-driven, mass-marketed, costly exercise in how to sell a product—in this case, a presidential candidate—to dazzled consumers who will choose image over substance almost every time.

As author Noam Chomsky rightly observed, “It is important to bear in mind that political campaigns are designed by the same people who sell toothpaste and cars.”

In other words, we’re being sold a carefully crafted product by a monied elite who are masters in the art of making the public believe that they need exactly what is being sold to them, whether it’s the latest high-tech gadget, the hottest toy, or the most charismatic politician.

This year’s presidential election, much like every other election in recent years, is what historian Daniel Boorstin referred to as a “pseudo-event”: manufactured, contrived, confected and devoid of any intrinsic value save the value of being advertised.

After all, who wants to talk about police shootings, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture schemes, private prisons, school-to-prison pipelines, overcriminalization, censorship or any of the other evils that plague our nation when you can tune into a reality show carefully calibrated to appeal to the public’s need for bread and circuses, diversion and entertainment, and pomp and circumstance.

But make no mistake: Americans only think they’re choosing the next president.

In truth, however, they’re engaging in the illusion of participation culminating in the reassurance ritual of voting. It’s just another Blue Pill, a manufactured reality conjured up by the matrix in order to keep the populace compliant and convinced that their vote counts and that they still have some influence over the political process.

It’s all an illusion.

The nation is drowning in debt, crippled by a slowing economy, overrun by militarized police, swarming with surveillance, besieged by endless wars and a military industrial complex intent on starting new ones, and riddled with corrupt politicians at every level of government.

All the while, we’re arguing over which corporate puppet will be given the honor of stealing our money, invading our privacy, abusing our trust, undermining our freedoms, and shackling us with debt and misery for years to come.

Nothing taking place on Election Day will alleviate the suffering of the American people.

Unless we do something more than vote, the government as we have come to know it—corrupt, bloated and controlled by big-money corporations, lobbyists and special interest groups—will remain unchanged. And “we the people”—overtaxed, overpoliced, overburdened by big government, underrepresented by those who should speak for us and blissfully ignorant of the prison walls closing in on us—will continue to trudge along a path of misery.

With roughly 22 lobbyists per Congressman, corporate greed will continue to call the shots in the nation’s capital, while our so-called representatives will grow richer and the people poorer. And elections will continue to be driven by war chests and corporate benefactors rather than such values as honesty, integrity and public service.

Just consider: while billions will be spent on the elections this year, not a dime of that money will actually help the average American in their day-to-day struggles to just get by.

Conveniently, politicians only seem to remember their constituents in the months leading up to an election, and yet “we the people” continue to take the abuse, the neglect, the corruption and the lies. We make excuses for the shoddy treatment, we cover up for them when they cheat on us, and we keep hoping that if we just stick with them long enough, eventually they’ll treat us right.

When a country spends billions of dollars to select what is, for all intents and purposes, a glorified homecoming king or queen to occupy the White House, while tens of millions of its people live in poverty, nearly 18 million Americans are out of work, and most of the country and its economy remain in a state of semi-lockdown due to COVID-19 restrictions, that’s a country whose priorities are out of step with the needs of its people.

Then again, people get the government they deserve.

No matter who wins the presidential election come November, it’s a sure bet that the losers will be the American people if all we’re prepared to do is vote.

As political science professor Gene Sharp notes in starker terms, “Dictators are not in the business of allowing elections that could remove them from their thrones.”

To put it another way, the Establishment—the shadow government and its corporate partners that really run the show, pull the strings and dictate the policies, no matter who occupies the Oval Office—are not going to allow anyone to take office who will unravel their power structures. Those who have attempted to do so in the past have been effectively put out of commission.

So what is the solution to this blatant display of imperial elitism disguising itself as a populist exercise in representative government?

Stop playing the game. Stop supporting the system. Stop defending the insanity. Just stop.

Washington thrives on money, so stop giving them your money. Stop throwing your hard-earned dollars away on politicians and Super PACs who view you as nothing more than a means to an end. There are countless worthy grassroots organizations and nonprofits working in your community to address real needs like injustice, poverty, homelessness, etc. Support them and you’ll see change you really can believe in in your own backyard.

Politicians depend on votes, so stop giving them your vote unless they have a proven track record of listening to their constituents, abiding by their wishes and working hard to earn and keep their trust.

It’s comforting to believe that your vote matters, but Franklin Delano Roosevelt was right: “Presidents are selected, not elected.”

Despite what is taught in school and the propaganda that is peddled by the media, a presidential election is not a populist election for a representative. Rather, it’s a gathering of shareholders to select the next CEO, a fact reinforced by the nation’s archaic electoral college system. In other words, your vote doesn’t elect a president. Despite the fact that there are 218 million eligible voters in this country (only half of whom actually vote), it is the electoral college, made up of 538 individuals handpicked by the candidates’ respective parties, that actually selects the next president.

The only thing you’re accomplishing by taking part in the “reassurance ritual” of voting is sustaining the illusion that we have a democratic republic.

In actuality, we are suffering from what political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page more accurately term an “economic élite domination” in which the economic elite (lobbyists, corporations, monied special interest groups) dominate and dictate national policy.

No surprise there.

As an in-depth Princeton University study confirms, democracy has been replaced by oligarchy, a system of government in which elected officials represent the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the average citizen.

We did it to ourselves.

We said nothing while our elections were turned into popularity contests populated by individuals better suited to be talk-show hosts rather than intelligent, reasoned debates on issues of domestic and foreign policy by individuals with solid experience, proven track records and tested integrity.

We turned our backs on things like wisdom, sound judgment, morality and truth, shrugging them off as old-fashioned, only to find ourselves saddled with lying politicians incapable of making fair and impartial decisions.

We let ourselves be persuaded that those yokels in Washington could do a better job of running this country than we could. It’s not a new problem. As former Senator Joseph S. Clark Jr. acknowledged in a 1955 article titled, “Wanted: Better Politicians”:

[W]e have too much mediocrity in the business of running the government of the country, and it troubles me that this should be so at a time of such complexity and crisis… Government by amateurs, semi-pros, and minor-leaguers will not meet the challenge of our times. We must realize that it takes great competence to run a country which, in spite of itself, has succeeded to world leadership in a time of deadly peril.

We indulged our craving for entertainment news at the expense of our need for balanced reporting by a news media committed to asking the hard questions of government officials. The result, as former congressman Jim Leach points out, leaves us at a grave disadvantage:

At a time when in-depth analysis of the issues of the day has never been more important, quality journalism has been jeopardized by financial considerations and undercut by purveyors of ideology who facilely design news, like clothes, to appeal to a market segment.

We bought into the fairytale that politicians are saviors, capable of fixing what’s wrong with our communities and our lives when, in fact, most politicians lead such sheltered lives that they have no clue about what their constituents must do to make ends meet. As political scientists Morris Fiorina and Samuel Abrams conclude:

In America today, there is a disconnect between an unrepresentative political class and the citizenry it purports to represent. The political process today not only is less representative than it was a generation ago and less supported by the citizenry, but the outcomes of that process are at a minimum no better.

We let ourselves be saddled with a two-party system and fooled into believing that there’s a difference between the Republicans and Democrats when, in fact, the two parties are exactly the same. As one commentator noted, both parties support endless war, engage in out-of-control spending, ignore the citizenry’s basic rights, have no respect for the rule of law, are bought and paid for by the corporate elite, care most about their own power, and have a long record of expanding government and shrinking liberty.

Then, when faced with the prospect of voting for the lesser of two evils, many simply compromise their principles and overlook the fact that the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Perhaps worst of all, we allowed the cynicism of our age and the cronyism and corruption of Washington, DC, to discourage us from believing that there was any hope for the American experiment in liberty.

Granted, it’s easy to become discouraged about the state of our nation. We’re drowning under the weight of too much debt, too many wars, too much power in the hands of a centralized government, too many militarized police, too many laws, too many lobbyists, and generally too much bad news.

It’s harder to believe that change is possible, that the system can be reformed, that politicians can be principled, that courts can be just, that good can overcome evil, and that freedom will prevail.

Yet I truly believe that change is possible, that the system can be reformed, that politicians can be principled, that courts can be just, that good can overcome evil, and that freedom can prevail but it will take each and every one of us committed to doing the hard work of citizenship that extends beyond the act of voting.

A healthy, representative government is hard work. It takes a citizenry that is informed about the issues, educated about how the government operates, and willing to make the sacrifices necessary to stay involved.

Most of all, it takes a citizenry willing to do more than grouse and complain.

The powers-that-be want us to believe that our job as citizens begins and ends on Election Day. They want us to believe that we have no right to complain about the state of the nation unless we’ve cast our vote one way or the other. They want us to remain divided over politics, hostile to those with whom we disagree politically, and intolerant of anyone or anything whose solutions to what ails this country differ from our own.

What they don’t want us doing is presenting a united front in order to reject the pathetic excuse for government that is being fobbed off on us.

So where does that leave us?

We’d better stop hanging our hopes on a political savior to rescue us from the clutches of an imperial president.

It’s possible that the next president might be better, but then again, he or she could be far worse.

Remember, presidential elections merely serve to maintain the status quo. Once elected president, that person becomes part of the dictatorial continuum that is the American imperial presidency today.

If we are to return to a constitutional presidency, “we the people” must recalibrate the balance of power.

The first step is to start locally—in your own communities, in your schools, at your city council meetings, in newspaper editorials, at protests—by pushing back against laws that are unjust, police departments that overreach, politicians that don’t listen to their constituents, and a system of government that grows more tyrannical by the day.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the only thing that will save us now is a concerted, collective commitment to the Constitution’s principles of limited government, a system of checks and balances, and a recognition that they—the president, Congress, the courts, the military, the police, the technocrats and plutocrats and bureaucrats—answer to and are accountable to “we the people.”

This will mean that Americans will have to stop letting their personal politics and party allegiances blind them to government misconduct and power grabs. It will mean holding all three branches of government accountable to the Constitution (i.e., vote them out of office if they abuse their powers). And it will mean calling on Congress to put an end to the use of presidential executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements as a means of getting around Congress and the courts.

As historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. concludes:

I would argue that what the country needs today is a little serious disrespect for the office of the presidency; a refusal to give any more weight to a President’s words than the intelligence of the utterance, if spoken by anyone else, would command… If the nation wants to work its way back to a constitutional presidency, there is only one way to begin. That is by showing Presidents that, when their closest associates place themselves above the law and the Constitution, such transgressions will be not forgiven or forgotten for the sake of the presidency but exposed and punished for the sake of the presidency.

In other words, we’ve got to stop treating the president like a god and start making both the office of the president and the occupant play by the rules of the Constitution.

The Specter of a Fascist Coup by Trump Haunts the US: There’s Worse to Worry About

Spreading faster than COVID-19 among those on the portside, warnings of a fascist-style coup by Trump are rampant this presidential campaign season. Should Trump fail to carry the Electoral College, Noam Chomsky admonishes, “he could send Blackshirts out in the streets… preparation for a plan to try to bring the military in to carry out something which would amount to a military coup.”

A New York Times columnist opines: “Put nothing past Trump, not even the destruction of the American electoral process.” Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, explains that Trump’s election delay threat is a coup in the making. Economist Jack Rasmus speculates Trump will “call for his radical right, gun-toting friends to come to Washington to surround and protect the White House.”

The left World Socialist Web Site joins the liberal chorus: “In an act unprecedented in American history, Donald Trump has repudiated the Constitution and is attempting to establish a presidential dictatorship, supported by the military, police and far-right fascistic militia acting under his command.”

Meanwhile in the real world, more than 51 million Americans have filed for unemployment since March. Some 27 million people have lost their health insurance on top of around 30 million who were uninsured before, in the face of the massive pandemic. The Federal Reserve has pumped $7 trillion into corporate bonds, municipal securities, loans and grants to business, while millions are going hungry. The pandemic death toll in the US is 168,345 as it rages out of control. California cannot even accurately count the number of cases being reported.

The US is experiencing the greatest combined health and economic crisis since the founding of the republic. But instead of demanding solutions, the overriding liberal-left concern of this presidential campaign season is the specter of a Trump coup, quickly forgetting the issues that Bernie Sanders ran on.

Fascism as a Personality Disorder

The idea that the “visibly overweight and dementia-plagued” “orange pig,” in the florid words of Paul Street, could by personal will change the form of governance in the US from a bourgeois democracy to fascism is based on a “great man” concept of the course of history, where a single individual determines all.

“There’s no doubt that the Trump malignancy runs deep,” Chomsky explains, “and that he is drawn to fascist symptoms,” describing Trump’s proclivity to fascism as a personality disorder.

Obscured by this concentration on Trump’s personality are the social, economic, and political conditions for a fascist transformation.

In Europe of the 1930s, sections of the ruling class in their respective countries accepted Hitler’s and Mussolini’s dictatorships for fear of working-class Communist and Socialist parties coming to political power. There is no such political contention in contemporary US. Rather, some half of the eligible electorate does not bother to vote because they do not see their interests represented by either wing of the two-party duopoly. The other half trust that they live in a genuine democracy with real political choices.

The US ruling class can impose their rule on the popular classes because the latter are either inactive or believe they are represented. If rule by and for the elites is accepted, why should the bourgeoisie squander this gift and opt for a more costly fascist dictatorship?

Even if Donald Trump personally would aspire to be the first US führer, he does not have sufficient backing from the ruling class, notably finance capital. Many military generals detest him. The foreign policy establishment does not trust him. At least half of the active-duty service members are unhappy with him. And the so-called deep state security agencies – FBI, CIA, NSA – are among his harshest critics

Trump might be able to mobilize some skinheads with gun show souvenirs. But these marginalized discontents would hardly be a match to the coercive apparatus of the world’s superpower.

Fellow party members, such as the Lincoln Project and Republicans against Trump (RAT), can’t stomach Trump. Romney has bailed, W isn’t far behind, and the polls indicate a landslide defeat in November. Even if Trump were doing everything right, not the opposite, no incumbent president could survive a spectacularly tanking economy plus a pandemic. Bottomline, Kamala Harris and what’s-his-face will be the new 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue neighbors.

However…while a one-man coup can be dismissed, an “October surprise” in the form of a military adventure cannot. There’s nothing like a dandy little war (say a coup in Belarus) to boost a sitting president’s approval ratings 15% and put him over the top in November. With US warships cruising for trouble in the South China Sea and the Democrats egging Trump for being soft on Beijing, even a dustup with nuclear-armed China cannot be ruled out.

Liberalism Is Dead

 The obsession with the person of Trump is testament to the political bankruptcy of the increasingly anemic successors of the New Deal and their epigones on the left who, every four years, admonish us that never before have the stakes been so high: we have to vote for the lesser evil. Given their view of the danger of a fascist coup, we should put aside a progressive agenda and vote for the former senator from Mastercard and learn to love endless imperial war and increasing austerity for working people in a repressive security state.

 The liberal-left pundits reproach us to vote Democrat simply because the alternative is not Trump. Recall similar warnings about Bush and Romney, who are now chums of Democrats in high places. Vote, but not for any issue, because the so-called liberal agenda is today devoid of issues. Liberalism is dead. Indicative is its standard bearer barely showing vital signs. Biden is being told to stay in his basement and even sit out his nominating convention.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) killed the one hope – a genuine one – that liberalism had. Bernie Sanders knew that the DNC had rigged the 2016 contest against him and would do the same in 2020. But Sanders’s strategy was to ignite a grassroots mass movement to overcome the Democratic Party from within.

After a poor showing in the South Carolina primary, Sanders dropped out. Shortly thereafter, the winds of pandemic and BLM protests shook the nation and might have buoyed the Sanders campaign, with its signature issues of healthcare and equality for all. Instead of making history, the Great Gray Hope’s grand plans have sadly been reduced by his fateful conviction to work within the confines of the Democratic Party to urging the wearing of face masks.

Trajectory of Neoliberalism

Short of a fascist coup by Trump, the liberal-left has legitimate concerns. A rightward specter is haunting the US and beyond with serious consequences. White supremacy remains seminal in a nation founded on the expropriation of the Indigenous and the exploitation of African slaves. The decline of living standards and an ever more precarious workforce are reaching crisis proportions with the pandemic. The worst is yet to come, creating a political dynamic of discontent that can swing either left or right.

Rather than merely replacing the current White House occupant with one with better table manners, more radical measures are called for.

What remains is a political theatre of two neoliberal parties vehemently contesting matters of style and colluding on matters of substance. The two major parties concur: bail out Wall Street, renew the Patriot Act, increase the military budget, modernize the nuclear arsenal, prepare for war with China, pursue regime change in Venezuela, etc.

The trajectory of neoliberalism has entailed a concentration of economic and political power coupled with an increasingly authoritarian and imperialistically aggressive state. This trajectory converges with fascism. A pervasive security state and the coercive apparatus of fascism are, in fact, already in place. According to the DNC, “Democrats have made modernizing our military a top priority” along with supporting our “national security personnel.” Ditto for the Republicans.

Hitler physically liquidated the trade unions along with the left political parties. He censored the press and engaged in a massive military build-up. In the US today, union density has declined to 10.3% of the workforce, no countervailing left political organizations of consequence exist, the mainstream media echo Washington, and the military budget balloons. Neither the historical example nor the current one is free of the defects of racism and xenophobia. Perhaps the salient political question for the 2020 electoral season is not whether there will be fascist coup, but how would we know?

White Allies For Black Lives Matter

We’re now emerging from an intense period of racial justice protests that began after the killing of George Floyd. It was exhilarating and pride-inspiring to witness the multitudes in the Lehigh Valley (Pa) who “took it to the streets” on behalf of racial equality, especially the waves of Black and white young people. According to the Pew Research Center, some 15 million adults participated in the protests which makes it the largest movement in American history. In terms of interracial composition, three times as many whites as Blacks participated and the percentage of Hispanics was higher than that for Black people. Further, so many young people participated that it could be rightly characterized as a generational revolt. But, will these events remain a historic “moment” or the start of an ongoing liberation movement?

After an interminable and unconscionably overdue response, we saw significant white allyship and we finally realized that white people must listen to Black voices and be accountable. However, in that vein, a key question remains: which voices should white allies heed? As Black activist Eric Jenkins reminds us, no organization speaks for all Black people and some Black-led organizations are totally disconnected from the lives of the Black working class. As Jenkins notes, some traditional Black organizations are even leery to accept white activists lest it disrupt their relationship with the dominant white power structure.

So, should white allies listen to the voices of the “go-along to get-ahead” types, like the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), composed of 55 members? The late Bruce Dixon, an editor at Black Agenda Report, characterized the CBC as part of the “Black Political Class,” whose first allegiance is enabling the 1% to rule, a class to which most Black Americans do not belong. “Blackness,” here, is just an image brandished to banksters, military contractors and corporate interests.” As Dixon asserted, CBC takes its marching orders from the Democratic Party and obscene gobs of cash donations from white corporate sponsors in exchange for safe Congressional seats, cushy lifestyles and undeserved status. Aside from rhetoric, they do nothing to advance the interests of 40 million Black citizens,

Should we listen to the Black voices those attempting to co-opt and neuter the system transforming potential Black Lives Matter by diverting it simply into voting for Democrats. As a Facebook friend recently wrote, “The Democratic Party is now “An upper-middle class party that’s singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ fifty years too late.”

Or, rather, should we be attentive to Black voices in our midst who echo the powerful legacy of social and political transformation derived from Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Paul Robeson to W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Audre Lorde to more recent voices like bell hooks, Margaret Kimberley, Keenanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Mary Hooks? Their work strongly suggests they would all advocate a gradual merging of BLM demands like “Stop Killing Black People,” ending mass incarceration (one in three Black boys can expect to be locked up during their adult lives) and abolishing institutional and cultural racism with demands to dismantle capitalism in all its predatory forms. The aforementioned social justice activists knew that a reckoning with America’s history of racism and economic injustice can never be realized without joining both sets of demands.

For example, as Martin Luther King matured as a leader, thinker and radical activist, be became openly anti-capitalist (and anti-U.S. imperialism). In a speech to his staff in South Carolina, just one month before his assassination on April 4, 1968, Dr. King spoke approvingly about the new and dynamic young radicals in the movement who understood that “only by structural change can current evils be eliminated because the roots are in the [capitalist] system rather than in men or in faulty operations…they all understand the need for direct, self-transforming and structural transformation. This may be their most creative collective insight.”

Finally, meaningful change will only come about when tens of thousands of people are willing to engage in large-scale civil disobedience and risk arrest in the revolutionary tradition of Dr. King. Is there any doubt that were he alive today he would be all about grass-roots organizing and planning another rally for the indefinite occupation of Washington, DC. This type of movement is the worst nightmare for those who own and rule the country. Doing anything less than attempting to bring their apparition to life would be wasting a convergence of favorable factors that may not appear again.

Giants and Warriors Give their Workers the Boot

Photo by Marc Norton

I got the email firing me from my job at the Giants ballpark on Monday evening, July 27. On Tuesday evening I learned from the San Francisco Examiner website that I was also being fired from my job at the Warriors new stadium, and that there were 2,154 other food service workers being shown the door at these two sports venues. That was a pretty cold way to get the news.

Stadium workers are overwhelmingly people of color. San Francisco stadium workers in particular have a large contingent of Black workers, in part because the Giants and 49ers old Candlestick Park stadium was located in Bayview-Hunters Point. Both the Giants and the Warriors have been bragging about supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, but are now kicking their Black, Latino, and Asian workers to the curb.

Since 2013, I have sold garlic fries and beer to untold numbers of fans. Back in the 1980s I cooked hot dogs for the vendors at Candlestick. Now it looks like my jobs at Oracle Park and Chase Center may be going the same way as Candlestick.

I grew up in Los Angeles, where I was a fan of the Dodgers, Jackie Robinson’s old team. But I have lived in the greater San Francisco Bay Area since I was 17, for more than five decades, and now I am a Giants fan. And a Warriors fan. It’s just that they don’t seem to be a fan of me anymore.

None of us at the Giants ballpark or the Warriors stadium have been working since March, when San Francisco shut down in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. But we had been assured that this was just temporary, until things got better. “This will not result in the termination of any individual’s employment with the Company.” That’s what the company wrote in March.

But now it’s July, and they have changed their minds. According to their email, “We have to eliminate a number of positions [2,154 to be exact], including yours.”

It’s not as if the Giants or the Warriors are in some kind of dire financial straits. Each team is worth multiple billions of dollars.

As a recent article in The Nation said, the teams we work for “are among the most profitable corporations in the country, and… the owners who control those companies are among the wealthiest individuals in the nation.” Major league baseball teams alone “are worth over $55 billion. The 30 principal owners of these teams are worth $78 billion.”

Larry Baer, the Giants CEO, said in an April 1 statement that stadium workers are “the people that work hard, work diligently and serve our fans, which is the lifeblood of our sport and our business.” Perhaps, in the light of our firing, this was meant to be an April Fool’s joke. As others have pointed out, MLB (Major League Baseball) is BLM spelled backwards. Unlike many stadium workers, I don’t think many of our sports team owners worry about being stopped by the cops on their way home from work.

We should be thankful for small favors. When we were furloughed in March, the Warriors gave us each a check for $1,000, and the Giants ponied up $500. What we didn’t know at the time was that this was our severance pay.

I need to clear up one little legal detail. We don’t work directly for the Giants or the Warriors. We work for their food-service contractor, a big-time corporation called Bon Appetit. Does that name make you hungry for more? Bon Appetit is part of an even bigger corporate giant called Compass.

Bon Appetit is the food service contractor at both the Giants and Warriors stadiums. That way the Giants and the Warriors can claim to be somehow uninvolved in all of this, while their hatchet men do the dirty work. But does anyone really think the Giants and the Warriors don’t know what Bon Appetit is doing and aren’t consulted in little moves like firing 2,000-plus people?

Bon Appetit is trying to soften the blow by promising that we have recall rights, perhaps with seniority, for 12 months at the Giants ballpark, and 24 months at the Warriors stadium. The Giants bit is in our expired UNITE HERE Local 2 contract, so thank you very much. I haven’t seen anything in writing yet about my expired Warriors stadium job. I am pretty sure we will all be hearing a lot more from Local 2.

Curiously, I got the “see you later, alligator” email on the very same day that I got my last $600-per-week pandemic unemployment payment. That $600 is bye-bye now, courtesy of the Republicans in the Senate. That was a double whammy day. What timing!

Bon Appetit told the San Francisco Chronicle that “We look forward to a time when venues reopen and hope to rehire many of our former employees as service levels return to normal.” You know the old story about how good it feels to stop hitting yourself in the head with a hammer? I guess we got fired so our bosses could “look forward to a time” when they can rehire “many” of us.

• A version of this article was first published in 48 Hills

Can the Anti-Netanyahu Protests grow into a Larger Movement?

Israel is roiling with angry street protests that local observers have warned could erupt into open civil strife – a development Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be encouraging.

For weeks, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have been the scene of large, noisy demonstrations outside the official residences of Mr Netanyahu and his public security minister, Amir Ohana.

On Saturday night around 13,000 marched through Jerusalem shouting “Anyone but Bibi”, Netanyahu’s nickname. Their calls were echoed by tens of thousands more at locations across the country.

Turnout has been steadily growing, despite attacks on demonstrators from both the police and Netanyahu’s loyalists. The first protests abroad by Israeli expats have also been reported.

The protests, in defiance of physical distancing rules, are unprecedented by Israeli standards. They have bridged the gaping political divide between a small constituency of anti-occupation activists – disparagingly called “leftists” in Israel – and the much larger Israeli Jewish public that identifies politically as on the centre and the right.

For the first time, a section of Netanyahu’s natural supporters is out on the streets against him.

In contrast to earlier protests, such as a large social justice movement that occupied the streets in 2011 to oppose rising living costs, these demonstrations have not entirely eschewed political issues.

The target of the anger and frustration is decidedly personal at this stage – focused on the figure of Netanyahu, who is now Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. Protesters have renamed him Israel’s “crime minister”.

But also fuelling the protests is a larger mood of disenchantment as doubts grow about the state’s competence to deal with multiple crises unfolding in Israel. The virus has caused untold social and economic misery for many, with as much as one fifth of the labour force out of work. Netanyahu’s supporters in the lower middle-classes have been hit hardest.

Now well into a second wave, Israel has a per capita rate of infection that outstrips even the US. The shadow of a renewed lockdown amid government mishandling of the virus has undermined Netanyahu’s claim to be “Mr Security”.

There are concerns too about police brutality – starkly highlighted by the killing in May of an autistic Palestinian, Eyad Hallaq, in Jerusalem.

Police crackdowns on the protests, using riot squads, undercover agents, mounted police and water cannon, have underlined not just Netanyahu’s growing authoritarianism. There is a sense too that the police may be ready to use violence on dissenting Israelis that was once reserved for Palestinians.

After manipulating his right-wing rival, the former military general Benny Gantz, into joining him in a unity government in April, Netanyahu has effectively crushed any meaningful political opposition.

The agreement shattered Gantz’s Blue and White party, with many of his legislators refusing to enter the government, and has widely discredited the ex-general.

Netanyahu is reportedly preparing for a winter election – the fourth in two years – both to cash in on his opponents’ disarray and to avoid honouring a rotation agreement in which Gantz is due to replace him late next year.

According to the Israeli media, Netanyahu may find a pretext for forcing new elections by further delaying approval of the national budget, despite Israel facing its worst financial crisis in decades.

And, of course, overshadowing all this is the matter of the corruption charges against Netanyahu. Not only is he the first sitting prime minister in Israel to stand trial, but he has been using his role and the pandemic to his advantage, including by delaying court hearings.

In a time of profound crisis and uncertainty, many Israelis are wondering which policies are being pursued for the national good and which for Netanyahu’s personal benefit.

The government’s months-long focus on the annexation of swaths of Palestinian territory in the West Bank has looked like pandering to his settler constituency, creating a dangerous distraction from dealing with the pandemic.

Similarly, a one-off handout this week to every Israeli – over the strenuous objections of finance officials – looks suspiciously like an electoral bribe. As a result, Netanyahu is facing a rapid decline in support. A recent survey shows trust in him has fallen by half – from 57 per cent in March and April, when the Covid-19 pandemic began, to 29 per cent today.

Many Israelis increasingly see Netanyahu less as a father figure and more as a parasite draining resources from the body politic. Capturing the popular mood is a new art work called the “Last Supper” that was covertly installed in central Tel Aviv. It shows Netanyahu alone, gorging on a vast banquet by stuffing his hand into an enormous cake decorated with the Israeli flag.

In another move designed to highlight Netanyahu’s corrupt politics, better-off Israelis have been publicly organising to donate this week’s state handout to those in need.

Netanyahu’s repeated incitement against the protesters – disparaging them as “leftists” and “anarchists”, and suggesting they are spreading disease – appears to have backfired. It has only rallied more people to the street.

But the incitement and Netanyahu’s claims that he is the true victim – and that in the current climate he faces assassination – have been interpreted as a call to arms by some on the right. Last week five protesters were injured when his loyalists used clubs and broken bottles on them, with police appearing to turn a blind eye. Further attacks were reported at the weekend. Protest organisers said they had begun arranging defence units to protect demonstrators.

Ohana, the public security minister, has called for a ban on the protests and urged a heavy hand from the police. He has delayed appointing a new police chief – a move seen as incentivising local commanders to crack down on the protests to win favour. Large numbers of protesters have been forcefully arrested, with reports that police have questioned some on their political views.

Observers have wondered whether the protests can transcend party political tribalism and develop into a grassroots movement demanding real change. That might widen their appeal to even more disadvantaged groups, not least the one fifth of Israel’s citizens who belong to its Palestinian minority.

But it would also require more of the protesters to start drawing a direct connection between Netanyahu’s personal abuses of office and the wider, systemic corruption of Israeli politics, with the occupation its beating heart.

That may yet prove a tall order, especially when Israel faces no significant external pressure for change, either from the US or from Europe.

• First published in The National

COVID-19 Crisis Failure, People Must Save Themselves and the Economy

Positive COVID-19 Test (Shutterstock)

The US is at a moment of truth. This week, Congress has to face up to a pandemic that is out of control and an economy that is collapsing. The Republican’s and Democrat’s proposals show they will fail this test. The people will need to protect themselves and lead from below.

The pandemic is worsening with more than 60,000 new cases and approximately 1,000 new deaths daily. Deaths, now over 158,000, are spiking across the sunbelt and increasing across the Midwest. By Election Day, the US could have 250,000 deaths making COVID-19 the third largest killer after cancer and heart disease.

The economy shrank at a record 32.9% annual pace in the second quarter, the largest since records were first kept in 1947. Jobless claims increased for the second week in a row with 1.4 million new people seeking unemployment benefits and continuing claims have risen to 17.06 million. More than 35 million people have lost their jobs since March.

In the face of these depression-era numbers, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are planning enough spending to rebuild the economy. President Trump, who has botched the response to the pandemic, is unable to lead but seems willing to sign anything that passes Congress.

Boxes of food are distributed by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, at a drive thru distribution in downtown Pittsburgh, 10 April, 2020 (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar.)

Republican HEALS Act Will Spread the Virus, Deepen Economic Collapse

The Republican Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act seeks to push people back to work and reopen schools even if it is not safe to do so. Their proposals to cut unemployment benefits are designed to make workers desperate so they will work in conditions that put their health at risk. A large portion of school funding is restricted to schools that physically reopen forcing unsafe schools. Here are some of the details of the bill:

Health care: The inadequacy of for-profit healthcare has been magnified by the pandemic. The loss of jobs resulted in millions of people losing their health insurance on top of almost 30 million people who were already uninsured. Republicans do not include a funding increase for Medicaid, which 70 million people rely on. The National Governor’s Association reports states are experiencing budget shortfalls ranging between 5 and 20 percent. The Republicans do not provide any funding to state and local governments to make up for this loss of income. Without new funding, states will have to cut Medicaid eligibility, reduce benefits, or reduce payments to providers at a time when the economy and virus mean more people need it.

Food: The Census reports 26 million people do not have adequate food. Food banks are reporting shortages and 14 million children are going hungry but the Republicans did not extend funding for food assistance programs. The Republicans did not extend either the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps, or the Pandemic EBT program, a benefit for households with children who have temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price school meals, which ended in June. In contrast, they did propose a 100 percent deduction on business meals through the end of 2020.

Housing: The eviction moratorium expired last week. It protected an estimated 12 million renters in federally-backed properties. The HEALS Act does nothing to prevent evictions from restarting. There are 110 million Americans who live in rental households. Twenty percent of them, 23 million people, are at risk of eviction by September 30 according to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. With the cut in unemployment benefits, the Census Bureau estimates 24 million people will be unable to pay next month’s rent, including 45 percent of Black and Latinx households.

Worker safety: As workers are being forced back to work, the HEALS Act cuts their ability to sue at a time when worker-safety is at its greatest risk in a century.  Senator McConnell calls this a “red line” that must be in the final bill. His proposal would preempt the few state workplace safety laws that exist and supersede such federal worker safeguards as the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, among others. The Republican proposal would erect almost insurmountable obstacles to lawsuits by workers who become infected at their workplaces and limit damages. To be immune, employers would merely have to show they were  “exploring options” to comply with federal law, or they found the risk of harm to health could not be “reduced or eliminated by reasonably modifying policies, practices, or procedures.” A worker whose lawyer issues a demand letter and settlement offer would find themselves potentially facing litigation by the employer against them. If employers sue workers, there is no limit to punitive damages. These provisions would be retroactive to December 1, 2019, and remain in effect at least until October 1, 2024.

Student debt: The HEALS Act doesn’t extend the interest-free payment pause on federal student loans or halt debt collection on government-held student debt, two forms of relief in the original CARES ACT. Without extending the relief Congress first granted to student loan borrowers through the CARES Act, 40 million people are likely to have to resume payments on September 30, 2020 at a time when there are Depression-like levels of unemployment.

Business support: The Act provides $100 billion more for the problematic Paycheck Protection Program, which has been rife with corruption as members of Congress and the administration as well as their friends, families, and donors got payouts. Big businesses got loans even though the program was intended for small businesses, making small business owners furious. Black and minority businesses were denied loans. Money is needed for main street businesses but PPP needs major changes rather than just pouring more money into the failed program.

The bill also includes $1.75 billion for the FBI building. This was added at the insistence of the Trump administration because the president’s hotel is across the street from the FBI. Without funding to refurbish the building, the FBI could move to Virginia or Maryland, leaving the current building to be torn down and likely replaced with a hotel that would compete with Trump’s hotel.

Military spending: Nearly $30 billion in the HEALS Act would be allocated in a brazen giveaway to the military. The bill includes billions for the Pentagon including $686 million for F-35 stealth fighters, $650 million for A-10 ground attack airplane wing replacements, $1.4 billion for four expeditionary medical ships, and $720 million for C-130J transport aircraft, $375 million for armored vehicles, $360 million for missile defense, and $283 million for Apache helicopters. This is reportedly being added to make up for money taken from the Pentagon for the border wall and comes after Congress recently passed a record military spending bill.

Paramedics taking a patient into an Emergency Room at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The Democrats Fail To Use Their Power

The Democrats control the House of Representatives. Nothing can pass the Senate without Democratic Party support. The Senate Republicans are divided and Trump is desperate to sign a bill. Polls show Republicans could lose the Senate so they need to pass a good bill. The political alignment favors the Democratic Party but it still isn’t doing what is needed.

The Democrats passed the HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act in May, a $3 trillion proposal compared to the $1 trillion HEALS Act. Two months ago this may have been adequate but now that figure needs to be increased as more jobs have been lost, state and city governments have lost income, and the cost of treating the virus has increased with more cases.

A “red line” for the Democrats should be funding state and local government with at least $1 trillion to continue basic services. More than 20 million people work for state and local governments such as firefighters, teachers, police, sanitation workers, and transportation workers. The Economic Policy Institute estimates 5.3 million jobs will be lost without state and local funding. President Trump and the Republicans do not want another massive increase in job loss, so the Democrats are in a strong position to make this demand.

The decrease in unemployment benefits should be another unacceptable “red line” as this will further shrink the economy. The Economic Policy Institute finds the loss of the extra $600 of unemployment benefits, which people are currently spending on basic needs, will result in the loss of an additional 3.4 million jobs.

One area where the Democrats can build on some agreement is the $1,200 COVID-19 relief payment to individuals. These payments are too small. A good COVID-19 relief package would increase payments to $2,000 per person monthly for the duration of the pandemic and recession for households earning under $150,000 as suggested by Sen. Bernie Sanders. This would slow the economic collapse and ease suffering.

It is essential to extend the moratorium on evictions not just for federally-subsidized housing, but the federal government should also cover rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the crises. Otherwise, millions of families will lose their homes in an election year, which should be politically unpalatable for both parties.

Health workers give people free Covid-19 tests in Arlington, Virginia, on May 26 (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

We Need a Plan

What is missing from both the Republican and Democratic bills is a strategy to control and stop the pandemic. The virus is 7 months old and still spreading rapidly. President Trump has failed to lead so Congress must do so. The bill should include a massive investment in making rapid testing available across the country. Every business and school should have rapid testing capability before they reopen. This should be combined with hiring 500,000 public health tracers so those who have been exposed to COVID-19 can be tracked to prevent further spread of the virus.

Everyone wants to restart the economy but this must be done safely. In addition to testing and tracing, workplaces and schools must be safe. School districts should decide whether to restart or continue web-based learning and should be supported by the federal government whatever they choose. Hundreds of thousands of tutors who can do one-on-one teaching to support web-based learning are needed. With high unemployment, especially among recent graduates and college students, there are people available to take on this task.

Congress should authorize OSHA to rapidly enact stringent standards for workplaces to reopen, along with funding for necessary safeguards. There should be increased funding for OSHA workplace inspections and investigations of inadequate safety. Employers who meet the standards for a safe workplace should have legal protection from frivolous lawsuits but employees should also have the right to sue if workplaces do not meet safety standards. This approach protects both workers and employers and will reduce the spread of the virus.

Neither party handled healthcare well even before the pandemic. COVID-19 has magnified the failure of for-profit healthcare. To stop the spread of the virus, Congress needs to break away from its privatized approach to healthcare. With the widespread job loss, 5.4 million workers lost their health insurance as did millions more family members. This is the largest decline in health insurance coverage in US history. The rapid response to this healthcare crisis should be the expansion of Medicare to everyone in the United States. Ideological opposition to publicly funded healthcare should not block this essential step. The long term failure of our healthcare system and widening health disparities demonstrate why we need a community-controlled, public, universal healthcare system.

Workers strike over safety (Yahoo Finance)

he People Must Rule, and Protect Ourselves

Congress and the President are unlikely to enact the laws needed to confront the pandemic and economic collapse. As a result, both will worsen. We will have to take action to protect ourselves and build popular power to win our demands.

We need to organize mutual aid to people meet people’s basic needs, such as for food and housing. Many cities have vacant buildings owned by the local and federal governments. As homelessness rises, these should be taken over to house people. We discuss the practical steps for taking over homes with Cheri Honkala this week on Clearing The FOG, (available as a podcast on Monday).

We build popular power by taking the streets as people have been doing for over two months now across the country, only buying essentials, refusing to pay rent or debt payments, blocking evictions and by building in our workplaces for a general strike.

Our actions must not be about which presidential candidate from the two parties of the millionaires to elect. Only one serious presidential campaign is right on COVID-19 and the economy, the Green candidates Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker. Our actions need to be about building a people’s movement that grows in power before and after the November elections. No matter who is elected, the people will need to resist, create new systems and rule from below.