by JEFF MACKLER
U.S. capitalism’s would-be savior, the “moron” President Donald Trump, sees his re-election prospects tied to a “re-invigorated” economy based on sending U.S. workers back to work close to the height of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. 63,000 Americans have died of this pandemic as of this writing. Another 2,000 more perish daily. Yet “back to work” is ever on the agenda of Trump and the ruling rich, whose statisticians hunt for a “safe” mathematical formula that factors in ever-changing rates of infections and deaths with corporate profits lost. Few deny that whatever the calculations regarding the safety of a generalized return to work, they will soon after become obsolete when an inevitable second wave of this terrible disease, estimated to be far worse than the present horror, takes its tolls.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield reported on April 21 that “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through… if the two respiratory outbreaks exist [COVID-19 and the usual winter flu] at the same time. This would strain the healthcare system in unimaginable ways.” In the absence of an immunizing vaccine, estimated to be 12 to 18 months away, yet another disastrous wave is on the horizon. And the first wave is far from over.
Many of the dead are low-paid workers, disproportionately Black, Latino, and Native American and often part-time, from whom predatory capitalism requires vital services to keep their super warehouses, supermarkets, slaughterhouses, food processing plants, fast food chain conglomerates, etc., running as fast as possible. The dead and stricken include health care workers, public transportation workers, as well as civil service personnel who repair damaged power lines and sewer systems, fight fires and provide many other vital services. All are victims of a system that has proved incapable of providing in a timely manner even the most modest critical preventative tools, like effective face masks and other PPE (personal protective equipment) to guard against infection, not to mention test kits to detect the virus and then safely quarantine its victims to prevent its insidious advance.
We live in a racist, white supremacist social system where Black, Latino and Indigenous people always suffer first and worst. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Black people are 25 percent of the population, some 67 percent of infected COVID-19 victims are Black. Among the dead, 81 percent are Black. Capitalism always takes its greatest toll on the poor and oppressed. The Milwaukee is not exceptional. It is only exceptional in that it is one of the few cities to release the racial breakdown of COVID-19’s victims.
A disclaimer here is partially in order. It was Trump’s fired former Secretary of State and previously ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson who first privately attached the “f*****g moron” label to the president. He did so after Trump had exited a National Security Council meeting, leaving those who remained to ponder his suggestion that the U.S. increase its tactical nuclear arsenal 100-fold! Trump’s reactionary views on the three unfolding cataclysmic threats to humanity’s future now include his denial of fossil fuel-induced climate change, his pursuit of a new generation of nuclear weapon, and now his COVID-19 pandemic policies that placed the U.S. first in the world in the number of people afflicted and the number of those who have died. Needless to say, Trump and his bi-partisan predecessors have been fully aware that the origins of COVID-19 and similar viruses like MERS and H1N1, lie in the corporate plundering of the world’s ecosystems – ever bringing humans in closer contact with previously isolated disease-carrying species – and the abject failures of scientific research practiced under profit-first capitalism.
Trump suggests injections of Lysol or bleach
The statement with which the moron Trump – no quotations marks this time – most outraged the medical community and others came on April 23 during the president’s daily two-hour press conference, where Trump suggested an “injection inside” the human body with a disinfectant like bleach or isopropyl alcohol to possibly help combat the virus. “And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute,” Trump stated following a presentation by William N. Bryan, an acting under secretary for science at the Department of Homeland Security. Bryan, a Trump bureaucrat with zero background in the biological sciences, was discussing the virus’s possible susceptibility to bleach and alcohol as a surface cleaning agent. “One minute,” the president stated, interrupting Bryan, “And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it [the coronavirus] gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that.”
A day later The New York Times featured a front-page rebuttal entitled, “Science Fires Back Loudly on Trump’s Cure All,” stating, “In Maryland, so many callers flooded a health hotline with questions that the state’s Emergency Management Agency had to issue a warning that ‘under no circumstances’ should any disinfectant be taken to treat the coronavirus. In Washington State, officials urged people not to consume laundry detergent capsules. Across the country on Friday, health professionals sounded the alarm. Injecting bleach or highly concentrated rubbing alcohol ‘causes massive organ damage and the blood cells in the body to basically burst,’ said the medical director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System, Dr. Diane P. Calello. ‘It can definitely be a fatal event.’” Clorox and Lysol manufacturers warned Americans not to inject or ingest their products! A day later, the Food and Drug Administration warned that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, two malaria drugs that Trump has taken to frequently recommending as remedies for the coronavirus, can cause “dangerous abnormalities in heart rhythm in coronavirus patients and has resulted in some deaths.”
The F.D.A. added, “The drugs should be used only in clinical trials or hospitals where patients can be closely monitored for heart problems.” There is no evidence that the drugs are in any way effective at treating COVID-19. The New York Times added that Trump has three family trust funds that are heavily invested in the maker of hydroxychloroquine. Trump’s medical idiocies were soon after covered up by his obedient media team; in the case of injecting deadly chemicals into one’s body they asserted that Trump was merely being sarcastic to the “fake media.” The video of the media conference refutes this assertion. Meanwhile, in Chicago, tragic reports of people dying from ingesting such poisons have been broadcast on National Public Radio channels.
The real state of the U.S. economy
The COVID-19 pandemic has brutally revealed that the U.S. economy was NEVER in a healthy state, unless the skyrocketing casino stock market and related speculative ventures that have made a handful of multi-millionaires into billionaires – the “one percent” – are taken as a measure of good health. Casino capitalism indeed! A system where the house always wins and the 99 percent lose. It is these paper money speculators and the corporate behemoths behind them, enriched by unprecedented billions and now trillions of dollars in bailouts, and even more in zero interest “quantitative easing” loans, who press for their wage slaves to return to the workplace with little or no medically-established criteria.
Within weeks of the bailout it has become clear that the promise of increased unemployment benefits that would fully cover the lost wages for each laid off worker, including freelance and part-time workers, were a fiction. To date only 10 states have even begun making payments to these groups who are not covered under the typical unemployment insurance program. And now we learn that the banks have been permitted to deduct various amounts from the much-hyped one-time $1,200 “stimulus” checks, including overdrafts owed to the banks as well as other forms of debt. Another provision in the new legislation, supposedly aimed at helping small businesses, allows banks assigned to distribute the money, like JPMorgan Chase, one of the richest on earth, to circumvent application procedures and contact its own “small business” customers directly to facilitate the government payments. These “small businesses,” defined as employing less than 500 workers, are often multi-million – and even billion – dollar corporations. In a matter of days, the initial $348 billion allocated to them evaporated while the vast majority of mom and pop style operations were left at locked starting gates. A few days later another $250 billion was added to the “small business” scam with similar results.
Myth of the 3.5 percent unemployment rate
Trump’s touted pre-COVID-19 3.5 percent “lowest unemployment rate in decades” has proven to be a terrible fraud, a product of Labor Department statistical manipulation in the extreme aimed at excluding categories of “discouraged” workers who have stopped looking for jobs as well as workers who have worked perhaps a few days in a particular quarter, part time workers and workers who are not receiving unemployment insurance! Prior to COVID-19 the Department of Labor’s official “labor participation rate,” a measure of the actual number of all eligible workers with jobs, was closer to 65 percent. That is, the remaining 35 percent were essentially jobless! With 30 million workers filing for unemployment benefits over the past six weeks – a number significantly exceeding the total number of net new jobs generated in the economy over the past nine-and-a-half-years, today’s real jobless rate is closer to the worst years of the Great Depression, where half the workforce was either totally unemployed or working part-time jobs at less than poverty wages. We will only add the 30 million figure is also highly understated since an estimated several million more have been unable to file due to overwhelmed online computer systems and massive understaffing.
Living on the edge in capitalist America
“The coronavirus pandemic has shown how close to the edge many Americans were living, with pay and benefits eroding even as corporate profits surged,” wrote Patricia Cohen in a front-page April 16 New York Times article. Cohen continued, “But perhaps more significantly, the crisis has revealed profound, longstanding vulnerabilities in the economic system.”
Cohen quotes Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz, to wit, “We built an economy with no shock absorbers… A lot of the people in the economy are living at the edge, and you have an event like this that pushes them over. And we are unique in the advanced world in having people at the edge without a safety net below them.”
This absence of a safety net is no accident. One example is the massive bipartisan cuts over the past decades in hospital and healthcare expenditures coupled with a largely privatized heath care system based significantly on employment at corporations that ever press for reduced benefits. It is no coincidence that the U.S., touted as the richest nation on earth, ranks first in the world in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.
The Times proceeds to recount the state of the economy and working class life before COVID-19 pandemic, pointing to, in their terms: “Years of limp wage growth that left workers struggling to afford essentials” with “irregular work schedules that caused weekly paychecks to surge and dip unpredictably. Job-based benefits were threadbare or nonexistent. In this economy, four of 10 adults don’t have the resources on hand to cover an unplanned $400 expense. In less than two decades, the share of income paid out in wages and benefits in the private sector shrank by 5.4 percentage points, reducing pay by $3,000 a year, and making it even harder for working families to meet their basic needs.” For millions of workers, health care costs rose twice as fast as wages over the past decade.
Again, this was before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Today, the data demonstrating a society in decay stands out as never before. Lines of cars stretch for miles as families wait to pick up groceries from food pantries; jobless workers spend days trying to file for unemployment; outside hospitals, sick people line up overnight to wait for virus testing.
Some 54 percent of all renters – millions of whom spend more than half their incomes on housing – have lost their jobs in the pandemic.
Predatory capitalism unmasked
Most instructive about all of the above is that its source is the nation’s “newspaper of record,” The New York Times, that prior to the pandemic largely limited its reporting to glib commentaries touting the nation’s strong economy, rising stock markets and “historically low” unemployment rates – factors they previously estimated would tend to facilitate Trump’s re-election. Today The Times, perhaps the leading Democratic Party media advocate, along with much of the corporate establishment, finds it convenient to place the blame on Trump for the nation’s deepening economic crises.
In these strange new times the more sophisticated corporate media understand that a bit of criticism of the elite more generally is in order so as to appear balanced in their explanations of why, seeming out of the blue, such now widely understood injustices have come to pass.
“Powerful forces like advancing technology and globalization are partly to blame for workers’ economic instability,” writes The Times, while neglecting to explain that the replacement of human labor by advanced machines and robots, that is, technological advances, and the offshoring of what were once living-wage union jobs to nations that impose near slave-labor wages, is inherent in the world capitalist system. Deadly competition forces all corporations to struggle to maintain ever-declining profit rates at the expense of their workers. That’s the central reason for substituting machines for workers, for increasing numbers of low wage zero benefit, part time jobs, for assembly line speed up, for destruction of pensions, for increasing the use of mass incarcerated prison labor at 50 cents per hour, for the super-exploitation and persecution of immigrant labor and for generalized union-busting that obliterates historic gains in union contracts. And it’s the same for endless rounds of deregulation in every field, from environmental protection to pharmaceutical drug testing. It’s the same for the privatization of public education and the parallel increasing privatization of social services. These are all inherent features of today’s so-called “free market,” no government interference, de-regulated neo-liberal capitalism, the modern-day version of the old predatory system run in high gear to make U.S. corporations more competitive on world markets. Add to this the endless wars abroad and its ever-increasing production of fossil fuels – perhaps capitalism’s two most profitable enterprises – and we come close to a succinct explanation of capitalism’s raison d’etre! And the sky high stock market? Far from being a reflection of a booming economy, it’s a product of unprecedented near interest free loans gifted to the corporate falsely justified in the name “stimulating” investment in new plants and infrastructure. In truth the government’s “socialism for the rich” $trillions are invested in ever new speculative ventures – casino capitalism style – where insiders daily maneuver to boost their securities to their advantage.
In this context it is no surprise that the lion’s share of the present and ongoing multi-trillion dollar federal bailouts go to the ruling rich, who unswervingly “regulate” and oversee their capitalist system in their own interests.
Trump estimates COVID-19 fatalities
Just a few weeks ago 60,000 to 100,000 represented the range of U.S. COVID-19 deaths in the coming months expected by the Trump administration. As we write today, the lower figure has already been surpassed. The upper figure can be expected to be reached within a matter of weeks, with no end in sight and no reasonable expectation of the number of future deaths. Indeed, no one doubts that the death totals daily registered are highly underestimated. Less than one percent of the U.S. population has been tested for COVID-19, making any serious death toll projections impossible. Worse still, reports from nearly every state indicate that test kits, not to mention effective masks and related protections, are shockingly unavailable. Thus, there are no hard facts to accurately tell us the numbers or percentage of people infected with COVID-19 but still asymptomatic who are capable of spreading the disease. Without serious data on this critical matter, any notion of sending working people back to work is tantamount to sending people to their death – a prospect that is nevertheless being contemplated by those who invariably subordinate human life to capitalist profit.
As of this writing, over one million in the U.S. have tested positive for the virus. But again, less than one percent of the population has been tested. Experienced scientific organizations have estimated that the actual total of infected people might be ten times the currently reported numbers.
After the deluge: Workers to pay
In the mad rush to bail out the corporate elite most economists and financiers have been relatively silent on the question, Who will pay for these multi-trillion dollar sums aimed at bailing out capitalism’s corporate elite? The present official U.S. debt today stands at $21 trillion, an unprecedented amount roughly equal to the entire annual GDP of the U.S., that is, the total market value of all the goods and services annually produced in the U.S. economy. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell has virtually sworn that there will be no limits to ongoing government bailouts, including amounts that dwarf the multiple $trillions gifted to the corporate elite during and after the Great Recession that began in 2008, to fend off the wholesale failure of the nation’s banking institutions while millions lost their homes to foreclosure and otherwise suffered greatly in one of capitalism’s periodic and inherent crises.
Taxing the rich to pay off these debts has never been on the ruling class agenda. Indeed, the opposite has always been the case, exemplified by the ever increasing, always bipartisan Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump-era corporate tax cuts. Few doubt that the years ahead, as with the decades past, portend anything other than deepening encroachments on working class life, including the imposition of ever-new forms of regressive taxation and social cutbacks. This time, however, the creeping assault on working people will shift into high gear.
The fightback begins
But this time, we can fully expect that yesterday’s relative passivity, resting on the false hope that things will inevitably improve, perhaps with the next election, will give way to massive working class fightbacks fully capable of shaking the dread system’s very foundations. Unprecedented millions, perhaps tens of millions, and more are today keenly aware that they are not isolated individuals who must suffer isolated and demoralizing fates. Predatory capitalism is being daily and increasingly exposed in all its horrors, inequalities, injustices and greed.
Karl Marx’s observation in his famous “Communist Manifesto” says it all: “What the bourgeoisie produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Workers of the world unite!” Today’s increasingly conscious working class, for whom socialism’s egalitarian ideals are emerging as immediately necessary solutions, will soon take to the streets in myriad forms to make them a reality.
Today, a fundamentally irrational capitalism digs ditches to daily throw away incredible tons of all kinds of food that the billionaire capitalists cannot sell for a profit while millions of workers stand in long line at usually charity-based food banks to survive after their jobs have been terminated by no fault of their own. And the food conglomerates are rewarded with government $billions to pay for what they have wantonly destroyed. Wherever possible landlords look to serve eviction notices to the millions who live month to month.
During the 1929 Great Depression, big business agriculture burned literal mountains of potatoes while millions starved, a horror repeated with impunity today. At this very moment in time, the U.S. is fully capable of producing more than enough food to feed the entire nation, not to mention much of the world. Yet increasing numbers here and everywhere suffer and die daily from starvation. The problem, as a new generation is rapidly coming to understand, is the capitalist system itself. It cannot be fundamentally reformed. The ruling one percent who own and control the wealth of the nation and its associated means of production, must be replaced by the democratic rule of the vast majority, the working class in all its magnificent manifestations – its workers of all colors, origins, ages and nationalities, its immigrants, women and LGBTQI+ people – in short, the vast majority who produce the nation’s wealth yet are excluded from directly and democratically deciding how it should be allocated.
Winning this shining new egalitarian socialist future begins with the construction of a mass revolutionary socialist party whose ranks stand among today’s best fighters and whose united and massive mobilizations point the way to storming the heavens and bringing a new and vibrant society into being. Join us!