The Crisis (Pt 1)

A personal note

In February, I was hit by a staph infection that had spread to the blood. This was the first serious illness of my adult life. Before this infection, I had been free of any illness more serious than the occasional cold or seasonal flu. I was really knocked off my feet and had to be hospitalized.

This was no fun. But no evil is without positive features. I got to see the medical system for the first time in my adult life from the inside. At least here on the West Coast, the medical system is staffed by a mix of many nationalities with a bias toward the Far East — the very group that President Trump with his racist attacks on the “Chinese virus” has made a target of his demagoguery. I was served by medical workers from France, the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other nations.

Then as fate would have it in one those bizarre coincidences that life occasionally brings, the whole world was swept by the ghastly COVID-19 pandemic. Financial markets crashed and then much of the global economy was shut down including industrial production and world trade. Most importantly, employment entered a downward spiral. More than 10 million people in the U.S. have been forced to apply for unemployment insurance within two weeks, implying double-digit Depression levels of unemployment. (1)

Since the Great Recession, it has become increasingly difficult to apply for unemployment insurance in the U.S. This is not to mention the incredibly inefficient unemployment insurance system — based on the states — that simply can’t handle this level of applications. Websites of many unemployment offices have crashed and phone lines have been overwhelmed. Therefore, the official figures for first-time unemployment insurance claims do not reflect the full extent of the unemployment crisis now sweeping the U.S.

Will this unparalleled crisis, which has biological-medical, financial-monetary, and unemployment aspects, fuel an increased interest in socialist ideas, or will the response to it be diverted into increased economic and political nationalism and racism? Or, what is most probable, in my opinion, will it fuel elements of both?

For now, the desperate policies of “staying in place” and “social distancing” appear to be somewhat effective in slowing the spread of the virus. The staying-in-place policies, however, destroy many personal freedoms that under normal conditions we take for granted. They also undermine political freedoms. For example, staying in place makes it impossible to have street demonstration or even ordinary political meetings, though car caravan protests and political webinars have been organized in many places.

To a certain extent, it is possible to carry out political activities “on-line,” although these are not really a substitute for in-person meetings and demonstrations. One of the frustrations of being seriously ill for a political person is that you miss out on what is happening. Well, not in my case, because there were no political meetings except on the Internet, and I was able to go on-line with my laptop.

One of the things I was able to observe first hand thanks to my illness is the contrast between medical workers, who now have to fight the pandemic plus other diseases not related to COVID-19 at risk of their lives, and smug and lying politicians like Donald Trump and the wretched “presumptive” Democratic nominee Joseph Biden. The two candidates for the U.S. presidency have been hiding in place from the virus while medical and other essential workers risk their lives every day serving the needs of the sick and the not yet sick whether from COVID-19 or other illness.

A change in schedule

In California, we are under “shelter in place” in your homes orders. So I will not be able to resume my normal routine for quite awhile. On the other hand, I have a lot of time to write. For the time being, therefore, I am shifting to a weekly publishing schedule with much shorter posts.

In this way, I will strive “to catch up” and examine the current crisis in all its biological-medical, financial-monetary, and economic aspects. In the wake of this unparalleled global, many-sided shock will inevitably come a growing political crisis as well.

We can assume that when social-distancing measures ease, political crises will rise to the surface. We can’t as yet know how quickly these will develop, but there are signs of the upheavals to come. Already in the U.S., there is a wave of “wildcat” strikes among workers who are forced in the very teeth of the pandemic to work at risk of their lives in the food industry and other essential services.

Workers employed by McDonald’s, Food Lion, Walmart, Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, and Perdue have staged strike actions even though they have been largely denied union representation. U.S. labor laws make the organizing of new unions extremely difficult. The struggle to overturn anti-union legislation that stands in opposition to basic labor rights is long overdue. Hopefully, as was the case in the 1930s, this incipient strike wave will find ways to punch through the legal barriers and finally establish basic labor rights in the U.S. while transforming the trade-union movement. However, this won’t occur without a struggle and will be resisted not only by the Republican but also the Democratic Party.

As I write these words, the U.S. infections and deaths in absolute numbers now exceed by far those of China — where the pandemic appears to be declining — though the population of the U.S. is only around a quarter of the Chinese population. This raises an interesting question. Why is the U.S. doing so much more poorly than China, a country that is still struggling to overcome the legacy of colonial and semi-colonial oppression at the hands of Britain, Japan, the United States, and lesser imperialist countries during the 19th and 20th centuries?

One reason is Trump’s incredibly incompetent and criminal “leadership.” But that is only a small part of the story. There is no reason to think things would be fundamentally different if Hillary Clinton (2) had been installed as president in January 2017 rather than Donald Trump.

This doesn’t mean that Trump has no responsibility. Throughout his administration, the U.S. medical system has been under steady attack under the slogan “Repeal and Replace Obamacare.” The Trump administration and the Republican Party had continued its drive, first in Congress and then in the courts to repeal Obamacare. As part of his attacks on the medical system, Trump even abolished the office attached to the National Security Council to deal with pandemics!

When asked about this at a press conference, Trump brazenly claimed he knew nothing about the decision. There are just two possibilities here. Either Trump is lying — most likely — or he is criminally negligent. Well into March, Trump played down the pandemic and then specifically refused to take any personal responsibility for “mistakes” that his administration made. No other U.S. president would have gone that far!

During his daily “pressers,” which some of the media is unfortunately televising, Trump has been pushing the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. Medical experts are divided on the effectiveness of this drug in treating the symptoms of COVID-19. As Trump pushed hydroxychloroquine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had not approved it as a COVID-19 treatment. It now has been revealed that Trump and his friends have a financial interest in companies that produce this drug. No real surprise here. The “snake oil salesman-in-chief” has used his national broadcasts, supposedly to inform the public about the latest developments in the struggle against COVID-19, to push a drug in which he has a personal financial interest.

Once it became clear to Trump that he could no longer claim that the mighty U.S. under his “brilliant” leadership, having “made America great again,” would be unaffected by the pandemic, he with the direct support of the capitalist media pivoted. The capitalist media for its part, as is true in any crisis, is desperate to build up the president as the country’s “leader.” They have broadcast Trump’s pressers where he mixes claims that the crisis is subsiding, medical misinformation, and his purely partisan campaign for a second term.

Trump with the help of the media has taken a page from George W. Bush’s reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Bush II used the 9/11 attack, carried out by a small terrorist group, to declare himself a “wartime president.” Bush’s claim was made easier by the fact that with almost 3,000 deaths this attack did kill more people than any other non-state terrorist attack in history. Among the victims were the attackers themselves, who had no chance of surviving their own terrorist attacks.

Bush’s popularity soared as fear was spread among the population by Bush and the media that the terrorists were everywhere ready to strike again at any time. Bush – who had actually lost the 2000 presidential election in terms of both the popular vote and even the electoral college — then used his ill-gained popularity to wage a series of very real wars that are still going on in one form or another today, almost 20 years later! Bush, who had not been popular before 9/11, saw his favorability ratings rise to 90 percent, the highest in the history of polling.

In reality, horrible though it was, the 9/11 attack was a “one-off” that was virtually impossible to repeat with airport security tightened. Fear spread among the capitalists that as people stayed home to avoid the non-existent terrorists, sales of commodities would slump. The U.S. economy was already in a recession associated with the “dot-com” crash.

Fueled by the fear of a deepening recession that would wipe out profits, Bush and the media changed their tune. It was announced that “America was open for business” and people were told that to “fight the terrorists” they should leave their homes, open their wallets, and hit the malls! The commodity after all must find a buyer!

Polls showed that Trump with the media’s help initially enjoyed a bump in popularity, thanks in part to his daily press briefings being televised. Fortunately, the popularity bump of the widely hated Trump is much smaller than Bush’s was in the aftermath of 9/11. Still, playing the role of “wartime president” has increased Trump’s chances of winning a second term in the November election.

Again, taking a page from George W. Bush, Trump announced at one his pressers, to the horror of doctors and other medical exports, that he hoped to “reopen” the economy “for business” by Easter. Unlike the case after 9/11 when in reality there were virtually no “terrorists,” the virus is all too real and really is “hiding everywhere.” Trump was soon forced to retreat and push the date back to April 30, which experts also viewed as dangerously unrealistic.

In reality, though, the pandemic is sometimes called a “war” even by doctors it is not a war in the sense that Trump is using the term. The virus is not a foreign state, nor is it even a small terrorist group such as the one that carried out the 9/11 attack. The virus did not make a decision to attack the U.S. and then over many months draw up plans to carry out the attack. Viruses don’t have any conscious mind at all and they do not plan and make decisions. The virus is just a string of RNA with genetic information encoded in it surrounded by a protein coat. Trump is desperate to rally the stock market and create at least the appearance of economic recovery before November. To achieve this, he continues to spread medical misinformation as he strives to “open the U.S. up for business.”

Medical experts warn that if “sheltering in place” and “social distancing” are discontinued too soon, a second wave of the pandemic could break out. In the meantime, as unemployment soars at a rate unknown in any previous crisis — including the super-crisis of 1929-33 — the U.S. employer-centered health care system is causing millions of newly unemployed people to lose their health insurance.

If that weren’t enough, about a third of all rent payers have failed to meet their rents coming due in April. What will be the case in May? This raises the specter of a massive wave of evictions if renters and mortgage holders are unable to pay their rent and mortgage obligations coming due. This could become an explosive issue in the coming weeks and months, on a greater scale than was the case during the Great Recession.

Bernie Sanders’ response to the crisis

Just before he suspended his campaign for president, Bernie Sanders, in what to his supporters is perhaps the most disappointing action of his entire career, indicated that though he remains a strong supporter of single-payer health care as a human right it would be unreasonable to push for its introduction during the current pandemic and unemployment crisis. But if not now, what could be a more appropriate time to implement single-payer?

Sanders indicated that single-payer is a long-run question for after the crisis, to be achieved gradually through a series of compromises that will presumably end up in a single-payer system many years from now. The problem is that a single-payer system is needed right now.

Why Sanders has taken this position is an interesting question, which I will examine in coming weeks. But I can say here that Sanders’ policy of functioning politically as a loyal Democrat is not unrelated to it. Sanders has now endorsed the “anti-single-payer, pro-employer-centered health care system” Joseph Biden and has indicated that he will campaign for him. Even before he withdrew from the race, Sanders described Biden as “my friend Joe.”

Sanders’ position is therefore not an accident but the inevitable result of his policy of building the Democratic Party rather than a genuine party of the working class. Sanders, however, did not begin his political career with this policy. How he arrived at it will be dealt with when I examine Sanders’ political evolution from a young socialist of the early 1960s onward.

The Democratic Party is a public health hazard

On April 8, Bernie Sanders made it official and announced that he was “suspending” — that is, dropping — his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. On April 13, he formally endorsed Joe Biden. Progressives felt that they had been punched in stomach. As recently as the beginning of March, it appeared that Sanders was headed for the Democratic nomination and would face off against Trump in November.

Now there is only one candidate officially in the Democratic race for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Vice President Joseph Biden. However, this turn of events should not have been a surprise. There were many indicators this was exactly what would happen. And Sanders for his part had endorsed and campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and indicated many times he would endorse and campaign for whomever the Democrats nominated in 2020.

Progressives are now split on whether to follow Sanders and support Biden. Some support Sanders’ position as the only way to get Trump out of the White House. Others do not want to support Biden. This is leading to increased talk about organizing a new party to replace the Democratic Party. By nominating Biden, the Democratic Party has shown that on key issues such has the right to health care, free college, student debt cancellation, and a $15 minimum wage it doesn’t differ very much from the Republican Party

Joseph Biden

For example, the “presumptive nominee” Joseph Biden has only proposed re-opening the Obama health insurance exchanges early where people can purchase private insurance with some government assistance. Trump has actually taken a more “radical” position, proposing that people hit by COVID-19 should have their medical expenses paid by Medicare. Of course, this would be limited only to people affected by COVID-19 and would presumably end once the pandemic has run its course.

All the same, Trump’s position on paper is better than Biden’s. The Obamacare health insurance exchanges have proven to be a bureaucratic nightmare, and it is hard to see how the newly unemployed under current conditions can be expected to navigate it. (3) Therefore, Trump has actually managed to “outflank” Biden on the “left,” though we can be sure both Trump and Biden are trying in their own way to save the employer-centered health care system, where health care is not a right but a commodity.

What is clear is that the Democratic Party, like Trump and the Republican Party, is determined to maintain the current health care system at virtually any cost. This is a crime — not a mistake as some progressives believe — by the Democratic Party. Trump indeed has blood on his hands as regards the global pandemic. But so does the Democratic Party, not least because of its failure even when it had the power to do so — for example, between 2009 and 2011 — to replace the employer-centered system with a single-payer system. The Democratic Party like the Republican Party is a public-health hazard.

Since Biden agrees with Trump and the Republicans that health care should not be a human right but a commodity, he was unable to provide any leadership in the current unparalleled crisis — a crisis that has biological-medical, financial, and employment components. While some “progressives” — not all by any means — blame it on Biden’s “cognitive decline,” the real problem is deeper.

Biden and all the other Democratic 2020 presidential candidates with the exception of Sanders are opposed to health care as a right. At best, they differ in terms of details on how the employer-centered system can be tweaked. Biden’s complete failure to provide any leadership against Trump represents not the physical and mental decline of the man. Rather it represents the decline of a global empire and the class that is at the center of it — the U.S. capitalist class. It is not just Trump, Biden, and all the other anti-single-payer Republicans and Democrats that must go. It is the capitalist class that stands behind Trump, Biden, and all the other anti-single-payer Republicans and Democrats that must go!

Who is Joseph Biden?

Obama was the first African American to be nominated by one of the two ruling U.S. political parties. Biden was nominated for vice president to racially balance the ticket. Biden has throughout his political career cultivated the image of being just a regular white “middle-class guy.” He opposed school busing to desegregate the public schools back in the 1970s and still does today. He is considered popular with white workers who frequently vote Republican because it is, after all, the “white people’s party.”

By having Biden on the ticket, Obama aimed to reassure white people who in light of the Iraq War and the Great Recession had had enough of the Republican Party for awhile, and also assure them that an African American in the White House would not be the end of the white-dominated world.

Biden was ideal for this role, partly because as a young senator representing the border state of Delaware he had good relationships with the last of the Jim Crow Democrats. Biden supported the Clinton “crime bills,” which led to the incarceration of African Americans in particular and people of color in general in disproportionate numbers.

This makes Biden one the architects of what African-American author Michelle Alexander calls “the new Jim Crow.” Under the new Jim Crow, vast numbers of African-Americans and other people of color acquire felony convictions that stay with them long after they are released from prison or jail. In many states, as felons they cannot vote and are barred officially from many jobs and unofficially from many others. If they do get jobs, they are subject to super-exploitation at the hands of their capitalist employers.

Alexander specifically mentioned Biden as one of the architects of the new Jim Crow. Biden has also supported every U.S. imperialist war that has occurred during his political career including George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. He now describes his vote in favor of this war as a “mistake.” But it wasn’t a mistake, it was a crime.

If this were not enough, Biden supported “the war on drugs,” key to the new Jim Crow, since most young African Americans and other people of color are convicted and acquire felony convictions under the “drug laws.”

Biden also supported legislation that makes it impossible for people with student debt to use the bankruptcy laws to gain debt relief. Corporations routinely use bankruptcy laws to escape from their debts. Donald Trump himself has done this at least six times. But bankruptcy relief that is available for the billionaires and their corporations is not available for ordinary people struggling to pay their way through college, thanks in part to former Senator Joseph Biden.

If this still wasn’t enough, Biden despite his denials, has repeatedly supported — and this was caught on video — cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Biden is a brazen liar in other ways as well. He falsely claimed that he was arrested on his way to visit Nelson Mandela and to have participated in the Civil Rights movement. While Biden is indeed old enough to have participated in the Civil Rights movement, and the flower of his generation indeed did so, Biden himself did not.

Biden and women

Biden has a long history of behaving inappropriately even in public toward women and young girls. This has earned him the title “Creepy Joe.” His defenders claim that standards were different years ago when Biden was a young man and his habits in this regard were formed. Still, many men of Biden’s age group do not behave this way. Moreover, Biden’s problems with women don’t end here.

During the Anita Hill case, then-Senator Biden behaved in a highly abusive way towards Ms. Hill. Here is the background: In 1991, George H.W. Bush had nominated the right-wing African-American lawyer Clarence Thomas, who had no obvious qualifications for the Supreme Court, to succeed the well-known African-American Justice Thurgood Marshall. Thomas was nominated to fill the unofficial African-American seat originally created for Marshall. Biden was working with Republican senators in the spirit of “bipartisan cooperation” to drive through Thomas’s nomination quickly before opposition to Thomas could build.

During the confirmation hearing, one of Thomas’s female aides — Anita Hill — charged that Thomas had sexually harassed her when he was her supervisor at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Thomas, in addition to the serious charges leveled against him by Hill and his lack of any obvious qualifications to serve on the U.S.’s highest court, was completely out of step with the African-American community. All the same, with the help of Senator Joseph Biden, Thomas was confirmed.

The effect of the Thomas nomination was to deny the African-American community any real — if of course bourgeois — representation on the highest court in the land. Thomas, who with Biden’s help was unfortunately confirmed, has turned out to be the most right-wing justice of all on today’s U.S. Supreme Court, which is reactionary enough even without him.

Tara Reade’s grave charges against Biden

Recently, a former aide to Biden, Tara Reade, has come forward to claim that Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993 when she was a young aide of then Senator Biden. However, listening to Reid’s descriptions it seems that the assault actually involved “digital penetration,” which is considered a form of rape. Of course, there is no way to verify Ms. Reade’s account. Biden’s supporters are already claiming that Reade is a “Russian agent” based on some writings she posted to the Internet that indicated she is an admirer of Russian culture! Indeed, there is plenty to admire in Russian culture.

However, Ms. Reade told friends, some of whom are still alive, of the assault at the time. Other factors that add credibility to her account is that (1) Biden has in public behaved in ways clearly inappropriate toward women and even young girls. And (2) Biden’s attitude toward Anita Hill’s charges against Clarence Thomas further add credibility toward Reade’s charges, though they of course don’t prove them.

When all of this is considered together, it shows how incredibly moribund the Democratic “Party of Order” leadership was to even consider Biden as a presidential nominee. As things now stand, U.S. voters will have a choice between two white men who have long records of behaving improperly toward women, and have been seriously accused by women of what amounts to rape.

Biden, life-long servant of the U.S. capitalist class

One thread runs through Biden’s entire political career. While posing as a folksy working-class kind of guy, Biden has consistently and without deviation served the interests of the U.S. ruling capitalist class and its struggle to achieve the highest rate of profit on capital advanced. This is shown by his support of every imperialist war as well as his opposition to health care as a human right.

However, even if the horrible Biden is swapped out — which may happen because of what appears to be Biden’s mental decline, or perhaps because the serious allegation of sexual assault that has been made by Ms. Reade cannot continue to be hushed up — by some other Democratic politician, nothing fundamental would change. All the “unofficial” Democratic candidates to replace Biden, such as New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo — who has been trying to cut the Medicaid program for the poor in New York State — and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer — are also against single-payer.

Andrew Cuomo, however, is not that well known outside of New York State, where he is unpopular with progressives, but has not been charged with improper conduct towards women. Gretchen Whitmer, who is even less well known, is female. Either one would be more tolerable to some progressives than Biden is. It would appear that either one of these two unofficial candidates would have a much better chance of defeating Trump than Biden has in November. But for now, Biden still appears to be the Democratic nominee.

Dangers to the Party of Order of nominating Joseph Biden

Even some of the Democratic Party “Party of Order” leadership realized the danger that nominating Biden could cause not only the Democratic Party but the entire two-party political system. No less a man than former President Obama himself — who is hardly a progressive but who presumably knows Biden well — has reportedly in private warned the Democrats against the folly of nominating Biden. Obama reportedly told Biden, “You don’t have to do this, Joe.” In other words, Obama’s advice to Biden was to drop his campaign for the presidency. But Biden did not listen to Obama’s advice.

With the election approaching, many if not all leaders of the Party of Order realized that Biden was a poor choice in terms of their own class interests. This was not because Biden was not loyal to the capitalist class and its holy of holies the rate of profit. Rather, it was because Biden’s decades-long record make it impossible to present him as any kind progressive. Indeed, Biden’s campaign slogan is borrowed from Republican Warren G. Harding’s slogan of a century ago — “a return to normalcy.” After a century has gone by, people forget and campaign slogans can be recycled.

But many in the Party of Order believed that what they needed — especially in wake of the openly racist Trump — was a candidate who could appear to be a progressive while in reality being loyal to Wall Street and the corporations. In other words, they wanted a candidate like Barack Obama, who succeeded in 2008 and to a lesser extent in 2012 in unifying the progressive base of the Democratic Party with its finance-capital masters on Wall Street.

Back in 2008, many wrongly assumed that Obama, like most African Americans, was progressive. Also unlike Biden, Obama was a relatively young man by the standards of U.S. presidents, was well-spoken and obviously intelligent, and did not have any claims of sexual assault or improper conduct toward women hanging over him. After the increasingly hated George W. Bush, Obama was just the candidate to reconcile young people and workers, African Americans, and other people of color with the capitalist system.

Especially after the increasingly hated George W. Bush, Obama appeared to be progressive, even radical, because he was an African American. What the Party of Order really needs in 2020 after four years of Trump is a second Obama. That is, it needs a loyal servant of Wall Street and the corporations who can be passed off as a “progressive.” But who can play the role of Obama in 2020?

Next week, we will examine the search for the “new Obama” and why it has so far come up short.

_______

1 U.S. and bourgeois economists have completely changed the definition of depression. In the 19th century, “depression” was often used to refer to any period of depressed or “dull” business. Later, the definition was made more specific by bourgeois “business cycle experts,” referring to the period between the low point of industrial production and the period in which industrial production though rising had not yet reached the old peak. In this way, bourgeois business-cycle experts distinguished between the period when industrial production was declining, called a “recession,” and a “depression.”

After the 1930s, the term “depression” was changed by the servants of capital to refer to any crisis that was equal to or worse than the crisis/depression of the 1930s. By this definition, there has been only one “depression” in the history of capitalism — the 1930s. This has enabled bourgeois economists and the media to claim that they have learned how to avoid “depressions” since the 1930s, showing that capitalism is becoming more stable. They claim, for example, that a “depression” was avoided after the “financial crisis” of 2008. The claim that capitalism is more stable than it used to be and that crises of old are being replaced by much milder “recessions” is an old one and was made well before 1929 as well. But few people read old economic literature.

In fact, using the definition used by early 20th-century bourgeois business cycle experts, which I do, there have been many depressions since World War II, of varying degrees of severity and duration, the worst of these being the depression that followed the crisis of 2008. However, as a concession to common usage, when I capitalize the word Depression I mean a depression equal to or worse than that of the 1930s. (back)

2 Hillary Clinton, if nothing else, is an experienced political pro. Unlike Trump, who has refused to take any responsibility, it can be assumed she would have admitted some “mistakes” and taken “responsibility.” Unlike Trump, she probably would not have dispensed dangerously false medical advice in the guise of informing the public about the current stage of the struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic. But this would not have changed the fact that the U.S. response would have been far inferior to the response of many other capitalist countries. The reason for the dangerously inept response of the U.S. government lies in both capitalism and the archaic nature of the U.S. political institutions relative to other capitalist countries. Trump and his particularly poisonous brand of politics only provides a toxic glaze. I will be examining this in the coming weeks. (back)

3 The government assistance that people using the health insurance exchanges attempt to apply for is “means-tested,” much like Medicaid is, meaning that you have to prove you are poor enough to receive government assistance. If you cannot meet the means test, you are denied assistance and told to pay up or go without. (back)


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