The COVID-19 virus has shattered the health and wealth of the American people.
Over 30 million have filed for unemployment benefits, 70,000 of our citizens are dead, and there is no end in sight. And ominously, a Trump administration model estimates 3,000 daily dead by June.
The majority of people have accepted the incredible hardships, including loss of jobs and income and social isolation, with a dignity and stoicism that is humbling to observe. Rents and mortgages are not being paid and there is a real risk of people losing their housing. Those without jobs are losing their medical insurance – putting their lives at further risk as they are unable to seek medical care for any number of health issues.
As an aside, can we finally agree that linking medical insurance to having a job is one of the cruelest forms of control put into place by the owners with the connivance of a greedy medical insurance industry? Universal coverage now!
As pressure mounts to reopen the economy, the majority of this majority still believe in maintaining the social isolation and limits on public activities to prevent further spread of the virus.
I also have watched the news stories about small-business owners who have spent a lifetime building their businesses protesting about the extended quarantine orders. I have empathy for what are the pillars of most communities wanting to do what’s right but still asking for changes that will keep them in business.
The Chamber of Commerce reports 40% of small business could permanently close in the next six months. Just to note, small businesses employ almost one-half the private workforce in the USA.
I’ve seen and read multiple reports of small-business owners who’ve applied for the government Paycheck Protection Plan that was intended to provide relief for small businesses.
Many say they have gotten nothing. No surprise as complex forms and processes delayed their applications while the money ran out because the banks administering the program provided the monies to bigger businesses that could game the system. (And a second round certainly will not be enough).
None of this had to be this way.
The CARES Act gave most of the money to the big banks and big corporations. With the leverage of the Federal Reserve for corporate loans – the monies for the big banks and corporations will be approximately $4 trillion – almost four times more than the money made available to small business and individuals.
Congress and the Trump Administration made this choice to take care of the institutions that own and direct them in governance.
Heading into this crisis it’s been reported that average corporation had three dollars of debt for every dollar of earnings – with some having many times that. That debt was for share buybacks and dividends – actions guaranteed to increase the bonuses of corporate executives.
The public was told the big banks and the corporations were the masters of the universe that made American big business the envy of the world. At least until it became clear the masters of the universe had built a house of cards based on debt that couldn’t be maintained without massive Federal bailouts.
But consider what might have been if the USA had done what at least 16 other countries have done: provide some level of universal basic income during the pandemic. This would have taken the additional stresses away from both small business owners and individuals. Pressure to “reopen the economy” would have been reduced or mostly eliminated.
One thing about putting money into the hands of individuals: it gets spent. Groceries will be purchased; rents and mortgages will be paid and flow up to landlords and then to banks. Other purchases will be made. It will be used to create jobs to meet consumer demand for goods and services.
Yes, it would be very expensive. But so, what?
How many trillions were spent on the bailout of banks in 2008 – a bailout that fixed nothing and led us back to where we are now?
How many trillions have been wasted on ill-advised wars of empire?
How many trillions go to a national defense that is preparing to fight the last war by buying ever more complex weapons systems of dubious value?
How many trillions have gone this time to the corporations while people wait for their $1,200 checks?
How many billions of tax revenue were lost on the 2017 tax cuts for the rich?
Wouldn’t it be worth protecting the real economy of people and the goods and services they produce and consume?
All of the above had the full support of both political parties. Upton Sinclair was spot on when he called the Democrats and Republicans two wings of the same bird of prey.
And all of the above leads to what I call the revolt of the halfwits.
If you’ve seen any televised news, you’ve seen the protestors demanding the reopening of beaches, bars, or more generally the “economy”. There are always handmade signs talking about liberty and freedom.
(And note, I’m not including the armed right-wing militias that show up at some protests – their motivations are much darker and more dangerous.)
Earlier, there was the well remarked video of some woman in Denver leaning out of her truck and yelling at a nurse; the nurse’s offense was to protest the disregard for measures that are intended to keep the spread of the virus in check.
The protestors understand something is terribly wrong, but they are blaming the wrong people (governors, mayors, and nurses) and are putting themselves and others at risk by not wearing masks and not observing social distancing.
As I note above, none of this had to be this way: blame Congress and the Administration for the choices they made.
If these protestors do contract the virus, they may be asymptomatic. But the R0 (the reproduction factor, i.e., how many people can get the virus from each infected person) for COVID-19 is now thought to be 2.5 (the annual flu is R0 is 1.3 and is generally not passed by asymptomatic individuals). This means they can spread the virus to everyone around them without knowing it.
Apparently, freedom and liberty are only about oneself; concern for others is irrelevant.
In addition to those in their families and friends that are at risk, so are the medical staff who ultimately will be asked to put their lives at risk to take care of them.
And we have only been experiencing the full assault of the virus for several months. Those surviving the virus already complain about psychological problems, and respiratory, cardiac, and hepatic sequelae have also been observed. It may be several years before the anyone knows if these issues are temporary or chronic.
For there is a big yet…maybe the real issues that are motivating the protests are justified – no matter how misguided the focus and the evident risks to the personal safety of the protestors.
Maybe the most fundamental issue is outrage.
Maybe the protestors intuit but can’t articulate they are “getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago” – as George Carlin observed in his HBO special in 2005.
Maybe they’ve seen their communities destroyed by outsourcing and opioids and have given up on hearing “next time” every election cycle.
Maybe they’re tired of hearing how noble the “essential workers” are, those who have to continue working – often without protective equipment or adequate pay, while Congress says it won’t return to work unless an “emergency” happens.
Maybe they’re only halfwits for lacking the critical thinking about what put them into this situation, and right on the mark in their response.
Maybe it’s the rest of us that are also halfwits. Those of us waiting for the politicians to do what they promise and then consistently make little effort to deliver – always willing to give them another chance in which the choice is always “the lesser of two evils.”
Maybe the only real difference between Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump is what they say and not what they do. Pelosi is about maintaining the appearance of norms for “nice people”; Trump is about attacking those same norms for the “deplorables” who have suffered the greatest economic destruction.
But neither wants to reform the actual economic system that enriches them and has put the entire populace at risk from a financialized economy that no longer produces anything domestically, including critical medical equipment.
COVID-19 represents a watershed event – one in which the old normal has been destroyed. The world as we knew it is gone – any politician saying otherwise is a fool or is lying.
What comes after all the death and economic destruction is not yet known.
But if we are complacent, the new normal will be more dystopian with fewer choices and more control. The Amazons of the world will be much, much richer – with the rest of us much poorer.
It is finally time to understand that our fates are inextricably linked to those we on both sides have been taught we must despise. And shared outrage is a good place to start.
Outrage is an antidote to the bullshit of the political class with their lip service to real people’s concerns.
Outrage can lead to demands – demands for making a just society that benefits the people, not the corporations.
Outrage is critical to our survival. And its time is now.
(I mentioned George Carlin above. This is my favorite bit of his. It’s a brilliant, if raw, explanation of what brought us to this point.)