Ben Jealous argues that the fight against police brutality has been a multi-racial fight for generations and while the “spark” of these protests is police brutality, the “tinder” is economic injustice.
Ben Jealous argues that the fight against police brutality has been a multi-racial fight for generations and while the “spark” of these protests is police brutality, the “tinder” is economic injustice.
West discusses the protests following the murder of George Floyd, the breakdown of our capitalist and racist system, and the failure of the nation to deliver its citizens’ their most basic needs and rights.
Ben Jealous, former NAACP president and Maryland gubernatorial candidate, has launched a new relief fund aimed at supporting Baltimore-area workers that are struggling or have lost their jobs amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
After calling on friends and contacts he’s made throughout his experiences in the business and political spheres, Jealous has raised more than $1 million through donations for the Maime & Jerome Todd Relief Fund, named for Jealous’ grandparents. Initially, the fund will distribute $550,000 to four organizations that provide support to workers in Baltimore’s restaurant and hospitality industry.
The first organizations to receive funding include: Food With a Focus, a food distribution program serving vulnerable Baltimore communities; Casa de Maryland, an organization that provides support and advocacy for local Latino and immigrant populations; Keys Development, a community wellness and social services organization; and the Education and Support Relief Fund of Unite Here Local 7, a union affiliate representing hotel, gaming and food service workers throughout the state.
Unite Here will receive the largest initial sum, of $250,000. The organization reported that about 95% of Baltimore’s unionized hotel and restaurant employees have been laid off in the past 10 weeks due to coronavirus. The other three organizations will each receive $100,000.
Jealous said a phone call in March from his longtime friend Roxie Herbekian, president of Unite Here Local 7, spurred him to try and raise the relief funds. Herbekian was in a “panic,” Jealous recalled, because she knew a large majority of her union’s local members would be impacted by coronavirus-related shutdowns.
“We started to see, within a matter of weeks, thousands of hospitality workers, restaurant workers, food service workers, event workers, casino workers being laid off,” Herbekian said. “[These are] folks who under normal circumstances are often just living paycheck to paycheck.”
Jealous couldn’t help but think about how his maternal grandfather, who had moved to Baltimore early in the Great Depression, relied on his union job as a dishwasher to help support his family through another extremely difficult time in the nation’s economic history.
“To hear more than 90% of the unionized hotel and restaurant employees were preparing to file for unemployment just shook me to my core,” Jealous said. “Because I knew without that job, without that union job as a dishwasher, the bottom could have fallen out for my mom’s family and everything could have turned out very, very differently.”
Jealous said he was inspired to help and sent an email to dozens of contacts he has developed throughout his career, mentioning how important union jobs had been in his own family’s history, with that hope that many of them would want to help as well. Donations started coming in from folks from all over, from Maryland to California, ranging in size from $2.50 to much larger sums. Jealous said it has been one of the most “humbling and affirming” experiences of his life to see so many of his friends and colleagues step up and be willing to help however they can.
Herbekian said her organization will use the grant from the Maime & Jerome Todd Relief Fund to provide direct assistance to both union and non-union hospitality workers in Baltimore who are facing difficulty supporting themselves and their families amid the ongoing crisis. She noted that the sudden loss of income due to Covid-19 came just as hospitality workers were gearing up for “the really busy season.” All of the folks who rely on earning their money from increased tourism, or at conventions and baseball games in the spring and summer, could potentially suffer several more weeks or months of losses.
“Given that our industry depends on travels and depends on people being in close quarters, it may not come back very quickly. So we are very very grateful for this financial assistance,” Herbekian said. “This money will go a long way to help people keep afloat.”
The coronavirus crisis has both obscured and illuminated one of the most seismic developments on our planet in many decades: I think it’s now clear that the power of the fossil-fuel industry has decisively passed its zenith. It’s not a spent force by any means, but, even in the past few weeks, events have shown it to be waning where for a century and a half it has waxed.
Remember the basic outlines of the story: although the industry knew about climate change in the nineteen-eighties, it chose to lie and deny. That prevented early action to slow the globe’s rising temperatures, and it allowed fossil-fuel companies to make record profits throughout the nineties and early two-thousands—record profits year after year.
But, about a decade ago, three things happened. First, activists who were tired of losing to the oil lobby in Congress decided to attack the industry’s ability to expand, mustering opposition to such things as pipelines and fracking wells. A growing movement—led increasingly by front-line communities, indigenous groups, and young people—has fought almost every project. The movement also laid siege to the industry’s financial underpinnings, mounting what has become a massive divestment campaign. (On Friday, Cornell University became the second Ivy League school, after Brown, to join, in part, what is now a fourteen-trillion-dollar effort.) And, finally, engineers cracked the code on renewables, dramatically reducing the price of solar and wind power. All those trends are converging: in the past month, we’ve seen Joe Biden promise that, if he’s elected, the Keystone XL pipeline will finally die; we’ve seen shareholders at the U.S.’s largest bank come very close to forcing its officers to test loans against the stipulations outlined in the Paris climate accord; and we’ve seen the price of solar power in the sunniest spots in the world approach a penny per kilowatt-hour. Taken together, these victories mean, I think, that we’ve passed some invisible point, and that the flow of influence is now moving away from the carbon-based fuels that have dominated power production since the start of the industrial revolution. It means that the balance of power has shifted to the point where we can finally have a serious conversation.
It doesn’t mean that, henceforth, progress will be smooth: the fossil-fuel industry retains a legacy grip on the infrastructure of everything from cookstoves to cars—and a legacy grip on politics, as well. Even now, lawmakers are moving to arrange for industry bailouts as part of the covid-19 relief efforts, to reduce federal-land-royalty payments, and more (see the interview below). And it doesn’t mean that environmentalists will be able to push the pace of decarbonization fast enough to catch up with climate change—for that to happen, the slow fade of fossil fuels would need to turn into a rapid rout.
But it does mean that we have a chance. Because, as the economic prospects of the fossil-fuel industry weaken, so, inevitably, does its political clout. This means that, say, parliaments looking for ways out of economic morasses might well now choose to place a tax on carbon (which consumers are unlikely even to notice, given the current price of oil); and an industry hollowed out by this past decade of losses might, finally, have a hard time resisting it. At this point, in the cost curve for solar panels, even a modest price on carbon, as The Economist said this week, “could give renewables a decisive advantage—one which would become permanent as wider deployment made them cheaper still. There may never have been a time when carbon prices could achieve so much so quickly.” By itself, a price on carbon wouldn’t get the job done anywhere near fast enough. As the analyst Dave Roberts points out, in an excellent roundup of climate policies, a tax “would be helpful—and if it turns out to be possible, go for it—but it is neither necessary nor central to comprehensive climate policy.” That’s because you also need serious subsidies for building out infrastructure for wind and solar power, and strong measures to keep carbon in the ground. The Spanish government, for one, recently announced plans to end all new exploration for coal, gas, and oil within its borders. Powerful pushes toward conservation (here’s a Canadian plan for “deep retrofits” of the nation’s buildings, to make them far more efficient) and changes in life style, such as shifting diets or not taking as many trips on planes, are also paramount. But the political power of the fossil-fuel industry has always been the single biggest obstacle to making real change, and that’s what seems now to be weakening.
Decisive shifts are always easier to pick up in hindsight. But I think it’s fairly clear: the Sisyphean task of pushing the fossil-fuel industry uphill has turned into the Newtonian one of encouraging its speedy descent down the other side.
Passing the Mic
Zorka Milin is a senior legal adviser with Global Witness, an organization that for twenty-five years has uncovered links between natural-resource-related conflict, corruption, and human-rights abuses around the world. The group published a report earlier this month on how a single oil company—Occidental Petroleum—stands to benefit from financial support from the Federal Reserve, illustrating what I described above: the stickiness of the industry’s legacy political power.
Could you explain how Occidental positioned itself for a bailout?
Occidental Petroleum isn’t the most well-known U.S. oil producer, but it plays in the big leagues of political spending. Last year, Occidental spent $8.67 million on lobbying—the fourth-highest amount among U.S. oil-and-gas firms, behind only the behemoths Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, and Chevron. The company’s employees and pac are also big campaign donors, contributing more than a million dollars during the 2020 election cycle. Since the pandemic crashed the oil market, the company and its trade association have lobbied hard for access to federal funds.
Occidental already expects to receive a tax refund (a.k.a., a handout) of nearly two hundred million dollars from the cares Act. And, earlier this month, at President Trump’s direction, the Federal Reserve relaxed the criteria for its small- and mid-sized-business loan program, to make Occidental, and other oil companies, eligible for loans of up to two hundred million dollars. Four of the senators who pushed for these changes to the Fed program—Ted Cruz, Lisa Murkowski, Jim Inhofe, and John Barrasso—all took money from Occidental’s pac. What is more, the same senators are urging the Fed to change the eligibility rules for its bond-buyback programs, which, according to an analysis by the Rainforest Action Network, could affect only one company’s eligibility: Occidental’s.
What does this tell us about the lingering effect of lobbying money on federal energy policy?
Money from the fossil-fuel industry is distorting policy decisions to use public money to bail out a dying industry. This story is much bigger than Occidental. Analysis by Friends of the Earth shows that many other oil companies have aggressively—and successfully—lobbied for help from the government during the pandemic. While it’s been within the law, it is galling to see these companies take advantage of an unprecedented public-health crisis for their own self-interest. It will be impossible to solve the climate crisis without addressing the industry’s undue political influence. Ultimately, meaningful limits on corporate money in politics will require overturning the misguided Citizens United decision. But one change we can make right now is to eliminate secret corporate lobbying for bailouts, as Senator Warren and others recently proposed.
If you were handing out coronavirus-response money, where would you be focussing?
Instead of corporate fossil-fuel interests, I would prioritize the needs of workers and communities that are hardest hit by the crisis. Take, for example, Occidental—its tax refund of a hundred and ninety-five million dollars amounts to nineteen thousand and five hundred dollars for each of its U.S. workers. Yet workers won’t be seeing this money directly. For Occidental’s workers, there is no job security, because none of the coronavirus-funding programs for companies like Occidental require them to keep workers on payroll, unlike the Payroll Protection Program, for small businesses. Indeed, Occidental has already instituted a round of pay cuts, and recently rolled out job buyouts. The ReWIND Act, spearheaded by Representative Nanette Barragán and Senator Jeff Merkley, among others, would put a stop to oil-and-gas bailouts. Congress should pass it.
Right now, our economy needs fiscal support to get going again, but handing money to companies in failing industries that drive climate change is the worst possible way to provide that support. Instead, we should use this money to begin a just and fair transition away from fossil fuels—retraining workers for the industries of the future and protecting the most marginalized communities on the front lines of the climate crisis.
Building on the momentum of announcements like the one from the Spanish government, analysts at Oil Change International laid out a detailed and persuasive case for why governments need to manage the ongoing decline of the fossil-fuel industry, both to insure that it’s speedy enough to hold warming to the lowest possible levels and to guarantee that workers and communities can make a “just recovery” from the current economic turmoil.
When we think about electric-transportation options, a shiny new Tesla is often what we have in mind. But, in fact, it’s the market for e-bikes that’s exploding, because they’re affordable and because they “flatten hills” compared with pedal power. Perhaps the same will happen for e-scooters, too, as cities return to life but people choose to shun public transportation. “Now more than ever, people are demanding open-air, single occupancy transportation,” one hopeful executive said.
Of historical interest: researchers have found the receipts, literally, that show how Shell helped bankroll a key climate denier.
Of immediate interest: as we build out renewables to tackle the climate crisis, by far the smartest way to do it would be with as much ownership as possible by ordinary people, not hereditary princes or multinational corporations. The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation has published a useful white paper pointing out that the wind shouldn’t really be controlled by private interests, and that recognizing this fact could make for a fairer and faster transition.
Media Matters for America has launched a new report showing that, in March and April, certain insurance companies were among the major advertisers on Fox News—that is, it pointed out the irony of companies that theoretically care about risk backing the network’s cavalier attitudes toward both climate change and covid-19. Meanwhile, new research found an overlap between funders of climate denial, such as the Koch Institute, and those attacking stay-at-home orders during the pandemic.
Greenpeace and other campaigners scored a big win when Google announced that it will no longer be building customized A.I. systems for oil companies seeking to maximize extraction from its reserves. Microsoft and Amazon have similar programs; the pressure on them has now increased.
Ugly pictures are emerging from China, where air pollution—having dropped remarkably during the coronavirus lockdown—is now exceeding year-ago levels in many places. The fear among many analysts is that the government, the legitimacy of which has been challenged by the crisis, will opt for a “dirty recovery,” in order to return to normal more quickly.
Interesting polling data: apparently, the pandemic has not driven the climate crisis out of people’s minds. A new Yale University and George Mason University survey finds that only six per cent of respondents are “very sure” that global warming isn’t happening. This is a little surprising, because researchers previously have speculated that there’s a “finite pool of worry” in the human mind. Maybe—or maybe watching one physical crisis play out makes it easier to recognize the larger threat.
Biggest yet: Siemens Gamesa launched a wind turbine for offshore use with rotor blades that carve a swath through the air as high as the Golden Gate Bridge. An increasing problem: finding ships big enough to install them.
It’s been a little quieter than usual, and so easier to hear the birds warming up. This web site has been collecting recordings of the “dawn chorus” from around the planet. You can listen in and also make some recordings of your own to contribute to the project.
Many on the left still cling to the hope that the COVID-19 crisis will translate into the use of state power on behalf of the powerless. But those in authority have never hesitated to harness government intervention to the preservation of oligarchy, and a pandemic alone won’t change that.
To exorcise my worst fears about the coming decade, I chose to write a bleak chronicle of it. If, by December 2030, developments have invalidated it, I hope such dreary prognoses will have played a part by spurring us to appropriate action.
Before our pandemic-induced lockdowns, politics seemed to be a game. Political parties behaved like sports teams having good or bad days, scoring points that propelled them up a league table that, at season’s end, determined who would form a government and then do next to nothing.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic stripped away the veneer of indifference to reveal the political reality: some people do have the power to tell the rest of us what to do. Lenin’s description of politics as “who does what to whom” seemed more apt than ever.
By June 2020, as lockdowns began to ease, left-wing optimism that the pandemic would revive state power on behalf of the powerless remained, leading friends to fantasize about a renaissance of the commons and a capacious definition of public goods. Margaret Thatcher, I would remind them, left the British state larger, more powerful, and more concentrated than she had found it. An authoritarian state was necessary to support markets controlled by corporations and banks. Those in authority have never hesitated to harness massive government intervention to the preservation of oligarchic power. Why should a pandemic change that?
As a result of COVID-19, the grim reaper almost claimed both the British prime minister and the Prince of Wales, and even Hollywood’s nicest star. But it was the poorer and the browner that the reaper actually did claim. They were easy pickings.
It’s not hard to understand why. Disempowerment breeds poverty, which ages people faster and, ultimately, readies them for the cull. In the shadow of falling prices, wages, and interest rates, it was never likely that the spirit of solidarity, which soothed our souls during lockdowns, would translate into the use of state power to strengthen the weak and vulnerable.
On the contrary, it was megafirms and the ultra-rich that were grateful socialism was alive and well. Fearing that the masses, condemned to the savage arena of unfettered markets amid a public-health disaster, would no longer be able to afford to buy their products, they reallocated their spending to shares, yachts, and mansions. Thanks to the freshly printed money central banks pumped into them via the usual financiers, stock markets flourished as economies collapsed. Wall Street bankers assuaged their guilt, lingering since 2008, by letting middle-class customers fight over the scraps.
Plans for the green transition, which young climate activists had put on the agenda before 2020, were given only lip service as governments buckled under towering mountains of debt. Precautionary saving by the many reinforced the economic depression, yielding industrial-scale discontent on a browning planet.
The disconnect between the financial world and the real world, in which billions struggled, inevitably widened. And with it grew the discontent that gave rise to the political monsters I was warning my left-leaning friends about.
As in the 1930s, in the souls of many, the grapes of wrath were growing heavy for a new, bitter vintage. In place of the 1930s soapboxes from which demagogues promised to restore dignity to the disgruntled masses, Big Tech provided apps and social networks perfectly suited for the task.
Once communities surrendered to the fear of infection, human rights seemed an unaffordable luxury. Big Tech developed biometric bracelets to monitor our vital data around the clock. In cahoots with governments, they combined the output with geolocation data, fed it all into algorithms, and ensured that the population received helpful text messages informing them what to do or where to go to stop new outbreaks in their tracks.
But a system that monitors our coughs could also monitor our laughs. It could know how our blood pressure responds to the leader’s speech, to the boss’s pep talk, to the police announcement banning a demonstration. The KGB and Cambridge Analytica suddenly seemed Neolithic.
With state power re-legitimized by the pandemic, cynical agitators took advantage. Instead of strengthening voices calling for international cooperation, China and the United States bolstered nationalism. Elsewhere, too, nationalist leaders stoked xenophobia and offered demoralized citizens a simple trade: personal pride and national greatness in exchange for authoritarian powers to protect them from lethal viruses, cunning foreigners, and scheming dissidents.
Just as cathedrals were the Middle Ages’ architectural legacy, the 2020s left us tall walls, electrified fences, and flocks of surveillance drones. The nation-state’s revival made the world less open, less prosperous, and less free precisely for those who had always found it hard to travel, to make ends meet, and to speak their minds. For the oligarchs and functionaries of Big Tech, Big Pharma, and other megafirms, who got on famously with the strongmen in authority, globalization proceeded apace.
The myth of the global village gave way to an equilibrium between great-power blocs, each sporting burgeoning militaries, separate supply chains, idiosyncratic autocracies, and class divisions reinforced by new forms of nativism. The new socioeconomic cleavages threw the prevailing features of each country’s politics into sharp relief. Like people who become caricatures of themselves in a crisis, whole countries focused on their collective illusions, exaggerating and cementing pre-existing prejudices.
The great strength of the new fascists during the twenties was that, unlike their political forebears, they did not even have to enter government to gain power. Liberal and social-democratic parties began to fall over one another to embrace xenophobia-lite, then authoritarianism-lite, then totalitarianism-lite.
So, here we are, at the end of the decade. Where are we?
On this somber Memorial Day weekend, America is approaching the grim milestone of 100,000 Covid-19 deaths in a population of 330 million. Six Asia-Pacific nations — Australia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Taiwan and Vietnam — have just over 1,200 coronavirus deaths in a combined population almost the same as the US, 328 million.
On May 23, the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker shows that America recorded 1,208 new deaths, while the six Asia-Pacific countries recorded just 13 deaths: 12 in Japan, 1 in Australia, and 0 in the others.
America has failed to control the epidemic while many other countries, and not just the six in the Asia-Pacific, have succeeded.
The American political system has not been focused on how to end the epidemic. Our political debates from the first days of the epidemic have taken the bait of Donald Trump’s nonsensical Twitter feed: chloroquine, Clorox, China pro and con, WHO pro and con, filling church pews by Easter, the liberation of states, the bailout of the post office, the loyalty of Fox News, and whether or not to wear a face mask at the Ford Motor plant. This is not the politics of problem solving; it is the politics of distraction.
Six months into the epidemic and around 100,000 deaths later we still do not have systematic contact tracing across the country. Neither the President nor Congress has focused on the topic even though it is the key to keeping Americans alive and restoring the economy.
Our politics are tribal and ineffective. Rather than designing a system of nationwide contact tracing, we debate Trump versus House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. As Americans, we should readily agree that both the President and Congress have failed miserably. Neither has focused on how to stop the epidemic. Both have focused on blaming the other.
The truth is simple and grim. If we don’t stop the epidemic, we will face many more deaths and a long and deep depression. It would be wonderful if a vaccine suddenly rescues us from our persistent failure to implement basic public health measures. But don’t bet on it. The recent news stories on vaccines have the hallmarks of hype, the kind of stories typically followed by long delays and disappointments. That’s not a forecast, just an urgent point that we should not leave the rescue of the republic to unproven vaccines still in the early stages of development.
Sadly, many state and local governments have failed to compensate for the lack of federal leadership. Yes, there were dire shortages of testing equipment because of shocking failures at the federal level. Yet much more epidemic control could have been achieved nonetheless at the state and local level.
New York, for example, failed to note the early spread of the epidemic or to create systems for contact tracing when it was urgently needed. Even worse, New York state health authorities disastrously ordered that convalescing Covid-19 patients should be moved from hospitals to nursing homes, thereby risking mass infections in those highly vulnerable settings. There have been thousands of avoidable and tragic deaths in the state’s care centers. And yet some cities, such as Paterson, New Jersey, have innovated and set a crucial standard for the rest.
Thousands more preventable deaths lie ahead unless and until we start focusing as a nation on ending the epidemic. Ignore Trump’s Twitter feed. It has nothing to do with our real and urgent needs. Our core question should be this: How can the United States quickly and urgently implement basic public health measures — contact tracing, testing, quarantining, and safe public and workplace practices — already achieved in the Asia-Pacific and many other countries? Only by stopping the rampant spread of the disease can we be safe and can our economy function once again.
In this coming week, Congress should return immediately — online if necessary — to consider this issue and this issue alone. By the end of the week, Congress should vote for legislation to finance and otherwise support the urgent and immediate scale-up of nationwide contact tracing and safe workplace practices. The National Governors Association and the United States Conference of Mayors should do the same.
Within a few days we could finally have a meeting of the minds and a national strategy, with or without Trump. We have suffered enough from rudderless, distracted and deadly politics.
On Rising with Krystal & Saagar, Senator Turner draws parallels between New Orleans sanitation workers’ strike, and the Memphis sanitation strike led by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
Instead of an imagined “tradeoff” between reviving the economy and safeguarding health, President Donald Trump’s policies are delivering both a great depression and tens of thousands of deaths at the same time. That’s because a tradeoff between economy and health doesn’t exist, except in Trump’s fantasy.
Unless people are confident about their safety in the midst of the pandemic, they will not resume normal life. By allowing a premature reopening, which ensures that the epidemic will rage, Trump most likely has condemned America to economic collapse.
The fantasist promotes magical thinking, and perhaps even believes it himself. Trump said that the virus wasn’t a threat. He said that it would go away by April. He said that it was fully under control. He said in March that we have all of the testing we need.
The epidemic is controllable when government is serious. Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Taiwan, among others, all have kept deaths below 10 per million population, compared with 271 per million in the United States. Those other countries implemented public health policies at national scale; the US did not.
With US reported Covid-19 deaths nearing 90,000 — and almost certainly higher based on a comparison of deaths this year and last year — Trump now tries to discredit the death count. In Trump’s fantasy world, there are no deaths if they are not reported.
Trump’s maneuverings also won’t save the economy, which is in a free fall. States can open now and thereby spread more disease and death. But again, economic fantasy won’t replace reality. Consumers will not suddenly start buying. Builders will not suddenly build buildings when so many stand to be empty or underutilized. Some of Trump’s followers may head to crowded places — and if so, many will contract the virus — but most Americans will not.
Of the record 20.5 million jobs lost in April, most will not come back any time soon, whether or not states declare their economies open. The continued spread of the virus itself will block any meaningful rapid recovery. So too will deep structural changes that will cause a significant, albeit unknowable, proportion of today’s job losses to be permanent.
Here are some of the jobs that are not returning: E-commerce will displace many brick-and-mortar retail jobs. Big name retail chains are now going bankrupt week after week. The result is that many retail jobs, down 2.1 million comparing March and April 2020, will likely not return. Jobs created as a result of online shopping won’t equal those lost in brick and mortar stores.
Many business firms will reorganize their workflows to allow for far more work from home, and this will leave office complexes sparsely populated. Many companies will downsize their space, meaning new commercial construction will remain depressed for years to come.
New oil and gas drilling has collapsed and will not recover to past levels given the long-term glut in world oil markets and the collapse in oil and gas prices. Travel and tourism will remain depressed as long as the epidemic is uncontrolled, keeping down employment numbers in accommodations, leisure, entertainment and restaurants.
Trump’s remaining idea is to force companies to return home from China and rebuild their supply chains at home. This is yet another fantasy. By intensifying the attacks on China — including new measures to cut off Chinese companies from American semiconductor technology — Trump will crush the growth prospects of much of America’s high-tech industry, whose business includes international markets, including China’s vast population. Trump’s moves will invite Chinese retaliation and hasten the day when China competes with the US in various dimensions of semiconductor manufacturing and design, such as specialized chips for artificial intelligence and 5G.
One obvious area of retaliation will be for China to buy planes from Airbus instead of Boeing. Even before the pandemic, Boeing was in a very deep crisis because of its flagrant mismanagement of the 737 Max. Trump’s failure to contain the epidemic and his intensified attacks on China will deepen Boeing’s woes. Boeing stock fell 2 percent on May 15, the day after Trump’s new anti-China measures, and Boeing stock is down by more than 70 percent from the peak on March 1, 2019.
Trump will try to save moribund companies, no doubt including his own family business. He will try to save the oil and gas sector, though no banks will touch it. He will prop up the failing companies of friends, cronies and campaign contributors. He will lie, try to hide data, blame others, and produce a deepening disaster.
But there are three true steps out of the new great depression.
First, and most urgently, we must end the epidemic through the public health measures — testing, tracing and quarantining — that Trump has consistently neglected.
Second, we must work with other countries, including China, to stop the epidemic everywhere in the world so that trade and travel can safely resume, and so that the millions of jobs dependent on trade, transport and tourism are at least partly restored.
Third, we must build new industrial and service sectors, not prop up the old and moribund ones. Recovery will come not through oil and gas fracking, but through a boom of US companies producing solar panels, wind turbines, advanced batteries, advanced electric vehicles and the hardware and software of smart grids; combined with a service industry boom based on new models of low-cost healthcare, education and office work, that combines online and in-person service delivery.
By being smart and fair, we could look forward to new high-tech industries, more shared leisure time, shorter commutes, cleaner skies, universal access to affordable healthcare and higher education and a guaranteed living wage for all workers.
For all of this, we need a new administration and Congress and a new approach for our nation. Until then, Trump’s fantasy world is our nightmare. Hang tight. A new dawn is coming.
As America reopens for business, you might expect Jeff Bezos, the richest man in America, and his Amazon corporation, the most profitable corporation in America, to set the standard for how to protect the health of American workers.
Amazon’s warehouses have become Covid-19 hot spots, yet Amazon has repeatedly fired workers who sound the alarm – including, just recently, a warehouse worker in Minnesota who spoke out against unsafe conditions, and, earlier in the pandemic, a worker who led a walkout at Amazon’s huge JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island after several employees tested positive for the virus.
A few weeks ago, Amazon fired two white-collar employees after they criticized the company’s treatment of warehouse workers. I talked with one of them, Maren Costa, at a virtual rally. (The event didn’t come off quite as planned. After thousands of employees had RSVP’d, Amazon deleted all invitations and emails regarding the event, according to organizers.)
“Why is Amazon so scared of workers talking with each other?” Costa wondered. “We’re all in this together. No company should punish their employees for showing concern for one another, especially during a pandemic.”
At Amazon’s AVP1 fulfillment center near Hazleton, Pennsylvania – under federal investigation because of an early surge in cases – workers say Amazon stopped sharing information about Covid-19 cases, so they started their own unofficial tally, which at last count was 64 and rising.
“Plain truth: no one cares about us,” one of them told the Philadelphia Inquirer. Another pointed to lack of enforcement of health and safety regulations. “Believe me – we’ve complained and complained and complained,” the worker said.
Amazon doesn’t even provide hourly workers paid sick leave. It had allowed warehouse workers with pre-existing conditions to take leave without pay if they feared infection, but that policy expired last Thursday.
The company now says anyone who doesn’t return to work will be fired, and it’s about to eliminate an extra $2 per hour hazard pay it had given warehouse workers.
Why have Bezos and Amazon set the bar so low for the rest of corporate America? It can’t be the cost. Amazon can afford the highest safety standards in the world. Last quarter, its revenue surged 26% and its profits soared to $75.5bn. Since March, Jeff Bezos’ net worth has jumped $24bn.
So, what is it? Perhaps it’s the arrogance and indifference that comes with extraordinary power.
Consider billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, who last week reopened his Tesla plant despite county public-health orders to keep it shut. After Musk threatened to sue the county and move the factory and jobs to another state, officials finally caved.
Tesla promptly notified workers that “once you are called back, you will no longer be on furlough so if you choose not to work, it may impact your unemployment benefits”.
So Tesla workers are now being forced to choose between their livelihoods or, possibly, their lives. Musk says his factory is safe, but a worker who returned to the production line told the New York Times that little has changed, and “it’s hard to avoid coming within six feet of others”.
Why is Musk so intent on risking lives? It can’t be the money. Musk is rolling in it. Tesla’s stock closed at $790.96 a share last Wednesday, which put the company’s value at about $146bn (by contrast, GM, which produces far more cars, is valued at less than $31bn).
It’s that, like Bezos, Musk wants to impose his will on the world. The pandemic is an obstacle, so it must be ignored.
In January, Musk said Covid-19 was nothing more than a common cold. In March, he tweeted the “coronavirus panic is dumb”. By late late-April he was calling shelter-in-place orders “fascist”, and asserting that health officials were “breaking people’s freedoms”.
If all this reminds you of someone who now occupies the Oval Office, that’s no coincidence. Musk’s thin-skinned, petulant narcissism bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Donald Trump, who last week tweeted, “California should let Tesla and @elonmusk open the plant, NOW.”
As someone who once oversaw the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, I can attest that Trump’s OSHA is doing squat about worker safety in this pandemic. Trump is fine with this. All he cares about is being re-elected.
Trump despises Bezos, presumably because Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which has been critical of Trump. But it’s easy to see in Bezos the same public-be-damned bullying that emanates from the White House.
Enough! Those in power must stop seeing the pandemic as an obstacle to personal ambition. Over 300,000 people around the world have lost their lives in just four months, including more than 88,000 in America. Bezos, Musk, Trump, and all others in positions to help contain this disaster are morally bound to do so, their own ambitions be damned.
America faces an epic choice …
…in the coming months, and the results will define the country for a generation. These are perilous times. Over the last four years, much of what the Guardian holds dear has been threatened – democracy, civility, truth.
The country is at a crossroads. The Supreme Court hangs in the balance – and with it, the future of abortion and voting rights, healthcare, climate policy and much more. Science is in a battle with conjecture and instinct to determine policy in the middle of a pandemic. At the same time, the US is reckoning with centuries of racial injustice – as the White House stokes division along racial lines. At a time like this, an independent news organization that fights for truth and holds power to account is not just optional. It is essential.
The collapse of oil prices is an opportunity for a public takeover of the fossil fuel industry and replace it with sustainable energy. As the depression deepens, it is also the time for large publicly owned banks to weaken the economic and political power of finance. Pollin joins Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news podcast.