where’s the tsar?

Rasputin in the White House
Eric London and David North, WSWS, Apr 25 2020

President Donald Trump addressing Thursday’s press conference

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the world has grown accustomed to the daily White House press briefings, in which a scowling Donald Trump parades his staggering ignorance and promotes quackery, as medical experts contradict his harebrained and antiscientific justifications for a rapid “return to work.” But even these daily spectacles could not have prepared audiences for Trump’s performance Thursday, when the president urged Americans to inject themselves with disinfectant and insert ultraviolet lights into their bodies, measures which would kill those unfortunate enough to listen to the president’s advice. Trump said:

I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that. … So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just a very powerful light, and I think you said that hasn’t been checked because of the testing. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or some other way, and I think you said you’re going to test that, too.

These statements provoked a flurry of denunciations by astounded medical professionals. The maker of Lysol disinfectant was forced to publicly rebuke the president by issuing a statement saying:

We must be clear that under no circumstances should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body.

In recent weeks, Trump has pronounced that his “gut” instinct told him the pandemic would be over in April, that it was no worse than the flu, and that the medication hydroxychloroquine, produced by a friend who stood to profit from the president’s recommendation, could cure the virus, despite FDA warnings that it would lead to increased deaths. It is easy enough to point out that these statements express Trump’s own stunning backwardness and callous indifference to human life. But what remains to be explained is how this grotesque sociopath came to occupy the White House; and, what does his sordid presidency reveal about the state of the American political system? A characteristic of a doomed political system, often observed in history, is the elevation of an especially despicable and even depraved personality to a high position in the state, frequently as a key adviser to the ruler. Such individuals often become the focus of public outrage.

Among the most notorious examples of such a personality in the twentieth century was Grigori Rasputin, the “mad monk,” who exerted immense influence over the Russian Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra. A horse thief and rapist, Rasputin became the trusted and indispensable adviser of the royal couple, partly on the basis of his claim that he could treat their hemophiliac son through a combination of religious incantations, the conjuring of spirits, and his own frightening stare. The Tsar and Tsarina took no major decisions without consulting their corrupt and dissolute “friend.” Fearful that the influence wielded by Rasputin was leading the regime to disaster, a group of disgruntled nobles carried out the “friend’s” gruesome assassination in Dec 1916. Their action failed to stave off the revolution, which began two months later. “Rasputinism” entered into the vocabulary of politics as a word that denotes an obscene level of state corruption and decadence. In his History of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky recalled:

This episode acquired the character of a disgusting nightmare overhanging the country. If by the word hooliganism we understand the extreme expression of those antisocial parasite elements at the bottom of society, we may define Rasputinism as a crowned hooliganism at its very top.

A century after the original version, a form of Rasputinism has emerged in Pindostan, but the Pindo Rasputin is not the adviser to the president, he is the president, a vile scoundrel and social degenerate, incapable of formulating a coherent sentence, let alone a logical argument, positioned at the apex of the Pindo state! Trump epitomizes an oligarchy, whose wealth is based on a level of parasitism that is hardly to be distinguished from criminality. His thuggishness, cultural backwardness and his contempt for the common people embody the attitudes and practices of swarms of banksters, billionaire investors, vulture capitalists, hedge fund managers, asset-strippers, real estate swindlers and media moguls that run both political parties and all three branches of government.

Pindostan presently finds itself in the midst of a crisis of unparalleled dimensions, with the government in the hands of a person who is telling the population to inject bleach into its veins. In the period of its historic rise, the Pindo bourgeoisie could produce Abraham Lincoln, who embodied the democratic ethos of the American Revolution and stewarded the country through the Civil War. In the next great crisis, the Great Depression, the ruling class produced Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who represented a ruling class, or at least a section of it, that was still capable of speaking seriously about social issues, as “FDR” did in his “fireside chats,” and appealing to the democratic sentiments of the broad masses of people. Today, decades of Pindo economic decline have eliminated any basis within the ruling class for the defense of the country’s democratic traditions. Pindo capitalism finds its quintessential expression in the persona of Trump. That does not mean that all American capitalists like what they see. But looking into the mirror is not always a pleasant experience. In the final analysis, Trump is “their man.” They must take him as he is. Truth be told, what use would Wall Street have for a man of science and high culture in the White House? The interests of the banks and corporations are not served by a scientifically informed approach to the pandemic. The factories must be reopened. Profit must be squeezed out of the working class. Monthly mortgages, rents and interest payments are due and must be met. Dr Anthony Fauci and his fellow epidemiologists, with their endless jeremiads on the danger posed by the current and a second wave of the pandemic, are getting on the nerves of corporate Pindostan.

Within 24 hours of Trump’s statement on injecting disinfectant and using ultraviolet light “inside the body,” the 50,000th person died of the virus in Pindostan. As several states rush back to work, Apr 23 almost set a record for new positive cases nationwide. The UN is preparing for famines that threaten to take the lives of hundreds of millions in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Though Trump says it more bluntly than his counterparts in Europe and across the world, the POTUS is expressing the viewpoint of the entire global ruling elite. In Germany, Angela Merkel is opening the country by sending the working class back to their jobs, indifferent to evidence that this will lead to a new wave of deaths. The same is true in Spain, Britain, France and elsewhere. In Latin America, the position of the ruling class is summed up in the response of Brazil’s right-wing Bolsonaro and Mexico’s ostensibly left-wing Andrés Manuel López Obrador, both of whom have claimed that God will protect their respective populations from the virus. If society were directed rationally and democratically, on the basis of socialist policies, a globally planned and scientifically guided mass intervention could conquer the pandemic and save millions of lives. The pandemic is a biological reality, but the response to this phenomenon is conditioned by the class interests that dominate society. The lethality of the pandemic is determined less by the RNA of the virus than by the economic and social priorities of the capitalist class. In the final analysis, the fight against the pandemic is inextricably bound up with the fight for the transfer of power to the working class and the establishment of socialism.

As Pindostan passes 50,000 deaths, workers strike against back-to-work campaign
Shannon Jones, Andre Damon, WSWS, Apr 25 2020

The Pindo death toll from COVID-19 soared past the grim milestone of 50,000 Friday. Despite having just 5% of the world’s population, Pindostan now accounts for 25% of the world’s COVID-19 deaths. Just one month ago, the total death toll in Pindostan was under 1,000. Over the past two weeks, an average of approximately 2,000 people have died every day. The Pindo death toll has doubled over ten days. The number of people killed by the coronavirus, according to official figures, is now greater than the number of combat deaths during the American Revolutionary War, the Vietnam War and the Korean War. Within a matter of days, it will eclipse the number of Pindo deaths in WW2. There is no indication that the pandemic is contained in Pindostan. On Friday, the country had the highest number of new cases ever, at 38,000, despite constant claims that Pindostan is “bending the curve.” Despite the fact that Pindostan lacks testing, contact-tracing and quarantine systems necessary to combat the spread of the pandemic, governors, with the encouragement of the Trump administration, are recklessly reopening businesses in states throughout the country.

Georgia allowed barbershops, gyms, nail salons and tattoo parlors to reopen yesterday. The state will allow restaurants to open for sit-down service on Monday. Florida began to reopen its beaches last Friday, and South Carolina began to reopen businesses Monday. Oklahoma permitted some retailers to reopen Friday. Texas and Tennessee have likewise announced they would ease restrictions on business, with Texas Lt-Gov Dan Patrick declaring there are “more important things than living.” None of these states meet federal guidelines for reopening, which specify two weeks of declines in the number of positive tests for the disease. But the moves by governors are consistent with Trump’s campaign for businesses to reopen with a “big bang,” irrespective of the degree to which the disease is actually contained.

Work-places have been a major source of transmission of COVID-19. A Tyson Foods plant in Iowa has sickened hundreds of workers. One hundred more have been sickened at a Tyson plant in Washington, and another hundred at a plant in Georgia. The Detroit-based auto companies have targeted early May to restart production, with Fiat Chrysler and Toyota telling workers to be prepared to report May 4. General Motors has asked workers to report Apr 27 on a voluntary basis and to prepare to restart production as early as May 4. With more than 26 million workers made jobless over the course of the past month, companies are using the threat of firing workers, which would make them ineligible for unemployment benefits, to force them back on the line. Reuters reported yesterday:

Pindostan workers who refuse to return to their jobs because they are worried about catching the coronavirus should not count on getting unemployment benefits.

Labor experts noted that denying workers unemployment is a major driver of state-wide back to work orders. Employment lawyer James Radford told Reuters:

I think that one of the big drivers of this decision by Tom Kemp is to get people off unemployment rolls and having the private sector keeping these people afloat.

The WSJ, which has been in the forefront of demands that lives be sacrificed for the sake of the stock market, has demanded that businesses be indemnified from lawsuits by employees who contract COVID-19 at work. the newspaper stated:

Plaintiff firms are also targeting employers if they reopen for business and workers or customers get sick. The virus can spread easily among workers in confined spaces, and infections have forced some meatpacking plants and food facilities to close… States need to grant them legal protection.

In response to demands by employers that they return to work under unsafe conditions, workers in Pindostan and around the world are demanding their rights to a safe workplace. On Friday, at least 300 workers at 50 Amazon facilities called in sick to protest the lack of safety protections at warehouses. The company has maintained operations throughout the pandemic. In recent weeks, Amazon has fired six workers who have called for better safety protections for workers. Hundreds of graduate students at Columbia University have gone on strike to demand the suspension of rent and the remission of tuition for all students during the pandemic. Also on Friday, 130 workers at the St. Monica Center for Rehabilitation & Healthcare nursing home in South Philadelphia voted to strike, demanding an end to the unsafe conditions that have led COVID-19 to ravage the facility. An FCA worker at the Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit told the WSWS:

I am not opposed to going back to work, but I want to be safe when I go. I have a husband, I have children. I don’t want to bring them anything. You will have the tables looking like cell block B in the prison. We are still going to be elbow to elbow. Someone will be coughing in your face. They don’t give a damn about killing us. They think, “We have paid out enough money for unemployment, it’s time to get them back to work.”

Boeing restarted production this week at its Pindo factories in what is being viewed as a test case for the resumption of industrial production. A significant number of Boeing workers boycotted the return to work this week. Hundreds of people participated in a rolling protest Friday before the Georgia governor’s mansion, with signs including:

Stay home! It’s not time to open! It is too soon to open Georgia!

Over the course of the past week, nurses and other health-care workers in Arizona, Virginia and other states confronted far-right demonstrators demanding an unsafe return to work. These developments are taking place around the world. Resistance to the restart of non-essential production is continuing in Mexico, with strikes this week by auto-parts workers in Ciudad Juarez. This included hundreds of workers at plants operated by Electrical Components International who are demanding to be sent home to quarantine with full pay. In France, teachers have filed an official strike notice demanding that the Macron government implement a series of safety measures before the planned reopening of schools in May. In Britain, NHS workers in Leeds are refusing to work shifts after not being provided adequate personal protective equipment on mental health wards. A 46-year-old Leeds mental health nurse, Khulisani Nkala, died from coronavirus last week. One nurse told the Yorkshire Post:

The government are making out that wearing surgical masks is protective against contracting the virus. It’s not! I might as well just have a tissue over my face!

From the beginning, the Trump administration, speaking for the financial oligarchy, has had only one concern regarding the COVID-19 pandemic: The preservation and expansion of stock market values and the profit margins of major corporations. The resistance of workers to the demands by the Trump administration and employers for an unsafe return to work converge with statements from leading scientists and health-care providers, who have made clear that it is irresponsible to reopen businesses under conditions where the disease is nowhere near contained. The struggle to defend the lives and livelihoods of workers and the population as a whole is inseparable from the struggle against the capitalist system and the socialist transformation of society.

At least 130 Pindo health care workers dead from COVID-19
Clara Weiss, WSWS, Apr 25 2020

Unrefrigerated bodies lying outside an overwhelmed funeral home in Brooklyn

A count of deceased health-care workers complied by the WSWS based on a variety of sources found that at least 130 workers have died from COVID-19 in Pindostan. Public sources include a list from the medical journal Medscape which counts 607 health-care workers who have died internationally from COVID-19, as well as memorial pages set up by unions and EMS agencies. Names were also found based on media reports about health-care workers and first responders that died from COVID-19 in recent days. Despite the growing death toll, and amid the Trump administration-led “back to work” campaign, there has been a noticeable decline in MSM coverage of the situation facing health-care workers on the front lines of the struggle against the still raging COVID-19 pandemic. Camera crews in front of hotspots like Elmhurst Hospital in Queens are gone, and fewer and fewer exposures of the situation in the hospitals are appearing in the bourgeois press. This is under conditions where the pandemic has now claimed the lives of over 50,000 Pindos.

In New York, where the death toll has passed 15,000, bodies are shipped to other states because the state’s four crematoria are overwhelmed. 180 refrigerated trucks for the bodies of recent COVID-19 victims have been set up throughout the city. To this day, no reliable statistics about infections or deaths among health-care workers have been released. This is despite the fact that they have been among those most severely affected by the virus. An estimated 10% of the 192,992 confirmed cases in Italy are health-care professionals. At least 125 Italian physicians have died from the disease. In Britain, over 100 health-care workers have died. In Pindostan, where 923,612 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, there is a total of 2.86m registered nurses, almost one million physicians and 826k EMS workers. Even three months into the pandemic, there is no adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for most of these workers. A nurse at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio told the WSWS:

My hospital has a policy of encouraging nurses to only wear cloth masks, but they don’t protect against droplet or airborne. If you want a surgical mask you have to track them down. It takes me five to ten minutes every day to get a mask.

Given the WSWS independent tally based on public information, there is no question that the official numbers released by the CDC, which recorded over 9,300 infections and 27 deceased health care workers as of Apr 15, are a vast underestimate. It is still exceedingly difficult for health-care workers, as for all workers, to get tested for the virus. There have been reports of health-care workers in New York and other states being forced to work even after they tested positive, contributing to the spread among hospital staffers, patients and their families. At the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan alone, over 700 workers were tested positive weeks ago. The number of confirmed infections and deaths in that state has since skyrocketed. On Long Island, nearly 1,200 hospital staffers had tested positive as of Apr 15. Nine hundred workers of the NYC public hospital system have tested positive, and 3,000 have called in sick. At hospitals in Illinois more than 2,500 health-care workers have been confirmed positive. In a special broadcast by PBS, the emergency room director for one Brooklyn hospital indicated that 30% of the staff had been infected, and five had died.

The first known health-care worker fatality in NYC, Kious Kelly, a nurse at Mount Sinai West, died on March 24. By now, based on the WSWS count, at least 50 New York health-care workers have died, including 26 workers of the NYC public hospital system, and at least 8 at EMS. In New Jersey, at least 25 health-care workers have died. Thirteen of them worked for EMS and died since Mar 31. In Michigan, at least 15 health-care workers have died, most of them in Detroit and Flint, cities that have been decimated by decades of austerity, deindustrialization, bankruptcy and in the case of Flint, lead poisoning in the water system. At least seven health-care workers have died in Georgia, which is already reopening its economy, and at least eight have died in Illinois. These numbers are but a pale reflection of the situation. A paramedic in New York City told the WSWS that he knew at least three other EMS workers who died in New York state, which would bring the total at FDNY to 11. In Detroit, an Emergency Medical Technician told the WSWS that he knew of fifteen EMT colleagues who had died. The WSWS list only includes one Detroit EMS worker. It also does not include workers at nursing homes, which have been completely ravaged by COVID-19, although reports have surfaced of workers having died there in facilities that continue to block the release of numbers.

Many of these workers died after having been denied proper PPE, testing and medical care. Deborah Gatewood, a nurse at Beaumont Hospital in Farmington Hill, Detroit suburb, was denied admission to the hospital where she worked four times before she passed away from COVID-19. A 33-year-old Miami-area ICU nurse, Danielle Dicenso, also died after having been denied face masks while treating COVID-19 patients. Every single one of these deaths and the vast majority of infections were preventable. They are the result of a policy of criminal negligence by the government in response to the pandemic, and a decade-long social counter-revolution in which social infrastructure was destroyed and plundered to enrich a tiny oligarchy. The crisis is also taking a tremendous emotional and psychological toll on health care workers who are not infected. Left to fight under war-like conditions without proper equipment on shifts that can last up to 16 hours, they are undergoing traumatizing experiences, including taking responsibility for decisions about life and death, and seeing countless patients die alone and their families suffer. Most health-care workers are experiencing serious anxiety, fearing not only for the health of their patients, but also their own health and that of their loved ones. In NYC, EMS workers, who often earn poverty wages, have been reportedly forced to sleep in their cars or at their work-station for lack of alternative housing opportunities.

Under these conditions, there have been growing warnings by medical health experts that the COVID-19 pandemic will be followed by a second pandemic of mental health issues, which will hit health-care workers especially hard. Many health-care workers already experienced acute stress and are at increased danger of suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder once the pandemic ends. Even before the crisis, there was an epidemic of nurse suicides in Pindostan. EMS workers were contemplating suicide at a rate 10 times higher than the average adult in Pindostan. This situation is being dramatically exacerbated by the pandemic. A study on the mental health conditions of Chinese health-care workers who treated COVID-19 patients in Wuhan found that half of them were now struggling with depression, 44.6% experienced anxiety and a third insomnia. A paramedic in NYC told the WSWS:

I’ve had to call the FDNY counseling service after every shift because it’s becoming so much. I’ve been knocking out once I get comfortable due to sleep deprivation adding to my insomnia. I’ve been in low depressed moods recently. Too much death than should be observed in a lifetime. I think reopening the economy under these conditions is premature, to say the least. The very first people that are going to be affected by that is us: hospital workers, first responders. I don’t think any sane person would do that, especially if we don’t have any regularly available care for something as massive as this.

LA mayor releases plan for massive budget cutting and city worker furloughs
Dan Conway, WSWS, Apr 25 2020

As of Thursday, the official COVID-19 case count in LA stood at 16,449 with 732 deaths. The LA County Dept of Health Services released a new projection this week estimating that the virus would infect 11% of the population instead of an earlier projected 30%. This figure relies entirely on the continuance of strict social distancing measures; however, city and state officials are beginning plans to force workers back to work, meaning the death count could increase substantially. Late implementation of social distancing measures and virtually nonexistent testing and contact tracing will still result in upwards of 4.5k deaths according to the Dept’s new estimate. The economic impact of the pandemic has also been felt particularly hard in LA. A significant percentage of the city’s workforce is employed in the entertainment, tourism and hospitality industries, which have been entirely shut down. According to an April study conducted by the University of Southern California, less than half of Los Angeles County residents reported having a job in April. Only 45% of Angelinos reported having a job that month. This represents a 16% slide from mid-March, when 61% reporting having a job. The figure, representing 1.6m jobs lost in a total population of 10.3m, is even larger than the national average fall of 10% during the same period.

The massive job losses have led to a 10% decrease in the amount of city residents able to pay rent in April, a number that is sure to increase as the job losses continue to mount and hours are cut. Quite alarmingly, the percentage of LA residents reporting psychological distress increased by 12% to 48% during the same time period. LA County has barred evictions throughout the length of the shutdown. However, back-due rent will have to be repaid once the shutdown ends. The city council is proposing a rental subsidy of $1k per household per month for those unable to pay, but the measure depends on a combination of federal government subsidies and private “philanthropy.” In other words, it is highly unlikely that even this inadequate measure will secure passage. The city council has also temporarily suspended rent increases during the lockdown period. Once these measures end, it is expected that landlords and their mortgage holders will move swiftly to make up for lost time. Evictions are expected to increase sharply with an attendant rise in rent to make up for lost tenants. Elena Popp, executive director of the California Eviction Defense Network, said:

We anticipate a tsunami of evictions once the Judicial Council evictions summons ends.

This has given rise to a substantial rent strike movement in the city demanding that city and state take drastic measures to prevent rental evictions and to impose moratoriums on rent collections. It is highly likely that this and similar movements will continue to grow in the coming months. Throughout LA county, residents estimated on average that they had a 33% chance of running out of money within the next three months. Those who are still currently employed estimated a 22% chance of losing their jobs within the next few months as well.

These factors, along a slew of small business shutdowns, have resulted in a drastic decline in city revenue. City controller Ron Galperin released a revised estimate for city revenues this week which includes a $328m shortfall for the current fiscal year and an estimated $598m shortfall beginning in July. This prompted city Mayor Eric Garcetti to announce a fiscal emergency on Monday as part of his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. The budget includes mandatory unpaid furloughs for city workers with the exception of police and fire. The budget proposal also entails deep cuts to city services. Each city employee will be forced to take 26 unpaid days off, the equivalent of a 10% pay cut. In addition, the borrowing of $70m from city special funds and its reserve fund will lead to additional cuts to many city departments. Thus far, the city has spent $58m in emergency funds to address COVID-19, while the latest budget indicates that further spending on the pandemic will be slashed. Of the other city programs to be cut, infrastructure maintenance, especially road repairs and road construction projects, will be trimmed to the bone. This also includes initiatives to modernize those city streets and intersections with higher than average accident fatalities. Urban forestry programs will also be eliminated, in spite of the danger posed by older trees to power lines and other infrastructure. The city’s Dept of Cultural Affairs will also see an 8.1% drop in funding, including a $168k cut to its grants program that provides support to local non-profit arts organizations. A $1m cut to the city’s public art program is also included in the budget. $14m will also be cut from salaries for the workers who maintain the city’s 450 public parks and who also coordinate various sports and summer camp programs. Outside revenues for parks and recreation department are also expected to fall by an estimated $14m this year. While sworn LA Police Dept and LA Fire Dept employees are exempt from the current wave of furloughs, civilian employees for both departments are not. This will mean longer wait times for emergency and non-emergency calls alike, many of which will involve COVID-19 and other health-related emergencies.

The latest economic crisis has not forced the reluctant LA mayor to make cuts which he sorely regrets. On the contrary, the pandemic is being seized upon as a pretext to implement cuts that were long-since planned. Garcetti, a Democrat, modeled his campaign on the platform of Barack Obama and in particular the latter’s championing of attacks on workers through business and union partnerships. This was evident in the aftermath of the 2019 LA teachers strike in which Garcetti held four days of closed-door meetings with Los Angeles School District head Austin Beutner and United Teachers of LA head Alex Caputo-Pearl. The trio emerged to implement an agreement that provided no improvements whatsoever for LA teachers and schools. The mayor had earlier lamented the fact that the city had not successfully applied for the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program which provided moderate funding increases in exchange for cuts and teacher “accountability” measures. It is notable that municipal cuts as a result of the COVID-19 measures are being spearheaded by this Demagog mayor. The actions have provided a green light for cities and states throughout the country to begin implementing massive cuts of their own.

As coronavirus cases climb, Chicago city council expands mayor’s emergency powers
Kristina Betinis, WSWS, Apr 25 2020

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Photo/Jim Young/AP

As the number of COVID-19 infections continues to climb in Chicago, the Demagog administration of Mayor Lori Lightfoot is consolidating emergency powers that increase executive control over the budget, both for the mayor herself and city department heads. This week, Illinois reported sharp increases in infection rates, with 2,724 new cases on Friday, bringing the total to 39,658 cases and 1,795 reported deaths. These figures are a substantial under-representation of the real infection rates. Just this week the state began administering mass testing, hitting close to 10k tests per day Friday. The state is reporting the fourth largest number of coronavirus cases in Pindostan, after New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The state government is expecting a high point for the rate of infections next month. Demagog Governor JB Pritzker has extended Illinois’ stay-at-home order through May 30. Nursing home illness and deaths tracked by the Chicago Sun-Times report 4,298 coronavirus cases and 625 deaths in the state’s nursing homes. A nursing home in the South Shore neighborhood in Chicago has 111 confirmed cases among its 158 residents, with ten dead. Infectious disease expert Alexander Stemer told ABC7 Chicago:

This will be normal until we have a vaccine.

Six people at Cook County Jail have died, where more than 700 inmates and staff have tested positive, and ten Stateville Prison inmates have died from the coronavirus. On Friday, the board of aldermen (city council) voted 29–21 to approve a measure that expands the emergency decision-making powers of Mayor Lightfoot and city department heads. This measure codifies Lightfoot’s executive order from March and puts an end date of Jun 30 on the special powers. Decisions no longer requiring council approval would include emergency contracting authority up to $1m, reallocation of city funds by the city’s budget director, overriding the budget the council approved last November, and to lease and occupy property. The mayor’s measure has been criticized as overreaching by a significant section of the city council, which is itself roiled by competition over anticipated federal funding. The mayor repeatedly denounced the opposition in the press as selfish and short-sighted, saying:

Dear lord, in the middle of a pandemic. Enough with the selfish political stunts.

In an attempt to win additional support, Lightfoot’s team on Wednesday introduced a revised version of the measure that let her emergency powers expire Jun 30, promising appropriations will only be applied to pandemic-related purchases, and offering weekly summaries of emergency spending and contracting activity to the city’s budget committee. The Wednesday vote on the measure was procedurally blocked by five aldermen, to take place the next meeting of the city council which Lightfoot announced would be Friday afternoon. As the mayor uses the pandemic to consolidate power, competition is roiling the city council over federal funding, mostly from the FEMA, that is anticipated to reimburse emergency spending. One south side alderman, Jason Earvin, commented that an alderman’s loss of power to the mayor through the executive order meant losing access to those funds. The mayor of Chicago has autocratic sway over the administration of the city. At least as early as the days of Richard Daley (who ruled from the mid-1950s to mid-1970s), the mayor selects the city council committee chairs and controls assignments. In the 1990s, the elected school board was dissolved and “mayoral control” was established, which paved the way for massive restructuring and privatization. These are just a few examples of mayoral power in running the city in the interest of big business. After her election in 2019, Lightfoot, who is a former corporate attorney and political “cleaner” for the Chicago Police Department in the wake of the murder of Laquan McDonald and its official cover-up, sought to expand this power by removing an alderperson’s veto related to issues in their ward, a move she defended as a brake on corruption. Aldermen affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) released a statement on the measure calling for support for an amendment to the emergency powers measure, authored by United Working Families:

The mayor is asking the City Council to abdicate its oversight responsibility with no guarantee that emergency dollars will be appropriated through an equity lens. We must prioritize black Chicagoans who are 30 percent of our city’s population but 60 percent of our city’s COVID-19 deaths. We must prioritize our neighbors who are deciding between paying rent and putting food on the table. We must prioritize recovery for those who need it most during this crisis.

Business interests seeking pandemic contracts and subcontracts are registering complaints that FEMA contract rules exclude first-time contractors with the city, which has a preferential contract goal to award 25% of non-construction contracts to “minority business enterprises” and five percent to “women business enterprises.” Some pandemic contract holders have agreed to subcontract to companies that meet these criteria. The racial narrative promoted by DSA, much of the corporate media and Lightfoot herself, whose office is organizing Racial Equity Rapid Response virtual events on the south and west sides, is clearly aimed at blocking the emergence of a unified movement of the working class and protecting the flow of corporate profits. Also on Wednesday, after the official swearing-in of new police Superintendent David Brown, around 70 police officers were ordered to leave north-side districts for a so-called “public health mission” in the west-side neighborhood of Garfield Park, to enforce social distancing and prevent anyone not living in an area of just a few blocks from entering the neighborhood. This extraordinary and likely illegal show of force in a mostly working class black neighborhood included tactical teams, beat cars and sergeants. The purpose was to shock and intimidate, bringing 40 units with lights flashing and sirens blaring, to disperse people who were committing no infractions. The police then reportedly moved the party to the Humboldt Park neighborhood. Under the guise of emergency management, which is without doubt needed to respond to the catastrophic social conditions created by the pandemic, many governments around the world are consolidating unprecedented political and economic power within their executives. As in Chicago, those assuming power are the same officials that had no pandemic preparedness, slashed spending and gutted medical and social infrastructure in relentless pursuit of profit. Their newly-awarded privileges and capacities will be used to serve the interests of big business.

German government endangers the health and lives of millions with return to work and schools
Johannes Stern, WSWS, Apr 25 2020

One week after the decision by Germany’s federal and state governments to relax the coronavirus restrictions, the agreed-upon measures are being aggressively implemented. The ruling elite is endangering not merely the health of millions of workers, school students, their families and friends, but also their lives.
A number of state governments, including the Social Democrat/Left Party/Green government in Berlin, forced thousands of students back to school earlier this week to sit their final exams. Regular classes for some school years began in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Thursday. Other states including Hesse, Bremen, Hamburg, Brandenburg and Thuringia, will follow suit next week. The policy of “gradual opening” advicated by Merkel is increasingly being exposed as a comprehensive plan to rapidly accelerate the revival of public life and the economy. In large cities, shops including large shopping centres are open once again. The federal government’s decision to limit shop openings to stores with an area of less than 800 sq m was a dead letter from the start. Larger businesses have evaded the regulations by partitioning their stores. The Administrative Court in Hamburg then overturned the regulation completely on Thursday. Merkel, who spoke out at a press conference on Monday against what she had described as an “orgy of discussions about opening,” is in reality organising this “orgy of discussions.” In her government statement to the federal parliament on Thursday, she stated that she unconditionally agrees with the initial relaxations agreed between the federal and state governments, but merely finds their implementation “too bold.” Egged on by the media and big business, politicians from the government and opposition parties are seeking to outdo each other with ever more radical plans. On Wednesday, Social Democrat Family Minister Franziska Giffey demanded an even more rapid opening of schools and kindergartens, saying on the television show RTL-Frühstart:

We have to talk about how we can achieve a gradual step-by-step opening of kindergartens and schools. It’s not the case that everything can just stay shut until the summer.

A central component of the policy is a revival of production, above all in the auto industry. Andreas Scheuer (CSU) said during government questions in parliament on Wednesday:

We are working hard to maintain supply chains.

With the full support of the trade unions, Daimler and Volkswagen have already restarted the assembly lines in several plants. Further plants will follow next week, including VW’s main plant in Wolfsburg, where some 63k workers are employed. The government is justifying its “back to work” policy with references to “first successes” (Merkel) in the struggle against the coronavirus. This is intentional fake news. The reality is that the pandemic is continuing to accelerate its spread around the world, and the numbers of new infections and deaths are still rising in Germany. On Wednesday, the total number of deaths passed 5.5k and infections surpassed 153k, the fifth-highest number world-wide. According to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s federal agency for infectious disease control, the number of deaths reached a record high over the past week. More than 300 coronavirus deaths had been reported during several single day periods, reported RKI vice president Dr Lars Schaade at a press conference on Tuesday. The reproduction rate is also rising once again. Although it dropped to 0.7 last week, it rose back to 0.9 this week.

The dangerous implications of these developments are clear. If the reproduction rate increases above 1.0, this means that each infected person infects more than one other person, which will lead to an exponential growth of coronavirus. According to scientific modelling, the German health-care system would be overwhelmed by October with a reproduction rate of 1.1, and in July if it rises to 1.2. To put the matter bluntly: with its policy of reopening the economy, which has already led to an increase in the reproduction rate, the ruling elite is preparing a catastrophe and encouraging the development of conditions seen in Italy and Pindostan, where health-care systems collapsed under the burden of the pandemic. The terrible consequences are well-known. Severely ill patients can no longer receive treatment and end up being left to die. The pictures from Bergamo and New York, where the army disposed of bodies piling up on the streets, quickly spread around the world. Serious scientists and epidemiologists insist that such an escalation can only be prevented in Germany if social distancing measures are maintained and intensified, and a programme of mass testing and contact-tracing is adopted. On Wednesday, the head of virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital, Christian Drosten, who advised the government for some time, warned in his podcast:

It is important to avoid gambling away the advantage Germany has achieved. The activity of the epidemic could suddenly return in a disproportionate way or with unexpected power if the reproduction rate goes above 1 again. Even now, the Charite’s intensive care wards are increasingly full, even though there has not yet been in Berlin a situation with a particularly high transmission rate.

Gabriel Leung of the University of Hong Kong, who advised the WHO and the Chinese government, told Der Spiegel in an interview:

Rapid easing of the restrictions would be irresponsible. If you have such a large outbreak like it is currently in Europe, you have to use a sledgehammer. The aim above all is to reduce the current reproduction rate. It must decline a long way below 1.0 in order for the number of infections to reach an acceptable level.

The parliamentary debate on Thursday underlined the reactionary interests behind the criminal indifference being displayed by the government towards scientific knowledge and warnings. The ruling class sees the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to intensify its aggressive class policy and great power ambitions. Representatives of the government and opposition parties left no doubt about this. The health and social wellbeing of the population must necessarily be sacrificed, according to this policy, on the altar of capitalist private profit. Ralph Brinkhaus, head of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group spoke commented on the multi-billion-euro bailout packages adopted over recent weeks with the full backing of all parties, stating:

Everything we decide costs money, lots of money, that someone has to pay back at some point.

The message is clear. The vast sums of money which went above all to the major corporations, banks and the super-rich are now to be squeezed out of the working class. This is why the return to work cannot go fast enough for the ruling elite. A second factor is the geostrategic and economic interests of German imperialism, which after losing two world wars is once again attempting to dominate Europe in order to play a role as a world power. Katja Leikert, deputy leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, stated:

What we need now are pragmatic and goal-directed measures for Europe to emerge stronger from the crisis. That’s exactly what we want; because only a strong Europe can at the end of the day be able to compete globally with world powers like China and Pindostan.

The coronavirus pandemic is not slowing the return of German imperialism; it is accelerating it. On Wednesday, the government decided to participate in the European Union’s “Irini” mission off the coast of Libya with 300 soldiers, a reconnaissance plane, and one warship. The operation is aimed at consolidating fortress Europe against refugees and at setting the stage for new operations of plunder on the African continent. Also on Wednesday, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told the parliamentary defence committee about one of the largest military purchases in post-war Germany: the replacement of its aging Tornado fighter jets with 93 eurofighters and 45 Pindo-made F-18 jets at a total cost of almost €20b. The latter are aimed at securing Germany’s “nuclear participation” and the transporting and deploying of Pindo nuclear warheads. At the same time, the development of a new fighter jet programme by Germany, France and Spain is being maintained. The estimated cost for the programme is €500m. If the ruling elite has its way, the society that will emerge from the crisis will be characterised by an intensification of the tendencies that existed prior to it: increased inequality, exploitation, poverty and war. 75 years after the downfall of the Nazi regime, humanity once again confronts the alternative, socialism or barbarism. Articles are now appearing in the media calling in fascist tones for the virus to be allowed to spread at the cost of a large number of lives, in order to allow production to restart and the predatory interests of German imperialism to be pursued. Munich-based sociologist Bernhard Gill stated in a guest comment for Der Spiegel:

Anyone who wants to combat the spread of the virus by all means, also combats death by all means. By contrast, in a spreading regime, dying is a natural procedure which is painful for the individuals involved, but viewed from a distance creates space for new life.

To avert the imminent catastrophe, the subordination of society to the profit interests of a tiny super-rich elite must be ended. Large holdings of wealth and key industries must be nationalised and the billions and trillions currently flowing into the accounts of the banks and military must be deployed to build hospitals, protect the population and ameliorate the social consequences of the virus. This requires the mobilisation of the widespread opposition in the working class to the capitalist policy of reopening the economy on the basis of a socialist and internationalist programme.

Macron government uses more lies to push May 11 return to work
Will Morrow, WSWS, Apr 25 2020

The Macron administration is aggressively promoting a full reopening of the economy on May 11 that will directly lead to thousands of additional coronavirus deaths. The government is relying on the trade unions to suppress widespread opposition in the working class to the end of confinement and force workers back to their jobs. The government has announced that it will provide more details about its plan for an end to confinement early next week, most likely on Tuesday. Last Thursday, in a call with local elected officials across the country, Macron clarified that the reopening of schools on May 11 would not be obligatory for all, but would be “done voluntarily,” with parents given the choice of keeping their children at home. This only ensures that those who return their children to school come mainly from the working class and the poorest segments of the population, who will not have the choice to work from home beginning on May 11, or conduct homeschooling or otherwise mind their own children. The government is cynically exploiting the fact that thousands of families depend on €1 subsidized lunch programs provided by school cafeterias to feed their children. They will have little choice but to send them back to school to eat.

Over the past week, the government has stepped up its propaganda agitating for a reopening of schools. Macron’s Health Minister Olivier Véran gave an interview on France Inter’s morning program yesterday that was remarkable only for the number of lies he was able to fit into a 10-minute segment. Although the role of children as asymptomatic carriers of the virus remains undetermined by scientists, Veran downplayed the potential impact of reopening classes, saying:

There is the question of whether children are contagious or not. This question has been asked often for many weeks. Here too there are arguments both for and against. The latest scientific arguments that have come to me say that for children under 10 transmit the virus less than adults. That is why we are working with measures that are very operational, which will permit us to provide for safe teaching of the students.

When the journalist asked him to specify the measures he was referring to, Véran refused, declaring instead that the virus and its deadly toll must come to be seen as a part of daily life. He continued:

Children must return to school. At a certain point, they will have to return progressively to a school setting. Small children are very good at learning social-distancing measures, and in any case reopening schools is necessary to combat inequality, with first priority for a return to classes for those children in difficulty, those in trouble at home. We have to provide the means and ensure the conditions that will permit children to return to school. While it will be many months before a vaccine can be created and reliably mass-produced, in the meantime, we will have to live with the virus. The maintenance of confinement is a complicated question. We cannot confine half the planet for six months or a year, until there is a vaccine, and since we are not sure that a confinement would stop the spread of the virus, we are obliged at each step to measure what we are doing in order to have a major positive health impact for France, but without having too much of an impact on the other side.

Earlier in the same interview, Véran directly contradicted his own claim that even a prolonged confinement might not halt or severely limit the spread of the virus, when he said he accepted a new model by a mathematical team in France published this week, estimating that at least 60k additional lives in the country had been saved due to the confinement. However, his comment that a confinement may have “too much of an impact on the other side” means in plain language that although tens of thousands of lives would be saved, these must be weighed against the potential damage to French corporate profits due to a prolonged shutdown of the economy. As for Veran’s statement that non-essential production could not be stopped until a vaccine is produced, this is simply based on the premise that capitalist property and the financial elite’s monopolization of social resources must remain inviolable. The wealth of the 40 wealthiest individuals in France on Forbes’ 2019 rich list totaled over €288b, more than 10 times the amount allocated by the Macron administration toward limited unemployment payments in the past three months. Veran admitted that the government had no clear idea of the number of cases in France, which means that it has no idea how quickly the virus will spread with the end of the confinement. He said:

I do not know exactly how many French people are infected. We have models, we have studies, but I’ve learned with this virus to remain extremely cautious towards data that isn’t set in stone.

Anger is growing in the working class over the criminal policies of the Macron administration. Yesterday, the weekly Le Canard Enchaîné cited a letter written Apr 18 by Georges-François Leclerc, the police prefect of Seine-Saint-Denis north of Paris, stating that 15k to 20k workers were unable to feed themselves properly due to the administration’s refusal to provide adequate support throughout the lockdown, with children and students who rely on school programs most at risk. Leclerc reportedly warned of mass riots and a social explosion, warning:

What was achievable in a month of confinement cannot be maintained for two.

This week has already seen the eruption of protests and unrest in the impoverished suburbs around Paris and other major cities against police violence and social inequality. The Macron administration is depending upon its close collaboration with the trade unions to suppress the opposition in the working class and force workers back to work. While making empty criticisms of the return to work, the CGT is supporting it in practice and closely collaborating with Macron. Yesterday, CGT President Philippe Martinez gave an interview with Sud Radio in which he declared that he believed schools should not be opened until September because it would be unsafe for teachers because of the propagation of the virus. Asked by radio host Patrick Roger if he would therefore call on teachers to refuse to open schools, Martinez scoffed and replied:

No, no, I think I have already explained it clearly: We are calling on people to work insofar as the conditions are safe.

The CGT is already overseeing the return to work of autoworkers, with Toyota reopening one of its assembly lines in Onnaing on Thursday. Calling for further collaboration with Macron, Martinez said:

Even though during this period we have had a bit more contact with the government, in any case I hope that after this crisis the government and the president of the republic will consider that the trade unions are useful.

The fight against a return to work cannot be conducted through the trade unions, which are the allies of the government and the employers against the working class. Workers need their own organizations, independent action committees, to organize an industrial and political offensive against any return to work in industries that are non-essential for the fight against the virus. This must be connected to a socialist program for a workers government, the expropriation of the capitalist class and devotion of society’s resources toward the fight against the pandemic, including the guarantee of decent living conditions to all workers and safe working conditions in essential industries.

Scottish National Party spearheads UK-wide return to work campaign
Robert Stevens, WSWS, Apr 25 2020

Scottish National Party First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s mapping out of a Scottish exit from the lockdown and return to work has been embraced by Britain’s ruling elite and its media. Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has been fatally compromised by the horrific consequences of its de facto herd immunity policy and failure to protect the working population, that has officially led to almost 20k deaths and far more in reality. Under these conditions, Sturgeon’s supposed “progressive” credentials, backed in Scotland, England and Wales by the Labour Party and the trade unions, offer an avenue for big business and banks to engineer a political shift towards a return to work. This takes place under conditions in which people are dying daily in the hundreds and in which no systematic COVID-19 testing of the population has been carried out. Yesterday, a further 768 were reported dead, with Britain set to pass the grim milestone of 20k deaths today. The newly opened website for key workers showing symptoms of COVID-19 crashed due to unmet demand after 16k people secured either a test at a drive-in centre or a home test kit. Sturgeon insisted:

What we will be seeking to do is find a new normal, a way of living alongside this virus. It may be that certain businesses in certain sectors can reopen” with “employees and customers two metres distant from each other.

The Scottish population had to prepare for multiple lockdowns, “with little notice” because the “horrendous reality” was that everyone must get ready for repeated cycles of infection. Sturgeon’s speech accompanied the release of a 26-page document by the Scottish government, “COVID-19: A Framework for Decision Making.” It says in more explicit terms than Sturgeon did publicly that the lockdown had to end in order to “do everything possible to avoid permanent, structural damage to our economy.” The foreword states:

It is clear that we cannot immediately return to how things were just over 100 days ago. But it is equally clear we cannot stay in complete lockdown indefinitely, because we know that this brings damaging consequences of its own. So we must adapt to a new reality. Our plans to respond and recover must take account of the possibility of a cycle of lifting and re-imposing restrictions. The steps we take to rebuild our economy or restore some degree of normality in society must recognise the possibility of restrictions being re-imposed quickly. That will require fundamental change to how all sectors of society organise themselves.

The SNP government does not try to pretend that any of this is based on a scientific approach. Instead, it glorifies a reckless suck-it-and-see policy that will see many die. It states:

If, after easing any restrictions, the evidence tells us we are unable to contain the transmission of the virus, then we will have to reimpose them, possibly returning to lockdown with little notice. While we will do our best to avoid this, it is possible that such a cycle may happen more than once until we reach a point when we have in place an effective vaccine.

The trade unions are intimately involved in enforcing a return to work. The document states:

We have already begun the conversation on how to respond, re-set, restart and recover with our business community and our trade unions.

Without explaining how reopening the economy will facilitate a declared aim of “stopping a resurgence of the pandemic,” the report states:

This will allow us to work with our partners in business, trade unions, local government, the voluntary sector and in broader society to redesign workplaces, education settings and other premises so they are places where spread is minimised—allowing people to get back to work, children to return to school, and our young people to continue their education through our colleges or universities.

The SNP’s initiative was welcomed by leading forces in the Tory government demanding a return to work, including David Davis and former conservative leader Ian Duncan Smith, who has said getting schools to reopen, in particular primary schools, is “key to unlocking labour.” These layers are already in an alliance with newly elected Labour leader ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer and powerful sections of business in championing a “back-to-work” strategy. A right-wing media campaign is underway in the push for a return to work. The Daily Mail published a piece Thursday including photos of people queuing outside newly-opened stores of DIY chain B&Q and a Five Guys burger chain outlet in Edinburgh, headlined, “Britain votes with its feet.” On Friday, Rupert Murdoch’s Sun editorialised:

We must end lockdown as soon as it’s safely possible before our economy is completely destroyed.

Murdoch’s Times ran an editorial headlined, “Back to Work.” Jaguar Land Rover will resume production gradually at its Solihull plant and at its engine manufacturing operation in Wolverhampton from May 18. Aston Martin Lagonda will reopen its new plant in South Wales even earlier, on May 5. Construction conglomerate Taylor Wimpey resume work on some sites on May 4. The Vistry Group—formerly Bovis Homes—will recommence operations at 90% of partnership sites and a significant number of its housing sites from next Monday. A timetable is being laid down, with the weekend to be used by the ruling elite to mount a propaganda campaign for a return to work. BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg, who has intimate connections to the Tories, said Friday:

One interesting thing I think we might see more of before we actually get a big announcement from the Westminster Government is more of what has been described to me as ‘prodding.’

The Daily Telegraph, under a front-page emblazoned with “Johnson back at the controls Monday,” declared:

The PM is planning to return to No 10 as early as Monday to take back control of the coronavirus crisis amid Cabinet concerns the lockdown has gone too far.

Johnson is held up as the man who can seize the rudder of state and end the “prevarication” of those ministers who have been deputised in his absence. The ruling class is set on a head-on confrontation with the working class. The constant references in daily Downing Street briefings to “flattening the curve” confirm that the government continues to pursue its herd immunity strategy. With an enforced return to work, this will open the way to another wave of the pandemic, likely worse than the first. Many workers will have no jobs to go back to and those who remain in a job will confront demands for wage cuts and speedups in work-places with little or nothing in the way of safety measures. Such are the explosive consequences that the Times felt it necessary to caution:

Protections should be put in place for employees who believe they are being pressurised to return to work in unsafe conditions. It is hard to see how they could reopen otherwise, since if staff didn’t feel safe many would refuse to turn up for work.

One Comment

  1. PB
    Posted April 26, 2020 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    Actually, I’d argue that Kushner is Trump’s Rasputin….tho he is a better fit for Bormann in some ways.

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