the west is disintegrating

One month after the reopening: COVID-19 rips through Pindo states and workplaces
Jerry White, WSWS, Jun 9 2020

imageAuto workers leave the Fiat Chrysler Truck Plant in Warren, Mich.
(Photo: Paul Sancya/AP)

One month since the resumption of manufacturing activity throughout the country, it is clear that the Trump administration’s campaign to prematurely force workers back on the job has resulted in a major resurgence of COVID-19. 21 states in the South and the West are seeing a sharp rise in infections, hospitalizations and deaths. Ten states (Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas) have recorded their highest seven-day averages since the pandemic began, according to a CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. Pindostan is already leading the world with 121k fatalities. With at least 800 people dying from COVID-19 each day, it is on pace to reach more than 200k deaths by the end of September.

Pindo factories and other large workplaces have been a major vector for the spread of the deadly disease. On Thursday, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that at least 200 of the 829 workers at a Dole Fresh Vegetables plant in Springfield, Ohio had tested positive for COVID-19, with more results to come. The company issued a standard statement that the safety of its employees and the community were “top priority,” before announcing they would not close the plant. In the meatpacking industry more than 25k workers have been infected and at least 91 have died. These numbers have increased fivefold since Trump issued an Apr 28 executive order reopening slaughterhouses and meat processing plants after the spread of the contagion closed dozens of plants. At the same time, Trump approved requests by 15 poultry plants, including those owned by Tyson Foods, to squeeze workers even closer together on production lines and increase line speeds by 25%, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Employment Law Project (NELP). Half of these plants have seen spikes in cases, with at least one fatality. As for the supposed safety measures adopted by the meatpacking companies and the Trump administration, Debbie Berkowitz, a former Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) advisor who now directs NELP’s worker health and safety program, said:

It’s all smoke and mirrors.

Since the reopening of the auto industry on May 18, there have been scores of infections, including at Ford plants in Chicago; Dearborn, Michigan; and Kansas City, Missouri; General Motors plants in Arlington, Texas and St Louis; and Fiat Chrysler plants in Toledo, Ohio and the Detroit area. Toyota has reported 40 cases in its Pindo plants. At least four workers have tested positive at Tesla, which reopened its Fremont, California plant last month, after billionaire owner Elon Musk forced county officials to lift lockdown orders after threatening to move his operations to Texas or Nevada. A Tesla employee, Carlos Gabriel, who demanded the release of information about infections and safety precautions, was informed earlier this week that he is being terminated today. In a Reuters article Thursday, headlined, “Automakers report no major COVID-19 outbreaks since restart,” a top UAW official claims there are few, if any, cases in the factories and blamed these on workers. Gerald Kariem, UAW vice president and director of the union’s Ford department, said:

People leave work and then they have their own protocols outside of the workplace. But in terms of the workplace, the protocols are probably better than the protocols that you’ll see out in the general public.

These are bald-faced lies. While the UAW, the auto executives and the media conceal outbreaks in the factories, autoworkers have informed the WSWS about the real conditions in the auto plants. One auto parts worker wrote:

I work for LINC/Universal and we warehouse parts for General Motors Fort Wayne plant work, right across the street. So far, there have been five confirmed cases with COVID-19 and there is a possibility of 20 more. The GM bigwigs at the Fort Wayne plant have told our bigwigs and bosses at LINC that they do not care how many people get sick they will not be shutting down no matter what.

As production of the most profitable vehicles has increased and summer shutdowns have been canceled, workers have reported to the WSWS that the half-hour down time before and after shifts for cleanup has been abandoned, bathrooms are once again filthy, and workers are being piled into entryways, workstations and break rooms. As in the meatpacking industry, where many plants are experiencing a 30% to 50% absenteeism rate, thousands of autoworkers are staying away from the factories out of concern of getting sick and bringing the virus home to spouses and children. As the Reuters report noted:

At Ford Motor Co’s F-Series pickup truck plant in Louisville, Ky, the company has given more than 1k workers leave related to COVID-19 concerns. It hired temporary workers to fill their jobs as the plant accelerates production of trucks critical to Ford’s financial recovery.

After spending over $6t to bailout Wall Street and other major corporations with the bipartisan CARES Act, the Pindo ruling class intends to pay for this growing debt by ruthlessly pumping out surplus value from the labor of the working class. Trillions have been spent to purchase bad corporate debts, including the junk bonds of Ford, while the Trump administration threatens to cut off the $600/wk addition to unemployment benefits in order to force workers back into infected factories. The SEP urges workers to elect rank-and-file safety committees in every factory and workplace to fight for the protection of workers in opposition to management and the profit principle. These committees must fight for control of working hours and line speed, full access to protective equipment, safe and comfortable working conditions, regular testing, universal health care and guaranteed income. They must ensure the distribution of information, protect workers against retaliation for exposing unsafe conditions, and reserve the power to halt production to guarantee safe conditions.

Workers all over the world face the same conditions shown in the damning video sent to the WSWS from Mexican workers at GM’s Silao complex, along with reports of alarming infections among Polish coal miners, Chilean copper miners and meatpacking workers in Germany and Brazil. The fight against the pandemic requires the international unity of the working class and all those committed to defend human life in opposition to all forms of nationalism, chauvinism and militarism. The policy of capitalism is death. The policy of the working class is life. That is why the struggle for the day-to-day conditions in the factories must be fused with a political struggle to put an end to capitalism, break the grip of the corporate and financial oligarchs, and create a socialist society based on the satisfaction of human needs, not corporate profit.

COVID-19 infections skyrocket in Pindo prisons
Sam Dalton, WSWS Jun 19 2020

New data shows that there has been a rapid increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pindo prisons since the middle of May. According to the NYT, in the last month the number of confirmed cases among inmates has doubled to over 64k. The number of confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in this population is currently 607. Additional data from The Marshall Project also shows that at least 9,180 prison staff have had COVID-19, with 38 deaths. The actual toll of the outbreak is undoubtedly much higher. According to the latest numbers from the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, 5.5% of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pindostan have ended in death. If this mortality rate is extended to the prison population, the estimated number of deaths would be at least 3.5k. There have also been severe outbreaks across other parts of Pindostan’s huge web of incarceration facilities. According to The Sentencing Project, there have been 634 cases confirmed among juvenile detainees, while 716 youth prison staff have also tested positive. The COVID-19 Behind Bars tracking project shows that at least 2,067 detainees at immigrant detention camps have tested positive, with at least four deaths. However, many detention camps run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have not released any data since May 1, and some have not released any information on infections or deaths at all.

State and federal prisons have become the epicenters of the outbreak of the disease in Pindostan. In fact, despite huge outbreaks at meatpacking plants, factories and care homes, the five largest known clusters of the coronavirus in Pindostan are at incarceration facilities. Marion Correctional Facility has had the most acute outbreak with at least 2,429 cases. In April, Ohio’s National Guard was called to the facility under the pretense of assisting with the facility’s COVID-19 response, nonetheless the outbreak has continued to intensify. Ten facilities across the country have over 1k inmate infections. As of Jun 18, federal prisons have an average infection rate of 116.17 per 1,000, compared to just 6.01 for the Pindo population as a whole. Since the first concerns about an outbreak of the virus in prisons were raised in late March, efforts to combat the pandemic such as testing, inmate releases and lockdowns have been implemented reluctantly and haphazardly. This has led to unnecessary deaths, increased rates of community transmission and torturous conditions within prisons. Testing has been almost non-existent in many states. Illinois, Mississippi and Alabama have tested less than 2.5% of inmates. New York state, despite being the epicenter of the international pandemic in March and April, has only tested 3% of its prison population of 40k. 40% of those tested in the state were positive. California, with an annual prison budget of $12b, has only tested 7% of its prison population.

On May 21, the WSWS reported that only a handful of Pindo prisoners had been released in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite highly publicized executive orders by governors and Attorney General William Barr nominally authorizing mass releases. Even with the low number of releases, police forces and the bourgeois media are conspiring to end the early release of non-violent criminals. In an interview given to NBC News, NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea claimed that of the 2,500 prisoners released from Rikers Island Jail, 250 have been re-arrested. These social crimes are primarily the product of the abject poverty experienced by released prisoners, who are reentering society at a time of historic unemployment. The NBC report featured the case of one man who had been re-arrested for stealing a pair of socks. Before the pandemic hit, on any given day 29k people were admitted to jail in Pindostan. While this decreased slightly during the pandemic, this daily “churn” of thousands of inmates means jails have acted as vectors for the spread of COVID-19 throughout the country. The arrest of at least 11k people across Pindostan since May 25 for protesting police violence has undoubtedly sharpened this effect. Many of those arrested were held overnight in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions.

Despite the rapid rise in infections both in and outside of prisons, many states are relaxing the restrictions put in place in response to the pandemic. With nearly 8k positive cases total, and at least 2,350 active cases as of Jun 18, Texas jails will restart the transfer of inmates to the state’s prison system on Jul 1. In late May, despite having the highest number of inmate deaths from the virus, Ohio prisons opened their doors for new transfers. Annette Chambers-Smith, head of the Ohio Dept of Rehabilitation and Correction, justified the move in an interview stating:

When you reopen the community, you’re going to have more laws broken also.

It is not the premature reopening of states across Pindostan that will lead to more crime, but the malign neglect of the capitalist class that will lead to increasing crime rates. With no relief, high unemployment and record numbers of evictions, individuals across Pindostan will face desperate circumstances. Figures such as Chambers-Smith and police chiefs like Shea will happily carry out the diktats of the state by brutalizing and exploiting society’s most vulnerable. Another consequence of measures adopted in prisons across Pindostan has been the increase of individuals in conditions of solitary confinement. Before the onset of the pandemic around 60k prisoners on any given day were in solitary confinement. Following a series of partial and full lockdowns in federal and state facilities, 300k prisoners in Pindostan are currently in isolation, according to the Marshall Project. Prison experts fear that these conditions might become the new normal following the pandemic. Judith Resnik, a specialist on solitary confinement at Yale University Law School explained to NPR:

There is really a long legacy of many prisons, not all but many prisons turning to solitary confinement, turning to lockdown in the face of other public health problems, so there’s always a concern that once the system is sort of used to one mode of controlling people, that that will continue.

Tens of thousands of lives are at risk without immediate measures to halt the rapid spread of the virus in prisons and to protect inmates. A campaign of rapid testing, tracing and quarantining must be put in place. Prison cells, cafeterias and shared spaces must be properly sanitized, and inmates must have access to adequate personal protective equipment. If prisoners do contract the virus their right to high-quality medical treatment must also be ensured. Where measures are taken to enforce social distancing, they must accommodate the needs of prisoners, including safe human interaction. Most significantly, those prisoners who are non-violent and test negative for the virus must be instantly released and provided with adequate financial support and housing. In the last four decades of imperialist war, the use of methods of violence and repression by Pindo forces abroad have become commonplace. The violent repression of peaceful protests triggered by the murder of George Floyd by militarized police are one sign these methods will increasingly be utilized at home against. The murderous neglect of the poorest sections of society during the COVID-19 pandemic, including over two million prisoners, is a continuation of the capitalist class’s policies of death, war and repression.

Anatomy of a Massachusetts nursing home catastrophe in the COVID-19 pandemic
Julian James, WSWS, Jun 19 2020

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker ordered “Phase II” of the state’s reopening plan beginning Jun 8. The governor’s order gave the green light for a number of nonessential businesses and activities to resume, including day camps, funeral homes, public pools, golf courses, house-cleaning services, retail stores and professional sports teams among others. Casinos are also in talks with state officials about reopening on Jun 29. Perhaps most significant is that the total ban on nursing home visits has been lifted, with requirements in place now that visitors meet residents outside and maintain social distancing. Indoor visits are now allowed in “compassionate care” and “end of life scenarios.” Massachusetts thus became the first state to open up nursing homes to non-residents and staff, despite the fact roughly two-thirds of all COVID-19 deaths in the state occurred in nursing homes, 30% higher than the national average, as reported in late May. The high-profile mass fatality events in Massachusetts nursing homes have shown an extreme level of unpreparedness. Most dangerous for staff and residents is the ongoing unavailability of sufficient amounts of effective Personal Protective Equipment as well as access to testing. Systematic efforts to hide and downplay major outbreaks by state officials and nursing home administrators have also played a large role in facilities run by federal agencies, such as the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as well as those run on a for-profit basis by corporations that in some cases operate hundreds of nursing homes.

One outbreak this past March at the VA-operated Soldiers Home in the small city of Holyoke in western Massachusetts previously reported on by the WSWS made national headlines and resulted in the deaths of 76 residents. Under the direction of superintendent Bennett Walsh, staff at the facility were denied proper PPE, and were ignored or bullied when they raised concerns about basic protocols not being followed, such as isolating residents who either had contracted the virus or were suspected of having contracted it. As growing numbers of staff called out of work after they became infected, a critical shortage of manpower led to orders from management to combine multiple floors in a single ward. This meant that residents would be packed together, ideal conditions for the spread of the disease. The timeline and details of the deadly outbreak are instructive in that they expose the unwillingness of state officials to provide any serious assistance or make the information public, until public exposure forced their hand.

Members of the Holyoke Board of Health became aware of the outbreak and deaths when a worker made contact on Mar 27 with Brenda Rodrigues, president of the local branch of the Service Employees International Union. Rodrigues described the staff member as “basically in tears” as she related how there had been 11 deaths and that management was acting with reckless indifference. Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse was alerted and placed a call the following day to Holyoke VA superintendent Walsh. Morse claims that Walsh admitted there had been deaths, but downplayed them by mentioning that all the patients had preexisting conditions. Unsatisfied with what he described as Walsh’s “clear lack of urgency,” Morse was compelled to call State Sec of the Massachusetts VA, Francisco Ureña. To the mayor’s dismay, Ureña also seemed to downplay the situation. Morse followed up with a text to Massachusetts Lt-Governor Karyn Polito. Only then did officials with the Massachusetts Health and Human Services respond by promising to send a task force to the facility. When the news broke, Governor Baker claimed it was the first he had heard of the matter, and that he and other state officials had been left in the dark until contacted by Morse. The deputy secretary of the state Dept of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared that superintendent Walsh was being placed on leave.

The following Monday, Baker announced the launch of an investigation into the affair (the results of which have yet to be released), to focus in part on “management and organizational oversight of the COVID-19 response in the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.” Roughly a month later, on May 26, Walsh’s lawyer convened a press conference in defense of his client, saying he would make public a series of emails and texts demonstrating Bennett had been in regular contact and sent updates to state authorities with regards to the deteriorating situation at the Soldiers Home. As to the real reason for his dismissal, Bennet’s attorney said:

State officials were livid that Walsh had talked to local officials about the situation at the Soldiers’ Home without their prior approval.

Upon their release, the emails and texts indeed showed Bennet appraising State officials of the situation, who declined to provide any serious assistance while simultaneously expressing confidence in the management of the Soldiers Home. In one email, sent five days before Bennett’s suspension, an associate commissioner of the state HHS wrote:

Holyoke staff are doing everything they can and consistent with DPH recommendations.

Meanwhile, the staff was facing a critical shortage of PPE and manpower. Two days after receiving the email, Walsh contacted Ureña on March to formally request he send National Guard Medics to assist with jobs that would normally be performed by medical staff. No such aid was forthcoming. Only after state officials were contacted by Holyoke Mayor Morse on Mar 28 did state HHS officials shift their response, taking command of operations at the Soldiers Home and sending a task force that included national guard medics. Bennett was immediately placed on administrative leave. The case of the Veterans Home is only the most-high profile of many such incidents. Another large-scale outbreak hidden from local authorities occurred in late March at the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley, a for-profit care home in Littleton, Massachusetts. As was the case at the VA hospital in Holyoke, staff were not being provided with proper PPE and protocols to stem the rampant spread of the virus. Meanwhile, local officials were kept in the dark by nursing home administrators. Town officials only became aware of the scope of the disaster after the fire department was called 18 times over a five-day stretch, transporting 16 patients from the facility to the hospital. That outbreak would ultimately result in the deaths of 26 residents. Maria Krier, a nurse at the Nashoba Valley, who told a local news outlet after the first infection that nothing was being done to protect nurses and patients from the virus, succumbed to the disease after contracting it at the home.

Massachusetts saw at least six other towns and cities report additional outbreaks, each of which resulted in dozens of fatalities, including a staggering 66 deaths at the Leavitt Family Nursing Home in Longmeadow and 64 confirmed fatalities at the Mary Immaculate Nursing and Restorative Center in Lawrence. At the time of the outbreaks, nursing homes were not legally required to report infections to residents or their families. Had such a directive been in place, members of the community may otherwise have intervened by removing their loved ones from what had become virtual deathtraps. Such a mandate for reporting was only issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on May 7, fully two months after deaths began mounting across the state. Aside from the issue of transparency is the more fundamental question of government preparedness and the shortage of PPE, both of which remain unaddressed. Four months after Trump declared a national state of emergency, officials across the country have yet to equip medical professionals with sufficient amounts of protective equipment, nor has testing and contract tracing been implemented in line with even the most conservative estimates produced by scientists and health experts of what is needed.

For example, a research report published by the Harvard Global Health Initiative on Apr 20, authored by experts in public health, economics, and technology, used three different models to estimate the scale of testing that would be necessary in order to safely reopen the economy on a state-by-state basis. In the case of Massachusetts, the state would need to test around 65k/day according to the more conservative “Los Alamos” model before any reopening can be safely carried out, while another estimate produced using the “MIT” model found it would need to test roughly 158k/day. Despite this information being publicly available, Governor Baker has pushed ahead with his “Four Phase” reopening, implementing “Phase I” on May 18, while testing only 7.5k/day, a fraction of what is needed according to the models. Three weeks later, at the time of Baker’s “Phase II” re-opening on Jun 7, theh state was still testing only around 10k/day, a marginal increase. It should be noted that estimates for testing numbers were produced before tens if not hundreds of thousands of people throughout the state began attending large-scale protests in reaction to police violence and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. As in Massachusetts, all 50 states are now testing at levels falling dramatically short of what is needed. According to the authors of the Harvard Global Health Initiative report:

We need to test 5m/day by early June to deliver a safe social reopening. This number will need to increase over time (ideally by late July) to 20m/day to fully remobilize the economy. We acknowledge that even this number may not be high enough to protect public health.

Had political leaders in the state and federal government taken this warning seriously and acted accordingly, over a 250k tests would now have been carried out in Pindostan. As of Jun 12, the actual number of tests carried out, as cited by tracking site https://covidtracking.com/data, totaled around 22k, or 9% of what is needed according to the Harvard researchers. Instead of investing resources in a massive scaling-up of testing and contract-tracing infrastructure, Governor Baker, like his counterparts across the country, has been enacting plans to send millions of people back to work while their children return to daycare centers and summer camps. These workers, youth and children will have no way of knowing whether they and their families are being exposed to the deadly virus. Baker’s claims that he is making decisions “based on the data” and that he has been seeing “positive trends for the past several weeks” are contrary to reality. While new deaths have indeed gone down from a single-day peak of 197 on Apr 26 to roughly a quarter of that figure at the time of this article’s publication, the decrease has been achieved primarily through social distancing measures coupled with severe restrictions on nonessential businesses. Baker’s “Four-Phase” reopening plan is now setting the stage for a drastic increase in COVID-19 cases. Baker tacitly acknowledged that possibility, saying the plan could be “halted or rolled back” if infections spike again. The drive to “reopen the economy” in Massachusetts has been a thoroughly bipartisan affair. This was shown at a recent press event staged by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) featuring Demagog Senator Ed Markey. Donna Stern, regional director of the MNA said at the event:

I call upon Charlie Baker to do the right thing. Now, he’s done a lot of things right during this pandemic, and I do not want to take that away, but the one thing that he has not done, is stepped up, and stopped the egregious behavior of hospitals across the state.

She then appealed to Markey to place a phone call to the governor and insist he halt the imminent closure of a vital psychiatric hospital. A WSWS reporter at the scene was able to ask the long-serving senator in front of news cameras why anyone should trust Governor Baker to safeguard public health, considering he was pushing ahead with his “Four Phase” plan without adequate testing and contact tracing. Markey responded by avoiding any criticism of Baker, saying instead:

The question isn’t when we open, it’s how we open, so we clearly need sufficient testing, sufficient contact tracing, public health is truly protected.

Three days later, in an interview with the NPR member station Northeast Public Radio, Markey was able to more clearly express his opinion, saying:

We have to listen to the scientists and base our steps on science and medical expertise. We have to walk the line. I think the governor is trying to do that, and hopefully we can be successful in achieving those goals.

Whether through omission, obfuscation or outright lies, the entire political establishment is engaged in an effort to hide the dangers facing the population as they are driven back to their workplaces without basic measures. This is because, as previously explained by the WSWS, the ruling class views the COVID-19 pandemic, not as a health crisis, to be dealt with by the application of scientifically based measures, but as a blow to profit accumulation. While they seek to temporarily mitigate the loss of profits due to factory and workplace shutdowns via intervention by the Fed, the stocks that make up their fortunes represent claims that must be supported by the extraction of surplus value from workers. However, the working class will have its say in the course of these developments. The homicidal policies of the entire ruling class, assisted by its appendages in the MSM and among union bureaucrats, must be answered by the struggle of all workers, who should form rank-and-file committees completely independent of hostile class forces, armed with a socialist perspective.

New unemployment claims point to prolonged Pindo recession
Shannon Jones, WSWS, Jun 19 2020

Hundreds of people wait in line for bags of groceries at St Mary’s Church
in Waltham, Mass, May 7 2020. (Photo: Charles Krupa/AP)

New claims for unemployment insurance continue at historically unprecedented high levels despite the lifting of lockdown orders all across Pindostan. According to the Pindo Labor Dept, there were 1.51m claims filed for the week ending Jun 13. 46 states reported another 760,526 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which has been made available to the self-employed, traditionally ineligible for unemployment aid. The number of unemployment claims last week was a drop of just 58k from the revised level of the previous week. The four-week average stands at 1.77m weekly claims, far in excess of the previous record set back in 1982 of 695k. There have been 45m new unemployment claims filed since the start of the pandemic. While some of those may represent duplicate filings by workers seeking assistance in more than one program, it is still an astronomical number that indicates deep economic distress across the country.

Through the week ending Jun 6, continuing claims for unemployment benefits stood at 20.5m, only a slight decrease from the previous week. In addition, there were 9.3m self-employed and gig-economy workers receiving benefits under the federal PUA program and another 1m receiving a continuation of benefits under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 10% of jobs cut in April were restored in May, and even that number is in dispute, as is the claim that the official unemployment rate declined last month to 13.3%. In fact, the real rate stood at 16.3% due to an undercounting error. Prior to the pandemic the highest weekly number of those receiving unemployment benefits was 6.6m, in 2009. The persistence of such shocking numbers despite the reopening of the auto industry and the recall of millions of workers from temporary layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic points to a general collapse of the economy and the start of a deep, perhaps prolonged recession, one to rival the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Layoffs have spread well beyond the industries initially impacted by the pandemic, and others have been made permanent. Hilton Worldwide said it is eliminating 2.1k corporate jobs worldwide while AT&T plans to eliminate 3.4k technician and clerical jobs in Pindostan and will permanently close more than 250 stores. In another casualty, the gym chain 24 Hour Fitness filed for bankruptcy and is permanently closing more than 100 locations. After losing 1.4m jobs in April, the health-care industry is seeing further cuts, with Tower Health in the Philadelphia area cutting 1k jobs after suffering $212m in losses. A report Thursday in the NYT quoted several economic experts who predicted a surge in bankruptcies this year, eclipsing any previous period. The NYT cited Edward Altman, who developed the Z-score formula for predicting bankruptcies, who projects 2020 will set a record for filings by companies with $1b or more in debt. Altman also expects to see a record number of bankruptcies by companies with less than $100m in debt. Fueling the surge is an “explosion” of corporate debt that reached a record $10.5t by the end of March. Another expert predicted a “Covid cliff” of bankruptcy filings when federal subsidies end.

Compounding the distress, many workers who have filed for unemployment benefits are still waiting for payments due to delays in processing claims, bureaucratic snafus or “fraud prevention” efforts. On Wednesday hundreds of frustrated claimants lined up outside the Kentucky state capitol in Frankfort for an 8-hour wait for help with their benefit claims. Tens of thousands in the state have had trouble with their filings. On Friday the state of Michigan said that it was restoring unemployment payments to 140k workers who had been falsely suspected of fraud. In a case of guilty until proven innocent the state has held up payments to 340k claimants while it investigates fraud allegations, a significant portion of the 2.2m who have filed. Nearly 24k Ohioans have been told to pay back unemployment benefits which they have received, as a result of “overpayment” by the state. In Wisconsin 651,463 people applied for unemployment benefits between Mar 15-Jun 13. Another 850k weekly claims were either rejected or are still pending. More than 15% of claims are still awaiting resolution. Similar stories are playing out across Pindostan, as understaffed state agencies relying on outmoded technology try to deal with record numbers of claims week after week. Heidi Shierholz, director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, told the NYT:

It’s a sustained hemorrhaging of jobs unlike anything we’ve seen before.

Martha Gimbel, Senior Manager of Economic Research at Schmidt Futures, told the NYT:

What you’re seeing right now is economic scarring starting to happen. Layoffs that happened at the beginning of this likely were intended as temporary. But if you’re laying off people now, that’s probably a long-term business decision.

The full impact of the recession has been mitigated to some degree by the expansion of unemployment benefits, including the $600/wk federal supplement. But those payments are set to expire at the end of July and the Trump administration is opposed to their renewal. When those payments end, the economy could see a further jolt. Facing the possibility of a tidal wave of home foreclosures next month, on Wednesday the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) announced it would extend foreclosure and eviction moratoriums through Aug 31. The decision affects borrowers with FHA single-family home mortgages. The current moratorium was set to expire on Jun 30. Moratoriums on evictions have ended in a number of states, including Texas, where the courts ruled that landlords could start eviction proceedings May 26. One attorney who handles evictions told a local media outlet that the court dockets in Texas were “packed.” In many cases moves against tenants have been delayed due to the closure of courts where eviction hearings are held, but proceedings will likely begin later this month. With lockdowns ended, new COVID-19 infections are rising in at least 20 states. Customers fearful of contracting the virus are staying away from restaurants and other businesses that have newly reopened.

According to a study by Jed Kolko, chief economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, job postings were down 34% from 2019. Hiring for white-collar jobs, such as software development postings, were down 36.3%, and banking and financing job postings are down 51.3%. Pay cuts are hitting many managerial and professional employees as companies seek to use the pandemic and the threat of layoffs to leverage cost-cutting. A similar process is likely to follow in manufacturing and other production-related jobs. About 60% of workers at Northern Arizona University will take a pay cut starting Jul 1 to cover a budget shortfall. Scores of hospitals and healthcare providers have implemented pay reductions and pay freezes, the latest being Mass General Brigham, formerly Partners HealthCare, the largest health-care provider in Massachusetts. The persistence of unprecedented levels of new unemployment filings three months after the beginning of mass lockdowns points to a deeper systemic crisis of the capitalist system, for which the spread of COVID-19 was only the trigger. The response of all factions of the ruling elite has been to shovel unlimited amounts of cash into the financial markets while stoking up trade war and preparing for world war. Capitalism offers no progressive way out of this impasse. This fraught situation poses the necessity for the independent intervention of the working class based on a socialist and internationalist program.

Mass protests against police violence expand in advance of Juneteenth rallies across Pindostan
Kevin Reed, WSWS, Jun 19 2020

Protesters at Chicago City Hall, Jun 17 2020. (Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

The protests against police violence across Pindostan that began following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on Memorial Day continued on Thursday for the 23rd day in a row. On Thursday, the Louisville, Kentucky courthouse was boarded up and staff members were asked to leave early in advance of an announcement by prosecutors in the case of Breonna Taylor, who was shot eight times by police and died on the floor of her apartment on Mar 13. A Twitter post by Shaun King, an activist with Real Justice PAC, showed video of the courthouse windows being covered with plywood at 12:32 pm. King tweeted:

Forty-five minutes later, King tweeted:

However, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron declined on Thursday afternoon to comment on when the investigation into the death of Taylor would be complete or give any details about the who was being investigated. Speaking at a news conference, Cameron said:

An investigation of this magnitude, when done correctly, requires time and patience. We will do what is right. We will find the truth.

It has already been more than three months since Breonna Taylor was killed by Louisville Metropolitan Police officers when they battered down her apartment door in the middle of the night to serve a “no-knock” warrant in a drug-related investigation and sprayed her with gunfire. No drugs were found in the apartment, and Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was originally being prosecuted for attempted murder because he fired his legally licensed gun at the intruders, striking one of the officers in the leg. It could not be clearer that both a cover-up and frame-up were under way until protests erupted in Louisville and the case was taken over by the state. While the charges against Walker have been dropped, the three officers have yet to be charged or arrested for Taylor’s murder.

Also, on Thursday, police dismantled an “autonomous zone” set up by hundreds of protesters in the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon the night before. According to a report in the Oregonian, police removed makeshift barriers in the early morning hours near Mayor Ted Wheeler’s residence in a neighborhood that protesters had renamed Patrick Kimmons Autonomous Zone, after a man killed by Portland police in 2018. The autonomous zone, similar to the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone set up by protesters in Seattle on Jun 8, was declared after the Portland City Council passed a budget on Wednesday which cut $15m from the city police bureau. The group behind the autonomous zone was demanding a reduction of $50m and the reopening of the investigation into the death of Kimmons. According to a database of locations maintained by USA Today, there have now been protests in 1,670 towns and cities in all 50 states, DC and the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Pindo Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The expanding anger and determination shown in the demonstrations in every corner of Pindostan and among people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds is underscored by the fact that the number of locations where protests have taken place has more than doubled since the first week of June. Additionally, it is significant that the largest number of protests in any region of the country have taken place in the South (500 locations), with four out of the top ten states with the most protests taking place: Florida (80), Virginia (58), Texas (55) and Georgia (53). California has had by far the most of any state with protests in 169 towns and cities as of Jun 12. The ongoing marches, demonstrations, protests and vigils are now merging together with celebrations of Juneteenth, the unofficial holiday that marks the day when Union Army General Gordon Granger read the federal order in the city of Galveston, Texas, proclaiming all slaves in the state were free: Jun 19 1865. In Texas, where Juneteenth is officially celebrated as Emancipation Day and also known as Juneteenth Independence Day and Freedom Day, multiple protests are planned in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and Brownsville. Hundreds of other Juneteenth protests have already been held or are being held across Pindostan and internationally on Friday and Saturday and are expected to draw large crowds of people who have been engaged in the protests that began on May 26.

The expanding protests have, first of all, been fueled by public outrage over the murder of George Floyd, choked to death by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, which was captured by an eyewitness on smartphone video, shared on Facebook and seen by tens of millions of people. Added to this is the attempted cover up by authorities of the murder of Ahmaud Aubrey in Georgia by three men with connections to law enforcement and the refusal by the justice system to investigate the police murder of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. The spreading demonstrations are also a response to the blatant repression and attacks by militarized police units and National Guard detachments that were mobilized against the protesters, especially in major cities like LA, SF, NYC, Faschingstein, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Louisville, in the first ten days of the protests. In the course of the state repression, more than 10k people were arrested, 75k National Guard soldiers and airmen were mobilized and nearly 80 local governments imposed curfews. The protests have also expanded because of multiple new instances of police violence that have been captured on video over the course of the last three weeks. Prominent among these are the police murders of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta and Hannah Fizer in Missouri and the National Guard shooting death of David McAtee in Louisville. The predominantly youthful and multi-ethnic character of the growing protests against police brutality in Pindostan and around the world is an anticipation of a broader and even more powerful movement, giving a glimpse of the revolutionary potential of the entire working class against all forms of inequality under capitalism. To take forward the struggle against police brutality means a fight to mobilize the working class as a whole on the basis of a socialist program for jobs, decent wages and living conditions, and a future free of war, oppression and poverty.

Hundreds rally outside sheriff’s office demanding justice for Missouri woman killed by police
Jacob Crosse, WSWS, Jun 19 2020

Hannah Fizer

Hundreds of friends, family and community supporters turned out Thursday night in front of the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office in rural Sedalia, Missouri, demanding justice for 25-year-old Hannah Fizer. The young unarmed white woman had been recently promoted to assistant manager when she was shot and killed by a still unidentified Pettis County deputy during a traffic stop on her way to work at the Tiger Eagle Stop convenience store on Jun 13. Family, friends, workers, youth and supporters are demanding the truth and the identity of the killer cop which state investigators and local police continue to withhold. Protests, which began on Tuesday, have swelled in size and frequency with more scheduled for today and Sunday. Signs carried by protesters demanded “Justice For Hannah,” as dozens chanted “What’s his name?” According to a terse statement issued by Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) Sergeant Andy Bell Sunday, Fizer was pulled over for allegedly speeding and “imprudent” driving while on her way to work for her 10 pm shift. After she was pulled over by the unnamed deputy, the MSHP claims that Fizer became “non-compliant” and “threatened the deputy by stating she was armed and going to shoot him.” The incident allegedly escalated to the point that the unnamed officer had to “discharge” his weapon, killing Fizer. Tracie Karigan, whose daughter worked with and was friends with Fizer, questioned the officer’s use of force and disputed police statements attesting to Fizer’s alleged aggressive behavior in an interview with the Sedalia Democrat. She said:

She was 140 pounds. She wasn’t doing anything. She was going to work. Why’d they have to end her life? They don’t have that right. They’re not God. It’s just wrong. Everybody in Sedalia that knows, that knew who Hannah was as a person. That’s why everyone is out here, so angry and hurt and crying, because this is wrong. It’s not fair. Then you still tell us, ‘Have faith in the law, believe in the law, stand up for your enforcement.’ Why, whenever they take away everything we’re supposed to believe in? How can we even do that?

An unnamed witness who wished to remain anonymous for personal safety spoke to the Kansas City Star regarding what he saw on Saturday night. He states that he saw the police vehicle with its lights on, follow Fizer’s car off of Highway 50 and pull over shortly thereafter. It didn’t appear to the man that either vehicle was speeding or driving recklessly. From across the street as he was approaching the vehicles, the man stated he heard a male voice shout “stop” twice, followed by five “pops.” The man walked across the street to see what had happened. As he approached, more police arrived to cordon off the area. He said:

That’s when I saw him covering her up with a sheet from head to toe.

The man observed Fizer lying face up, her body perpendicular to her car with her feet resting on the ground near her open driver’s side door. By the time the man left the crime scene at 2:30 am, Fizer’s body was still lying on the ground in the same position. Fizer’s family has maintained from the outset that she did not own a gun and was not armed at the time. They have questioned from the outset why the officer felt the need to shoot an unarmed woman and what were the circumstances that led to the “escalation.” For three days police investigators refused to state whether they had found a weapon in the vehicle as they combed Fizer’s car and the surrounding area. On Tuesday, investigators were forced to admit no weapon had been found in the car or the surrounding area, as the family had always maintained. In addition to no weapon, there is also no footage of the events to support the deputy’s claims of a “threatening” Fizer. Despite being issued body cameras for their deputies and dashcams for their patrol vehicles several years ago, Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond admitted in a video interview with the Kansas City Star that due to “technical difficulties” and “data failure” they have not been used by the department for over three years. Bond admitted that “defective devices haven’t been replaced,” and while the department “looked at a grant,” Bond and his superiors didn’t bother to apply for it, adding:

If that grant had been applied for, we wouldn’t have received it in time.

Bond’s cavalier attitude to accountability is indicative of a wider attitude among law enforcement and exposes the folly of any calls to “reform” or “reimagine” the oppressive armed agents of the capitalist state. The Pettis County Sheriff’s Office has denied reporters’ requests to release any more information pertaining to the cop that killed Fizer beyond the fact that the officer was hired in 2007 and has been put on “paid administrative leave.” Bond personally refused a Freedom of Information Act request from the website copblaster.com for public records naming the officer involved in Fizer’s slaying. While declining to hold himself or his deputies accountable for Fizer’s murder, Bond issued an “open letter” to the citizens of Pettis County in which he tried to cast himself and his fellow cops as the real victims of a “criminal social justice” element in the city of 22k, while urging the community to “have faith in the Pindo Way.” In his nearly 550-word letter Bond spent less than 20 words offering the Fizer family his “thoughts and prayers.” Bond alleged that one of his deputies, who did not murder Fizer, was being “singled out and targeted for harassment.” Bond went on to mischaracterize copblaster.com’s FOIA request as an “extortion email” before threatening the entire population of Pettis County:

I am the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of this County. You have vested in me the authority to ‘quell and suppress assaults and batteries, riots, routs, affrays, and insurrections.’ I will carry this out to the best of my ability and continue to do what I believe is in the best interest of our community. I will not tolerate criminal behavior nor allow your properties to be damaged.

Bond implored the people of Pettis County not to let “Social In-Justice [sic] … establish a stronghold here” and “to stand with me and not tolerate unreasonable behavior. I need you to step up to support and defend the rule of law.” By “rule of the law,” Bond is referring to the “law” that allows a heavily-armed agent of the state to gun down a 25-year-old unarmed woman because he “feared” she had a weapon and then walk free and collect a paycheck while doing so. James Johnson, 22, Fizer’s boyfriend of over six years and a production worker at a Tyson Foods facility, posted an impassioned Facebook video urging viewers that it’s time to “get rid of these corrupt police,” stating that anyone who considers themselves a “good cop” would “quit,” before concluding that “There are no good cops.” Johnson also rejected the racialist narrative put forth by the Demagog Party and pseudo-left that skin color is the primary factor in determining whether one becomes a victim of police brutality, writing:

It’s not about race! It’s not about color. My mom is white, my dad is full black … Ok. So, I stand on both sides. It’s not only black people that are targeted, you got Mexicans, minorities and whites, what it is, is the police. Those are the problems. They are targeting human beings, period.

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