WSWS on amerikkka & the approaching war or wars

US strikes Iraqi targets from aircraft carrier in Persian Gulf
Bill Van Auken, WSWS, Sep 30 2020

F/A-18F Super Hornets from Nimitz.

For the first time in nearly two-and-a-half years, US warplanes conducted an airstrike against Iraqi targets from an aircraft carrier deployed in the Persian Gulf. The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet reported that the attacks were carried out by two F/A-18F Super Hornets flying off the deck of the Nimitz. CENTCOM reported an airstrike against a supposed hide-out of remnants of Daesh in the area of Kirkuk, Iraq. While it did not attribute the attack to the carrier-based aircraft, it was carried out on the same day that the Navy reported its operation. The USS Nimitz-led carrier strike group passed through the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most strategic chokepoints, and into the Persian Gulf on Sep 18, substantially escalating the US military presence in the tense region. While Daesh was the ostensible target of the latest airstrike, the military operation constitutes an implicit threat against Iran, the principal target of US militarism in the region. The US military build-up has been accompanied by a threat of US retaliation against Iranian-aligned Shia militias in Iraq, as well as Washington’s ratcheting up of a “maximum pressure” sanctions regime against Iran that is tantamount to a state of war, serving to drive ever larger segments of the Iranian population into poverty and cripple the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pompeo has threatened the Iraqi government that Washington will close down its embassy in Baghdad as a prelude to US military attacks aimed at “liquidating” Shia militia elements charged with responsibility for attacks on US facilities in the country. According to Iraqi Kurdish news agencies, the US ambassador to Iraq, Matthew Tueller, has already fled the embassy, taking refuge in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Preparations are also reportedly underway for evacuating the rest of the embassy staff.

These extreme measures are being justified as a response to a series of Katyusha rocket attacks on the Green Zone, the heavily fortified district of Baghdad where the US Embassy as well as other diplomatic and government facilities are located. According to US officials, the Green Zone has been targeted with rockets or mortar fire 19 times in the last month. None of these attacks have claimed any casualties or inflicted any damage on the embassy. Convoys supplying US and allied facilities have also been attacked roughly two dozen times. In a tragic incident on Monday, a Katyusha rocket apparently aimed at US troops deployed at the Baghdad airport fell short of its target, hitting a nearby house and killing three children and two women. The American embassy in Baghdad is the largest and most expensive such US facility in the world, sprawling over 104 square acres, occupying nearly as much space as Vatican City. It opened in 2009, six years after the launching of the US war of aggression that claimed the lives of roughly one million Iraqis and devastated the country. It was built to house an apparatus that would continue the neo-colonial domination of the oil-rich country in the interests of US imperialism. These plans have been thwarted to a large extent by Iran’s close relations with and influence over Baghdad. Today the embassy is defended by an advanced C-RAM rocket and mortar defense system installed earlier this year. This was combined with the deployment of Patriot missile batteries to protect US military installations, where some 5k US troops remain. The Iraqi government had opposed the deployments, fearing the Patriots could be used to facilitate a US war on Iran by forestalling Iranian retaliation.

The missile and mortar attacks have unfolded in the wake of the criminal US drone assassination strike at Baghdad’s international airport in January that claimed the lives of both Qassem Soleimani, one of Iran’s top government officials, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, one of the senior leaders of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The predominantly Shia militias that comprise the PMF played the predominant role in the ground fighting against Daesh, which overran Iraq in 2014, routing US-trained security forces. By a vote of the Iraqi parliament, the PMF was incorporated into the country’s armed forces as kind of a national guard. After the January assassination strike, the Iraqi parliament voted for a resolution demanding the withdrawal of all US and other foreign troops from the country. Washington has defied the motion, threatening Iraq with sweeping economic sanctions if it attempts to force out US forces. While Iran as well as the main Shia parties and militia groups have called for a halt to the rocket attacks on the Green Zone, the continuing attacks are believed to be the work of groups seeking revenge for the murder of Soleimani and al-Muhandis. Iran had vowed retaliation but limited its action to one round of missile strikes at US military bases in Iraq that claimed no lives. Iraqi24, a Baghdad news website, reported that Pompeo had threatened Iraqi President Barham Salih in a telephone conversation that Washington’s closure of its Baghdad embassy would be followed by US military action. The site quotes Pompeo as saying:

The decision to close the embassy in Baghdad is in President Trump’s hands and is ready. … If our forces withdraw and the embassy is closed in this way, we will liquidate all those who have been proven to have been involved in these attacks.

Pompeo was said to have specifically named Kata’ib Hezbollah, which al-Muhandis led before his assassination, and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. Both are among the largest components of the PMF and have been active in fighting Daesh as well as the AQ-linked forces that were backed by the CIA in its bid to oust the Assad government in Syria. According to the Kurdistan 24 website, Pompeo specifically linked his threats of military action in Iraq to Trump’s concerns about the US November election. This threat underscores the danger that the Trump administration may be preparing an “October surprise” in the form of military action aimed at shocking the electorate and potentially creating the conditions for the imposition of the kind of coup d’état election and martial law repression that the US president has threatened. Military action against the Iraqi Shia militias has the potential of spiraling rapidly into a region-wide and even global conflict. As it escalates its threats in Iraq, the Trump administration has arrogantly claimed the right to invoke the “snapback” of sanctions that were suspended under the terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement between Teheran and the major powers that Washington itself unilaterally repudiated in 2018. These include a ban on the export of conventional arms to Iran, which is set to expire in mid-October. With both China and Russia having established close ties to Iran and interest in selling the country weapons, Washington’s bid to enforce the expired ban could involve attempts to seize Russian or Chinese vessels on the high seas, raising the threat of a direct conflict between the major nuclear powers. Such a use of military force in pursuit of the global strategic interests of US imperialism, as well as Donald Trump’s own political interests, would likely come with not merely the acquiescence, but the outright support of his ostensible Democratic Party opponents, who have repeatedly criticized his administration from the right for being too “soft” on Russia and China.

Trump uses debate to incite fascist violence
Joseph Kishore, WSWS, Sep 30 2020

Trump and Biden both speak during the first presidential debate.

Trump used the platform provided by Tuesday night’s debate with Biden to incite fascist violence against voters and make clear that he would not accept the outcome of the election, now just over one month away. Asked by moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News Trump responded with a hysterical denunciation of socialism and left-wing politics and an open call for the extra-constitutional mobilization of paramilitary organizations. he proclaimed:

Almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing. Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. I’ll tell you what. Somebody has to do something about Antifa and the left. This is not a right-wing problem. This is left-wing.

Trump was referring to a fascist, racist and anti-Semitic organization that has terrorized protests against police violence throughout the country with armed patrols. Trump concluded the debate by renewing his call for supporters, that is right-wing vigilante organizations, to monitor polling places and not accept the results of the election. He stated:

If I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.

As polls show he is heading for a massive defeat in the popular vote, Trump is not guided by any sort of conventional electoral strategy. He is inciting as much havoc as possible, using it to lay the foundations for a violent repudiation of the election results. In the course of the debate, Trump repeated his declaration that the election would be characterized by “fraud like you’ve never seen” and that ballots were being throw into rivers and destroyed. He added that he was “counting” on the Supreme Court to “look at the ballots” in the election, that is, that he sees the court as central in legitimizing a coup d’état. This is the language of civil war. Trump is an out-and-out fascist who is conspiring to erect a presidential dictatorship. He is inciting violent reprisals against all those who would oppose him. If the debate made one thing clear, it is that he will not accept the outcome of the election. The response of Biden epitomized the breakdown of the entire political system. He attempted to parry Trump’s hysterics with conventional responses whose effect was to downplay the obvious seriousness of Trump’s threats. The Democrats have selected as their representative an aged reactionary who is unable to speak truthfully about anything. Biden’s only response to Trump’s threats of violence was to urge his supporters to vote, ignoring the fact that Trump is planning on repudiating the results. In response to the attempt by Trump to ram through the appointment to the Supreme Court of Amy Coney Barrett in an effort to pack the court ahead of a contested election, Biden declared:

I’m not opposed to the justice. She seems like a very fine person.

The Democrats have already given up any effort to block Senate confirmation of Barrett. Biden did not even note that Barrett played a central role in the Supreme Court’s intervention in the 2000 election, which handed the presidency to Bush 43. In the face of Trump’s open declaration he would not accept the results of the election and calls for violence, Biden was anxious to express his commitment to accept the outcome of the ballot. Biden said:

I will accept it, and he will too. If it is me, in fact fine. If it is not me, I’ll support the outcome. And I will be a president not just for the Democrats; I’ll be a president for Democrats and Republicans too.

Toward the end of the debate, when asked why voters should choose him over Trump, Biden seized on the opportunity to attack Trump for being weak on Russia, the central theme of the Democrats’ opposition to Trump for the past four years. Biden said:

I’ve gone head to head with Putin and made clear we aren’t going to take any of his stuff. He’s Putin’s puppy.

As Trump attempts to transform the election into a coup d’état, the Democrats’ overriding concern is to prevent any popular mobilization that would threaten the interests of Wall Street and the geopolitical imperatives of American imperialism. What happened Tuesday night was not so much a debate. It was a portrait of political degeneration. What is playing out in real time is the collapse of American democracy under all the putrefaction and filth of American capitalism. Trump’s diatribes set the tone for an event whose degrading character shocked even the media. One commenter on CNN said:

That was the worst debate that I have ever seen. It wasn’t even a debate. It was a disgrace.

Others called it a “complete disaster on all fronts.” The debased character of Tuesday night’s spectacle was clear to everyone, and much commented on. But what is being avoided in the media is the clear political import of what is in fact unfolding. Trump is seeking to establish a presidential dictatorship, and the White House is now the political nerve center of a conspiracy to carry out a coup d’etat. One statement by Trump on Tuesday night will prove to be true:

This will not end well.

No, it certainly will not. This crisis is not going to be resolved on election day, and will not be resolved in any conventional manner. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, which has already killed 200k people, what is required is a mass political mobilization of the population to defend its social and democratic rights. In the final analysis, Trump speaks for the most ruthless section of the financial oligarchy, determined to protect its wealth at any cost. What is exposed, however, is not just Trump. Tuesday’s filthy spectacle is a portrait of American capitalism and its political system. Decades of growing inequality and endless war, vastly accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, have vomited up the political underworld. Workers and young people must wake up to the gravity of the political situation. They must break free of the stranglehold of the Democratic Party, which fears the mobilization of popular opposition to capitalism much more than it fears the imposition of a fascistic dictatorship under Trump. The American ruling class has forfeited its right to rule. The only thing that people should be thinking about after Tuesday night is how to put an end to this dysfunctional system.

With one million dead, governments abandon efforts to contain COVID-19 pandemic
Andre Damon, WSWS, Sep 30 2020

Vila Formosa Cemetery, in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

This week, the world passed the grim milestone of 1m deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, amid a major global resurgence of the disease. Some 210k people are dead in America, 142,161 in India, 96,351 in India, and 76,430 are dead in Mexico. The disease continues to spread throughout the global South, with India reaching a staggering 80.5k new cases yesterday. Europe, an early center of the outbreak, is again at the heart of a major resurgence. There were another 7,143 cases of coronavirus reported in the UK in the last 24 hours, the biggest rise since the pandemic began. Last week, France reported a new high of 16,096 cases on Sep 24, more than triple the figure reported at the height of the March outbreak. But with the fall and winter months in America and Europe expected to bring a further resurgence of the disease, governments around the world are abandoning any effort to contain it. Carlos Del Rio, a professor of medicine at Emory University, told the WSJ on Tuesday:

I sometimes feel like we’ve just given up and are going to let the epidemic continue.

Del Rio’s words sum up the attitude that increasingly prevails in presidential mansions and parliament buildings all over the world. Macron, presiding over a country with the worst resurgence in Europe, declared last month that the French population had to “learn to live with the virus,” replacing his rhetoric about a “war” against the disease. Macron said:

Everything must be done to avoid total lockdown.

The theory of “herd immunity,” once only openly advanced by far-right figures like Bolsonaro, is being openly advocated in the US and Europe, gaining adherents, as the NYT recently noted, “on Wall Street and among business executives.” Nothing sums up the abandonment of any pretense of containing the COVID-19 pandemic than Trump’s effective sidelining of the country’s leading health experts and their replacement with the far-right quack doctor Scott Atlas, who advocates deliberately infecting the population with COVID-19. Monday marked the second major White House briefing in a row in which the veteran public health experts Fauci, Birx and Redfield were nowhere to be found, and the podium was given over to Atlas. On Sep 23, in a press conference overshadowed by Trump’s statements that he would not leave office peacefully if Biden were elected, Trump turned the entire event over to Atlas, who proceeded to denounce CDC director Robert Redfield for “misstating” the danger of the pandemic. The effective ouster of the nation’s leading public health experts has been accepted without a single statement of opposition or protest by any member of the nominal opposition party. It was left to the scientists to try to defend themselves. NBC News reported that it overheard a frantic phone call in which Redfield complained in desperation:

Atlas is arming Trump with misleading data about a range of issues, including questioning the efficacy of masks, whether young people are susceptible to the virus and the potential benefits of herd immunity. Everything he says is false.

Asked to comment on Redfield’s statements, Fauci remarked in an obvious attack on the quack doctor:

I think you know who the outlier is.

Fauci, Birx and Redfield have argued, at least in public, that the government should seek to contain the pandemic and prevent people from getting sick and urged the public to take measures such as wearing masks.
Atlas, by contrast, advocates that no efforts be made to keep the pandemic from spreading among broad sections of the population. As he put it in July:

Low-risk groups getting the infection is not a problem. In fact, it’s a positive.

Given these developments, the total lack of reporting, much less criticism, of the White House’s effective embrace of “herd immunity” is staggering. In April, when Trump speculated in one of his rambling press conferences that COVID-19 might be treated by injecting disinfectants in the lungs of patients, the press could speak of nothing else for days. However irresponsible Trump’s ramblings about quack treatments, they would not have hurt more than the handful of his deluded followers who took his advice. But Atlas is effectively determining policy for a whole country in a direction that will lead to hundreds of thousands of additional deaths, and there is not a peep of protest from within the political establishment.

There are definite class reasons for this silence. In his latest interview with Laura Ingraham, Atlas had one slogan: Open the schools! But this is exactly what Democratic governors, mayors and state legislatures are doing. NYC, the nation’s largest school district, with over 1m students, resumed classroom learning Tuesday for elementary school children, with higher grades to reopen on Thursday. The effort to reopen schools is being spearheaded by the city’s “progressive” Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo. The reopening of schools is leading to a major resurgence of the pandemic among school-aged children nationwide, who now make up 10% of COVID-19 cases, up from 2% in April. The bipartisan character of the campaign to reopen schools and force teachers back on the job is entirely in keeping with the response to the pandemic, which has been solely dictated by the financial interests of the ruling class. Earlier this month, veteran WaPo journalist Bob Woodward published a recording of Trump saying that he had consciously sought to “downplay” the threat posed by the pandemic. But further material in his book makes clear that Trump was at the head of a much broader conspiracy to cover up the threat of the pandemic, to which Congress and leading government officials were a party. Woodward notes that on Feb 9, Fauci and Redfield gave a secret briefing to 25 state governors in which they sought to “scare the shit” out of their audience. Woodward wrote:

The coronavirus outbreak is going to get much, much worse before it gets better, Redfield warned. We have not even seen the beginning of the worst, Redfield said, letting his words sink in. There is no reason to believe that what’s happening in China is not going to happen here, he said. There were nearly 40k cases in China then, with more than 800 deaths, barely five weeks after announcing the first cases. I agree completely, Fauci told the governors. This is very serious business. You need to be prepared for problems in your cities and your states. Fauci could see the alarm on the governors’ faces. “I think we scared the shit out of them,” Fauci said after the meeting.

But the official press release painted a completely false picture, stating:

The panel reiterated that the risk to the American public remains low at this time.

The US media, with its myriad “anonymous sources” in the state intelligence agencies, failed to report on the briefing, and the NYT would not publish an editorial on the COVID-19 pandemic for more than two weeks afterward. In fact, there is a grisly continuity between the cover-up in the beginning of the year and the ongoing effort to abandon all efforts to contain the pandemic in the United States and throughout Europe. The sole concern of the world’s ruling classes was to use the pandemic as a pretext to carry out the transfer of trillions of dollars onto corporate balance sheets. Within days of the passage of the CARES act, the watchword, “the cure can’t be worse than the disease” was blazoned from the opinion pages of the NYT to Trump’s Twitter account, as part of a campaign to prematurely lift lockdowns.

The all-out effort to get workers back on the job, while the pandemic continues to rage, has now led to a massive resurgence of the pandemic, and countless deaths. From the standpoint of the ruling class, the pandemic now does more good than harm, killing the elderly and freeing up the money that would be used to care for those who can no longer generate profits. These policies have resulted in more than 200k dead in America, and over 1m dead throughout the world, and the lives of millions more are threatened. But amid this grim milestone, another social force is coming to the scene. Workers in over a dozen major workplaces throughout the United States and internationally have formed rank-and-file committees, independent of the corrupt trade unions, aiming to resist the efforts of corporations to cover up infections and destroy whatever safety protocols remain in effect. As they seek to combat the criminal policies of their employers, workers are placed in struggle against the entire capitalist social order. They must draw the conclusion that the struggle for the preservation of human life and the struggle against capitalism are one and the same fight.

Coronavirus surges across US Midwest
Bryan Dyne, WSWS, Sep 30 2020

A child receives a COVID-19 test

Wisconsin is emerging as one of the major hotspots for the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, with an average now of more than 2k new cases each day. This is more than double the rate of new cases during the first week of August and a sharp increase after the drop in new cases seen throughout that month. Similar increased trends have occurred in other states in the region. North and South Dakota collectively have more than 800 new cases each day, almost four times the daily case rate two months ago. Cases in Missouri spiked after its reopening in June and July, going from less than 200 cases a day to now more than 1.5k and the number of new cases in Illinois is now above 2k/day for the first time since late May. Nationally, there are on average more than 40k/day reported coronavirus cases, a value which was declining after its peak in July and now seems to have stabilized, adding to the nearly 7.4m total infections the US has so far suffered. And while daily deaths continue to decline, at least 750 die each day from the pandemic, a tally that now exceeds 210k lives lost. The pandemic is also moving away from major urban areas into smaller cities and towns. In Wisconsin, some of the most impacted areas are Green Bay and Fox Valley, where hospitals are nearing capacity. Moreover, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, new cases are not just being mostly reported among college-aged students as a consequence of reopening in-person instruction at universities across the country.

The spread at universities and the surrounding communities is especially damning in light of documents recently obtained by the NYT which show that Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, and Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, told the CDC to downplay the threat of the coronavirus to young people. In particular, White House staff repeatedly asked the CDC for reports cherry-picking data to show that cases among young people were going down. They also asked for “snazzy, easy-to-read” material showing that children and teenagers have the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates. No consideration was given to the numerous accounts of severe illness among children or their ability to spread the pandemic to others, much less the actual mortality rate itself. The NYT also reported that, just before the CDC issued guidance regarding school reopenings on Jul 23, numerous White House officials edited the document to include information the agency explicitly objected to in order to suggest that the coronavirus was less deadly to children than the seasonal flu. Now, middle-aged adults are dealing with the brunt of new infections, which was predicted by health experts who warned against campus reopenings during the summer. As colleges brought students back, the pandemic spread among them. As those students interact with the broader community, the pandemic spreads even further. It should be noted that while the percentage of young people reporting new infections has gone down in places like Green Bay and Fox Valley, this is largely because the number of new cases in this age group is staying constant, while the number of cases in older groups is going up.

Wisconsin also continues to report new deaths, the total of which now stands at 1,283. The number of people testing positive is also increasing across the Midwest. In seven states (Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin) at least 10% of those who get tested for the coronavirus test positive. In Wisconsin, the positivity rate is 18.7%, according to the website CovidExitStrategy.org. In Iowa, the positivity rate is 25.3%. In all of the aforementioned states, the positivity rate is increasing even as testing is also increasing, indicating that the pandemic is fully entrenched in these areas and spreading fast. The surge in cases where there are school and university openings is a national phenomenon. In NYC, where cases were suppressed after being the world epicenter of the pandemic in April, the daily positivity rate has now reached 3.25% for the first time since June, according to the WSJ. This is after a week of initial school reopenings and just as limited indoor dining is beginning.

Reopenings elsewhere are continuing apace. Florida Governor DeSantis ordered all restaurants in the state fully open and has threatened municipalities that attempt to make their own restrictions on businesses. DeSantis has been justifying his state’s reopening by noting that the number of new cases is relatively stable. Such arguments hide the reality that there are currently more than 2k new cases each day in the state, and that this is more than twice the new case rate before Florida’s large spike in new cases in June and July. Texas has followed an only slight less aggressive plan. With still more than 3k new cases each day, Governor Abott recently announced that most of the state’s restaurants, retail outlets and office buildings will be able to operate at 75% of normal capacity. This is, as in Florida, less restrictive than during the initial stages of the pandemic in March, while the state faces nearly four times as many daily new cases. Similar processes are happening in California, setting the stage for a resurgence of cases across the country. The coronavirus also continues to spread in various Native American communities. A two-week stay-at-home order was issued yesterday to the Blackfeet Reservation outside of Great Falls, Montana, after a spike in cases over the past two weeks has brought the total number of active cases on the reservation to 150. A variety of $500 fines have been imposed on anyone who violates the order or any of the social distancing guidelines set in place.

Desperation swells among millions of unemployed in the US as layoffs mount and aid dries up
Jacob Crosse, WSWS, Sep 30 2020

Over six months after pandemic-induced lockdowns went into effect in the US, before being quickly abandoned by Democratic and Republican governors at the insistence of Trump and the financial oligarchy, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression shows no signs of abating. While the Mar-Apr crescendo of job losses of over 11m has not been repeated, talks of a “V-shaped” recovery in the jobs market have been put to rest as ongoing layoffs in transportation, entertainment and hospitality sectors are adding tens of thousands more to the unemployment rolls every day. The Dept of Labor reports that 28.4m workers are currently receiving unemployment benefits or are waiting for approval. At the same time, small business owners who took advantage of loans offered through the Paycheck Protection Program as part of the $2.2t CARES Act, are teetering on the brink of collapse as Small Business Administration data revealed this week that less than one percent of the over 5.2m loans granted through the program have been turned into grants. Since the beginning of the pandemic, an estimated 100k small businesses have permanently closed, with many still on the hook for outstanding PPP loans. The combined economic squeeze on workers and small businesses has led to growing food insecurity and a rise in evictions. Despite the growing indicators of widespread social displacement, hunger, and mental anguish, including 40 states reporting an increase in opioid-related mortality, the US Congress, overwhelmingly comprised of millionaires, many of whom withheld information on the danger of the pandemic to increase their stock portfolios, continues to feign interest in a fifth coronavirus relief bill while accomplishing nothing.

The latest DOL report states that the US unemployment rate stands at 8.4%. However, economists estimate the number to be above 11%, due to the fact that millions of workers have given up on securing employment as demand for work outstrips available jobs, according to the DOL, with 2.5 workers per every one job for July, the last month data is available. Despite the coordinated abandonment of any health and safety guidelines as part of the ruling class’s homicidal “back to school” and “back to work” campaign, which has led to a resurgence of the coronavirus cases across the country, millions of people continue to stay at home and spend what little money they have on essentials. The reduction of travel and with it consumer spending, like all aspects of the pandemic, will be another burden the working class will be forced to shoulder. On Thursday, domestic airline carriers American, United and Delta are set to lay off up to 40k workers unless more government bailout funds are secured. As part of the CARES Act, the major airlines received $25b in government funding on the condition that they would not lay off workers prior to Oct 1. The reduction in travel is hitting entertainment sectors particularly hard. The unemployment rate in central Florida, already 15% in Osceola County and nearly 12% in Orange County, is expected to balloon once the data is released for the month of September following multiple large-scale layoff announcements from several major resorts.

On Tuesday, Disneyworld and Disneyland resorts announced 28k layoffs, affecting workers at the California, Florida, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong locations. Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro said in a statement that the “difficult decision” to eliminate thousands of jobs “will enable us to emerge a more effective and efficient operation when we return to normal.” D’Amaro estimated that “67%” of those laid off are part-time, meaning they will not be eligible for full unemployment benefits, which in Florida is capped at an insulting $275/wk for 12 weeks. The Swan and Dolphin hotels, which are located at Disney World in Orlando, but not owned by the company, also announced 1.1k layoffs at the beginning of September. Shortly thereafter, SeaWorld confirmed that it would be terminating 1.9k workers at its Orlando location, while Universal Orlando Resort also announced in September that it was extending furloughs for nearly 5.4k workers through “at least” the end of the year.

Audits conducted within the last month in California, Wisconsin, Florida and Nevada reveal dysfunctional call centers in which millions of calls from claimants went unanswered, with backlogs growing day after day. Laid-off workers report calling unemployment offices hundreds of times a day for weeks on end, only to be hung up on or, if they do get through, their issue is not resolved. In Florida, where last month Governor DeSantis admitted that the unemployment system was designed to pay out the “least number of claims,” claimants still report not receiving funds even after sending in the requisite documentation. As of Sep 18, more than 152k Floridians were waiting to be paid, according to the state’s own dashboard, while an estimated two thirds of the state’s unemployment funds have already been depleted, leaving many new applicants without access to funds without new legislation or until next year. DOL data for Florida shows that for the month of April only 36.44 percent of approved first unemployment payments were made within 14 to 21 days after the claim was approved. In May this decreased to 31.7%.

For those workers who have managed to get through annoying phone trees and have had their claims successfully processed, the expiration of state unemployment benefits, which is capped at 26 weeks a year in many states, combined with the ending of the Lost Wages Assistance Program (LWA), administered through FEMA, portends more hardship. While nearly every single US state and territory was approved for the $300 weekly payment meant to last six weeks, at least 15 states will end the program this week, or have already ended it, including: Arizona, California, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. Conversely, states such as Michigan that were approved weeks ago to begin distributing funds have yet to send funds to most of those who are eligible, while in Nevada, where the unemployment rate in Las Vegas is above 16%, Dept of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation Administrator Elisa Cafferata still does not expect LWA payments to begin depositing into workers accounts for at least “another four to five weeks.” DETR is currently in the process of phasing out a privately run call center, Alorica, which was awarded a $5m contract in April to assist with handling the deluge of unemployment claims. However, after months of complaints and a backlog of more than 80k unpaid valid claims since March, the state terminated the contract. Cafferata admitted that the department is still “chipping away at the backlog” and claiming to have resolved an estimated 18,161 claims in the last two months, leaving more than 60k waiting.

In Wisconsin, a recent analysis from the Legislative Audit Bureau found that fewer than 1% of calls directed to the Dept of Workforce Development unemployment call centers between Mar 15 and Jun 30 were answered. Approximately 93.3% or over 38m calls placed during that time period were blocked or callers received a busy signal, while roughly 6% of callers hung up before reaching someone, leaving only 0.5% of calls answered. Speaking to a local Fox affiliate, Kathleen Meachem of Appleton, Wisconsin explained the mind-numbing tedium of trying to get through the lines. Meachem said:

I would sit somedays and literally just hit repeat dial to unemployment. There were some days that I had 500 calls to them and was unable to get through.

Last month, Sharon Hillard, Employment Development Director for the state of California, told lawmakers that the state had a backlog of 1.6m claims, which Hilliard estimated would not be resolved “until Jan 2021.” The state is currently not accepting any more applications to address the backlog and to prevent what it says are “fraudulent claims.” As in Wisconsin and Nevada, long wait times and unanswered phone calls to EDD have left millions frustrated and without funds. In addition to long wait times, the state’s unemployment website itself was not optimized for mobile devices, forcing millions to access it on a desktop computer, something hard to come by for low-income workers, especially with the pandemic closing down public libraries. Speaking to the Sacramento Bee, Pearl Jow, a 53-year-old resident of Palm Desert, spoke on the hardships she faces, now that the state will be ending LWA payments next week for her and some 3.2m people who had been receiving payments. Jow lost her job at a logistics company at the start of the pandemic in March and has been receiving $110/wk in unemployment benefits. Bow wondered:

How am I supposed to cover basic bills on $110/wk? Literally, I’ve been living on oatmeal and peanut butter sandwiches. Congress act like they have all the time in the world. Twenty-four hours is a life-or-death situation, and no-one cares, and no-one is listening.

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