Author Archives: niqnaq

the pindo charnel house

Pindo coronavirus case count soars past 3 million
Bryan Dyne, WSWS, Jul 8 2020

There have been more than 1m new confirmed coronavirus cases in Pindostan in the past month, bringing the total to just under 3.1m. A further 20k human lives were lost during that time, bringing the official death toll to more than 133k, more than the total number of Pindo soldiers killed in WW1 and nearly three times the number of lives lost to the flu each year. Including the fatalities in Pindostan, there have been 544k deaths worldwide and more than 11.8m cases. Next to Pindostan, Brazil, India and Russia have the most cases, while Brazil, the UK, Italy and Mexico have the most deaths from the disease. Every day that the pandemic is not brought under control leaves at least another 4k people dead. WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at yesterday’s press briefing:

The outbreak is accelerating, and we have clearly not reached the peak of the pandemic. I will say it again. National unity and global solidarity are more important than ever to defeat a common enemy, a virus that has taken the world hostage. This is our only road out of this pandemic.

The WHO leader’s remarks contrasted sharply to the nationalist action by Trump, who yesterday formally issued notice to Congress that Pindostan is withdrawing from the WHO. According to a State Dept boxtop who spoke to CNN, the letter addressed to UN Sec-Gen António Guterres notes that the withdrawal will be effective on Jul 6 2021. When Trump first announced this move, it was decried by Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton as a “crime against humanity.” Trump is also pushing for a full reopening of in-person classes this fall. He tweeted Monday:

His hysterical comment was followed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who tweeted:

The Trump administration views sending students back to school as a necessary precondition for the next stage of the back-to-work campaign. Forcing workers back on the job despite the acute risk of infection and even death is essential for the extraction of surplus value and profit from the labor of workers to back up the trillions in debt piled up to bail out Wall Street. Trump’s policy would entail all 60m K-12 students returning to enclosed spaces for several hours each school day as the pandemic gains strength across the country, a recipe for giving the virus to every young person in the country. In that scenario, according to the existing data, some 0.06% of students would die, a total of 36k children. The rest would bring the disease back home, further spreading the contagion to untold millions of their older and more vulnerable parents and grandparents. The record number of cases and deaths being reported by various states underscores these mortal dangers. Arizona counted 117 deaths yesterday, 33% higher than the previous record set a week earlier. The state has had an average of more than 3k cases per day since Jun 28, and the overwhelmed health system has forced the state’s Dept of Health Services to draw up a “crisis of standards care” plan. Patients in Tucson are already being moved to Phoenix because of a lack of available beds. It is expected that Arizona’s medical facilities are only days away from being forced to determine who lives and who dies because of a lack of medical personnel and equipment.

One of the reasons for the pandemic spiraling out of control in the state is the lack of testing. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego has repeatedly asked for federal aid, including a FEMA mass-testing site, and has been told that the county’s case numbers, which are over 67k, are not high enough for that level of support. As a result, there are many testing sites in the city and around the country, such as the one at South Mountain Community College, where people are forced to wait in their cars for hours to get tested. Currently, a quarter of those who do eventually get tested are being told they have COVID-19, indicating essentially uncontrolled spread in the region. Arizona’s situation reaffirms the recent warning by the country’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, who stated “We are still knee deep in the first wave” of the pandemic. Fauci, who stressed that he was extremely concerned and that the situation was getting worse, was referring both to the record number of coronavirus cases and to the low rates of testing and high rates of hospitalization. Pindostan is currently testing about 0.5m people a day, about half of the 0.9m tests per day at minimum recommended by Ashish Jha, the director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute. This is the lowest number, Jha’s team estimated, required to find everyone who contracts the virus each day and confirm whether or not their contacts also caught the infection. Other public health experts have said that Pindostan needs to do up to 3m tests per day in order to truly know the full extent of the pandemic.

The situation as known is already dire. Nine states (New York, California, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Arizona and Georgia) report more than 100k total cases. Nine are currently reporting more than 1k new cases each day, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, California, North Carolina, Tennessee and Missouri. Only 10 states are reporting fewer than 100 daily cases. 22 states have seen an increase in hospitalizations over the past 14 days, including Arizona, California, Georgia, Florida and Texas. Despite such perils, states are continuing with their reopening plans or at most putting them on hold. One of the most significant reopenings will be the Walt Disney World theme parks in Orlando, Fl, and Anaheim, Cal, starting this weekend. While company and park officials insist that safety measures will be put in place, multiple petitions with tens of thousands of signatures, including those of theme park workers, have been circulated demanding that the parks remain closed to keep workers and guests safe. No section of the Pindo political or media establishment is calling for the shutdown of non-essential production and business to halt the explosive spread of the disease. The policy of “reopening” without adequate testing, contact-tracing and quarantining, that is the policy of “herd immunity,” is supported by both big business parties, the Demagogs no less than the Thugs.

Florida orders schools to reopen as COVID-19 cases surge
David Brown, WSWS, Jul 8 2020

On Monday, the Florida Dept of Education issued an emergency order requiring school districts to reopen all “brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students” in August in order to facilitate “a return to Florida hitting its full economic stride.” The order, which specifically complains that school closures “limit many parents and guardians from returning to work,” is part of the murderous back-to-work campaign that has led to a spike in COVID-19 cases across Florida and dozens of other states. The number of new cases in Florida has surged from an average of 700 each day at the beginning of June to a seven-day moving average of 8,587 daily cases on Jul 6. With the number of cases continuing to escalate, it is certain that COVID-19 will be present throughout the school system next month and face-to-face instruction would become a significant vector for further transmission. Teachers, including those nearing retirement or with health vulnerabilities, will almost certainly contract the deadly disease, while countless students will bring it home to their parents and grandparents. The order immediately sparked outrage and protests from teachers and parents across the state. Teachers in Orange County, which includes Orlando, organized a protest caravan that blocked traffic. On Facebook, an Orange County teacher, Mia, wrote:

We, the People, can’t let the Governor and the head of the DOE make these decisions without the input of the Teachers. We’re the ones risking our lives. We need to make our voices heard and stand together. This is literally life and death.

A parent, Angela, added:

I’m a Mom and at risk due to an autoimmune issue. Why for political reasons am I being forced to expose my child, her teachers, our families and communities to a virus that is not under control. Hell No! We won’t go!

The Florida order comes as part of a nationwide push to end lockdown measures, “reopen” the economy and force workers into unsafe conditions. The same day as the Florida order, Trump tweeted:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos repeated in a tweet:

Schools across the country, in many cases under pressure from teachers and parents, shut down in-person instruction in March in order to slow the spread of the pandemic. School districts have struggled to come up with any effective plans to reopen schools under conditions where state and federal governments have rejected efforts to contain the virus and pursued a policy of mass infection. During the nearly four months since Florida schools were closed—when there were only 217 confirmed cases acknowledged in the state—no effective measures were implemented to contain or mitigate the disease, such as contact tracing. Now that there are 1k times as many confirmed cases in the state, they are trying to open up schools. In early May, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis rushed to reopen the economy even as his administration was deliberately undercounting the number of COVID-19 deaths and infections. This included firing a state employee in charge of Florida’s coronavirus database after she refused to manipulate the data to justify the governor’s back-to-work order.

The Trump administration and Governor DeSantis are so adamant about getting children physically into school regardless of health cost or educational value, because they need schools as day care centers in order to push parents back to work. Safer, more effective distance learning would require that families take care of children during the day. The conditions of schools make it effectively impossible to safely have in-person instruction when there is community transmission. Outside of prisons and meatpacking and other industrial facilities there are few environments that squeeze people into such close contact throughout the day as a school. Underfunded districts cram over 30 students into classrooms, making any pretense of social distancing absurd. A high school English or math classroom can easily have over 100 students cycle through during the day. Cafeterias and playgrounds see almost continuous use and cannot be feasibly cleaned between classes. Proposed measures to minimize transmission at schools are either unworkable or undercut the academic advantages of in-person instruction. Mandatory masks, as proposed in Lake County, cannot prevent transmission in an environment where children eat and play. Daily temperature checks, as suggested in Orange, Osceola and Polk Counties, won’t catch pre-symptomatic students.

Many districts in Florida and across the country have proposed a complicated hybrid model of online teaching with occasional weekly face-to-face instruction to minimize student time on campus. Every proposal made runs into hard limits stemming from decades of underfunding the public education system. There are not enough teachers to adapt and implement the curriculum to small, socially distanced classrooms. There are not enough facilities to handle the student body. There are not enough janitors and facilities staff to disinfect facilities. In January, thousands of teachers rallied for more funding at the state capital in Tallahassee. Per student funding in Florida has dropped when adjusted for inflation by $1k since the 2008 economic crisis. The recently passed state budget only makes the deficit worse. DeSantis has repeatedly stated that school districts have plenty of money and praised the insulting $40 rise in per student funding in this year’s budget. The very same budget has shifted $233 in pension costs from the state to the districts and cut $134.6m in school recognition funds (rewards for meeting “student performance” targets). Adding it all together makes a net cut of $90 per student.

The Florida order cynically claims that schools must reopen because the “nutrition, socialization, counseling, and extra-curricular activities” they provide “are critical to the well-being of students and families.” The politicians, having created a health and social crisis, are now insisting that teachers risk their lives and those of their students to address these massive social problems, and to do so with a smaller budget! The resources exist in society, not just to contain the pandemic but also to revitalize public education. When the pandemic initially sent the stock market into a tailspin, the CARES Act was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support to funnel trillions of dollars into the banks and corporations to prop up the stock market. The program worked and Pindo billionaires increased their wealth by $584b, up 19%, since the market hit its low point near the beginning of the pandemic. At the same time millions of workers lost their jobs and states across the country are facing a $230b public education budget shortfall.

Before the pandemic, more than 700k teachers and other educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, LA, Oakland, Chicago and other locations engaged in strikes and mass protests over austerity and inequality in 2018-19. Many of the struggles were launched in opposition to the unions, which have colluded with the Demagogs & Thugs in decades of budget-cutting and school privatization. These initial battles, however, were betrayed by the National Education Association and the Pindo Federation of Teachers, which blocked a nationwide strike by educators and accepted the austerity demands by the Demagogs & Thugs. The growth of opposition and the political radicalization of teachers expressed in these struggles, however, will only intensify as the corporate-controlled parties try to force educators back into unsafe classrooms and accept massive austerity measures after handing trillions to Wall Street. To oppose the rush to reopen the schools, teachers need new organizations of struggle, which are independent of the NEA and AFT. Educators should follow the lead of autoworkers in Michigan, who have formed rank-and-file safety committees to oversee the health and safety of workers and shutdown production when working conditions are not safe. This must be combined with a political struggle against Trump, Biden and all the capitalist politicians, and for a socialist program, including a radical redistribution of wealth to meet society’s needs.

Billionaires & politicians cash in on “small business” loan program
Jacob Crosse, WSWS, Jul 8 2020

After resisting lawsuits by 11 media organizations, including the WaPo, ProPublica and the NYT, the Treasury and Small Business Administration (SBA) on Monday released an 18-page report providing information on the 660k recipients of over $521.5b in funds distributed through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). In a statement announcing the release of the data, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin commented:

Today’s release of loan data strikes the appropriate balance of providing the Pindo sheeple with transparency, while protecting sensitive payroll and personal income information of small businesses, sole proprietors, and independent contractors.

The limited “transparency” gives some insight into the grotesque levels of corruption and self-dealing carried out by politicians, corporate heads and well-connected individuals who took advantage of the program, which was presented as a lifeline to small businesses and employees hit by the COVID-19 lockdown. Among the Congress critturs linked to businesses that received low interest, forgivable loans was Nancy Pelosi, the Demagog speaker of the House.

While it is true that thousands of businesses have been able to make use of the loan program to stay afloat, a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 3.3m, or nearly 22%, of small businesses closed their doors permanently between February and April of this year. The SBA report claimed that the program “saved” an estimated 51m jobs. Under the PPP, loans can be turned into grants if more than 60% of the loan is used for payroll. What Mnuchin neglected to mention at his Monday press conference is that nearly 90k companies either left the job retention question on the loan application blank or reported retaining zero jobs in the dataset. Trump signed a bill on Saturday extending until Aug 8 the corporate-government slush fund, with an estimated $132b left in its coffers, after the House and Senate voted unanimously for the extension. The day before, Congress adjourned until Jul 20 without taking any action to extend the federal $600 weekly unemployment supplement, which has kept millions of workers and their families in their homes and able to afford basic necessities and is set to expire on Jul 25.

The PPP was established as part of the $2.2t Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. That legislation, which was passed unanimously in the Senate and by a near-majority voice vote in the House, launched the program, which got underway in early April with $349b in funding. These funds were depleted in less than two weeks, and Congress moved quickly to approve another $310b in funding, despite widespread reports of abuse and fraud. In the first round of the program, sports teams, restaurant and hotel chains and other billion-dollar businesses collected millions of dollars in loans, while small “mom and pop” businesses were frozen out. Wall Street banks such as J P Morgan Chase and Bank of America took in billions in loan processing fees. The SBA and Treasury information released by Mnuchin on Monday includes the names of all the organizations that received PPP loans of $150k or more, as well as some data, but not the names, of those that received less than $150k. Mnuchin attempted to shield the fact that nearly three-fourths of the total loan dollars went to companies and businesses requesting more than $150k. He said:

The average loan size is approximately $100k, demonstrating that the program is serving the smallest of businesses.

The SBA report notes that the average loan amount was $107k. The release of the report revealed that of the 4,885,388 loans approved, 86.5% were for less than $150k. However, those loans accounted for only 27.2% of the money distributed. An AP report concluded that nearly half of all PPP support for major industries was utilized by the health-care, professional, construction and manufacturing sectors. Four states, California, Texas, New York and Florida, accounted for one-third of all loans approved.

A large majority of the loans approved, 3,262,529, or roughly 66.8%, were for under $50k, yet they made up only 11.2% of the total dollar amount. The distribution was geared toward large borrowers, with nearly 22% of the loan amount issued to borrowers requesting between $350k and $1m. And while loans between $1m and $5m made up only 1.6% of the total, they accounted for 28.3% of the total dollar amount. Multimillionaires, businesses connected to the Trump family, governors of at least eight states as well as members of Congress from both parties received loans anywhere from $150k to $10m. Political organizations such as the Ohio Democratic Party and the Black Republican Caucus in Florida got at least $150,000 each, while the Florida Demagog Party Building Fund and the Women’s National Thug Club of New York received at least $350k. The Ayn Rand Institute, named for the libertarian arch-reactionary, was approved for a PPP loan between $350k and $1m. The Catholic Church also got in on the action, with the Archdiocese of New York receiving a loan between $5m and $10m. Catholic charities of the archdioceses of San Francisco, Faschingstein, New York and Boston all received loans valued at more than $2m. The AP reported that as much as $273m was loaned out to over 100 companies that are owned or operated by donors to the Trump campaign. Of the businesses approved, only eight had to wait until early May, after the second round of funding was approved by Congress, to receive their loans. Trump supporters who run these companies have contributed at least $11.1m since May 2015 to Trump’s campaign committee, the RNC or the Pindostan First Action Super-PAC that has been endorsed by Trump.

A Forbes report found that at least 44 companies backed by 15 billionaires received loans. This includes billionaire clothes designer, potential presidential candidate and rapper Kanye West and Hobby Lobby founder David Green, worth an estimated $7.9b. Green’s son chairs the board of the Faschingstein-based museum known as “The Museum of the Bible,” which received a PPP loan of between $2m and $5m supposedly to retain 249 jobs. The richest person in the state of West Virginia, Governor Jim Justice, with a reported net worth of $1.2b, also made generous use of the program. Companies owned by the Justice family received at least $11.1m from the federal relief program. Of those companies, four, including the inherited luxury resort Greenbrier Hotel and coal companies such as Blackstone Energy, Bluestone Coke and Justice Energy took out millions in loans yet reported retaining zero jobs. The largest loan in the state, between $5 million and $10 million, went to Justice’s luxury membership club, the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, while Justice’s Greenbrier Sporting Club took out a loan worth between $1m and $2m, while reportedly retaining only 120 jobs. In addition to Justice, businesses linked to Thug governors Mike DeWine of Ohio, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Larry Hogan of Maryland and Tate Reeves of Mississippi received loans. Businesses tied to Demagog governors Phil Murphy of New Jersey, Gavin Newsom of California and Ralph Northam of Virginia also received loans. Monday’s report also revealed that Thug Reps Kevin Hern and Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, and Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania were loan recipients. Demagog House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul was also on the gravy train. Paul Pelosi is an investor in the firm EDI Associates, which received a loan of between $350k and $1m. Previous disclosures had revealed that Thug Reps Roger Williams of Texas and Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, as well as Demagog Reps Susie Lee of Nevada and Debbie Mucarsel Powell of Florida, were connected to businesses that received PPP loans.

NYC Demagogs ensure budget protects NYPD and guts social services
Sam Dalton, WSWS, Jul 8 2020

On Monday, NYC’s “progressive” mayor Bill de Blasio and the Demagog Party-controlled City Council announced the final figures for the huge cutbacks in next year’s city budget. The justification for the latest set of austerity measures was the economic devastation caused by the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, which has left the city with a spending deficit of $9b for FY 2020-21. The budget was passed by the 51 members of the city’s Council, 48 of whom are Demagogs, by a vote of 32 to 17. The new budget marks an escalation of the years-long cutbacks to social welfare and cultural services, overseen by local Democratic and Republican politicians alike. To placate anti-police violence protesters, the budget includes a highly-publicized $1b “cut” to the NYPD. Far from acceding to the calls to abolish or defund the NYPD that dominated the anti-police violence protests that rocked the city in June, however, the $1b figure is a fabrication.

At least $350m in “savings” were proposed through the transfer of School Safety Agents, poorly paid and unarmed security guards who work inside public school buildings, and school crossing guards from their current status under the NYPD to the Dept of Education. Documents released last Thursday show that even this accounting trick was a gimmick, with Safety Agents remaining under the jurisdiction of the NYPD. Another $350m is to be cut from the police budget by reductions in overtime. The NYPD has not stated how these reductions will be enforced. In the past, city agencies that have been instructed to cut overtime have ended up paying it out in full regardless. The only tangible cuts to the police budget are the cancellation of Jul 2020’s academy class, which will save $55m, and delaying a new delivery of fleet vehicles, which will save $5m. The cut of 1.2k new officers will only undo an increase to police numbers sanctioned by Mayor de Blasio in 2015. The NYPD will continue to maintain a force of 34k officers. Whether even these minimal cuts take place remains to be seen. While the NYPD budget has barely been touched, NYC’s social services, already in a decrepit state from years of austerity, face further crippling cuts. These come at a time when workers in NYC have filed 1.4m new claims for unemployment benefits since the pandemic began in March. The cuts include:

  • Social Services: $1.1b will be cut from the Dept of Social Services, which supplies services such as emergency rental assistance, SNAP benefits and other food assistance to workers.
  • Housing: The budget deal cut $1.04b from the capital budget for the city Dept of Housing Preservation and Development for FY 2020-2021. The 40% reduction shrinks the agency’s funding this year and next from $2.68b in the pre-COVID budget plan to $1.64b in the current one. This will have a huge effect on the city’s homeless and temporarily housed, who number in the hundreds of thousands. A $127m federal grant for COVID-19 outbreaks in homeless shelters is being classified as a savings, as it will be used to offset regular operating costs.
  • Arts and Culture: The Dept of Cultural Affairs had its budget cut 11%, from $212m to $189m. This includes cuts to arts instruction in schools, museums and after-school programs, cultural initiatives for immigrants and theatre programs. The Brooklyn, New York, Queens and Central Research libraries will suffer budget cuts totaling almost $5m.
  • Education: Following through on proposed cuts of $827m to education over the next four years, the new budget slashed $773m from the city’s Dept of Education budget for 2021. It is currently unclear how the additional $350m expense from the transfer of school safety officers to the DOE will affect school budgets. In anticipation of its loss of $112m, CUNY announced last week that it was laying off thousands of adjunct professors.
  • Transit: $65m is being cut from the Fair Fares program, which subsidizes mass transit for low-income New Yorkers. This program serves over 190k of the city’s poorest workers, who rely on the transit system for their livelihoods. The city has also reiterated its refusal to provide additional funding to the MTA, which faces an acute financial crisis of its own.
  • Jobs: The budget includes $1b in labor savings; it is unclear exactly how this will be achieved. A major component will be job cuts. De Blasio has already warned that without further federal assistance at least 22k municipal employees will be fired on Oct 1. The city is now negotiating these cuts with the unions, on whom they will depend to suppress any opposition to lay-offs among city workers.
  • Sanitation: Over $100m will be cut from the Sanitation Dept’s budget. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, this will undermine composting initiatives for organic waste and overburden garbage transfer stations, which are in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Even with wholesale attacks to social programs and municipal jobs, questions are already being raised over whether the cuts will meaningfully alleviate the city’s acute financial crisis. The Demagog speaker of the City Council, Corey Johnson, defended the new budget as a “hard-fought battle.” Parodying his own betrayal of his constituents, he claimed it shows that the Council is focused “on achieving equity, particularly for low-income communities of color.” Furthermore, Johnson stated that the Council is “proud of the work we did to save the types of programs and initiatives we need to rebuild after COVID-19,” acting as if the rapidly accelerating coronavirus is no longer a deadly threat to millions of New Yorkers.

Some voices from within the city’s Demagog establishment voiced token opposition to the budget. Citing a failure to enforce a full NYPD hiring freeze and a commitment to school safety reform, NYC Public Advocate Jumaane D Williams threatened to invoke a clause in the NYC charter that would prevent the execution of the budget. This is a hollow threat without legal standing, however. Soon after Williams announced his intention, NYU Law Professor Roderick Hills described the Advocate’s interpretation of the charter as “completely absurd.” Others around the Demagog Party who have criticized the budget have done so along purely racial lines. The campaign group Justice Committee said that de Blasio and Johnson’s budget has “demonstrated that they don’t value Black and Brown lives.” While it is true that many black and Hispanic individuals and families will be devastated by the new cuts, it is the working class that is being targeted.

The duplicitous role of the Demagog Party-dominated City Council is exemplified by the fact that not one of its membes has called for a wealth tax on the city’s superrich or even drawn attention to the vast resources of the billionaires. According to Forbes, in New York state alone there are 118 billionaires, with a combined wealth of over $521.5b. The claim that there is no money to fund vital programs for the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society is not only absurd, it is criminal. The failure to even make such calls reflects the rightward shift of the NYC Demagog establishment in recent years. In 2013, during his mayoral campaign de Blasio called for a wealth tax to cover the costs of expanding child daycare in the city. Earlier in the year, legislators in Queens and a state coalition of unions both made hollow calls for a wealth tax. Such calls, following years of complicity in cuts by these forces and the fact such proposals are made with the knowledge that they will be not even be considered by their bosses in the Demagog Party hierarchy, are worse than cynical.

It is noteworthy that one of the most prominent NYC politicians on the national scene and a member of the pseudo-left Democratic Socialists of America, Demagog Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said nothing about taxing the billionaires, but instead squabbled with de Blasio about how much is actually being cut from the NYPD budget. NY state’s debt stands at nearly $92b and NYC’s at over $120b, by far the largest of any major Pindo city. In early June, the NYT editorial board warned of a return to the city’s near-insolvency of the 1970s. Reflecting the mood of the city’s ruling class, it called for more cuts, writing:

Before yoking New Yorkers (the superrich) with even a fraction of this burden, the mayor needs to get serious about belt-tightening.

As far as the ruling class and its political and media representatives are concerned, it is the city’s working class who must be made to pay. The most recent budget is yet another wholesale assault on the living standards and social rights of working people in NYC. It has been drawn up and forced through by the corporate-owned Demagog Party. Furthermore, despite overwhelming popular hostility to the NYPD, the Council’s refusal to impose any substantive cuts in the police budget reflects its unwavering commitment to the protection of the wealth and power of the capitalist class.

south china sea

Pindo war drive against China accelerates
Peter Symonds, WSWS, Jul 8 2020

The presence of two Pindo aircraft carrier strike groups in the South China Sea conducting “high end” war games starting Saturday involving round-the-clock aircraft launches is just the most graphic demonstration to date of the Trump administration’s accelerating preparations for war against China. The fact that the two-carrier operations were timed to coincide with Chinese naval exercises in the same strategic waters makes them all the more provocative and dangerous. The global COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically exacerbated the crisis of global capitalism, centered in Pindostan, and all of its fundamental contradictions, leading to a further rapid rise of geopolitical tensions. Confronting a deep social and economic crisis at home, with growing opposition in the working class to the reckless back-to-work drive, the Trump administration is seeking to divert social tensions outward at an external enemy. Trump, backed by the Democrats and the media establishment, is seeking to whip up a climate of war fever through a relentless campaign of anti-China propaganda based on lies and disinformation. Without a shred of evidence, major boxtops routinely blame China for the coronavirus pandemic and the huge Pindo death toll for which the White House is directly responsible through its criminal negligence and indifference.

The anti-China campaign goes across the board. Pindostan has ramped up its denunciations of Beijing over “human rights” abuses in Hong Kong and of the Muslim Uyghur minority in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Punitive Pindo sanctions have already been imposed over these issues. The Trump administration’s rank hypocrisy is underscored by its push for the military and National Guard to be deployed, in breach of the Pindo Constitution, to violently suppress protests against police killings in Pindostan. Once again, as with its criminal wars in the Middle East, Faschingstein is seeking to exploit “human rights” to pursue economic warfare and a massive military build-up against China. The COVID-19 pandemic is not the root cause of the Pindo war drive, but it is rather the accelerant of long-standing processes. The Obama administration announced its “pivot to Asia” in 2011 directed against China, involving an aggressive diplomatic offensive to undermine Chinese influence throughout the Indo-Pacific and the world, the isolation of China through the Trans Pacific Partnership and a build-up and restructuring of the Pindo military presence throughout the region. Obama recklessly inflamed dangerous regional flashpoints, including the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula.

The Trump administration has intensified the drive to war against China. While he abandoned the TPP, Trump launched a full-scale economic war against China, imposing a raft of punitive tariffs on virtually all Chinese goods, most of which remain in place, and demanding not only greater Pindo exports and investment into China, but its subordination to Pindostan in hi-tech industries. Trump’s economic nationalism and insistence that supply chains, especially those crucial for the military, have to be Pindostan-based are nothing less than the economic preparation for war. On the pretext of protecting American intellectual property and preventing Chinese spying, Faschingstein has targeted the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei. It has pressured allies such as Britain not to use Huawei equipment and threatened sanctions on firms supplying Huawei with key components. While Pindostan makes unsubstantiated allegations of Chinese spying and hacking, its own intelligence agencies like the NSA, as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, spy on the world’s population, including its own citizens, on an industrial scale.

The Trump administration has also targeted Chinese students and researchers in Pindostan, imposing tough entry restrictions and now threatening to deport thousands of students if they are only enrolled in on-line college courses due to COVID-19 measures. The White House is widening its restrictions on Chinese media operating in Pindostan, with another four organisations last month being designated as “foreign missions.” The military preparations for war are also proceeding apace. Obama set the target of 2020 for the redeployment of 60% of Pindo warships and warplanes to the Indo-Pacific. Under Trump, the Pentagon announced in 2018 that great power competition, not the “war on terror,” was its top priority, with Russia and China identified as its chief rivals. The focus on China reflects the view in American strategic circles that China’s extraordinary economic expansion represents the chief threat to the continued global dominance of Pindo imperialism. In preparation for military conflict, Pindostan has been strengthening military alliances and strategic partnerships throughout the Indo-Pacific, in particular, the so-called “Quad,” involving Japan, Australia and India. The reckless character of the Pindo anti-China campaign is nowhere clearer than in its encouragement of India in recent military clashes with China over disputed borders. In this dangerous stand-off between nuclear armed powers, Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows sided unequivocally with India in comments on Monday, declaring:

We’re not going to stand by and let China or anyone else take the reins in terms of being the most powerful, dominant force, whether it’s in that region or over here.

All the preparations for a Pindo war against China, which would rapidly escalate into a catastrophic conflict involving the whole world, are very advanced. Any number of flashpoints, whether in the South China Sea or on the Indian borders with China, could lead to an incident, whether accidental or deliberate, that would provide a casus belli for a POTUS under siege at home. The only social force capable of halting the precipitous plunge towards world war is the international working class. In 2016, the IC4I issued a statement entitled, “Socialism and the Fight against War” calling for the building of a unified antiwar movement of workers and youth around the globe. The dangers identified in that statement have only become more acute in the past four years and thus the urgency of constructing such a movement. The statement outlined the fundamental principles that must form the political basis for uniting the working class against war:

  • The struggle against war must be based on the working class, the great revolutionary force in society, uniting behind it all progressive elements in the population.
  • The new antiwar movement must be anticapitalist and socialist, since there can be no serious struggle against war except in the fight to end the dictatorship of finance capital and put an end to the economic system that is the fundamental cause of militarism and war.
  • The new antiwar movement must therefore, of necessity, be completely and unequivocally independent of, and hostile to, all political parties and organizations of the capitalist class.
  • The new antiwar movement must, above all, be international, mobilizing the vast power of the working class in a unified global struggle against imperialism.

That is the task to which workers and young people today should turn to ensure the future of humanity.

pindos fuck off

The Afghanistan Debacle
Brian Cloughley, Strategic Culture, Jul 7 2020

Since 1897, the NYT has carried the slogan “All the News That’s Fit to Print”, and generally speaking that was appropriate over the years, save for a few times such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when it conveyed blatant bias in favour of the war and published what the appalling Trump would call “fake news.” A year after the invasion, the NYT issued a half-hearted apology for its irresponsible journalistic fandangos which were intended to encourage the Pindo public to support Washington’s war that destroyed countless lives and reduced the Middle East to chaos. In the end, the main reporter involved, a repulsive charlatan called Judith Miller, was forced to leave the newspaper (with a generous severance packet) after she had spent time in jail for having refused to divulge the name of yet another “source” for her information. One of the intriguing things about the NYT’s lame apology is that it referred to a report that said this:

A scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq’s chemical weapons program for more than a decade has told an American military team that Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days before the war began.

The NYT belatedly admitted that it “never followed up on the veracity of this source or the attempts to verify his claims.” And it seems that the NYT continues to be reluctant to follow up on the reliability of some of its sources, because the latest Iraq-style scoop is an unverifiable ‘source-based’ story claiming that Russia paid the Taliban to kill Pindo soldiers in Afghanistan. The NYT refers relentlessly to “officials” as the sources of this extremely sensitive allegation, without the slightest intention of providing names or any sort of corroborative detail. There is not a shred of evidence supporting these explosive accusations because all the “information” comes from these ever-ready intelligence sources who feed attractively contrived drivel to willing patsies. As Ray McGovern put it:

The NYT’s dubious allegations grabbed headlines across all media that are likely to remain indelible in the minds of credulous Pindos, which seems to have been the main objective.

It certainly was, and although a multitude of independent observers have shredded the story, it was regrettable that the Times didn’t see fit to print the news that the Pentagon would not endorse it. On Jun 29, the chief Pentagon spox stated:

To date, DOD has no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations found in open-source reports.

It is interesting that the NYT story broke just five days after the Afghan NSC spox tweeted:

He didn’t mention the fact that 148 civilians had been killed and, bizarrely, it was the NYT that recorded this, in its excellent “War Casualty Report” which appears in its magazine section each week. It was not stated how many of these civilians had been killed by government forces’ airstrikes, door-crashing home assaults or erratic mortar fire, but the UN’s Assistance Mission in Afghanistan noted:

Civilian casualties attributed to the ANSF for Apr 2020 numbered 172 civilians, an increase of 38% compared to Apr 2019 and 37% higher than Mar 2020.

Afghanistan’s security forces, its army, police, air force and swaggering special forces, are poorly trained and their motivation is open to question. The numerical strength of these services is not divulged, and in 2018 Reuters reported:

The Pentagon has restricted the release of critical information on the progress being made in the war in Afghanistan, a move that will limit transparency, the government’s top watchdog on Afghanistan said on Monday.

Suppression of bad or inconvenient news is a well-tried tactic in the propaganda playlist, and as observed by John Sopko, the Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, SIGAR, “the Pindo sheeple have constantly been lied to” regarding the conflict in Afghanistan. In the years of war, $18.8b have been poured in to Afghanistan in aid and it has almost all been wasted, notably the vast sums that have been used to purchase luxury mansions, apartments and waterside villas in Dubai and many other sinks for corruption cash. And the situation on the ground in war-torn Afghanistan is desperate, with the CFR recording on Jul 1:

According to official Pindo government estimates of 2019, only 53.8% of Afghan districts under government control or influence, 33.9% contested, and the remaining 12.3% under the control or influence of the Taliban. The ANDSF continue to suffer heavy casualties and, while actual figures have now been classified by the Pindo military, senior Afghan boxtops estimate that for several months in 2018 as many as 30 to 40 ANDSF personnel were killed every day.

The government in Kabul is incompetent and incapable of directing affairs throughout the country, as was publicly stated by Pompeo after he visited Kabul in Mar 2020. He harshly censured President Ghani and his power-sharing rival Abdullah Abdullah, saying:

Pindostan is disappointed in them and what their conduct means for Afghanistan and our shared interests. Their failure has harmed Pindo-Afghan relations and sadly dishonours those Afghan, Pindo and Coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure in the struggle to build a new future for this country. Because this leadership failure poses a direct threat to Pindo national interests, effective immediately, the Pindo government will initiate a review of the scope of our cooperation with Afghanistan.

It is extremely irresponsible for the senior foreign affairs representative of any nation to openly criticise the leaders of a supposedly allied country that is engaged in a civil war, because the opponents of the established government will be given the most massive boost in propaganda terms. There are no reports on how the Taliban viewed Pompeo’s monstrous blunder, but it was abundant confirmation for them that those purporting to lead Afghanistan had failed. Not only that, but it was said that the president was actually posing a threat to the blustering ally that had invaded their country almost twenty years ago. It would be most surprising if the Taliban were not making maximum propaganda use of this absurd bloomer. Of equal importance, it is obvious that Pompeo and all the other arrogant amateurs in Faschingstein have totally wrecked Pindo-Afghan relations and destroyed any shreds of trust in Pindostan that may have been lingering in the Kabul government. An investigation by the WaPo in 2019 disclosed:

Senior Pindo boxtops failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

Given the combination of Faschingstein’s deceit and insult, together with Kabul’s rampant corruption, its inability to govern in much of the country, and general incompetence, the picture is one of a disaster, a debacle of colossal proportions. Faschingstein should cease feeding the NYT and others with fatuous tales about supposed plots involving bonuses for bodies and simply cut its (gargantuan) losses and get out now.

Pentagon blocks release of key data on Afghan war: inspector
Idris Ali, Reuters, Jul 2018

FASCHINGSTEIN – The Pentagon has restricted the release of critical information on the progress being made in the war in Afghanistan, a move that will limit transparency, the government inspector on Afghanistan said on Monday. For years, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, has published a quarterly report that includes unclassified data on the amount of territory controlled or influenced by the Taliban and the government. In a report published late on Monday, SIGAR said it was told not to release that information. The military also classified, for the first time since 2009, the actual and authorized total troop numbers and attrition rate for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, or ANDSF. John Sopko, who leads the independent watchdog office, told Reuters in an interview:

The implication is that I think the average Pindo who reads our reports or reads your press accounts of it, has no meaningful ability to analyze how his money or her money is being spent on Afghanistan.

The Pentagon sought to deflect blame for the decision, the latest move to limit the amount of publicly available information about the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, Pindostan’s longest. It said in a statement that the DoD did not tell SIGAR to withhold the data, but rather it was the NATO-led Resolute Support coalition that made the determination. It added that the Pentagon did not have the authority to overrule the classification made by Resolute Support, which is led by Pindo Gen J Nicholson. Lt-Col Michael Andrews said:

The DoD continues to work with SIGAR, Pindo Forces Afghanistan, and NATO Resolute Support to resolve concerns about restrictions on information that was previously unclassified.

Former boxtops and experts said that regardless of who restricted the information, it was particularly worrying because Afghan and Pindo boxtops had publicly set a benchmark it would now be difficult to measure. The Pindo commander in Afghanistan set a goal in November of driving back Taliban insurgents enough to control at least 80% of the country within two years. In its most recent report, SIGAR said that 43% of Afghanistan’s districts were either under Taliban control or being contested. Sopko said people would to jump to the conclusion that information was being withheld because progress was not being made, which may not be the case. A similar accusation was made during the Vietnam War, which later proved true. Sopko said:

In essence, you can ask me almost any question and I will have to say, it is classified or non-releasable, I mean you go down the list, it is just amazing.

He added that the DoD did not give him any reasons for the move. The move by the Pentagon comes amid a spate of violence in Afghanistan over the past nine days that is putting a new, more aggressive strategy under the spotlight. An ambulance bomb in the city center killed more than 100 people, just over a week after an attack on the Hotel Intercontinental, also in Kabul, killed more than 20, including four Pindo citizens. Trump has committed an additional 3k Pindo troops to Afghanistan in recent weeks, bringing the total number of Pindo troops in Afghanistan to about 14k. Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson Center said it made little sense to block the information. Kugelman said:

It’s not fair to the Pindo sheeple, to Pindo troops and I would think it’s pretty hard to justify doing something like this.

It is not the first time data has been withheld on the Afghan war. Last year, Pindo forces in Afghanistan restricted the amount of data it provided on the ANDSF, including casualties, personnel strength and attrition rates, data that has now been completely withheld. The Pindo military said at the time the data belonged to the Afghan government, which did not want it released. A former Pindo boxtop, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was pressure on the Pindo military to achieve success that could create a risk about not being fully open with the facts. The former boxtop said:

We’re going in a direction of hiding facts and shading and shaping facts in reaction to a lot of pressure to show fast results.

black agenda report

The Struggle to Abolish the Police is Not New
Garrett Felber, Black Agenda Report, Jul 7 2020

As protesters demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and Ahmaud Arbery, calls for police and prison abolition have gained unprecedented traction. A majority of the Minneapolis city council pledged to disband a police department it said “cannot be reformed,” the public school system in Portland canceled its $1.6m contract for “school resource officers,” and LA has reallocated $150m from the police budget to communities of color. Both critics of abolition and recent converts often frame it as a radical new concept. This can have the effect, intended or not, of making it seem idealistic, naïve or undertheorized. But while the mainstream prominence of abolition may be new, the premise is not. Indeed, the struggle against mass criminalization—sometimes characterized as the “civil rights movement of our time” to combat a system described by some as the “new Jim Crow,” was a crucial feature of the movement to end the original Jim Crow. Struggles for black freedom have always had to contend with prisons and police as the enforcement arm of the racial capitalist state. However, many people remain unclear about how the movements to abolish prisons and abolish police connect to each other, exacerbating the feeling that the movement to abolish police lacks a history. But the movement to abolish prisons has always understood that doing so would necessarily entail an end to policing. Without police, there would be no one to fill prisons and jails. Without prison and jails, the police could not serve their current purpose. Put most simply, the two are locked in a mutually dependent relationship: to serve capital, and protect themselves . Historic movements to abolish prisons called for an entirely different social and economic order in which prisons and police would not exist. Considering how prison abolition was woven into the last century’s civil rights movement can help us better understand how to build on those successes in framing our own demands.

In Apr 1947, 9 men with suitcases in one hand and overcoats in the other posed briefly for a photograph in Richmond, Virginia, before embarking on a 2-week racial desegregation campaign in the South known as the Journey of Reconciliation . The men comprised an interracial group, 8 black and 8 white. (Women were originally set to participate but ultimately prohibited to avoid evoking fears of interracial sex.) Their aim was to test the effectiveness of a recent Supreme Court ruling, Morgan v Virginia (1946), which overturned state laws forbidding interstate travel by integrated groups. The Journey of Reconciliation is sometimes remembered as the “first Freedom Ride,” inspiration to the better-known busloads of student activists who in 1961 set out from Faschingstein with the goal of driving to New Orleans and were repeatedly attacked and imprisoned along the way. By the Journey of Reconciliation’s end, the men had attempted to board 26 buses and trains. A total of 12 were arrested on 6 different occasions, and 3 ultimately served 22-day sentences on a North Carolina chain gang. James Peck, the sole participant in both the 1947 and 1961 rides, was brutally beaten during both. Rarely noted is the fact that, of the Journey of Reconciliation’s participants, 8 were formerly-incarcerated conscientious objectors and part of a growing network of prison abolitionists. For example, Bayard Rustin, a young gay socialist who would go on to help organize Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963 March on Faschingstein, was sentenced to serve three years in 1944 for violating the selective service act. He began his prison term by singing the anti-lynching ballad “Strange Fruit” through the vents from solitary confinement at Ashland prison. He would soon lead hunger strikes against racial segregation and protesters chanting “Jim Crow Must Go.” Another participant, Wally Nelson, a black pacifist, walked out of a Civilian Public Service camp in 1943 and served 3½ years in federal prisons. There, he went on a 107-day hunger strike against racial segregation and was force-fed for 87 days until his release in 1946.

George Houser, who along with Rustin was the Journey of Reconciliation’s mastermind, had served a year at Danbury federal prison for draft resistance in 1940. In September 1945, the year before he and Rustin began planning the Journey, Houser hosted nearly fifty formerly incarcerated men at his Philadelphia home for the inaugural Conference on Prison Problems. The attendees were mostly white (federal prisons were three quarters white and many black objectors, such as Nelson and Rustin, were still incarcerated on longer sentences than their white peers); they had been imprisoned in protest of conscription, war, imperialism, and racism, and now met to theorize the intersection of these moral evils with prisons themselves. Houser, for example, noted this intersectionality when writing shortly before the conference about a hunger strike against racial segregation at Lewisburg prison, where Rustin was incarcerated. He wrote:

Some of the fellows decided to make the purpose of the strike more inclusive. Not only would they protest race discrimination, but also the general philosophy behind the prison system.

At the conference, the chief debate was whether to work toward prison reform or outright abolition. While there was general consensus in the goal of abolition, the question became how to get from here to there. The group’s concrete first steps were to divorce the chaplaincy from the prison, create independent legal aid, end all censorship, and demand paid work at union wages and all time in jail to count toward sentence. A meeting later that year even proposed settling the debate by calling the organization Prison Abolition Through Reform. While the conference did not outline a holistic plan for what would replace prisons, the participants felt that an important next step would be to “propose an alternative way of dealing with anti-social behavior.” Among the conference’s concrete suggestions, in the meantime, was to omit names from news reports of crimes (to prevent people from being stigmatized) and the creation within the criminal justice system of a “prosecutor of society” who would “present evidence as to the guilt of society” in all cases. It was also recommended to create a prisoners’ bill of rights, which would include an end to racial segregation, the right to workman’s compensation, no mandatory work without pay, conjugal visits, the right to communication with an attorney, an end to censorship, and “no solitary, no strip cell, no dark cells.”

Although the conference attendees fiercely debated the relationship between reform and abolition, the pages of Grapevine, the community’s newsletter, were less ambivalent. One reader responded to the question, “What are you doing about the prison system?” by writing:

Of the two groups, reformists or abolitionists, I am of the latter.

Anticipating the adage of abolitionist scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore that “prisons are catch-all solutions to social problems ,” he went on to argue:

For as long as we have prisons and prison reforms more and bigger and better prisons will appear, as history is proving, and society will keep on using them as an escape from its own responsibilities of correcting the economic and social failures that make crime possible. Yes, reforming the prison system is like repairing a shack that should be torn down.” Newt Garver, who went to prison after burning his draft card in 1946, warned there, “Don’t get any false optimism about prison reform. Any hope there is lies outside the system, not in it.

For his part, Rustin, the Journey of Reconciliation’s other main organizer, was never an outspoken abolitionist. But early in the course of his long activist career, he did organize against both prisons and policing, beginning immediately upon his release. Just months before departing on the Journey of Reconciliation, he wrote a treatise “Imprisonment from the Inside” decrying punitive solutions to social problems:

Our aim today is to see that our present way of life—with its reliance on violence in economics, in politics, in social change, and in international warfare—is a corrupt society. And that the prisons today are a reflection of this society. We must see the connection between our use of the atomic bomb in international war and our mistreatment of the offender against society internally.

Even the Journey of Reconciliation itself provided ample opportunity to challenge the carceral state. As a result of his arrest during the rides, he and two other riders who attended the Philadelphia conference—Igal Roodenko and Joseph Felmet—served three weeks on a North Carolina chain gang. Rustin wrote a scathing report which was serialized in the NY Post and the Baltimore Afro-American and contributed to the abolishment of chain gangs in the state. Although abolition was not a central demand of the mid-century civil rights movement, despite informing the activism of many of its key figures, it took hold in the 1970s. This revolutionary ethos, what Chicano poet Raul Salinas called the “prison rebellion years,” was linked to mass uprisings in the streets; the state repression, jailing, and murder of black and brown radicals; and opposition to the Vietnam War and imprisonment of conscientious objectors. Quaker Fay Honey Knopp’s pivotal 1976 Instead of Prisons: A Handbook for Prison Abolitionists , for example, had its genesis in her visits to conscientious objectors in prison during the Vietnam War and her participation in feminist, civil rights, gay rights, and prisoners’ rights struggles. As historians Dan Berger and Toussaint Losier document, prisoners became “symbols of and spokespeople for broader radical movements.”

The 1980s and ’90s saw an emergence of international gatherings on abolition. In 1983 Ruth Morris would organize the International Conference on Penal Abolition, and the abolition formation Critical Resistance in the Bay Area was formed in the late 1990s. Other groups since then, including Incite!, Survived and Punished, Movement 4 Black Lives, BYP100, Dream Defenders, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, have made abolitionist praxis a core part of their visions of liberation. Abolition has developed and expanded dramatically since the Philadelphia Prison Group conference, thanks to the contributions of incarcerated people, black radical feminists, survivors of sexual violence, Muslims, immigrants, and queer, trans, and disabled folks, among others. Consistent though has been a commitment to fighting the racism, militarism, and capitalism that define the Pindo empire. Abolition is inherently intersectional. To unravel the punishment system is to lay bare the interconnection of people’s struggles against extraction, dispossession, and enclosure organized through racial and gendered hierarchies.

The relationship between abolition (as the goal) and reform (as a means to an end) remains a live debate. Many continue to endorse what Wilson Gilmore calls “non-reformist reforms,” in other words, reforms that shrink the carceral system and thus continue to move us incrementally, in the words of abolitionist organizer Mariame Kaba , “toward the horizon of abolition.” Examples of non-reformist reforms include, but are not limited to:

  • abolishing solitary confinement and capital punishment;
  • moratoriums on prison construction or expansion;
  • freeing survivors of physical and sexual violence, the elderly, infirm, juveniles, and all political prisoners;
  • sentencing reform; ending cash bail;
  • abolishing electronic monitoring, broken windows policing, and the criminalization of poverty; and
  • a federal jobs and homes guarantee for the formerly incarcerated.

Both the short-lived Philadelphia conference and the Journey of Reconciliation have been overshadowed and even forgotten. Houser later wrote:

The Journey of Reconciliation was a bit ahead of its time; a planned and often audacious attack on Jim Crow before the civil rights movement was full-blown.

Rustin argued:

Things we did in the ’40s were the same things that ushered in the civil rights revolution.

Ideas do not arrive fully-formed, and movements are not linear, but these histories of struggle provide raw material for us to build a world without gendered racial terror and state-sanctioned violence. A sprawling carceral landscape has bloated budgets and desiccated our imaginings of what is possible. The kneejerk question is often, What would we do without prisons or police? rather than, What could we do with $200b for our communities? But, as Wilson Gilmore points out:

Abolition is about presence, not absence.

Incarcerated abolitionist Stevie Wilson added:

This is not just about eliminating something (police and prisons); it is about creating what we need to live, love and thrive.

At this moment, when abolition feels more possible than ever, we should not look elsewhere for “better” models of policing and prisons, but look deeper within our own history for better models of liberation.

Syria, Corporate Media Lies, and the True Face of Imperialism: An Interview with Richard Medhurst
Danny Haiphong, Black Agenda Report, Jul 1 2020

This guy just got ‘demonetized’ by YouTube, then ‘remonetized’ after a general outcry, a couple of days later. YouTube is the second largest search engine worldwide and has become a popular platform for progressives and the left to conduct political education and debate. Few voices on the platform meaningfully engage the questions of war, white supremacy and Pindo imperialism. That cannot be said of Richard Medhurst, who is the subject of the following interview – RB.

Q: Can you please tell readers of the Black Agenda Report a little about your background and the history behind your YouTube show?

A: My name is Richard Thomas Medhurst. I was born in Damascus, Syria in 1992. My mother (Syrian) and father (British) served in United Nations Peacekeeping and Observation Missions in Angola, Lebanon, Syria, India, Pakistan (Kashmir), meaning we moved around a lot. They were among the UN Peacekeepers awarded the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize. Their work and these experiences directly shaped my life and outlook on international affairs. Additionally, I was lucky to have a good education. My entire high school education was completed in French and I am fluent in four languages: English, French, Arabic and German. I started my show in late 2019 to cover Pindo politics and international relations. There are a number of great indie channels out there that I admire, but not many cover foreign policy. Even fewer cover foreign policy from an anti-imperialist viewpoint. I think one of the reasons people gravitate towards my channel is due to its explicit nature. I don’t have time to sugarcoat war crimes, murder and corruption. The question isn’t why am I cursing and angry, the question is why isn’t everyone else? I can also put on a blazer, speak in a high register BBC accent. There is nothing nice about politics. This is a vile, nasty business filled with suffering and anguish. They’re too afraid to talk about Syria because YouTube will demonetize them. Fuck that. That’s pathetic. You’ll see them call out Israel’s barbarism against Palestinians once in a blue moon, and that’s it. They want to play it safe while also pretending to be an alternative to indie media. That’s unacceptable.

Q: You are very critical of the corporate media on your show. What role can independent media play in countering the narratives presented in mainstream news outlets?

A: They should grow a spine. A lot of people in independent media do good work, but I’m tired of hearing “lefties” either completely ignore foreign policy or repeat CIA talking-points about the Global South. You cannot be a Pindo journalist or pundit, and then proceed to ignore international politics when your country dictates world affairs. Foreign policy is not a backburner issue, it is the issue. Anyone can say “I support universal health-care and a wage increase.” There’s nothing brave or controversial about catching up to the rest of the industrialized world. But how many will expose and stand up to Pindo imperialism? Or the Zionist occupation in Palestine? How many will call out the Western-backed coup in Syria? The UK’s theft of Venezuelan gold? A handful, at best. If independent media want to be a real counter-weight to establishment media, they must challenge the status quo in its entirety. Many will advocate for Medicare For All, a Green New Deal, things that are already mainstream, but won’t touch anything else because they’re afraid of catching flak.

They’ll talk a bit about racial inequality, they’ll mention Palestine once in a while, but they won’t challenge Pindo hegemony and imperialism when it matters. They must bring up the uncomfortable topics that no one wants to bring up. Repeating “end the wars” is not enough. What about economic sanctions that kill civilians? What about defunding the military? Talking about police brutality, racial inequality, the oppression of Black Pindos only when it’s trending on Twitter is not enough. This continued silence on Western imperialism is not only journalistic malpractice, but also ignorant. A lot of these pundits have grown too comfortable arguing with conservatives online about health-care, while burying their heads in the sand about everything else, specifically foreign policy. I don’t need someone pretending to be a leftist on YouTube to repeat the same nonsense I heard from Dick Cheney. I expect and demand better from people in leftist independent media. They need a rude awakening and that’s why I’m here.

Q: Syria has not been subject to the same news coverage as in past years. Why is it so important to defend Syria right now?

A: They’re silent because Pindostan lost its war on Syria. Pindostan and its vassals have been trying to conquer Syria since 2011 to advance their imperialist agenda. One of their tools was to wage a war of disinformation, using the mainstream media to spread lies, provoke outrage, and sway international opinion in favor of regime change. The mainstream media have never met a war they didn’t like. Whatever Uncle Sam says, they repeat. The NYT and CNN beat the war drums for Iraq and they did the same for Syria. Simultaneously, Pindostan covertly funded and armed opposition groups inside Syria; so-called “moderate rebels” who then turn out to be affiliated with AQ and 50 other flavors of Jihad. They also tried to provoke international outrage by claiming that Syria used chemical weapons, which of course turned out to be nonsense. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons published falsified reports and suppressed its own scientists to implicate the Syrian government. They are another international body controlled by Washington and their reputation is essentially tarnished and all credibility gone.

The Syrian army has now recaptured most of the country. Only Idlib remains as the last major terrorist stronghold. Syria had been a self-sufficient country since the 1990s, producing its own wheat, cotton and more. Syria also has oil, which before the war accounted for 25% of all government revenue. Pindostan knows this and is illegally occupying Syria’s oil fields to cut off revenue. Pindo helicopters have begun burning down Syria’s wheat-fields to starve the Syrian population, a blatant war crime. Since their tricks haven’t worked, they have turned to sanctions (economic terrorism) in order to starve off Syria. It’s not about regime change anymore, it’s about burning the country down, literally. The new Caesar Act also just came into effect. This Pindo law imposes new sanctions on Syria and anyone who deals with the country. The real aim here isn’t to punish Assad, it’s to prevent Syria from rebuilding. These sanctions are evil and only hurt the civilian population. Independent media have a moral obligation to call out and expose these atrocities.

Q: What do you find most troubling about the mainstream media’s coverage of the recent mass demonstrations in Pindostan?

A: The mainstream media is a tool, an arm of the establishment and ruling elites. When the ruling elites feel threatened, they send the police and military to crack skulls and keep the workers in line. When it really counts, there is no free speech or first amendment. If you criticize Pindostan or the foundations upon which it was built (slavery, settler colonialism, genocide), then there is no first amendment for you. The media pretends to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter but constantly uses negative language and framing to delegitimize them. This is done on purpose. The media and their corporate puppet masters need the police to keep the population in line and maintain the status quo. It doesn’t matter if protestors are peaceful or not, the police will always be violent. We’ve all seen the videos of indiscriminate beatings, teargassing, etc. even when protestors are kneeling or are simply bystanders. When Colin Kaepernick was taking a knee, the media called him “disruptive” and “unpatriotic.” And now when people are out in the streets protesting, they’re also called “disruptive” and “unpatriotic.” These are typical oppressor tactics. No matter if you are peaceful or not, they will always try to paint you as the aggressor.

Notice also how the media will always try to divert attention to material and capital wealth. They’ll talk about windows being smashed, or a store that was burned down. This is part of the conditioning to make people value material wealth over human life. They want you to be more outraged over a Target store than George Floyd’s murder. They want you to believe that corporations are more valuable than people. This is a sickness. This is capitalism. Pay attention to the language used and choice of words. They constantly say that George Floyd was “killed,” when in fact he was murdered in cold blood – all on camera. Breonna Taylor was shot eight times in her apartment while sleeping, but they just say she was “killed.” They tone down the language on purpose in order to protect the police. Even if you were to play devil’s advocate, and claim that protestors are allegedly being violent, and supposedly looting, this pales in comparison to the injustices committed against Black Pindos. Over 400 years of slavery, of torture, of killing and persecution. The looting of Africa itself, an entire continent ravaged by colonialism. Black men are also being lynched just weeks apart, and the police are immediately dubbing them as suicides to cover up the murders and avoid further protests. Black men are still being lynched in 2020 and the mainstream media have said absolutely nothing. This is inadmissible and fucking outrageous. The media are complicit with white supremacy, with murder, and directly enabling the oppression of Black Pindos every single minute by refusing to do their jobs and hold the authorities accountable.

Q: Some of the most-watched segments of your show involve scathing critiques of the Demagog Party. Can you please share some of your (uncensored) reflections with our readers?

A: There is no real Left in Pindostan. The Demagog Party is not a workers’ party, nor is it a leftist party. Anywhere else in the world they would be a right-wing party. Moreover, what you have in Pindostan is a one-party system where the two factions, Thugs & Demagogs, come together to fuck over the working class. They appear to be at odds with each other on a handful of issues. However, when it comes to maintaining the interests of the Pindo empire through war, sanctions, bailouts and corporate handouts, miraculously they seem to agree with each other and “reach across the aisle.” Their sole purpose is to serve the oligarchs to whom they’ve prostituted themselves, and to give people the illusion of choice. This way they can pacify the working class and prevent revolt. Those who call themselves “progressives” but tell you to vote for a racist warmonger like Joe Biden are nothing but crypto-neoliberal bastards and must be exposed as such. It’s usually white, upper middle-class people saying this, who’ve obviously never seen nor been on the receiving end of neoliberal policies (crime bill, more wars, outsourcing of jobs, etc.). Moreover, the Progressives Caucus within the Demagog party is a joke. They have no agenda; every member votes a different way and they refuse to form an actual resistance against the neoliberal crooks running the party or call out their leadership. They’re not interested in standing up for workers, they’re interested in preserving their careers.

This notion that you can reform the Demagog party by electing more progressives is complete horseshit. They’re basically telling you to wait another 50 years and die without health-care for them to maybe get enough people in the party, who will be coopted by the neoliberal establishment anyway. This is preposterous and insulting. You don’t reform the Demagog party, the Demagog party reforms you. Faschingstein does not allow revolutionaries or well-intentioned rookies to thrive. It blunts them, absorbs them into the party and molds them to remove their teeth. Capitol Hill is a sideshow to distract people from Wall Street, where all the real decisions are made. Lawmakers don’t control Wall Street; it’s the other way around. Many people recognize this, yet are dying to pursue electoral politics, as if it were some kind of entertainment or sport. And in many ways, it is a spectacle. It’s designed to distract and pacify the masses while they get away with murder. The only thing that gets things done is direct action. I was yelling about this since the beginning, and lo and behold here it is. The protests happening now led to George Floyd’s killers being arrested. Rayshard Brook’s killers were arrested. The Minneapolis police department has been overhauled. Direct action got these things done, not politicians.

Q: Your social commentary is consistently rooted in an anti-capitalist and anti-imperial framework. What books and/or experiences radicalized you to adopt these political commitments?

A: I haven’t seen my family in Syria in over ten years because of a war started by imperialists and multinational corporations. I think that would piss anyone off. I have been all over the Global South and I’m no stranger to former colonies. I’ve seen firsthand the poverty that they are condemned to after centuries of plundering by former European colonies. I was born in Syria, which used to be a French mandate. Before that it was occupied by the Ottomans for 400 years. When the British and French decided to carve up Syria, they set the entire region on fire and plunged it into chaos that lasts to this very day. Destroying Arab nationalism and unity has always been a priority for the West because they fear our strength. It is therefore every Syrian and every Arab’s duty to be anti-imperialist. Imperialism is a cancer that has plagued the Middle East and Africa for centuries, and we must unite to resist it. Understanding history, particularly colonialism and the Cold War, is crucial in order to grasp what is going on today. I cannot stress this enough. When you learn of how the European empires plundered Africa’s resources, committed genocide, and engaged in slavery, it makes me angry. They teach you in school that colonialism came to an end in 1945, yet many Western powers still maintain oppressive neo-colonial ties with their former colonies and bully them into submission. When the European powers began crumbling after 1945, America picked up where they left off. Pindostan perpetuates the same imperialism, rooted in white supremacy and Pindo exceptionalism, while hiding under the label of a supposed democracy. I grew up seeing Colin Powell lie at the UN about WMDs that didn’t exist. I saw the entire world change after 9/11, with everyone treating Arabs like terrorists. How anyone can read about these atrocities and not be anti-imperialist is beyond me.

Q: How can readers of the Black Agenda Report support your work?

A: You can help support my work by subscribing to my channel on YouTube and by following me on twitter.

Youtube – youtube.com/richardmedhurst

Twitter – twitter.com/papichulomin

boris johnson is an utter & absolute prick

Welcome to Johnson’s alternative reality, where care home workers get the blame
Marina Hyde, Groan, Jul 7 2020

Boris Johnson at a construction site in Goole, East Yorks, Jul 6 2020.

Can it really be three months ago that Matt Hancock responded to the government’s failure to provide care home workers with adequate PPE by announcing what he called “a new brand”? This, you might dimly recall, was a small lapel badge for care home workers. Its prophylactic properties were unclear, though it was certainly intended to throw a ring of steel around Hancock, who at least managed to get his hands on one. Unfortunately, owing to a second supply problem, the government promptly struggled to even provide care workers with the badge. Despite all this, plenty of people dismissed critics of the badge-based response as sneerers. We must hope to hear from them again now the government is officially blaming care home workers for the deaths of people in care homes, and presumably blaming care home workers for the deaths of care home workers themselves. According to Boris Johnson, a COBRA-dodging handshake-nut who was blamelessly “mugged” by the virus himself, “too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have.” Oof. This is quite the blame-game from a government that operated a formal procedure of discharging more than 25k people from hospitals into care homes without testing them for coronavirus. You could say that care home residents are still living with the consequences of that decision, were it not for the fact that so many of them ended up dying from it. Either way, the prime minister’s shithousery led to a veritable explosion from Mark Adams, the chief executive of leading social care charity Community Integrated Care, who said this morning:

We’re almost entering an alternative reality where the government set the rules, we follow them and they don’t like the results and they then deny setting the rules and blame the people that were trying to do their best.

A statement with which my only cavil is: enterING? I fear we have been plunged into this alternative reality for some time now. If you’re looking for “a new brand,” call it the Mattrix. Needless to say the government’s next weaselling out of responsibility has been to say that Johnson didn’t mean what people are saying he meant, even though those were literally the words he said. Perhaps they’ll get away with it. In fairness, the prime minister’s oratorical style increasingly provokes questions. Namely: can you feel your arm? Does your vision seem affected? Can you name the current prime minister? (I’m going to shock us all: it’s actually you.)

So yes: we are where we are. And yet: need we be? Is it too much to want to live in a country where the government doesn’t describe its own pandemic response as whack-a-mole? I mean, guys … Go to the fairground. No one wins whack-a-mole. Only people who’ve had 12 pints of scrumpy believe they can execute a precise and targeted approach to emerging outbreaks of mole. That’s how the circus folk have set it up: you’re never going to win the giant teddy, yes? You’re going to flame out below the threshold for a tiny teddy, shake your head, think about asking the carnival operator for your money back, have a look at him, think better of it, then make the same mistake all over again trying to shoot some ducks through a gun barrel with a 20-degree bend in it. Whack-a-mole? You might as well describe your contact-tracing strategy as Find the Lady.

Speaking of which, no sooner have the pubs opened than the first few are forced to close again, after punters tested positive for coronavirus. A number of pubs are now beginning the process of contacting people who spent “Independence Day” with them. Please take a moment to enjoy the bathos. A few months ago, government ministers were honking daily that we were going to invent our own world-beating test-and-trace app, a state-of-the-art public health strategy that has now been delegated to the manager of the Fox and Hounds in Batley. Still, it was interesting to see how enthusiastically the British government promoted last Saturday as “Independence Day,” considering that what is traditionally celebrated on Independence Day is the pleasure of no longer being ruled by the British government. If only the British ruling class of 1776 had thought of it, they could have placated the 13 American colonies with a haircut and some Jägerbombs.

Ultimately, it will stand as a lasting tribute to Johnson’s priorities that he opened the pubs before the schools. Perhaps the government’s hope is that if you ban education for long enough, you drive it underground and make it someone else’s problem to administer. Perhaps even now, pubs are beginning to operate illegal education stills. To gain access to the old speakeasies, customers in the know would often pass a book across a decoy store counter. Our best hope now is that children are entering pubs and ordering a pint of snakebite, which is the signal for the bar staff to furtively slide back the spirit optics to reveal a door to a hidden cellar classroom where illicit learning is being dispensed. The alternative reality is that the future of an increasingly lost generation of schoolchildren is still in the hands of Gavin Williamson and Boris Johnson. What an intensely sobering thought. You can see why this is an administration that reflexively understands theirs is a governing style best enjoyed very drunk indeed.

Boris Johnson Refuses To Apologise To Care Home Owners Over Covid Remarks
Paul Waugh, HuffPost UK, Jul 7 2020

Boris Johnson has refused to apologise to care home owners left furious by his apparent attempt to blame them for deaths during the coronavirus pandemic. Downing Street sidestepped repeated questions on whether the prime minister regretted his remark that “too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have.” The National Care Association called on Johnson to formally retract his comments and one care home chief launched a withering attack on his “cowardly” “travesty of leadership” over the Covid crisis. Almost 20k care home residents in England and Wales have died with coronavirus, the majority dying in their care home, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has said. Covid-19 accounted for 29% of the deaths of care home residents between Mar 2 and Jun 12, and a fifth of all deaths of care home residents this year. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, told MPs today:

We have been learning about this virus from the start and improving procedures all the way through. I pay tribute to the care homes in this country who have done so much to care for the most vulnerable throughout the crisis.

Nadra Ahmed, the chairman of the NCA, said:

Johnson’s remarks are a huge insult. To think they have stood clapping for the NHS and social care and then use the same hands to slap the faces of social carer is absolutely appalling. When you think of some of the mistakes that have been made, I am absolutely stunned that he has made those comments and he should retract them.

Mark Adams, chief executive of charity Community Integrated Care, said the prime minister’s comments were “hugely frustrating.” He told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Tuesday morning:

I think we’re almost entering an alternative reality where the government set the rules, we follow them and they don’t like the results and they then deny setting the rules and blame the people that were trying to do their best. I think this at best was clumsy and cowardly. I think what we’re getting is history re-written in front of us, when you could list pages and pages of government failure which the system has had to cope with. And to get a throwaway comment, almost glibly blaming the social care system and not holding your hand up for starting too late, doing the wrong things, making mistake after mistake, is just frankly unacceptable.

Here is the full exchange between Lobby journalists and the PM’s official spox:

Q: The PM seems to have upset lots of people on his visit to Yorkshire yesterday when he talked about care homes. What did he mean when he said too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures?
A: Throughout the pandemic care homes have done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances. The prime minister was pointing out that nobody knew what the correct procedures were because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known at the time. We have put in place a comprehensive action plan to protect care homes, including rigorous testing, and additional funding.
Q: The implication of what he said is they’ve done something wrong. Is he not suggesting they did anything wrong?
A: As I just said throughout the pandemic care homes have done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances. What he was pointing out was that nobody knew the correct procedures to put in place were at the time, because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known. We’re learning about this virus all the time. This is a novel virus and the medical and scientific understanding of it grows as the days and weeks pass by.
Q: So why didn’t he say that?
A: I don’t think there’s any more I can add on this. I am just setting out what the PM was pointing out.
Q: Does the PM regret his choice of words?
A: As I say, what the PM was doing was pointing out that nobody knew all the correct procedures were because we didn’t know the extent of asymptomatic transmission at the time. We know that care providers across the country, and have been doing their utmost to keep those they look after safe in the most challenging circumstances. And it remains the case that almost 60% of care have not had an outbreak at all.
Q: He’s accused huge offence in the care sector, would he like to retract or apologise for those comments?
A: As I’ve just set out, the PM thinks that throughout the pandemic care homes have done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances.
Q: The National Care Association is asking for a formal retraction, is the PM open to that?
A: It’s not something I’ve discussed with him, but as I’ve just said to you the PM thinks that throughout the pandemic care homes have done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances.
Q: People are viewing this as an insult. Wouldn’t it be helpful for the PM to go out and clarify what he meant? Because the clear implication of what he said was that care homes were somehow to blame, there were procedures they should have followed, they didn’t and that’s why it’s all gone so badly wrong.
A: Again, the PM was pointing out that nobody knew what the correct procedures were because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known at the time.
Q: What do you say to people he’s just passing the buck here?
A: The PM’s view is that throughout the pandemic care homes have done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances.
Q: So no apology to care homes today at all? He said what he’s said and everyone has just misunderstood it?
A: I think, I have been very clear that the PM thinks that throughout the pandemic care homes have done a brilliant job under what have been very difficult circumstances.

Groon adds:

The Downing Street attempt to draw a line under the row about Boris Johnson’s care homes criticism by trying to redefine what he actually said does not seem to be working very well, at least on the basis of what one care home owner told BBC News earlier this afternoon. This is what David Crabtree from Crabtree Care Homes in Yorkshire said about the PM’s comment yesterday:

He’s wrong, and it’s an appalling statement to make. This is an intelligent, articulate man, the prime minister, who should not be throwing off-the-cuff remarks that are so hurtful and derogatory to our staff. These staff, throughout the nation, have fought valiantly for these people. These are residents who we’ve cared for for many years. And now we’re told ‘it was our fault’. This is absolutely ridiculous. He may well have misinterpreted himself. But surely by now, as an adult, I beseech you, Boris Johnson, for the nation’s carers and home care workers, please apologise. That’s my message to you.

worldwide

Coronavirus pandemic threatens lives of at least 1m people at risk from AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria
Bryan Dyne, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Estimates from the UN, the International AIDS Society, the Stop TB Partnership and the Imperial College London (ICL) predict the supply-chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic could lead to at least 1m extra deaths caused by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria as resources traditionally used to fight these diseases are diverted to combat outbreaks of COVID-19. A majority of these deaths are likely to occur in Africa, where there have been more than 481k cases and at least 11.4k deaths caused by the coronavirus. Countries including South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana and Algeria have been particularly hard-hit. While the total case and death numbers are currently lower than other regions of the world, including Pindostan, India and Brazil, the WHO has repeatedly warned of the dangers of the pandemic in Africa, which has some of the least developed health care infrastructure in the world. At the same time, the virus is claiming the lives of nurses, doctors and other medical workers as they try to fight and contain the pandemic. The situation has also meant that institutions such as MSF, which have in the past provided resources to fight HIV/AIDS, have been forced instead to focus on treating patients with COVID-19. The looming crisis was highlighted by Dr Anton Pozniak, president of the International AIDS Society. He told CNN:

The social-distancing efforts and lockdowns to control the spread of COVID-19 have disrupted HIV prevention and treatment programs and put vital HIV research on hold.

His comments were highlighted by the release of the UN Global AIDS Update 2020, which paints a dire picture for the years-long progress in eliminating the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Its models show that, if medical supplies for AIDS are disrupted for six months, there will be between 471k and 673k excess AIDS-related deaths in in sub-Saharan Africa alone by the end of 2021. The report also summarizes the state of the fight against that pandemic over the past ten years. There are currently 38m people living with HIV worldwide, but only 25.4m are currently getting some form of treatment, a gap of 12.6m human beings.

At the same time, there was a 23% reduction of new HIV infections from 2010 to 2019, mostly focused in eastern and southern Africa. At the same time, there has been a rise in infections elsewhere in the world, including a 72% increase in eastern Europe and central Asia, a 22% increase in the MENA and a 21% increase in Latin America. In total, there were 690k AIDS-related deaths in 2019, along with 1.7m new infections worldwide. UN models had estimated that 2020 would have been the first year the number of AIDS-related deaths fell below 500k, to 470k. Instead, the skyrocketing coronavirus pandemic threatens to set back control over HIV by at least 12 years. WHO Dir-Gen Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted at yesterday’s opening of the 23rd International AIDS conference:

A new WHO survey showed access to HIV medicines has been significantly curtailed as a result of the pandemic. 73 countries have reported that they are at risk of stock-outs of anti-retroviral medicines. ARVs are one of the main ways that HIV is treated. They must be taken regularly to keep patients healthy and prevent onward transmission of the virus. The findings of this survey are deeply concerning.

A similar report from Imperial College London shows that malaria epidemics in the same region, sub-Saharan Africa, could spread unchecked in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, causing at least 380k more deaths than expected. Malaria is caused by a parasite primarily transmitted through mosquito bites, which introduces the disease from the mosquito’s saliva into a victim’s blood. Its symptoms include fever, tiredness, vomiting, headaches, seizures, coma and death. There were 228m reported infections in 2018 worldwide resulting in 405k deaths. The disease is most common in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. While it is deadly, the most effective way of controlling the spread of malaria is by distributing insecticide-treated mosquito nets. They cost about $2 each, last up to four years and protect on average two people each. There is a large risk that as the pandemic continues to grow exponentially in regions already hard hit from malaria, the supply chains for new nets will collapse. This threatens to double the number of expected deaths caused by malaria. The ICL article projects that in a scenario where the coronavirus is either not contained or suppression measures are lifted, as is the current situation in Pindostan, Brazil, India, South Africa and other countries, the ultimate death toll for the pandemic itself will be on the order of 3.3m.

The coronavirus pandemic has also exacerbated the risk of contracting and dying from tuberculosis. The Stop TB Partnership recently released findings showing that, even if there is some form of lockdown and recovery to halt the coronavirus, there could still be 6.3m excess infections and 1.4m excess deaths of tuberculosis. To quote from the report:

Global TB incidence and deaths in 2021 would increase to levels last seen in between 2013 and 2016 respectively, implying a setback of at least 5 to 8 years in the fight against TB, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

TB is currently the number one cause of death from an infectious disease on the planet and has been one of the most lethal bacteria throughout history. There were about 10m active cases worldwide in 2018, and nearly one in four people are suspected to have a latent TB infection. While it is manageable with antibiotics, it still kills an estimated 1.5m people each year. The pathogen is also one of the more resistant to treatment with drugs. Having tuberculosis also places one at greater risk of dying from COVID-19. In India, which currently has 720k coronavirus cases and more than 20k confirmed deaths, there are about 7,370 new cases of TB and 1,230 new deaths caused by the disease each day. It amounts to about 2.7m new tuberculosis infections and just under 450k new deaths each year. The combination of the two diseases has the potential to produce a public health catastrophe in the country and region of epic proportions. These dangers also exist in large parts of Africa. Nigeria and South Africa have the second and fourth highest death rates of tuberculosis in the world, respectively, and fourth and second highest death rates of COVID-19 in Africa. Indonesia, which has the third-highest death rate of TB in the world, is one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic in south-east Asia, sitting at 65k cases and growing.

Modi government prosecutes anti-CAA protest leaders on bogus terrorism charges
Kranti Kumar, Shuvu Batta, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Narendra Modi and his Hindu-supremacist BJP government have intensified state repression, jailing leaders of the mass protests against the anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and charging them with grave criminal offenses. The prosecutions are tied to a foul campaign mounted by the Delhi Police, which works under the direct authority of Modi’s chief henchman, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, to blame “violent” anti-CAA protests for the three days of rioting that convulsed parts of north-east Delhi in late February. This is a monstrous attempt to turn reality on its head. The riots were incited by BJP leaders and their Hindu right allies and targeted Muslims. So blatant is the BJP’s campaign of repression, it has been condemned by the UNHRC. In a statement published Jun 26, a panel of UN experts urged India’s government to immediately release imprisoned anti-CAA protestors. They wrote:

These defenders, many of them students, appear to have been arrested simply because they exercised their right to denounce and protest against the CAA, and their arrest seems clearly designed to send a chilling message to India’s vibrant civil society that criticism of government policies will not be tolerated.

The UN experts named 11 of those arrested, noting that “one of the most alarming” cases was that of PhD student Safura Zargar, six months pregnant and suffering from Polycystic Ovarian Disease, who was jailed for more than two months under conditions of solitary confinement and inadequate medical care and diet. She faces bogus terrorism charges for allegedly inciting the Delhi communal riots, which claimed the lives of 53 people, 38 of them Muslim. Zargar, alongside millions of people in India, had protested the CAA, a discriminatory law that the BJP government rushed into law in Dec 2019 in what was but the latest in a series of communal provocations aimed at transforming India into a Hindu rasthra or Hindu state, where the Muslim minority will live on sufferance.

The protests, which drew support nation-wide and cut across caste and communal divisions, were particularly spirited in Delhi. Stunned by the sudden emergence of mass opposition, the BJP government responded with violence. They ordered police to attack peaceful protests, storm university campuses and conduct mass arrests. This was accompanied by a campaign of vitriolic speeches in which BJP leaders vowed to violently put down “anti-national” protests, including leading chants of “shoot them down.” Incited by such toxic communal-laden rhetoric, several BJP supporters in Delhi opened fire on anti-CAA protestors. A student enraged by the police violence explained why students were protesting:

What did the students do wrong? They were only protesting! Do we learn just to run machines? We receive an education to make sure that we know to stand with the ones who are wronged. I’m not even Muslim, but I’ve been on the front-lines since day one.

Despite the repression and threats, the anti-CAA protests continued and intersected with growing worker opposition to the BJP government’s rapacious pro-investor policies, raising the prospect that the struggle to defend democratic rights could come under the leadership of the working class. On January 8 tens of millions of workers joined a one-day all-India general strike, specifically advancing the demand the that CAA be repealed. It was in this charged political environment that the riots in Delhi erupted, shortly after BJP leader Kapil Mishra, speaking before a mob of his Hindu nationalist supporters in north-east Delhi, gave police an ultimatum to clear the streets of anti-CAA protests who he claimed “want Delhi on fire.” There is much evidence that the Delhi police facilitated the anti-Muslim attacks, by failing to intervene and in some cases joining in. While Muslims were clearly the victims, the Modi government was quick to blame the “violent” anti-CAA agitation for Delhi’s worst communal violence since the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom that Congress Party leaders orchestrated following the assassination of PM Indira Gandhi. While the clear calls for violence advanced by BJP leaders like Mishra were ignored, the police set about arresting Muslims. In February, according to The Hindu, over 800 people, mostly Muslim social activists and university students, were arrested.

While the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have temporarily halted the campaign of arrests, it resumed in April. Safura Zargar was arrested on Apr 10 by the Delhi Police on charges of “obstructing traffic” during the anti-CAA protests, but as her prosecution reveals, the real reason for her arrest was her leading role as media coordinator for the Jamia (Millia Islamia University) Coordination Committee, a student group formed to challenge the CAA. Zargar was soon released on bail, but re-arrested again less than three days later and charged with terrorism offenses under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Enacted in 1967, the UAPA has been amended multiple times, so as to further strengthen the arbitrary powers of the state and limit the rights of the accused. It sanctions “preventive arrests,” that is arrest and detention without charge, and sets aside such core democratic judicial principles as “innocent until proven guilty.” The latest amendment, made in 2019, gives the state the power to designate individuals as opposed to organizations as “terrorists.” For decades the UAPA has been used to jail political opponents of the Indian governments.

After weeks of delay, the prosecution was obliged to outline the reason for Zargar’s second arrest and the laying of bogus terrorism charges against her at a bail hearing before the Patalia Court of Delhi. The prosecution alleged that she made a speech on Feb 23 in a park called Chand Bagh which immediately led to violence. Her defense pointed out that she was never at the park on this date. The prosecution argued Zargar should be denied bail, claiming they had sufficient evidence to prove her supposed role in violence. The evidence included materials such as glass bottles, a plastic crate containing bricks and stones, and three slingshots. The police attributed these items to Zargar, despite the fact that the materials were sourced from a case file that was different from hers. In short, the police presented materials without any connection to Zargar as evidence of terrorism. Furthermore they tied her alleged speech, with the alleged materials of violence, supposed witness statements which were not fully reviewed, and the actions of protestors to block a road together as proof of a “larger conspiracy to disrupt the normal functioning of the city.” The court sided with the prosecution, denying Zargar’s bail application twice. At the second hearing, Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana railed against her, despite the obvious trumped-up character of the terrorism charges, saying:

When you choose to play with embers, you cannot blame the wind to have carried the spark a bit too far and spread the fire. A larger conspiracy is discernible, and a second investigation to unravel the entire conspiracy sounds not only logical but perfectly legal.

In a similar tone the Delhi Police argued against Zargar’s bail, despite her condition as a pregnant woman with a pre-existing illness, writing in a submission to the court:

39 deliveries have taken place in Delhi prisons in the last 10 years.

For over two months Zargar was confined to Tihar Jail in the midst of COVID-19. Finally, due to a public and growing international outcry over the inhumane treatment of the pregnant and sick Zargar, a High Court conceded on Jun 23 that she should be released on bail. However, she is confined to Delhi and the police and prosecution continue to insist she was a “key conspirator” in the riots that were in fact fomented by the BJP leaders and their allies. In another case, the Delhi Police have filed a 700-page report and a chronology of the Feb 23-26 riots that purports to show that it was anti-CAA protestors who incited the riots. Moreover, it traces this back to the very first anti-CAA protests in Delhi, when demonstrators blocked a road on Dec 13, claiming that the anti-CAA agitation was intrinsically “violent” throughout. In the police’s version of events, the speech by Mishra and the provocative statements of other BJP leaders are nowhere to be found. Modi and the BJP, despite recklessly pushing forward in recent weeks with the “reopening” of India’s economy even as the number of COVD-19 cases has exploded to more than 700k, continue to use “COVID-19 guidelines” as a justification for political repression. When students staged a protest against the jailing of Zargar and other anti-CAA protest leaders, police made mass arrests on the grounds that they were violating social-distancing measures.

Nigeria’s COVID-19 cases surge as oil price slump deepens social crisis
Stephan McCoy, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has seen a surge in coronavirus infections with Lagos becoming the epicentre of the virus, recording 11,045 cases. As of Jul 5, the country had recorded nearly 29k confirmed cases and 635 deaths, a more than six-fold increase following the government’s reopening of the economy at the end of March, just a few weeks after imposing a lockdown. The state governor of Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, sought to provide false hope, stating that 90% of COVID-19 cases would go on to recover, a claim refuted by the fact that active cases (16,017) remain significantly higher than recovered cases (11,562) in the country, and similar world statistics. This has forced the governor to reconsider the reopening of churches and mosques. Sanwo-Olu said:

We have concluded that we cannot proceed with any form of reopening for places of worship until further notice.

He also postponed the reopening of schools until Aug 3, saying that, as Lagos was the “epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, with about 44% of the total number of confirmed cases nation-wide,” schools would not immediately reopen. Nevertheless, the government remains fully committed to lifting all lockdown measures. Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika announced that airports would begin reopening on Jul 8. Flights between Nigeria’s two most populous cities, the capital Abuja and Lagos, will resume first. Airports in Port Harcourt, Owerri, Maiduguri and Kano will reopen on Jul 11. Domestic flights in other parts of the country will resume on Jul 15. But he said:

Passengers looking to travel out of the country will have to wait a bit longer as the dates for the restart of international flights into and out of the country will be announced later.

The reopening of the economy, despite warnings from medical and other health care experts, comes amid a collapse in the price of oil. Nigeria’s main export used to provide about 90% of foreign exchange earnings and 80% of government revenues. This was reduced to 50% last year, compounding the country’s already weak economy. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has opened its books, publishing its 2018 annual report for the first time in its 43-year history, in a bid to prevent its break-up and to attract investment as oil prices slump and revenues are predicted to fall by 80%, with the shift away from fossil fuels and the impact of the pandemic. The company, a joint venture between the federal government and the transnational oil companies, including Shell, AGIP, Exxon Mobil, Total and Chevron, which in practice control it, holds outright leases on most of the country’s oil reserves. It has been mired in allegations of corruption.

In March, the government responded to falling oil prices by slashing petrol subsidies, fuelling mass opposition to wider budget cuts. The government has also announced plans to cut health care spending at a time when the system is already under acute strain due to the pandemic. Funding for local, primary health care services is to be cut by more than 40% this year, affecting immunisations, child-care, maternal health-care and family planning services. The IMF, which agreed to a $3.4b loan, half of the $7b requested, predicts that the Nigerian economy will contract by 3.4%. The naira has fallen steeply against the dollar, with the Nigerian Central Bank devaluing the currency by 5.3%, now trading at ₦380/$. Last March, it had devalued the currency from ₦307/$ to ₦360/$. Last month, the bank announced plans to unify its multiple exchange rates, which the IMF has long called for. The naira also trades widely on the black market and is sold to companies and individuals at varying rates. The $3.4b IMF loan increased government debt by 15% to $79.5b compared with $69b in 2019. According to the Debt Management Office, this is made up of $28b in external debt and $52b domestic debt and is unsustainable. According to Nairametrics, the government spent 99.2% of its first-quarter revenues this year on debt servicing. The country’s global rating is at risk of being downgraded, as its debt-to-revenue ratio rises to 538%, up from 348% last year.

The travel bans, lockdown and social-distancing restrictions on day labourers and trading have led to a steep rise in the price of goods and services. Inflation, which stands at more than 12%, the highest in two years, is impacting heavily on the 87m Nigerians living in extreme poverty. Food inflation has risen to 15%, particularly for such basics as bread and cereals, potatoes, yam, and other tubers, oils and fats, fruits, fish, and meat. Pharmaceutical products, medical services, hospital services and passenger transport have also seen steep price increases. The economic crisis and worsening situation have provoked opposition in the working class, particularly among public sector and health care workers. In the Cross Rivers state, civil servants went on strike on Jun 29, despite opposition from the Trade Union Congress. The workers demanded retirees be paid benefits dating back to 2014, the implementation of promised promotions, rescinding the deletion of genuine employees from the payroll and the immediate addition to the payroll of 2k employees recruited in 2018 who have not been paid. Despite threats from the government, backed up by the TUC, workers did not show up to work. Doctors at the University Teaching Hospital in the Niger Delta Bayelsa State have also been on strike, demanding an end to the disparity in earnings between doctors working in federal and state-owned health institutions, enhanced hazard allowances, upgraded equipment and action to end staff shortages. In Ondo state, nurses and doctors at the University of Medical Sciences Teaching Hospital Complexes in Akure began indefinite strike action on Jun 24 over a lack of PPE and the non-payment of wages. National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives members are also demanding PPE. In Lagos, doctors are planning to go on a three-day strike on Jul 13 over a lack of PPE, no pay and training.

Nigeria faces unrest and conflicts in several regions. The decade-long insurgency by Jihadis in the largely Muslim north-eastern states has killed thousands and displaced more than 2m. It has created a massive humanitarian emergency and spread to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, and is deepening the crisis. In the last month, there have been attacks in Borno state killing at least 100 people, including 20 soldiers, and injuring hundreds more. President Muhammadu Buhari issued a sharp criticism of his top security chiefs for their failure to contain the Jihadis, Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province, which are themselves riven with conflicts and supported by other jihadist organisations such as AQ and Al-Shabaab. The brutality with which the security forces have suppressed the insurgents has worsened the plight of civilians in the region and prompted the rise of civilian vigilante self-defence groups. The country has seen an upsurge in violence between herders and farming communities spreading from the central and north-western provinces southward with militant Islamist forces in the north-east, over dwindling resources in a region whose fertility has been drastically affected by climate change. This is in addition to the long-running discontent and militancy in the Niger Delta, the oil-producing region.

Macron administration announces new French cabinet
Will Morrow, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Incoming French PM Jean Castex announced the 31 members of his ministerial cabinet last night at 7 pm, three days after the Macron administration announced a cabinet reshuffle and the resignation of outgoing PM Édouard Philippe. Since Castex’s appointment on Friday, it is already clear that the new cabinet will be charged with an escalation of the anti-working-class policies of the previous one. It is overseeing the Macron administration’s deconfinement policy and an ending of any restrictions on business activity during the coronavirus pandemic. Economically, it is charged with completing major attacks on social programs including pensions, education, unemployment assistance and social care, under conditions in which hundreds of billions of euros have been made available to support big business and the banks during the pandemic. Prior to the cabinet announcement, on Sunday, Castex made a highly publicised visit to police headquarters in the working class La Courneuve suburb north-east of Paris, where he told police:

I have come to show the support of the government of the Republic. I know that you expect actions from us. They will come. You expect from us recognition and support. They will be without fail.

He asked police to report to him whether there were “areas where you are not able to go.” The statement of blanket support for the police comes after a wave of mass protests internationally against police violence, including demonstrations of several tens of thousands in Paris, triggered by the murder of George Floyd in Pindostan. The French protests have additionally demanded justice for the killing of 24-year-old youth Adama Traoré in 2016. The selection of Saint-Denis was particularly provocative, as it is among the most notorious areas of police harassment of predominately poor and immigrant working-class youth in France. The Macron administration is sending a clear signal that it will maintain its brutal police crackdown on mounting social protests against its austerity program, and that the police will continue to enjoy virtual immunity.

Yesterday, Castex announced that the new interior minister will be 37-year-old Gérald Darmanin, a member of the conservative Republicans, replacing Christophe Castaner, who backed violent police crackdowns on “yellow vest” protests and rail and public sector strikes last year, but triggered opposition among police during the George Floyd protests by stating that the government would not tolerate clear cases of racism from police officers. The police unions, which are bastions of support for the far-right National Rally, organized protests against Castaner, who walked back his statements within days. The other major ministries of defence, education, health-care and finance all remain unchanged. The ministry of culture will be run by Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, who was the minister for solidarity and social cohesion under the right-wing administration of Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007-2010. Castex gave an interview to the Journal de Dimanche published over the weekend to indicate the direction of the government, in which he stated:

The coronavirus epidemic has demonstrated the urgent need to regain our economic sovereignty. It will be necessary to go further from the reforms begun already under Macron. We are not in a political break from what has been done, but we must show that we know to face up. And that obviously requires a development of our methods.

He signalled that the pension cuts imposed this winter would be intensified, and that he would be working closely with the trade unions to implement this austerity program, saying:

To say that we will re-examine a subject does not mean to turn back. It means showing how we can adapt to new circumstances which are painful. For example, the crisis has sharply worsened the deficit of our pension system. I wish to restart the dialogue with the social partners, this is indispensable. At minimum, we must set a new social agenda. I open my hand to the trade unions and the employer organizations so that we may move forward together.

Due to the pandemic, the Macron administration had temporarily postponed the pension cuts, which triggered mass railway and public sector strikes in December and January. The cuts include raising the effective retirement age by two years and introducing a points-based system that will allow for a continuous reduction in real pension levels. Castex indicated he intends to proceed with these cuts rapidly, in addition to cuts in unemployment assistance and the “dependency” program for carers. Castex himself has a long track record. Between 2005 and 2007, he spearheaded the Sarkozy government’s reform of the hospital system, which included the introduction of the “Pricing-per-action” hospital model. This transformed the public hospital funding model so that all their funding was based on the number of operations performed, with each operation priced at a set amount. This reform had a devastating impact on the health-care system, pushing public hospitals to send home patients immediately after their operations, and compelling the closure of hospitals that were ruled “under-performing.” In an interview with the regional press on Thursday, Macron declared:

We cannot be a country which wants its independence, its social, economic and environmental reconquest, and be a country where we work less throughout our lives.

Macron has already declared that there will be no increases in taxes on business or the wealthy to pay for the more than €500b in bail-outs throughout the coronavirus pandemic, 80% of which was given in loan guarantees to corporations. In other words, the hundreds of billions handed over to the corporate and financial elite is to be paid for by a stepped-up assault on the pensions, social programs, jobs and wages of the working class. This is under conditions of a social crisis of historic proportions that is developing in France and internationally in the midst of the pandemic. Already, mass lay-offs of tens of thousands of workers have been announced, including by Airbus, Air France, Renault and Sanofi, which are predicted to result in the destruction of tens or hundreds of thousands of additional jobs. Various estimates show hundreds of thousands of jobs in the retail sector are likely to be permanently wiped out. There is no constituency for this programme in the working class. The right-wing daily Le Figaro warned of a social explosion of opposition in the working class against this programme, writing:

The social impact of this crisis makes one’s back run cold. The ground is more ripe than ever for a social explosion. The revolt of the ‘yellow vests’ in the Winter of 2018, and the recent fight against the pension reforms, which the president intends to place under work this summer, have left indelible traces in public opinion. We can fear the worst if a larger portion of the population mobilises, beginning with the youth who have already seen themselves sacrificed, hit by the economic and social crisis. A spark could provoke a flame.

Germany’s Commerzbank plans to cut 11k jobs
Gustav Kemper, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

In common with many other businesses, Germany’s Commerzbank is using the coronavirus pandemic to implement pre-existing plans to restructure and shed jobs. More than 11k of the bank’s total staff of 40k, and 400 of its 1k branches, are slated to be cut as part of a new round of austerity. The Commerzbank executive, financial investors, the German government, the European Central Bank, the works council and the trade union Verdi have all been haggling behind the scenes for months over plans for a massive restructuring of the financial institution. When Commerzbank CEO Martin Zielke announced in September last year that 4.3k jobs and 200 branches would be cut, Verdi signaled its agreement in principle. Stefan Wittmann, Verdi trade union secretary and member of the supervisory board of Commerzbank, spoke out against a reduction of staff in branches, but was not opposed to job cuts in administration. The issue was not “whether” but “how” to implement these cuts, he explained to the business newspaper Handelsblatt.

Approval on the part of the trade union stimulated the bank’s shareholders’ desires for even bigger returns. They declared that the savings package was far from sufficient, prompting a group of financial institutions led by Pindo financial investor Cerberus, which holds 5% of Commerzbank, to call for a much larger package of cuts. The ECB’s banking supervisory authority also pressed for steeper cuts. According to reports from Bloomberg, the German government, Commerzbank’s largest single shareholder since the 2008 financial crisis with a 15.6% stake, commissioned an expert opinion from the Boston Consulting Group, which recommended a cost reduction up to three times larger than the target set by the Commerzbank executive. Commerzbank CEO Zielke then drew up new savings plans, which according to press reports are expected to eliminate over 11k jobs and 400 branches. The proposal was to be presented to the supervisory board last Wednesday.

In order to save face, the employees’ representatives in the Verdi trade union requested a postponement of the meeting on the grounds that they had not been informed about the details of the cuts package. This is a gross deception on the part of the union. Verdi occupies several seats on the supervisory board of the bank and is well-informed about all developments. In the past, the works council and union have always been involved in job cuts within the bank, repeatedly declaring that such measures must be carried out in a “socially acceptable” manner. This was the case after the takeover of Eurohypo in 2005, the purchase of Dresdner Bank in Aug 2008, and the financial crisis of 2008-09. Once again they are playing the same game. Uwe Tschäge, chairman of the general and company works council and also deputy chair of the supervisory board, told Handelsblatt that he would not stand in the way of job cuts as long as they were “socially acceptable.” He said:

There must be no compulsory lay-offs. We will fight for this.

Commerzbank must choose an “appropriate period” and make sufficient money available for part-time work for older employees, and other similar measures. Tschäge said he wanted to be able to understand why and where management was cutting jobs. He expected the federal government, as a major shareholder, to support him in ensuring that employees were “treated decently.” According to Tschäge, it is important “that the bank remains stable and can continue to develop even after the restructuring,” meaning that it once again generates more profit!

Verdi functionary Wittmann complained that the trade union was not “on board” when the government, represented by state secretary for finance and former head of Goldman Sachs in Germany Jörg Kukies, negotiated with the leadership of Commerzbank and financial investor Cerberus on cost reductions. The German government, which has been Commerzbank’s largest single shareholder since the 2008 financial crisis, has not the slightest intention of standing up for the interests of the company’s workforce. It is seeking instead to implement drastic measures to support the standing of the bank, which runs the accounts for around 30% of German foreign trade and is market leader in German corporate banking. The aim of the government and financial investors is to secure the bank’s capital, which has shrunk by 30% since the beginning of the year due to the fall in share prices caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In so doing, they are not taking the interests of the employees into account.

The union’s campaign aimed at raising hopes in the federal government is utterly fraudulent. Last year, on the initiative of finance minister Olaf Scholz, the government advocated the merger of Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank to create a strong German “financial champion.” At the time, Verdi spoke out against the merger and celebrated its subsequent failure as a “victory” that would secure jobs. Now it is clear that this was only meant to lull the workforce into a false sense of security. Even back then, investors demanded massive job cuts at both institutions, irrespective of the outcome of the merger talks. Deutsche Bank then commenced slashing a fifth of its workforce. Commerzbank, which still had about 40k employees at the end of March, now plans to cut 10k jobs. Despite this, Verdi is continuing to deceive its members by raising hopes for support from the government and the SPD. Tschäge recently said:

I also expect support here from the federal government as a major shareholder. The SPD, in particular, must work toward this goal as part of the coalition.

Verdi is playing the same game in the aviation industry and in the closure of the Galeria Kaufhof Karstadt stores. It makes futile appeals to the business and political forces with whom it works closely behind the scenes. At the same time, the union strictly rejects the mobilization of the working class and a genuine fight to defend jobs. The grand coalition government of conservative parties and the SPD is the most right-wing and anti-working-class government since the Federal Republic of Germany came into existence. The last time the SPD filled the post of chancellor, in a coalition with the Greens, the party created a huge low-wage sector by introducing miserly Hartz IV welfare payments as part of its Agenda 2010. Under Merkel, the SPD went on to support an increase in retirement age, the ruination of the health-care system, the bankrupting of the Greek working class by a strict austerity policy, and a massive increase of military spending. The staff of Commerzbank, which according to trade union figures is still 30% organized by Verdi, must draw the consequences from past experiences, break with the union and take action themselves. In order to defend jobs, independent action committees must be set up to join forces with all workers in the finance industry and other sectors across national borders, on the basis of a socialist program. The secret talks behind the backs of workers must be stopped, the accounts of the banks must be opened up and the institutions expropriated and put under the control of the working class. Such a bank must serve the needs of the people, not profit maximization for financial investors. To implement this strategy, it is necessary to build the SEP as a mass party of the working class.

Worker at German meat processing plant dismissed for sharing critical video
Marianne Arens, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

The mass infection at the Tönnies meat processing factory in North Rhine-Westphalian (NRW), where over 1,500 workers became infected with COVID-19, has become a symbol of the ruthlessness with which employers and politicians are exposing the working class to the risk of the pandemic. A video was made public early on showing how protection against the coronavirus at the Tönnies plant in Rheda-Wiedenbrück was being disregarded. Now the whistle-blower who shared the video is having to fight for her job in court. The worker said:

Thousands of people are all sitting around one table. That’s Tönnies. How can you protect yourself here?

The video that circulated on the internet with this comment has circulated around the world. It shows a view into a canteen, where hundreds of employees sit and eat close to each other at the tables: Keeping their distance is impossible. The video was taken by the employee of a catering company that runs the canteen at Tönnies. In the meantime, the worker has been banned from the factory, sacked without notice, and is currently fighting for her job at the Bielefeld Labour Court. This treatment of a courageous worker, who should have received a prize as a whistle-blower, is of a piece with the actions of employers and politicians of all stripes. To keep business going and make a profit again, they are prepared to do anything, covering up and playing down the extent and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in factories and businesses.

At the same time, the pandemic is running out of control worldwide, and the number of new infections is also rising again in Germany, where the total number of people infected with coronavirus is approaching the 200k mark. On Sunday, 196,335 cases of COVID-19 were officially registered, although the number of unreported cases is high because there is still little testing. More than 9k people have died of the virus so far, 21 of them in the district of Gütersloh, where Tönnies is located. Almost 500 people in this district are still ill, with incalculable consequences for their entire lives. Three of them are still being given artificial respiration in various hospitals. More and more children and young people are also becoming ill with COVID-19. Although over 80% of those who die of coronavirus are senior citizens over 70, they make up only 20% of the number of people who fall ill. Since the beginning of June, one fifth of all those who fall ill are children and young people in the age group from 0 to 19 years old. This is related to the fact that schools and day-care centres have reopened under unsafe conditions. Last week, the number of new infections in Germany rose by almost 40% compared to the previous week. An analysis by the Guardian, based on data from Oxford University, puts Germany among the 10 countries where a second wave of infection is feared and expected.

Above all, people who work and live in precarious conditions are those being affected. The coronavirus outbreaks of recent weeks in high-rise buildings in Göttingen, Magdeburg and several housing estates in Berlin bear witness to this. Politicians and the authorities are reacting to this by quarantining people out of sight, suppressing information and keeping quiet. The daily news hardly reports such outbreaks, whereas every relaxation of the protective measures and the opening up of holiday areas is extensively celebrated. The latest statements by Armin Laschet (CDU), NRW state premier, are also significant. At his press conference on Jun 30 he admitted he had relied on the principle that companies would take “personal responsibility.” In other words, he left it up to the employers whether and how they protected their employees from COVID-19. Laschet repeated his absurd assertion that the lifting of the lockdown and the opening of businesses in Germany had not provoked a new outbreak of the infection, but that the infections had mainly been brought in from abroad, mostly by returning holiday-makers. Laschet emphasized that the NRW state government would decide on the reopening of Tönnies “according to regulatory actions.” The time for cooperation was over, he said. “We will now proceed strictly according to law and order,” which only suggests that law and order had not been applied previously.

The Tönnies scandal has not only exposed the CDU and the close ties between the state government and the meat baron, but also the SPD. Former SPD leader and federal economics minister Sigmar Gabriel was on the payroll of Clemens Tönnies as an adviser from Mar to May 2020. He is said to have received €10k/month plus daily payments and expenses. During his time as economics minister, Gabriel had described the operation of notorious subcontractors as a “disgrace for Germany,” and especially the conditions at Tönnies! But he is suspected of having held a protective hand over the slaughterhouse giant even back then. Bild-Zeitung quoted a letter by Robert Tönnies, nephew of the company boss and co-owner of the company. In it, he accuses Gabriel of having saved the meat company from a €1m fine imposed by the Federal Cartel Office, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economics. In the letter, Robert Tönnies asks whether Gabriel’s fee can be understood as “retrospective reward for advantages enjoyed by the company during the time of his government activity.” Gabriel categorically denies the accusation.

Meanwhile, in East Westphalia, Tönnies and the media are trying to play down the conditions that led to the mass illnesses. The video by the caterer, it is said, was already in circulation on Mar 28, and not in April, under conditions of general lockdown. What a pathetic argument! It had been known at the latest since the end of February that the highly contagious pandemic was also raging in the country and spreading at breakneck speed. The curve of infection cases also rose exponentially in Germany. The horrific images from the overcrowded hospitals in northern Italy had been circulating since mid-March at the latest, and on Mar 22, the state of NRW issued a decree that a minimum distance of 1.5m must be maintained at workplaces as well. Several Romanian workers have confirmed in a film by broadcaster ntv.de that they were unable to maintain such a distance at Tönnies, even during the pandemic. One worker told his family that he had to work even when he was already sick. Another former Tönnies worker described how cramped the factory was until the very end. She reported:

In a space of only 2m, four of us stood at the conveyor belt.

Canada’s migrant workers protest lack of COVID-19 protections
Matthew Richter, Roger Jordan , WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Hundreds of migrant workers and their supporters joined a series of protests across Canada Saturday against the horrific working conditions they confront amid the coronavirus pandemic. At protests in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver participants demanded that workers be granted full immigration rights, and denounced the federal Liberal government and its provincial counterparts for their failure to protect migrant workers, refugees and undocumented workers from COVID-19 and the pandemic’s economic fall-out. Thousands of migrant and undocumented workers who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic have no access to emergency support, including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which pays a modest $2k per month to recipients for 24 weeks. Protesters criticized this state of affairs, carrying signs that read “Status for all” and “We are all essential.” A demonstrator in Montreal attacked the federal Liberal government’s pledge to offer permanent residency rights only to migrant workers with jobs in the health care sector. Describing the proposal as “unfair,” Floriane Payo, an asylum seeker from Cameroon who worked in a call centre until it closed in April, said:

We are all essential workers.

The protests reflect mounting anger among migrant workers and the population more broadly over the horrendous conditions that migrants workers admitted to Canada under various “temporary worker” programs confront, especially in the agricultural and meatpacking sectors. Over 800 migrant farmworkers from Mexico and the Caribbean have been infected with COVID-19 just in Ontario, and three of these, all from Mexico, have died. The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit published a media statement on their website last Wednesday confirming 191 cases at a single farm in Leamington, Ontario. Approximately 8k to 10k seasonal workers are employed across 176 farms in Windsor-Essex County. Figures cited by Santiago Escobar, a United Food and Commercial Workers representative, and the Mayor of Leamington, Hilda MacDonald, suggest that as many as 2k undocumented migrant workers are employed on farms across the county. Migrant workers account for 31.2% of all agricultural workers in Ontario. Many are brought to the country by agri-businesses under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.

The SAWP, which has long been promoted by Conservative and Liberal governments alike, allows for the super-exploitation of Latin American and Caribbean workers who are paid poverty wages and are accorded few legal protections. It is part of a gamut of “temporary worker” programs that have been greatly expanded over the past two decades to meet the needs of employers. These programs serve to supplement Canada’s highly restrictive immigration system, which prioritizes business labour market demands. Indeed, so pro-employer is Canada’s immigration system, Trump has touted it as a model, as have leaders of Germany’s far-right party, the AfD. Countries that are eligible to send workers to Canada under the SAWP include Mexico and the Caribbean countries of Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. Many of the workers hail from impoverished rural communities and rely on their wages to support extended families back home.

As is the case with other Canadian “temporary worker programs,” the immigration status of those who come to Canada under the SAWP is tied to their employment, meaning that they can be deported if they are fired or lose their jobs. This oppressive situation has facilitated the flourishing of ruthless exploitation, as employers can threaten workers who protest against poor conditions and abuse with the loss of their right to remain in Canada, along with their jobs.
Concerns over employers’ manifest failure to provide a safe working environment amid the pandemic compelled the Mexican government to announce last month that it was stopping Mexican nationals from travelling to Canada under the SAWP. The Mexican ambassador to Canada, Juan José Gómez Camacho, told the Canadian Press in an interview that at least 300 Mexican migrant workers had fallen ill with the virus, having contracted it via community transmission. Only after a worthless assurance from PM Trudeau that Ottawa will consider changes to the program did the Mexican government agree to lift the travel ban. Trudeau said on Jun 17:

We know that there are many issues that require looking at, from living conditions to the fact that they’re tied individually to particular companies or employers, to various challenges around labour standards.

Trudeau of course did not explain why it took a halt in the supply of cheap-labour from Mexico for his government to even acknowledge issues with the SAWP. And if truth be told, his admission was motivated not by concerns about the workers’ plight, but with safeguarding the lucrative profits of Canada’s agribusiness sector. Ontario’s hard-right, Doug Ford-led provincial government has also made clear that ensuring the smooth running of farms and other workplaces is its top priority, regardless of the impact this has on workers’ health. In late June, the Ontario government announced:

Positive asymptomatic workers (may) continue working as long as they follow the public health measures in their workplace to minimize the risk of transmission to others.

The new policy, cynically referred to as “work self-isolation,” was presented as necessary to maintain agricultural production and other “critical” business operations. In reality, it will ensure that many more worksites become COVID-19 hotspots. The Ford government also released a three-point plan to curb the spread of the virus in the farms and greenhouses of Windsor-Essex County. It calls for on-site testing, granting protections afforded by the Employment Standards Act to migrant workers and limited access to workplace compensation benefits, including the CERB for migrant workers who have made at least $5k in the past 12 months. Given that large numbers of migrant workers only recently arrived in Canada for the 2020 growing season, many will no doubt fail to meet the $5k minimum earnings hurdle. A press release from the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), an umbrella organization consisting of local advocacy groups, exposed the absurdity of the claims by Ford and other members of his government that social distancing and other public health measures can be effectively enforced in the agricultural sector. The MWAC cited many violations of workers’ rights. These include outright wage theft, lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), inability to socially distance while at work and in the cramped accommodations provided by employers, and employers’ ability to coerce and threaten migrant workers because of their precarious legal status.
Workers are crammed—often six or eight to a room—into unsanitary bunkhouses and old motels, where cockroach and bedbug infestations are common. The close quarters and unsanitary living conditions are a perfect breeding ground for the highly contagious coronavirus.

Last weekend’s protests were only the latest in a growing number of demonstrations driven by these miserable working and living conditions. On Jun 28, two protests were held in Leamington, a major agricultural area in Windsor-Essex County. A caravan of vehicles organized by Justice for Migrant workers drove by several farms, honking in support of migrant workers. The volunteer-run organization consists of labour organizers, educators and migrant workers. One of their main demands is the granting of full permanent resident status to all migrant workers. Leamington is at the heart of the largest concentration of greenhouses in North America, comprising 1,969 acres. Crops grown in the area include cucumbers, peppers, flowers and tomatoes. Historically, Leamington was a major centre of tomato production, supplying the local Heinz factory, which closed in 2014. The attempt of the UFCW and other unions to pose as defenders of migrant workers’ interests is deeply cynical. The trade unions have for years waged chauvinist Canadian nationalist campaigns against workers admitted to Canada under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. They have regularly sought to whip up anti-immigrant sentiments among native-born workers by urging governments to slash the number of TFWs allowed into Canada. Rather than blaming the capitalists and successive right-wing governments for worsening working conditions, these campaigns place the blame on the migrants themselves. The UFCW has also proven time and again that it has no intention of waging any genuine struggle to protect workers’ interests. At the huge Cargill meatpacking plant in High River, Alberta, which is largely staffed by immigrant and super-exploited temporary foreign workers, the UFCW ordered workers to return to their jobs even though close to 1k COVID-19 infections had been reported at the plant, and three deaths had been linked to the outbreak. The local UFCW president denounced job action to defend workers’ health and lives, on the grounds that this would be illegal under the state-designed, anti-worker collective bargaining system.

Nearly 200k jobs lost in the UK amid pandemic
Robert Stevens, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Nearly 200k jobs have been lost in the UK in just over three months. According to research published Monday by the Daily Mail, 59 major companies have shed more than 195k jobs since lockdown began in March. Workers have been laid off particularly heavily in the retail, travel, hospitality and manufacturing sectors. In the last days, the high-end retailer Harrods, as well as Café Rouge, Bella Italia and Topshop owner Arcadia have announced a further 14k redundancies, with at least 10k going in just two days, on Jul 1-2. On Monday, sandwich chain Pret a Manger announced that 30 of its shops will close permanently, with the loss of 1k jobs. The Centre for Retail Research revealed that 24,348 roles have gone at insolvent UK shops and businesses so far in 2020. These include brands that had a presence on the High Street going back decades, such as Laura Ashley and Debenhams. Others making thousands redundant include Monsoon, Accessorize, Cath Kidston, Quiz and Victoria’s Secret. The 2,123 stores of 38 large and medium-sized retailers forced into administration in the first six months of 2020 is already more than the total in the whole of 2019 (2,051 stores run by 43 retailers).

This year’s administrations affect 49.2k workers, with 45.5k employees affected last year. With the Johnson government allowing cafes and restaurants to fully reopen from Jul 4, Pret has reopened 339 out of its 410 UK shops. The UK cafes are part of 550 outlets that Pret operates globally employing 13,000 staff, including 8k in the UK. Along with the job losses at the 30 stores, the number of workers in Pret’s other shops will be reduced due to sales being down 74% on last year. Pret chief executive, Pano Christou, told the Financial Times that the firm faces a “significant restructuring of the business” and that job losses “could be 1k+” unless it reached sales of 50% to 60% of pre-coronavirus levels by September. Pret closed two shops in the north east of England last week, in Newcastle and Gateshead, with the loss of 28 jobs. In a further cost-cutting measures, Pret “has also put its 30k sq ft central London office on the market” and “will look to relocate to a more suburban London location.” The company is struggling to pay rent on its shops, with the newspaper noting it had “paid 10% of its March rent bill and 30% in June” and “would be negotiating with the chain’s more than 300 landlords individually.”

Pret’s announcement followed SSP Group, which runs rival food-to-go chains Upper Crust and Ritazza. The group plans to axe 5k jobs, more than half its UK workforce. Another two parent groups, The Restaurant Group that owns the Wagamama cafe chain, and the Casual Dining Group, which owns Café Rouge, have announced 4.6k job cuts between them. The UK’s oldest department store chain, John Lewis, warned last week that it plans hundreds of job losses, with some of its stores to remain permanently closed. The Daily Mirror reported:

One of two head offices in Victoria, normally home to 450 staff, will reportedly close under plans to encourage flexible working.

Managing Director Michael Ward of Harrods, the “The World’s Leading Luxury Department Store,” told staff by memo that due to “devastation in international trade” and the “ongoing impacts of this pandemic, we as a business will need to make reductions to our workforce.” Around 700 jobs will be lost at the London store, equating to 14% of its 4.8k workforce. The Clarks shoemaker is to cut 700 jobs worldwide over the next 18 months, with 100 to go at its Street HQ in Somerset where it was founded in 1825. Fashion firm Mulberry will axe around 500 jobs. Collapsed furniture store Harveys is making 240 redundancies. Even larger job losses are taking place at Oasis and Warehouse, which have gone into administration with 200 immediate job losses and 1.8k put at risk. Shirt-maker TM Lewin is to close all 66 of its UK shops, with most of its 700 workers laid off. The firm, founded in London in 1898, is to take all its sales online.

On Monday, Rugby Football Union announced it would reduce its workforce by nearly a quarter, with 139 jobs at risk. It cited projected losses of up to £107m due to the pandemic. Further job losses have been announced in manufacturing. Last month, rail manufacturer Wabtec announced that up to 450 jobs were threatened at its rail refurbishment factory in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, opening up a 45-day consultation period for redundancies. The famous Flying Scotsman locomotive was built on the site. On Sunday, Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ union leader Mick Cash said:

The company have now said that it will actually make 760 posts redundant, including all 682 manual graded staff, still cutting the 450 posts from the workforce but forcing the remainder into newly created posts with different contracts of employment and associated terms and conditions.

The plant is owned by the Wabtec Corporation, based in Pittsburgh, Pindostan. The employees in Doncaster are part of a global workforce of 27k spread across 50 countries. The firm has an $8b turnover supplying components and services to the rail industry. Magellan Aerospace is proposing to shed 100 jobs and close one of its two sites at Poole and Bournemouth, where it employs around 250. Magellan is headquartered in Canada and produces parts for the aerospace industry, primarily for Airbus and Boeing. It is imposing the cuts due to the knock-on effect of cuts at Airbus, which is shedding 15k job cuts worldwide, with 1,727 to go in Britain. Far more job losses are being planned by the corporations. Many thousands who have already lost their jobs were being paid 80% of their wages under the government’s furlough scheme. This will come to a tapered end beginning next month and withdrawn altogether in October. These corporations have already received £25.5b from the public purse to pay wages. According to a poll by Opinium, 44% of 500 businesses signed on to the furlough scheme said they intend to make more staff redundant when it ends. The survey found 65% of medium sized firms employing between 50 and 249 workers expect redundancies. The one constant in the massive wave of job losses is the refusal of the pro-corporation trade unions to fight in defence of a single job. Their main gripe, even when they bother to comment on the gutting of workers livelihoods, is that they are being denied a role in imposing the redundancies, as is the case with the Communications Workers Union and British Telecom. At Wabtec, RMT leader Mick Cash complained:

Additionally and even more outrageously, the company has stated that if it does not achieve its aims through consultation and negotiations with the union, then it will dismiss all staff and re-engage those it needs to continue the business.

Dozens of immigrants drown in eastern Turkey’s Lake Van
Barış Demir, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

After the removal of coronavirus restrictions, a boat carrying dozens of immigrants believed to come from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran sank in eastern Turkey’s Lake Van on Jun 27. So far, rescue workers have only recovered bodies of 10 migrants. But it is believed that the boat still at the bottom of the lake was carrying at least 60 or more people. While local residents have claimed that more than 100 immigrants might have lost their lives, at least 11 people were arrested about the incident. This tragedy is not the first. Last December, seven died and 64 others were rescued when a boat sank carrying refugees and immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Migrants reportedly are forced to travel by boat over Lake Van to bypass police checkpoints on land. Van, a city on the Iranian border, is a transit point for immigrants fleeing war, persecution and poverty from Central and South East Asian countries that have been devastated by imperialist interventions. Many immigrants travel through Turkey as a transit country and then follow the Aegean Sea route through Greece in hope of reaching Europe. Last week, the Turkish Coast Guard Command also rescued 35 migrants and is still searching for four others after their boat capsized off the coast of Ayvalık in Turkey’s western Balıkesir province near the Aegean Sea, opposite the Greek island of Lesbos. Turkey’s state-owned TRT Haber claimed that the rubber boat carrying the migrants was punctured by the Greek Coast Guard, who also removed the fuel tank and pushed migrants toward the Turkish coast.

In early March, Turkey opened its gates for migrants wanting to cross to Europe, accusing the EU of failing to keep its promises in a 2016 migrant deal. Turkey’s attempt to use refugees to blackmail the European NATO powers into backing Ankara’s war aims in Syria led to a new crisis on its western border. The Erdoğan government indicated that Ankara would no longer block some 3.5m Syrian refugees and hundreds of thousands of more immigrants from leaving the country for Europe. At that time, refugees took to boats on the Aegean Sea, marching to the Greek and Bulgarian borders. Heavily armed police and military units intervened against helpless refugees who have fled the conflicts in the Middle East to seek refuge in Europe. With EU support, Greek soldiers fired tear gas at refugees including women and children and even used live ammunition, killing and injuring several on the border. After Mar 11, when the first case was traced in Turkey, the Erdoğan government long continued to encourage immigrants to go to the border with Greece. However, the government suspended this policy temporarily after a meeting between Turkish and EU officials in early March amidst a growing COVID-19 outbreak in Europe, leaving them to their fate during the pandemic across Turkey. In early June, the International Organisation for Migrants in Turkey’s emergency coordinator, Mazen Aboulhosn, stated:

The COVID-19 epidemic hit migrant and refugee communities in the larger cities such as Istanbul, Izmir and Gaziantep particularly hard. Hundreds of thousands of migrants were among the first to lose their jobs, causing an immediate financial burden for them and their families. Many are still not able to afford food, medicine and health-care.

Studies reveal the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate health and social impact on migrants. Fully 63% of refugees have had difficulty getting food during the pandemic, and more than 88% reportedly had no employment, compared to 18% before the outbreak. While the Health Ministry has still refused to make public the full coronavirus data in Turkey, there is little information about the health situation facing millions of refugees and immigrants who lack basic social rights in the country. Today, the coronavirus pandemic is not under control in Turkey or elsewhere in the world. As a result of the policies of “normalisation” and the return to work in the interests of the ruling class, the number of daily cases has risen more than 1k again. Immigrants, who live in crowded houses or packed like sardines in vehicles, are one of the largest risk groups. The camps, often funded by the EU and lacking basic sanitation, are in grave danger of succumbing to COVID-19.

The plight of asylum seekers in Turkey and Greece is the product of the EU’s brutal policies. A rotten deal between the EU, Turkey and Greece in Mar 2016 established Greece as the EU’s jailer of refugees and obliged the Erdoğan regime to ensure that refugees from the war zones in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan will not make their way to Europe. The agreement mandates that all refugees entering Greece via “irregular” routes, making the dangerous journey via boat from Turkey to Greece, will be deported back to Turkey. Only those who can prove that they would be persecuted in Turkey can obtain asylum in Greece. Once in Greece, they are interned until their applications for asylum are processed. Most are denied and sent back to Turkey. The nearly 5m refugees and immigrants who live in Turkey amount to a significant fraction of the approximately 79.5m refugees fleeing imperialist war and poverty around the globe. It is a critical task of the international working class, in particular in Turkey and Greece, to defend refugees. They must be released from detention camps, receive medical care, and obtain full democratic rights including citizenship rights. They must have the right to settle in the country of their choice and study, live, and work as they please.

Scientist warns Istanbul earthquake could kill hundreds of thousands
Ozan Özgür, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Speaking to the daily Cumhuriyet on Jun 29, well-known geologist Professor Naci Görü warned that no preparations are being made for an expected earthquake of magnitude at least 7.2 in Istanbul that could kill hundreds of thousands. Earthquake experts internationally agree that an earthquake of at least magnitude 7 is likely in the next 10 years in Istanbul. The scientist was asked:

What would Istanbul look like if there was an earthquake with a minimum magnitude of 7.2?

Görü replied:

That’s our concern. For example, there is an earthquake report published by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. If it were me, I would not have published it. It must have been made by our very optimistic friends. It clamed there would be 14k deaths after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Istanbul. This is not true. A simple account: there are 1.6m buildings. Let’s reduce all mortal cases to 1% in Istanbul. This means 16k buildings. Suppose that each building has four floors. It means 64k floors. If we think two apartments on each floor, it means 128k apartments. Put four people in each apartment, does it exceed 400k?

Blaming successive central and local governments for the neglect of earthquake risks not only in Istanbul but across Turkey, he criticised massive government construction projects like the Istanbul Canal, Istanbul Airport, highways and bridges, built in the interests of big business, for blocking necessary measures against earthquake risks. He said:

This government was not the only one responsible for the failure to take action regarding the earthquake. So were the previous ones. Neither canal projects nor airport projects, nor bridge or road projects are more important than this country’s massive death toll in an earthquake. Ask the scientists, if you do the things they draw attention to, you cannot stop the earthquake, but you will reduce the damage. Perhaps you will reduce it to 100 deaths, instead of losing 10k lives. So is not this the biggest project? Why don’t you do it? What are you waiting for?

Three months before the earthquake in the eastern Turkish city of Elazığ in January, Görü had warned of the earthquake risk in the area, calling for immediate action. A 6.8 magnitude earthquake on Jan 24 left 41 dead and more than 1.6k injured. Turkey is an earthquake-prone country, many of whose cities are built on active faults, and has a disastrous earthquake record. Last month, there were several earthquakes of magnitude between 4 and 5.5 across Turkey. In the 1999 Marmara earthquake, official reports said about 18,000 people lost their lives and more than 25,000 were injured. Some unofficial reports estimate that the real death toll was 50,000 and there were 100k injured. A 2011 earthquake in the eastern province of Van left more than 600 dead and nearly 4.2k injured. All the research carried out especially after the 1999 earthquake show that the anticipated earthquake on the North Anatolian Fault Line will likely be at least magnitude 7.2 in the Marmara Sea, off Istanbul. This would cause a disaster not only in Turkey’s biggest city, but also in neighboring industrial cities such as Kocaeli, Bursa and Tekirdağ. Nonetheless, the ruling class and governments from all establishment parties have done nothing against this coming disaster in Istanbul, where 16m people live, or almost 20% of the Turkish population. Instead of preparing for a massive earthquake that scientists have warned about for years, social resources have been transferred to the capitalist class. In fact, the death toll from the next massive earthquake in Istanbul could be a product of not a natural catastrophe but a social crime committed by the Turkish ruling class.

The Erdoğan government undoubtedly bears the main responsibility for this great destruction and death danger facing millions of workers. Not only was Erdoğan president since 2002, but he was mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1999. Until the 2019 local elections, Istanbul has been governed by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). In all these years, while national and local authorities changed construction plans for Istanbul to allow real estate companies to build massive building and gain billions, nothing was done in preparation for the earthquake. In 2011, Turkey’s finance minister said the government had spent earthquake taxes (about 46b to 48b Turkish liras) collected since 1999 on double highways, health care and education, not on preparing for earthquakes. However, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, who was supported by the far-right Good Party, the Kurdish-nationalist Peoples’ Democratic Party and numerous pseudo-left groups in the Mar 2019 local elections as an “alternative” to the AKP, does not have a different earthquake policy from his predecessor. Instead of performing concrete work like the urgent renovation of buildings in working class neighborhoods, İmamoğlu focused on determining gathering areas for the population and how to do initial damage analysis immediately after an earthquake.

For years and especially in Istanbul, “urban transformation” campaigns have been a way to drive working-class residents from the city centre and build luxury residences for the affluent. The purpose is not to protect residents from earthquakes, but to boost profits for construction firms and enrich the wealthiest layers of society. Due to this irrationality of capitalism, thousands of new, earthquake-resistant apartments remain empty in Istanbul and other cities, while hundreds of thousands of people live in old buildings that are death traps and will likely collapse in a future earthquake. Natural disasters, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and global pandemics such as COVID-19 have mainly hit the working class, which constitutes the vast majority of society, and poor sections of the middle classes, due to their miserable living conditions. On the other hand, a tiny privileged elite of billionaires and multi-millionaires wallow in wealth and live in castle-like houses. The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has clearly demonstrated that defending humanity against natural disasters, climate change and the pandemic threat requires a level of planning and global cooperation that capitalism can never achieve. A massive plan of public works is necessary to reconstruct cities across the world threatened by natural disasters, such as Istanbul, based on scientific planning and the highest level of security, to provide everyone with the fundamental right to safe housing. The implementation of this solution requires the conscious struggle to transfer political power to the working class, struggle for international socialism, based on planning global economic life based on social needs, not private profit.

australia

Growing opposition to Australian police lockdown of Melbourne public housing residents
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

There is mounting anger over the Victorian state Labor government’s decision to impose a “hard” police lockdown on some 3k residents in nine inner-city Melbourne public housing towers. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Saturday afternoon that the residents would not be permitted to leave their apartments for a minimum of five days and as long as two weeks. The unprecedented move, backed by the federal Liberal-National government, came as the state’s surge in coronavirus infections continued to spiral out of control. Community transmission appears to be rampant, with 191 new cases announced in Victoria today, the highest daily tally since the pandemic began in March. Some 69 residents of the Flemington and North Melbourne towers have tested positive for COVID-19, but health authorities have warned that as many as 300 or 10% may be infected already. Residents in the towers and working people more broadly have condemned the punitive, police-state measures to which the tenants have been subjected. The buildings have been flooded with 500 police officers, but tenants who are sick have not been evacuated and few health or cleaning measures have been put in place to prevent further transmission. The residents were given just half an hour’s notice of the lockdown, and some only found out from media reports or when dozens of police arrived.

A letter distributed by Victorian authorities in the towers yesterday revealed that the stay-at-home order came into effect at 3:30 pm on Saturday, some 30 minutes before it was publicly announced. Some residents have said officers were already in place before Andrews made the announcement. The police claimed not to know what was taking place, but said they had been instructed to prevent residents from leaving their buildings. In comments to the press and on social media, many tenants have spoken out about the lack of adequate services and food. Lucy, a single mother, is locked in a three-bedroom apartment with her seven children. Because there was no notice of the lockdown, she had limited supplies of meat, but no vegetables or milk. She was provided with a phone number to ask for supplies. She told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Monday:

I was waiting all day and all night and they came at midnight. I opened the door and it was one soup packet and five meat pies and that was it. It’s not enough for eight people in the house. I will give it to my kids and I’ll be left here starving myself.

Amr Osman, a young worker, began sharing his experiences on Twitter shortly after the lockdown was imposed. On Sunday, Osman wrote:

The decision to place food in foyers calls into question the stated purpose of the lockdown. It contradicts the Victorian government’s declaration that it is essential for residents to stay within their own apartments to prevent mass transmission in the crowded towers. Other residents said they only began to receive sufficient food on Monday, some 36 hours into the lockdown. This coincided with supplies being brought in by charity groups. In other words, it appears that the government had not secured sufficient foodstuffs for the residents, before forcing them to stay inside. Reports are continuing to emerge of Muslim residents being given pork products and of some food being out-of-date or nutritionally inadequate. Because it is a “hard lockdown,” friends and relatives have been unable to bring supplies to their loved ones. Community groups have been compelled to organise deliveries of culturally-appropriate foods, sourced from local restaurants. In at least some of the towers, food donations from mosques and other community organisations have been confiscated by the police. In an indication that the food supply remains perilous, journalists outside one tower block reported today that a resident began screaming that they were hungry and did not have enough to eat. Some have voiced fears about access to medication.

Janine Kelly, a 50-year-old in one of the Flemington buildings who suffers emphysema, told the Special Broadcasting Service that she had phoned a health department hotline on Sunday to ask for supplies of her medication. As of Monday night, she still had received no reply. She also had not been tested for COVID-19, despite being in an at-risk demographic. Others said they have not been able to get through to government hotlines. It was left to the residents themselves to translate information on the lockdown and necessary preventative measures into ten written languages and five oral dialects. There are growing concerns over the mental health consequences of the lockdown and the lack of information. The towers are home to some of the most vulnerable layers of the population, including refugees who have fled wars and oppression, non-English speaking migrants, and workers and young with complex addiction and psychological issues. Ahmed Dini, a 32-year-old who lives in one of the North Melbourne towers, told the ABC there was “no trust” between the authorities and the residents. Dini explained:

We should have seen buses and cars full of healthcare and mental health workers and social workers, not the police. We know some people who use drugs and substances and have been locked away and will go into withdrawal which could spark domestic violence. We need people to make mental health calls. We are asking for counsellors to share their numbers so people can call them directly. I’m scared the longer we go, the more problems we are going to have.

Others pointed to the repressive character of the massive police mobilisation. Tekeste Hailu, a 27-year-old who lives with his elderly grandmother, told the ABC that people in the towers were scared of the police. Hailu noted that many residents, including himself, are of African descent. The police have been at the forefront of a years-long witch-hunt by the political and media establishment, falsely demonising African youth as “gang members,” and routinely harassing them. Hailu said:

Especially with what’s happening in the current situation with the police and the African background, all the youths are very terrified of the police. Now they’re coming around, getting them to be under a lockdown, it’s obviously going to trigger a lot of trauma. The residents would have been willing to stay at home and be tested, instead of just bombarding us with 500 police at once and locking us down. There was no time to have air or anything, the basic human rights. No food, no nothing, they just sent us to lockdown.

The dangers of a state crackdown were underscored yesterday when a 32-year-old man attempted to flee one of the Flemington blocks. He was arrested and has been charged with assaulting police, resisting arrest and violating health orders. The lockdown reveals the class character of the official response to the pandemic. Over the past month, restrictions have been prematurely lifted to ensure the profits of big business. Now that government policies have resulted in a surge of infections, the most vulnerable sections of the working class are being subjected to police-state measures. The poor conditions in the apartments, are an indictment of successive Liberal-National and Labor governments. They have deliberately run down existing public housing blocks and failed to build new stocks. This is part of a broader austerity offensive to cut social spending and restructure society to boost corporate profit.

Thousands more jobs destroyed in Australia
Terry Cook, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

With major corporate players like Qantas in the lead, employers across Australia are using the COVID-19 pandemic to restructure their operations, including by shedding thousands of jobs and cutting wages and conditions. An estimated 69k people returned to work in May as the result of the reckless drive by the federal and state governments to lift public health restrictions vital to preventing the spread of the virus. Even so, unemployment remains at levels not seen since the 1930s Great Depression. According to a May jobs survey by market research agency Roy Morgan, 1.37m people were unemployed, 10.3% of the workforce, and an additional 1.22m, or 9.2%, were under-employed. In one of the most ruthless examples of corporate restructuring, Australia’s largest airline, Qantas, announced at the end of last month that it will shed 6k jobs. It maintained the stand-down of 15k other workers that it imposed in March, even after pocketing its share of a $715m government handout to the aviation industry.Making clear the company’s intent to offload the crisis onto workers, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told the media his plan was to “right-size our workforce, our fleet, our capital spending for a world that has less flying for an extended period.” This was aimed at “delivering ongoing savings” of $15b over three years and then $1b annually after 2023. Qantas’s low-cost carrier Jetstar has cut 370 jobs, including 200 at the regional Newcastle airport, and closed its maintenance base there.

An unspecified number of jobs will be axed from Virgin Australia, Qantas’ main competitor. If it succeeds in taking over the airline, the private equity firm Bain Capital plans to ditch Virgin’s full-service operation and abandon numbers of routes. Virgin’s low-cost carrier Tigerair will be terminated, ending the jobs of 220 pilots and 180 cabin crew. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data has revealed the biggest-ever recorded collapse of job vacancies. They fell by 43% in the three months to May, surpassing the previous 27% record drop in the three months to Nov 1990. According to job search agency Indeed.com, there were around 12 people looking for work for every job vacancy. Given the ongoing mass sackings, this ratio is set to worsen. Over the three months to May, 68.3k jobs were shed across the manufacturing sector, taking the number down to 852.8k, the lowest level since 1984. Deloitte Access Economics estimates that up to 60% of jobs have been lost in the accommodation, food, arts and recreation industries, and forecasts the sectors will not recover before the end of 2025. It also predicts that one in five specialty retail stores could be closed by 2024.

Job cuts are deepening across most sectors. In March, the Star Entertainment Group stood down 8.1k workers after closing its food, beverage, conferencing and gaming facilities. Travel agent Flight Centre confirmed it will cut 1.5k jobs and close 428 of its 944 stores by the end of July as part of a move to cut its base monthly costs to $65m. Up to 70% of the company’s 10k Australian staff members already have been stood down or made redundant since the outbreak of COVID-19. Rival agency Helloworld announced in March it will make 275 staff redundant and temporarily stand down 1.3k more workers, even after confirming it has “significant” cash reserves. Insurer Allianz Partners Australia will withdraw from the offline travel insurance market, shedding 45 jobs. Deloitte Australia, one of the country’s big four professional services firms, is sacking 700 professional staff from its 10k-strong Australian workforce. While reporting a 10% growth in revenue for the financial year, the company announced in April an 8% reduction in annualised pay for the majority of its staff. Other cuts across this sector include KPMG Australia, which shed 200 staff in April and then implemented a 20% pay cut over four months, beginning in May. PwC Australia revealed in late June that it will cut 400 staff from its 8k-strong workforce, mainly from the consultancy and financial advisory division.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the public broadcaster, is axing 250 jobs due to a $41m budget shortfall resulting from federal government budget cuts. News Corp is cutting 100 jobs across its metropolitan newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph, the Herald Sun and the Australian. The Seven Network cancelled its current affairs program Sunday Night, ending an 11-year run and culling around 38 reporters, producers and editors. Foxtel will eliminate 70 positions across its marketing and creative divisions, in a second round of job cuts this year. In the energy and mining sector, Woodside Energy announced 500 job cuts at its gas plant operations at Karratha in Western Australia amid falling gas prices. Chevron is preparing to shed 600 jobs at its Western Australia gas projects. Around 400 jobs will be axed by mining giant BHP Billiton as part of the 3.4k to be cut, mainly in its coal and nickel operations. The company announced in January that it was eliminating 6k jobs as part of a global downsizing. CBG Resources’ will cut 70 jobs at the Rasp Mine in Broken Hill and Origin Energy will sack around 140 workers at its Adelaide call centre.

Thousands of workers have been stood down and jobs permanently cut across the retail sector, which had already seen scores of store closures and redundancies prior to the pandemic. Last month, Woolworths announced it will automate operations at warehouses in Sydney and Melbourne, eliminating 1.5k jobs by 2025. Also in June, Wesfarmers flagged the closure of some 167 of its Target stores, cutting up to 1.3k positions over the next 12 months. Department store chain Myer will shed 90 head office jobs. Uber will slash 100 jobs from its Australian operations as part of the shedding of 3.7k positions globally. In May Luv-a-Duck cut 61 jobs at its Nhill processing plant in north-west Victoria. Hundreds of jobs are being destroyed at universities, including 145 at Charles Sturt. The University of Wollongong has stated it will axe between 150 and 300 staff, while Central Queensland University announced it would cut 99 jobs, on top of 197 voluntary redundancies. The National Gallery of Australia will sack 30 to 40 workers, accounting for 12% of its staff, as part of an “operational restructure” due to a reported $3.6m funding shortfall. Up to 40 jobs will be axed from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation energy team, including key scientists, engineers and researchers.

Australian court rejects Murdoch appeal against Geoffrey Rush defamation verdict
Linda Tenenbaum, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Last Thursday, a Full Bench of the Federal Court in Sydney rejected legal appeals by Rupert Murdoch’s Nationwide News, publisher of the Daily Telegraph, to overturn a prior court judgment that the Sydney tabloid had defamed internationally-acclaimed Australian actor Geoffrey Rush. The articles were authored by the newspaper’s celebrity gossip columnist Jonathan Moran. In a detailed 169-page ruling, three Federal Court Justices, Jacqueline Gleeson, Richard White and Michael Wheelahan, unanimously endorsed Judge Michael Wigney’s earlier 2019 verdict that Rush had been defamed on several counts. The full bench approved the previous $2.9m in damages awarded to Rush, the largest to an individual in Australian legal history, arguing:

The final sum was not manifestly excessive, having regard to the extremely serious nature of the imputations that were conveyed by the publications. The damages were a combination of the personal hurt and injury (Rush) suffered due to the articles, the work he lost before the trial due to the articles, and future work he would lose due to the articles, and then interest.

The full bench also suggested that Justice Wigney may have underestimated the impact of the Telegraph’s defamatory article on the award-winning actor’s income. During the previous defamation case, Nationwide News attempted to defend its defamatory articles by claiming that Rush had behaved “inappropriately” towards Eryn Jean Norvill in a 2015–16 Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear. This allegedly included making groping actions with his hands over her body when she lay “dead” on the stage as Cordelia; making comments to her containing sexual innuendo; touching her back lightly; tracing his finger above her right breast, and making lewd gestures towards her with his hands and face. Justice Wigney had declared that, on the balance of probabilities, none of these was proven to be true. This was endorsed by the full bench who supported Wigney’s assessment that Norvill’s evidence was not reliable. the full bench said:

Like the Judge, we consider that Ms Norvill’s contemporaneous conduct did give cause to question the reliability of her account of the incidents on which the appellants rely.

The judges pointed out that although lawyers for Nationwide had challenged Wigney’s conclusion that Norvill was an “unreliable witness,” they did not challenge the findings that Rush was a “credible witness.” Nor did they contest that the evidence given by Neil Armfield, who directed King Lear, along with actors Robyn Nevin and Helen Buday, and other cast members, was “honest and reliable.” They wrote:

The Full Court did not consider that his Honour erred in his ultimate conclusion concerning Ms Norvill’s credit. It did not accept that the Judge had overlooked difficulties which Ms Norvill may have experienced in giving evidence as a person complaining of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Last week’s unanimous Federal Court verdict is both a powerful confirmation of Rush’s determination to challenge this scurrilous attack on his reputation, and another blow against the #MeToo movement and its assault on basic legal rights. Its rebuttal of all of the grounds of Nationwide News’ appeal follows last year’s defeat of a false #MeToo-inspired rape charge against veteran TV and movie actor John Jarratt.

The bogus allegation that Jarratt had raped a woman more than 40 years ago in 1976, when he was 23, was given front-page treatment in the Daily Telegraph in mid-Nov 2017. These articles, which were also written by Jonathan Moran, were published before the allegations were even given to the police, and prior to any official announcement of an investigation. The rape charge was unanimously rejected in a five-day trial last year by a jury of five men and seven women. Proven innocent, Jarratt launched two separate defamation cases against the Daily Telegraph, the first over its Nov 2017 story and another over its reportage of the trial outcome, before settling out of court for undisclosed sums. Likewise, the allegations against Rush’s “inappropriate behaviour” in King Lear were demonstrably false. The Daily Telegraph simply seized on an entirely unproven claim which had been privately communicated by Norvill to an STC colleague, and luridly promoted it in two editions of its tabloid newspaper, along with a widely-circulated billboard poster, both published in 2017.

Devastated by the negative publicity directed against him, generated by the Murdoch newspapers, and its impact upon his family and career, Rush took the courageous decision to sue the Daily Telegraph. Launching his action at the Melbourne city offices of his legal team in Dec 2017, Rush read a carefully prepared statement, soon after the King Lear smear campaign had begun. he declared:

The situation is intolerable, and I must now seek vindication of my good name through the courts. The Daily Telegraph has made false, pejorative and demeaning claims, splattering them with unrelenting bombast on its front pages. This has created irreparable damage to my reputation, has been extremely hurtful to my wife, my daughter and my son, and to my extended family as well as to many colleagues in the film, television and theatre industry.

Rush’s decision to sue the Daily Telegraph and expose the bogus allegations, like that of Jarratt, was both courageous and correct. While the case has delivered an important blow against the anti-democratic #MeToo movement and its selfish middle-class concerns, the attacks on the presumption of innocence, due process and other basic legal rights continue. The NYT and other media warriors for #MeToo continue their persecution and demonisation of those they have decided to “take down.” Last week’s Full Court decision does not prevent the Daily Telegraph seeking special leave to appeal to the High Court. According to media reports, the defamation case, including legal costs and the payout to Rush, will cost Nationwide News about $6m. The Murdoch media has deep pockets and may well pursue an appeal as part of the agenda of the ruling class to eviscerate basic democratic rights, as it carries out ongoing attacks on the social conditions of the working class.

pindostan

Demagogs’ denunciation of Pindostan’s revolutionary heritage provides an opening for Trump
Niles Niemuth, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

The Filth & The Fury

Donald Trump attained new heights of buffoonery in his Jul 3 speech before Mount Rushmore, when he attempted to combine an absurd oration proclaiming his devotion to democracy with a carefully practiced impersonation of Mussolini. Struggling with his teleprompter, Trump proclaimed:

Our Founders launched not only a revolution in government, but a revolution in the pursuit of justice, equality, liberty, and prosperity. No nation has done more to advance the human condition than Pindostan. And no people have done more to promote human progress than the citizens of our great nation. It was all made possible by the courage of 56 patriots who gathered in Philadelphia 244 years ago and signed the Declaration of Independence. They enshrined a divine truth that changed the world forever when they said: “All men are created equal.” These immortal words set in motion the unstoppable march of freedom. Our Founders boldly declared that we are all endowed with the same divine rights, given us by our Creator in Heaven. And that which God has given us, we will allow no one ever to take away. Ever.

He went on:

We will state the truth in full, without apology: We declare that Pindostan is the most just and exceptional nation ever to exist on Earth. We are proud of the fact that our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and we understand that these values have dramatically advanced the cause of peace and justice throughout the world.

Trump does not know what he is talking about. Just for the sake of historical accuracy, it should be pointed out that the Founders explicitly opposed all efforts to commit the Pindo government to favor any set of religious principles over another. Thomas Jefferson’s conception of religious freedom, as he wrote in 1776 in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, granted equal legal rights to “the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian, the Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.” Later, and even more famously, then President Jefferson wrote in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut that the religious clauses of the First Amendment of the Constitution had built “a wall between Church and State.” Of course, the real problem in Trump’s approach to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is not that he is ignorant. Rather, it is that his opinions are those of an admirer of fascism. He would, if he had his druthers, overthrow the Constitution and preside over a military-police dictatorship. That is precisely what he attempted to do in early June. The effort failed for lack of adequate preparation. But it remains Trump’s goal. His speech included threats to crush his political opponents, especially the “Marxists” and the “radical left.” However, and this is what was most notable about his Mount Rushmore speech as well as the one he delivered in Faschingstein on Jul 4, Trump packaged his essentially fascist speech as a defense of Pindostan’s revolutionary democratic traditions. His opponents, Trump proclaimed, are repudiating all the democratic principles and traditions associated with the Pindo Revolution and its leaders. But he, Donald Trump, is the champion of Pindostan’s revolutionary heritage. How has it become possible for Trump to posture as the defender of Pindo democracy? As the WSJ, full of praise for Trump’s speech, explained:

Liberal elites have created this opening for him by failing to stand up against the radicals who are using the justified anger at the killing of George Floyd as a cudgel to hijack Pindostan’s liberal institutions and impose their intolerant political views on everyone else.

Noting the “NYT’s 1619 project, which derides Pindostan’s founding in 1776 and replaces it with a history that distills the country into a slave-owning enterprise that remains racist to the core,” the WSJ asks:

Who is really stoking division and a culture war?

The newspaper concludes that, despite the Trump administration’s disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump might even win reelection if he keeps going along these lines:

No doubt Mr Trump hopes this theme can restart his election campaign, and for once he gave a speech that was about something more than himself. Stay on script, add a second-term agenda, and he might even have a chance. But whatever the result in November, Mr Trump’s Mount Rushmore theme isn’t going away. Progressive elites are courting a backlash that will have more than one champion.

In other words, Trump is taking full advantage of the fact that the Demagog Party is seeking to direct multiracial protests against police violence down the path of reactionary racialist politics. Trump and the Thugs have seized the opportunity to absurdly cast themselves as the defenders the revolutionary heritage of Pindostan, as the legitimate demands for the removal of Confederate monuments have devolved into attacks on Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Grant, along with abolitionists who fought and died to put an end to slavery. Following the logic laid out by the NYT in its racialist rewriting of history, the 1619 Project, which casts Lincoln as simply a garden-variety racist, a monument to Lincoln and the destruction of slavery is to be removed from public view in Boston. An op-ed published by the NYT on Monday called for the destruction of the Jefferson Memorial in Faschingstein. According to the NYT, since Jefferson and many of his contemporaries were slave owners, there is no progressive content in what they did.

From the standpoint of political strategy, the disassociation of the “left” from the revolutionary traditions of Pindostan is a blunder of monumental proportions (to coin a phrase), giving Trump the opportunity to legitimize his fascist message as a defense of Pindo democracy. However, the attack on figures like Jefferson, the 18th-century author of the greatest Enlightenment statement, that “all men are created equal,” has nothing to do with genuine left-wing or socialist politics. Rather, it gives expression to the social interests and fundamentally anti-democratic aspirations of an upper middle-class layer. The last four decades, beginning with the presidency of Reagan 40 and continued in all subsequent administrations, have witnessed an extraordinary growth of social inequality. The Black Pindo population has not been exempted from this process. A vast social chasm separates the wealthiest 10% of Black Pindos from the poorest 90%. The protracted process of wealth concentration has produced over time an erosion of democratic consciousness. This has found peculiar expression in the largely upper middle-class academic community of tenured professors, increasingly hostile to theories of history that prioritize class and class struggle. This section of society is far more interested in theories that concentrate on issues of identity, meaning race, gender, sexuality, etc, which can be employed to demand and achieve greater access to the massive wealth now concentrated at the apex of society. The social interests of this layer are fused with the efforts of the ruling as a whole to divide the working class and block the development of a unified struggle against capitalism.

The Demagogs and Thugs have deployed race in their own ways for this purpose. While Trump tries to cultivate a fascist base, the Demagogs relentlessly stoke racial conflict with their promotion of reactionary conceptions such as “white privilege” and the claim that police violence is the responsibility of “white people” rather than the capitalist state. From the milieu that surrounds the Demagog Party, including the NYT, every issue is interpreted as a racial issue. Poverty, the impact of the coronavirus, police violence and every other consequences of capitalism are presented as products of the irreconcilable racial divide. This framing of Pindo society has the benefit that it does not lead to any questioning of the capitalist system or the domination over society of the corporate and financial oligarchy. It is not a question of establishing genuine social equality, but rather “equity,” the greater apportionment of positions of power to a small section of minority populations. No progressive movement has ever been built based on the elevation of race as the fundamental social category. Genuinely left-wing socialist politics are based on the fight to unify the entire working class, regardless of race, gender or nationality. It is only on this basis that all forms of racism can be opposed. In carrying out this struggle, the working class is the real repository of all that is progressive in the revolutionary struggles of the past, including the two great bourgeois democratic Pindo revolutions. The development of such a movement is not only of an intellectual-polemical character. The decisive question is the development of the class struggle itself. It is precisely to the emergence of such a movement, accelerated by the homicidal back-to-work campaign of the ruling elites and the massive social crisis engulfing the country, that both Trump and the Demagogs are responding. The working class must be armed with a revolutionary socialist leadership. This is the central task of the SEP and its sister parties in the IC4I. We call on those who want to build this movement to join the SEP and take up the fight for socialism.

As cut-off of $600 weekly benefit and wave of evictions loom, Congress takes a holiday
Shannon Jones, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

With tens of millions of workers facing the triple threat of the cutoff of the $600 weekly federal supplement to their state unemployment compensation, the resumption of evictions in most states, and a renewed upsurge in the coronavirus pandemic, the response of the federal Congress was to go on vacation. The Demagog-controlled House and the Thug-controlled Senate adjourned Jul 3 without taking up an extension of the $600 weekly supplement provided in the CARES Act, which is set to expire on Jul 25. Congress will not return to work until Monday, Jul 20, and there is little prospect that the full supplement will be extended, given intransigent opposition from corporate Pindostan, which has branded the payments a “disincentive” to forcing workers back to unsafe workplaces.

The $600 supplement has been a lifeline for tens of millions of workers thrown onto unemployment lines by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis. Large numbers of workers, particularly those in part-time and other contingent forms of work, actually saw an increase in income because combined state and federal benefits brought them up to nearly $1k/wk, actually above the official poverty line. The looming unemployment cut-off takes place as temporary eviction moratoriums have expired in 20 states, including Texas and Wisconsin, and eviction bans in nine others are set to expire by the end of the month, as well as the federal ban, which affects only properties insured or underwritten through federal agencies. A study by the real estate firm Amherst projects that almost 28m households are at risk of eviction due to job losses related to the pandemic.

The Trump administration and most congressional Thugs are opposing renewal of the $600 unemployment supplement, proposing either a complete cut-off, an extension at a much lower level, or transforming the unemployment benefit into an incentive bonus for going back to work, essentially paying workers to risk their lives and the lives of their families and friends under conditions of a worsening pandemic. The same options have been embraced by sections of the Democratic Party, with at least one prominent Demagog, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, a multimillionaire, telling a local Chamber of Commerce that the $600 benefit “discourages work.” Some Senate Demagogs proposed to extend the supplement at lower levels indexed to the official unemployment rate (which grossly undercounts the actual jobless toll). The House passed an extension of the $600 benefit into early 2021, but the vote in May on the so-called Heroes Act was purely for show. Pelosi and other Demagog leaders knew the bill would go nowhere given Thug opposition, and the vote allowed them to proclaim their sympathy with struggling workers at zero cost.

The 18 days until the cut-off will be consumed by backroom horse-trading between the House Demagogs, the Senate Thugs and the White House, with all factions vying for the support of Wall Street and big business. Since the eruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, the response of all factions of the ruling establishment has been to prioritize support of Wall Street. After enacting a multi-trillion-dollar bailout of the big corporations, they soon dropped efforts to contain the pandemic, as well as measures to further ameliorate its economic impact on workers. The end of the federal $600 unemployment supplement would plunge millions of families overnight into poverty under conditions where there are 19.3m people drawing jobless benefits, compared to just 1.7m in early March. That number is three times higher than the peak during the 2008-2009 Great Recession. Jobless benefits vary widely state by state, but generally only provide a fraction of prior wages. In Florida, for example, the maximum weekly benefit is a starvation level $275.

More than 1m new claims for unemployment have been filed for each of the past 16 weeks, another staggering number that speaks to the depth of the economic catastrophe engulfing Pindostan. Adding to the hardship, food prices are rising at the fastest rate in 50 years. The Consumer Price Index for food is 3.4% and rising but has been much higher for staple goods like canned food and pasta. Perhaps the most immediate threat to large numbers of working-class families hit hard by unemployment is that they have been unable to make rent payments in April, May and June, and now face the threat of imminent eviction and homelessness. The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project based in Colorado warned that 20 percent of the 110m renters in the US are at risk of eviction by Sep 30, some 500k in the state of Colorado alone. Breonne DeDecker, a housing rights advocate in New Orleans, warned:

Extra unemployment is going to expire, and the CARES Act protections are going to expire, and we are going to see a huge public health and housing crisis the likes we haven’t seen since immediately post Katrina. Ultimately, reopening eviction court without ensuring that tenants can actually deal with their accumulated rent debts is a disaster.

Eviction filings through Jun 27 were up 13% compared with previous years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The state lifted a foreclosure moratorium in late May. An eviction moratorium in Pennsylvania expires Jul 10 and the one in Michigan Jul 15. In Arizona, currently the site of a major coronavirus resurgence, the statewide ban on evictions expires Jul 22. Pennsylvania housing advocates expect a surge of evictions when the moratorium expires. Kenneth Pick, executive director of the Berks County redevelopment authority in the city of Reading warned that the end of the moratorium could lead to a surge in evictions and a potential homelessness crisis. He said:

We think there will be a considerably large number of people facing eviction when the moratorium is finally lifted. The numbers still are not clear. No-one has been able to figure it out because no one has been able to file evictions.

A study by the Urban Institute estimated that there were 8.9m renter households where at least one person lost a job between February and April. Many of these households were already in precarious financial straits and could face eviction once moratoriums end. The economic fall-out from the pandemic has been especially severe for immigrant workers who are not eligible for unemployment benefits and may fear to challenge evictions due to their immigration status. The threat of mass impoverishment for millions of unemployed workers takes place under conditions of rising social anger expressed in the mass protests over police violence and job actions by autoworkers, nurses and other sections of workers over lack of protection from the spread of COVID-19. This poses the necessity for the working class to establish its political independence from the parties of big business and advance a socialist program directed against the capitalist system, whose only solution to the mounting crisis is war and social reaction. No progressive resolution to the present crisis is possible except by breaking the stranglehold of Wall Street over economic and political life.

ICE threatens international students with deportation unless their college resumes in-person classes
Sam Dalton, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Monday that international students holding F-1 visas will not be allowed to remain in the country if their college fails to hold in-person classes this fall. The F-1 visa is the most popular study visa in Pindostan. Last year, there were more than 1m studying in Pindostan, the vast majority of whom reside in the country on F-1 student visas. In 2019 alone, almost 400k F-1 visas were issued. The ICE press release states:

F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full course load and remain in Pindostan.

It went on to disclose that new visas for incoming international first-year students will not be granted and that all students currently in possession of visas who are not attending in-person classes will be denied entry at the border. The statement goes on to note:

All active students currently in Pindostan enrolled in such programs must, depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to another school with in-person tuition.

The measure was undoubtedly meant to place pressure on colleges to pursue a reckless reopening of campuses in the fall. The announcement from ICE came only hours after Trump tweeted:

If the measure is not reversed and colleges do not reopen in-person classes, thousands of international students will be compelled to unenroll in universities across the country. Many Pindo colleges, whose finances have become increasingly reliant on international student tuition in recent years, are now facing a choice between a deadly reopening of campus and financial collapse. In practice, the Trump administration is holding colleges hostage, with the release fee being the lives of students and their families. The rule change is a reversion to a pre-existing regulation originally meant to prevent students from using cheap online classes as a method of coming to and staying in Pindostan. However, the regulation was suspended following the shift to online learning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. ICE has now reinstated the pre-existing regulation, in order to force international students out of the country.

The move has already sparked significant outrage among students and faculty who rightly see it as a major attack against the hundreds of thousands of international students studying in Pindostan. As of Jul 5, only 60% of Pindo colleges were planning to return to in-person classes this fall. The majority of these schools are only opening these classes in a limited capacity, reserving them for freshmen only, for example. With COVID-19 cases on the rise in 36 states and over 130k people now dead from the virus in Pindostan, it is highly likely that many of the colleges planning in-person classes will be forced to re-evaluate their decision as the fall semester approaches. Those schools which choose to reopen with in-person classes will be at high risk of outbreaks on campus, forcing a mid-semester shut-down.

International students now face an incredibly difficult situation. If their college goes online and they wish to stay within Pindostan, these students will have to relocate to a different school at short notice, at a high cost, and in the midst of a deadly pandemic. Once they have moved, they will be forced to take in-person classes and therefore endanger their lives for the sake of remaining in Pindostan. An international student at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, Abir Mansur described the situation to WSWS reporters:

They don’t care about international student safety and are forcing them to come to campus and die, or leave the country.

Where colleges do experience outbreaks mid-semester and are forced to close, international students will have to leave Pindostan, again at short notice and great expense. Furthermore, they will be forced to return home to their families following exposure to a deadly virus. Thousands of international students are weighing what consequences might await them if they do choose to stay. If forced to leave the country mid-semester how would international students move their belongings? How would they settle ongoing rent agreements? Will they pay high tuition fees for a further period of sub-standard online education? And who will pay for the cost of repatriation? This “suggestion” by ICE that students simply change schools mid-semester is clearly a highly unrealistic course of action for any student. Beyond the irrationality of the new rule, there is a particular cruelness to ICE’s decision to make this announcement on the same day that a number of Ivy league colleges announced their plans for the fall semester. Many students who were expecting a resumption of their undergraduate and graduate careers in Pindostan have had their plans shattered. Madeline, an international student at Rutgers who has stayed in Pindostan during the pandemic, told the WSWS:

It just seems like a very useless action to take. There’s no threat or potential danger of increased risks of COVID-19 transmission as we are already here! To hear the news felt like a slap in the face knowing what many of us are contributing monetary wise and scholarly as well. The uncertainty it brings is terrible for all of us.

Supreme Court rules Electoral College members must follow state vote in presidential elections
Alan Gilman, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

The Supreme Court on Monday in a unanimous 9-0 decision in Chiafalo v Washington ruled that electors in presidential elections must cast their votes in the Electoral College for the candidate who won the popular vote in their state. This case arose in the aftermath of the 2016 election when a handful of Demagog members of the Electoral College attempted to deprive Trump of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Although Trump lost the popular vote by 3m votes, he carried 30 states with a combined total of 306 electoral votes. A handful of Demagog electors announced that they would vote for a “moderate” Thug rather than Hillary Clinton in the hopes that they could convince enough Thug electors to cast similar votes, thereby reducing Trump’s total below the 270 needed for election. If that occurred, the Constitution would then require that the presidential winner would have to be decided by the House, controlled at the time by Thugs, which could have elected a Republican other than Trump.

More than 30 states have laws penalizing or forbidding “faithless electors,” those who run on a slate chosen by the major parties but then choose to vote for someone other than their party’s candidate. The case decided by the 9-0 vote involved the state of Washington, which fined its “faithless electors,” while a separate order without an opinion upheld the Colorado law, under which one of that state’s electors was removed and replaced by another Demagog who voted for Clinton. In unanimously ruling that all electors must vote for the presidential candidate who won their state’s popular vote, the Supreme Court is attempting to avert a potential constitutional crisis in the upcoming election, when the contest between Trump and Biden could well come down to a handful of electoral votes. The legitimacy of elections and in particular presidential elections was clearly on the mind of the court when it heard oral arguments on this case in May. Justice Samuel Alito observed that if the popular vote is close, the possibility of “changing just a few votes” would rationally “prompt the losing party to launch a massive campaign to try to influence electors, and there would be a long period of uncertainty about who the next president was going to be.” Similarly, Justice Brett Kavanaugh alluded to what he called “the chaos principle of judging, which suggests that if it’s a close call, we shouldn’t facilitate or create chaos.”

The unease in which the Supreme Court, comprised of some of the most class-conscious representatives of the ruling class, views the upcoming election is a back-handed acknowledgement that masses of people are deeply alienated from the two-party political system and view the entire electoral process as corrupt and illegitimate. Not only has the voters’ will been nullified in two out of the last five presidential elections, with the popular vote winner turning into the Electoral College loser in both 2000 and 2016, but in the 2016 election, 47% of those who were eligible to vote for president chose not to do so. Both capitalist parties have sought to discredit the electoral process, with the Democrats claiming Trump’s 2016 victory was the product of Russian interference, while Trump now claims that any effort to accommodate the election process to the health concerns of the coronavirus pandemic, with more extensive early voting and greatly expanded voting by mail, amounts to “rigging” the election.

A 9-0 vote in the Supreme Court must reflect serious fears in the ruling elite over allowing another element of uncertainty and arbitrariness in the already arcane and thoroughly anti-democratic process through which Pindo presidents are selected. Although many Pindos think that they elect the president and vice president, in fact, it is the Electoral College, an obscure intermediary mechanism, that formally determines who wins the election. There is an elector for every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate plus an additional three for people who live in the District of Columbia for a total of 538 with 270 votes needed for majority. If there is a tie or no candidate receives a majority, then the election goes to the House. This system had been considered a formality, because usually the winner of the popular vote also wins the Electoral College vote. But twice in the past two decades the winner of the popular vote did not become president, and instead the winner in the Electoral College prevailed.

In 2000, Bush 43 became president, winning five more Electoral College votes than Al Gore, though Gore won roughly 0.5m more popular votes. In that election the winner was dependent on the result from Florida in which Bush held a lead of a few hundred votes out of 6m cast. Legal issues arose regarding recounts, disputes over ballots and voters’ intent, and the Florida state supreme court ordered all votes to be counted after the state government, headed by Bush’s brother Jeb, had halted any further counting or examination of ballots. The election was eventually decided by the Supreme Court in the infamous case of Bush v Gore that upheld the termination of the vote-counting by Florida and thereby installed Bush in the White House, following Gore’s abject capitulation to the 5-4 court decision. To further underscore the undemocratic character of presidential elections, the Supreme Court reiterated in Bush v Gore that there is no constitutional right to vote for president or for presidential electors. The state legislatures have chosen to use statewide elections to select electors, but they could simply appoint the electors if they choose, the justices declared. It is noteworthy that both major parties sided with the state laws on “faithless electors,” upheld by the court. Both parties are concerned that the entire anti-democratic apparatus of the Electoral College has come increasingly under scrutiny after the debacles of 2000 and 2016, and they oppose any significant change in the electoral structure, which includes the long-standing political monopoly of the two corporate-controlled parties.

Illinois and Chicago offer paltry COVID-19 assistance program to residents
Brian Green, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

As the number of Illinois COVID-19 cases rise, Governor J B Pritzker has moved the state into phase 4 of the “Restore Illinois” plan. The new development eases phase 3 restrictions, allowing previously halted activities and businesses to resume with rules such as 50% maximum capacity or less, social distancing measures, and mandatory masks. COVID-19 cases are growing out of control across Pindostan, with over 130k deaths. Despite Illinois sharing the trend with a sharp growth in new cases, the state is reducing social distancing measures. According to Worldometer, the lowest 7-day-average cases of COVID-19 in Illinois was 602 on Jun 18. This week, Illinois’s 7-day-average increased to 800 and the rate of infection will only grow as social distancing measures are relaxed without any measures for containment. The reopening in Illinois is part of a broader campaign by the Trump administration, with the support of both parties and the media, to force workers back to work under conditions where doing so risks sickness and death. Pritzker was asked by a reporter during a press conference on Jun 17 if he would consider closing the economy again in Illinois, Pritzker responded:

I’m not considering moving back to a previous stage as you know in our restore Illinois plan. We will be, as you know evaluating adjustments that may need to be made along the way. Because during phase four we want to make sure that businesses are continuing to reopen.

In an effort to defuse opposition to this homicidal return to work campaign, the Pritzker administration announced a $900M Package Community and Business Grant Programs for Illinois. Similarly, City of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, also a Democrat, is implementing a $1.13b COVID-19 grant program. Both programs are funded by federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) act, which transferred trillions to the stock market while only providing a pittance for social relief. The pandemic has decimated the lives of workers across the country. The national unemployment rate currently stands at roughly 15% as compared to only 3.5% last May. In Illinois, at the end of May, unemployment rose to 14.7% statewide, compared to 3.5% last May, totaling 738.5k lost jobs. In the Chicago region, which includes the city of Chicago and large suburbs like Naperville, unemployment surpassed the state total, reaching 15.4% compared to 3.3% last year.

Unemployment is leading to sharp increases in food insecurity among Chicago workers. In May, the Greater Chicago Food Depository stated it is serving 76% more people in need of food than in January. Lightfoot’s program will not address the massive needs of workers. Of the $1.13b, $403m will go to COVID-19 Direct Response and $376m to Airport assistance. This leaves only approximately $350m for social programs, a pale comparison to Chicago’s $1.8b 2020 police department budget. Moreover, only $4.5m will go to food assistance, $10m for mental health, and $11 million for community Health-Care Infrastructure. This distribution is not an adequate amount to have any meaningful effect. Many of these social programs were cut by previous Democratic administrations of Chicago such as Rahm Emmanuel’s notable closing of schools and mental health institutions as cost-cutting measures. In a conference call reported in the Chicago Tribune, Lightfoot warned of possible austerity measures. Lightfoot said:

The magnitude of the problems and the challenges that we all face is such that only the federal government has the resources and the wherewithal to act at a scale that’ll make a meaningful difference. Without that, we are looking at a lot of really, really difficult or impossible choices. Ultimately though, all options including raising property taxes and including layoffs have to remain on the table.

Before the pandemic, according to census.gov, some 20% of Chicago’s residents lived in poverty, 25% of children lived in poverty. 10% of residents lived in extreme poverty. This staggering social inequality will only be exacerbated by the pandemic, soaring unemployment and looming cuts to social services. Pritzker’s COVID-19 assistance programs fails to meet the pressing needs of Illinois workers. Under the state program, the Illinois Housing Development Authority is launching two programs. The Emergency Rental Assistance is a $150m program that provides $5k grants in emergency rental assistance to Illinois tenants who are unable to pay their rent, which is estimated to amount to approximately 30k renters who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic in the state, and the Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program, which is expected to assist approximately 10k eligible homeowners who are unable to pay their mortgage. The amount of people expected to be reached by these programs is a fraction of a percent of the population that requires assistance and will serve no one in a reasonable capacity. Before the pandemic hit, bookclubchicago.com reported that Chicago’s five eviction courts were seeing around 23k eviction cases each year. With massive unemployment, this number will grow sharply.

Illinois is a state which according to Forbes has a total of 17 billionaires with Governor Pritzker himself being among them, having a combined net worth of $52.5b. This amount of wealth is more than enough to provide the necessary health care and social assistance to maintain social distancing and eliminate the outbreak, except it is wasted and hoarded in the hands of a few. To fight against this homicidal policy of herd immunity and austerity, workers will find a solution only in an international and socialist program independent from all capitalist factors. The SEP is running Joseph Kishore and Norissa Santa Cruz in the presidential election to fight for an independent working-class alternative to the political and economic system that insists that workers must suffer all the consequences of the pandemic while the rich get bailed out. We encourage all students and workers to join the SEP and fight for the formation of new revolutionary leadership in the working class.

Demagog Governor Gretchen Whitmer pushes unsafe reopening of Michigan schools
Mitch Marcus, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Last week, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer released her “Return to School Roadmap,” which demands the reopening of schools even as COVID-19 cases are spiking in the state and expected to surge again in the fall. The Demagog governor’s program largely adopts state Thugs’ reckless “Return to Learn” outline released a week earlier. Whitmer also released the outline of a budget deal with the Thug-led legislature to fill a $3.2b budget shortfall for FY 2019-20 through deep cuts to state employees and school districts. The state still faces an overall $3b shortfall for FY 2020–21, not including additional funding needed for vital pandemic containment and protection measures. For FY 2019–20, the state deal includes $512m in funding from the CARES Act to cover coronavirus protection measures, far lower than the estimated $1b that is required. It entails $256m in direct cuts to state funding for K-12 public education, which translates to average cuts of $664 from the $8,111 total per-pupil spending across the state. Additionally, Michigan schools face a massive $1.2b shortfall for the coming school year, which translates to another $700 cut in per-pupil spending, bringing the combined total for both years to 16.8% in cuts, a devastating blow to public education. Districts across the state are already slashing their budgets, including $10.6m from Grand Rapids Public Schools, which will eliminate 111 jobs. Kalamazoo Public Schools plans to cut $7.4m from their budget, including cuts of 1.33% to salaries above $11/hr. Districts across the state, including Detroit, Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Ypsilanti, Lincoln and Portage, are dipping into or depleting any cash reserves they had.

Michigan, as with all other states, is currently experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases due to the premature, bipartisan back-to-work drive. Covidusa.net reports that at 428 cases per day on average over seven days, Michigan is experiencing a 59.7% increase in new cases from two weeks ago. As with much of the country for which studies show an enormous undercounting of COVID-19 deaths, the Michigan Dept of Health and Human Services reports 3,346 deaths from the virus in April, but 4,907 more total deaths than in Apr 2019. This 19.5% jump in non-COVID identified deaths likely include many miscategorized as, among others, pneumonia and the seasonal flu, which showed a jump of 26% from Apr 2019 to Apr 2020. Nevertheless, stating that she is “optimistic that we will return to in-person learning in the fall,” Whitmer is making it clear that she is determined to reopen schools even as cases spike and schools will likely serve as new and powerful vectors for community transmission of the virus. With high levels of absenteeism among industrial workers—out of concern about contracting the disease and also the lack of child care—the drive to reopen schools across the US is necessary for the ruling class to continue to pump out profits from workers needed to pay for the massive bailouts of the stock market and giant corporations. On Monday, Trump tweeted:

While it is filled with all sorts of rhetoric about safety and public health concerns, Whitmer’s plan to reopen schools is an expression of the same class imperatives of the corporate and financial elite that Trump so crudely expresses. Whitmer’s plan is dependent upon an unscientific regional and even sub-regional assessment of risk, not bearing in mind the porous nature of school district, county and state boundaries. The plan was developed by Whitmer’s appointed 25-member Return to School Advisory Council, which involved only two teachers and was chaired by Tonya Allen, CEO of the pro-corporate Skillman Foundation. Allen and the foundation have been heavily involved in school privatization and restructuring of public education in Detroit. Under the Roadmap, districts are required to have three plans ready depending upon which phase they are in of the politically driven Michigan Safe Start Plan. In Phase 3, “Flattening of the curve,” and below, districts must implement their remote learning-only plan; in Phase 4, “Improving,” schools must open for in-person instruction while implementing “more stringent required safety protocols”; in Phase 5, “Containing,” schools are open for in-person instruction with only “moderate required safety protocols.”

MI Safe Start Plan

At present, most of the lower peninsula of Michigan is in Phase 4 of the Safe Start Plan, with the northern part of the state in Phase 5. During Phase 4, all students in grades 6–12 are required to wear a mask in classrooms and common areas. Students in grades K–5 must wear masks in common areas but are not required to do so in the classroom if they remain there throughout the day. Teachers must always wear a mask. School staff, students, and bus drivers must wear masks. While paying lip service to health professionals’ guidelines for six-foot distancing, social distancing policies are to be decided individually by the 587 school districts with the understanding that “class sizes should be kept to the level afforded by necessary spacing requirements.” That is, desks are to be spaced six feet apart where feasible. On buses, even at Phase 4, there are no limits to the number of students per bus, though all will be required to use hand sanitizer when boarding. In other words, in the overcrowded and understaffed classrooms and buses of most public schools, social distancing will be non-existent. The guidelines mandate that disinfecting of buses must be done after every trip, and common areas such as libraries, computer labs and art rooms must be cleaned between every class, as must all desks in every classroom after every period. No additional funds for custodial staffing or cleaning supplies were allocated to meet this colossal expansion in need. Expressing the skepticism of parents regarding these ineffective requirements, one parent commented on MLive:

I may be a gambling man when it comes to sports, but not when it comes to the lives of the folks in my household. Under no circumstances will I allow my children to break quarantine until the pandemic ends or until there is a vaccine that proves to be effective.

Whitmer’s press conference occurred as a University of Michigan survey found that one-third of Michigan parents might not send their children back to school in the fall due to coronavirus concerns. When asked for her reaction to the survey, Whitmer said those parents were not only from Michigan but also Illinois and Ohio, and that Michigan parents would now be assuaged having seen her plan.
Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) Superintendent Nikolai Vitti tweeted:

A parent responded to this by tweeting:

Adding to the confusion and apprehension surrounding the reopening of schools and the rising number of cases in Michigan, Whitmer announced that two of the eight regions of the state were moving backward on the Risk Levels Map, which was thought to determine a region’s placement on the Safe Start Plan. Lansing was moved from Level 4, “Medium Risk,” to Level 2, “High Risk,” and Grand Rapids was moved from Level 4 to Level 3, “Medium-High Risk.” Whitmer neglected to explain that this bore no relation to those regions’ position on the Safe Start Plan, which remained unchanged at 4, thereby allowing the continued relaxation of business and social activity.

Risk level map

Various media outlets, including Fox 2 and WXYZ, published stories, later edited or retracted, that those two regions would now have greater restrictions re-imposed due to their being moved lower on the Risk Level Map. However, Zach Pohl, Communications Director for Whitmer, tweeted in response to heated demands for clarification from reporters:

This initiated a wave of denunciations from reporters and residents alike on Twitter. One person commented:

The driving force behind both the reopening of the economy and the schools is the profit interest of the corporate and financial elite, not the health of millions of people. Operating on behalf of General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler, Whitmer allowed the reopening of auto plants in mid-May, even though they are non-essential and are located in regions that were still in Level 3, full quarantine. In their efforts to reopen schools and the broader economy, the Michigan political establishment has the full support of the state’s largest teacher union, the Michigan Education Association and the Pindo Federation of Teachers Michigan branch, whose presidents Paula Herbart and David Hecker sit on Whitmer’s back-to-school council. Both unions are wholly subservient to big business and the Demagog Party and seek to contain the building opposition among teachers and all education workers. Even before the pandemic, there was widespread opposition among educators against the bipartisan austerity and school privatization policies, with more than 700k teachers and other educators involved in a wave of militant strikes in 2018–19. This anger, which took the form in many cases of initial actions independent of the unions, will only intensify as the health of teachers and students are sacrificed as part of the reckless back-to-work campaign. In addition, there will be enormous opposition to the demands for new budget cuts after both corporate-controlled parties found trillions to bailout Wall Street and other giant corporations. Educators must oppose the reckless reopening of schools and the broader economy demanded by Trump, Whitmer and all their accomplices. The lives and safety of workers and students must take precedence over the profit motive of the capitalists. To assert their own interests, educators must form independent, rank-and-file committees at every school and neighborhood, to unite with the broader working class in a struggle against the capitalist system, which is the root cause of the catastrophe created by the pandemic.

Joliet, Il, nurses remain determined as union moves to end strike
Jessica Goldstein, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Striking nurses at AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Illinois continued their brave struggle against the nominally nonprofit Catholic and Adventist health care system on Monday. On Saturday, 720 nurses who are members of the Illinois Nurses Association (INA) carried out their first strike in over 25 years to demand adequate staffing, decent pay and benefits. They are also demanding an end to management intimidation and overwork brought on by staffing cuts in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses voted by an overwhelming 558 to 53 to authorize the strike against one of the largest health systems in Illinois, which takes in nearly $4b in patient revenue from 19 hospitals and 230 care facilities. According to the INA, 100% of the nurses on strike voted to continue after the first day, despite 90-degree temperatures, the use of strikebreakers and hostility from management. Saint Joseph Medical Center nurses have immense support from broad sections of the working class. Workers and supporters across the state have declared their support for the nurses’ struggle, including solidarity posts from fellow health care workers, firefighters, and more. The INA, the state affiliate of the National Nurses United union, has kept striking nurses in the dark about a new contract proposal from AMITA after it was announced Monday afternoon. According to the Herald News, an INA lead negotiator stated that the proposal would not be available to members until Monday night, noting that it would likely leave the strike “unresolved.”

From the outset, AMITA proposed a three-year wage freeze at current pay levels with a $500 bonus for full-time workers and $250 for part-time workers. AMITA had since retracted the wage freeze, but nurses continued with their decision to strike. The INA originally countered with a demand for annual wage increases of 2%, 3.5% and 3.5%, barely above the rate of inflation. Instead of a sufficient guarantee of paid time off, the INA is only requesting an extended illness bank for current nurses and new hires that would allow them to receive pay for illnesses and injuries that extend beyond four days. Any deal achieved on the basis of the union’s policy of isolating the strike, appealing to corporate management and state and local Demagogs, cannot be anything more than a sellout, entirely acceptable to AMITA management. There is no way to wrench any concessions out of this giant company without mobilizing the broadest sections of the working class through the city, the state and beyond. As it has been carried out thus far, the strike has had little impact on the hospital chain. AMITA has reportedly paid over $1m to transport and house scab nurses in local hotels to keep the hospitals running and revenue flowing during the strike. Nurses can be seen shouting down the strikebreakers in videos on Facebook on the picket lines, guarded by police in order to allow the strikebreakers through. As one supporter wrote:

The AMITA hospital is willing to spend $1m on travel nurses for over 5 days and will not give you raise!! That is the message you need to get out to the general public. This is a hospital that could care less about its patients when they cannot take care of their own nurses!

There is every possibility to expand this struggle. But nurses must take the conduct of the strike out of the hands of the INA by electing a rank-and-file strike committee. Joliet is seething with class tensions creating the real possibility to break the union’s isolation of the striking nurses and unite ever broader sections of the working class. Calls for resignation of Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, a former police officer in the city, erupted after he was filmed assaulting a protester on Jun 1 during the protests against police violence that took place in the city, part of the broad protest movement of workers and youth worldwide. Largely due to the unaffordable housing costs in Chicago, over the last two decades the population of Will County, like the other counties surrounding Chicago, has grown substantially, by more than one third for Will. It has become a logistics and transportation center with an Amazon facility. In 2017, 9% of Joliet residents lived below the poverty level, compared to 7.4% in the county as a whole. To mobilize this potential support it is critical to review the role of the unions in creating the social and economic devastation in the city. In Jun 2019, Caterpillar, the global construction and heavy equipment giant, closed its Joliet plant permanently after laying off hundreds of workers. The downsizing was facilitated by the United Auto Workers (UAW), the United Steelworkers (USW) and the International Association of Machinists (IAM), which sabotaged all resistance by CAT workers. In 2012, the IAM betrayed a long and bitter three-and-a-half-month strike of more than 750 Joliet workers, preparing the way for the plant’s closure. As the Joliet nurses strike started, 500 nurses at Riverside Community Hospital in California were sent back to work Monday after a ten-day strike against HCA Health-Care over unsafe conditions and understaffing. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 121RN sent Riverside nurses back to work without attaining any of their demands.

The Joliet nurses’ strike is unfolding in a new period of class struggle brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses in Zimbabwe have gone on strike for the second time this year, and doctors in Sierra Leone have struck to demand bonus pay and an end to the government’s misuse of funds for the coronavirus response. In Brazil, health care professionals have been engaged in an indefinite strike since June to demand a 40% hazard bonus and adequate PPE. Hospitals and health care systems around the world are cutting pay and benefits for workers, furloughing staff due to slowdowns in other procedures and forcing workers in intensive care units (ICUs) to take on unsafe patient loads and working hours as they reach capacity because of the influx of patients admitted with the deadly COVID-19 disease. The treatment of nurses and health-care workers world-wide reveals the way the corporate elites truly view them, as expendable, rather than as “heroes.” There is more than enough money in the corporate coffers of the ruling elite to meet the demands of the health care workers. In Pindostan, the Dept of Health and Human Services gave out $72b in grants since April to some of the wealthiest hospitals and other health care providers through the misnamed CARES Act bailouts.

COVID-19 outbreak surges among Michigan farm workers in rural counties
Brent Dylan, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Over 200 Michigan farm workers tested positive for the COVID-19 virus during the last ten days of June. The surge of positive cases among workers emerged in the three mostly rural counties of Lapeer, Branch and Oceana. A large majority of these seasonal and migrant farm workers are from Mexico and Central American countries. The outbreak in south-western Branch County occurred at Maroa Farms in Coldwater where at least 57 workers tested positive, many of whom are working under the H-2A temporary visa program. Farm workers under this program are particularly vulnerable, as they generally rely on their employers for housing, transportation to the farms, and things such as food and medical assistance. In Oceana County, along Michigan’s west coast, 67 workers at Todd Greiner Farms in Hart also tested positive for the virus. A worker at the farm explained to Michigan Radio that workers were told they would receive masks each day that had been used the day before and been washed. When the worker inquired about the safety of this practice, she was refused further work on the farm. This type of practice has no doubt been repeated thousands of times at the many farms across Pindostan. Additional reports from health officials indicate that a total of 102 farm and manufacturing workers in Oceana County have also recently tested positive, among five different facilities in the county. At least 183 positive test cases have been confirmed among farm workers in the county since May 1, traced to at least two agriculture outbreaks in the area. Health officials in Lapeer County, east of Flint, Michigan, revealed that 33 migrant workers at three different farms tested positive as well.

The outbreaks follow a steady increase in positive tests among this heavily exploited section of the working class, in both Michigan and nationally. The extent of the outbreaks are undoubtedly underreported due to lack of testing, which is often left up to the farms themselves to administer. Pero Family Farms in Benton Harbor shut down production for two weeks in April to be sanitized after positive tests, but very little information exists on the extent of infections among the workers. At least 19 migrant employees of a construction company recently tested positive after coming to Michigan to help with relief work related to recent catastrophic flooding in mid-Michigan and staying in a Bay County hotel. The spike in cases among migrant workers also comes despite an executive order by Governor Gretchen Whitmer to supposedly protect farm workers, deemed “essential workers” during the pandemic, from the threat of exposure to the coronavirus. The executive order, issued only on Jun 1 and lasting for only one month, required owners and operators of employer-provided migrant housing licensed by the Michigan Dept of Agriculture and Rural Development to create a COVID-19 response plan, provide personal protective equipment for their workers, keeping beds six feet apart at housing sites, and provide isolated housing and medical care for those who become infected. The farm employers and county health officials involved with the outbreaks claim they were complying with these orders, essentially attempting to shift the blame onto the workers themselves, implying they must have acquired the virus outside of the farm and housing facilities. The conditions facing farm workers are notoriously exploitive, and undoubtedly the driving factor in leaving workers vulnerable to conditions where they could contract the coronavirus. Most of the counties in Michigan where the coronavirus is now surging, as in many other places around the country, are in rural areas where agricultural and manufacturing work is centered.

According to the Michigan Inter-Agency Migrant Services Committee, nearly 95k migrant and seasonal workers come to the state annually. Aside from temporary immigrant workers, some farms also use domestic workers. Many often travel to Michigan from Florida and Texas, two states currently facing a resurgence of the virus. In the blueberry season, workers often come from Georgia and New Jersey, which have also been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 surge in recent weeks. 46 crops are harvested in Michigan by hand, from asparagus in April at the beginning of the season, to apples in October, when the season ends. Reports estimate that the state’s fruits and vegetables provide at least $1.4b in economic impact for the state. To carry out this work, approximately 900 migrant housing sites are licensed in the Lower Peninsula, including 4.5k living units with a capacity for 25k people, according to the Michigan Dept of Agricultural and Rural Development. There is often only 1 bathroom for every 15 people at these sites. Approximately 70% of farm workers are undocumented, according to Farmworker Justice. They are often afraid to speak up about working conditions due to fears of retaliation and possible deportation. To take one example from 2018, at Four Star Greenhouse in south-eastern Monroe County, according to a recent report on Michigan Radio, workers were reportedly working up to 70 hours per week, under difficult living conditions. When they complained about not receiving pay, they were set up in a sting operation and deported back to Mexico. Over two years later, these workers have still not received their wages for hundreds of hours of work, according to the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.

There are also ongoing medical issues associated with farm workers that were prevalent even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Many workers have preexisting medical conditions, especially older workers facing prolonged exposure to pesticides and chronic lung conditions. Obesity, diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular problems are also prevalent due to poor working and living conditions. The average life expectancy of a farm worker is only a short 49 years. This was the average general life expectancy in the US more than a century ago in 1900. According to Teresa Hendricks of Migrant Legal Aid, workers often work 90 to 100 hours a week in the peak season and do not have time to go to the doctor, which would be an even bigger problem were they to contract COVID-19. The outbreak in Michigan also reflects a broader process of abuse and exploitation involving farm workers. As the WSWS recently noted:

Farm work is an industry of abject poverty and debt, racism and sexual harassment, long hours of stoop labor in the fields, abuse from bosses, and the denial of basic labor and human rights protections. In such cruel conditions, it is impossible to imagine that any genuine care could be provided to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from a ruling state that has carved out such an inhuman existence for this underclass of laborers and is doing little to protect the working class as whole as it pushes to reopen the Pindo economy.

Farm workers also continue to be the target of the Trump administration’s war on immigrants, most recently in the denial of stimulus checks to Pindo citizens married to undocumented immigrants and the authorization of cuts in farm worker pay. To combat these conditions, it is critical that farm workers establish rank-and-file safety committees and take the fight for decent working and living conditions into their own hands. We urge farm workers to contact us, the WSWS will assist farm workers and other workers in establishing such committees.

Detroit FCA workers call on workers at GM, Ford and other companies to set up rank-and-file safety committees
Jerry White, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Ford Dearborn Truck workers (Photo: Ford Media)

Autoworkers at Fiat Chrysler’s Jefferson North and Sterling Heights plants have urged workers in other auto plants and industries to build rank-and-file safety committees to fight the spread of coronavirus in the factories. Late last month, workers at two Detroit area assembly plants established safety committees after FCA management and the UAW refused to release information about COVID-19 cases in their plants or to take any serious measures to protect them from the deadly disease. At the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP), workers halted production over reports that a material handler had tested positive and set up a committee. A worker said:

It was apparent that we needed rank-and-file committees because the safety of workers is being disregarded. We heard that a temporary part-time worker was put in the work area believed to be infected, and she was forced to work two hours before management even came to disinfect the area. There is no sense of urgency from the company or the UAW. All they care about is keeping the line running and producing the trucks. No workers should be literally risking their lives so the company’s numbers and profits can go up. We have to create our own safety committees opposed to the UAW and FCA, because they are aligned over the bottom line of profit. If they are organized, then we, as workers, have to organize to protect ourselves and our families.

The Detroit Free Press reported last week:

Even though GM management and the UAW are aware of many cases, including at least 22 at an assembly plant in Arlington, Tx, and another 12 at a plant in Wentzville, Mi, GM’s policy is to not confirm the number of coronavirus cases in its plants.

The same is true for FCA and other automakers, with a spox for Toyota’s Pindo automotive operations telling the WSJ:

Just announcing the number of COVID cases at a given site is not productive.

The automakers and other large employers have rejected regular testing of employees, the only means to contain the virus. According to an article by Bloomberg News titled “Employers Find Testing Employees More Trouble Than It’s Worth,” only 6% of the 40 large employers they polled are conducting on-site testing. Lauren Vela, senior director for the Pacific Business Group on Health, which represents large employers like Microsoft and Walmart, said:

Testing is not really available, feasible or easy, and it’s not a solution you can do for every employee, every day.

The UAW has also said that regular testing is not practical. Instead the UAW, whose top leaders are negotiating with the DoJ to avoid a federal takeover because of widespread corruption, including taking bribes from Fiat Chrysler management, has joined the automakers’ efforts to intimidate workers who refuse to work under unsafe conditions. Last week, the UAW issued a joint statement with FCA management suggesting that it was unsafe habits of workers outside the plants that were responsible for any infections. Nor are workers getting any aid from the federal and state OSHAs, which have received more than 20k COVID-related complaints from workers this year, but have issued only one citation, according to Bloomberg. FCA workers at Sterling Heights and the Jefferson North Assembly Plant (JNAP) in Detroit, where a safety committee has also been set up, issued a list of six demands, which they are encouraging workers at other plants to adopt and expand upon. The demands are:

  1. Workers must be immediately notified of any cases of COVID-19 and what areas were affected. This information cannot be kept secret from workers.
  2. When a case is confirmed, the factory should be closed for 24 hours for deep cleaning, not just the affected area, but the whole plant. Preventative maintenance is needed to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment.
  3. Social distancing must be implemented when entering and leaving the plant and during bathroom, lunch and other break times.
  4. The line must be stopped for 10 minutes every hour to enable workers to take off their masks, rest and cool off.
  5. Workers must have regular, universal testing. Temperature checks and self-reporting symptoms are not enough.
  6. If conditions are not safe, workers have the right to refuse to work without threat of retaliation by management and the union.

A Jefferson worker said:

Building rank-and-file safety committees is absolutely necessary. Everyone in the plant stood up and stopped work because management and the union are sweeping everything under the rug. When the plants reopened on May 18, the line started a half-hour after we arrived so we could clean our work areas, and shut down a half-hour earlier so they could be cleaned again before the next shift. Now we start 10 minutes later and work flat-out until the end of the shift. The cleaning process is almost non-existent. In their statements to the media, the company and the UAW make it sound like they are going above and beyond to protect us. That’s a lie. It’s business as usual. The union safety committee sides with management. When we protested, they union stewards were nowhere to be found. That’s why we set up our own safety committee.

Another JNAP worker said:

They can’t wait to get back to full production for their 2021 launch. The plexiglass and shower-curtains are not the cure-all. In every local union contract, the workers always said the ventilation in the plant sucks. It’s so smoky it’s like there is a fire in the plant. After every deal with the union, the company promises to repair the fans and the heating and cooling system, but nothing happens. Now we have COVID. How are they going to guarantee that the air is okay now? The full cleaning they did in April was it. Now they’re putting everything on the workers. If you catch it, it’s your fault. But we didn’t build this plant. If you look at the way the corporations work, someone did a cost-benefit analysis when they rushed to reopen the plants. How many lives of the autoworkers will it cost? How many of us have to die to build their Jeep Grand Cherokees? Now they’re saying if you don’t want to be there, you commit economic suicide, because we are going to cut you off of unemployment benefits, but if the workers get together and talk to each other, we can decide to make the adult decisions needed to save lives. They are making monetary decisions. For them the end of making profits justifies the means. But we are not human capital stock, like one of Trump’s aides said. We are not cattle. Workers care for each other. We are trying to do what is right, but they are trying to repress us. The WSWS Autoworker Newsletter is a wonderful resource to utilize so people can know what is going on and come together to protect ourselves.

A worker at FCA Trenton Engine plant, just south of Detroit, added:

They made us think we were going to be safe when we came back into the plant. But they’re not sanitizing or social-distancing, and it is frightening. Workers need breaks to remove their masks, but all the company wants is for you to work harder and harder. The union is not standing up for us. They are on management’s side. We need a committee of our own to stand up for ourselves. Workers in all the industries are experiencing this. We need a voice of our own.

A Ford worker at the Dearborn Truck Plant said:

Because large numbers of workers have called off out of concerns over COVID-19, management claims it does not have enough relief workers to fill in when an individual worker needs to take a bathroom break. Instead, they are carrying out ‘mass relief,’ with everybody taking the break at the same time. There is no way to social distance that way. We have to take control over our own safety. We are the ones whose priority is safety. We will not take risks for extra profits. Autoworkers need to link up with workers in other industries in Pindostan and internationally. We should just stop production if there is an infection in the plant. We don’t know where that infected worker may have been.
When we are in charge of safety we will say: no work until the safety committee deems it safe.

palestine

COVID-19 infections surge in West Bank
Tamara Nassar, Electronic Intifada, Jul 6 2020

Palestinian laborers queue to enter Israel via the Mitar checkpoint
in Hebron on Jun 28. Photo: Mosab Shawer/APA

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has risen almost sevenfold in the occupied West Bank over the past three weeks. The total number of cases jumped from 690 on Jun 16 to more than 4.7k on Jul 6. There have been 20 deaths in the West Bank, more than half of them recorded in the past week. The UN OCHA said this was one of the highest increase rates recorded worldwide during this period. The PA has renewed lockdown measures in certain areas in light of the recent surge, after easing them in May. The recent uptick has been attributed to the easing of restrictions, including reopening businesses and houses of worship. Meanwhile, the total number of confirmed cases in Israel now exceeds 30k. More than half of the people infected have recovered and 332 have died. Initial antibody tests suggest that 2.5% of Israel’s population has been infected with the virus, more than 10 times the number of confirmed cases. Mohammad Shtayyeh, the PA PM, has urged Israel to close all the checkpoints in and out of the West Bank to stymie the spread. Palestinian laborers who continue to work in Israel are believed to be a primary vector for the spread of COVID-19 in the West Bank. Hundreds of thousands of workers travel between their homes in the West Bank and their jobs in Israel on a weekly basis. In response to the recent surge, the PA imposed a week-long lockdown on Hebron and a two-day closure on Bethlehem. Shorter lockdowns were imposed on other Palestinian towns throughout the West Bank. All shops were ordered closed, barring grocery stores, bakeries and pharmacies. The PA renewed prohibitions on large gatherings, such as weddings, graduation parties and funerals. Shtayyeh has appealed to the public to avoid holding such gatherings. The Allenby Bridge separating the West Bank from Jordan has opened a number of times in recent weeks, allowing passengers to cross into the West Bank.

No new cases of the coronavirus have been recorded in the Gaza Strip since Jun 10. This is largely due to a sharp decrease in the number of people moving in and out of Gaza in the past few weeks. There have been 72 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Gaza, one of them fatal. The vast majority of people infected have recovered. The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt has been closed by the Egyptian authorities. It is the sole entry and exit point for the vast majority of Gaza residents to the outside world. The Erez checkpoint, the only crossing for people between Gaza and Israel, has been practically inoperative since March in an attempt to stymie the spread of COVID-19. Exits from Gaza into Israel are limited to mostly medical cases in general. But since the PA announced it was suspending coordination with the Israeli authorities on May 21, Palestinians have had no means by which to apply for travel permits to enter Israel. That includes Palestinians in need of critical medical treatment unavailable in the coastal enclave. Human rights groups have sent a letter to the Israeli government demanding that Israel ensure that Palestinians with medical or humanitarian needs be allowed to travel outside Gaza. The letter stated:

Israel may not, no matter the circumstances, prevent travel on procedural, bureaucratic grounds, all the more so when travel is required in order to exercise basic human rights. Denying these individuals travel would be a blatant, severe violation of their fundamental rights, including the right to life and bodily integrity.

The letter was signed by human rights groups Adalah, Gisha, Physicians for Human Rights Israel, HaMoked and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The Gaza authorities have decided that all those entering the Strip will be placed in mandatory three-week quarantine for the remainder of the year. Israel’s siege on the territory has entered its 13th year. The Kerem Shalom checkpoint, the only place Israel allows goods to enter and leave Gaza, is still operating. COGAT, the bureaucratic arm of Israel’s military occupation, has been using the coronavirus pandemic as a propaganda opportunity to boast of the medical equipment and other supplies it allows into Gaza through the crossing.

COGAT has also boasted of making its occupation apparatus more efficient during the pandemic, in connecting the Qalandiya checkpoint in the West Bank directly to a bus station:

COGAT masks its oppressive role as the bureaucratic arm of Israel’s military occupation through seemingly “humanitarian” acts, including trying to make the occupation more “efficient,” by adding high-tech systems to checkpoints and building shortcut routes. Such propaganda provides no comfort to the victims of Israeli oppression.

Israel lobby loses latest appeal against American Studies Association
Nora Barrows-Friedman, Electronic Intifada, Jul 6 2020

Palestinians have called for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions due to their central role in Israel’s military
occupation, settler-colony enterprise and weapons industry. Photo: Mohammed Zaanoun/ActiveStills

An incessant Israel lobby-backed attempt to censor and punish the American Studies Association over its support of an academic boycott of Israel has once again failed in court. On Jun 19, a three-judge panel of the federal Court of Appeals in Faschingstein unanimously affirmed an earlier dismissal of a lawsuit brought against the ASA, its executive director and eight members of faculty by other current and former members of the ASA. Israel advocates filed the initial lawsuit in 2016 after the ASA endorsed the academic boycott of Israeli institutions three years prior. The ASA stated at the time:

Israeli academic institutions function as a central part of a system that has denied Palestinians their basic rights. The boycott represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians.

Israel advocates within the association, however, jumped into action to persecute colleagues who dared to criticize Israel. They claimed that the boycott resolution was brought by “insurgents” within the association who attempted to “subvert and change the ASA’s purpose” into a political advocacy organization. They alleged that a “cabal” of leaders from the Pindo Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel surreptitiously took over the ASA and used their positions on its executive committee and national council to foist the boycott resolution on the association’s unsuspecting membership, misspending ASA money in the process. A federal court threw out a key claim in the lawsuit in 2017, ruling that the ASA’s endorsement of the boycott was not contrary to the association’s charter. Palestine Legal attorney Radhika Sainath said at the time:

Israel advocacy groups are throwing every legal argument at this movement to see what will stick, and nothing’s sticking.

After the lawsuit was dismissed last year, the plaintiffs filed an appeal, and opened a second case in the Faschingstein Superior Court. In Dec 2019, the Superior Court granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss in part, but denied their anti-SLAPP motion. SLAPP suits are intended to suppress free speech and force people or organizations into spending money defending themselves in court. That case remains open.

Notably, the lawsuit was backed by the Louis D Brandeis Center for Human Rights, an Israel advocacy organization that has for years worked to smear Palestine solidarity activism as anti-Semitism and attempts to suppress it with frivolous lawsuits and bogus civil rights complaints. The organization’s former president, attorney Kenneth Marcus, represented the plaintiffs until Feb 2018, when he was appointed as the Trump administration’s top civil rights enforcer at the federal Dept of Education. This latest ruling states that the plaintiffs failed to explain how they have suffered “economic or reputational damage,” nor “loss of standing within their universities,” as they asserted in their lawsuit, and did not present valid claims for alleged punitive damages. The ASA stated:

Although this victory leaves other pending litigation unresolved, the ASA will keep moving forward in these urgent times. We will continue to defend our work, our reputation, and our members who come under attack.

Biggest Dutch pension fund dumps Israeli banks
Adri Nieuwhof, Electronic Intifada, Jul 6 2020

Israel’s biggest banks are heavily involved in financing Israel’s construction of colonies
in the occupied West Bank, a war crime. Photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/ActiveStills

Dutch pension fund ABP announced last month that it has stopped investing in two Israeli banks involved in Israel’s violent colonization of the occupied West Bank. ABP is the biggest pension fund in the Netherlands, and one of the world’s largest, with about $500b in assets. It says it wants its investments to “contribute to a sustainable world.” In areas where there is an increased risk of human rights violations, like the West Bank, ABP requires companies it invests in to have in place a human rights policy. Not only do Israel’s Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi have no such policy, but both are heavily involved in building settlements on occupied Palestinian land. All of Israel’s settlement construction in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as in Syria’s Golan Heights, is a war crime. ABP spox Jos van Dijk confirmed the divestment from the two banks in a phone call with The Electronic Intifada. For over a decade, many organizations and thousands of individuals have expressed their concerns over ABP’s investments in settlement profiteers. In 2014, former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote to ABP’s board calling for divestment from the Israeli banks. Investing in Israeli institutions that lend to repressive and illegal projects “helps perpetuate the cycle of violence,” he argued.

However, the Israeli banks do not appear on ABP’s exclusions list, van Dijk said, because only firms involved in tobacco production, nuclear arms and cluster weapons are listed. Named on the exclusion list are Israeli arms firms Aryt Industries, Ashot Ashkelon and Elbit Systems. In 2016, ABP held shares worth $100m in Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi, as well as $10m in shares of Mizrahi Tefahot, another Israeli institution that finances settlements, according to research organization Danwatch. In February, the UNHRC released a long-awaited database of companies involved in Israel’s illegal settlements. It includes nine Israeli banks and many international brands. ABP holds shares in several companies listed in the UN database including train maker Alstom, travel firms Booking.com and Tripadvisor, real estate company Re/Max, US food giant General Mills and electronics firm Motorola. ABP should also divest from these companies because they aid and help sustain Israel’s illegal settlements. Six years ago, the second largest pension fund in the Netherlands PFZW, formerly known as PGGM, excluded five Israeli banks for their role in financing settlements. Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank were excluded from the fund’s investment portfolio. PFZW director Peter Borgdorff told Dutch daily Trouw in 2014:

We are concerned that the occupation of the West Bank harms the human rights of Palestinians under international law. We do not want to make money from companies that further strengthen and expand the settlements.

But last year, PFZW suddenly removed the five Israeli banks from its exclusions list. When asked, Borgdorff said that this had to do with a reassessment of all investments. Three Israeli banks reappeared in PFZW’s 2019 investment portfolio. Fully aware of the role Israeli banks play in the violation of Palestinian rights, PFZW nonetheless invested more than $7m in First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot. PFZW spox Ellen Habermehl assured The Electronic Intifada that the pension fund still applies its policy of sustainable and responsible investment. She added that the OECD guidelines on responsible business conduct for multinational enterprises serve as an important benchmark. Those guidelines say:

Companies should “respect human rights, which means they should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.

Today, Habermehl said, PFZW uses the services of dataprovider Sustainalytics, which screens companies for ethical and sustainable conduct. Since Sustainalytics provides proprietary information to subscribers, it is currently unclear what its recommendations are regarding companies that violate Palestinian rights. This is not the only area in which PFZW appears to have backtracked on ethical commitments. In December, environmental campaigners accused PFZW of breaking a 2015 pledge to reduce its investments in fossil fuels by 30% over five years. Instead, according to campaign group Fossielvrij NL, the pension fund actually increased its holdings by 14%. Since 2014, the year PFZW excluded the five Israeli banks, Israel has intensified its settlement expansion, which goes hand in hand with increasing violations of Palestinian rights. There can be no doubt that Israeli banks violate the OECD guidelines. Continuing to invest in them renders PFZW’s alleged concerns for human rights insincere and hollow.

back to the charade of job-seeking

British government reimposes welfare benefits sanctions as pandemic continues and unemployment rockets
Simon Whelan, WSWS, Jul 6 2020

In March, the Johnson government announced that those receiving welfare benefits including Universal Credit would not be sanctioned as they normally would if they failed to look for work or otherwise fulfilled their benefit conditionality. Under pandemic lockdown conditions there was zero employment to find. Hundreds of thousands of workers were losing their jobs, becoming unemployed and themselves making claims. By June, the number of job center claimants had risen by 126% to 2.8m since the start of the pandemic. With job centres closed for one-to-one meetings with “work coaches,” the system of “claimant conditionality” was suspended. This included the set of draconian rules that require among other things claimants to agree to carry out endless job search activities as a condition of receiving benefits. The minimum sanction period is four weeks, the loss of around £300, and the maximum 6 months. It was only reduced from a maximum three-year sanction in 2019.

Claimant conditionality involves the requirement that those claiming Universal Credit must demonstrate they are actively and constantly seeking work. A minor failure to adhere or an arbitrary infringement of the strict conditions frequently leads to benefits being cut off. Tens of thousands of workers have been made homeless, destitute and hungry by this brutal system. Today thousands of workers are losing their jobs across swathes of the economy. In May alone, over 5.2m people claimed Universal Credit. By way of comparison, just over 2m did so a year earlier. Unemployment is rising exponentially, and economists are predicting a return to mass unemployment that could rise well beyond that of the 1980s and reach levels not seen since the 1930s Great Depression. Even as the government reopens the economy in conditions that remain unsafe for millions with the pandemic still spreading, particularly in workplaces, it has ensured that benefit sanctions return. On Jul 1, job centres reopened including in-person meetings between claimants and work coaches.

With the government bringing an end to any measures to combat the virus, all obstacles to a return to profitability must be eradicated regardless of the risks to the public. This includes either driving the unemployed into cheap labour work in dangerous conditions or ending the costly provision of benefits to those unable to find or do a job, and therefore surplus to requirements. A 2015 report by the Trussell Trust highlighted how sanctions were used to reduce benefit payments for those in need of them. One claimant was sanctioned for missing an appointment because he was at hospital with his partner, who had just given birth to a stillborn child. Another missed an appointment because his brother had died that day. In a case reported from an Essex foodbank, a claimant was sanctioned because, although he had turned up in good time, the length of the queue in the job centre meant he failed to keep his appointment.

The announcement that job centres were to reopen and sanctions reimposed came as the main trade union representing Dept of Work and Pensions (DWP) staff warned that many job centres were expected to open on Jul 1 without having conducted a proper COVID-19 risk assessment. In a public place where hundreds arrive and leave all day, a survey by the Public and Commercial Services union revealed widespread concerns among staff about insufficient floorspace in job centres to implement a safe 2m social distancing requirement. The government has now scrapped the 2m rule in favour of a nonsensical “1m+”. The union also reported there was not enough plastic screens and personal protective equipment.

In addition to risking their lives, many thousands of physically and mentally vulnerable people must again visit job centres and be subjected to the de-humanising job search regime. People still suffering the effects of post viral fatigue will be pressured into work, as will those for whom the lockdown and its ending have been traumatising and stressful. Once more the benefit system will prey upon the most vulnerable as the ranks of the homeless, destitute and imprisoned grow. Ayaz Manji, senior policy officer at the mental health charity Mind, described the decision by the government as “appalling” and demanded it be reversed. He said:

Suspending benefit sanctions was put in place to protect people from the impact of coronavirus. But reintroducing sanctions when coronavirus is still very much an issue is nonsensical.

The DWP spox claimed:

The government has been there for those who have lost jobs or have reduced hours in this pandemic, promptly processing new claims and getting money into the accounts of those in urgent need within days. Now our focus is rightly switching to getting Britain back into work. From July, people can make an appointment with their work coach if they can’t get the help they want online or over the phone, and work coaches will be calling all claimants to help them get ready for the world of work.

After reminding workers they will be forced into whatever work is deemed suitable, the government claimed that conditionality arrangements would be sensitive to new claimants’ local jobs market and personal circumstances. Clear guidance would apparently be issued to staff to ensure people were not sanctioned unless they breached conditionality “for no good reason.” This is fooling nobody. Thousands of workers over recent years have experienced the docking of their benefits by the DWP “for no good reason.” The tragic deaths of Stephen Smith and Errol Graham are only two of the cases of the terrible suffering endured by those who required assistance, but instead received only hostility. Last year, the WSWS reported a study which found that more than 900k Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants who reported a disability have been financially sanctioned since May 2010. Also sanctioned were 110k claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), a benefit paid to someone who is sick, and placed in the “work related activity group” (WRAG). A further 140k sanctions were applied, but later cancelled. In the House of Commons on Jun 30, the day before job centres reopened, Work and Pensions Sec Thérèse Coffey opposed the suspension of sanctions being extended beyond the three-month lockdown, saying:

It’s important that as the job centres fully reopen this week, we do reinstate the need for having a claimant commitment.

During questions in parliament, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, played the role of a loyal partner in a de facto government of national unity. He made no call for the scrapping of sanctions, cautioning only that people could lose benefits at a time when “unemployment has risen sharply.”