In mid- February 2020, my wife Rose and I were very sick. We of course had heard of the Covid-19 virus outbreak, but that was on the other side of the world, nothing to do with us. We just figured it was the flu or a bad cold. Rose had spells of difficulty breathing. One night, she couldn’t breathe at all. While we considered calling an ambulance, a few hits from an inhaler got her breathing again.
One day, I started getting very weak, to the point where I couldn’t even stand up without desperately clinging to walls or furniture. We called an ambulance, which took us to a hospital. There, the hallways were packed with beds and patients waiting to be admitted. Nothing moved. A doctor told me that admission would take at least 24 hours. Then he quietly confided that at St. Pete General, the waiting time was 72 hours. Three days! I got examined in the hallway, was pronounced not on the verge of death, given a prescription for TamaFlu, and sent home.
Something odd was going on. But we had no idea. We may have been very lucky.
With Florida’s official death toll from Covid-19 standing at 1,898 (among 42,402 confirmed cases), Governor Rick DeSantis has appointed a Re-Open Florida Task Force, chaired by Florida Chamber of Commerce Chairman and CEO Mark Wilson, to get the state back in business in less than a week.
The Task Force’s executive committee is Florida’s business and government elite, with more than 20 of the presidents and CEO’s of the state’s financial, real estate, and tourism industries such as Raymond James, Florida Power and Light, Disney, plus the Republican leadership of the Florida State Legislature.
They are barreling ahead despite the fact that Fox News reports that, “By a 72-22 percent margin, Floridians say the state should not loosen social distancing rules, according to the poll. Ninety percent of Democrats, 69 percent of independents and even 55 percent of Republicans say the social distancing rules should stay in place next month.”
DeSantis had been among the last to take action in the face of the Covid-19 crisis, having said he would take his cue from Donald Trump. Now he is one of the first to be trying to re-open the state for business as usual. DeSantis does so in a state with a healthcare system whose gutting has been a bipartisan project since 2010.
That year, Democratic Governor Charlie Crist (now a Florida senator) and his state Department of Health set out to re-evaluate the state’s healthcare system. Per a recent Tampa Bay Times report, “Every dollar needed to be justified, with a focus on the ‘return on investment.’” Amidst the current crisis, Crist still brags, “It was my duty not to waste anyone’s money in any agency in government.”
Crist then handed the governor’s mansion off to Rick Scott, who chopped 3,700 Health Department jobs (a 20% cut) by the end of 2018. Per the Sun-Sentinel, “Scott and the Legislature eliminated the special funding they had created to develop vaccines and tests, closing a process that could have been of use against the Covid-19 virus.” Scott recently bragged, “We’re certainly not going to apologize for making government more efficient and effective for Florida taxpayers.”
Just last March, Crist reaffirmed, “It was my duty not to waste anyone’s money in any agency in government. So when you’re in the depths of the Great Recession, you better heighten your awareness of that.”
Current Governor Rick DeSantis has kept up the good work, with his first budget lopping off another 600 public health positions.
It’s just starting to get real ugly.
Now the people of Florida get to reap the grim harvest. After Trump’s fantasy of Covid-19 cases going from 15 to 5 to zero went into the annals along with “Let Them Eat Cake” as the death toll rose, he almost immediately started beating the drums for going back to business as usual. His argument was that the death toll from not going back to business as usual would be even worse than the virus. He attributed these pending deaths to depression and suicide and the like.
That was brushed off as his usual willingness to spout the first nonsense to come out of his mouth. But the argument masked a deeper truth. With the economy shattered, people would be dying. The causes would be from hunger, from homelessness, from the breakdown of the entire healthcare system. And he was right. Because Trump knew that HE WAS NOT GOING TO LIFT A FINGER TO SAVE THEM! You could call it murder.
Fear among the politicians and pundits is becoming palpable. Early on, there had been dire predictions about jobs and evictions and hospitals and the homeless, eventually. But in the past month, the slack has been squeezed out of the economy. At every step of the way, in dealing with the crisis, efforts have run up against the Rules of the Free Enterprise System.
The powerful can:
(1) Print trillions of dollars in fake money to bail out the banking system.
(2) Maintain the largest prison system in the entire world.
(3) Spend nearly $1 trillion a year for a military machine that occupies 30 countries and 800 bases around the world.
But they couldn’t just order industries to provide protective gear for our courageous healthcare workers. They couldn’t just cancel rents, or student loan debt. With people going hungry, they couldn’t stop agribusiness from destroying crops that they couldn’t sell because people without jobs couldn’t buy them. They couldn’t help hospitals pay their essential workers. They couldn’t reorganize the economy to mass produce the testing kits and antibody kits that everyone, and I mean everyone, all the politicians and business leaders and pundits, know are essential to recovering from the pandemic. They couldn’t get out the $1,200 checks to those who need them most, and in fact, even get them to millions who don’t. They can’t cover the paychecks of the millions thrown out of work by the quite necessary lockdowns in place. They still can’t get unemployment checks to those who have applied. They can’t replace the health insurance that millions of workers are losing along with their jobs. They can’t run a system that isn’t so jammed up that millions and millions can’t even make their applications for their unemployment benefits.
They can’t stop our cities and states from being destroyed from budgetary collapse. Any shortfalls in state and local governments being able to provide essential services are the result of their own fiscal mismanagement, and such profligacy cannot be rewarded.
A few weeks ago, DeSantis had been going all gangbusters to re-open. Now he’s “on the side of taking measured steps, even baby steps, to start on the road of a brighter day.” In the face of the media happy talk, and business leaders crowing about getting the economy humming again the American people are still in favor of keeping the social-distancing and stay-safe-at-home restrictions.
The New York Times and Washington Post report widespread resistance. “I need a paycheck, I’m really hurting, my family is hungry.” But “a job is not worth dying for.” Customers aren’t exactly flocking back to diners and restaurants. Even a meal prepared by the world’s finest chefs is not worth dying for. So far.
A broad consensus is emerging that the capitalist system is broken. Even the proto-stormtroopers of the “Give Me Liberty” protests would agree to that. As would the politicians of both major parties, the pundits, ordinary Americans in every walk of life.
A few nights ago, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, the best performer among the neoliberal punditocracy, put on her “very serious face,” as she told another tale of Trump’s wickedness. Reporting on the plight of Iowa meatpackers who are getting sick and dying, just ordered back to work, yet unable to even get Covid-19 testing. Her head goes down. You can tell that she is trying her damnedest to choke back the tears. She looks back up. Her very pale face, thinner than just months ago, is taut with rage as she carries on. No acting here.
Only the top financiers would disagree. For them, this is how it works. With every crisis, more money flows from the 99% into their grubby hands.
In Waterloo, Iowa, meatpackers working for Tyson, many of them immigrants or Blacks and Latinos, are trying to resist and the plant was shut down for two weeks. With 21 already dead, the Federal government presses on. Per the Des Moines Register, bonuses, disability insurance and safety measures are hastily being put in place after management met with employees who South Dakota Voices for Justice said had been “handpicked by corporate HR.” Upon triumphantly re-opening, it was revealed that 1,031 of the plant’s 1,653 workers tested positive for Covid-19. The Midwestern meatpackers have become an international cause célèbre.
In South Dakota, the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe have set up checkpoints on the highways leading through their reservation to prevent unnecessary visitors and tourists from driving through and bringing their diseases with them. (Smallpox blankets, anyone?) Per Tribe Live, Governor Kristi Noem has ordered that the “tribes immediately cease interfering with or regulating traffic on US and State Highways and remove all travel checkpoints.”
Tribal chairman Harold Frazier replied to Noem that “continuing to interfere in our efforts to do what science and facts dictate seriously undermine our ability to protect everyone on the reservation.” Chase Iron Eyes, a spokesman for Oglala Sioux president Julian Bear Runner, said he expected the tribe to defend its rights as a sovereign nation to keep out threats to their health.”
Meanwhile, APM Research Lab reports, “For each 100,000 Americans (of their respective groups), 40.9 Blacks have died, along with about 17.9 Asians, 17.9 Latinos and 15.8 Whites. These rates are so disparate it can be hard to appreciate what this means. To put it plainly: If Black Americans had died of COVID-19 at the same rate as White Americans, at least 10,000 more Black Americans would still be alive.”
Vox magazine reports, “Arrest data released late Thursday by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office showed that between March 17 and May 4, 40 people were arrested for violating the city’s social distancing order. Of those 40 arrests, 35 were black, four were Latinx, and one was white. More than a third of the arrests came in the borough’s predominantly black Brownsville neighborhood.”
At the same time, tightly-packed mobs of fully-armed white protestors can invade State Houses demanding lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, and the police just look on.
For the Green Party.
The Green Party has answers for a broken system. We know that capitalism is not merely broken. It is beyond repair. We know this crisis has been brewing for decades. What is needed is embodied in the Green Party’s strong version of the Green New Deal and its Economic Bill of Rights. But for every clever answer, one big question pops up. Whatcha gonna do about it?
Especially under these new conditions, where the state of lockdown resulting from Safe-at-Home self-quarantine and Social Distancing cripple many of the methods we have traditionally been able to use. No longer available are:
Tabling and leafletting;
Attending marches and large demonstrations;
Face-to-Face public meetings.
To the terrible things that will be coming down on people as related above, resistance is already developing. We need to connect. Desperate people will be calling the shots. Whatever they are doing, we can back their play. We can make it clear that we have their backs. We can support their demands in whatever ways are still available.
We need to remember that we are an electoral party. Even under lockdown, that arena is still open. We can give the people’s resistance a voice. Moreover, so critical in these hard times, we can provide an independent voice. A key political nexus is the Florida State Legislature, a corrupt and villainous body if ever there was one.
What can the Legislature do? What bills are on the table, or are being formulated even now? If proposed legislation would actually alleviate human suffering, then we must support it, even if it is being put forward by Democrats. But we also know that the Democratic Party in Florida has been an utterly impotent body. It can offer band-aids at best. Drastic times demand drastic answers. Millions are ready for it.
So we need to look hard at what is going on with the State Legislature. As the Democrats come up with tepid solutions, we have to put forward drastic solutions. And by “drastic,” I mean solutions that are on a scale appropriate to the crisis we are facing.
Samson LeBeau Kpadenou is running as the Green candidate for Florida State Representative Palm Beach’s Dist. 87. One thing the new environment has done is that it has transformed the definition of local. Kpadenou’s will be a statewide campaign that all Greens in the state can get behind. He will be offering solutions that just a few months ago would have been considered mere radical folly, but will now be nothing more than common sense. The foundation will emerge from the Green New Deal’s Economic Bill of Rights, which include:
Right to adequate income;
Right to affordable shelter;
Right to food, income, and utilities;
Right to prompt and effective healthcare.
The crisis demands nothing less.
— Jeff Roby
May 14, 2020