As of 4 PM on April 1st, 46,438 people have died worldwide from the coronavirus and 926,619 have tested positive for it in 203 countries.1 These numbers should increase exponentially within the next few months. As many are understandably living in fear, the Trump administration and right-wing governments around the globe are exploiting this fear to push legislation and orders that would normally face far more scrutiny.
On March 26th, former coal lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, who now heads the EPA announced environmental rules are being indefinitely suspended because of the corona virus. The memorandum from the Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance of the EPA, Susan Parker Bodine, states that because of “worker shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic….there may be constraints on the ability of a facility or laboratory to carry out certain activities…to meet enforceable limitations on air emissions and water discharges, requirements for the management of hazardous waste, or requirements to ensure and provide safe drinking water….In general, the EPA does not expect to seek penalties for violations … where the EPA agrees that COVID-19 was the cause of the noncompliance”2 Instead of shutting down polluting corporations during the pandemic, the state has decided the economy is more important than safe drinking water, clean air, and soil, all of which we need to be healthy. Nothing is considered too valuable to sacrifice at the altar of capitalism.
The Trump administration has also passed a two trillion dollar bail out bill called the CARES Act that will primarily benefit the rich. $500 billion of the bail out money will go to loans for “small businesses,” defined as businesses employing 500 people or less, which includes enterprises that are quite large. Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, who profited from the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and thousands of foreclosures by buying failed lender IndyMac and changing the name to OneWest Bank, will oversee this money. What could go wrong?
The Federal Reserve also announced that it will buy “unlimited amounts of U.S. Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities” and “certain corporate bonds for the first time in its history”3 In addition the fed “gave banks access to loans at a record-low 0.25 percent rate.” This quantitative easing will total another $4 trillion dollars, bringing the total bailout to a staggering $6 trillion.4 The principle behind this bailout is “trickle down economics,” a lie that purports by giving the rich tax money extorted from us, we will gain in the long-term. Surely, this money will be used by millionaire and billionaire executives to give themselves massive bonuses while they lay off their workforce and cut wages just as they did during the 2008 financial crisis but this time it will be under the guise of “hard times” during the virus. We will likely see massive cuts to social services in the next few months and other austerity measures under the same pretext if we don’t resist. The bill has an extremely weak and flexible provision that states businesses receiving funds must retain 90% of the their workforce “to the extent practicable.” The bill money may even be used by Trump himself to save his hotel chain.5 The bill will only give common working people who make less than $75,000 a year, a $1200 check, which doesn’t begin to cover the lost wages most have suffered due to the virus. The bill will also bailout gas companies, fracking companies and other major polluters, instead of funding green energy initiatives. Unsurprisingly, the UK government is taking similar measures, loaning £600 million to EasyJet, a UK airline with a 2019 revenue of £6.3 billion while its employees are on unpaid leave and the founder of the company, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, just received a £60 million dividend payout.
Of course, the super rich are exploiting this pandemic and profiting from it in other ways. For example, Joel Freedman, an LA based investor, who owns a Hahnemann hospital in Philadelphia, which has been empty since last year is demanding $1 million per month in rent from the city to use the hospital. As the city can’t afford it, the hospital will remain empty while the city scrambles to find beds and housing for patients with COVID-19. What could possibly be more parasitical than allowing people to die during a pandemic because of greed? According to The Intercept, Freedman stands to gain from the 2 trillion dollar corona bill as it “retroactively lifts a cap on the property-related depreciation real estate investors are allowed to use to lessen their tax bill.”
Meanwhile, police have been granted far broader powers and the Department of “Justice” recently asked Congress for the power to indefinitely detain citizens during emergencies,6 violating our constitutional rights to trials and our legal right of presumption of innocence. Groups of twenty five or more have been banned in multiple states now in violation of the 1st amendment right to free assembly, which essentially criminalizes protest. Crimethinc mentioned this being done in Italy a few weeks ago. In the past few weeks, legislation has also been passed that puts harsher penalties on any kind of protest against fossil fuel infrastructure.7 While voluntary social distancing as advised by the CDC makes sense as the larger groups of people are the more likely it is at least one in them has corona that could infect others, police enforced bans on groups is a slippery slope to martial law. Restrictions on travel also disproportionately impact refugees fleeing violence and undocumented immigrants. Six states have also deployed the national guard in response to the corona virus.8 “The Guard’s efforts to combat the illness include training personnel on coronavirus response, identifying and preparing Guard facilities for use as isolation housing.” Instead of housing patients in a facilities with armed guards that have the potential to become more like prisons, why don’t states use tax payer money to fund clinics, testing facilities, doctors, and nurses?
The US isn’t the only country to exploit corona fears to ramp up authoritarianism. Hungary is considering an emergency bill that if passed would give PM Viktor Orban the power to rule by decree.9 In Norway, a proposed coronavirus law if passed would overrule all existing laws aside from the Constitution until December.10 Italy has prohibited prisoners from attending criminal trials under the guise of “concern about spreading the virus”. Prisoners in Italy have also has their rights to visitation and recreation stripped from them. Additionally, on March 11th, Italian authorities announced a punishment of up to six years in jail for violating quarantine, bringing charges of “manslaughter against public health.” Those with COVID-19 symptoms who violate quarantine can face up to 21 years in prison. On April 1st in the Philippines, President Duerte called on the military and police to kill anyone who violates the quarantine. In Laguna province, police locked five young people in dog cages for violating quarantine. On March 25th Duerte also signed the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” which among other things criminalizes “false news,” which isn’t defined as the state gets to decide what is true and what isn’t, with fines up to 1 million pesos and two months in prison for violations. India’s PM Modi shut down all businesses, including grocery stores for three weeks, without warning, and restricted residents from leaving their homes, which left those who didn’t buy enough food facing hunger and starvation. Migrant workers were also forced to walk home “often for days” as all transit was shut down.
The potential for this virus to become far more serious is very real. The number of cases and deaths has increased dramatically over the past month. On January 22nd just 17 people had died from the virus. By March 1st 3,050 had died of the virus, and now the death toll has surpassed 46,000. Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health warned that the virus could kill millions if social distancing isn’t practiced.11
While people are understandably afraid of this virus, we can’t live in fear. The state’s response to this virus is more dangerous than the virus itself. Most are so willing to give up their freedoms and tax dollars for the sake of some false sense of “security”. If this administration actually cared about anyone’s health but its own, they would be funding research on cures, treatment, and free testing as South Korea has. Free drive through testing in South Korea has resulted in a sharp reduction in corona cases12 and just 165 people have died from the virus there as of April 1st.13 South Korea is able to offer free testing because they have tax-payer funded universal health-care unlike the US. This pandemic highlights the disaster that is the US health-care system dictated by greedy billion dollar insurance companies that routinely deny care, charge exorbitant amounts, and refuse to pay doctors. Of course, the trump administration is bailing out the insurance industry in the US instead of directly funding healthcare. Eric Feigl-Ding, a senior fellow of the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C. noted that “It’s much better to test and then quarantine a specific person than to do a citywide or provincewide lockdown, which in certain ways prevents the virus from leaving the province but actually doesn’t make the province any less likely to have high infection rates.”14
If we demand big banks fail and large corporations go bankrupt amidst this crisis and instead common working people are bailed out, society could be radically transformed. Rent and mortgage strikes are crucial and likely to receive far wider support during the epidemic. More people are likely to support homeless people occupying vacant housing (which is happening in LA) as they will be less exposed to the virus and less likely to pass it on. General strikes are also more likely to be supported. It remains uncertain if they will retain their usual anti-capitalist nature and they won’t simply be framed as a temporary measure enacted to prevent the spread of the epidemic but this virus makes the ruthlessness of capitalism more clear as bosses demand workers continue even if it means their lives.
As IGD reported,15 auto workers have already refused to continue working over corona concerns in Metro Detroit, Hammond, Indiana, and Ann Arbor and Toledo. Amazon employees in Queens walked off after an employee tested positive for Corona, Purdue workers organized a wildcat strike at a poultry plant in Georgia, and bus drivers in Detroit organized a strike, resulting a victory within 24 hours. Call center workers in Portland, electricians in Sacramento, construction workers in Vegas, fast food workers in LA and San Jose, sewer maintenance employees in Cleveland, and garbage collectors in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania have also gone on strike. Another benefit to businesses shutting down is we are seeing dramatic decreases in pollution.16
The financial hardship this pandemic has created is perhaps just as significant as the virus itself as far more people are facing evictions, homelessness, and hunger. Governor Gavin Newsom, announced an executive order that he claims will prevent evictions due to inability to pay during the pandemic. However, while “it’s being billed as a moratorium on evictions, the order only delays a tenant’s legal window for responding in court – allowing them 60 days to respond, rather than five days – when a landlord files an eviction. It doesn’t stop new evictions from being filed.” Other states have passed similar legislation that halts evictions but will not stop them. The CARES Act, signed into law Mar. 27, 2020, prevents landlords from evicting tenants in federally backed housing for 120 days for late payments but payments still have to be made or tenants will face eviction after the 120 days is up.
The coronavirus is a zoonotic disease meaning it was transmitted from another species of animal to humans. Two thirds of the initial 41 people hospitalized for the virus had exposure to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the Jianghan District, Wuhan, Hubei, China where live animals are sold. Time magazine reported the seafood market had unsanitary conditions wherein livestock was held next to dead animals and the Business Insider reported animals there were slaughtered and skinned out in the open. NYT reported garbage in the market was “piled on wet floors.” Some of the animals sold included badgers, bamboo rats, camel, giant salamanders, otters, pangolins, porcupines, rabbit organs, turtles, and wolf puppies. SARS was spread via the same type of wet markets, so named because animals are killed in front of customers.
Global health expert, Alanna Shaikh, noted recently that this type of human activity, hunting and selling animals to extinction and destroying their habitat makes exposure to these types of viruses an inevitability. Disease ecologist, Thomas Gillespie, Kate Jones, chair of ecology and biodiversity at UCL, Felicia Keesing, professor of biology at Bard College, and David Quammen have made similar observations. Surprisingly, even capitalist rag, Bloomberg, acknowledged this connection recently, explaining “In diverse ecosystems well separated from human habitations, viruses ebb and flow without ever having a chance to make it to the big time.” And when habitats are destroyed, what remains are “smaller critters that live fast, reproduce in large numbers, and have immune systems more capable of carrying disease without succumbing to it. When there are only a few species left, they’re good at carrying disease, and they thrive near people, there may be nothing between a deadly pathogen and all of humanity.” Instead of learning from this, the Chinese government is recommending bear bile farmed from Asiatic bears in “bile farms” be consumed as a “cure” for corona. Humanity is truly a bigger disease than this virus. At the very least all of these wet markets should be shut down. The Chinese government announced a ban on the trade of wild animals on February 24 2020 but it does not apply to wild animal products in traditional Chinese “medicine,” wherein the parts of endangered animals are considered to be “medicinal”.
One lesson to be learned from corona is that cities are not sustainable. The spread has been the worse in densely packed cities. When large masses of people live very close together, disease spreads like wildfire. If all people instead lived in rural areas, forests, jungles, and so on sustaining themselves via permaculture, hunting, fishing, and gathering we would not see disease like this. Many indigenous peoples live like this and as a result they don’t get diseases like this until someone from industrial civilization invades their land. (This is exactly what the missionary organization, Ethnos 360, plans to do during the pandemic. For more on this, click here and here.) The best way to practice social distancing is to move far from any city. Unfortunately, many people who live in close quarters don’t have the financial resources to leave, such as those living in packed slums in India while some others lack the basic freedom to leave, such as in occupied Palestine. No matter where we live, resisting industrial capitalism is vital for our survival. As common people are strapped for cash, we could more widely use social currency and barter, thereby reducing our reliance on the market. We ought to support each other now more than ever and make our resistance stronger and more organized against this increasingly totalitarian state and its lackey corporations. If we don’t they may take away all of our freedoms, rob us blind, and continue to poison the planet to the point of our extinction.
(Featured image is a compilation of images I put together from different artists: Dave Ganlund, Bob Englehart of the Hartford Courant, the Desert Beacon, thecolor.com and Beer Winnipeg. I did some editing but I’m a writer, not an artist.)