Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Why It Amazes Me That ANY Working Class Voters Are Trumpists


Gangsta President by Nancy Ohanian

The top problem with the pandemic is health, of course. And Trump and his party have failed miserably there. Not unrelated, they have also failed in terms of the economy. As usual, Trump and the GOP are taking care of their wealthy campaign donors-- and leaving the working class to... whatever fate has in store. And what fate has in store has been made much worse by the incompetence and venality of the GOP. We'll come back to that in a moment. First, I want to reference an essay in the New Yorker, How Trump Is Helping Tycoons Exploit The Pandemic, in which top drawer investigative journalist Jane Mayer takes Trump to task for catering to the top 1% at the expense of everyone else. Short version: "The secretive titan behind one of America’s largest poultry companies, who is also one of the President’s top donors, is ruthlessly leveraging the coronavirus crisis-- and his vast fortune-- to strip workers of protections." Trump has aided and abetted billionaire scumbag Ronald Cameron-- widely considered one of the most evil and satanic men in the world-- in his vivious campaign to destroy the union representing poultry workers.
Trump issued an executive order defining slaughterhouse workers as essential. The White House had appointed Cameron to an advisory board on the pandemic’s economic impact. The executive order commanded meat-processing facilities to “continue operations uninterrupted to the extent possible.” The Labor Department released an accompanying statement that all but indemnified companies for exposing workers to covid-19. It assured employers in essential industries that the agency wouldn’t hold them responsible if they failed to follow the C.D.C.’s health guidelines, as long as they made a “good faith” effort.

Meat and poultry workers had to keep working and risk infection-- or lose their jobs. By July 7th, OSHA had received more than six thousand coronavirus-related workplace complaints but had issued only one citation, to a nursing home in Georgia. David Michaels, a professor of public health at George Washington University, who headed osha during the Obama Administration, told me that the agency was “saying that the Labor Department would side with the employers if workers sued,” and added, “That would be unthinkable in any other Administration. OSHA’s job isn’t to protect corporations-- it’s to protect workers!”

The prospect of food shortages understandably caused concern in the White House. Yet reports show that in April, as Tyson and other producers were warning that “millions of pounds of meat will disappear” from American stores if they had to shut down, exports of pork to China broke records-- and Mountaire’s chicken exports were 3.4 per cent higher than they were a year earlier. The next month, the company’s exports were 10.9 per cent lower than in 2019, but its exports to China and Hong Kong grew by 23.1 per cent in April and by fourteen per cent in May, according to statistics provided by Christopher Rogers, an analyst with Panjiva, which tracks the food-supply chain. Tony Corbo, a lobbyist for Food and Water Watch, a progressive nonprofit advocacy group, said, “They were crying about shortages, and yet we’re still exporting meat. The shortage was phony.”

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases exploded in the meat-and-poultry industry. Initially, Mountaire released statistics about employee infections. At the end of March, the company told the union that there had been forty-one cases in Selbyville. However, Hill’s shop steward, Manuel Rosales, told him not to trust this number. “Half the plant isn’t there,” he explained, either because the workers were sick or because they feared becoming so. A month later, a television station in North Carolina reported that a Mountaire plant, in Siler City, which employs some sixteen hundred workers, had at least seventy-four positive cases among workers and their families. After that, the company stopped sharing its covid-19 numbers. Mountaire became so secretive, Hill said, that workers “were seeing people disappear, and they didn’t know what the hell was going on.” In many cases, a “co-worker had tested positive, but the company wouldn’t tell anyone.” Rosales, who works in the deboning department at the Selbyville plant, told me, “People are coughing and they don’t look well, but they just want to keep the chicken coming. It’s all hush-hush.”

...The union’s struggles with the Labor Department are part of a much larger reversal of federal protections for workers, consumers, and the environment under Trump. In 2016, the President promised to “dismantle the regulatory state,” as Stephen Bannon, his former White House strategist, often put it. Given the complexities of federal rulemaking, this proved somewhat difficult in the first three years of the Administration. But the pandemic has offered Trump an opportunity: now that he can invoke an economic emergency, he can relax, rescind, or suspend federal regulations by fiat. In May and June, Trump issued a pair of executive orders directing national agencies to ignore federal regulations and environmental laws if they burdened the economy-- again, in many instances, the companies were told that they just had to act “in good faith.” As the Times and the Washington Post have reported, these moves have weakened regulations on all kinds of businesses, from trucking companies to oil and gas pipelines. In Corbo’s view, many in the media have missed one of the biggest aspects of the covid-19 story. “Everyone is looking at the shiny object-- the pandemic,” he said. “Meanwhile, the government is deregulating everything. It’s unreal.”

In April, for instance, the United States Department of Agriculture granted fifteen waivers to poultry plants, including a Mountaire facility in North Carolina, authorizing them to increase the number of birds per minute-- or B.P.M.-- that workers must process. The waivers enabled companies to accelerate the pace from a hundred and forty B.P.M. to a hundred and seventy-five. Angela Stuesse, an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has studied the poultry industry, told me that, in the chicken business, “you make pennies on a pound.” Among the few ways to increase profits are squeezing labor costs and accelerating line speeds, which are set by the U.S.D.A. to accommodate federal inspectors, who are supposed to assess every bird. The regulations have long been a point of contention between poultry-plant owners and unions, because as the line speed increases so do injuries and other stresses on workers’ bodies. “They move the birds so fast, you have to be really close together to get every bird,” Williams, the union spokesperson, told me. “It’s like the I Love Lucy episode at the chocolate factory.” Even though the C.D.C. has emphasized that social distancing is necessary to maintain safety, faster production lines require more workers, who must then squeeze closer together. In many areas of a plant, poultry workers already stand two feet apart at most, often facing one another. Nonetheless, the U.S.D.A. has now indicated that it plans to permit faster line speeds throughout the poultry industry. The National Chicken Council, the industry’s trade group, had lobbied for precisely this change. Williams fears that “these policies will result in the deaths of many more workers.”

Debbie Berkowitz, a program director at the National Employment Law Project, a pro-labor group, who previously headed the health-and-safety division of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, told me that, thanks to the pandemic, “the Chamber of Commerce is getting everything they always wanted.” An analysis of public records by her group found that, of the fifteen poultry plants granted waivers to increase line speeds in April, eight had covid-19 outbreaks at the time. “If you’re a worker in a plant bursting with covid-19, it’s a shitshow for you,” Berkowitz said. “The industry is getting away with murdering people.”

Michaels, the former OSHA head, told me, “We’re very much back in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle ”-- the 1906 novel that exposed abuses in the meat industry. The book so shocked Americans that President Theodore Roosevelt ordered an immediate investigation of slaughterhouses. The result was landmark consumer-protection legislation that formed the foundation of today’s Food and Drug Administration. But, for the past four decades, wealthy donors to the Republican Party have pushed hard for the dismantling of Progressive Era reforms and later curbs on corporate power. The 1980 platform of the Libertarian Party, which was underwritten by the billionaire conservative donors Charles and David Koch, laid out a road map, calling for the abolition of almost every federal agency, including the F.D.A. Although Trump claims to be a defender of the working class, he has delighted wealthy donors-- and their pressure groups, such as the Club for Growth-- by reliably serving their agenda. Michaels told me, “Mountaire and others are taking advantage of the covid-19 crisis to say, ‘We need more chickens.’ The Trump Administration is aiding and abetting this. They’re saying, ‘Produce more food,’ regardless of the cost to workers. If companies cared as much about their workers as they do about their chickens, we’d be a better country.”
You get the picture right? These workers-- many of them immigrants-- are treated like animals so actual beasts like Cameron can get richer and throw down some bribes to worse beasts like Trump. Cameron spends tens of millions underwriting right-wing SuperPACs and committees.

A director of the notorious Family, his most recent contribution was a max-donation to Randy Feenstra, the far right Republican running around Iowa calling J.D. Scholten a socialist!!!. [ You can contribute to J.D.'s campaign here.]

That's how Trump differentiates between citizens in the pandemic. His regime and his agenda almost appear to have been designed to drive working families into the dirt. Yesterday, writing for the Washington Post, Eli Rosenberg reported about ordinary working class families, thrown out of their jobs because of the pandemic but unable to collect the benefits Congress passed for them. "The pandemic’s toll on workers who have been furloughed or laid off ," he wrote, "is measured in numbers that splash across headlines: 1.4 million new weekly unemployment claims and 18 million people are already receiving continuous unemployment insurance. Tens of thousands of workers at Levi’s, Wells Fargo and United Airlines learned this past week they could be furloughed or laid off in coming months, sending those workers to seek jobless benefits as well. Four months into the worst recession since the Great Depression, tens of thousands of workers... across the country have filed for jobless claims but have yet to receive payments. Many are now in dire financial straits."
The issue has spilled back into public view in recent weeks, as thousands of frustrated workers awaiting payments have camped out, sometimes overnight, in front of unemployment offices in states like Oklahoma, Alabama and Kentucky.

The ongoing delays are the result of a confluence of crises, experts say.

A flood of new jobless applications-- about 50 million-- has overwhelmed state unemployment offices over the past four months. The agencies themselves are hampered by years of neglect. They rely on reduced staffs and badly outdated technology after years of budget cuts, often at the behest of business groups and Republican legislatures. Issues with fraud and user confusion over the new rules and filing process have further bogged down the process.

...[W]hat happens when workers simply run out of money and the social safety net malfunctions with defaulted payments and trips to food banks[?] In more desperate situations, workers become homeless.

“We’ve kind of abdicated our responsibility to the unemployed,” George Wentworth, a senior counsel at the National Employment Law Project and an expert on unemployment insurance. “There need to be more standards and those standards need to be rigorously enforced by the federal government.”

The Department of Labor does not track the percentage of unemployment benefits that have been processed, an agency spokeswoman said in an email. The agency did not offer a comment on the issue of delays in processing benefits.

But previously unreleased data compiled by Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, illustrates the scope. By the end of May, about 18.8 million out of 33 million claims-- 57 percent-- had been paid nationwide. That number has steadily improved from 47 percent of paid claims at the end of April and 14 percent at the end of March.

In Wisconsin, where about 13 percent of claims remained unprocessed as of July 7, residents told local reporters that they had waited 10 weeks or longer for their claims to be processed, leaving some on the brink of bankruptcy and eviction. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development said through a spokesman that the average time from application to payment is 21 days. In Pennsylvania, another 15 percent of claims were still in review as of mid-June.

Oklahoma has approved 235,000 out of about 590,000 claims, with about 2,000 still under review as of June 21, but the state also has denied a whopping 350,000 claims, said Shelley Zumwalt, the interim director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Zumwalt said a small portion of the denied claims-- about 47,000-- are people who have applied for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a program for gig and self-employed workers who must get rejected from regular unemployment insurance before qualifying for the expanded benefit for gig workers.

Nevada has also had issues processing these gig worker jobless claims, fulfilling only 74 percent of the 106,667 eligible PUA claims by June 19.

Cone Of Shame by Nancy Ohanian

...One problem is that some states have made it tougher to access benefits. Florida was one of many Republican-led states that restricted unemployment benefits in the aftermath of the Great Recession. After sustained lobbying from corporations hoping to reduce unemployment taxes, the state, under then Gov. Rick Scott, limited unemployment to 12 weeks and capped weekly benefits at $275, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

By contrast, unemployed workers in Florida, and across the nation, are temporarily eligible for $600 in supplemental federal benefits every week, but that’s slated to expire at the end of the month unless Congress extends them.

A report written in 2017 by Wentworth, the unemployment expert, found those types of changes, which both limit the amount of benefits paid out and add restrictions, disqualifications or higher burdens for workers applying, had drastically reduced the number of unemployed workers collecting benefits in states around the country.

“States that have been the most restrictive in moving people off unemployment insurance-- those states have had the hardest time processing claims now,” Stettner said in an interview.

...[S]tates systems are... bogged down by outdated or poorly designed technology, concerns about fraud and staffing issues. In Nevada, the interim director for the state unemployment system resigned in June after facing threats from angry workers. In Washington state, 100 National Guard members have been called in to help sort through issues around fraudulent cases.

The delays in getting jobless benefits to the unemployed have led to some informal organizing-- social media groups with thousands of members have cropped up on Facebook and other sites in states like Wisconsin, Nevada, Florida and Oklahoma.
Anselm Weber is going to be an explosive tribune for the working-class inside the Florida legislature-- which very much needs what he's offering. "Florida," he told me this morning, "is now the global epicenter for COVID-19 with the state reporting a record 15,000+ cases consecutively over the weekend and 12,000+ as of today, leaving the state total at over 270,000. However, instead of prioritizing paying out jobless claims or giving relief to tenants and homeowners, our Governor and GOP leadership is moving forward with reopening our economy and our schools. The GOP has been brazen about their pro-austerity and anti-poor ideology in the past, but now it is at a new level of evil. Sadly, many working class people in Florida and across the country are still drawn to Trump and the GOP because they can relate to them on somewhat of a cultural appeal. This is partly because the Democrats, for the last 40-50 years, have not prioritized addressing deep material inequities in our system. It should be a slam dunk for the Democrats to be yelling and screaming about expanding universal healthcare, rent control, a living wage or ending Right-to-Work laws. However, they will only push in so far as it agrees with their donors and those donors include private healthcare companies, real estate and property managers, along with companies like Amazon that have been militant to local organizers addressing management's terrible labor practices. What we desperately need at this moment is a massively mobilized and organized labor movement and a party that 100% has their back."

Goal ThermometerSupporting Anselm with a small contribution, is a real good idea-- and why the 2020 Florida electoral thermometer is included here. Adam Christensen, Cindy Banyai and Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick are reformists running for Congress in tough races-- and can also use some help. Christensen is exactly what the Gainesville region is in need of in Washington. "Some of the hardest working people I know are currently working minimum wage jobs and struggling to survive," he said. "They are designated 'essential' but treated as expendable. Any company that purposefully puts their workers in danger has be held accountable. We have to force a change the structure so that people are valued over profits. The pandemic didn’t create the underlying issues that we we have, it just made them blatantly clear and exasperated them."

Cindy Banyai pointed out that "Florida’s unemployment system was designed to fail by then governor Rick Scott to keep unemployment number low during the Great Recession. Ron DeSantis looked the other way when reports that the unemployment system had problems. Republicans in Florida have a long track record of thinking of themselves first, the truth and the people be damned."

Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick is clear-eyed about why she's running for Congress in South Florida. "Time and time again," she said, "Trump and the GOP fail the working class. Working class families have lost their jobs as a result of this pandemic, yet have struggled to receive their unemployment benefits for stimulus checks. Written into the stimulus bill meant to support American families, were tax breaks and bailouts for large corporations. Moreover, Trump and Republican lawmakers are pushing from public schools to reopen, despite growing numbers of COVID cases. This will disproportionately impact working class families who are forced to work but cannot afford childcare. They have no other alternative but to send their children into COVID hotspots. Throughout the course of my campaign, I have helped voters and working class citizens apply for unemployment and small business loans. If elected, I will pledge to support all current, and future small business owners. I will also support further rule changes to the PPP that would ensure only deserving small businesses get all the help they need for as long as they need. I plan to stand against the Republican lawmakers who serve corporate interests of working class families. It is time for real leadership in Congress."

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At 6:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The serfs have no rights. When the Lord of the Manor speaks, the serfs are to snap to and follow orders.

This is corporatism. Enjoying it yet?

At 7:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nodding in agreement. let me elucidate:

"Trump and the GOP are taking care of their wealthy campaign donors-- and leaving the working class to... whatever fate has in store."

is equivalent to the following that occurred between 2008 and 2010 (housing crash)

"Obamanation and the democraps are taking care of their wealthy campaign donors -- and leaving the working class to... whatever fate has in store."

but seldom, if ever, is that noticed on a lefty sheepdog blog site like this one.

shall we go all the way back to Reagan... through slick willie and bob rubin?

At 7:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the only reason you remain amazed is that you have resisted the logical epiphany for at least 50 years.

Given any observations since 1968:

1) working class voters who support trump are either Nazis or morons or both.

but, given the past 4 decades...

2) working class voters who support democraps are just. plain. fucking. morons.

notice the common trait?

At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trump's core base of support has always seemed to be more along the lines of "small business tyrants" and social conservatives. I'm sure he does have some "working class" support, but these are voters who likely are social conservatives first and people who vote on that basis. It doesn't really help matters that there is no real political choice for "working class" voters -- neither major party really caters to these voters on any explicit basis except for social policy. The Dems may be less worse on balance, but neither party is good. In some respects the Dems have a more problematic history, because they have broken faith with organized labor and workers, after those workers have helped to elect Dems. e.g. on trade policy in particular.

Agree with the broader point about Trump. It kind of depends what's meant by "working class". If we're talking about "working class" in the security state -- border patrol, police -- I could see why they might opt for Trump in terms of economic interests. Biden probably won't be that different, but you could see why this one segment of the working class would favor a Trump style politician. On balance, though he's awful. The bigger issue though is that a lot of the working class in the U.S. is not politically organized. People don't vote, because our system tends to actively make it harder for them to vote. The primary and general election system privileges older voters and more economically secure voters. Even in 2020, I can see a real issue with millions of people effectively displaced and homeless. If people are focused on day-to-day survival, voting likely won't be the top priority.


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