In this unique collection of over 50 essays, “The Sickness is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us from Pandemics or Itself,” Richard D. Wolff argues clearly that “returning to normal” no longer responds adequately to the accumulated problems of US capitalism. What is necessary, instead, is transition toward a new economic system that works for all of us.
“The Sickness is the System” is published by Democracy at Work. Professor Wolff generously donated his time and work so that all sales revenue could go to support d@w. This book is now available as a paperback.
The corporate news media is a vast wasteland, a mental fidget-spinner of trite nonsense. It’s purpose, as far as I can tell, is to keep the lid on, to convince the population that the “institutions are holding,” and to stupify the public into believing that nothing is really wrong.
There is the endlessly repeated both-sidesism enmeshed in the discussion of every topic. Tonight, for example, in covering the allegations that DeSantis, Governor of Florida, participated in making it possible for rich campaign donors to skip the line on vaccines, Ari Melber felt it was necessary to show photographs of Cuomo and note for the audience that the show also covered Democrats who were accused of wrongdoing.
And, there are the jokes, the uplifting People Magazine stories, the fashioning of narrative to make heroes out of every person who just behaves with normal human decency.
Essentially, the corporate news media is a waste of time.
But, there are other places to go for news. There are more podcasts than one person can listen to in a lifetime, and there are a few TV channels. Freespeech TV is one of them.
Richard Wolff hosts a program called Economic Update. There are no guests, no video clips, no commercials. The program is adult news, discussion.
These are notes on the episode from 3/3/21
History Lessons on Capitalism’s Failures
• Even if you argue that the present economic system works in normal times, it certainly has not worked in a crisis like the pandemic.
• Freemarket capitalism produced no warehouses of supplies (masks, ventilators) waiting to be distributed . There were no facilities in population centers stocked with testing equipment. There was no plan for dealing with the dislocations that a pandemic would cause. There’s no money, no profit in it.
• Private enterprise isn’t going to provide a plan or products, or logistics for dealing with a pandemic before it happens. Only government can do that.
• The signs the system isn’t up to the job of dealing with a crisis are everywhere. Take, for example rising food prices. The evidence is that globally food prices are increasing. Private enterprise is not going to function to ensure the distribution of food in a pandemic. Secondly, under the current system of capitalism, the eviction crisis will only exacerbate the pandemic problem. In a pandemic people need to stay at home, but with evictions uncontrolled by the government, that’s exactly what we will not get. Thirdly, only 5% of private schools are having internet learning due to the pandemic. Private schools can afford to take measures to ensure safety. They can have smaller classes, move people to other buildings. 65% of public schools, however, are not meeting students. They are forced into distance learning. The students on the bottom of the economic scale are taking the hit of the pandemic.
• As Richard Wolff notes, the problems are so evident that the question is really: “Why are there people not understanding this still?”
• Wolff goes on to discuss the settlement of a criminal case against Boeing in which the company that makes most of the planes we travel in, was allowed to pay its way out of criminal prosecution for $2.5 billion dollars. Boeing, the settlement said, lied and put “profit before candor.” But, in a capitalist society, profit is put before everything. The people who run Boeing make careers from profit, not from candor.
Biden’s choice of Neera Tanden to head the Department of Management and Budget is yet another slap in the face of progressives and a further indication that progressives need to leave the Democratic Party.
As Briahna Joy Gray, a former press secretary for Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted about the nomination: “Everything toxic about the corporate Democratic Party is embodied in Neera Tanden.”
Since 2003, Tanden has been the head of what some in the media term a “left of center” think tank, the Center for American Progress. This think tank was supposedly established to counter more conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation.
But, according to article in Business Insider, “Tanden has come under scrutiny from some of her own colleagues over allegations that she censored employees who were critical of Israel while the organization attempted to build a stronger bond between the Democratic Party and the right-wing Israeli government. Under Tanden, the think tank shut down its independent journalistic arm, Think Progress…following its unionization.”
Former employees of CAP also criticized Tanden for using the think tank as more of a vehicle for her own ambition than an institution based on any left of center policy commitment. Tanden has openly opposed single payer health care, supported cuts in Social Security, and is friendly with Israel’s conservative leadership. That simply cannot be termed “left of center.”
Tanden is being nominated for this important position after having been a close advisor to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 and 2016 presidential campaigns, both failures. And, she was closely involved with engineering the ACA, another notable policy failure.
But, Tanden is part of the entitled professional class surrounding Clinton and Obama who are being put back in government by Biden just as progressives warned. As Biden said in a speech to wealthy donors – “nothing will change.” That’s what progressives who were being badgered to vote for Biden feared, and that is what we are seeing.
The nomination of Tanden is yet another indication that the corporate elite in the Democratic Party have contempt for the progressive vote and are determined to block any meaningful social change.
“There are very few people who have been as aggressively critical — I would say sometimes obsessively critical — of the progressive left, and in particular of Bernie Sanders, than Neera,” a former senior Center for American Progress employee told Business Insider.
Tanden is already cynically using her supposedly deprived family background to try to evoke sympathy. She is saying that her family found it necessary to use the social services she will have an impact on funding. She is evidently using this argument as a way of placating the progressive wing of the party. But, this only means that her opposition to Medicare for All and adequate funding of Social Security is all the more ruthless and contemptuous of working families. She had to rely on these services herself, but that doesn’t mean she believes others are entitled to them.
Neera Tanden is part of a little mafia of women (Zerlina Maxwell, Jennifer Palmieri and others) who felt themselves entitled to win the presidency, entitled to be in the White House and livid that Bernie Sanders had the nerve to run against the Queen.
In addition, these women felt that they had some kind of right to the presidency because of gender. A question asked Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary sums it up. Yamiche Alcindor (who, after confronting Sanders, went from being a low level New York Times reporter to being on television every night and then hosting programs on NPR) asked Sanders if he didn’t think it was sexist to run against Clinton.
This little mafia ring of women never stopped blaming Sanders for all their own failures in the Clinton campaigns. And, they never missed an opportunity to slam and slander Sanders and his campaign in the corporate media.
Neera Tanden, as Gray says, is just the beginning and she illustrates everything that is wrong with the Democratic Party. The leadership in the Democratic Party is smug, entitled, vindictive, ruthless and bought up to the eyeballs by corporate money.
Pankaj Mishra · Flailing States: Anglo-America Loses its Grip · London Review of Books, 16 July 2020
‘The abyss of history is deep enough to hold us all,’ Paul Valéry wrote in 1919, as Europe lay in ruins. The words resonate today as the coronavirus blows the roof off the world, most brutally exposing Britain and the United States, these prime movers of modern civilisation, which proudly claimed victory in two world wars, and in the Cold War, and which until recently held themselves up as exemplars of enlightened progress, economic and cultural models to be imitated across the globe.
‘The true test of a good government,’ Alexander Hamilton wrote, ‘is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.’ It is a test the United States and Britain have failed ruinously during the current crisis. Both countries had weeks of warnings about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan; strategies deployed by nations that responded early, such as South Korea and Taiwan, could have been adapted and implemented. But Donald Trump and Boris Johnson chose instead to claim immunity. ‘I think it’s going to work out fine,’ Trump announced on 19 February. On 3 March, the day the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies warned against shaking hands, Johnson boasted after a visit to a hospital treating coronavirus patients: ‘I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands.’
The Trump pressers and the now daily appearances are humiliation sessions. Trump regularly demeans and silences the voices of reporters and this morning, a nurse who has first hand experience working with the Coronavirus. This is what authoritarian governments do, normalize the silencing of dissent. Every time Trump silences, demeans, and both demands and receives acquiescence in this silencing, people are taught what’s expected, that submission is a normal way to behave. We need to admit that we live in a culture of cowardice, compliance, and willing submission. We need to stop obsessing about Trump’s behavior and look at ourselves.
This is a culture that deludes itself into thinking that it is characterized by independent thought and action when in fact, what characterizes most individuals is compliance.
Every time Trump is allowed to bully and demean others without reaction, Americans become a little bit more compliant with authority.
It is being reported this morning that guidelines from the CDC about reopening society were ignored by the Trump administration. The CDC, evidently, has been gutted of professionals who will stand up for fact and independent thought. The man in charge of the CDC has been investigated for misrepresenting his own research data.
It is time to ask what the benefits are to the administration from the virus becoming worse. They include 1) massive profits from the wild west profiteering off medical supplies, 2) reinforcing people’s notion that government can’t work for their benefit, 3) reinforcing the Republican theory of government that we should have no government, 4) driving wages down, 5) providing an excuse for cutting and eliminating social programs, 6) encouraging the free-for-all economy the Republicans have worked to bring about for decades, 7) exacerbating a crisis that will cover other authoritarian moves which will go unnoticed, 8) killing off a large proportion of vulnerable people, 9) justifying closing the borders. These are just a few advantages of the crisis getting worse.
The corporate media has ceased to be any kind of check on power. They are worse than useless. They don’t even have to be censored, they censor themselves. The feckless questions asked in the presidential pressers is an example of this. The county is in the middle of an economic and health crisis, and reporters ask questions like: Thank you Mr. President. Do you think, Mr. President, that citizens should congregate on the mall?
The Biden apologia articles arguing that 1) Tara Reade is not credible that her charges are somehow different from those of Blassy Ford, or that 2) the charges are believable, but we should vote for Biden anyway are just astounding. It is astonishing how many women are willing to publicly argue that a presidential candidate with multiple women accusers should be given a pass.
I am disappointed that a number of women I know who are pleading with me to silence myself about Biden’s obvious failures as a candidate. Please, they ask, don’t speak or write the truth. We have to remain silent and protect our candidate, the candidate the Democratic Party and the corporate media cheated to install as the candidate.
Equally disheartening is the number of people engaging in a gigantic act of delusion by relying on voting in 2020 to solve our problems. The Republicans have done and will do everything in their power to subvert a democratic vote. They have and will also enable interference in the election on their behalf. There is too much at stake for Republicans to allow a loss. We must move beyond this Cinderella-fiction that we can just vote Trump out in 2020. The Republicans are being so brazen and craven, not even pretending to believe in democracy, because they know they will win. And, the Democrats will blame Bernie Sanders and his supporters and cower in place just as the Democratic Party is doing at the moment.
Democrats are remaining silent, hoping that Trump will destroy himself over the Corona virus pandemic. Instead of fighting every day, pointing out to the American people every day that what is happening is a textbook example of what happens in a culture where you put people in charge of government who are trying to destroy government. It is a textbook case of what a pandemic looks like managed by people who value profits over everything else. This is unfettered capitalism, no regulations, no rules except that everyone is free to profit off untold misery to their heart’s content.
Instead of going on television every day to point out what a giant class rip off the bailout bill was, the Democrats went on television trying to make political points for compromising with (caving to) the Republicans in a windfall (yet another one) for the 1%.
Bernie Sanders has gone silent at a time when every day is an illustration of why the changes he proposed for the country are essential to the survival of working people and democracy.
Barak Obama seems to stay above the fray unless he has to step in to prevent fundamental social change for working people. Obama refused, refused to prosecute those responsible for the 2008 financial crisis. He helped enable lack of accountability for the wealthy and powerful.
We have to face the facts. Hiding our heads in the sand will accomplish nothing.
As the corporate media becomes more and more useless, we must turn to other sources.
Podcast: America’s Lawyer, Mike Papantonio
April 1, 2020 Episode: The risks to meat packing employees of the mandated openings; the complicity of the Democrats in the class rip-off of the stimulus bill; Schumer and fast-tracking judicial appointments; claims of Tara Reade; lawsuits against big banks for discriminating against small businesses; insurance companies who refuse to pay claims because of the pandemic.
DNC Lawyers Argue DNC Has Right to Pick Candidates in Back Rooms
Late February, after the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Nancy Messonnier, warned of the coming pandemic, Mike Pance was put in charge of the White House Coronavirus, and the CDC started declining interviews. Federal employees were limited in what they could say publicly. The NYT reported that federal health officials were required to coordinate their statements with Pence’s office. Several lawsuits and complaints and lawsuits have been filed.
MSNBC public editor: Why pundits and journalists insist on false balance.
There is an illusion the media feels obliged to preserve, even more than the illusion of objectivity. “What broadcast media is really selling—literally selling, to its advertisers and to its viewers—is the illusion of stability and certainty in American life, as well as its own role as a wise, trustworthy leader within that system.”
“National news organizations like MSNBC cannot operate effectively outside the assumption of calm, professional equanimity. Their real stock-in-trade is the impression, the conviction, that they know what is going on in the world; that is the reason viewers tune in and the basis of every ad buy. Normality. Stability, a world that is comprehensible and comprehended.”
The corporate media is a complete waste of time. They failed us in 2016 and they are spectacularly failing us now. We must turn to other news sources. These are excerpts from The Nation Magazine.
Grey, Rohan, Nation Manazine, April 20/27 2020).
Biden indicated that as president, he would veto Medicare for All legislation because of concern over the price tag. “Biden has been a deficit hawk his entire career. As a Senator, he broke with his party to support a Repubican-sponsored balanced budget amendment, and as vice president he spearheaded efforts to achieve a bipartisan deficit reduction deal that included cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”
“In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the Obama administration allowed millions to lose their homes in order to “foam the runways” for the banking system, while the Republicans cynically weaponized deficit and debt hysteria in order to deny the Democrats the political credit of a more successful recovery.”
“…much of the suffering attributable to this pandemic will not come from people directly contracting the virus, but from our collective failure to provide adequate care and support to the elderly, the physically vulnerable, the poor, and people in less fortunate countries during their hour of need. The virus itself may be a novel twist, but the broader story is regrettably all too familiar.”
Biden, in the debates, “…acknowledged that upon entering office in 2009, he and President Obama were informed by the Department of Defense that climate change was the single greatest threat to American national security—a point Sanders has been making for years. However, when the moderators pointed out that his climate plan was $14 trillion less than Bernie’s, he retreated into defensive bluster and nostalgic promises to restore the 2016 Paris Agreement. Gone was the sense of existential urgency and ambition that had animated his earlier remarks about the coronavirus.
“…whatever it takes means embracing the inevitability of a head-on conflict with the self-interest of concentrated private capital. A few months ago, it would have sounded extreme to propose placing Amazon, Walmart, Netflix, Uber, and American Airlines under public ownership. But today the socially contingent nature of these corporate behemoths—from their financial engine, to their workforce, to the goods and services they provide—has been laid bare. If luxury perfume companies like Christian Dior and Givenchy can be repurposed to make hand sanitizer to save lives, surely we can consider the same for the companies responsible for essential basic staples such as food, ventilators, and toilet paper. We want clean hands. But we also want bread, roses, and the means to wipe our asses.”
Amid the absurdly trivial corporate media coverage of the Coronavirus crisis, are stories that slip by unnoticed. One of them is another investigation, another investigation by a congressional subcommittee about whether “the U.S. government is paying too much for ventilators made by a Dutch company that received millions in tax dollars to develop an affordable one for pandemics, but is now charging quadruple the price under a new deal.”
The deal for the ventilators was struck between the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Division of the Dutch Company. (See other stories in Propublica).
In 2014, the agency’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) struck a $13.8 million deal with the company to develop ventilators for the Strategic National Stockpile. Based on the advice of experts, the agreement called for the devices to be low cost, portable, durable and easy to use by personnel with limited medical training.
Once Philips’ Respironics division received clearance for that ventilator from the Food and Drug Administration last year, BARDA ordered 10,000 of them for $3,280 each — a price agreed upon when Philips entered into the original deal in 2014.
As Propublica previously reported, Philips never produced any of those devices for the stockpile. Instead, as the coronavirus spread, the company manufactured commercial versions of the ventilator at its factory outside Pittsburgh and sold them for far higher prices overseas. Then, rather than pushing the company to accelerate the delivery of the ventilators developed for the stockpile, HHS this month agreed to buy 43,000 of the commercial version at a price of $15,000 per ventilator.
But once Philips got the crucial FDA clearance for the new design, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi said, “they turn around — at the very time we most need these ventilators — and use the fruits of taxpayers’ dollars to essentially sell a high-margin version of what taxpayers wanted to foreign consumers and deprioritized the sales of what taxpayers wanted.”
Contact Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who chairs the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy. The subcommittee falls under the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Article: Callahan, Patricia and Sebastian Rotella (4/16/20) Congress is investigating…” Propublica
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