HOW OUR SOCIETY MUST RESPOND TO THE CORONAVIRUS

For the past several weeks our country, and our world, have been fighting a global pandemic – COVID-19.

We’ve learned how flawed our conception of defense really is. Our country, like other nation-states and city-states, have practiced social distancing. Businesses have closed to keep the virus from spreading. Workers in the healthcare, electronics-oriented and retail sectors (at least those that sell groceries, cell phones, and computers) have stepped up to help the public. However, there are problems with the response – one of them being that our country doesn’t have the ventilators, masks, hand sanitizer, or testing kits that it needs.  

Some have directed criticism at President Donald Trump for not taking advantage of federal powers to manufacture needed items in the crisis. Others have pointed out that China has a greater capability when it comes to manufacturing such items and our lack of capabilities puts us at an obvious disadvantage. Many companies want to manufacture in China, or purchase items for manufacturing made there, because of its cheap labor, low environmental costs, and state-owned industries that make for cheap overhead for private companies and create bigger profit margins. Naturally, China isn’t exporting masks, ventilators, and respirators like they did before the crises. The pandemic forced us to realize that social needs and profit margins aren’t always compatible.

The United States needs a manufacturing policy geared to fighting pandemics. An expanded United States Public Health Service should have the power to direct a plan to manufacture anything and everything for COVID-19 and do the same in future pandemics. The service should also have the power and resources to contract with businesses that make anything of use and maybe build its own factories in partnership with private business.

Our forefathers overthrew British colonialism and it wasn’t long before Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton published his essay “A Report on Manufacturers”. This was a plan to turn the new country from an agricultural nation to a manufacturing powerhouse. Hamilton didn’t want us to be dependent on the British for industrial goods, as the industrial revolution started in Great Britain and the country was the world’s manufacturing center at the time.

Such a plan will be denounced by two different arguments. First, some denounce “industrial policy” and say it amounts to the government, an inherent evil, picking winners and losers. However, we already have an industrial policy for a certain segment of our economy – the military. The government regularly directs money to defense contractors for military items of all sorts – tanks, missiles, nuclear weapons, ships, and other things that are beyond the scope of this story. Some have called this the military-industrial complex, a term coined by President Dwight Eisenhower. COVID-19 revealed our country’s flawed defense structure – a structure designed to fight a ground war with the defunct Soviet Union. The second argument that will be made to counter the argument for a health-oriented industrial policy will be on the grounds of cost. However, our government already spend billions on the military-industrial complex.

The military-industrial complex’s vast resources give it a lot of pull. Companies such as Boeing and Lockheed-Martin use their profits to land contract after contract. These companies, as well as the military itself, create jobs in various communities across our country. The manufacturing of pandemic equipment doesn’t have a similar economic reach.

There must be a demand from our citizenry for a stronger PHS and for the ability to manufacture health-related equipment here. Jobs would be created in the manufacturing process and some of the companies that manufacture arms could move to manufacturing healthcare equipment. We must put public needs above the private profit of companies that want to offshore manufacturing and continue with the cycle of economic activity related to the military-industrial complex. This simple thought represents an idea that a more social-democratic America should embrace!

Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis. He was elected to the SD USA National Committee on April 15.  Congratulations, Jason!

COPING WITH CORONA

Our country, and the world in general, has been turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Healthcare workers, retail workers (at least anyone working for a retailer who sells groceries) and workers for a few other sectors deemed essential are busy. However, the social distancing required to fight the pandemic has thrown millions out of work. Some are expecting Great Depression-type unemployment within weeks.

The crises also have given us plenty of information on how flawed our view of security has been. For some time, we’ve been content to spend lots of money on military hardware of all sorts – conventional and nuclear – and these items are useless in the fight against Covid-19. What our country needs is a more robust public health service to fight future pandemics. The Army has constructed a field hospital in New York City and the Navy hospital ship, the U.S.S. Comfort, is in the NYC area to admit non-Covid-19 patients. We have no choice at this time but to use the military to fight this pandemic, but if we had a more robust public health infrastructure then we could manage similar crises without the intervention of the military.

Our country’s public health service, the United States Public Health Service, is under the Department of Health and Human Services. The USPHS has a commissioned corps called the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Those in the service wear uniforms identical to the United States Navy or Coast Guard except that the Corps’ uniforms bear a different insignia. The Corps’ primary mission is the protection, promotion and advancement of the health and safety of the general public. The most well-known person in the public health service is the Surgeon General who always wears the Corps’ uniform in front of the media.

Some in the Pentagon questioned the use of military personnel in a pandemic that impacted primarily the civilian community. A stronger and larger public health service would be capable of building field hospitals in a pandemic, assisting other hospitals, and coordinating and disseminating scientific information relevant to the public at large. Currently, the USPHS has just commissioned officers while the military has warrant officers and enlisted personnel. A larger service would employ nurses of all types (registered and licensed practical nurses) as well as nurses’ aides and administrative workers. Aides, L.P.N.’s and administrative workers would constitute the enlisted corps.

Another portion of a revamped USPHS would include enlisted personnel who would deliver food and medicine in pandemic times and help unemployed workers collect benefits like unemployment insurance, public assistance and Medicaid. They would provide help to agencies that administer those programs, as this it is a tough task in pandemic times. This enlarged service would work with public health services of other countries, as threats like Covid-19 have no boundaries.

One can imagine the youth of America growing up thinking they wanted to secure the health of our country by being a part of the USPHS. Recruiters would be placed in our high school and colleges. The funding for a bigger health service would come from a downsizing of our currently military budget, as our bloated military budget does us no good when our threats are climate change and pandemics. Like the pandemic threat, climate change will require the cooperation of nation-states. A smart foreign policy requires working with other nation-states to establish a world governed by international law. Only a peaceful world will be able to cooperate to establish a livable future for future generations all over the world.

A larger USPHS would be a key piece of the puzzle in constructing a more social-democratic America in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the Covid-19 crises. A grassroots movement that starts in the citizenry can take this idea from this story to a reality.

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.

THE CORONAVIRUS’S INDICTMENT OF CAPITALISM

The coronavirus pandemic has stressed our own country and other countries as well.

It revealed a weakness in our economy. Technology allowed wealthy economies to evolve into human- touch economies where most people are employed in personal services, as the retail industry, the restaurant industry, the healthcare industry, and the hotel/motel industry are our country’s biggest employers. This means that a virus can easily be transmitted with so many humans being in regular contact with other humans.

As stated in numerous media reports, many workers – especially in the above-mentioned service industry – have no sick leave. This gives them an incentive to go to work to make the bills even when they are sick. Of course, sickness is more likely to spread to those around them in our current arrangement. Bars and restaurants have closed temporarily or operating on a skeleton staff with many serving on a grab-and-go basis. The unemployed will not spend money to keep our economy running. Even though the Affordable Care Act expanded insurance coverage, some still don’t have health care and the deductibles and co-pays they face would bankrupt them.

The crises also revealed how unworthy our childcare system is. Public schools are closed because of concern about coronavirus spreading amongst students. Many are faced with taking care of children or going to work and making a living. Many service jobs offer little in the way of health insurance, childcare, or sick leave.

We have a flawed definition of security in our country, something less mentioned in the media. Peace Action Executive Director Jon Rainwater addressed the Donald Trump Administration’s approach to security. The administration’s 2021 budget called for a $3 billion cut to the World Health Organization and a $16 billion dollar cut in the Centers for Disease Control. This year’s Pentagon budget is a whopping $740 billion, as stated by Rainwater.

Trump’s approach to nuclear weapons is also horrifying. The administration has made it a point to cancel arms control treaties that worked toward a vision of security defined by fewer nuclear weapons. Trump cancelled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action treaty with Iran and the Intermediate Nuclear-Range Treaty with Russia. In addition, he has said he might not renew the New Start Treaty with Russia. The administration has also continued the modernization of our nuclear arsenal started in the Barack Obama Administration. From 2025 to 2034, our government will spend more on nuclear weapons than any time in history – the only exception being the Cold War.

Our country has defined security by how much we spend on arms when out of control arms spending will not keep us safe from global pandemics and global warming. We need to change our definition of security. There is currently a stimulus bill gliding through Congress that will provide $1,000 to every American, a good thing promoted by Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT). There is also money to keep small and large businesses afloat. This is also relevant if those companies can keep some people on the payroll and help the economy.  

However, the current stimulus is lacking on key area – protections for working Americans. Rainwater stated a stimulus should provide sick leave for all Americans, offer cost-free pandemic care at all hospitals, and ramp up the production of life-saving technology (ventilators) at domestic factories. We should also expand the United States Public Health Service to build emergency hospitals to treat people free of charge in this time of need. Of course, we should start a national child-care system staffed with well-paid professionals.

Our government could also use valuable resources to secure the health insurance sector even more than they do. We could model our healthcare sector somewhat on Singapore’s. Hospitals will bill the government certain amount for all visits and the health insurance sector would be off the hook for some the costs but would be regulated even more. Let us allow only a small amount of profit (one percent) for heath insurance companies and create a mechanism – like the Federal Reserve Bank – to keep cash flowing to those companies. An insured populace is far more of a security issue than more and more dangerous arms!

Social Democracy is about solidarity and our country needs solidarity right know. As Ben Franklin said, “if we don’t hang together, we will hang separately!”

Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project. It researches military spending, educates about the hazards of an unchecked military-industrial complex and advocates for conversion from a military- to a more stable, peace-based economy.

SOCIAL DEMOCRATS USA Supports ENVIRONMENTALISM AND FOOD JUSTICE

At the last National Executive Committee meeting, the SDUSA leadership passed the following resolution by a vote of 4 to 0, with one abstention:

Spinning out of SD USA’s support for the Green New Deal, we adopt the following ten-point plan to deepen our outlook on global warming and climate change:

1) Hunters for Regulation & Environmental Protection is a group dedicated to conservation and protecting the Earth from climate change.  Its Facebook page spotlights progressive hunters and concerned citizens, and it should become a caucus within SD USA. Just as the Red Falcons of America were created by the Young People’s Socialist League as the left alternative to the Boy Scouts during the 20th century, Hunters for Regulation & Environmental Protection is the 21st century left alternative to the National Rifle Association.

2) We adopt and respect gun safety measures to ensure public health, including bans on military grade firearms and assault weapons put forth by Congress and enacted by state legislatures. Traditional firearms such as shotguns and non-military grade rifles are to be reserved for hunting and target shooting only, where local hunting is to be geared for the cultivation of food. 

3) We adopt and respect conservation efforts. The Endangered Species Act is to be strictly enforced. Globally, comparable acts should be enacted and enforced to preserve dying species such as the African elephants, lions, bonobos and gorillas.  Moratoria on whale hunting must be supported. We defend and encourage the anti-poaching efforts undertaken by women warrior units in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

4) Global warming is to be curbed by not investing in factory farming and big agriculture. Nearby rail traffic must be ecologically sound. Ethical farming practices must be encouraged. Small farmers are to be rewarded for helping the environment.

5) We support the formation of a green hunters coalition ranging from conservationists and environmentalists to followers of entertainer and climate activist Willie Nelson and progressive hunters like ex-astronaut Mark Kelly (husband of shooting victim, former Rep. Gabby Giffords), currently a Democratic candidate for the US Senate. 

6) We must respect the rights of indigenous peoples at all times, recalling that land that is being borrowed for the purposes of hunting was once theirs. The National Park Service’s bison hunting program, where penned-in bison are shot without mercy, should be cancelled. In its place, the distribution of extra herds of bison, elk and buffalo to native tribes is to be promoted.  Such distribution would accommodate the tribes’ work in prairie restoration, reviving bison ranching as a major factor in food cultivation and generating sorely-needed revenue for all native American reservations. 

7) We must counter climate change denialism, originating primarily from the Republican Party, that serves to accelerate climate change and its immediate danger to our agriculture, especially in its promotion of factory farms.

8) Few encounter climate change more directly than hunters and fishermen, and their insights must be sought after in this struggle to preserve our environment.  

9) We respect and work to preserve the fragile ecology of Earth – the nature, environment and climate in which we live. We are forever obligated to protect it.

10) We work to create a better tomorrow so that the youth can inherit a world worth living in. We support the kids at March For Our Lives, who are to be saluted as the youth of tomorrow.

We resolve that Social Democrats USA will assist in whatever way it can to promote environmentalism and food justice in a principled manner.

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