Thousands took to the streets to celebrate as Lula, the candidate of the Workers’ Party of Brazil, defeated Jair Bolsonaro in one the most crucial elections in the country’s history
Thousands took to the streets of Brazil to celebrate as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party (PT) was elected president on Sunday, October 30. With almost 50.9% of the votes, Lula, a trade unionist who was also president from 2003-2010, defeated incumbent Jair Bolsonaro of the Liberal Party who got around 49.1% in the run-off election. Lula is set to be in office from 2023-2027.
The second round of the presidential election was held after neither candidate managed to obtain the necessary 50% plus one vote in the first round held on October 2. Elections were also held for the post of Governor in 12 States. Around 156 million Brazilians were eligible to vote.
The results mark a remarkable comeback for Lula who just a few years ago was in jail on corruption charges which were later overturned. His campaign for this election was driven by the left, people’s movements, trade unions, and radical and progressive forces across the country.
Many in Brazil had pointed out that Lula’s victory would mark a key moment in the reversal of a number of processes that began with the constitutional coup against PT’s President Dilma Rousseff in 2016. Lula ran on the slogan of “bringing hope back to Brazil” and promised to respond to the immediate needs of the population and to recover the social and economic rights that have been lost in the last six years during the governments of Michel Temer (who succeeded Dilma) and Jair Bolsonaro. Lula’s years as president saw a drastic improvement in social indicators in Brazil.
Under Jair Bolsonaro, the COVID-19 pandemic ripped through Brazil, killing over 700,00 people. Bolsonaro’s tenure also saw a slashing of key welfare programs and the deterioration of Brazil’s famous health system as well as food sovereignty. The Bolsonaro presidency also saw an increase in attacks on the Amazon rainforests through deforestation which were accelerated by his relaxing environmental norms.
The Bolsonaro years were also marked by the right-wing gaining strength and becoming more aggressive with the president leading from the front, along with his family members. A close ally of former US President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro celebrated the brutal military dictatorship (1964-85)and relentlessly attacked democratic institutions, including the electoral system whose fairness he questioned repeatedly without providing any evidence. The run-up to the election on Sunday was marked by a massive fake news campaign by the right-wing.
Today, Brazilian voters are not just choosing between Bolsonaro and Lula — the far right and the Left — but whether their nation’s politics will be authoritarian or democratic.
Today, more than one hundred million Brazilians will vote in the second and final round of the country’s presidential election, which pits former president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva against extreme-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. In the first round, held earlier this month, Bolsonaro finished more than five points behind Lula and seems poised to become the first Brazilian president ever to lose reelection. Nonetheless, polls have seemed to tighten in recent weeks and many observers expect a close contest today — raising the ominous prospect that Bolsonaro may refuse to concede defeat and attempt to cling to power.
What are the issues at play in Brazil’s historic election? How have the politics of COVID-19 factored in? And what does the future hold for the far-right project of Bolsonarismo, even if the man at its center loses the runoff? To explore these questions, Jacobin’s Luke Savage sat down with Vincent Bevins — who lived in Brazil from 2010 to 2016 and worked as a correspondent, wrote The Jakarta Method (which came out in 2020), and moved back to São Paulo last year to work on his second book.
To start with the basics: because neither major candidate received over 50 percent of the vote earlier this month, Brazil is going to be voting in the second round of its presidential election on October 30. Before we get to the runoff, can you walk us through what transpired in the first round a bit? The general impression seems to be that Lula somewhat underperformed what some polls suggested was possible. Can you explain the results of the first round and give us your impression of them?
After Lula got out of jail and recovered his political rights — his right to run for president, which he lost after trying unsuccessfully in 2018 to run for president against Bolsonaro the first time — many polls indicated he was going to absolutely trounce Bolsonaro, among other things because Bolsonaro had done such a poor job governing the country, especially during the pandemic. Now, only a couple of those polls suggested that Lula was going to actually clear the 50 percent hurdle necessary to wrap it up in the first round. Some people were hoping for that, though I didn’t myself think it was too likely. Now, he ultimately got 48.5 percent of the vote, which is only a little bit less than the 50 percent he would’ve needed. And if he had gotten that extra 1.5 percent, it would be a really resounding defeat for Bolsonaro. No Brazilian president has ever lost reelection ever since reelection has been allowed in Brazilian democracy.
Still, the result was a little bit less than what the more optimistic parts of the Left were hoping for.
What was more of a surprise was how Bolsonarismo as a political movement outside of Bolsonaro himself did across the country. It did quite well in Congress, especially in the Senate, snatching some key governorships and appearing to be positioned to snatch more. So the polls really underestimated Bolsonarismo’s support more than they overestimated Lula’s.
Can you put Bolsonarismo in context for us? I think there’s a similar problem or complexity at work when we talk about something like Trumpism in that you’re dealing with a political tendency that is very much based around a charismatic figure at its center, and is intimately linked in some ways to their personal affectations and style, but also has a separate life of its own.
I think that Bolsonarismo is more real than Trumpism. It’s a weird and contradictory coalition of forces in Brazilian society that came together as a result of his candidacy in 2018, and could well (though may not necessarily) continue to exist after Bolsonaro himself leaves the presidency and after his family stops being a force in Brazilian politics. What exactly is that strange and contradictory coalition of forces? Essentially, it’s an extreme right movement. Everybody that is a Bolsonarista, I would say, is opposed to democracy or is at least willing to cancel democracy for some kind of a higher purpose.
Bolsonarismo draws upon the support of the security services and people who support them. Evangelical Christians have also become a very important part of what Bolsonarismo is. At the beginning, there was a kind of a neoliberal, hardcore free-market component to Bolsonarismo as well. Paulo Guedes, who is literally a Chicago boy and used to work in Pinochet’s Chile, became finance minister. That support from the upper class, business, and national bourgeoisie is not quite as strong today as it was in 2018. But they were an important part of bringing this coalition together.
There are also the agricultural heartlands of the country, which are now seeming to be quite Bolsonarista. The fact that agriculture has done well under Bolsonaro’s government often has nothing to do with him. But the parts of the agricultural world that want to break laws and burn down even more of the Amazon rainforest than is allowed by current legislation, that want to invade indigenous territories, those people tend to be Bolsonarista just because Bolsonaro says these actions are good. So, it’s clear Bolsonarismo will be in power in some way, at least with a bloc in Congress and in control of state governments, even if Jair Bolsonaro loses and walks out of the presidential palace on January 1.
Outside observers, and by that I mainly mean those in the United States, are I think somewhat bound to see this election through a very particular set of reference points. And perhaps that makes some sense in broad strokes: Bolsonaro having some obvious similarities with Trump, among other things. But Brazil is a huge and complicated country with politics of its own — not just a Portuguese-speaking version of the United States. What would you say are the main issues at play in the election beyond those that most English-speaking media are liable to focus on?
The really simple answer to that question is that Brazil is in a much worse place than it was four years ago — and those Brazilians who can remember Lula’s government remember that things were better. Starvation and extreme poverty have jumped up under Bolsonaro, especially since the pandemic. And that is really what’s driven what I think is the major story of the campaign, which is that for the first time ever a sitting Brazilian president seems poised to lose reelection.
The comparison with the United States is an interesting one and it’s also kind of aggravating because, on the one hand, there are a lot of Trumpian things about Bolsonaro. On the other hand, Bolsonaro wants people in North America to think that. It’s an image that he (and some members of his family who are a little bit savvier when it comes to international relations and social media spin) has deliberately cultivated: that ‘I’m the Trump of the tropics and an ally of the Republican Party and Fox News in South America’; that ‘when they come after me down here, it’s the same thing as when woke professors and the Democratic Party come after you in North America.’ This has been done very explicitly, and I think there are reasons to do it. I mean, if a Republican were to reenter the White House, because of the sort of negative polarization in the most powerful country in the hemisphere, he would probably try to reach out to Bolsonarismo or perhaps take a really aggressive stance toward a possible Workers’ Party government in Brazil.
Bolsonaro’s personal history is very different from Trump’s, because Trump is a guy from television who, in my opinion, just wanted to stay on television and found in politics a way to do that. Bolsonaro, by comparison, is a creature of Brazil’s dictatorship — which of course came about as a result of the US-backed coup in 1964. He is a real believer in antidemocratic principles and a hardcore anti-communist. He’s not really a neoliberal, and he doesn’t care about economics. He’s not really religious, though he has made an alliance with Brazil’s growing evangelical Christian movement — which I suppose does resonate quite a bit with politics in the United States. But he’s somebody who, for his entire life, has believed that the Left needs to be crushed and that the democracy that has been constituted in Brazil since 1988 and the end of the dictatorship is a sham. This is a movement which has real ideological coherence in a way I don’t think Trumpism ever has. I have a hard time imagining that Trumpism could have the same longevity as Bolsonarismo.
In a televised debate earlier this month, Lula attacked Bolsonaro for his handling of COVID-19, and I’m very curious as to how much salience the pandemic has had throughout the campaign. Late last year, you wrote for New York Magazine that despite Bolsonaro’s anti-vaccine posturing, Brazil had had relatively few anti-vaxxers. Has that held during the campaign?
Yes, it has. I think that Bolsonaro (and especially his sons) instinctively try to import culture war stuff from the United States so they can see what sticks. From the very beginning, Bolsonaro really doubled down on the idea that COVID-19 wasn’t a big deal and people didn’t have to worry about it: everyone should work, the scientists saying that stay at home measures could work — that was a bunch of woke nonsense (though he wouldn’t have actually used that term). But this wasn’t effective, especially among urban elites. It did resonate within the hardcore base, though in a funny way: they would say ‘Yeah, we gotta look into those vaccines, there’s something wrong there . . .’ but then they would all get vaccinated anyway. So it didn’t really work here in the way that it did in the United States, and this was something that Bolsonaro lost important elite support over. Some of that migrated from the cities and countryside, and from the (let’s call it) respectable, civilized, pro-business right to the hyper-radicalized Bolsonarista base. And this is a strategy he has: he will often import things from the United States. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.
Something else he’s tried to import from the United States is this idea that the voting system cannot be trusted. For almost the whole of last year, he was trying to set up a narrative that, if he were to lose, it would be fake because the voting system here can’t be trusted. Again, this makes no sense compared to the US context. In the United States, you have a diverse array of voting mechanisms in different states. In Brazil, no serious international observers think there’s anything strange about the way the votes are counted — it’s uniform across the country. The story Bolsonaro has been telling also calls into question his own victory and the victories of all his allies, so we’re now seeing — at the last minute — a pivot to a different narrative about how the election might be stolen from him, which has to do with censorship and court intervention.
So yes, he imports these things even when they don’t work and, while that may cost him domestically, I think in the long term the Bolsonaro family has the idea of creating an alliance with the Republican Party. And they maybe do need something like that in order to survive, because if Bolsonaro had been soundly defeated in the first round, the family could have all faced jail time. I mean, they’ve certainly committed enough crimes to deserve it. The question was whether or not the political system would prosecute these kinds of cases given the explosiveness of such a scenario. And, now that they have a decent base in government, it might be less likely.
Anyway, its political effectiveness aside, COVID-19 questioning has been a big part of his campaign rhetorically. And that’s the direct result of the intentional Americanization of Brazilian politics, and Americanization of Brazil.
On the French far right, and I suppose across much of the far right globally, there’s been a lot of Americanization for obvious reasons. Has the specific framework of woke versus anti-woke actually penetrated the Brazilian context? You’ll hear French politicians like Marine Le Pen, for example, talking about “le wokeism,” and in that context, it gets discussed as a kind of pernicious import from the United States that needs to be repelled. What is the equivalent to that in Brazil? Has the rather nebulous binary of woke and anti-woke made its way into the lexicon of Bolsonarismo?
Not linguistically. But, as a vibe? Absolutely. The thing about Bolsonaro is that he has quite a coherent narrative going back to the 1990s, which is that the Left has been culturally and politically hegemonic, it tells you what you’re supposed to think, and there’s been (as he would call it) communist indoctrination. So that’s been the way that he’s looked at all of these things since the 1990s. And there have been a number of powerful, far-right ideological figures in Brazil — especially Olavo de Carvalho, this strange philosopher that lived in the United States and posted on Facebook all day long — who have used this framework of cultural Marxism or communist indoctrination.
So this would all fall within that: rights for LGBTQ people, recognition of diversity, using the state in any way to try and help poorer Brazilians — that’s all just communist indoctrination. Bolsonaro brought Tucker Carlson here and they had a conversation where they tried to find common discursive commonalities between their two discourses, and it wasn’t very hard to find them. Some of it was ridiculous because PT (Lula’s Workers’ Party) is very much working class and Carlson seemed to think it was the Brazilian equivalent of Brooklyn liberals that were voting Lula into power. But, in general, they did find a lot of common ground in terms of discourse.
And that’s not a coincidence, because Brazil is deeply influenced by US culture — not only in terms of the internet but also television and political discourse. The only other politics that Brazilian media pay attention to are those of the United States. A lot of woke-era vocabulary has certainly entered Brazilian Portuguese. You can, for example, get “cancelado” (canceled), which is something that the right rails against here. But “woke” itself hasn’t quite made it, even if the discourse around it absolutely overlaps.
There are two recent incidents I want to ask you about. Several days ago, police attempted to arrest a retired politician and an ally of Bolsonaro’s (Roberto Jefferson) and he responded by firing on them and throwing grenades? Bolsonaro has also apologized after footage emerged of him telling a story about an encounter with some teenage girls. What exactly is going on here?
Both of these episodes have been bad for Bolsonaro but I think one has been worse. They’ve also become live campaign elements and have really dominated a lot of the conversations in recent weeks. One is very real, and the other is, perhaps, less so beyond the fact that Bolsonaro can’t speak about young women without sexualizing and insulting them. In that case, Bolsonaro told this story about how he was walking around the outskirts of Brasília (the capital) and (in his telling) he saw some young women who were ‘all dressed up’ and said ‘Why are you dressed up?’ The best way to translate the phrase he used next is that he said ‘there was some chemistry.’ As he told it, he then asked them if he could go back to their place and asked ‘What are you doing?.’ And then — remember, this is the version of the story that he wants the Bolsonarista listener to hear — they said ‘We’re prostitutes because we’re Venezuelan and the Left destroyed our country, and this is all that’s left for us.’
None of this makes sense in the way that he told it, because, if he were to have stumbled upon that horrible situation, he shouldn’t have gone on a podcast, he should have called in the police to stop these young women from being sex trafficked. This strange attempt to pin sex work in Brazil on the Left in Venezuela doesn’t make a lot of sense either, because he’s the president and there are, as I think I mentioned earlier, millions of young people who can’t get enough food here. So, if you want to find Brazilians that are in very difficult situations (because of him) it’s not hard to do. Anyway, journalists went back and looked into this and the Venezuelan women said ‘No, he did come here, but we’re not sex workers.’ He just made that up or thought it, and I think this incident really is just another example of him not being able to talk about women without sexualizing or insulting them — and hinting at the idea he was having sexual thoughts toward underage immigrants.
Now, the story with Roberto Jefferson — who is a longtime friend and ally of the Bolsonaro family — definitely happened because it was filmed and he wanted everyone to know about it. This guy is kind of nuts and even many on the Right will admit to that. He’s been under house arrest, apparently for being part of a digital criminal organization which is using social media to push for antidemocratic measures. Now, this part is kind of strange and I don’t exactly understand the sentence, but they basically said he couldn’t be under house arrest anymore because he’d been violating the terms of his house arrest by using social media. And they sent someone to go pick him up and, instead of cooperating, he tried to mount some kind of heroic martyr’s stand and go down in a blaze of glory because they wouldn’t let him post on the internet. He ended up coming out, shooting some federal police, and throwing a grenade at them. And this has become a huge scandal that even Bolsonaro has been forced to distance himself from. Usually, Bolsonaro will back anything happening on the Right that’s provocative. In this case, he actually went and said, ‘We’re not that close, and this is not the kind of thing I support.’
But another problem for Bolsonaro is that the incident reminded everyone that his son Eduardo, when he was eighteen, was on the books for receiving a salary for work he performed as a congressional assistant in Brasília while he was a full-time student in Rio de Janeiro — and the man who hired him for this job, which must have been fake (and if it was not fake, it would’ve been illegal to hire him for it) was Roberto Jefferson. This is the kind of low-level corruption that everyone believes the Bolsonaro family has been involved in forever. They never got involved in the high-level corruption that became the subject of the Lava Jato investigations because they weren’t important enough in Congress. So, this is not only a problem because somebody that has been photographed many times with Bolsonaro tried to kill a bunch of police — which is a big deal given the pro-security-forces orientation of Bolsonarismo — but also because it reminded people of the corruption Bolsonaro’s son was apparently involved with many years ago.
It’s bad for Bolsonaro because he was already behind in the polls, though they had been getting closer. So if this stops them from tightening further, it may be enough to lose him the election. It’s only Tuesday, and of course something even more insane could happen before Sunday, but this was too mediatized an event to stop people from talking about it and, well, everybody is talking about it.
Polling ahead of the first round of voting suggested, on average, a Lula lead of about eleven points – though he finished by only five. Ahead of the runoff at the end of this month, polls have still given Lula an edge but have also seemed to tighten further. Perhaps predictably, Bolsonaro has started attacking pollsters (Brazil’s House of Representatives is even set to pass legislation criminalizing inaccurate polls — though its future in the Senate looks more uncertain). I’d like to ask you about that, but I’m also curious how you account for the electoral resilience of Bolsonarismo? Brazil’s GDP has fallen since he was elected in 2018. There’s also been an increase in hunger, to say nothing of nearly seven hundred thousand COVID-19 deaths. All of these likely contributed to what was at one time a Lula lead of almost thirty points. Things look quite different now. How would you account for what’s become an unexpectedly close election?
It’s a good question. One part of it that’s troubling and hopefully ephemeral is that Bolsonaro found his real base after 2018. There was just a strange grouping of people that got together behind his candidacy largely out of rejection for what had come before. But, as I said, agricultural parts of the country can believe somewhat rationally that Bolsonaro is better for their interests. Evangelical Christians can probably believe, albeit with less evidence, that he’s somebody who can push for the sort of moral policies that Lula would not (and that’s an area where fake news comes into play, but you can create a stable base with that kind of representation of Lula).
The other dynamic, which I think is really important for explaining the shifts in polling that have transpired over the last few months, is the massive and shameless use of the state to pour money into every part of the country where it might influence voters. Bolsonaro entered office with a neoliberal finance minister who promised to be transparent and anti-corruption. And what’s happening now is a use of the state to flood money into the pockets of political allies, anybody that can help influence voting, and anybody that might be convinced to change their vote to an extent that’s really never been seen before.
It’s quite shocking, and I think even some of the most seasoned analysts of Latin American politics have been surprised that he’s moved forward a lot of welfare payments to the months just before the election. Lula still leads among the poorest Brazilians, but not as much as he did a few months ago. And the best explanation for this is that Bolsonaro gave them money. Everyone knows the finance minister is going to cut all of that off immediately in January, and he already has plans to do so. This is purely to get people to vote one way rather than the other, and it’s very bad for state finances.
Then there’s been this (as it’s been called) multibillion dollar secret budget which allows local lawmakers allied to Bolsonaro to basically spend money locally however they want. There’s already considerable evidence of corruption coming out of this secret budget — towns are making up the numbers, e.g. a town with eleven thousand people that performed seventeen thousand dental procedures in the last two weeks, and other stuff in this vein.
So, in addition to the sort of organic base of Bolsonarismo growing throughout four years in power, you have the shameless use of state finances to try to influence votes at the last minute.
As a final question, would it be fair to say that the proportion of economic versus cultural politics at play in Brazilian politics at the moment favors the latter? From abroad, the impression of Bolsonaro is that he’s very much a culture warrior, and that seems to be one of the ways he’s been able to mitigate the drag of the country’s poor economic performance over the past four years on his own electoral prospects. How would you characterize the final stage of the election in terms of whether economic or cultural issues are prevailing?
I would say it’s more the cultural. If it were economic, you would not see such a big discrepancy between male and female voters. White men are the only demographic category in Brazil that go for Bolsonaro over Lula (black women, by contrast, vote for Lula something like four to one). Bolsonarismo is powered by the petty bourgeois or middle class (but not that educated) white man that has weaponized his identity — which resonates with Trump’s support — that is, the kind of white man that believes he is at risk of having his privilege taken away and thinks he can attack those below him with the help of someone above him. In other words, the classic base for the extreme right: the angry, frustrated, emasculated, petty bourgeois man, in coalition with agribusiness and small scale producers. That’s more or less the organic and economic base.
But the real core of the Bolsonarismoist movement is not so strictly rational. The committed Bolsonaristas really believe in it. His spending offensive has gotten some of Lula’s base to come over to his side in the last few weeks, but Lula is still ahead amongst people who care, first and foremost, about where their food is coming from next month. But that part of the story — the classic, extreme right base, the anti-democratic man — I think that is at the core of what Bolsonarismo is.
Vincent Bevins is a journalist and the author of The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program That Shaped Our World.
U.S. officials are working to integrate the compact states more closely into the American empire in the Pacific Ocean.
For the past year, U.S. diplomats and military leaders have been advising the leaders of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) that their countries are part of the U.S. homeland, despite the fact that the countries are neither states nor territories of the United States.
“The United States regards our country as part of the homeland, and we regard ourselves as part of the homeland,” FSM President David Panuelo said in a September 27 lecture at Georgetown University.
For decades, the United States has administered compacts of free association with Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. The compacts create a unique relationship between the United States and these three Pacific Island countries. Essentially, the United States provides the islands with economic assistance in exchange for military controls.
The compact states “receive U.S. economic assistance and grant the United States the prerogatives to operate military bases on their soil and make decisions that affect mutual security,” notes a 2020 report by the Congressional Research Service.
Many U.S. officials argue that the islands are strategically important. They view the compact states as important components of a U.S.-controlled oceanic highway the starts in California, extends toward U.S. insular areas in the Pacific Ocean, and connects to U.S. military sites in East Asia.
“Together these three countries form a strategic bridge that stretches from Hawai’i to the Philippines, an area that is geographically larger than the continental United States,” State Department official Mark Lambert told Congress earlier this year.
U.S. strategists hope to use the compact states to contain the rise of China. They are working to integrate the compact states into U.S.-led “island chains” that encircle China.
The Pacific Islands “comprise the land features that form the first, second, and third island chains that serve as defensive buffers to threats from our west,” former U.S. diplomat James Loi advised Congress last year.
The compacts provide the United States with significant military powers. The United States wields the power of “strategic denial,” which empowers the U.S. military to exclude military forces from other countries from the islands. With the power of the “defense veto,” the United States prohibits the islands from implementing policies that are inconsistent with U.S. military priorities.
Under these controls, the compact states have refrained from joining the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone, which Pacific Island countries implemented in the 1980s with the goal of keeping nuclear weapons out of the area. At this year’s review conference for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Pacific Island countries called on the United States to join the nuclear-free zone, only to hear little in response from Washington.
At a military base in the Marshall Islands, the United States tests hypersonic missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles. More recently, the U.S. military has begun developing plans to create a radar station in Palau and military facilities in the Federated States of Micronesia.
“The compacts deny an enormous and strategically important section of the Western Pacific to potential U.S. adversaries, while enabling U.S. presence and power projection in the region,” notes a 2019 report by the RAND Corporation.
Each compact state is a member of the United Nations. Their membership indicates that they are sovereign states, but they are highly deferential to the United States.
A 2009 diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks includes a message from Palauan leaders that their country will “never change its loyalty” to the United States. A Palauan diplomat told U.S. officials that a “good part of Palau’s sovereignty has been given to the United States” and “no modern, normative international law would allow this.”
According to the leaders of the compact states, U.S. officials have begun describing the islands as parts of the U.S. homeland. Over the past year, Palauan President Surangel Whipps and FSM President David Panuelo have been saying that U.S. diplomats and military officials have been talking about the compact states as if they are integrated into the United States, particularly on security matters.
“The United States said the FSM is part of the homeland defense,” FSM President Panuelo said in February. The United States will treat any attack on the Federated States of Micronesia as if it is an attack on the United States, he added.
It means we are part of the homeland like one of the states or territories of the United States.
When the leaders of the three compact states met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on September 29, Whipps and Panuelo repeated these claims, attributing them to the Defense Department.
The compact states form “a special relationship with the United States and, as the Defense Department says, part of the homeland,” Whipps said.
“Part of the homeland,” Panuelo agreed.
Many islanders develop close ties to the United States through service in the U.S. military. Island leaders often boast that their citizens serve in the U.S. military at higher rates than U.S. citizens in the states and territories.
The three countries “have a long tradition and high rate of service by their citizens in the United States armed forces,” Lambert acknowledged.
Still, islanders struggle with economic hardships. In comparison to the states and territories, the compact states remain poor and underdeveloped. Over the past several years, islanders have been fleeing their homes in large numbers, often moving to the states and territories.
According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the number of migrants moving to the United States and its territories increased by nearly 70 percent from 2009 to 2018, as islanders fled poverty, economic duress, and environmental threats.
As U.S. officials focus on how they can use the islands to advance their geopolitical objectives, island leaders remain far more concerned about climate change. In 2018, the Pacific Islands Forum identified climate change as the “single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and well-being of peoples of the Pacific.”
“For you all, it’s an existential threat,” President Biden acknowledged when he met with island leaders last month.
Still, the Biden administration is prioritizing its geopolitical objectives. Viewing China as the greatest long-term geopolitical challenge to the United States, administration officials are working to incorporate the compact states into the U.S. oceanic highway that crosses the Pacific Ocean and the U.S.-led island chains that encircle China.
In short, U.S. officials are moving to establish new imperial roles for the compact states, going so far as to advise the leaders of the compact states that their countries are now part of the U.S. homeland.
“The United States considered the Federated States of Micronesia, as I said, as part of the homeland, and we consider ourselves as part of the homeland,” Panuelo said in his lecture.
Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary. Originally published in Lobelog. Reprinted with permission from Foreign Policy In Focus.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks during a news conference with House Republicans outside the US Capitol on March 11, 2021. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)
GOP leaders are threatening to cut Social Security and Medicare if they take back the House this fall. Elected Democrats won’t have the will or power to stop them unless ordinary Americans are willing to put up a real fight.
If Republicans take back the House this fall, they want to cut Social Security and Medicare. And according to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in an interview last week, they’re prepared to shut down the basic functions of government by holding the national debt ceiling hostage in order to do it.
That would be catastrophic for everyone who will rely on either program at some point in their lives — which is to say virtually the entire country. Given the two programs’ immense popularity, successfully undermining them would also be a blow to the very idea of public programs as ensurers of human welfare and dignity.
Social Security remains immensely popular. Eighty two percent of respondents were in favor of expanding benefits in a June 2022 poll, and less than a quarter were in favor of privatizing even part of the program. Similarly, significant majorities of voters support expanding Medicare to cover more forms of care as well as more people.
That might explain why McCarthy’s only option to cut the programs amounts to blackmailing the nation. Refusing to raise the debt limit, as Republicans have repeatedly done in the past, forces most parts of the government to shut down entirely. That creates difficult situations for millions of people, especially when the shutdowns last for an extended period. But because Republicans’ long-term strategy is based on degrading the government’s ability to carry out most of its functions, they generally feel they have little to lose from shutting it down.
“[I]f people want to make a debt ceiling [for a longer period of time], just like anything else, there comes a point in time where, okay, we’ll provide you more money, but you got to change your current behavior,” McCarthy said, later refusing to rule out cuts to either program when asked.
Other House Republicans are gunning for a fight even more strongly. “You have two simple leverage points: when government funding comes up and when the debt ceiling is debated,” Texas Republican Chip Roy said.
So far, to their credit, Democrats are not taking the bait. “I will not cut Social Security. I will not cut Medicare, no matter how hard they work at it,” President Joe Biden said last week. House Democrats have also seized on the issue in the final weeks of campaigning, promising to protect the programs against McCarthy’s and the GOP’s threats.
But it would be a mistake to get too comfortable. At the same event, Biden also ruled out the idea of eliminating the annual debt ceiling altogether, which would remove Republicans’ leverage to cut the programs. That idea is supported by Biden’s treasury secretary Janet Yellen, among others.
Perhaps more significant is Biden’s long history of proposing freezes, cuts, and privatization to Social Security and Medicare. As Branko Marcetic has reported, Biden has been an active advocate for cutting the programs since the 1980s, often allying with Republicans and opposing the majority of his Democratic colleagues to try to do so.
Biden campaigned on raising the retirement age when he ran for president in 2008, while also saying he would “absolutely” consider cutting the programs. Notably, he did not campaign on cuts to the programs in 2020, changing his tune as Bernie Sanders attacked his record on the issue.
On multiple occasions, Biden outraged Democratic colleagues during his term as vice president when, during negotiations with Republicans, he proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and other programs seemingly on his own initiative. As Marcetic put it, this behavior caused congressional Democrats at the time to “believe Biden had gone over to the [Republican] Cantor-Kyl side.”
Nor is there much reason, beyond that one quote from last week, to believe that Biden has really transformed in recent years. Biden has continued a Donald Trump program that many experts say is designed to lay the groundwork to privatize Medicare. In May, Biden nominated a longtime proponent of privatizing Social Security to the program’s advisory board.
Of course, no one who proposes cuts to the programs will call them that. They will be couched in phrases like “reform” and “strengthening.” The programs’ supposed insolvency will be presented as a given, with “reforms” the only “responsible” way to ensure their continued existence.
Facing immense pressure to get things done in a divided Congress, a notoriously difficult group of conservative Democratic senators, and a House GOP willing to crash the economy and close the government to get what it wants, how strongly would Biden really stand against cutting programs he’s said he wants to cut for forty years? The answer depends on the actions of ordinary Americans. If we want to protect Medicare and Social Security, we’ll have to prepare to mount a popular movement against the GOP’s plans.
As landlords continue their relentless pursuit of profits, and politicians allow pandemic-era eviction moratoriums to expire, the human toll of a fundamentally brutal housing system is arguably more visible than ever—particularly in America’s largest cities.
Much of corporate media’s coverage of the deepening housing crisis, however, focuses on what are presented as three great evils: that landlords of supposedly modest means are being squeezed; that individuals and families living without homes destroy the aesthetics of cities; and that, in line with the most recent manufactured panic over violent crime, people without homes pose a threat to the lives and property of law-abiding citizens.
Time magazine’s dire predictions (6/11/20) about the plight of “mom-and-pop landlords” failed to come to pass.
By pushing these narratives, corporate media are engaging in a strategy of misdirection. This shields the propertied class from scrutiny regarding a crisis of its own making—from which it derives immense profits—while blame is assigned to over-burdened renters and people who are unhoused.
The plight of Ma and Pa Landlord
Over the past year, rents around the country have risen at a staggering rate—far outpacing the growth of workers’ incomes. The median asking rent in July 2022 was more than 30% greater than it had been just a year earlier. Over the same period, wages grew just 5%.
While individuals and families are being forced to sink an ever-greater proportion of their income into housing, and as more and more people face the life-altering prospect of dislocation, establishment media outlets have decided that the real profile-worthy victims of this crisis are landlords, faced with rising costs and hindered from raising rents by the strictures of law and public opinion.
Corporate media’s boundless sympathy for “small” and “medium-sized” landlords is well-established. As the pandemic raged and millions of people struggled to pay for basic necessities, establishment outlets consistently chose to focus on how eviction moratoriums were depriving property owners of their right to throw delinquent tenants onto the streets.
CNBC (6/25/21) quoted Dean Hunter, introduced as “CEO of the Small Multifamily Owners Association and a landlord himself”:
This is the most excessively and overly broad taking of private property in my lifetime… The eviction moratorium is killing small landlords, not the pandemic.
During the early days of the pandemic, Time (6/11/20) predicted that eviction moratoriums would result in all kinds of disaster for the small landlord:
The mom-and-pop landlords who are able to draw on their own savings to make it through the eviction moratoriums imposed by their local governments may struggle to recoup their losses when it’s all over… Evicted tenants sometimes get away with not paying their debts by changing bank accounts, ignoring collections agencies, working cash-only jobs, filing for bankruptcy or fleeing the state.
As it turned out, Time’s premonitions of scheming tenants using every available means to victimize their struggling landlords were wrong. A July 2021 study from the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley found that just 35% of small rental property owners experienced any decline at all in revenue, while around 13% actually reported rising rent revenue in 2020. An October 2021 report from JPMorgan Chase, meanwhile, concluded:
The New York Times (9/27/22) asks readers to feel sorry for this man who owns 11 apartments.
For the median small landlord, rental income did decline, especially in the early months of the pandemic, but recovered quickly. The median landlord ended the year with a modest 3% shortfall in rent… Our data show that landlords were able to cut their expenses by more than their rental revenues fell, which resulted in landlords’ cash balances growing during the pandemic.
‘What about their landlords?’
Even as pandemic-era tenant protections have been allowed to lapse by politicians eager to serve the real estate lobby, corporate media continue to push the narrative that landlords are suffering—this time as a result of rising costs.
Along this line, the New York Times (9/27/22) ran a piece with the headline “Inflation Has Hit Tenants Hard. What About Their Landlords?” The article detailed the hardships faced by Neal Verma, whose company Nova Asset Management—to which the Times provided a link—manages 6,000 apartments in the Houston area. “It’s crushing our margins,” Mr. Verma said:
Our profits from last year have evaporated, and we’re running at break-even at a number of properties. There’s some people who think landlords must be making money. No. We’ve only gone up 12% to 14%, and our expenses have gone up 30%.
The Times, while broadcasting Verma’s consternation at “running at break-even at a number of properties,” failed to ask any of his tenants about how a 12% to 14% rent increase has impacted them. And although the article cited increased maintenance costs as one of the factors contributing to Verma’s plight, Nova’s Google reviews indicate that basic maintenance isn’t exactly high on its list of priorities.
The park where the New York Post (7/30/22) puts people without housing in the same class as vermin is located at the north end of the Bowery, where low-income residents have been displaced by wealthy gentrifiers for decades.
By fixating on the supposed hardships faced by landlords, establishment outlets have pushed the idea that renters should bear the burden of runaway housing costs. To those who cannot afford this extortion, corporate media have been even less charitable.
The language of dehumanization
As wealthy urbanites continue their return to public life, corporate media have been saturated with laments over the increased visibility of homelessness in many of America’s largest cities. This type of coverage tends to characterize the presence of people without housing as an unsightly nuisance, in the same vein as vermin or uncollected garbage.
Indeed, to corporate media, the dispossession and dislocation of masses of people is largely an issue of urban aesthetics, rather than the intended material consequence of a housing system that keeps renters under the heel of landlords through the ever-present threat of eviction.
Tabloids like the New York Post have frequently published articles that dehumanize people experiencing homelessness. One such piece (10/1/22), titled “NYC’s Financial District Now Blighted With Spiking Crime, Vagrants,” included the line:
Unhinged hobos in particular have been terrorizing locals throughout the neighborhood.
In another Post article (7/30/22), headlined “NYC Park Near Cooper Union Turning Into ‘Disgusting’ Area Filled With Rats, Homeless,” a neighborhood resident complains:
It’s disgusting! I feel outraged about the garbage and the rats. Every bench is taken up by the homeless and nobody is doing anything about it.
Putting people who are unhoused in the same category as trash and vermin, the Post uses a kind of dehumanizing language typically peddled by the architects of genocide. Narratives of dehumanization—which portray individuals from targeted communities as dirty, disease-ridden or pest-like—often lay the groundwork for mass brutality.
Such rhetoric has been echoed by politicians aiming to impose further hardships upon those without homes, including former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who referred to people seeking shelter on New York City subways during the height of the pandemic as “disgusting.”
Voice of San Diego (9/16/22), a digital nonprofit outlet, quoted at length the rant of former basketball star Bill Walton, who claimed that,
while peacefully riding my bike early this Sunday morning in Balboa Park, I was threatened, chased and assaulted by the homeless population.
You speak of the rights of the homes [sic], what about our rights?… We follow the rules of a functioning society, why are others allowed to disregard those rules?… Your lack of action is unacceptable, as is the conduct of the homeless population.
The New York Times (2/16/22) presents “investments in rental housing” as “a key way to offset the pressure of inflation”—because landlords have been raising rents “at two to three times the rate of inflation.”
Like the Post, the Voice of San Diego piece stripped people experiencing homelessness of their individuality, treating them as one indistinguishable mass in phrases like “the conduct of the homeless population” and “assaulted by the homeless population.” The article concluded with a final lament from Walton:
You have given our bike paths and Balboa Park in our neighborhood to homeless encampments, and we can no longer use them, and they’re ours, this is unacceptable.
In publishing Walton’s diatribe, Voice of San Diego voiced the perspective of city dwellers made to feel uncomfortable by visual reminders of poverty in public spaces, the enjoyment of which they claim as their exclusive right.
Following the money
Corporate media’s eagerness to peddle narratives favorable to the propertied class is to be expected, since many establishment outlets have a vested interest in the continued growth of housing prices.
BlackRock—the world’s largest asset manager—owns 8.3% of the New York Times Company, making it the Times’ second-biggest institutional investor. BlackRock also holds around $68 billion in real estate assets, including an 8.5% share in Invitation Homes—a $24 billion publicly traded company that owns around 80,000 single-family rental units around the United States.
In a business section piece (2/16/22) covering Blackstone’s gargantuan real estate footprint, the Times did not mention the people that the asset manager—armed with massive stores of capital and low-interest loans—pushes out of the housing market by consistently buying up properties at well-above market rates. Instead, the article concluded:
Blackstone’s shares have been on a run lately. Its stock is up roughly 80% over the past 12 months.
Another Times article, headlined “The New Financial Supermarkets” (3/10/22), did reference Blackstone’s predatory buying strategy, but presented it in a favorable light. Blackstone president Jonathan Gray was given ample space to extol his company’s prospects:
As the real estate industry teetered after the mortgage crisis, Blackstone used its capital to buy up and rent housing and other real estate, amassing $280 billion in assets, which produce nearly half of the firm’s profits. As interest rates rise, Mr. Gray predicted, real estate will continue to help its performance. Rents in the United States, he noted, have recently risen at two to three times the rate of inflation.
Vox (6/11/21) tells us not to blame institutional investors for housing woes—like BlackRock and Vanguard, which together own nearly 16% of Vox parent company Comcast.
The Times presented rents rising at “two to three times the rate of inflation” as a precious opportunity, rather than a source of misery for millions of people. It’s not too different from the viewpoint of a “paid post”—that is, an ad designed to deceptively resemble Times copy—lauding Blackstone’s role in “shaping the future.”
‘Wall Street isn’t to blame’
Meanwhile, after a Twitter thread (6/8/21) that outlined the predatory home-buying practices of institutional investors went viral, corporate media were eager to defend their sources of capital. Vox(6/11/21) assured the public that “Wall Street Isn’t to Blame for the Chaotic Housing Market.” The article’s subheading chided readers that “the boogeyman isn’t who you want it to be.”
The Atlantic (6/17/21), using strikingly similar language, published an article headlined “BlackRock Is Not Ruining the U.S. Housing Market,” along with a subhead that read: “The real villain isn’t a faceless Wall Street Goliath; it’s your neighbors and local governments stopping the construction of new units.” Like Vox, the Atlantic admonished the masses:
If we have any chance of fixing the completely messed-up, unaffordable U.S. housing market, we should direct our ire toward real culprits rather than boogeymen.
According to this narrative, the true architects of the housing crisis are those standing in the way of private developers from building more units—all of whom are tarred as NIMBYs. While NIMBYism is oftentimes motivated by racist and classist interests, many communities have also opposed new development out of legitimate concerns over gentrification and displacement.
More than enough vacancies
This defense of developers and institutional landlords mounted by corporate media is undergirded by the false assumption that there is an acute shortage of housing units. In fact, in many U.S. cities, there are more than enough vacant units to provide homes for every individual and family currently living without permanent housing.
One recent report found that, “With more than 36,000 unhoused residents, Los Angeles simultaneously has over 93,000 units sitting vacant, nearly half of which are withheld from the housing market.” In New York, the quantity of vacant rent-stabilized units alone—estimated at around 70,000—is larger than the total population of individuals that currently reside within the city’s network of shelters.
These apartments remain unoccupied because many landlords have calculated that it is more profitable to keep rent-regulated units off the market than to refurbish or maintain—even to a minimum standard—homes rented out to tenants at below market rates.
At least 100,000 more New York apartments sit empty because their owners hold them for “seasonal, recreational or occasional use,” or simply use them as long-term investment chips that they never intend to occupy. This dynamic also exists in othercitiesaroundthe country, particularly in the most expensive housing markets.
Corporate media’s sympathetic treatment of landlords, combined with its reflexive defense of developers and institutional real estate investors, is indicative of the fact that many establishment outlets have a financial stake in the real estate business.
The Atlantic, which like Vox jumped to defend the honor of institutional landlords, is majority owned by Emerson Collective—a venture capital firm whose founder and president is Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Powell Jobs, who possesses a fortune of over $16 billion, has invested large sums in real estate over the past five years.
Vox’s largest shareholder is Comcast, which owns nearly a third of Vox Media, Inc. The top two institutional investors in Comcast are, in turn, the aforementioned BlackRock (at 6.9%) and the Vanguard Group (at 8.7%). Vanguard has over $38 billion invested in real estate assets, and is also the largest institutional investor in the New York Times Company, owning 9.5% of its shares.
Originally published on the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), on October 27, 2022
Over the past month, children’s hospitals across the United States have entered an unprecedented crisis. They are being inundated with a wave of infants and toddlers hospitalized with a range of respiratory illnesses, well before the normal peak in December. The most common source of hospitalizations is currently respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), but rhinovirus, enterovirus, adenovirus, the flu and COVID-19 are also implicated, and there are reports of children infected with multiple of these viruses simultaneously.
From coast to coast, pediatric hospitals have reached or exceeded capacity, with three-quarters of all pediatric hospital beds in the US now occupied. Entire states are near capacity, including Rhode Island (99 percent of all pediatric hospital beds filled), Texas (91 percent), Missouri (89 percent) and others.
Seattle Children’s Hospital reports that its emergency room (ER) is now at 200 percent of capacity. At Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, the largest pediatric hospital in California, the past few days have seen a doubling of visits to the ER, with wait times also doubling to up to six hours. Other major cities with pediatric hospital bed and staffing shortages include Chicago, New York City, New Orleans, Detroit, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Austin and more. Many families have had to drive for hours or fly to other states when the pediatric hospital in their region has reached capacity.
At Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, Connecticut, officials are considering whether to ask the National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) to set up a field tent on the hospital’s lawn to care for an overflow of children with RSV. Catherine Morgan, a mother from nearby Meriden whose two-month-old son Grant was just hospitalized with RSV at Connecticut Children’s, told local news, “Once we got inside, there’s gurneys throughout the hallways with families just waiting for a room.”
Speaking on the terrifying progression of her son’s illness, Morgan said, “It’s very scary. Respiratory distress is very concerning. He has such little lungs and can’t really breathe. … Within four hours he was using his whole body to breathe. It makes me tear up thinking about it.”
Throughout the country, thousands of children are undergoing the trauma of hospitalization, which studies have shown can have long-term ramifications. Their parents and caregivers are sitting nervously by their side, holding their children, or turned away from hospitals which lack enough staff.
The only comparable mass child hospitalization of this dimension took place last January, as the supposedly “mild” Omicron variant hospitalized an average of 914 children daily and killed over 200 children that month alone.
Experts warn that in the coming weeks, expected surges of the flu and COVID-19—for both of which most children remain unvaccinated—will cause a “triple threat” that will strain pediatric hospitals past their breaking point.
RSV is a seasonal virus which can cause pneumonia and bronchiolitis in young children, severely impacting their ability to breathe, and can be life-threatening. It has historically caused an average of 58,000 hospitalizations and up to 500 deaths per year in children under 5 years old, along with 177,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths annually among adults 65 and older. Collectively, respiratory pathogens are among the worst killers in the world, with the World Health Organization (WHO) finding they cause the highest global burden of disease measured by years lost through death or disability.
Almost all of the media coverage has sought to blame the present crisis on mitigation measures put in place in 2020 to limit the spread of COVID-19, including lockdowns, masking, remote learning and social distancing, which built up a so-called “immunity debt” among infants who were not exposed to RSV and other viruses. This unscientific term is a red herring meant to deflect blame from those who bear political responsibility for the current catastrophe.
In reality, the surge of these respiratory viruses is the direct consequence of the “forever COVID” policy now pursued by the Biden administration and every state government, which over the past year have systematically dismantled all anti-COVID mitigation measures. Unlike in 2020 and 2021, this school year began with the lifting of mask mandates in every major school district across the US, allowing all respiratory pathogens to spread unchecked among over 50 million children, most of whom were immunologically naive to many respiratory viruses due to masking and social distancing. Despite numerous warnings, nothing was done to prepare for the present surge.
Immunologist Dr. Anthony Leonardi, who has consistently spoken out against the “herd immunity” COVID-19 policies which have led to the mass infection of children, recently wrote on the concept of “immunity debt,” concluding, “We mustn’t delude ourselves into thinking infections actually confer a benefit or are a debt that must be paid. They are more like a tax we make the children pay for our civilization not being developed enough to prevent viral illnesses that hospitalize thousands of children per year.”
According to the latest estimates from the CDC, 86.3 percent of the US child population has likely been infected with COVID-19 at least once. Even if only a tiny percentage of these 62 million children now have damaged immune systems, it is very likely a contributing factor to the current surge of child hospitalizations. Many professionals have noted that healthy children who normally would not suffer severe disease are being hospitalized by RSV and other viruses.
In the winter of 2020-21, RSV, the flu and most other respiratory pathogens were nearly eliminated in numerous countries, a remarkable but unintended byproduct of the limited masking and social distancing then in place. During that winter, only one child died from the flu in the US, and this week in 2020 saw only 10 confirmed RSV infections, compared to over 7,000 last week.
One of the greatest scientific breakthroughs during the pandemic was the early recognition that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is transmitted almost entirely through tiny aerosols that people emit through talking, singing and even just breathing, which then linger in the air for minutes or even hours at a time. Proving that SARS-CoV-2 is airborne prompted further investigation into other pathogens, including RSV, which had been shown to be airborne as early as 2016.
In a rational society, this scientific knowledge would have prompted the largest renovation of global infrastructure in history, in order to modernize buildings with high quality air filtration and ventilation systems. Instead, the science was suppressed and distorted by nearly every government and public health agency in the world, above all, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Fundamentally, the science of airborne transmission shifts responsibility for viral transmission from the individual to the social level, placing the onus on governments to clean the air in all public spaces. But under capitalism, even this minimal encroachment on private profit is beyond the pale.
In a remarkable press conference Wednesday, White House COVID Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha stated that COVID-19 “is purely airborne,” the most open acknowledgment of airborne transmission by any White House official. He then falsely counterposed COVID-19 to RSV, which he implied could be curtailed simply by hand washing and “keeping kids home when they are sick,” an impossibility for most working class families. When asked by a reporter whether parents should give their children masks to protect themselves from RSV and other respiratory illnesses, Dr. Jha evaded the question.
The same processes are unfolding globally. In Ontario, Canada, where all anti-COVID mitigations have been dropped, pediatric hospitals are also being inundated with RSV and other respiratory pathogens, while school teachers are no longer allowed to even report likely COVID-19 infections in their classrooms.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that capitalism is thoroughly hostile to the principles of public health which prove that SARS-CoV-2, RSV, the flu and numerous other pathogens can be eliminated globally through a massive expansion of testing, modernized contact tracing, access to health care, the renovation of infrastructure, temporary paid lockdowns and more.
The “infection tax” on children and all of society is being imposed by the capitalist class, which views the working class as nothing more than fodder for exploitation, whose “nonproductive” lives should be cut as short as possible.
Through their policies, the capitalists have nearly destroyed health care systems throughout the world. In the US alone, an estimated 333,942 health care providers left the workforce in 2021, while a recent survey found that more than one-third of nurses plan to leave their current roles by the end of the year. The same process has unfolded in schools, the key centers for viral transmission throughout the pandemic, with huge shortages of educators across the US and internationally.
In response to the inflationary crisis triggered by the unending pandemic and the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the working class is entering into struggle throughout the world. This developing international class struggle must become the basis for the fight to stop the pandemic, end the war, and massively expand public health and all other social services. Only through the socialist overturn of existing property relations can mankind rebuild society and guarantee the universal right to a decent, long life free of poverty and disease.
“So what does a communist party actually do? You may have read much about Marxism and the political positions of the Communist Party USA, but you’re probably wondering, how do we move from a small political party to a sizable one that advances the development of socialism like the Communist Parties in China, Vietnam, Laos, DPR Korea, and Cuba. In short the question is, “how does the Party build a revolution?”
The political environment varies considerably across the US so each CPUSA Club adapts and develops a strategy for building the Party within their state or city based on what resources are available to them. The Maine Club of the CPUSA, hereafter the Maine Club, was reformulated a few years ago and has since grown in membership, connections, and resources. At its 2022-23 annual review meeting, the Maine CPUSA approved its most ambitious plan of work to date.
As the crises of capitalism increasingly hurt US workers, many of them develop a “proto class consciousness” where they recognize something is wrong with the system, but lack the understanding to know exactly why it’s not working for them. This is where the Communist Party comes in, ready to help the people understand Marxist theory.
During the 2021-22 year, the Club started monthly educational meetings to further the political education of its members. This year, with more members and resources at its disposal, the Club is turning outward with new community education initiatives. Following the format of the highly successful internal education meetings, the Club will additionally hold public education seminars and reading groups. The Club has ambitions to establish reading circles at libraries and other public spaces to give Mainers access to Marxist literature and people to discuss it with.
As the Maine Club develops into a statewide political organization, it plans to cultivate relations with other organizations in the antifascist alliance. Maine is one of the more democratic states in that it has both referendums and ranked choice voting. By working with other progressive forces in the state, popular legislation can be passed through the legislature and anything that can’t can always be put up for referendum. Historically, many worker’s rights and protections such as the 40-hour workweek and the weekend off have been won through the struggle of popular coalitions led by socialists and we think participating in such efforts lays the foundation for the Maine CPUSA to run its own candidates in local and state elections.
Perhaps the biggest development of the US labor movement over the past year has been the resurrection of the labor activism. A new Gallup poll shows union approval is at the highest it’s ever been since 1965. Additionally, many new unions are popping off across the country including at Starbucks, and Amazon to name a few. The latter received a significant amount of assistance from the Party. Not to be left out, Maine currently has two unionized Starbucks and had the first attempt to unionize Chipotle which was thwarted by union busting executives. Building a dual political force of organized labor and political action would greatly strengthen workers ability to organize and collectively bargain.
Finally, and as always, the Club seeks to improve its internal functioning. As the Club grows, more infrastructure needs to be developed to keep its members organized and effective. The Club also has the ambitious goal of establishing a Maine Young Communist League. A strong youth wing is a sign of a strong party.
CPUSA clubs across the country are doing great work of greater scope than has been seen in decades. The Maine CPUSA plan of work for 2023-24 will be even more ambitious than ever before.
Communist Party of Maine, October 17, 2022, cpmaine.org
Sources: The Jump [Photo by Ranjit Bhaskar Al Jazeera]
Kerala is an Indian state referred to by citizens of that country as a place of inherent natural beauty. Some 35 million people live in this territory in the south of the subcontinent. To get an idea, one only has to realize that more people live in Kerala than in Venezuela or in all the Scandinavian countries taken together.
The particularity of this state, and why we are interested, is that the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI (M), in the 2021 elections renewed its electoral victory in 2016 that enabled the Party to govern within the coalition framework of the Left Democratic Front, (LDF), along with forces such as the Communist Party of India (CPI). The CPI (M) and CPI historically have achieved rather fantastic results in this region, especially compared to outcomes elsewhere in the country. The Sino-Soviet disputes of the 20th century led to a split in India’s communist movement and the two parties two parties went their separate ways. So it’s the CPI(M) and the Indian National Congress that have been vying for political dominance for decades in Kerala.
In the 2021 elections, the communist-progressive coalition, having won more than 45% of the votes in the state, opened the door to five more years of left-wing rule in the region. Led by Pinarayi Vijayan, chief minister of Kerala, the Communists now face the challenge of reaffirming their political leadership in the elections of 2026. It’s unavoidable, if they want to continue applying the “Kerala model” that differentiates this territory from the rest of India.
The Kerala model
What is the Kerala model? In an economy that revolves around tourism, the state dedicates much effort to determining how best to distribute economic revenues internally. Through initiatives like the missions, among others, that are reminiscent of those in Venezuela, the state carries out projects for the equitable distribution of resources, and for managing them. These public policy packages can be properly implemented thanks to a high rate of social participation in common spaces for discussion and in “local self-government“. In these venues, many people living in different municipalities can bring up for discussion the immediate needs of their communitiesThese assessments by the people end up on the government’s agenda mainly by sectors of the media communicating between the discussion spaces and the state.
These missions are, in short, social stimulus programs. One is the Pothuvidyabhyasa Samrakshana Yajnam, which is a program through which huge amounts of resources are dispensed to guarantee free universal access to books for students, to adapt school infrastructure for students with functional diversity, to offer academic support, etc. In this regard, the government of Kerala has received international recognition for universalizing and improving the quality of public education throughout the country. The high degree of cohesion and planning capabilities of the regional government are illustrated through other examples. See, for example, the Haritha Keralam Mission which deals with the healthcare sector and agencies that manage water resources and waste disposal. There is another mission directed at eradicating hunger and extreme poverty by means of delivering food kits and ration cards.
Programs like these are typical of initiatives characterizing the “Kerala model, and are the basis for a necessary comparison with the “Gujarat model.” That is the state that was governed by Narendra Modi before he became prime minister. It is a development model that, lacking efforts at equitable distribution, offers privatization and profiteering and no significant improvement in social indicators. Although other regional experiences have emphasized popular participation – in West Bengal, for example – none has been sustained over time like the “Kerala model” or has produced deep-seated structural transformations in government, as in Kerala
In India, poverty – even in the “polite” terms with which the national government defines it – is widespread, enormously so. Problems of access to food, education, health care, and/or clean water run through the lives of a considerable part of India’s population. In this context, Kerala, through its particular model, goes way beyond the norm. Among other things, the state boasts the highest literacy rate in India and the highest life expectancy. It also has placed a primary health care center in every village.
Several facts illustrate the gap between the “Kerala model” and the country as a whole. First, the rural-urban divide is less pronounced in that region. For every 1,000 children born alive in rural Kerala, five die; in urban populations, six do. If one pulls the thread a little further, a revealing fact crops up. In comparison with these infant mortality figures from Kerala, the country as a whole shows a rate of 46 deaths per 1,000 live births in rural areas and 29/1,000 in urban areas. At the same time, the percentage of women with more than 10 years of schooling is 70% in rural Kerala, compared to a meager 27% in rural India as a whole. Kerala boasts effective management of sanitation in the context of a country with profound deficiencies in access to sanitary facilities and water, etc.
The region has even begun to work together with organizations that offer spaces of sexual diversity and varying life styles. In that regard, the state has been able to focus on communities that for various reasons – belonging to the LGTBI+ community or unfamiliarity with the Malayalam language, for example – were not properly brought into universalizing programs, literacy programs, for instance. Responding, the government has launched programs for these groups, and the groups have designed them. Finally, it is worthwhile to mention poverty. The data are overwhelming. The 0.7% poverty rate for Kerala in 2021 contrasts with states such as Bihar (51.9%), Uttar Pradesh (37.8%) or Madhya Pradesh (36.7%.
There are also notable differences in other areas between Kerala and the rest of India. One of them is selective abortion of female fetuses. Several factors give rise to this reality, among them the custom of dowry. At the time of marriage, the woman’s family must give the husband’s family the equivalent, in money or goods, of the value of a house.
Economics and cultural inheritance combine to produce customs like this that are characteristic of misogyny, especially in rural areas. For example, a family withiout sons being born faces the prospect of a “loss” of lineage. However, it’s different in Kerala, where girl babies are born in ample numbers. As of 2011, the female-male ratio there was 1,084:1,000. In India as a whole, it was 943:1,000.
The political peculiarities of Kerala and of the CPI(M)
In Kerala, Communists are in the majority. This fact is evident aesthetically as one travels through the state. The Argentine Fernando Duclos – known on social networks as ‘Periodistan’ – offered rich testimony to this on YouTube. Statues, posters and graffiti of Che Guevara adorn the city streets of Kannur, and red hammer-and-sickle flags accompany a multitude of posters featuring figures such as Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and even Kim Jong-un. A special kind of socialist folklore captures the attention of visitors to the region.
In regard to positions on international issues, one comment has to be made at the start: because of its regional nature, the state of Kerala takes clear positions only on questions that are national. Nevertheless, the CPI(M) recently did weigh in on happenings abroad.
According to Ramachandran Pillai, a leading party figure, “China declared that it had eradicated poverty. China contributed to the struggle against global poverty by having alleviated 70 percent of it.” [He took India’s national government to task for having failed to ease poverty in India, which] “constitutes 60 percent of the world’s poor people.”
Some positions taken within the Party are critical of the Chinese Communist Party, while other opinions are closer to Chinese socialism. (Translator’s note: The Indian government is no friend of China’s government, and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, a CPI(M) member, “clarified the stand of the CPI(M)” in case R. Pillai’s pro-Chinese views were taken as anti-Indian.)
In any event, and as happens elsewhere, in Brazil, for example, the anti-China speeches of the Indian right wing have great resonance in domestic politics. Sectors of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Prime Minister Modi’s party, have connected anti-China rhetoric with anti-Communism and have focused on the CPI(M). BJP members went so far as to say that belief in internationalism was “dangerous” and “a great betrayal of this land by the Communist movement.” They have called upon all “Marxist groups” to leave India and join with China. The context is that of of border disputes between the two countries over places like Kashmir.
In sum, the differences between Kerala and the rest of India are extreme; they result from their divergent political histories. The general belief is that Ayurveda, which is a set of pseudo-therapies that often lead people away from real medicine, was born in this region. However, the Indian national government actually funds a Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (Ministry of AYUSH), which, in the governmental hierarchy, is at a level equal to that of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Kerala, by contrast, maintains a considerable separation between the administrative apparatus of that ministry and the pseudo-sciences that are so popular.
For space reasons, it is impossible in this article to list all the differences between Kerala’s regional government and India’s national government. What can be highlighted is evidence that the role Communists have played in the region’s governing apparatus has had much to do with this state showing figures for social safety and human development that are far superior to those prevailing in the rest of the country. At the same time, it should be remembered that India is one of the countries most affected by endemic problems such as poverty and conditions predisposing to ill health. These are realities against which the government of Kerala offers an alternative that contrasts sharply with other governments in India.
W.T. Whitney Jr. modified and edited a translation provided by Deepl.com/translator. Author Eduardo García Granado is a political journalist based in Spain who writes on international affairs.
A recent report found that although Maine bounced back quickly from the pandemic-induced downturn, that recovery has masked “continued underlying weaknesses in the economy.”
Challenges identified in the Maine Center for Economic Policy’s annual “State of Working Maine” report include that many jobs continue to lack basic labor protections — even as workers increasingly assert their power and demand improved standards — and that wage growth has been stymied by high inflation.
The study, authored by MECEP economist James Myall, found that Maine has enjoyed a near-full recovery from the economic shock created by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with employment almost back to pre-pandemic levels and the state GDP higher than before the crisis. Myall credited the recovery in part to an aggressive fiscal response by the federal government, which provided states and people with funds during the pandemic through various programs.
In all, Maine’s economic bounce back from the crisis was much faster than the recovery from the Great Recession of 2008. After that crisis, the state’s employment and GDP levels lagged behind pre-2008 levels until 2016, which Myall attributed in part to austerity policies, which took place primarily under the LePage administration.
Still, the report found that the recovery from the pandemic is fragile and has hidden several warning signs for Maine’s economy.
Inflation blunting impact of wage growth
One significant problem is inflation, which is higher in the U.S. than at any point in the last 40 years. While a strong labor market has improved wages for Maine workers, the report found that the “rapidly rising cost of living has dulled the benefit” of that higher pay. For example, although wages for middle income workers in Maine have increased by 18% in the last three years, inflation has risen by nearly 13% over that same period. That creates an actual wage growth of just under 5% for workers during that time, which Myall writes is “much more modest than the substantial increase indicated in many news headlines.”
Wages not rising enough to significantly outpace inflation is of particular concern in the child care and direct care industries, the report states. People in both occupations have been chronicallyunderpaid for years, leading to a shortage of such workers. The market has failed to rectify the problem, Myall said, calling for intervention from the state to raise those workers’ wages and provide subsidies for those who need to access services. And while the state has acted to increase child care and direct care employees’ pay, Myall argued it might not be enough to attract workers to the industry, especially given the continued issue of inflation.
Those in the industry are also calling for better working conditions to attract more potential employees.
“Our early childhood education system is sinking. There are so many families in Maine with no options for child care,” Terri Crocker, the owner of Creative Play Childcare in Bath, says in the report.
Given the economic landscape, the Working Maine study makes several recommendations to improve workers wages against inflation. The first is to preserve and expand the state’s minimum wage, which is currently tied to the cost of living. However, MECEP has found that by going beyond that and raising the minimum wage to $16 an hour by 2025, Maine would increase pay for over 350,000 workers and make strides in addressing economic inequality.
Myall also recommends paying direct care workers adequately and requiring employers to be transparent on job applications about the wages that potential workers can expect to receive.
Worker protections must be strengthened
Another challenge to the seemingly strong economic recovery is that labor protections remain scant for too many workers, according to the report. Myall notes that the pandemic caused many workers to reevaluate their relationship to their job, resulting in a significant number leaving for new positions. The amount of Mainers quitting and being hired for new positions recently hit its highest point in two decades, the report found. Higher wages are the prime motivation for workers switching jobs, along with affordable health care, more predictable hours and paid time off.
Given this amount of labor “churn,” Myall argued there is more to be done to improve working conditions for Mainers. Some moderate improvements have been made over the years, including when Maine’s paid time off law took effect in 2022. That law caused the number of Mainers who get paid time off to increase from 33% in the five years preceding the pandemic to 54% this year.
Still, that means a substantial number of Mainers continue to face the potential of financial struggles if they have to take time off for illness, caring for a loved one, or other reasons, Myall pointed out. He argued that the paid time off law should be broadened to encompass more workers and should also include provisions to protect against retaliation, which the statute currently lacks. A bill to bar retaliation by employers against workers who use paid time off was vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills in 2022.
An additional recommendation for improving labor standards is to create a fair workweek standard, which would require business to create predictable schedules for workers. Unpredictable schedules, Myall states, have been shown to negatively impact workers’ bottom line as well as their physical and mental health.
Another policy that would improve workers’ lives is paid family and medical leave, which allows employees to take time off work for a longer period of time. That differentiates it from paid time off, which covers short-term leave. Maine will have a chance to create a paid family and medical leave system in 2023, either through legislative action or via the ballot box, as advocates (including Maine People’s Alliance, of which Beacon is a project) are gathering signatures for a potential referendum.
In discussing how labor standards can be improved, Myall noted the increased leverage workers have right now, as businesses and other employers seek to fill positions.
Much of that power has manifested in increased unionization activity in Maine and nationwide, as workers seek to form collective bargaining units in various industries, including at stores operated by corporate giants such as Chipotle and Starbucks. Worker power has reached heights not seen in decades, MECEP found.
“Now that the country has seen how valuable we are, it’s time for us to demand that we are cared for as well as workers in any other industry,” Brandi McNease, who helped lead a recent unionization campaign at a Chipotle in Augusta, said in the report.
Still, the study found that “as much as worker power has increased, it is still eclipsed by the clout of many corporations and businesses,” with employers often fighting back hard against unionization efforts.
To address such challenges, the report recommends that policymakers guarantee the right to unionize in Maine without interference by bosses. Myall also calls for an improvement to the bargaining power of public sector unions in Maine. Arbitration decisions on wages and benefits for workers in such unions are not currently binding, which allows employers to often ignore workers’ demands. Public sector union workers in Maine are also not allowed to strike, which undermines their leverage, Myall argues.
Finally, the report recommends that agricultural workers be allowed to form unions. Such workers have long been denied basic labor protections, including the right to form a collective bargaining unit or even be considered employees under state wage and hour laws. A bill passed by the legislature that would have allowed farmworkers to unionize was vetoed by Mills in January.
Structural barriers keep too many out of workforce
Another issue Maine faces is that some people can’t participate fully — or at all — in the labor market. Some barriers to employment that Mainers face include health issues, caregiving responsibilities, fewer labor opportunities in rural areas and continued structural racism, according to the study. There are jobs available for such people, Myall found, and including them in the labor market would improve the economy without lowering wages for existing workers.
One indication of Maine’s problems with full workforce participation is that there are fewer prime-age people — 25 to 54-year-olds — participating in the labor market than prior to the pandemic. That dip has not manifested fully in Maine’s overall employment numbers since older workers are staying employed longer, the study found.
Myall states in the report that a reduced number of prime age people in the workforce often indicates that “people are either discouraged about their ability to find a job with a sustainable wage or in some way prevented from working (for example, a health condition, lack of child care, or transportation issue).”
Furthermore, asylum-seekers are currently barred from requesting a work permit for 180 days, preventing another segment of people from joining the labor force.
“I want to have a house and take care of myself, my friends, and my family. It’s difficult to support myself without working,” Gervin Kah, an asylum-seeker in Maine, said in the report.
To address these issues in the workforce, the report argues that the state has to help prime age people return to the labor force while also supporting older Mainers who want to keep working and allowing those who want to retire to do so with security.
There are a number of policy recommendations that could help with this goal, including continuing public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, encouraging employers to make accommodations for those with long COVID, increasing access to health care systems (including mental health services), creating a comprehensive subsidy for child care, maintaining funding for free community college, and enforcing anti-discrimination laws in the workforce.
“Maine lawmakers have the opportunity to build on the momentum begun by workers themselves and reshape the economy in a way that works for all of us — an economy that fairly compensates workers and ensures all work is respected with fundamental rights,” Myall writes.
Photo: A sign at a rally earlier this year to support the Maine Medical Center nurses’ union | Beacon
Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maine continues to see the largest decreases in the number of people who are uninsured in recent years, and the trend is expected to continue as open enrollment for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act begins November 1st.
One change Mainers will notice this year is that Congress expanded the subsidies for health insurance premiums, so people who purchase plans through the federal exchange will pay no more than 8.5% of their household income through 2025.
Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare employer and individual, said it’s important to set aside time to compare all the plans available as well as understand your own family’s needs.
“Just because you had a certain coverage last year,” Randall explained, “you might not want to have that coverage roll over. You want to make sure that you’re looking into what your options for 2023 look like.”
Randall said more insurers are expanding their mental health coverage and offering more virtual care options, which gained in popularity during the pandemic. She said it’s also important to consider the value of having an integrated plan that covers specialty care, such as hearing, dental or vision.
She added that UnitedHealthcare has posted online videos to help people navigate the exchange as well as the sometimes confusing insurance terminology.
More insurance companies are also expanding their wellness incentives. They may offer discounted rates for people who exercise, don’t smoke and work to lower their blood pressure. Randall said your goal should be to find a plan that helps you navigate the health care system.
“So, you’re looking for also a health plan that’s going to have good advocacy,” Randall said. “Whether it’s a digital interaction or you’re calling your health plan to interact, they’re helping you maximize your benefits and services in getting you to the care that you need at the right time.”
Open enrollment is the only time during the year, outside a special enrollment window, that people can sign up for a plan or change their current health coverage. Open enrollment runs Nov. 1 through Jan. 15.
Photo: Family doctor examining throat of a small black boy while visiting him at home during coronavirus pandemic. | Drazen Zigic, Getty Images