Donald Trump now admits that Covid-19 could kill hundreds of thousands of Americans after months of downplaying the novel coronavirus pandemic and dismissing the threat. This week on Intercepted: Workers at Amazon, Instacart, and Whole Foods have gone on strike demanding safe work conditions. Amazon has already fired one organizer and continues to pump out misinformation and propaganda as Jeff Bezos continues to rake in billions of dollars. We hear from the fired Amazon manager Christian Smalls and talk to Jacobin magazine reporter Meagan Day about her reporting on the conditions of some essential workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Joe Biden’s campaign against Medicare for All, and the shortage of supplies in hospitals. Emergency room nurse John Pearson, from Highland Hospital in Oakland, explains why his colleagues had to start a GoFundMe campaign for vital medical equipment. He talks about the lack of supplies to deal with the coming surge of coronavirus cases and why he believes that this crisis demands the implementation of a single-payer health care system; he also discusses California health care workers’ petition to Gov. Gavin Newsom. Intercepted listeners share their stories of struggle during the pandemic: We hear from people losing jobs, facing mounting debt, working in unsafe conditions, and worrying about what the future holds for the most vulnerable people. As Congress pats itself on the back for the bipartisan $2.2 trillion “stimulus” package Trump signed into law, journalist David Dayen, executive editor of the American Prospect, breaks down the corporate interests and powerful people who stand to gain the most from the looting of taxpayer funds. Dayen analyzes the portions of the bill aimed at bailing out struggling families, workers, small business owners, and explains why he believes Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were wrong to vote in favor of the bailout.
If you or someone you know needs emotional support or is contemplating suicide, resources include the Crisis Text Line, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Trevor Project, or the International Association for Suicide Prevention.
Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper: Look the situation is that apparently a great white shark has staked a claim in the waters off Amity Island. And he’s going to continue to feed here as long as there is food in the water.
Donald J. Trump: You know a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat.
RD: It’s gonna happen again. It happened before on the Jersey Beach. There were five people chewed up in the surf. In one week.
DJT: I read about it. I read about, many years ago, 1917, 1918.
Roy Scheider as Martin Brody:You open the beaches on the Fourth of July. It’s like ringing the dinner bell for Christ’s sake.
DJT: We’re gonna see what happens but we did shut it down, yes.
RD: It’s a carcharodon carcharias. It’s a Great White!
DJT: It’s going to disappear one day. It’s like a miracle. It will disappear.
RS: We’re not only gonna have to close the beach, we’re gonna have to hire somebody to kill the shark.
DJT: Just take it nice and easy, OK. Just relax.
RD: I think that I am familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you on the ass.
DJT: Relax, we’re doing great. It all will pass.
RD: That’s it. Good bye. I’m not gonna waste my time arguing with a man who’s lining up to be a hot lunch.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from my basement in New York City. And this is episode 124 of Intercepted.
DJT: This is going to be a very painful, very, very painful two weeks.
JS: Before we get to the heart of today’s show, I want to take a moment to say that some of the most powerful and wealthy individuals in the United States right now are treating essential workers like disposable garbage and they are treating taxpayer money as their for-profit feeding trough. The so-called coronavirus bailout is one of the most disgraceful and monumental pieces of legislation ever signed into law in this country. Not a single U.S. senator voted against this bill. Not one. And we have no idea what the specific positions of the 435 members of the House of Representatives are because they didn’t allow a recorded vote on the bill. The leadership, Democrats and Republicans, just sailed it right through to Trump’s desk. Just one member of Congress — a Republican — tried to force a roll call vote and that failed.
Anthony G. Brown: For what purpose does this gentleman seek recognition?
Thomas Massie: Mr. Speaker, I came here to make sure our republic doesn’t die by unanimous consent and empty chamber and I request a recorded vote.
JS: Yes, this bill does contain some stuff for the serfs, for the ordinary people. It contains some pretty meager crumbs that had to be fought over to get them off the table of the rich that are ultimately going to go to some poor or working people and families. But overwhelmingly this bill was the quintessential reverse Robin Hood — it steals from the poor and working class and it gives, almost with no meaningful oversight, taxpayer funds hand over fist to the richest corporations in this country.
Elizabeth Warren: Any kind of help that goes to the big industries has got to come with some strings attached which means making sure that taxpayer dollars are not used just for stock buybacks and to make sure that CEOs get their bonuses this year, but that it’s really used to support payroll. That’s what we want to see.
JS: Now, while Congress pats itself on the back for this grand compromise, the realities in this country become more dire by the second. Hospitals are overwhelmed, nurses, doctors, technicians are having to create makeshift protective gear for themselves. They’re reusing masks and other disposable equipment. Dead bodies are being placed in refrigerated trucks. And the president? He takes to Twitter or television nonstop to lie, to lie and to make false declarations about how quickly this will all be over as he handles it just perfectly.
DJT: But the new test is easier, simpler, and quick. You’re going to know your answer right away. So that’s what we’re looking for. That’s coming out very soon like almost immediately.
JS: Donald Trump also appears to be accusing hospital workers of stealing surgical masks as he brags about the ratings for his macabre coronavirus show.
Reporter: You expressed some concern in the past that medical supplies were going out the back door and that perhaps some hospitals were doing things—
DJT: Well, I expressed what was told to me by a tremendous power in the business. He said that at a New York hospital for a long period of time he was giving 10,000, maybe maximum 20,000 masks over a short time and all of a sudden he’s giving 300,000. And I said no matter how bad this is, could that be possible? He said no. So there’s only a couple of things that could happen. Is it going out the back door?
JS: In New York City, Rikers Island and other jails are now seeing the virus spread rapidly among their locked up populations and among the staff of these facilities. My colleague Ryan Grim broke the story of how prisoners at Rikers Island were being offered $6 an hour — that’s a fortune by prison labor standards — as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) if they agree to help dig mass graves, oh my God. At the same time, according to the NYPD Commissioner a whopping 15 percent of the New York Police Department is at this moment out sick. We’re also looking at a ticking time bomb in warehouses that service large corporations like Amazon or Walmart.
Amazon Staten Island warehouse worker: Got all of out here, not caring about any of us. There’s people sick in the building and not caring about this pandemic, this epidemic, this virus and it’s affecting us the hardest right here in New York, right here in Staten Island. And they don’t care at all.
JS: Workers at the grocery delivery service Instacart staged a sick-out strike this week to protest what they describe as insufficient safety measures being put in place to protect them and customers from the coronavirus. Amazon workers on Staten Island staged a work stoppage on Monday to protest what they say was Amazon’s insufficient health response to confirmed COVID-19 cases at their worksite. Whole Foods workers also did a national organized sick-out strike on Tuesday to protest their conditions. Now whether it’s hospital workers, delivery people, grocery clerks, pharmacy workers or any other essential workers, they all deserve our support and our solidarity. And when workers are on strike, we all have an obligation to support them, to spread the word and, if it is possible for you without causing harm to your health or wellbeing, don’t use the services of a company whose workers are on strike demanding a safe workplace.
Today, we have a packed show. Later in the program, we’re going to taking a very thorough look at the coronavirus bill — the bailout — and breakdown exactly who is going to benefit from it, the politics behind the final version of that act, and what it will mean for ordinary people, powerful corporations and the future of this country.
David Dayen: So I think as a result of this bill, you could see just sweeping chances into our choices as workers, as consumers, as citizens, and more power and wealth rising to the very top rungs of society.
JS: We are also in a bit going to be hearing from you, our listeners who have called in to share their stories of struggle in the time of coronavirus. But we begin with the severe shortages in hospitals and the conditions of essential workers across this country.
Deborah Birx: Every metro area should assume that they could have an outbreak equivalent to New York.
JS: On Sunday, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx appeared on Meet the Press to discuss the critical medical supply shortages communities across the U.S. are facing as the coronavirus spreads.
In New York, this crisis has now become inescapable. More than 1,200 people have died in the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo is hardly the saint that he is somehow being portrayed as these days on many media outlets. He was slow to react to this and he is still moving ahead with a budget that could well deny vital health and economic support to some of the neediest New Yorkers. He is also failing to effectively protect prisoners from this pandemic. At the same time, and in many ways, Cuomo has done large parts of his job competently. And he’s been giving daily briefings and interviews on just how dire the situation is and the response and aid that is needed immediately in New York.
Andrew Cuomo: What this is really going to turn out to be is an overwhelming of our public health system. It’s going to be an overwhelming of the healthcare system. And that’s where you will see if we’re not careful and we’re not planning and we’re not getting ahead of it, the healthcare system collapse on us, and then people who did not need to die will die.
JS: Hospitals in New York City are already overwhelmed, even before what is expected to be the apex of people needing care for Covid-19. For instance Elmhurst Hospital, which is a safety-net facility that serves the ethnically diverse borough of Queens, has become an epicenter of the crisis in New York City. Thirteen people that were infected with the coronavirus died in one day in Queens. Speaking at a press conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday, FEMA’s regional administrator Thomas Von Essen spoke about expanding mortuary capacity.
Thomas Von Essen:We are sending refrigeration trucks to New York to help with some of the problems on a temporary basis. The military has sent 42 folks to the Manhattan Medical Examiner’s Office to help over there. We, in New York City, have a desperate need to help over in Queens. And we’re working on that as we speak.
JS: These are dire times we are living in at this moment. We, as people, have a right to expect much more than those in power are giving us. And when the government or corporations are putting the workers who are delivering our food, stocking goods, treating the sick, when powerful institutions put these people at risk, it’s not just a news story. It is a call — a demand — for all of us to speak up and to do it loudly. So today, we are going to be taking an in-depth look at the conditions of our healthcare workers and other essential workers in this country.
I am joined now by Meagan Day. She is a staff writer at Jacobin magazine and has done some really excellent reporting on the conditions at hospitals as well as those being faced by workers at big companies during this pandemic. She is the coauthor of the new book, “Bigger than Bernie: How We Go from the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism.” Meagan Day, thank you very much for joining us on Intercepted.
Meagan Day: Thanks for having me.
JS: Workers now that have been deemed essential at retail entities like Amazon or delivery entities like Instacart also Whole Foods, workers are starting to strike. They’re starting to openly confront the corporations they work for over what they’re describing as unsafe or unclean or unsanitary conditions that they’re being forced to work in now, as the virus spreads. Talk about the reporting that you’ve done on this and what it says in the bigger picture.
MD: I read a story about plans for workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island to walk out and I saw the name of a lead worker organizer mentioned in that story and I looked him up on Twitter and found that he had been replying to various reporters trying to get the attention of the press. So I just called him up and so I got to hear everything that was going on in the facility that he works in. It’s called JFK8. That’s the name of the facility in Staten Island.
The guy that I talked to, his name is Chris Smalls. He’s actually an assistant manager. And he told me that people started calling out sick in early March, and that he raised an alarm and nobody listened to him and it scared him so much that he decided to take time off himself for his own safety. And he wasn’t paid because the policy that Amazon came up with was you can have unlimited paid time off — we’re not going to give you paid sick leave. That means that you’re welcome to leave if you’re feeling sick, but you won’t get a paycheck for it.
Chris, who I spoke to actually took money out of his 401k in order to get by, for the few weeks that he wasn’t working. One day, he decided to go back into Amazon to see how things were going, to see if he wanted to return. And when he did, one of the first people that he encountered when he walked in was one of his co-workers who he said was puffy-eyed, red in the face, and looked extremely sick. And he asked her what was going on and she said that she had gotten the coronavirus test a while before and of course, you know, you can’t get a test unless you’re already exhibiting severe symptoms. So she had gotten tested and she had been coming into work since receiving a test without you know, having been confirmed negative or positive. So because he’s a manager, he was like you’re going home, go home. Then they had an all hands manager meeting a few hours later where he learned that there was one confirmed case in the building but that was from the previous week.
The picture started to dawn on him that there were actually multiple active cases of symptomatic coronavirus in this building. It’s a facility that employs almost 5,000 people. They’re all working in relatively close quarters. After that meeting, he was out of there within you know, an hour. And on his way out of the building he was telling everyone he could “Get out of this building, get out.” Eventually the coworker that he ran into, she did test positive. If you do come back positive, they will give you paid quarantine. Presumably she got paid quarantine after of course working there for I think he said eight days in a row and interacting with every single person, hundreds of people in his department, but they also gave him quarantine even though he had not tested positive for the virus. So now they’ve put him on paid leave presumably to keep him away and keep him satisfied so that he’ll stop raising hell. Instead of stopping instead of you know, going home and sitting quietly, he decided to organize a worker walkout on Monday.
Christian Smalls: Close this building down. It’s too many coronavirus cases. They’re not telling the employees. They’re not taking care of us. We’re not safe. We got a lot of people that’s home right now unpaid. It’s not right. It’s not fair to us.
MD: And it looks like about 100 people walked out of the JFK8 facility on Monday at noon.
JS: Meagan I also want to bring in John Pearson, who’s an emergency room nurse at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California. He also was a source in one of your recent stories reporting on the conditions in hospitals right now with shortages. John Pearson, ER nurse, also president of his union chapter SEIU Local 1021. John, you’ve been a nurse for 10 years you started out as a paramedic, then you were working as an ER nurse in New York City. Give a sense of what things have been like in the hospital that you’re working in. And then what you’re hearing from your colleagues, fellow healthcare workers across the country.
John Pearson: Probably the most horrifying has been people I’ve talked to in New York, where the surge of patients has been happening for a while and many places completely overwhelmed and overrun. You know, I mean, we’ve seen the photos of the body bags.
DJT: Body bags all over in hallways. I’ve been watching them bring in trailer trucks, freezer trucks, freezer trucks, because they can’t handle the bodies. There’s so many of them. This is essentially in my community in Queens, Queens, New York.
JP: Here in California, the surge hasn’t really kicked off. I think we’re starting to see a little bit of an uptick in the number of patients that are coming in. But the alarming thing for the last few weeks has been that even before we get a surge of patients, we’re already seeing equipment shortages that are really terrifying. For example, last night, we started seeing workers circulating a picture of a nurse in a garbage bag. Even before we have our big rush of patients, there’s somebody wearing a garbage bag instead of a protective gown because management’s got all the gowns locked up and saying that workers can’t have them.
We’ve been instructed to reuse what is nonreusable equipment — like a mask or a gown — and that traps and stores anything that it comes in contact with, right? So like if a patient’s breathing virus into the air, the virus is now on the outside of the mask. Well, if we’re following management’s instructions — and this is you know, we’re seeing this across the country — you take your mask, and you put it in a paper bag. Nobody’s sure why they’re telling us paper bags. Put it in a paper bag and then reuse it again, over and over and over again. And all that’s doing is just spreading what’s on the outside of the mask now to the inside and also spreading it to whoever else you come in contact with.
So it’s just making healthcare workers vectors for spreading infection. This is a crisis on top of what already was a health system in crisis. We’re already extremely short-staffed and under-equipped, and ill-trained. And so this is coming on top of that. There’s hardly anything in the way of the substantial response we need to see from government and hospitals to be ready for this surge.
JS: John, you are an ER nurse at Highland Hospital which is in Oakland, California. You’ve been raising these concerns about how unprepared your hospital is to deal with what is almost certainly going to be the surge of Covid-19 cases coming in. Just talk about what your area of concern is and what the emergency room may look like on a typical day, if you start to see this surge happen in cases coming into your hospital.
JP: Probably the scariest thing that we’re all the most worried is going to happen is that we’re going to be confronted with this situation that’s already happening in other places like New York, where we have to make a choice between somebody, you know, one patient living and another one dying just because we don’t have a ventilator to put them on. Or just because we don’t have the staff to take care of them. Or this one, I think is probably the quickest one that will happen, a bed to put them in. Because we already have hospitals that are overcrowded and filled.
We have, you know, with no exaggeration, an internal disaster that gets declared inside of our hospital on a very regular basis. It’s called code triage internal, it’s an internal disaster. It gets called overhead and it means all the beds are filled. And new patients that come into the ER can’t be seen and you know, that overcrowding kind of ripples through the health system. I think what we’re going to see is as the surge starts in California, we’re going to see very quickly, we’re running out of beds. We’re running out of healthcare workers to be at the bedside, taking care of the patients and to do other things — crucial things — like empty the garbage, clean up the spills, register the patients, keep track of the equipment and stock it. That’s what’s going to happen. And then when workers start getting sick themselves, that’s going to be exacerbated.
If we’re already not having enough equipment that we can dispose of it after every time we’re at the bedside, it’s going to get much, much worse. And we’re likely to see things like what we see in New York, which is, I talked to one ICU nurse at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx and she was talking about spraying down her N-95 masks — the one that she gets per week — with Lysol. And then, you know, not only is she potentially exposing people to whatever’s in the nooks and crannies the Lysol doesn’t get to, she’s also breathing in chemicals. That’s kind of like what we’re up against here. And so we’re sort of scrambling to try to figure it out as quickly as we can how to sort of stave this off as much as possible.
JS: Meagan, in your recent piece for Jacobin, you wrote, “Our overwhelmed, understaffed, austerity-starved hospital system is already in bad shape. It’s not ready for what’s to come.” Talk about how the approach to making hospitals more lean, so to speak, has led us to where we are today.
MD: Yeah, so there’s this term from the private manufacturing sector called lean production. The idea of lean production is to trim fat, eliminate excess, and sort of improve efficiency, right? These are all euphemisms. In reality, what it tends to lead to is cutting corners and typically, when you cut corners, you create externalities. And the externalities fall onto the workers who are not getting paid anymore because one of the reasons why you would implement lean production in the private manufacturing sector is to improve profits, right? So you’re not paying your workers more, you’re actually paying them as little as you can get away with and you’re also cutting corners and all of that’s falling to them right.
This has also been applied for the last several decades to the hospitals in our country. So in reality, while they say that it’s about eliminating excess and improving efficiency, what this has led to is under-staffing, like what John is talking about in his hospital, and under-resourcing, and deregulation. Often the deregulation kind of comes as the retroactive justification for the disasters that are already taking place in the hospitals. The state will simply lower the regulations to say, well, it’s not feasible for us to live up to the standards we previously had. So now we’re going to lower the standards and now we can meet those, right? And you can see an accelerated version of this actually happening during the coronavirus crisis.
Another part of this sort of lean production is hospital closures and mergers and privatizations and consolidations all across the country. A very good illustration of this is that in New York City, 19 hospitals have been closed since the turn of the century. And now they’re opening up an emergency tent hospital run by an evangelical charity in the middle of Central Park. So basically what you see is that this country is balancing budgets on the backs of working class people and the chickens are coming home to roost in a pandemic.
JS: John, The New England Journal of Medicine had a remarkably grave and sober recommendation that it issued to healthcare providers. And among them was the following “We believe that removing a patient from a ventilator or an ICU bed to provide it to others in need is also justifiable.” It went on, “The decision to withdraw a scarce resource to save others is not an act of killing, and does not require the patient’s consent.” Your response to The New England Journal of Medicine where they’re recognizing that like in Italy and elsewhere in the world, doctors, nurses, healthcare workers have had to make decisions ultimately deciding which patient is going to die in which patient is going to live effectively forcing frontline workers to act as God in a way and the New England Journal of Medicine saying that it is not an act of killing and does not require the patient’s consent? When you hear that as a healthcare worker on the frontlines right now, what goes through your head?
JP: Well, I feel extremely uncomfortable. I don’t like that idea. And I don’t want to be in the position to have to do that. And I don’t want any of my co-workers, you know, whether it be doctor or respiratory therapist or nurse to have to be a part of any kind of decision like that. You know, the reality is that emergencies happen. And there are always going to be circumstances where we don’t have enough resources, no matter how prepared we are, but I mean, it just makes me think of like, how predictable so much of this crisis is, and how man-made so much of it is as well. And how many of the deaths are a result of just that failure to provide basic needs for something that is completely predictable, right, like it’s predictable that we would have a pandemic. It’s also predictable that we’d have a pandemic that’s a respiratory disease that would require us to have lots of things like ventilators.
It also seems possible to be manufacturing a lot of this missing protective equipment or even requisitioning it from the giant stockpiles that are out there in the private sector. My coworkers and I have actually gone out and located some of those stockpiles and bought them ourselves. And our hospital administrators haven’t been able to figure it out. Or maybe they just haven’t even tried because they’re not on the frontlines. That I think is really horrifying. And I wish that that journal wouldn’t make such a quick leap to acting like this is just an act of God. It’s not completely just an act of God.
JS: John, am I correct that emergency room staff at Highland Hospital actually started a GoFundMe to raise money for the equipment that you believe you’re gonna need?
JP: Yep, it’s raised over $40,000. We started that GoFundMe to buy something called a PAPR, powered air purifying respirator. It’s a crucial piece of protection when we’re intubating a patient, putting a breathing tube down their throat. That procedure requires you, you know, a number of caregivers all to be right up next to the patient and right next to their mouth and the procedure itself sprays aerosolized virus up into the air. That’s kind of a standard protection for that procedure when there might be something infectious. And our hospital system basically failed to provide enough and it became really obvious to us that we just would have to figure it out on our own. And so one of the doctor’s family members started a GoFundMe, and a whole bunch of us pitched in to do research and then find that equipment. And we were able to find it. I mean, you know, the hospital’s basically saying, well, you know, too bad, just isn’t out there. And we found some and we bought it ourselves.
JS: The CEO of your hospital, Delvecchio Finley makes around $700,000 a year and I’m wondering has he said anything about what it looks like to be raking in three quarters of a million dollars a year in salary and watching his healthcare workers have to do a GoFundMe campaign for basic medical necessities?
JP: The closest thing he’s done is, after we had a press conference, last Thursday on the 26th.
Kennedy Fleischauer, ER Nurse: If we don’t have masks, if we don’t have gowns, if we don’t have sanitizing wipes, you guys, I mean, I’ve literally lost my mind. I came to work the other day, there was no sanitizer at all. How can you do what you’re supposed to do if you don’t have that? You can’t, right? And so what’s gonna happen when we all start dropping? Who’s going to take care of this community?
JP: Two hours later reversed on a bunch of demands that we had around Covid-19 which was a big victory for us. And then he put out a letter saying that we all need to share the same philosophy and that we’re, you know, basically stop complaining, stop saying that things are wrong, and just do your job. That was the message basically, that he put out.
JS: Democratic front-runner Joe Biden, he appeared on MSNBC on Monday and he was asked about single-payer.
Yasmin Vossoughian: There’s not enough support for the health care system. There’s not enough support for the American people inside of the healthcare system. Are you now reconsidering your position when it comes to single payer health care?
Joe Biden: Single payer will not solve that at all.
JS: Biden has been saying that his idea for how to handle this would be that no one would have to pay to get testing or treated for coronavirus. Your response to the Democratic front-runner and how he talks about the medical crisis and what he believes the solutions to it are.
MD: Joe Biden has continued to insist that single payer health care has nothing to do with coronavirus, that it wouldn’t help in any way when we know that’s not true. So for example, in the Los Angeles area, a 17-year-old boy who had coronavirus was turned away from an urgent care center because it’s legal for urgent care centers to turn away people who lack insurance. They directed him to go to the emergency room nearby and he was put in a car and on the way to the emergency room, he entered cardiac arrest. And by the time he got to the emergency room, he was critical. And he died six hours later, because he had been denied care because he lacked insurance. We don’t know if he would have died anyway, but we do know that that happened and it happened because he didn’t have insurance.
So there’s another story, a story about a 78-year-old woman who’s from Bulgaria. She was visiting her son here in the United States for an extended visit. And she was afraid to go to the hospital because she didn’t have insurance because she’s not an American citizen. She was afraid to go to the hospital and she died from Covid-19. It was confirmed in her home. These are just two stories. People are delaying treatment. They’re afraid to seek treatment. They’re being turned away from treatment because they’re uninsured in the United States. That’s a problem already because we already have millions of people who are uninsured. We also have millions upon millions of people who are insured but the insurance that they have is financially prohibitive and they’re still afraid to seek treatment because of costs.
And then to add on to this, this particular crisis has an economic shutdown component that has resulted in mass layoffs. It wasn’t necessary for that to happen. The United States could have stepped in to help people keep their jobs. But that didn’t happen. So now we have over three million people, we have confirmed, who are now jobless. If they had insurance that was tied to their employer, they don’t have that anymore. They could potentially pay to extend their insurance through the Cobra program, but they don’t have any job prospects now because we’re in an economic shutdown. So they now probably can’t afford the already expensive Cobra extension.
Joe Biden says that no, he has a plan for how actually you’re not going to have to pay.
JB: Everything that you need in terms of dealing with this crisis would be free. It is paid for by the taxpayers generally.
MD: I’m in favor certainly of implementing anything that would relieve people. But I just want to say that are we talking about specifically Covid-19, or other coronaviruses? Are we talking about only for the duration of the crisis or given that Covid-19 is going to be among humans for a long time, if the crisis is declared over, do you no longer get free treatment for Covid-19? And if you have long term health effects caused by a very dangerous infection during the crisis, is the government going to foot the bill for the long term effects? All of these questions are, I think, realistic questions to ask. I think that he’s basically throwing out a plan that he thinks is going to reassure people.
And furthermore, I think that he should be taken to task for one thing in particular that he said, which is that Italy has single payer health care, they have a universal health care system and they had a really bad coronavirus epidemic and so therefore, you know, how’s that working out for them? This is incredibly, incredibly conservative framing. It’s extremely insulting and frankly in Italy, the center right parties are saying thank God we have a universal health care system. These are the center right parties in Italy. Nobody in Italy is questioning the wisdom of having a universal system or a single payer system. And having single payer would absolutely no doubt help solve some of the problems that we’re seeing right now and more importantly, it would help save lives.
JS: John, you know, for those of us who are not medical workers, watching Trump’s coronavirus briefings are crazy-making, but I wonder what it is like for doctors, nurses, technicians, anyone who is working on the frontlines of this crisis in a medical capacity. What is it like when you see the president talking about the situation right now in the country that you’re on the frontlines of?
JP: I think it kind of like points to the way that politics works in the U.S. now and you know, something that we need to change quickly and that’s that we don’t have politicians that are ready to actually take charge and provide leadership, right? So like, it’s all just a big performance for him. You know, it’s not like, oh my god, millions of people are going to die. Here’s the current situation, where do we go from here? What do we do? It’s all just kind of like playing around on the edge.
I think like the Defense Production Act is a good example, right? He enacted it and then isn’t carrying it out. You know, that could stave off like so many deaths, right? Like if all of a sudden we’re requisitioning stockpiles of equipment that’s out there in private hands, if all of a sudden we’re getting factories to manufacture stuff that is quickly manufacturable, if we’re developing rapid testing, like lots of other countries did as quickly as possible, right, like all that stuff can happen.
JS: Meagan, I wanted to ask you about something unrelated to this discussion, and that is that Joe Biden has been accused by a former Senate staffer of his name Tara Reade, and she has for quite a while now, for a sustained period of time, claimed that Biden had engaged in inappropriate conduct toward her.
Katie Halper: Hello and welcome to the Katie Halper Show. I’m about to play an excerpt from an interview that I did with Tara Reade. The full episode will be up shortly. As a warning Tara discusses sexual assault during this interview.
Tara Reade: It happened all at once. The gym bag, I don’t know where it went. I handed it to him, then it was gone. And then his hands were on me and underneath my clothes. And yeah, and then he went down my skirt but then up inside it, and he penetrated me with his fingers.
JS: This has gotten almost no attention in corporate media, cable news, big media. I’m wondering as you watch this play out how you see this factor where you have a woman who claims that the Democratic front-runner sexually assaulted her, and there is no mention of it in corporate media, no mention of it from many of the leading Alyssa Milano’s of the world who were railing against Brett Kavanaugh and trying to tank his nomination as a Supreme Court justice, with great reason I might add, but it’s just there’s a total disconnect. It’s like this woman doesn’t exist.
MD: There has been complete, a complete wall of silence around Tara Reade’s accusation that Joe Biden sexually assaulted her. And the thing that’s most striking about it is how similar it is to the accusation leveled against Brett Kavanaugh by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. We’re talking about a first person account of sexual assault that is decades old, that is vividly remembered by the woman in question, but that is not substantiated by physical evidence, or any other kind of, you know, smoking gun. And that was enough just a few years ago, for a whole host of people to say that Brett Kavanaugh was guilty. They had good reason to do that, but the fact that suddenly a very similar scenario has arisen, and their guy is in the crosshairs and suddenly it isn’t enough anymore. It’s just gobsmacking hypocrisy, honestly.
You know, at the time Republicans said that Democrats were simply using Christine Blasey Ford’s account to score cheap points against the Republicans and to, you know, secure a favorable political outcome for themselves. And Democrats pushed back on that and they said, no, it’s really important to listen to women when they come forward and talk about sexual assault at the hands of powerful men, men who are seeking the highest offices or the highest positions of power in our entire country. I think that the Democrats have just undermined themselves enormously by turning around just a couple of years later and saying that, essentially just demonstrating that, in fact, they do think that different rules apply when there are different partisan affiliations in play. And I think that in so doing, they are undermining not just Tara Reade, but future Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s.
And I think that’s really concerning. I would like to see these allegations get a fair hearing. The fact that we haven’t seen them get a fair hearing to me just speaks to an incredible hypocrisy, and I think a terrible weaponization of Me Too. The idea that you could use it when it was politically advantageous and drop it when it wasn’t. This was always something that opponents said was at the heart of Me Too. And it’s something that many people pushed back and said, no, it isn’t. These are universal principles, and we’re going to change the culture. Well, it turned out, it’s starting to look like that’s not true. I think it’s an enormous disappointment, and I think it’s very damning.
JS: John Pearson, before we go, I want to give you the last word here to let people know what you and your colleagues are demanding and what you need at this exact moment.
JP: We actually have a petition statewide. We’re asking that the governor bring back the state regulations that he just dropped and start enforcing basic standards to prevent infection like providing workers with the right PPE. We’re asking that protective equipment be requisitioned and distributed from private industry. It’s out there. It’s in our state and it’s in all the other states as well. That stuff is there and also more can be manufactured. We want up-staffing and training now to deal with Covid. There are many realistic ways that this can happen and extremely quickly, and also in ways that benefit lots of people by creating lots of extra jobs. We want all kinds of spaces like hospitals that have been closed in the last five years to be reopened, so that we have enough beds to take care of patients. And also we want to stave off the economic depression that is almost certain to result from this. We need people not to be paying rent while they’re at home, especially after they’ve lost their jobs. And we also need universal health care now.
JS: John Pearson, thank you so much for the work that you’re doing and for joining us here on Intercepted.
JP: Thank you very much. It’s an honor to be on.
JS: Meagan Day, I want to thank you very much for all of your work and for being with us here on Intercepted.
MD: Thank you so much.
JS: Meagan Day is a staff writer at Jacobin. She is the coauthor of the new book, “Bigger than Bernie.” On Twitter, you can find her @meaganmday.
John Pearson is an emergency room nurse at Highland Hospital in Oakland California. That’s a public safety-net general hospital and trauma center. He is also president of his union chapter, SEIU Local 1021, which represents 3,000 healthcare workers. He created the Twitter account @OaklandNurse to expose the seriousness of the PPE shortage issue. We’re going to link the petition to Governor Newsom that John Pearson mentioned on today’s episode page.
And just one note, as Meagan Day mentioned, the assistant manager Christian Smalls from Amazon Staten Island, the guy who organized the walkout on Monday, he was fired after that protest. We managed to catch up with him on Tuesday after his firing. Here’s what he told us.
CS: My name is Christian Smalls. I was a former supervisor for Amazon. I’ve been with the company about five years, opened up three major buildings. The reason why I started this walkout because I wanted to be a voice for the people, for those who are afraid to speak up, and I’m trying to be the voice for the people that scared to go to work, because the building hasn’t been closed down and sanitizing after a number of associates tested positive for the coronavirus.
The CEO of the company, he’s comparing us to the Red Cross and we’re doing good for the communities. What good are we if we’re contracting the virus and bringing it home to the communities? We’re not doing no good. So they have to take a look at what’s really going on. We’re not protected and we don’t feel safe. So action has to be taken.
My message was just a simple message. All we wanted was the building to be closed down and sanitized just like the other building in Queens, New York. That’s all we wanted originally. We didn’t want nothing more, nothing less, to be closed down, sanitized and for us to be paid while this happened. You know now that we at this point, we should be retro-paid for the time that we had to be taken off, unpaid for the entire month of March. They failed to do that. So what I want to say to the company is shame on them, you know. Your response is to terminate me because I’m sticking up for what’s right.
I’m working 40, 50, 60 hours a week with these people. These people are my extended family. I couldn’t sit down and do nothing and watch them get sick. You know, God forbid, one of these people in my building contracts this virus and passes away. What are they going to tell these people, family? What are they gonna say then? You know, so I’m trying to prevent that.
I sent out emails to every department, State Department, health department, CDC, the governor’s office. They’re overwhelmed right now. So I understand that, you know, it’s not their fault that they can’t respond to things like that. So get out and take action. Stand up with me. Stand up for what’s right you know, we have the power. The people in these buildings, we are the power. They can’t fire the whole building. So if everybody take a stand in unity, they will get the response that they want. And that’s what I tried to do.
I know they terminated me. They don’t know that I have three kids to feed. I have custody — 50 percent custody — with my ex-wife. And, you know, I haven’t been able to see my kids for almost two months because I’m scared that I’m going to bring home the virus. So I leave them with her. You know, it’s not fair. I have to FaceTime my kids every night.
They fired me in the middle of a pandemic, what am I supposed to do? So that shows you right there, prime example that this company don’t give a damn about people. Right now it’s about my people that’s in that building. I’m going to continue to fight and that’s what I’m going to do.
JS: In a statement, Amazon rejected almost all of Smalls’s allegations and said the company is taking extreme precautions to protect its workers. Amazon claims Smalls was fired for refusing a request to stay home with pay for 14 days after close contact with an infected worker. Amazon statement said “This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues.” Christian Smalls says Amazon’s statements about him are false. New York’s Attorney General Letitia James called Amazon’s conduct “disgraceful.” And she’s calling on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate.
JS: Part of what keeps us all human during the darkest of moments is knowing that we are not alone. We are all connected whether we admit it or not. And we need each other to get through this pandemic. We have been asking for our listeners to call us to share how this situation has been impacting their lives. And one of the most striking aspects of the calls we have been receiving is the banality of some of the terror that this situation has wrought on people. It isn’t just frontline workers or infected people and their families who are suffering. There are so many ricochets that this crisis has fired off at innocent people, people who have lost their jobs, their health insurance, their homes. People who are careening into debt or unsure how they’re going to ever find a job again or get the surgery they need. Here are some of your voices from the coronavirus pandemic:
Chris: My name is Chris. I’m calling from Flint, Michigan. I guess the story I have is the same story as nearly everybody else. Pretty recently I lost my job. I just feel flabbergasted. I was completely unprepared. Now I have no idea what to do.
Jenny: Hi, my name is Jenny and I’m calling from Eugene, Oregon. I left my job about four months ago and was planning on finding employment at the end of March. That is exactly when all of this coronavirus panic hit and I am left in the middle. I do not qualify for unemployment. I have hardly any savings left. And I just really don’t know what I’m going to do.
David Taylor: Hi Intercepted, my name is David Taylor and I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I recently made some horrendous financial decisions by taking out a loan from a payday loan company. And I’ve been stuck with the $2,500 loan with an annual interest rate of 176%. Yep, 176. And now, I’ve been laid off from my job because it is regarded as non-essential. Corporate capitalism guards payday loan companies as essential during a pandemic.
Sean: Hi, my name is Sean from Portland, Oregon. I work for a trucking company. Also my wife works at the biggest hospital in our state. We are what they keep calling essential workers. I don’t know how much of a sense of duty I feel anymore watching how so much of the world does not see us. We keep those people fed and healthy and no one sees it or or doesn’t seem to care. I just hope that this pandemic will show this country what essential workers actually are.
Craig: Hi my name is Craig. I’m pretty upset. My daughter is a nurse at Seton Hospital in Austin, Texas. They put her in the Covid unit without protection. And I just don’t know. I’m just beside myself. I’ve, you know, I don’t know what to do.
Carol: Hi, my name is Carol. I’m in Portland, Oregon. Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27. It’s triple negative, it’s the most aggressive type. This past Friday, I got a call from my doctor and he said that we need to do emergency surgery because supplies are running out. I was floored. So it’s been pretty crazy for me. I lost my job, got cancer, had emergency surgery. In this time, I think it’s really important that we support all of our medical staff, everybody in hospitals, and sew masks and do whatever you can do. Because they’re really putting themselves out there. And as my surgeon said to me in the most scary way, they’re making a lot of hard calls all ready.
Matt: Hi guys, let me just say my name is Matt, right, and I work for a grocery chain down here in Florida. Now, we’ve had maybe two or three people in our warehouse go home with symptoms. And I haven’t seen one guy in maybe like, nine or ten days and we knew for a fact that he has symptoms and he hasn’t been to work ever since. I work in the freezing cold environment. So it’s like you don’t know if someone’s at work passing it around because people are going home sick, and no one’s really talking about it.
Flight Attendant: I’m a flight attendant with one of the major American Airlines. So our flights are pretty much empty besides a handful of passengers, but there are flights here and there that are nearly completely full. More often than not, the planes are very inadequately fitted with protective equipment whether it’s gloves or germ wipes. They tell us to bring our own masks. They’re not giving any statistics on the rates of infection of flight attendants.
Sam: Hi, my name is Sam. I live in southern New Jersey and I work for a non-profit. I am like, almost 100% sure that I am going to get the virus from my place of work because literally the only protection that we were given, they gave us two pairs of work gloves for our four employees. I mean, the minimum wage in New Jersey is $11. Like if I’m an essential worker, why don’t they treat us like we’re essential?
JS: Thank you to those listeners who called in and shared with us their stories. This pandemic is not just threatening the physical health of all of us. It’s hurting tens of millions of people, sending them deep or deeper into depression or hopelessness. There are a lot of crisis services that people can call or groups that you can reach out to if you are feeling despair right now. We will link to some of those in today’s episode notes.
If you’re facing economic hardship or taking action in your community, if you’re a worker being forced to work in what you believe are unsafe conditions, we want to hear from you. Call us at 202-930-8245. If you share your story with us, we might play your message on a future episode.
JS: Last Friday, Trump signed into law a more than $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill. The final bill passed the House in a voice vote, an extremely questionable move for such a significant piece of legislation. And almost immediately after the bill was passed, Trump did away with many critical oversight requirements fought for by Democrats — no surprise there. Trump did this with a short signing statement that effectively gutted accountability provisions from the bill. This means that the largest corporate bailout fund ever authorized by the U.S. Congress is going to be doled out in a secretive process where shady deals can be made at great cost to taxpayers.
Here’s New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking on the House floor describing how the GOP used poor and working people as hostages to free hundreds of billions of dollars for the richest corporations.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: We have to go into this vote, eyes wide open. What did the Senate majority fight for? One of the largest corporate bailouts with as few strings as possible in American history. Shameful. The greed of that fight is wrong for crumbs for our families. And the option that we have is to either let them suffer with nothing or to allow this greed and billions of dollars which will be leveraged into trillions of dollars to contribute to the largest income inequality gap in our future. There should be shame about what was fought for in this bill and the choices that we have to make.
JS: Democrats are now floating the idea of a fourth phase, a fourth round of stimulus legislation. While Congress is likely to be suspended until the end of April — in the name of coronavirus precautions — Democrats say they are looking for ways to get more bipartisan support for what they describe is a broader relief package, though some of the early ideas put out by House Speaker Pelosi also seem to be aimed at helping higher-earning Americans. We’re going to have to see what happens there. In any case, Republicans seem to have a very different idea. Here’s House minority leader Kevin McCarthy on Fox News this weekend.
Kevin McCarthy: I’m not sure we need a fourth package and before we go to start drafting a fourth package, I’d like these three packages we just put out, remember it’s more than $2 trillion, the largest we’ve ever seen to take care and get this economy moving.
JS: While McCarthy went on to criticize Nancy Pelosi in repeated interviews about including millions for the Kennedy Center in the bailout, some reporting on this bill has highlighted the Republican-made Easter egg basket for corporations. Journalist David Dayen of the American Prospect magazine laid out how the bill includes, “an obscure tax change worth $170 billion to real estate moguls, an acceleration of approvals for “innovative” sunscreen products, a reduction in capital requirements for community banks, a gift to for-profit colleges that get to keep federal loan dollars for students that drop out.” Among many others. And David Dayen joins me right now. He is the executive editor of The American Prospect and he has been writing a daily Covid-19 report. It’s called “Unsanitized.”
David Dayen, Welcome to intercepted.
David Dayen: Thank you for having me on.
JS: So on Friday, President Trump signed this unprecedented $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill.
DJT: Now I’m gonna sign this and $6.2 trillion. I’ve never signed anything with a “T” on it. I don’t know if I can handle this one, Mitch. We can’t chicken out at this point. I don’t think so.
JS: Just start by giving an overview of the major parts of this that were signed into law and what you believe the real cost of the bill is.
DD: Right, well, as you might imagine, there’s a lot to it. You know, there are a couple major individual provisions, one being these direct payments, these $1,200 checks that are going to go out to millions of Americans. And the second probably even the bigger one is a boost to unemployment insurance where those eligible and Democrats expanded who’s eligible for it, will get an extra $600 a week as part of uninsurance on top of whatever their states give them. Then you have these lending programs. So there’s a small business lending program which is about $350 billion for millions of small businesses across America that are struggling right now. And then you have about $150 billion for state and local governments, about $100 billion for hospitals. And then there’s this, I’ve been calling it the money cannon.
DJT: We also have a lot of money set aside for big businesses, you know, the big, powerful companies that were powerful four weeks ago. We have to save some of these great companies.
DD:$500 billion in the bill for large corporations. However, that’s kind of a misleading statistic. So about $50 billion of that is reserved for the airline industry and also a mysteriously named businesses critical to national security which everyone believes is Boeing. But the rest of it — the $450 billion leftover — is intended to go into a Federal Reserve credit facility, you can kind of think of this as like chartering a new bank for the largest corporations in America. And the Federal Reserve will supplement that $450 billion by what they call leverage. They’re going to lever it up 10 to one so $10 for every dollar that this bill puts in, the Fed will supplement. And that creates a $4.5 trillion money bazooka that can be aimed at the largest corporations in America with very little restrictions on its use. And even those restrictions are completely at the will of the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to override if he so chooses, there’s some oversight on this corporate bailout facility, but it’s all after the fact. So once the money’s out the door, then this oversight panel can write a report about it. But that’s a cold comfort.
JS: Who are going to be the biggest winners from this bailout package?
DD: There’s no telling really. I mean, we know that the airlines are going to get a lot of money. We know that Boeing is going to get a lot of money. And that’s interesting, because Boeing, of course, was already in dire straits well before the coronavirus was even in memory or a thought in anyone’s head. The other corporations that are going to do well, any company that is struggling right now, that can say that their debt is investment grade, they can be eligible for this Federal Reserve program where they get these giant loans. They don’t have a lot of restrictions, as I said, on what they can do with it. So I mean, I would say in the aggregate, Jeremy, it’s not necessarily what corporations aren’t necessarily going to do well, but what we know is the shareholder class is going to do incredibly well. This was a bailout, essentially, of investors that now don’t have to worry that there’s a safety net under their investments and whatever corporations make out on this bailout package, the investors are going to be taken care of.
JS: If you could just walk us through what happened within the Democratic Party and the leadership and what the different proposals were and what ended up happening in the bill, from the Democratic perspective, the leaders Schumer and Pelosi versus some of the more progressive members of Congress.
DD: Yeah, I think you have to go back to the previous bill. So this, they’re calling this the third bill. There were two previous packages and the House of Representatives really took the lead on those previous packages which were much smaller. I mean, they were in the billions, certainly not the trillions. Pelosi, kind of managed those bills and put them forward and eventually got buy off from, I think she negotiated directly actually with Steven Mnuchin who’s sort of been the liaison from the White House’s perspective. This third bill, McConnell really took the lead on. And he wrote a piece of legislation that had pretty much no restrictions on the corporate bailout. And it was much bigger, proportionally, compared to the individual relief.
This bill seemed to come out of McConnell writing that sort of benchmark and then Schumer negotiating with Mnuchin over the final terms, and you know, this was a bill that passed 96 to nothing in the Senate, and didn’t even so much as get a recorded vote in the House. It was passed by voice vote. We don’t even have the individual House members on the record for who supported this. It seems to me that the dynamic of allowing the Senate which is in the control of Republicans, but does need Democratic support in order to break a filibuster, and actually needed more so because four members of the Republican caucus were quarantined, instead of being a 53-47 relationship, it was 49-47 in the Senate in terms of voting members. Democrats did have a little bit of wherewithal to sign off, but eventually they did sign off.
It’s a lot like the 2008 bailout. So there was a first version of that, which was a three page term sheet that Henry Paulson, who was then treasury secretary gave to Congress and said, here’s a three page bill, give me $700 billion. I don’t want to do really anything in terms of oversight, whatever I say goes. In fact, the bill itself said that it would override judicial review of whatever it is that Paulson wanted to do. And Democrats balked at that and what they ended up getting is a five member oversight panel and an inspector general. And that’s what happened in 2008. So fast forward to 2020, Mitch McConnell puts out this term sheet. Treasury did as well which had, again, a no strings bailout for the largest corporations in America, that would be leveraged up by the Fed to trillions and trillions of dollars. And Democrats balked at that. And in the end, what they got is a five member panel and an inspector general. So there’s a lot of similarities here. Obviously, there’s more individual relief in this bill, but of course, we’re on the verge of a depression. People desperately needed that relief. And relative to what the corporate bailout is, it’s still pretty small.
JS: You know, Charlie Savage from The New York Times reported that just a few hours after signing the bill, Trump then “undercut a crucial safeguard that Democrats insisted upon as a condition of agreeing to include a $500 billion corporate bailout fund.” Trump “suggested that under his own understanding of his constitutional powers as president, he can gag the Special Inspector General for pandemic recovery known by the acronym SIGPR, and keep information from Congress.” Explain this to us.
DD: You know, this is Lucy with the football, right? Democrats get what they think, are legitimate oversight measures. And Trump writes a signing statement, which, you know, we’ve seen presidents of both parties do routinely over the past several years, to say that he doesn’t have to give information to this new inspector general about the bailout program. And this is not something that Donald Trump and the people in his administration really believe in. And the idea that you would give up this giant corporate bailout because you got some oversight restrictions on a president who fundamentally doesn’t believe that Congress has the capacity or the ability to do any oversight, that just shows you the hollowness of what was passed.
JS: Explain the calculus of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in supporting this bill, because, you know, my sort of outsider perspective on this is that it seemed like Sanders, if this was not an election year would have potentially voted against the bill. It does seem that you know, the political damage to him and having to spend then months explaining why he voted against it, that it was weighed, and he ultimately felt like, there are some urgent good things in this bill, and I’m going to take the L here and just vote for it. But you know, maybe I’m off here, but I’m wondering your thoughts about Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and how they approached the vote on this bill.
DD: I think they got it wrong. You know, you may be right that there was a political calculation involved. Bernie Sanders is still running for president. Elizabeth Warren isn’t. At the end of it, what’s interesting is Sanders didn’t only just vote for it, but he really helped enforce the deal that Chuck Schumer made. There was this dust up where some Republicans said that the unemployment provisions were too generous for individuals. They were lucky duckies and they would somehow quit and get more money off of unemployment than they would if they were gainfully employed. That’s not how unemployment works. You can’t quit and take unemployment. So there was this question of whether Republicans would try to slow down or stop the bill over the unemployment provisions. And what Bernie said is, if they tried to do that, he would put a hold on the bill over the corporate bailout provisions.
Bernie Sanders: And now I find that some of my Republican colleagues are very distressed. They’re very upset that somebody who’s making 10-12 bucks an hour might end up with a paycheck for four months more than they received last week. Oh my god, the universe is collapsing. Imagine that somebody was making 12 bucks an hour now, like the rest of us faces an unprecedented economic crisis with the 600 bucks on top of their normal, their regular unemployment check, might be making a few bucks more for four months. Oh, my word, will the universe survive? Well, needless to say, this is an amendment that is coming up. I don’t think it’s going to go very far. And if it does go far, I will introduce an amendment to deal with the corporate welfare — the $500 billion in corporate welfare — which is, to me, a very serious problem, but I do not think they’re going to get the 60 votes. And that will be the end of it.
DD: I just think that was the wrong calculation. You know, there have been moments in American history recently, where individual members of Congress took a very solitary stand, and I would argue that they were proven right in the aftermath. Barbara Lee being the lone vote against the war in Afghanistan which is still going on. Russ Feingold being a lone vote against the Patriot Act. This was a moment where the bill was passing. But someone like a Sanders or a Warren, they decided to punt. And I feel like there was a moment to register some dissent over this process, over the disproportionate influence of corporate America in fashioning this legislation. And they didn’t do it.
JS: Now, Joe Biden, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president obviously is not in the Senate. He is not officially in any government position. But based, David, on studying Biden’s very lengthy record and his role in several government bailouts over the course of his career. What can you tell us about the way that Joe Biden historically has approached these kinds of bailouts?
DD: Yeah, I mean, I think he would have been right there negotiating the terms of the surrender. He would have negotiated the package. This is kind of what Biden has on the campaign trail called the epiphany.
JB: There is a way and the thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House, not a joke. You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.
DD: You have a 96-0 vote in the Senate. That’s something Biden would fundamentally appreciate. He’s sort of from the sidelines, talked about some of the parts of the bill like getting the actual money out to individuals, how the bill does not have that many measures to surge personal protective equipment, ventilators and this necessary medical supplies that need to get in the hands of hospitals. I mean, it’s kind of strange, right, that you had this $2.2 trillion bill that’s supposed to be a response to the pandemic that doesn’t really respond to the pandemic. I mean, it responds to the economic conditions created by it. But it doesn’t say we’re going to somehow manufacture 3 billion N-95 surgical masks and get them in the hands of every hospital worker in America. That’s not what this bill does. And it’s kind of strange in a moment of crisis that Congress kind of pushed that off to another day.
JS: If we set aside the discussion about the corporate aspect of this and just focus on what direct aid is going to people in this country, whether it’s increased unemployment, or its direct payments, depending on your economic status and the number of children that you have, what are the biggest holes in terms of direct aid? In other words, who isn’t eligible that you as a reporter covering this believe should have been covered or receiving aid?
DD: Yeah, I mean, I think there are two things you can talk about and one is eligibility and the other is delivery. The unemployment provisions are actually pretty broad, like people who normally would not receive unemployment insurance do receive it under this bill. The direct payments, it’s means tested first of all, anyone, you get $1,200 dollars as an individual, as long as you make $75,000 a year or less. It starts to phase out there and by the time it gets to someone making $100,000 a year, you get nothing. However, what is that earnings figure based on? Well, it’s based on prior tax returns to determine your earnings, and therefore what you get in terms of the direct payment under this bill. Now, you can envision someone who had a pretty good year in 2018. Maybe they got downsized in 2019 or just got downsized two weeks ago like millions of other people, have no income coming in and are now not eligible to get that check because of what their earnings were two years prior.
That seems to me to be just a failed model of how you distribute this money. A better model would have been to give everybody who has a social security number this check and to claw it back in 2021 based on 2020 earnings of income. That would have been the way to get the money in the hands of people who need it the most and also have been near term stimulative because you would be clawing it back from the rich later, which circulates more money in the economy now. I don’t think this should be mean tested at all, necessarily if it’s trying to be a stimulus. But if you have to means test it, you should means test it after the fact and that’s not what this bill did.
So that’s eligibility but I think the far bigger concern is deliveries. So in terms of the $1,200 checks, the way that gets delivered is if you have direct deposit on file with the IRS, that check will come out pretty quickly within two or three weeks. And about 70 million filers do have direct deposit. That’s how they get the refunds. But if you don’t, or if you haven’t filed taxes because you don’t make enough money to file taxes, you are going to get a paper check. And you might not get that for up to four months. Now, we’re in a crisis situation, you need that money as soon as possible. And you’re going to be waiting months and months to get it. That is a terrible design. And by the time it gets into your mailbox, you might not be living there anymore because you had no ability to pay the rent and have moved on to another place. So this is going to be a big problem here that I’m quite concerned about.
With respect to the unemployment piece that’s going to be funneled through state unemployment systems which are incredibly overtaxed right now. And you’re hearing stories about websites crashing. You’re hearing people waiting days to try to get the application filled out and sent online. A lot of the unemployment offices to the extent that there are still unemployment offices in this country are shuttered because of the outbreak. So I’m worried about the delivery of this unemployment piece which is much more important because it’s ongoing, and it’s larger in real terms than the checks. These state offices, I’m worried they’re not going to be able to cope with the crush of claims they’re going to see.
JS: Let’s talk for a moment about what they’re calling phase four, the next potential iteration of this bailout. This is according to The New York TimesNancy Pelosi said she’d like to see more measures aimed at getting money directly into the hands of individuals and families, including a possible retroactive rollback of the limit on the state and local tax deduction, a change that hurt high earners in states like New York and California. And then Pelosi is quoted as saying, “They’d have more disposable income which is the lifeblood of our economy, a consumer economy, that we are.” Your response, David?
DD: Yeah, I mean, that’s ridiculous to use this to rollback the state and local tax deduction, about 40 percent of which goes to millionaires. It only applies to people who itemize their deductions and it wouldn’t apply until next April, I mean, until next spring. And later in that same story at the New York Times, a spokesman for Pelosi said, well, we can target this towards the middle class. Nobody in the middle class itemizes their deductions. The whole idea that you would do this giant corporate bailout, and you would leave a bunch of stuff on the table, and that somehow in Stimulus, Episode Four: A New Hope you would come up with a bunch of other stuff that Republicans would easily agree to is fanciful. And it’s been shown to be fanciful.
There have been White House aides who have been quoted in saying there’s no more money. We used all the money in the third bill. You lost your leverage when you agreed to the corporate bailout. And if you didn’t maximize the amount of other relief that you wanted, things like paid sick leave, and now there’s no reason for Republicans to come to the table, why do you think you’re going to get a fourth bill? I mean, maybe down the road if the economy truly collapses, Republicans would have an interest in some more measures. But I don’t think that’s going to happen right away. And already Republicans are saying let’s let the third bill work before we even think about a fourth.
JS: What do you foresee as the consequences, the big picture consequences of what Congress and the White House have just done?
DD: I really think that this bill could create a country that does not resemble the one that came before it. I have a book coming out in June about the concentration of corporate power that we’ve seen over the last 40 years. This could accelerate that trend towards concentration. You have millions of small businesses that are going to be fighting over a very little pot of money. And you have these giant corporate behemoths that have much larger resources to deal with. And you could see tons of mergers, acquisitions, scooping up distressed companies. This bill allows the largest actors in any corporate sector to be nursed back to health and to not feel the effects of this absolute economic collapse that we’re experiencing while smaller and medium sized businesses have to struggle to stay alive and a lot of them are not going to. And so I think as a result of this bill, you could see just sweeping changes into our choices as workers, as consumers, as citizens, and more power and wealth rising to the very top rungs of society.
JS: David Dayen, thank you very much for your reporting and thanks for being with us on Intercepted.
DD: Thank you Jeremy.
JS: David Dayen is the executive editor of The American Prospect. He writes a daily COVID-19 report. It’s called “Unsanitized.” You can find that at Prospect.org. You can also sign up at prospect.org to get “Unsanitized” as an email newsletter. Dayen’s first book, “Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud” was the winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Prize. That was released by The New Press in 2016. He has a new book coming out in June. It’s called “Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power.”
JS: And that does it for this show. You can follow us on Twitter @Intercepted and on Instagram @interceptedpodcast.
Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro. Our producer is Laura Flynn. Elise Swain is our associate producer and graphic designer. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription for this program is done by Nuria Marquez Martinez. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next time, I’m Jeremy Scahill.