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Trump’s Racist Immigration Policy May Leave Food To ‘Rot In The Fields’

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Early signs show that the systems that get fresh fruit and vegetables to American homes is strained and may experience major failures. The Trump administration is only making matters worse, allowing his racism against Mexicans to inflict damage on American farms that depend on legal labor from south of the border.

In Florida, winter crops are rotting in the fields because the prime products like blemish-free squash, spinach and lettuce—sold to restaurants—lack buyers, according to the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. It offers members extensive advice on how to stay in business during the pandemic. 

U.S. farmers depend on more than  200,000 Mexicans who get visas each year to pick apples, pears and other crops. 

“Nearly all of our fruits and vegetables are not automated and you need a strong labor force to handpick those crops,” John Walt Boatright of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation told the Palm Beach Post.  “We are hearing a lot of concerns from the blueberry industry and other labor-intensive crops, and working to find a solution.”

U.S. farmers depend on more than  200,000 Mexicans who get visas each year to pick apples, pears and other crops. 

Yet Mother Jones magazine reports that the American consulate in Monterrey, Mexico’s third-largest city, and other consulates have closed. That means most Mexican farmworkers have no way to get annual work visas. Unless the visas are issued much of this year’s American fruit and vegetable crops will not be harvested, barring some other unexpected development.

Internet Meme

Each year as president, Donald Trump has gotten such visas for Mar-a-Lago while assiduously avoiding the many qualified workers in Palm Beach County, many of whom are African American. Federal law allows such visas for chambermaids, cooks and waitstaff only when no Americans are available.

Truckers Affected

So far the trucking networks that move perishable foods from farm to supermarket have not been affected, though some truckers say that they are finding it more difficult to buy food on the road. Most big rig trucks come with small built-in refrigerators or space where a portable one can be placed, electricity obtained through a cigarette-lighter type plug.

Representative Austin Scott (R-GA) says that delays in issuing visas to farm laborers are a serious threat to vegetable and fruit growers who, unlike grain farmers, don’t have federal crop insurance. “If delays continue” in issuing visas to Mexican farmworkers “we’re going to see crops rotting in the field,” Scott said.

The number of these Mexican farm labor visas has grown more than six-fold since 2000, a revealing indicator of how much America depends on Mexican labor to supply fresh fruits and vegetables in grocery stores. 

Not Issuing Visas

Of course, Trump is hostile to all Mexicans and his administration has shown no signs it wants to resume the issuance of visas for Mexican farm laborers who take most of their money home with them. Trump thinks like a 16th Century mercantilist, believing any dollar that leaves us makes America worse off. It’s discredited and downright crazy economic thinking that hurts America more than Mexico, not that Trump understands this.

A lack of imported farm labor means not just the loss of those foodstuffs, but of income for farmers and those in the related packing, processing and shopping businesses, worsening the cascade of economic damage.

Labor intensive crops such as strawberries and crops that require placing beehives for pollination will be most affected by a shortage of labor.

Tree fruits require intensive labor not just to harvest, but also to cut away diseased limbs and plant replacement trees. Not minding the trees each year means reduced production in future years.

Other Countries Affected

This shortage of farm labor isn’t limited to America in this global pandemic. 

In Britain, the National Farmers Union says that without government intervention, “Growers who rely on seasonal workers to pick, pack and grade our fruit and vegetables are extremely concerned about their ability to recruit workers this year.”

The British government is working on a “Pick for Britain” campaign to get thousands of unemployed to work the fields, British newspapers report.

A similar approach is taking place in France. That government urged those who have been laid off to join “France’s great agricultural army” so unpicked crops don’t rot.

In Germany, a government spokesman said “Seasonal and harvest workers will no longer be allowed to enter Germany.” The ban includes workers from other European Union countries. 

So far, Trumpian policy is more Germanic than Francophile or British. Trump’s de facto policy: Crops be dammed, just keep Mexicans out.

Living Through Hard Times — And The New Era Ahead

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch.

My dad was born in 1917. Somehow, he survived the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, but an outbreak of whooping cough in 1923 claimed his baby sister, Clementina. One of my dad’s first memories was seeing his sister’s tiny white casket. Another sister was permanently marked by scarlet fever. In 1923, my dad was hit by a car and spent two weeks in a hospital with a fractured skull as well as a lacerated thumb. His immigrant parents had no medical insurance, but the driver of the car gave his father $50 toward the medical bills. The only lasting effect was the scar my father carried for the rest of his life on his right thumb.

The year 1929 brought the Great Depression and lean times. My father’s father had left the family, so my dad, then 12, had to pitch in. He got a newspaper route, which he kept for four years, quitting high school after tenth grade so he could earn money for the family. In 1935, like millions of other young men of that era, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a creation of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal that offered work on environmental projects of many kinds. He battled forest fires in Oregon for two years before returning to his family and factory work. In 1942, he was drafted into the Army, going back to a factory job when World War II ended. Times grew a little less lean in 1951 when he became a firefighter, after which he felt he could afford to buy a house and start a family.

I’m offering all this personal history as the context for a prediction of my dad’s that, for obvious reasons, came to my mind again recently. When I was a teenager, he liked to tell me: “I had it tough in the beginning and easy in the end. You, Willy, have had it easy in the beginning, but will likely have it tough in the end.” His prophecy stayed with me, perhaps because even then, somewhere deep down, I already suspected that my dad was right.

The COVID-19 pandemic is now grabbing the headlines, all of them, and a global recession, if not a depression, seems like a near-certainty. The stock market has been tanking and people’s lives are being disrupted in fundamental and scary ways. My dad knew the experience of losing a loved one to disease, of working hard to make ends meet during times of great scarcity, of sacrificing for the good of one’s family. Compared to him, it’s true that, so far, I’ve had an easier life as an officer in the Air Force and then a college teacher and historian. But at age 57, am I finally ready for the hard times to come? Are any of us?

And keep in mind that this is just the beginning. Climate change (recall Australia’s recent and massive wildfires) promises yet more upheavals, more chaos, more diseases. America’s wanton militarism and lying politicians promise more wars. What’s to be done to avert or at least attenuate the tough times to come, assuming my dad’s prediction is indeed now coming true? What can we do?

It’s Time To Reimagine America

Here’s the one thing about major disruptions to normalcy: they can create opportunities for dramatic change. (Disaster capitalists know this, too, unfortunately.) President Franklin Roosevelt recognized this in the 1930s and orchestrated his New Deal to revive the economy and put Americans like my dad back to work.

In 2001, the administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney capitalized on the shock-and-awe disruption of the 9/11 attacks to inflict on the world their vision of a Pax Americana, effectively a militarized imperium justified (falsely) as enabling greater freedom for all. The inherent contradiction in such a dreamscape was so absurd as to make future calamity inevitable. Recall what an aide to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld scribbled down, only hours after the attack on the Pentagon and the collapse of the Twin Towers, as his boss’s instructions (especially when it came to looking for evidence of Iraqi involvement): “Go massive — sweep it all up, things related and not.” And indeed they would do just that, with an emphasis on the “not,” including, of course, the calamitous invasion of Iraq in 2003.

To progressive-minded people thinking about this moment of crisis, what kind of opportunities might open to us when (or rather if) Donald Trump is gone from the White House? Perhaps this coronaviral moment is the perfect time to consider what it would mean for us to go truly big, but without the usual hubris or those disastrous invasions of foreign countries. To respond to COVID-19, climate change, and the staggering wealth inequities in this country that, when combined, will cause unbelievable levels of needless suffering, what’s needed is a drastic reordering of our national priorities.

Remember, the Fed’s first move was to inject $1.5 trillion into the stock market. (That would have been enough to forgive all current student debt.) The Trump administration has also promised to help airlines, hotels, and above all oil companies and the fracking industry, a perfect storm when it comes to trying to sustain and enrich those upholding a kleptocratic and amoral status quo.

This should be a time for a genuinely new approach, one fit for a world of rising disruption and disaster, one that would define a new, more democratic, less bellicose America. To that end, here are seven suggestions, focusing — since I’m a retired military officer — mainly on the U.S. military, a subject that continues to preoccupy me, especially since, at present, that military and the rest of the national security state swallow up roughly 60% of federal discretionary spending:

1. If ever there was a time to reduce our massive and wasteful military spending, this is it. There was never, for example, any sense in investing up to $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years to “modernize” America’s nuclear arsenal. (Why are new weapons needed to exterminate humanity when the “old” ones still work just fine?) Hundreds of stealth fighters and bombers — it’s estimated that Lockheed Martin’s disappointing F-35 jet fighter alone will cost $1.5 trillion over its life span — do nothing to secure us from pandemics, the devastating effects of climate change, or other all-too-pressing threats. Such weaponry only emboldens a militaristic and chauvinistic foreign policy that will facilitate yet more wars and blowback problems of every sort. And speaking of wars, isn’t it finally time to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan? More than $6 trillion has already been wasted on those wars and, in this time of global peril, even more is being wasted on this country’s forever conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa. (Roughly $4 billion a month continues to be spent on Afghanistan alone, despite all the talk about “peace” there.)

2. Along with ending profligate weapons programs and quagmire wars, isn’t it time for the U.S. to begin dramatically reducing its military “footprint” on this planet? Roughly 800 U.S. military bases circle the globe in a historically unprecedented fashion at a yearly cost somewhere north of $100 billion. Cutting such numbers in half over the next decade would be a more than achievable goal. Permanently cutting provocative “war games” in South Korea, Europe, and elsewhere would be no less sensible. Are North Korea and Russia truly deterred by such dramatic displays of destructive military might?

3. Come to think of it, why does the U.S. need the immediate military capacity to fight two major foreign wars simultaneously, as the Pentagon continues to insist we do and plan for, in the name of “defending” our country? Here’s a radical proposal: if you add 70,000 Special Operations forces to 186,000 Marine Corps personnel, the U.S. already possesses a potent quick-strike force of roughly 250,000 troops. Now, add in the Army’s 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions and the 10th Mountain Division. What you have is more than enough military power to provide for America’s actual national security. All other Army divisions could be reduced to cadres, expandable only if our borders are directly threatened by war. Similarly, restructure the Air Force and Navy to de-emphasize the present “global strike” vision of those services, while getting rid of Donald Trump’s newest service, the Space Force, and the absurdist idea of taking war into low earth orbit. Doesn’t America already have enough war here on this small planet of ours?

4. Bring back the draft, just not for military purposes. Make it part of a national service program for improving America. It’s time for a new Civilian Conservation Corps focused on fostering a Green New Deal. It’s time for a new Works Progress Administration to rebuild America’s infrastructure and reinvigorate our culture, as that organization did in the Great Depression years. It’s time to engage young people in service to this country. Tackling COVID-19 or future pandemics would be far easier if there were quickly trained medical aides who could help free doctors and nurses to focus on the more difficult cases. Tackling climate change will likely require more young men and women fighting forest fires on the west coast, as my dad did while in the CCC — and in a climate-changing world there will be no shortage of other necessary projects to save our planet. Isn’t it time America’s youth answered a call to service? Better yet, isn’t it time we offered them the opportunity to truly put America, rather than themselves, first?

5. And speaking of “America First,” that eternal Trumpian catch-phrase, isn’t it time for all Americans to recognize that global pandemics and climate change make a mockery of walls and go-it-alone nationalism, not to speak of politics that divide, distract, and keep so many down? President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said that only Americans can truly hurt America, but there’s a corollary to that: only Americans can truly save America — by uniting, focusing on our common problems, and uplifting one another. To do so, it’s vitally necessary to put an end to fear-mongering (and warmongering). As President Roosevelt famously said in his first inaugural address in the depths of the Great Depression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear inhibits our ability to think clearly, to cooperate fully, to change things radically as a community.

6. To cite Yoda, the Jedi master, we must unlearn what we have learned. For example, America’s real heroes shouldn’t be “warriors” who kill or sports stars who throw footballs and dunk basketballs. We’re witnessing our true heroes in action right now: our doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel, together with our first responders, and those workers who stay in grocery stores, pharmacies, and the like and continue to serve us all despite the danger of contracting the coronavirus from customers. They are all selflessly resisting a threat too many of us either didn’t foresee or refused to treat seriously, most notably, of course, President Donald Trump: a pandemic that transcends borders and boundaries. But can Americans transcend the increasingly harsh and divisive borders and boundaries of our own minds? Can we come to work selflessly to save and improve the lives of others? Can we become, in a sense, lovers of humanity?

7. Finally, we must extend our loveto encompass nature, our planet. For if we keep treating our lands, our waters, and our skies like a set of trash cans and garbage bins, our children and their children will inherit far harder times than the present moment, hard as it may be.

What these seven suggestions really amount to is rejecting a militarized mindset of aggression and a corporate mindset of exploitation for one that sees humanity and this planet more holistically. Isn’t it time to regain that vision of the earth we shared collectively during the Apollo moon missions: a fragile blue sanctuary floating in the velvety darkness of space, an irreplaceable home to be cared for and respected since there’s no other place for us to go? Otherwise, I fear that my father’s prediction will come true not just for me, but for generations to come and in ways that even he couldn’t have imagined.

A retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, William Astore is a TomDispatch regular. His personal blog is Bracing Views.

Copyright 2020 William J. Astore

Real Unemployment Data Is Surely Worse Than Latest Report

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

The 3.5 percent unemployment rate before the coronavirus-fueled pandemic erupted may reach 20 percent by the scourge’s end.

Follow these facts:

Unemployment is much worse than even the record number of initial claims filed last week suggests. We know this because initial claims for jobless benefits in one state were wildly out of proportion to that state’s share of national jobs.

Almost 3.3 million initial claims for unemployment benefits were made last week. That’s 4½ times the previous highs of just under 700,000 seen in 1982 and 2009.

Pennsylvania reported 378,900 of those claims. That’s 12 percent of the nationwide total even though the Keystone State has less than 4 percent of all U.S. jobs.

Many people could not get through to state offices to file claims either in person, by telephone or online.

Projecting the number of Pennsylvania claims to America as a whole implies that more than 13 million people lost their jobs last week. That is a figure almost certainly too high, just as the 3.2 million claims reported filed is almost certainly too low.

Many people could not get through to state offices to file claims either in person, by telephone or online.

In many states, tight restrictions block many people from receiving unemployment benefits. The $2.2 trillion relief bill is intended to address this by making freelancers, gig workers and others not usually eligible for benefits to be able to file claims and collect money.

Pennsylvania residents were on notice that they might be laid off since March 14, the day when Gov. Tom Wolf issued the first in a series of orders limiting public activities to slow the spread of the virus. That means many people had thought in advance about how to file claims.

What the Pennsylvania claims numbers tell us for sure is that when we get the current week’s unemployment claim numbers next Thursday, April 2, they will continue to show that millions of people lost their jobs.

At DCReport we predict 1 in 5 Americans will have lost employment as this catastrophe plays out. Before the pandemic, the rate was 3.5 percent.

The 20 percent unemployment prediction is based on reports by a host of sources. The prediction should stand unless Donald Trump and governors like those in Florida and Mississippi reopen business because they choose making money over saving lives.

GOP Loves To Bail Out Corporations, Not Workers

The Senate managed to come together to pass an unprecedented $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, but not before a small group of Republican senators reminded us of the narrow-minded condescension their party directs toward the working poor. Trumpism holds its own malicious — indeed, dangerous — strains of contempt, but the malevolent disdain the broader GOP holds for the less affluent has been among its hallmarks for generations, since long before Donald J. Trump became president.

Earlier this week, before the Senate approved the aid package, four GOP senators — Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Rick Scott of Florida — insisted that the unemployment benefits in the bill were too generous and would encourage those lazy, low-income folk not to work. They ultimately relented but had threatened to hold up the entire desperately needed deal if their demands to reduce unemployment checks were not met.

In a Wednesday interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Graham called the bill “Bernie Sanders on steroids.” Following up on Twitter, Graham insisted, “Only in Senator @BernieSanders world does it make sense to pay people more NOT to work than TO work. I am all for making peoples salaries whole. However, I am not for increasing people’s salary through the unemployment insurance system.”

Has Graham listened to anything the public health experts have been saying about the need for all Americans except essential workers to stay home rather than go to work? We absolutely need to pay people not to work. I have refrained from patronizing fast-food restaurants over the last few weeks because I fear that low-wage employees who live from paycheck to paycheck will keep serving food even if they are ill.

The Grand Old Poohbahs act as if unemployment benefits are generous support payments that would allow laid-off workers to enjoy lobster dinners and trips to the day spa. Hardly.

In normal times, unemployment benefits amount to a percentage of the worker’s last salary, usually somewhere around 45 percent. According to The New York Times, the national average is about $385 a week. The $2 trillion aid bill would add $600 a week for the next four months — a temporary boost in assistance that cannot encourage long-term unemployment.

That’s hardly a windfall for families who will struggle to pay rent, buy groceries and keep the lights on and water flowing before they can return to their jobs. And many won’t be able to return. Some businesses won’t recover from the economic devastation wrought by the novel coronavirus. They will go bankrupt, leaving workers to struggle to make up lost income. Already, more than 3 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the last few days — the biggest jump in recorded history.

While looking down their noses at average working folk, the Republican Gang of Four found nothing to criticize in the generous aid they intend to offer to huge companies. As The Washington Post has reported, the bill contains low-interest loans and grants for companies that have failed to pay taxes, flouted safety regulations and misused the bailouts they received during the Great Recession. Among the companies that stand to benefit is Boeing, whose corporate greed led to two airplane crashes within five months, killing hundreds of passengers.

But an embrace of corporate greed and corruption that lives side by side with disdain for the working poor is a hardy strain in the Republican Party, one watered and fertilized by the presidency of Ronald Reagan. His first presidential campaign emphasized tales of alleged welfare fraud, most of which seemed to be based on just one actual case. According to the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of people on the conservative side of the political spectrum believe people are poor because they don’t work hard enough, while only 12 percent of people on the liberal side believe that.

For the record, economists do acknowledge that a generous social safety net may encourage a tiny percentage of workers to take advantage of the system by failing to pull their own weight, but they also warn that a stingy social safety net will dump a certain percentage of struggling workers overboard — people who will end up destitute no matter how hard they work. In a nation as rich as this, I’d rather err on the side of generosity. Clearly, though, the Grand Old Poohbahs disagree.

Meanwhile, reports from across the country show low-wage grocery store workers — deemed essential in this crisis — falling ill to the coronavirus. They can hardly practice social distancing, especially the checkout clerks who stand so close to customers. Did Lindsey Graham and his allies think about them?