A few weeks ago, I was talking with a former public school teacher who had been badly burned by Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s retirement policy during her tenure as State Treasurer. Raimondo invested a good deal of the public pension in Wall Street hedge funds run by cretins like Paul Tudor Jones, a move that led to the greatest loss of capital in state history. “I never thought I would live to see the day I would have a positive thing to say about her but damned if she isn’t doing this Coronavirus response right,” I ruefully observed over the phone.
Well, in no time flat, she immolated that one!
Bowing to pressure from a minority of crank hard-right Republicans, she allowed her admirable policy measures and accomplishments to be summarily pushed aside in the name of a half-baked economic “reopening” plan that will have dire consequences for the poor.
Admittedly her plan is (thankfully) not as hair-brained and blatantly absurd as what Republican governors are initiating. But as is the case with all things, the devil is in the details…
There’s also been allowance for outdoor dining beginning on May 18, which is idiotic. The Governor is mandating everyone wear a face mask, a nice idea except for two problems. First, the local police unions are in open revolt, refusing to write citations for noncompliance. Second, there’s no public dispensary of certified-quality PPE, meaning “face mask” includes everything from a surgeon’s facial covering to a bandana, the latter of which does little to nothing to hinder the aerosol contagion. Testing and contact tracing is still underwhelming in comparison to other parts of the world. (The fact the most effective engine of diagnostics has been provided through a public-private partnership with CVS in the parking lot of a local casino is a testimony to the miserable status of our public healthcare infrastructure.)
Let’s be clear on the job market dynamics:
Rhode Island is a service sector economy. Our major employment centers are education, medicine, financial services and tourism. The vast majority of employed BIPOC workers (a community with sky-high unemployment rates) are disproportionately on the bottom rung of those industrial workforces and are being forced back into the workplace without proper protection and healthcare support.
Most middle-income workers are still working remotely. This week I have been to several healthcare appointments over the phone. Public education is scheduled to continue with distance learning until the end of classes in June. The local colleges and universities likewise are scheduling at least their first summer session class terms with distance learning (and it would be no surprise to see the second summer session held over Zoom as well). Everyone who works for above the minimum wage and/or for tips will maintain their health security for at least the next three months. Unionized and professional-level workers will be afforded suitable levels of support while the precariat and the working poor will be left to fend for themselves.
On May 7, longtime Providence racial justice organizer Fred Ordoñez, currently serving on the Commission on Health Advocacy and Equity (CHAE), wrote in a column for UpriseRI:
Last week we were asked by an official from Governor Gina Raimondo‘s office to help provide ideas on how to “re-open the economy” in an equitable manner, as if forcing people to their potential deaths can somehow be done equitably… In Rhode Island we have yet to even start testing everyone, we are still only testing people by appointment if they have symptoms, we are nowhere near ready with the first system – setting up the testing we need – never mind having all the systems in place long enough to prevent the spread. Though our curve is currently flattening, it only means that our hospitals are currently able to keep up with new cases; we have only delayed the contagion, slowed its process, but not stopped it by any means. To ease restrictions now is to guarantee more preventable deaths. The other fact is, people of color in Rhode Island are disproportionately infected with COVID-19. This serious racial disparity with COVID-19 is not due to ignorance of safety suggestions and the need for their translations, but rather the structural racism which keeps black and brown people part of the working poor and struggling for safe housing and basic services. They are the service, factory, restaurant, warehouse, food market, and low wage employees, considered “essential” – which is code for “disposable.” People with this essential designation are forced to work because they cannot collect unemployment and/or stay home like the rest of us. While many of us are able to stay home and order our groceries from Whole Foods, most black and brown folks cannot afford that privilege… Rhode Island unemployment law could be changed so employees of these businesses, who do not want to risk exposure to COVID-19, can choose not to work and still collect unemployment. Then it would be a humane choice. Anything less than this is sickening immorality.
Below is a video of local loony Rush Limbaugh impersonator John DePetro at one of the nationwide #ReopenAmerica protests:
Raimondo had the opportunity to demonstrate a kind of leadership rooted in humanitarian ethics. Right now the opinion polls are evenly divided about the president’s handling of the economy:
An assessment of public opinion…does not provide leaders with a precise mandate on exactly how to proceed. The public clearly (and not surprisingly) supports the concept of saving lives by containing the virus, and if forced to choose between that and economic matters, opts for the former. But it is also clear that Americans are highly worried about the direction of the economy and about their personal finances and job security, underscoring how the choice is not simply one of focusing on one thing at a time. The data show that Americans want their leaders to do what is hardest — balancing both objectives and moving forward on parallel tracks, addressing the virus and addressing the economy simultaneously.
Ergo, Rhode Island’s governor has no justification for these policy measures. She is willing to cause untold pain and misery in service to a pack of rabid hyenas subscribing to the most vile brand of politics in America today — despite these being minority views. As recently as April 23, the Boston Globe published the results of a poll by Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, which said:
- 81% of Rhode Island voters think Raimondo is doing a good or excellent job of handling the coronavirus crisis, compared to 34% for Trump;
- 72% of Republicans have trust in the information they’re receiving from Raimondo.
Her turnaround is manifest insanity.
Ordoñez continued: This is not the time for neoliberal games. Given that a large proportion of people of color have these low-wage jobs and are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, forcing more of these individuals back to work is exasperating structural racism at best and is racial cleansing in effect.
Why is she doing this? Raimondo has made clear for years she has eyes on Washington, probably hoping to replace senior Senator Jack Reed. In her calculus, BIPOC voter lives are disposable precisely because they would never be crazy enough to vote for the now blatantly white nationalist Republicans.
In the past 5 years, liberals and progressives of all stripes have been calling our narcissistic white nationalist game show host president a fascist, claiming his election was a new March on Rome. But with this level of Democratic appeasement and collaboration, one is forced to query where the difference between the two parties actually is.