The Evening Blues - 3-31-20
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features the Womack brothers vocal r&b group The Valentinos. Enjoy!
Valentinos - Do It Right
“Reigning doctrines are often called a "double standard." The term is misleading. It is more accurate to describe them as a single standard, clear and unmistakable, the standard that Adam Smith called the "vile maxim of the masters of mankind ... All for ourselves, and nothing for other people." Much has changed since his day, but the vile maxim flourishes.”
-- Noam Chomsky
News and Opinion
In his 1948 classic novel “The Plague,” which tells the story of the fictional outbreak of a rat-borne plague in the Algerian port city of Oran under French colonialism, French writer and thinker Albert Camus explores the way the plague and ensuing crisis taps into the very best and worst of the human condition. The current coronavirus crisis, which certainly is not fictional, is doing the same in our time — only not when it comes to the actions of people in response but instead when it comes to the actions or inaction or indeed base cruelty of national governments.
In this respect, . Because what does it tell us when even in the midst of a global pandemic this neocon infested administration and hegemonic political order refuses to agree to sanctions relief for Iran — a country that is among the hardest hit by the virus — in response to pleas from Tehran to do so? ...
The proper measure of a state or nation’s health in any given time is how said state or nation treats its poorest and most vulnerable citizens. And by this metric the most powerful and richest country there has ever been is also a contender for the most barbaric, despite the ocean of propaganda to the contrary. I’m writing here as a non-American who spent a number of years living there and who came away politically radicalized by the experience. Because in America the abandonment of the poor and downtrodden to their fate has forged not a society worth living in, but a growing dystopia to be escaped, one in which the entrenchment of cruelty as a virtue rather than a vice has long been complete.
The brutal actions of Washington on the global stage when it comes to its engagement with poorer countries and regions merely reflects the brutality meted out to its poorest and most vulnerable at home. And as Malcolm X sagely once put it, “You can’t understand what’s going on in Mississippi if you don’t understand what’s going on in the Congo.” What’s going on in “Mississippi” — in other words the U.S. — today is that millions continue to exist without healthcare and who in the midst of this global pandemic find themselves reduced to the human equivalent of skittles in a bowling alley waiting in trepidation for a coronavirus ball to come hurtling in their direction. ...
Putting it bluntly, America is home to a culture and political order so removed from reality it no longer knows its land of the free arse from its home of the brave elbow — to the point where the self-appointed leader of the free world is the leader of nothing and nowhere.
The news is all coronavirus. ... But let me try and grab your attention for a few moments and point you in a different direction. How many of you noticed a rather disturbing New York Times story from Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt last week that was headlined, “Pentagon Order to Plan for Escalation in Iraq Meets Warning From Top Commander”? You didn’t? Well, in the midst of all the virus-related doom and gloom, it managed to send new shivers down my spine.
From the Times:
The Pentagon has ordered military commanders to plan for an escalation of American combat in Iraq, issuing a directive last week to prepare a campaign to destroy an Iranian-backed militia group that has threatened more attacks against American troops.
But the United States’ top commander in Iraq has warned that such a campaign could be bloody and counterproductive and risks war with Iran. In a blunt memo last week, the commander, Lt. Gen. Robert P. White, wrote that a new military campaign would also require thousands more American troops be sent to Iraq and divert resources from what has been the primary American military mission there: training Iraqi troops to combat the Islamic State.
Got that? A new military escalation in Iraq by the U.S. government “risks war with Iran.” That’s the “blunt” view of … the top U.S. general on the ground. ...
Question: What kind of maniac risks such a war in the middle of a global pandemic?
Answer: President Donald Trump, aided and abetted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser Robert O’Brien. As the Times notes, they “have been pushing for aggressive new action against Iran and its proxy forces — and see an opportunity to try to destroy Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq as leaders in Iran are distracted by the pandemic crisis in their country. ...
Less than two weeks ago, in a piece about the cruelty and callousness of maintaining sanctions on Iran while a pandemic rages across that country, I described the people in charge of the U.S. government as “sociopaths.” Now we discover, courtesy of an internal memo written by a U.S. general and leaked to the New York Times, that strangling the Iranian economy isn’t enough for Trump and Co. They are bent on using the spread of a deadly disease as cover for a new war.
Perhaps “sociopaths” was an understatement.
As Sanders Demands End to Iran Sanctions to Save Lives Amid Coronavirus Pandemic, Biden Says He Needs 'More Information'
After Sen. Bernie Sanders and other progressive lawmakers last week called on the Trump administration to end its economic warfare against Iran amid the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden on Sunday refused to commit to even temporarily lifting U.S. sanctions on Iran that are severely restricting the country's access to essential medical supplies.
"I don't have enough information about the situation in Iran right now," said Biden, the former vice president under the Obama administration, which negotiated the Iran nuclear accord that President Donald Trump scrapped in 2018.
"There's a lot of speculation from my foreign policy team that they're in real trouble and they're lying," said Biden. "But I would need more information to make that judgement. I don't have the national security information available."
EXCLUSIVE: Would Joe Biden temporarily lift sanctions on Iran during the coroanvirus pandemic? #MTP #IfItsSunday@JoeBiden: "There's a lot of speculation ... that they're in real trouble and they're lying. But I would need more information to make that judgement." pic.twitter.com/d6KFmcm9FZ
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) March 29, 2020
The dire situation in Iran has been international news for weeks and the public outcry over U.S. sanctions has been coming from human rights groups as well as Biden's fellow Democrats.
Biden's remarks on Sunday came a week after more than dozen members of Congress—including Sanders, Biden's remaining 2020 Democratic presidential rival—sent letters to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin demanding that the White House immediately lift sanctions on Iran as the nation attempts to combat one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the world.
"Rather than continue to pile on sanctions in the Iranian people's hour of need, we urge you to substantially suspend sanctions on Iran in a humanitarian gesture to the Iranian people to better enable them to fight the virus," reads a letter signed by Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and six other members of Congress.
Iran is facing a catastrophic toll from the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. sanctions should not be contributing to this humanitarian disaster.
As a caring nation, we must lift any sanctions hurting Iran’s ability to address this crisis, including financial sanctions. https://t.co/OBjff1nsxz
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) March 18, 2020
The Washington Post reported Sunday that U.S. sanctions against Iran—where the coronavirus has officially infected more than 41,000 people and killed nearly 2,800—"have limited Tehran's ability to finance and purchase essential items from abroad, including drugs as well as the raw materials and equipment needed to manufacture medicines domestically."
"There is no logic to these sanctions," tweeted Sina Toossi, senior research analyst with the National Iranian American Council. "They're cruel and unusual punishment, full stop."
Several members of Islamic State escaped from prison after militants provoked a riot and seized control of part of a large jail in north-east Syria, Kurdish and US military sources have said. Prisoners made holes in the walls between cells and tore off internal doors during the unrest on Sunday night and Monday at Ghouiran prison in the city of Hasakah, overwhelming guards from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Washington’s Kurdish-led ground partner in the fight against Isis.
Inmates seized the ground floor and entered the prison courtyard, from where at least four men are believed to have left the facility. Local news said the four were later picked up by the police.
Gunfire was heard coming from the building into Monday evening, with ambulances taking away wounded SDF troops and inmates. Unconfirmed reports said several people had died in the violence. ...
The situation remains tense, with prisoners still in control of some sections of the complex despite reinforcements in the form of an SDF counter-terrorism unit.
Human rights groups and activists issued dire warnings about the state of democracy in Hungary—and the rest of the world—after the nation's parliament on Monday approved a sweeping emergency law handing far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orbán dictatorial powers as the European country battles the coronavirus pandemic.
The new law indefinitely suspends elections and parliament, imposes up to five years in prison for anyone who intentionally spreads what the government classifies as misinformation, and gives Orbán the authority to suspend laws by decree as he works to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. The law easily passed Hungary's parliament, which is dominated by Orbán's far-right Fidesz party, by a vote of 137 to 53.
Outrageous - and something we must all take as a harrowing warning. https://t.co/qW1CPIS6VZ
— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) March 30, 2020
Orbán insisted Monday that he "will give back all powers, without exception," when the coronavirus emergency subsides, but human rights groups warned that the prime minister could do incalculable damage with his virtually unlimited authority in the meantime—and may not give it up so easily when the crisis is over. Orbán has already used the COVID-19 pandemic, which has officially infected nearly 500 people in Hungary, to ramp up xenophobic attacks on migrants. ...
Hungary's parliament is not the first legislative body to hand its leader sweeping emergency powers as global coronavirus cases continue to rise. As the New York Times reported Monday:
In Britain, ministers have what a critic called "eye-watering" power to detain people and close borders. Israel's prime minister has shut down courts and begun an intrusive surveillance of citizens. Chile has sent the military to public squares once occupied by protesters. Bolivia has postponed elections.
In the United States, the Justice Department asked Congress for sweeping new powers, including a plan to eliminate legal protections for asylum seekers and detain people indefinitely without trial. After Republicans and Democrats balked, the department scaled back and submitted a more modest proposal.
Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, told the Times that governments often have a set of desired emergency powers "ready to go" in anticipation of an "opportunity" like a global pandemic.
"We could have a parallel epidemic of authoritarian and repressive measures following close if not on the heels of a health epidemic," Aolain warned.
Cuomo said last week that New York state has roughly 12,000 ventilators, but will likely need as many as 40,000 at the projected height of the pandemic. But since no state will remain untouched by the virus, both states and the federal government are now jockeying for ventilators. And that’s pushing prices up.
“We’ve created a situation where you literally have hundreds of entities looking to buy the same exact materials basically from the same place, which is China, ironically enough,” Cuomo said.
The Dutch government announced a recall of 600,000 FFP2 masks from hospitals on Saturday after tests showed the masks didn’t fit properly or had defective filter membranes to stop the transmission of the virus.
“Healthcare providers have been informed and told not to use the masks,” the health ministry said in a statement, adding that another 700,000 masks delivered in the shipment wouldn’t be distributed either. Dutch public broadcaster NOS reported that some hospitals had already rejected the masks when they were delivered, due to their concerns about the product.
The ministry blamed the situation on critical shortages of protective equipment worldwide, which have forced governments to seek new suppliers to meet the urgent demand for protective gear. “Due to shortages, we can find ourselves in a situation where only protective equipment is available that does not meet the highest standards,” the ministry said. “This is an issue in all countries.”
A spokesperson for one affected hospital, the Catharina Hospital in Eindhoven, put it more bluntly. “There is a lot of rubbish on the market and some people are trying to profit from the crisis by asking high prices,” the spokesperson told NOS.
An interesting read and an important one. Worth a click.
Our nativist freakout about China hides the real origin of the coronavirus. It’s political, global, and made in the USA.
I’m sure that xenophobic panics have always followed pandemics and outbreaks of disease, going back to origins of human history. It’s a natural response when faced with a mysterious, deadly calamity. You blame the out-group — a different ethnic or religious or minority group. You blame whoever your official enemy is, or whoever it is most politically useful to blame. ... And what’s politically useful today about blaming the coronavirus on a specific country? It helps obscure the real origin of the pathogen — which is not national, but international. It’s economic and political.
There’s a great academic by the name of Rob Wallace who has been doing amazing, pioneering work on this issue — looking at how our neoliberal globalized industrial economy pumps out deadly pathogens with increasing frequency. Rob’s work shows that the real driver of corona isn’t China — it’s our oligarchic, hyper-industrial mode of food production. This monopolized, vertically integrated system was perfected here in America and then exported to every corner of the world. It paves over everything and prioritizes concentration of wealth and maximum profitability for a tiny elite, while offloading the death and destruction it causes to everyone else.
It has created perfect conditions for producing deadly pathogens. It draws out deadly diseases from deep in the forests and jungles by destroying habitats, builds vertically integrated industrial “meat” farms filled with cloned animals that breed the most virulent pathogens, and then hooks both of these disease factories up to a global supply chain that spreads the stuff around the world and to all of us. ... Everyone is focused on trying to contain corona — and naturally this is the right thing to do. But there is a deeper problem here. This is not a singular event. Diseases like this (and possibly worse) will keep popping up with greater and greater frequency, unless we radically change our hyper-industrialization food production to something that respects the limits of our “natural” world. This machinery is driven by largest companies in the world: Goldman Sachs, Koch Industries, Cargill, ADM, JBS, DuPont, Monsanto — you can can go down the line. Some names you’ll recognize. Others you wont. But together they might represent the largest concentration of political and economic power in the known universe.
He’s got a great book — Big Farms Make Big Flu — that lays out exactly how this happens. And Rob’s been giving very informative interviews on the topic over the last few weeks. One of them was with Marx21, a German lefty journal, where he encapsulates the work he’s been doing. I highly recommend it.
[Following are some things I snipped from a longer quote of Rob Wallace's work. - js]
"The real danger of each new outbreak is the failure or—better put—the expedient refusal to grasp that each new Covid-19 is no isolated incident. The increased occurrence of viruses is closely linked to food production and the profitability of multinational corporations. Anyone who aims to understand why viruses are becoming more dangerous must investigate the industrial model of agriculture and, more specifically, livestock production. At present, few governments, and few scientists, are prepared to do so. Quite the contrary. ...
Capital is spearheading land grabs into the last of primary forest and smallholder-held farmland worldwide. These investments drive the deforestation and development leading to disease emergence. The functional diversity and complexity these huge tracts of land represent are being streamlined in such a way that previously boxed-in pathogens are spilling over into local livestock and human communities. ...
Planet Earth is largely Planet Farm at this point, in both biomass and land used. Agribusiness is aiming to corner the food market. The near-entirety of the neoliberal project is organized around supporting efforts by companies based in the more advanced industrialised countries to steal the land and resources of weaker countries. As a result, many of those new pathogens previously held in check by long-evolved forest ecologies are being sprung free, threatening the whole world.
The capital-led agriculture that replaces more natural ecologies offers the exact means by which pathogens can evolve the most virulent and infectious phenotypes. You couldn’t design a better system to breed deadly diseases."
As for our xenophobic panic against the coronavirus? According to Rob, that panic should be directed at ourselves. “Capital centers — London, New York, Hong Kong, etc. — finance deforestation and development in capital peripheries around the world,” Rob wrote to me. “Look up Goldman Sachs buying into Chinese farms post-housing crisis. In a way the absurdity of blaming the U.S. for this isn’t that far off the mark once one reads between the lines of the nationalist sparring.”
The second half is an excellent interview with Matt Taibbi.
'The Strike Wave Is in Full Swing': Amazon, Whole Foods Workers Walk Off Job to Protest Unjust and Unsafe Labor Practices
Labor rights advocates on Monday urged the public to show support and solidarity with Amazon employees who walked off the job at a Staten Island warehouse following what the workers said was an unacceptable response by the company to at least one case of coronavirus at the facility.
Between 50 and 200 employees at the warehouse, known as JFK8, walked off the job around 12:30 pm Monday, days after at least one case of coronavirus was reported at the facility. Christian Smalls, an employee who is organizing the strike, told CNN the number of employees who have tested positive for the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, is actually between five and seven, though the company has only acknowledged one infection.
The workers are demanding that Amazon shut the warehouse down and ensure it is sanitized before requiring employees to work again. ...
Amazon is allowing contract workers to apply for sick pay if they test positive for the coronavirus or need to self-quarantine due to exposure, but the company is not providing them with paid sick leave as a matter of policy. Employees who are able to get tested are required to report for work while they wait for their results—a process which can take days and thus could be exposing the warehouse's 5,000 workers, and anyone they interact with outside of work, to COVID-19.
Amazon facilities have quickly become "breeding grounds for this pandemic," Smalls said. As of Monday, the virus has infected more than 144,000 people in the U.S.—the most of any country in the world—including more than 60,000 in New York State.
"We know we're not alone at JFK8 and that conditions are similar in Amazon facilities everywhere," Phillip Ruiz, a warehouse employee, told New York Communities for Change. "Amazon's actions do not match their statements that they are prioritizing our health or the health of the public."
The JFK8 strike comes days after workers at an Amazon facility in Queens refused to work their night shift after a fellow employee tested positive. The action also coincided with a strike Monday by gig workers for the grocery delivery app Instacart who are demanding hazard pay, supplies including hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, and paid sick leave for workers with health issues which could make the coronavirus more dangerous to them.
'Abolish For-Profit Health Insurance': Analysis Warns Companies Could Hike Premiums by 40% Amid Pandemic
A new analysis warning that U.S. health insurance companies could hike already exorbitant premiums by 40 percent or more next year amid the coronavirus pandemic was received by Medicare for All advocates as further confirmation that America's healthcare system—driven first and foremost by the profit motive—is ill-equipped to provide necessary care for all, particularly in a time of nationwide crisis.
The research conducted by Covered California, the state insurance marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act, found (pdf) that "if carriers must recoup 2020 costs, price for the same level of costs next year, and protect their solvency, 2021 premium increases to individuals and employers from COVID-19 alone could range from 4 percent to more than 40 percent."
The health and economic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak are "potentially staggering," the analysis states, and could result in even more "consumers and employers no longer being able to afford coverage, leading to employer groups dropping coverage or individuals deciding to go uninsured."
More than 80 million people in the U.S. are currently uninsured or underinsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and millions more are losing their employer-provided insurance as the jobless rate spikes due to the coronavirus crisis.
"The impact of COVID-19 will be significant, and... absent federal action, consumers, employers, and our entire healthcare system may be facing unforeseen costs that could exceed $251 billion," Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California said in a statement. "Consumers will feel these costs through higher out-of-pocket expenses and premiums, as well as the potential of employers dropping coverage or shifting more costs to employees."
"These increased costs could mean that many of the 170 million Americans in the commercial market may lose their coverage and go without needed care as we battle a global health crisis," Lee added. "These are not 'insurer' costs—these are costs directly borne by individual Americans."
Abolish for-profit health insurance. https://t.co/c95gYxyc1T
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) March 29, 2020
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose Medicare for All proposal would virtually eliminate private insurance in the U.S., tweeted in response to the Covered California study that "America's for-profit insurance industry is not compatible with healthcare as a human right."
As Coronavirus Exposes Deep Flaws of For-Profit System, Biden Doubles Down on Opposition to Medicare for All
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, told MSNBC's Yasmin Vossoughian Monday that he did not believe the U.S. needs a single-payer healthcare system, even in the face of the coronavirus outbreak that has already killed over 2,300 people in the country.
"Are you now reconsidering your position when it comes to single-payer healthcare?" asked Vossoughian.
"Single payer will not solve that at all," Biden replied, referring to the strained U.S. healthcare system.
After again complaining that Trump does not listen to the experts, Joe Biden continues to not listen to the experts himself, as well as Democratic primary voters and Bernie Sanders, in still hating Medicare For All in the Corona crisis. pic.twitter.com/RlplUltzky
— Andrew Jerell Jones Luke 1:37 (@sluggahjells) March 30, 2020
The former vice president's rejection of Medicare for All in the midst of a global pandemic was not lost on observers.
"The primary voice speaking out against single-payer right now in the middle of an epidemic is Joe Biden," noted Dig Left researcher Andrew Perez.
I don't think anyone is arguing that single-payer healthcare would prevent diseases from happening, but rather that it would prevent financial ruin and care delays for millions of people. Would love to see Joe Biden debate this important question https://t.co/zJBAhvrPXY
— Elizabeth Bruenig (@ebruenig) March 30, 2020
The question of whether the U.S. would be better suited to handle the crisis with a Medicare for All system has persisted throughout the coronavirus outbreak, which is expected to get worse and peak in the coming weeks and months. Progressives mourned a California teen who died last week, likely from the coronavirus, after being turned away from a hospital for a lack of insurance and questioned the viability and morality of a healthcare system where something like that could happen during a raging pandemic.
"How can anyone defend this system?" tweeted Claire Sandberg, the Sanders campaign's national organizing director. "Treatment must be free for all."
Food banks, pantries, and hunger relief providers across the country say they’re seeing an unprecedented surge in demand for meals — sometimes double their typical amount of clientele — as the coronavirus pandemic pushes more people into poverty.
From Silicon Valley to Chicago and New York City, organizations serving the poor told VICE News they’re seeing a staggering amount of people in need — some of them entirely new to hunger relief programs. Just last week, 3.28 million people filed for unemployment insurance after losing their jobs as broad “stay-at-home” orders closed much of the country’s nonessential businesses.
At one food bank in Silicon Valley, phone calls for information about where to get food or how to sign up for government benefits grew from fewer than 200 a day to more than 1,000 in the span of two weeks. Food pantries, on the other hand, say they’re bleeding volunteers while having to serve larger-than-usual crowds. ...
In New York City — the nation’s epicenter for the coronavirus pandemic — Josiah Haken, vice president of outreach for New York City Relief, a non-profit aiding the city’s homeless, said he’s also seeing record-breaking demand for his services. ... Last week, Haken was passing gallons of hot soup and baked goods to poor, homeless people in the city’s tony Chelsea neighborhood when, after two hours, he had to shut down. People were still reaching past him for the remaining crumbs of baked goods.
“I grew up in West Africa, my parents were missionaries in Cameroon. I’ve seen developing world poverty,” Haken said. “That was the closest thing I’ve ever felt in America to the desperation I have felt in the developing world.”
Donald Trump admitted on Monday that making it easier to vote in America would hurt the Republican party. The president made the comments as he dismissed a Democratic-led push for reforms such as vote-by-mail, same-day registration and early voting as states seek to safely run elections amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Democrats had proposed the measures as part of the coronavirus stimulus. They ultimately were not included in the $2.2tn final package, which included only $400m to states to help them run elections.
“The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” Trump said during an appearance on Fox & Friends. “They had things in there about election days and what you do and all sorts of clawbacks. They had things that were just totally crazy and had nothing to do with workers that lost their jobs and companies that we have to save.”
Democrats often accuse Republicans of deliberately making it hard to vote in order to keep minorities, immigrants, young people and other groups from the polls. And Republicans often say they oppose voting reforms because of concerns of voter fraud – which is extremely rare – or concerns over having the federal government run elections. But Trump’s remarks reveal how at least some Republicans have long understood voting barriers to be a necessary part of their political self-preservation.
As Donald Trump emits streams of false statements about the Covid-19 crisis and makes decisions that will lead to a tremendous number of unnecessary deaths in this country, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo has emerged as something of a national media darling.
The right-wing tabloid New York Post (3/21/20) reported that “New York Women Are Crushing on Andrew Cuomo,” while other outlets run columns with headlines like “Help, I Think I’m in Love With Andrew Cuomo???” (Jezebel, 3/19/20) and “Why We Are Crushing on Andrew Cuomo Right Now” (Vogue, 3/22/20). (Answer: “There’s something nice about having someone in government whom you can actually trust.”) New York Times media columnist Ben Smith (3/16/20) argued that “Mr. Cuomo has emerged as the executive best suited for the coronavirus crisis.”
Some are even floating the idea of the Democratic Party nominating Cuomo, who did not enter the 2020 presidential race (but has long harbored presidential ambitions), as their candidate, even without him earning a single vote (e.g., Newsday, 3/26/20; Daily Caller, 3/24/20; Bloomberg, 3/29/20).
But how much can we actually “trust” Andrew Cuomo? And how well has he managed the crisis in New York?
Yes, he is projecting both empathy and competence in a way Trump never will, filling a leadership void that people desperately need filled at the moment. But particularly in times of crisis, when executive power tends to expand dramatically, media should be holding the powerful to account, not settling for “better than Trump.” And there is plenty to hold Cuomo to account for.
First, as Ross Barkan (City and State New York, 3/18/20) pointed out in a rare critical look at Cuomo’s response, the governor dragged his feet on shutting down the state, wasting precious weeks after the first local cases were identified that could have drastically reduced the spread of the virus. On March 18, Cuomo publicly declared he wouldn’t approve a “shelter-in-place” order for New York City, even as New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio suggested residents prepare for one, because “the fear, the panic is a bigger problem than the virus” (CNBC, 3/18/20). The governor reversed course two days later, but by then, identified cases in New York had grown to over 8,000, setting the state on the path to the crisis that is only beginning to unfold today.
Before the Covid-19 crisis struck, New York faced a budget shortfall, due in part to rising healthcare costs. But rather than look for ways to raise funds to cover those costs, Cuomo put together a commission tasked to carve at least $2.5 billion out of state Medicaid spending. The commission’s plan, announced as the state healthcare system had already begun to stagger under the crisis, includes roughly $400 million in cuts to hospitals over the next year (Daily News, 3/27/20).
As local activists have pointed out, there are many other ways to close the budget gap that don’t involve cutting essential services—at least 14 concrete options for new taxes on, or an end to various subsidies for, the ultra-rich and corporations. But Cuomo is so committed to his corporate-friendly deficit-busting that when the emergency federal Covid-19 aid package to states (including $6.7 billion to New York) included a clause prohibiting changes to Medicaid programs, Cuomo declared that he couldn’t accept it (Politico, 3/27/20). Stop and think about that: Cuomo’s instinct is to forego billions of dollars of desperately needed aid because he is unwilling to give up Medicaid cuts which themselves will directly jeopardize the lives of those most at risk of dying from Covid-19.
Meanwhile, he is ignoring calls for rent suspension for residential and small business tenants, despite enacting a similar measure for mortgage payments (Gothamist, 3/24/20). And rather than working to reduce the incarcerated population in his state, as many other governors are doing, he is actually actively attempting to lock up more people by rolling back hard-fought bail reforms that went into effect in January (Rolling Stone, 3/25/20).
None of this should come as a surprise; Cuomo has never been a friend to the marginalized in New York. For years, he protected turncoat Democrats in the state legislature who caucused with Republicans, giving the minority party the ability to quash all progressive legislation (New Republic, 5/12/17). Even after the 2018 midterms finally gave Democrats full control over the state government, Cuomo put the brakes on popular initiatives that would have strengthened the social safety net, helping to kill the drive for single payer in New York (Nation, 5/2/19) and vetoing wage theft protections (LaborPress, 1/2/20).
But journalists and pundits appear either shamefully ignorant of or callously unbothered by Cuomo’s disregard for New York’s most vulnerable. In his own love letter to Cuomo, CNN‘s Chris Cillizza (3/24/20) declared that in contrast to Trump, Cuomo
is offering another path: To believe in all of us, knowing that by protecting the least among us we are showing ourselves and the world how America fights and wins these toughest of battles.
The same day on CNN.com (3/24/20), the headline to a column by Jill Filipovic announced, “Thank God for Andrew Cuomo.” In it, Filipovic argued that “In America, people do die because they’re poor, but that’s because of policy choices we make”—and presented Cuomo as the antidote, pointing to Cuomo’s tweets about not putting a dollar figure on human life, rather than investigating his actual record.
At the New York Times, columnist Maureen Dowd (3/29/20) wrote a lengthy column that featured in the paper’s Sunday edition about how “we’re feeling warm and fuzzy about the cold and calculating Andrew Cuomo.” In it, Dowd briefly noted that “progressives still have problems with Cuomo’s stances on Medicaid and the criminal justice system,” but spent much more time contrasting Cuomo to Trump, proclaiming that “Cuomo thinks what defines America is its humanity and its welcome mat for the globe,” and quoting admirers both begrudging and unreserved.
Meanwhile, at the Washington Post, Kathleen Parker (3/24/20) wrote that Cuomo’s “in-charge demeanor and straight talk remind us of what a leader looks and acts like,” and highlighted a speech in which he declared, “love wins, always, and it will win again through this virus,” while the paper’s editorial board (3/24/20) dedicated its day’s ink to praising Cuomo for his “effective, tough-minded, compassionate leadership.”
It’s hard not to grasp for heroic leaders in a time of crisis, but heroes don’t talk about love and compassion while sacrificing the most vulnerable—and it’s media’s job to expose that hypocrisy, not swoon under Andrew Cuomo’s spell.
Monsanto is just like Exxon. It has long known what sort of damage it is doing and doesn't give a damn if there's money in it. A disgusting tale of myopic corporate greed that puts our food systems under attack. Worth a full read.
The US agriculture giant Monsanto and the German chemical giant BASF were aware for years that their plan to introduce a new agricultural seed and chemical system would probably lead to damage on many US farms, internal documents seen by the Guardian show. Risks were downplayed even while they planned how to profit off farmers who would buy Monsanto’s new seeds just to avoid damage, according to documents unearthed during a recent successful $265m lawsuit brought against both firms by a Missouri farmer.
The documents, some of which date back more than a decade, also reveal how Monsanto opposed some third-party product testing in order to curtail the generation of data that might have worried regulators. And in some of the internal BASF emails, employees appear to joke about sharing “voodoo science” and hoping to stay “out of jail”.
The new crop system developed by Monsanto and BASF was designed to address the fact that millions of acres of US farmland have become overrun with weeds resistant to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkillers, best known as Roundup. The collaboration between the two companies was built around a different herbicide called dicamba. ... Dicamba has been in use since the 1960s but traditionally was used sparingly, and not on growing crops, because it has a track record of volatilizing – moving far from where it is sprayed – particularly in warm growing months. As it moves it can damage or kill the plants it drifts across. ...
The companies said they would make new dicamba formulations that would stay where they were sprayed and would not volatilize as older versions of dicamba were believed to do. With good training, special nozzles, buffer zones and other “stewardship” practices, the companies assured regulators and farmers that the new system would bring “really good farmer-friendly formulations to the marketplace”.
But in private meetings dating back to 2009, records show agricultural experts warned that the plan to develop a dicamba-tolerant system could have catastrophic consequences. The experts told Monsanto that farmers were likely to spray old volatile versions of dicamba on the new dicamba-tolerant crops and even new versions were still likely to be volatile enough to move away from the special cotton and soybean fields on to crops growing on other farms.
Importantly, under the system designed by Monsanto and BASF, only farmers buying Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean seeds would be protected from dicamba drift damage. Other cotton and soybean farmers and farmers growing everything from wheat to watermelons would be at risk from the drifting dicamba.
Trump to Kneecap Obama-Era Fuel Efficiency Standards, Hurtling Nation 'Toward a More Dangerous Climate'
As the nation grapples with the coronavirus outbreak crisis, the Trump administration intends to further threaten public health and advance its attacks on environmental regulations with a new rule neutering Obama-era vehicle mileage standards, according to multiple news reports Monday.
The administration is expected to announce the new rule Tuesday.
The Obama administration in 2012 ordered automakers to have a 5% annual increase in fuel efficiency for model years beginning in 2021‚ a standard that would bring the equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The Trump administration will significantly weaken that standard and instead require a 1.5% annual increase, putting the 2025 at 40 mpg.
"Of all the bad things President Trump has done to the environment, this is the worst," said Dan Becker, director of Safe Climate Campaign.
"Amid a spiraling health crisis and economic turmoil, Trump is recklessly driving us over a climate cliff," Becker added.
Global oil producers have begun shutting down their oil rigs on the largest scale in 35 years as the coronavirus continues to drive market prices to their lowest level since 2002. The shutdown of oil wells has already wiped out almost 1m barrels a day from global production, but the figure is expected to rise as producers run out of space to store their extra oil as the crisis continues.
In some landlocked markets in the US, where storage space is scarce and shipping costs are high, oil producers started oil well “shut-ins” late last week rather than pay buyers to take their barrels.
In Canada the price of a barrel of oil fell below the cost of shipping it to a refinery – $5 – making it more economic for producers to shut down their wells than plummet to “negative prices”.
The international oil price benchmark, Brent crude, has fallen to its lowest level in 18 years, at below $23 a barrel.
The latest price plunge came after Saudi Arabia denied it was in talks with Russia over a truce in the oil price war which earlier this month triggered the fastest oil price crash since 1991.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
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The Valentinos - It's All Over Now