The Evening Blues - 3-19-20
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features "The Uncrowned Queen of the Blues," Ida Cox. Enjoy!
Ida Cox - Wild Women Don't Have The Blues
“It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.”
News and Opinion
Ian Welsh, as always worth a full read:
So, we’re going into a recession, and will likely soon be in a depression. Why? Because the workers have to stay home. It seems that the workers, do, after all, create the value.
Marx giggles in his grave.
We notice also who actually matters: who is actually necessary in society. The people who grow food. The people who take care of sick people. The people who make medicine. The people who distribute food and goods. The grocery and drug store workers. The garbage men. The people who work in sewage, water, power and keeping the telecom backbone up.
Everyone else? Might be nice to have, but they aren’t necessary, and that includes most of the bosses. Some coordination is needed, yes, but it’s not as rare a skill as bosses like to pretend. ...
This is going to be a hard lesson to take, because central banks and politicians are moving to bail out the rich (they did so first, and are still doing so), and so they will retain their money and power and try to use it to buy up assets on the cheap after smaller business go bankrupt, but focus on the problem. Everything the rich have they have not because they “earned it” or because they actually create more value than a janitor or nurse, but because the laws are written to allow and the politicians and central banks funnel them endless money, while picking them up every time they fall, wiping the boo-boos off and giving them trillions of dollars.
It’s all politics, in the end. It’s all power.
Now the politicians they own, in their incompetent handling of the coronavirus, are going to be responsible for the death of millions. ...
A better way is possible. But not if these people stay in power. They must be removed.
If we don’t remove these politicians and business leaders more of us will die. Many many more.
Also worth a full read:
The nation that considers itself to be the apex of capitalist achievement on planet Earth turns out to have no health care system worthy of the name – a testament to the sucking moral vacuum at America’s imperial, white settler colony core. A lowly virus – a form of being that exists at the very border between “life” and “not-life” – has revealed the world’s superpower as butt-naked and very much afraid.
“The system…is failing. Let’s admit it,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on March 14 at a White House briefing. Fauci’s outfit is one of 27 institutes and centers that make up the National Institutes of Health under the umbrella of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and its Epidemic Intelligence Service. But this vast alphabet soup of agencies could not find enough coronavirus testing kits to cope with an outbreak in the tiniest Pacific island micro-state -- much less a nation of 330 million. As of March 11, the U.S. had tested only 7,000 people – in the most ad hoc and scientifically unproductive manner imaginable. By March 17, the total national count stood at 54,087 tests given, with 5,723 positive and 90 recorded deaths. But the pattern of testing is everywhere inadequate and in some states all but non-existent, ranging from 12,486 tested persons in Washington, the second-hardest hit state, to only 146 tested persons in Georgia. All 146 tested Georgians are also listed as infected, which indicates that Georgia only tests people that show up very sick at its hospitals. New York, with the highest number of infected, had only tested 7,206 people as of early this week, with a relatively high percentage of them infected.
These are not statistics of a failing health care system, but of a country that has no system – the conclusion reached by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. “The dirty little secret, which will soon become apparent to all, is that there is no real public health system in the United States,” wrote Reich in his Newsweek column. “America is waking up to the fact that it has almost no public capacity to deal with it. Instead of a public health system, we have a private for-profit system for individuals lucky enough to afford it and a rickety social insurance system for people fortunate enough to have a full-time job.”
There are no buttons for the Centers for Disease Control to push in response to the epidemic, because decades of corporate duopoly privatization has hollowed out the U.S. public health sector, so that it barely functions on good days. Even the Veterans Administration hospital system, the closest thing the U.S. has to “socialized” medicine on the British model, has been forced by corporate members of Congress to outsource much of its services to for-profit companies and cut in-house treatment capacity to the bone. This is the “creative destruction” that the oligarchs who own the U.S. brag about -- their great contribution to civilization. Thus, local, state and federal officials must resort to calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to build the needed hospital beds from the ground up, while the epidemic rages, citing the U.S. military experience with ebola in West Africa. ...
Poor Bernie Sanders. Had the epidemic struck a month earlier, it would have provided a ghastly mass education on the non-existent state of the U.S. public health system, presumably resulting in landslide support for the Medicare-for-All advocate. But then, maybe not. When U.S. realities are filtered through a monopoly corporate media lens, truth becomes as scarce as the hospital beds, ventilators and protective gear that is missing from the public health sphere. ... The capitalist “crisis of legitimacy” may have passed the point of no-return, as the Corporate State proves daily that it cannot perform the basic function of protecting the lives of its citizens. And those citizens have become aware that the oligarchs – their rulers -- are the vectors of mass insecurity, sickness and death. President Trump, through his Department of Housing and Urban Development, has suspended all evictions and foreclosures until the end of April -- a move that candidate and president Barack Obama refused to make, at the height of the 2007-08 crisis. If even “the worst president in history” takes such a step, the Democratic “opposition” will find it difficult to resist much more comprehensive demands from its “base” – with or without an active Sanders “movement.” The austerity “Race to the Bottom” regime may become a casualty of the coronavirus.
Even as President Trump says he tested negative for coronavirus, the COVID-19 pandemic raises the fear that huge swaths of the executive branch or even Congress and the Supreme Court could also be disabled, forcing the implementation of "continuity of government" plans that include evacuating Washington and "devolving" leadership to second-tier officials in remote and quarantined locations. But Coronavirus is also new territory, where the military itself is vulnerable and the disaster scenarios being contemplated -- including the possibility of widespread domestic violence as a result of food shortages -- are forcing planners to look at what are called "extraordinary circumstances".
Above-Top Secret contingency plans already exist for what the military is supposed to do if all the Constitutional successors are incapacitated. Standby orders were issued more than three weeks ago to ready these plans, not just to protect Washington but also to prepare for the possibility of some form of martial law. ...
On February 1, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper signed orders directing NORTHCOM to execute nationwide pandemic plans. Secretly, he signed Warning Orders (the WARNORD as it's called) alerting NORTHCOM and a host of east coast units to "prepare to deploy" in support of potential extraordinary missions.
Seven secret plans – some highly compartmented – exist to prepare for these extraordinary missions. Three are transportation related, just to move and support the White House and the federal government as it evacuates and operates from alternate sites. The first is called the Rescue & Evacuation of the Occupants of the Executive Mansion (or RESEM) plan, responsible for protecting President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and their families--whether that means moving them at the direction of the Secret Service or, in a catastrophe, digging them out of the rubble of the White House.
The second is called the Joint Emergency Evacuation Plan (or JEEP), and it organizes transportation for the Secretary of Defense and other national security leaders so that they can leave the Washington area. The Atlas Plan is a third, moving non-military leaders – Congressional leadership, the Supreme Court and other important figures – to their emergency relocation sites. Under Atlas, a still- secret bunker would be activated and cordoned, with government operations shifting to Maryland. The three most compartmented contingencies – Octagon, Freejack, and Zodiac – call upon various military units in Washington DC, North Carolina and eastern Maryland to defend government operations if there is a total breakdown. The seventh plan – codenamed Granite Shadow – lays out the playbook for extraordinary domestic missions that involve weapons of mass destruction. ...
Under Defense department regulations, military commanders are authorized to take action on their own – in extraordinary circumstances – where "duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation." The conditions include "large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances" involving "significant loss of life or wanton destruction of property." The Joint Chiefs of Staff codified these rules in October 2018, reminding commanders that they could decide, on their own authority, to "engage temporarily" in military control in circumstances "where prior authorization by the President is impossible" or where local authorities "are unable to control the situation." A new Trump-era Pentagon directive calls it "extreme situations." In all cases, even where a military commander declares martial law, the directives say that civil rule has to be restored as soon as possible.
"In scenarios where one city or one region is devastated, that's a pretty straightforward process," the military planner told me. "But with coronavirus, where the effect is nationwide, we're in territory we've never been in before." ...
Local authorities around America are already expressing worries that they have insufficient equipment, particularly ventilators, to deal with a possible influx of coronavirus patients, the number of hospital beds fewer than the potential number of patients that could need them. And brawls have already broken out in stores where products are in short supply. The worst case is that shortages and violence spreads, that the federal military, isolated and kept healthy behind its own barricade, is called to take over.
Amnesty International on Wednesday rebuked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over new comments bashing the International Criminal Court and threatening court staff—and their family members—investigating alleged war crimes committed by United States forces in Afghanistan.
"Threats against family members of ICC staff who are seeking justice is a new low, even for this administration," said Daniel Balson, Amnesty International USA's advocacy director. ...
In a decision applauded by human rights advocates, the ICC announced earlier this month that the probe—which includes alleged crimes committed at CIA black sites in Poland, Lithuania, and Romania—could proceed after the court's Pre-Trial Chamber previously stopped its advancement. The prospect of that probe bristled the Trump administration, which carried out what had previously appeared to be a successful bullying attempt to quash the investigation.
With the investigation now having a green light, Pompeo renewed his vocal disdain for the court, calling it "an embarrassment."
"As I said the last time I stood before you, we oppose any effort by the ICC to exercise jurisdiction over U.S. personnel," Pompeo told reporters. "We will not tolerate its inappropriate and unjust attempts to investigate or prosecute Americans."
Pompeo suggested retaliatory actions would be in store.
"It has recently come to my attention that the chef de cabinet to the prosecutor, Sam Shoamanesh, and the head of jurisdiction, complementarity, and cooperation division, Phakiso Mochochoko, are helping drive ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's effort to use this court to investigate Americans," the secretary of state said. "I'm examining this information now and considering what the United States' next steps ought to be with respect to these individuals and all those who are putting Americans at risk."
"We want to identify those responsible for this partisan investigation and their family members who may want to travel to the United States or engage in activity that's inconsistent with making sure we protect Americans," he continued.
Amnesty's Balson, in his statement, said the Trump administration was making clear it had no interest in working towards justice.
"Instead of pursuing the torturers, the U.S. is condemning the investigators, and even their families," said Balson.
As the number of coronavirus infections spirals out of control, the U.S. and countries around the world have reported major shortages of ventilators, respirators, test kits, surgical masks, and other essential health equipment for dealing with the pandemic. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump continued to blame China and doubled down on his use of the racist term “Chinese virus.”
Yet now that the situation in China appears to have stabilized, the country is positioning itself at the head of the global response to Covid-19, adopting a unique leadership position that may alter global power relations, despite the biggest shock to its industrial output and economy in recent history and its coverup in Wuhan at the beginning of the crisis.
Western Europe and the U.S. are struggling under the weight of the crisis, with cases rising exponentially every day and higher death rates in Italy than anywhere else. China’s private and public sectors are filling in gaps in equipment where other states are failing, although the spread of the disease is such that demand for those materials might quickly outpace China’s supply. The government and Jack Ma, a Chinese billionaire and co-founder of the Alibaba Group, have already sent doctors and medical supplies to France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Iran, Iraq, the Philippines, and the United States. Chinese citizens living abroad are flying home in large numbers to avoid catastrophic health failures elsewhere. In Massachusetts, a Chinese woman tried and failed to be tested three times for Covid-19 before flying back home to be tested and treated. ...
Even though American laboratories are beginning to produce larger quantities of Covid-19 tests, they are behind China’s capacity to do so and are unlikely to be able to provide much medical aid to other countries in the short term. In contrast, the Jack Ma Foundation has sent500,000 testing kits and 1 million masks to the U.S., which will be distributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Urgent medical supplies had been blocked by Trump’s trade war with China, and an exemption wasn’t granted until March 6. ...
Elsewhere in the world, China’s ability to provide much-needed medical aid stood in contrast to the lack of help from Western nations struggling with the virus themselves. “European solidarity does not exist. It was a fairy tale on paper,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told reporters at a press conference on Sunday. Vucic announced that he had sent a letter to his “brother and friend” Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, asking for medical aid, stating that “the only country that can help us is China. For the rest of them, thanks for nothing.” The first test kits from China landed in Belgrade late Monday night.
Italians Found Way to 3-D Print Key Ventilator Piece for $1 to Help Battle Coronavirus—So the Company With the Patent Is Threatening to Sue
After two Italian volunteers used a 3-D printer to manufacture a desperately needed ventilator component for those stricken by the coronavirus, the medical company with the patent for the device threatened to sue—even as the printed valves saved at least 10 people's lives in a hospital in the northern Italian city of Brescia.
"There were people whose lives were in danger, and we acted," Cristian Fracassi, who along with fellow volunteer Alessandro Ramaioli made the valves, said in a Facebook post on Sunday. "Period."
We found the Martin Shkreli of the pandemic.
A medical devices company has decided to sue a bunch of Italian volunteers who 3D printed valves for $1 due to shortages in supply, which is usually sold by that company for $11,000. https://t.co/SMfkNLHyUw
— Siddharth Singh (@siddharth3) March 18, 2020
Fracassi and Ramaioli, who work at 3-D printing startup Isinnova, were asked by physicist Massimo Temporelli to assist with producing the valves for only $1 after supplies from the source medical company were not forthcoming. The company, which charges $11,000 a piece for the devices, did not share the technical specifications for producing the valve—leading the volunteers to measure the valves and print from those numbers—and has threatened to sue for patent infringement.
TechDirt's Glyn Moody noted on Tuesday that the greed at the heart of the threat to sue was staggering and indicative of the deeper problems in the world economic system laid bare by the coronavirus outbreak:
This is a perfect example of how granting an intellectual monopoly in the form of a patent allows almost arbitrarily high prices to be charged, and quite legally. That would be bad enough in any situation, but when lives are at stake, and Italian hospitals struggle to buy even basic equipment like face masks, demanding such a sum is even worse. And when a pandemic is raging out of control, for a company to threaten those selflessly trying to save lives in this way is completely beyond the pale.
Observers were unimpressed with the medical company's threats in the face of the pandemic, which has already killed 2,503 people in Italy. "On the face of it, this seems a pretty clear cut case of pure evil," tweeted Australian political cartoonist Jon Kudelka.
Cuba is short of oil. In an effort to strangle its most indefatigable and intimate communist foe, the US has since April sanctioned tanker companies delivering petroleum to Cuba from Venezuela, its closest ally. Last September, with the island running on just 30% of petroleum deliveries, President Miguel Díaz-Canel announced emergency energy-saving measures. Diesel quotas in the countryside were slashed.
Just outside Havana, Misael Ponce, 43, manages a milk farm, which like many others embraced agro-ecology in the 1990s after the Soviet Union disintegrated and the island was left without imported animal feed, insecticides and fertilisers. “It was a subsistence mechanism that we had to adopt,” said Ponce. All of the livestock’s fodder is grown on site to reduce dependency on the world outside. Oxen usually till half the soil (their manure is used as fertiliser), while a 67-year-old American tractor ploughs the rest.
But with the tractor out of action, the oxen now prepare the soil alone. Ponce thinks he can grow all the mulberry, king-grass and sugar cane he needs to feed the cows, and is confident he can hit his production target. But he acknowledges his farmhands are now working much longer hours: “What you can do with a tractor in an hour, you do with an ox in a day.”
When the US embargo on Cuba was introduced in the 1960s the goal, according to the US Department of State, was to “bring about hunger, desperation, and overthrow of the government”. For six decades that goal has failed: Cuba is one of the only countries in Latin America to have all but eliminated hunger, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
State grocery stores (bodegas) guarantee all Cubans vital goods – such as rice, black beans, oil and a whole lot of sugar – at symbolic prices. Children are allocated three kilograms of powdered milk a month until they are seven. According to Unicef, policies like this explain why the island is one of the few countries in the hemisphere to have eliminated child malnutrition. ...
Over the past 12 months, the US has hit Cuba with the most potent sanctions in half a century. Dreams of a more prosperous future that followed the Obama administration’s rapprochement with the island seem a distant memory.
Medical authorities in China have said a drug used in Japan to treat new strains of influenza appeared to be effective in coronavirus patients, Japanese media said on Wednesday. Zhang Xinmin, an official at China’s science and technology ministry, said favipiravir, developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm, had produced encouraging outcomes in clinical trials in Wuhan and Shenzhen involving 340 patients. ...
Patients who were given the medicine in Shenzhen turned negative for the virus after a median of four days after becoming positive, compared with a median of 11 days for those who were not treated with the drug, public broadcaster NHK said. In addition, X-rays confirmed improvements in lung condition in about 91% of the patients who were treated with favipiravir, compared to 62% or those without the drug.
Fujifilm Toyama Chemical, which developed the drug – also known as Avigan – in 2014, has declined to comment on the claims. ...
Doctors in Japan are using the same drug in clinical studies on coronavirus patients with mild to moderate symptoms, hoping it will prevent the virus from multiplying in patients. But a Japanese health ministry source suggested the drug was not as effective in people with more severe symptoms. “We’ve given Avigan to 70 to 80 people, but it doesn’t seem to work that well when the virus has already multiplied,” the source told the Mainichi Shimbun.
The White House wants to cut checks to Americans in early April and late May as part of a $500 billion direct payment program to stop an economic calamity brought on by the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to a document obtained by VICE News. Two identical payments would be made April 6 and May 18, and would be based on income level and family size, according to the proposal from the Treasury Department. The proposal is just one on a two-page sheet that was sent to the Senate, which will have to craft the ideas into legislation.
As a result, the specifics are light and the details could drastically change. ...
The plan also calls for a $300 billion loan program that could allow small businesses who’ve been disrupted by the outbreak to continue to keep employees on the payroll. The White House wants this only to be available to businesses with 500 or fewer employees, and would allow them to borrow a maximum of $1,540 per employee per six weeks. In exchange, the companies would agree to keep paying employees for eight weeks.
The plan would also free up $50 billion to loan to the struggling airline industry, in exchange for them continuing some service and limiting giving raises to their executives until the loan is fully repaid. Another $150 billion would be made available to help other sectors of the economy that have been decimated by the crisis.
Nancy Pelosi is officially to the right of Tom Cotton on economic support for American families. This is a total failure of Democratic Party leadership. https://t.co/4XyhOd8yxJ
— Zach Carter (@zachdcarter) March 16, 2020
Famous economist types put their oars in the water. At least one problem with their plan is that it fails to provide for people who are currently unemployed or underemployed, but have timed out and fallen off the rolls. Further, it assumes that people can make it on the foreshortened benefit that unemployment provides. It's a start, though.
Coronavirus threatens the world’s economic life, and current proposals from governments around the globe are failing to match the scale of the crisis. Today, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced £330bn of loans and that some companies would not have to pay business rates for the next 12 months. While loans help businesses in the short term, they do not compensate for losses and only allow companies to smooth costs over a longer period. In the US, the Trump administration has suggested direct cash payments to individuals. Such measures (such as $1,000 given to each US household) help to alleviate temporary economic hardship but are poorly targeted: it’s too little for those who lose their jobs, and it is not needed by those who don’t. During social distancing, the goal should not be to increase demand, since people can no longer spend on many goods and services.
Unemployment insurance, or benefits, and paid sick leave policies come closest to helping laid off workers and those unable to work, but they do not prevent redundancies and do not help businesses. Tax relief, such as the business rate holiday offered by the UK to sectors most affected by the recession, such as hospitality and retail, will help. But there’s no guarantee this relief will be enough to prevent bankruptcies and job losses.
There is, however, a radical and targeted solution to the specific causes of the coronavirus global recession: governments should step in as payers of last resort, which means they would cover wage and maintenance costs for businesses facing shutdown. In the context of this pandemic, we need a new form of social insurance, one that directly helps both workers and businesses. Absent government actions, and many businesses and workers do not have enough liquidity to weather dramatic shortfalls in demand causing mass redundancies. Keeping businesses alive through this crisis and making sure workers continue to receive their wages is essential.
The most direct way to provide this insurance is to have governments act as payers of last resort, so that hibernating businesses can keep paying their workers (known in economic terms as idle workers) instead of laying them off, and can keep paying their necessary bills such as rent, utilities and interest instead of going bankrupt. ... Self-employed individuals (such as gig workers) could report themselves as idle and be eligible for this special unemployment insurance. In case of partial idling – if someone’s working hours have been cut – unemployment insurance benefits would be prorated.
Fed Announces Program for Wall Street Banks to Pledge Plunging Stocks to Get Trillions in Loans at ¼ Percent Interest
The Federal Reserve Board of Governors announced at 6 P.M. last evening that it is following the direction of Steve Mnuchin, the former foreclosure king who now serves as U.S. Treasury Secretary, and authorizing the reinstatement of a hideously operated, multi-trillion dollar bailout program for Wall Street’s trading houses known as the Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF). Veterans on Wall Street think of it as the cash-for-trash facility, where Wall Street’s toxic waste from a decade of irresponsible trading and lending, will be purged from the balance sheets of the Wall Street firms and handed over to the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve – just as it was during the last financial crisis on Wall Street.
The Fed fought for years in court to keep the details of the PDCF and its sibling Wall Street bailout programs a secret from the American people. Thanks to an amendment attached to the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010 by Senator Bernie Sanders, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) was instructed to conduct an audit of the PDCF and the rest of the alphabet soup of programs the Fed set up to secretly funnel $29 trillion to the denizens of Wall Street, the foreign banks that were counterparties to their failing derivative trades, central banks, and even a hedge fund that was shorting the Wall Street banks’ own stocks.
We learned from the GAO audit that the Primary Dealer Credit Facility was the largest Wall Street bailout program during the financial crisis. It issued 1,376 loans that cumulatively totaled $8.95 trillion. Just as is happening this time around, the Fed spun the story that the program would help American workers and businesses. It did no such thing. It went to bail out the trading and derivative operations of sinking ships on Wall Street as those same firms paid out millions of dollars in bonuses to their derelict executives and traders. Of the $8.95 trillion in loans issued by the PDCF, $5.7 trillion, or 64 percent, went to Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch according to the GAO audit. (The Levy Economics Institute, per chart above, found that percentage to be 67.3 percent.)
Yesterday, CNBC spun the news about the program this way: “The Federal Reserve is adding another weapon in its effort to make sure households and businesses get the funding they need as the economy deals with the coronavirus crisis.” CNBC added that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said the program would “help facilitate the availability of credit to American workers and businesses.”
Only in some alternative universe from hell that exists in the likes of the brains of Lloyd Blankfein (the former CEO of Goldman Sachs who famously said he thought he was doing “God’s work”) could funneling $5.7 trillion to Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch be construed as helping American workers and businesses.
Internal Govt. Document Warns of 18-Month Emergency, 'Significant Shortages' as Trump Boasts of 'Fantastic' Response
New reporting on Wednesday reveals the federal government assumes the coronavirus outbreak will last at least 18 months, lead to "significant shortages," and cause "straining" of the healthcare system—an outlook greatly at odds with the president's repeated public downplaying of the virus's threat.
The forecast is laid out in an internal unclassified document, "U.S.Government COVID-19 Response Plan," which was seen by the New York Times. Marked "for official use only/not for public distribution or release," the document is dated March 13—the same day President Donald Trump finally declared a national emergency and rejected any responsibility for the lag in testing for the novel coronavirus, which has stymied efforts to track and appropriately respond to COVID-19's national spread.
As the Times reported Wednesday, the document includes in its assumptions that:
- Universal susceptibility and exposure will significantly degrade the timelines and efficiency of response efforts.
- "A pandemic will last 18 months or longer and could include multiple waves of illness."
- "The spread and severity of COVID-19 will be difficult to forecast and characterize."
- "Increasing COVID-19 suspected or confirmed cases in the U.S. will result in increased hospitalizations among at-risk individuals, straining the healthcare system."
- "Supply chain and transportation impacts due to ongoing COVID-19 outbreak will likely result in significant shortages for government, private sector, and individual U. S. consumers."
According to the document, among the "key" additional actions the White House could take is invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950—something the administration has reportedly been considering.
Doing so could "force American industry to ramp up production of critical equipment and supplies such as ventilators, respirators, and protective gear for health care workers," the Times noted. ...
Trump, however, has hedged on harnessing that authoring, saying Tuesday that "we haven't had to."
"We'll make that decision pretty quickly if we need it," Trump told reporters. "We hope we don't need it."
As Trump Limits Guest Workers From Mexico Amid Coronavirus, Farmers Warn of Labor and Food Shortages
While images of barren grocery store shelves grab headlines and circulate on social media as people worldwide stock up on staples to get through the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, farmers in the United States are warning that the Trump administration's decision to limit seasonal workers from Mexico could soon lead to labor and food shortages.
The U.S. government announced Monday that "in response to the global pandemic COVID-19, and in line with the Mexican government's call to increase social distancing, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and all U.S. consulates in Mexico will suspend routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa services starting March 18, 2020, and until further notice."
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue reportedly told growers on a call Tuesday that consulates in Mexico will continue processing applications for returning guest workers under the H2A program—long criticized as exploitive—but will no longer process applications for new applicants, who represent up to 60% of the needed laborers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture told multiple news outlets that it is "directly engaged with the State Department and working diligently to ensure minimal disruption in H2A visa applications during these uncertain times."
According to Reuters, "Farmworker visas and other seasonal guest worker visas are still being processed in smaller countries including El Salvador and Guatemala."
Reuters reported Tuesday on U.S. fruit and vegetable growers "bracing for dramatic disruptions to their labor force" because of the guest worker changes:
While the harvesting of grains like wheat and corn is mostly automated in the United States, fruit and vegetable farmers rely on seasonal guest workers to pick their crops.
"When the process is stopped midstream, it likely means those crews won't be there exactly when they're needed, if they get there at all. That means lost crops. That means lost food," said Dave Puglia, president of the Western Growers Association, which represents fruit and vegetable growers in states including California and Arizona.
"Increasingly... we just don't have the labor force domestically. We're turning more and more to H2A workers because there's no other way to get our crops harvested and packed and off to consumers," he said.
Puglia warned foods that could soon be affected by the low guest worker numbers include broccoli, cauliflower, celery, leafy greens, melons, and radishes.
Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy at the United Fresh Produce Association, told Bloomberg that berries, cucumbers, and leafy greens will likely be impacted first but tree fruit like citrus, nectarines, peaches, and plums could be affected in May and June. He was frank in his assessment of the anticipated fallout of the new visa policy.
"There won't be anyone to harvest the crops," Guenther said. "It will be devastating to growers and ultimately to the supply chain and consumers. They won't have the food."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent out its first batch of COVID-19 diagnostic test kits on February 6, equipping public health authorities around the country with what should have been the capability to rapidly test up to 50,000 Americans for the disease. That same day, two planes carrying around 350 evacuees from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, landed in California.
One sick passenger, who was quarantined at a military base in San Diego, initially had their test results come back negative. But less than 24 hours later, after re-testing the sample at agency headquarters in Atlanta, the CDC realized there had been a mistake, a technical snafu — the person, who had been kept in isolation as a precaution, was positive after all.
At the time, it seemed like a relatively minor mistake. More than a thousand people had already died from COVID-19 in China, but there were only about a dozen cases in the U.S. and none of them had been fatal. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, explained the situation to reporters by calling it a “mishap.” ...
But by February 8, it was obvious that something had gone seriously wrong with the CDC’s testing kits. Around 50 labs had received the kits, and 36 reported having issues. The problem appeared to be with chemicals known as reagents, which are used to process samples from nasal swabs for lab analysis. Unable to trust results from the kits it had just distributed, the CDC was forced to continue doing all tests in Atlanta until new reagents could be manufactured.
The CDC’s botched testing rollout, which contributed to the undetected spread of the virus, has proven to be extremely costly. There are now over 5,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States and 92 deaths. Millions of people are under orders to shelter-in-place in a desperate bid to contain the outbreak. The Trump administration has since taken steps to scale-up U.S. testing capabilities, but it remains extremely difficult even for people showing symptoms to get tested.
Coronavirus Has Arrived at Rikers Island: Inside New York City Jails, Where the Pandemic Is Set to Explode
As New York City, like the rest of the United States, plunges into a public health crisis expected to be worse than anything in living memory, city residents have finally begun to heed the advice of medical professionals on how to limit exposure: Wash your hands often, disinfect surfaces, practice social distancing. For the New Yorkers held in city jails on Rikers Island, though, these basic prescriptions — if they’ve even been made aware of them — are not within their power to follow.
They are locked in filthy intake rooms with dozens of other people for days on end, confined to housing units or dorm-style sleeping areas with scores of other people, dependent on staff for soap and on correction officers for permission and an escort to visit a medical clinic. The roughly 5,400 men and women detained in city jails on Rikers Island don’t have the agency to protect themselves from the disease, even as they are constantly exposed to the contagions of the outside world through the constant churn of three daily shifts of corrections officers and staff.
A New York City Department of Corrections employee died on Tuesday after being diagnosed with the coronavirus. A departmental press release cautioned that the dead man had only “limited contact” with people in custody. Officials said that, as of Tuesday, there had been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 inside city jails. On Wednesday, a news report said the first cases of coronavirus at the jail had been confirmed: one incarcerated person and a prison guard who worked at the jail complex’s gate.
The restricted ability of people locked on Rikers to protect themselves is a problem because many of them, due to age or underlying health conditions, are at higher risk of getting very sick or dying from the disease. It’s also a problem because the officials tasked with making sure incarcerated people are safe have so far refused to release any comprehensive plan for handling an outbreak. Despite growing calls to release vulnerable people from the Petri dish of Rikers, officials have taken no steps to do so.
Video and much more detail at the link.
A New York Police Officer Was Caught on Camera Apparently Planting Marijuana in a Car — for the Second Time
When a police officer in Staten Island was caught by his own body camera in the apparent act of planting marijuana in the car of a group of young men, the video evidence against him was strong enough to prompt prosecutors in the resulting case to throw out the marijuana charge in the middle of a pretrial hearing. A judge cut short his testimony, and prosecutors recommended he get a lawyer. But an internal review by the New York Police Department found that no misconduct had occurred.
Now a new video — published exclusively by The Intercept — shows the same officer again seemingly planting marijuana during a different traffic stop just a few weeks after the first, raising questions about the credibility of internal review processes and highlighting the lack of transparency in cases of police misconduct. The video, which didn’t emerge for nearly two years, also underscores the limited information available not just to the public but also defendants, and validates criticism by police accountability advocates that body cameras are of no use if the evidence they capture remains inaccessible.
A decision about whether Missouri’s last abortion clinic can remain open is “imminent”, advocates involved in the case have said.
Last summer Republican state officials refused to relicense the state’s last clinic, a Planned Parenthood in St Louis. If it shuts, Missouri will be the first state in the US to have no abortion clinic since abortion was legalized in 1973 in the Roe v Wade supreme court decision.
Advocates have argued that the state’s decision not to relicense the clinic is a political move to end abortion in a state long hostile to reproductive rights. The same year the clinic’s license was denied, the state passed a restrictive eight-week abortion ban.
Efforts to close the clinic in Missouri come in the context of a nationwide effort to restrict abortion. Last year, state lawmakers across the south and midwest passed “heartbeat bills”, which restrict abortion at six weeks.
A judge’s ruling on the Missouri case is expected soon as Monday was the last day for attorneys representing the state and Planned Parenthood to file legal briefs.
It’s clear that Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic nominee for president, and a statement released by his campaign on Wednesday indicated that he may drop out in the coming weeks. He shouldn’t. ... [I]f Sanders drops out, he’ll forfeit the unique position he has, as both a top candidate and a senator, to influence the party’s (and ultimately, if Biden wins, the next government’s) coronavirus response. ...
As the results from Florida began to roll in on Tuesday, Sanders was delivering a speech (via the internet) about how he would tackle the coronavirus. His plans include creating an emergency agency to deal with the economic damage, immediately distributing $2,000 per month to everyone in the country for the duration of the crisis, and expanding unemployment insurance to gig and other “non-traditional” workers.
Sanders also called for suspending student loan payments, mortgage payments, and evictions for the duration of the crisis. And perhaps most importantly, he proposed using the existing Medicare system to ensure that all coronavirus testing and treatment is covered at no cost to the patient. With his plan, Sanders planted a flag for the left that stands in contrast to some of the proposals being thrown out by the Trump administration and by congressional Democrats. ...
As a presidential candidate who has a consistent base of about 30-35% support within the Democratic primary electorate, even as the election has turned decisively in favor of Biden, he’s in a position to broker a deal with the Biden campaign to adopt some of his proposals for dealing with the coronavirus. He could even get the campaign to put him in charge of the relief effort altogether.
No one will feel good about the primaries that were held today other than @TomPerez. All of them should be nullified. Good luck Tom, getting everybody to feel all unified and good about voting in November. This is not what the Democratic Party should be.
— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) March 18, 2020
Sanders campaign media death watch in full swing:
Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign currently has no active Facebook ads, the morning after another disappointing finish in a series of primary contests.
A pause in digital advertising spend on Facebook has been a good indicator that candidates are dropping out of the 2020 race before. Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg made their Facebook ads inactive hours before they suspended their campaigns.
You told people it was safe to vote if they were asymptomatic— defying CDC advice.
Not sure what that has to do with being a “Biden” but it’s wrong. https://t.co/u0MJN4pEUH
— Briahna Joy Gray (@briebriejoy) March 19, 2020
Wait, I thought that the Democrats were the party that believes in science and wants to follow the best practices that scientists figure out. Oh, well. I guess if the interests of their donor class are affected ...
'Willfully Choosing Not to Listen to Scientists': DNC Chair Tom Perez Under Fire for Urging States to Hold Primaries Despite Coronavirus Crisis
Ignoring urgent pleas from medical professionals and other health experts to postpone primary elections amid the coronavirus outbreak, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez late Tuesday encouraged states to go ahead with their scheduled contests, claiming "we can in fact have voting and protect our workers, our voters, our candidates."
"I think it's a false choice to suggest we either have to protect safety or protect and ensure our democracy," Perez said in an interview with NPR late Tuesday as voters in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois went to the polls despite widespread calls for a delay. Former Vice President Joe Biden swept all three states.
That @TomPerez is encouraging this, and threatening states who postpone in-person voting, is criminal. It’s not out of the question that when this is over there could be demands for prosecutions of those who knowingly did this. https://t.co/4DpOygKtXE
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) March 17, 2020
I’m old enough to remember Democrats complaining that Trump didn’t listen to science. https://t.co/uFsXmixnt3
— Briahna Joy Gray (@briebriejoy) March 18, 2020
A bright spot amidst the blight, right-wing turd Dan Lipinski is out.
'Critical Victory for the Progressive Movement': Marie Newman Ousts Right-Wing Democrat Dan Lipinski
Progressive challenger Marie Newman defeated incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski in the primary for Illinois' 3rd congressional district on Tuesday, ousting the most right-wing Democrat in the House whose eight terms saw him consistently oppose reproductive rights, LGBTQ equality, healthcare expansion, and higher wages for workers.
"I am bursting with pride and gratitude for the amazing coalition that helped bring about much needed change in our district," Newman tweeted after she was declared the winner by a close margin. "We are going to work together to lower healthcare costs, to fight climate change, and to build an economy that works for everyone."
Newman, who came up just short of defeating Lipinski in 2018, was backed by a diverse array of progressive advocacy groups and members of Congress, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Newman has voiced support for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and other big-ticket items on the progressive agenda.
"This is a critical victory for the progressive movement in showing that voters are ready for a new generation of progressive leadership in the Democratic Party," Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, said in a statement Tuesday night. "This isn't just a loss for one incumbent. It's a defeat for machine politics and big corporate donors who want to stop our movement for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and reproductive rights."
The world’s largest investment banks have funnelled more than £2.2tn ($2.66tn) into fossil fuels since the Paris agreement, new figures show, prompting warnings they are failing to respond to the climate crisis. The US bank JP Morgan Chase, whose economists warned that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity last month, has been the largest financier of fossil fuels in the four years since the agreement, providing over £220bn of financial services to extract oil, gas and coal.
Analysis of the 35 leading global investment banks, by an alliance of US-based environmental groups, said that financing for the companies most aggressively expanding in new fossil fuel extraction since the Paris agreement has surged by nearly 40% in the last year.
Using Bloomberg financial data and other sources to analyse loans, equity issuances and debt underwriting services from 2016 to 2019, the analysis is published on Wednesday in the Banking on Climate Change 2020 report. It has been compiled by Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Reclaim Finance and Sierra Club.
Although the last 12 months has seen many investment banks announce financing restrictions on coal, Arctic oil and gas, and tar sands extraction, the report warns that the business practices of financial institutions are not aligned with the Paris agreement. Alongside JP Morgan Chase, the US banks Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America dominate financing for fossil fuels, accounting for nearly a third of the £2.2tn of financial services since the Paris agreement, according to the report.
The report said big banks overall have increased their funding in the four years since Paris to companies with significant Arctic oil and gas reserves. Alison Kirsch, a researcher at Rainforest Action Network who led the analysis in the report, said: “The data reveal that global banks are not only ramping up financing of fossil fuels overall, but are also increasing funding for the companies most responsible for fossil fuel expansion.”
Exxon Mobil Corp. suffered a setback in a climate change case when a federal judge ruled that a consumer protection lawsuit filed by Massachusetts should go back to state court.
U.S. District Judge William G. Young in Boston on Tuesday ordered the litigation back to Suffolk County Superior Court, where Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued in October. The state accused the energy giant of hiding its early knowledge of climate change from the public and misleading investors about the future financial impact of global warming.
The judge rejected Exxon’s argument that the case should stay in U.S. district court because the claims touch on important federal issues, and said case law backs Healey’s argument that it belongs in state court. ...
In a Dec. 26 filing, Healey called Exxon’s characterization of the case “self-serving and distorted,” saying the case is really about consumer protection, not claims of environmental violations that could be pre-empted by federal law.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Ida Cox - Fore Day Creep
Ida Cox - Hard Time Blues
Ida Cox - Any Woman's Blues
Ida Cox - Chicago Monkey Man Blues
Ida Cox - Bone Orchard Blues
Ida Cox - Death Letter Blues
Ida Cox - Ida Cox's Lawdy, Lawdy Blues
Papa Charlie Jackson & Ida Cox - How Long Daddy, How Long?
Ida Cox - One Hour Mama
Ida Cox - Wild Women Don't Have the Blues
2019 Blues Hall of Fame Inductee - Ida Cox