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The Sure Way to End Concerns About China’s “Theft” of a Vaccine: Make it Open

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In the last couple of weeks both the New York Times and National Public Radio have warned that China could steal a vaccine against the coronavirus, or at least steal work in the U.S. done towards developing a vaccine. Both outlets obviously thought their audiences should view this as a serious concern.

As I wrote previously, it is not clear why those of us who don’t either own large amounts of stock in drug companies or give a damn about Donald Trump’s ego, should be upset about the prospect of China “stealing” a vaccine. Concretely, if China gained knowledge from labs in the United States that allowed it to develop and produce a vaccine more quickly, this would mean that hundreds of millions of people might be protected against a deadly disease more quickly than would otherwise be the case. If China made this vaccine available to people in the developing world, then the numbers could be in the billions.

Sounds pretty scary, right?

It is amazing that neither the reporters writing these stories nor their editors apparently gave much thought to the implications of China “stealing” a vaccine. Or perhaps, even worse, maybe they did. Anyhow, I suspect that most of the audiences of these outlets would not consider it a terrible thing if people in China or other countries could get vaccinated more quickly against the coronavirus.

But the issue of this potential theft is just the beginning of the story. If China can in principle develop a vaccine more quickly if it has access to data from labs in the United States then it must also be the case that researchers in the United States could develop a vaccine more quickly if they had data from labs in China and elsewhere. This raises the question of why we are not researching a vaccine collectively, with researchers all over the world posting their findings as quickly as practical so that teams of researchers everywhere can benefit from them?

There is a bad answer and a somewhat less bad answer to this question. The bad answer is that the goal of the researchers is to get a government-granted patent monopoly so that they can charge lots of money for a vaccine and get very rich. The less bad answer is that we rely on grants of patent monopolies to finance research. If companies didn’t have the hope of getting a patent monopoly, they would have no way to recoup the costs they are incurring paying researchers and undertaking the trials necessary to establish the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine.

The reason why the less bad answer is still a pretty damn bad answer is that it assumes that we have no other way to pay for the research and testing of a vaccine, except with patent monopolies. It should be pretty obvious that this is not the case since much of the funding for the research now taking place comes from the government.[1] However, for some reason, the idea that the government would take up the slack and pick up the full tab for developing a vaccine, including testing and going through the FDA approval, is difficult for people to conceive.

The failure of imagination here is more than a little bizarre. This is in part because the government already pays for many clinical trials through the National Institutes of Health and other agencies. However, there is also an obvious model for large-scale funding for research and development, the Defense Department.

The Defense Department will sign large multi-year contracts with major military suppliers, like Lockheed or Boeing. The contractors will typically subcontract much of the work to smaller and newer companies, but the decision on what to do in-house and what to do under contract is largely left up to the prime contractors.

There are many grounds for complaints about the military, but the fact is that we do get good weapons systems. And, we have a huge advantage with medical research over military research. There are legitimate reasons for keeping military research secret, we would not want ISIS to be able to download the plans for our latest weapons systems off the web. By contrast, there is no good reason for wanting to keep medical research secret. There could be nothing better than to have a team of researchers in another country, learn from findings here, and then build on them to develop a successful vaccine or treatment for the coronavirus. (I discuss this issue in more detail in chapter 5 of Rigged [it’s free.])

Ideally, we would have some system of international coordination where the costs of research were shared. This would require some negotiations but our current system of patent monopolies also involves difficult negotiations. Provisions on patents and related protections were a major part of every trade deal for the last three decades. These provisions have often been especially contentious. In fact, the final version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was delayed for several years over the terms on patent-related protections demanded by the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. So, while it is true that we would like a mechanism to ensure fair sharing of research costs, it is likely that negotiating this sharing will be no more difficult than it has been under the patent monopoly system.

However, in a context where the whole world is struggling to deal with a pandemic that is killing hundreds of thousands of people, it might be reasonable to just do the research and worry about the cost-sharing later. It would make sense for governments to fund their own research to the extent practical and require that everything be fully public as soon as possible.

If we went this route, our leading news outlets could put aside their fears that China would steal the vaccine. If they take advantage of U.S. research and rush ahead and develop an effective vaccine before our own researchers, then the whole world will benefit from having a vaccine sooner than would otherwise be the case.

If China somehow decides to break commitments and keep its vaccine secret, surely we will be able to secure a dose and reverse engineer it. This should still leave us hugely better off than if our researchers are struggling to overcome obstacles that China’s researchers have already managed to surmount. In any case, China certainly does not have a poor record of adhering to international agreements, at least not compared to the United States under Donald Trump.

We have a huge amount of potential gain from going the route of open research and very little to lose. And our leading news outlets would be able to stop worrying about China stealing our vaccine.


[1] It is worth noting on this topic that remdesivir, currently the most promising drug for treating the coronavirus, was developed to a large extent with public money, even though Gilead owns a patent on it.

This column first appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.

The post The Sure Way to End Concerns About China’s “Theft” of a Vaccine: Make it Open appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Next Death Wave from Coronavirus Will Be the Poor, Rural and White

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What do you call a crisis that kills a hundred thousand Americans? It all depends on who does the dying.

At first, it seemed like it was mostly white people infected and/or killed by the coronavirus.

As the scale of the coronavirus pandemic dawned on Americans during the month of March, most of the media attention was given to white people like Tom Hanks, while the danger of coronavirus to black people went largely underreported by American media. It was around this time when both the media and the White House decreed it a national emergency.

The early cases that made the news and caught everybody’s attention were mainly wealthy white people who’d traveled to the West Coast from Asia and the East Coast from Europe.

Trump’s official national emergency declaration came on March 11, and most of the country shut down or at least went partway toward that outcome. The economy crashed and millions of Americans were laid off, but saving lives was, after all, the number one consideration.

Trump put medical doctors on TV daily, the media was freaking out about refrigerated trucks carrying bodies away from New York hospitals, and doctors and nurses were our new national heroes.

And then came April 7, 2020.

I remember that week vividly; it was as if a light switch had been flipped, and I commented on it on the air at the time (and many times since).

April 7 was the day that America learned that the majority of the people who were dying from COVID-19 were either elderly, black or Hispanic. Not so many white guys, after all.

Exactly one month earlier, on March 7, Trump had played golf at his club in West Palm Beach, met with Brazilian strongman Jair Bolsonaro at Mar-a-Lago, and visited the CDC headquarters in Atlanta. Over the previous week, U.S. deaths had risen from single digits to more than 20.

During the following month, all hell broke loose in the United States and around the world. Italy and Spain were melting down, as was the U.S. economy; cases were exploding in New York. The nation was united in the hope that the disease could be stopped dead in its tracks.

Then came April 7, when the New York Times ran a front-page story with the headline: “Black Americans Face Alarming Rates of Coronavirus Infection in Some States.” Across the American media landscape, similar headlines appeared at other outlets, and the story was heavily reported on cable news and the network news that night.

American conservatives responded with a collective, “What the hell?!?”

Rush Limbaugh declared soon after that “with the coronavirus, I have been waiting for the racial component.” And here it was. “The coronavirus now hits African Americans harder—harder than illegal aliens, harder than women. It hits African Americans harder than anybody, disproportionate representation.”

Claiming that he knew this was coming as if he were some sort of a medical savant, Limbaugh said, “But now these—here’s Fauxcahontas, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris demanding the federal government release daily race and ethnicity data on coronavirus testing, patients, and their health outcomes. So they want a database to prove we are not caring enough about African Americans…”

It didn’t take a medical savant, of course. African Americans die disproportionately from everything, from heart disease to strokes to cancer to childbirth. It’s a symptom of a racially rigged economy and a health care system that only responds to money, which America has conspired to keep from African Americans for more than 400 years. Of course they’re going to die more frequently from coronavirus.

But the New York Times and the Washington Post simultaneously publishing front-page articles about that disparity with regard to COVID-19, both on April 7, echoed across the right-wing media landscape like a Fourth of July fireworks display.

Tucker Carlson, the only primetime Fox News host who’d previously expressed serious concerns about the death toll, changed his tune the same day, as documented by Media Matters for America.

Now, he said, “we can begin to consider how to improve the lives of the rest, the countless Americans who have been grievously hurt by this, by our response to this. How do we get 17 million of our most vulnerable citizens back to work? That’s our task.”

White people were out of work, and black people were most of the casualties, outside of the extremely elderly. And those white people need their jobs back!

Brit Hume joined Carlson’s show and, using his gravitas as a “real news guy,” intoned, “The disease turned out not to be quite as dangerous as we thought.”

Left unsaid was the issue of whom it was not “quite as dangerous” to, but Limbaugh listeners and Fox viewers are anything but unsophisticated when it comes to hearing dog-whistles on behalf of white supremacy.

More than 12,000 Americans had died from coronavirus by April 7, but once we knew that most of the non-elderly victims were black, things were suddenly very, very different. Now it was time to quit talking about people dying and start talking about white people getting back to work!

It took less than a week for Trump to get the memo, presumably through Fox and Stephen Miller. On April 12, he retweeted a call to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci and declared, in another tweet, that he had the sole authority to open the United States back up, and that he’d be announcing a specific plan to do just that “shortly.”

On April 13, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce published a policy paper titled “Implementing a National Return to Work Plan.”

Unspoken but big on the agenda of corporate America was the desire to get the states to rescind their stay-home-from-work orders so that companies could cut their unemployment tax losses.

When people file unemployment claims, those claims are ultimately paid for by the companies themselves, and with a high number of claims, a company will see a substantial future increase in their unemployment insurance premiums/taxes. If the “stay home” orders were repealed, workers could no longer, in most states, file for or keep receiving unemployment compensation.

On April 14, Freedomworks, the billionaire-founded and -funded group that animated the Tea Party against Obamacare a decade earlier, published an op-ed on their website calling for an “economic recovery” program including an end to the capital gains tax and a new law to “shield” businesses from lawsuits.

Three days after that, Freedomworks and the House Freedom Caucus issued a joint statement declaring that “it’s time to re-open the economy.”

Freedomworks published their “#ReopenAmerica Rally Planning Guide” encouraging conservatives to show up “[i]n-person” at their state capitols and governors’ mansions, and, for signage, to “Keep it short: ‘I’m essential,’ ‘Let me work,’ ‘Let Me Feed My Family’” and to “Keep them homemade.”

One of the first #OpenTheCountry rallies to get widespread national attention was April 18 in New Hampshire. Over the next several weeks, rallies had metastasized across the nation, from Oregon to Arizona, Delaware, North Carolina, Virginia, Illinois and elsewhere.

One that drew particularly high levels of media attention, complete with swastikas, Confederate flags and assault rifles, was directed against the governor of Michigan, rising Democratic star Gretchen Whitmer.

When Rachel Maddow began reporting on meatpacking plants that had become epicenters of mass infection, the conservative Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court pointed out that the virus flare wasn’t coming from the “regular folks” of the surrounding community. Although the majority of the meat plant workers were Hispanic and the majority of the surrounding communities were white, her defenders suggested it was just a slip of the tongue.

Nonetheless, the conservative meme was now well established.

About a third of the people the virus killed were old folks in nursing homes. Which, right-wing commentators said, could be a good thing for the economy because they’re just “useless eaters” who are spending our Medicaid and Social Security money and are on death’s door anyway.

For example, Texas’s Republican Lt. Governor Dan Patrick told Fox News, “Let’s get back to living… And those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves.”

A conservative town commissioner in Antioch, California, noted that losing “many elderly [people]… would reduce burdens in our defunct Social Security System” and “free up housing.” He added, “We would lose a large portion of the people with immune and other health complications. I know it would be loved ones as well. But that would once again reduce our impact on medical, jobs, and housing.”

It came to Trump’s attention that the biggest outbreaks were happening in prisons and meatpacking plants, places with few white people (and the few whites in them were largely poor and thus seen as disposable). Trump’s response to this was to issue an executive order using the Defense Production Act (which he had hesitated to use to order the production of testing or PPE equipment) on April 28 to order the largely Hispanic and black workforce back into the slaughterhouses and meat processing plants.

African Americans were dying in our cities, Hispanics were dying in meatpacking plants, the elderly were dying in nursing homes.

But the death toll among white people, particularly affluent white people who were less likely to be obese, have hypertension or struggle with diabetes, was relatively low. And those who came through the infection were presumed to be immune to subsequent bouts, so we could issue them “COVID Passports” and give them hiring priority.

The only thing Republicans had overlooked in their master plan to help out the master race was the very real consequence of Reaganomics across the states of the former Confederacy.

Southern states had fought against any sort of state- or federally-funded health care plans since Reconstruction, claiming libertarian ideology while, in fact, their animus was directed at people of color.

Caught in those crosshairs, however, just as had been the case prior to the Civil War, were poor whites.

Many of the same political and economic factors that put African Americans at risk for the past two centuries were also used against poor whites.

In the 1930s when Huey Long was Louisiana’s senator and governor, he explicitly reached out to impoverished white people.

As the Encyclopedia Britannica notes, “Always the champion of poor whites, he effected a free-textbook law, launched a massive and very useful program of road and bridge building, expanded state university facilities, and erected a state hospital where free treatment for all was intended. He was opposed to excessive privileges for the rich, and he financed his improvements with increased inheritance and income taxes as well as a severance tax on oil…”

Long’s “every man a king” stump speech was particularly intolerable to Louisiana’s wealthy oligarchs, opening as it did with the line, “Is that a right of life, when the young children of this country are being reared into a sphere which is more owned by 12 men than it is by 120 million people?”

In 1935 Long was assassinated, and it wasn’t until 1965 that President Lyndon Johnson would try to get any aid to poor Southern whites with Medicaid and food stamps; that, too, was offensive to the conservative white political structure in the South.

As a result, poor whites in the South are likely to suffer from the diseases and lack of access to health care that make African Americans throughout the country so vulnerable to COVID-19.

And, over the past 40 years, Reaganism has encouraged the spread of deep white poverty from red state to red state. White obesity, diabetes and hypertension are, therefore, overrepresented in poor rural areas as far away as Nebraska and Iowa.

Today, Trump, Fox and his followers think COVID-19 just kills the elderly, blacks and Hispanics—and they seem comfortable with the needless deaths of people they think are different from themselves.

As it spreads into rural white America, however, they’re about to learn otherwise.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The post The Next Death Wave from Coronavirus Will Be the Poor, Rural and White appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Killer Impact

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In the 1997 movie thriller Asteroid, an extinction-level impact is predicted as an asteroid is aimed at Earth by a passing comet. Three aircraft with lasers are scrambled and succeed in breaking up the asteroid though smaller fragments still cause significant damage. Kansas City is evacuated as impact nears. A piece of the asteroid hits Montana, and a big piece levels Dallas. The full impact could have wiped out life on Earth, if no defensive action was taken.

Suppose a real asteroid is aimed at us. Would we not do everything possible to avert disaster, like trying to destroy or divert the killer asteroid and evacuating areas where impact was predicted? Wouldn’t we spend whatever was necessary, rally whatever resources we could, to blow it to smithereens?

Now imagine that asteroid killing hundreds of thousands of people when it hit the US, because the President termed it a “hoax.” The media picked up on the President’s message, causing people to doubt the asteroid was real, and refusing to leave the impact area. After all, no one could see the asteroid. Sure, some geeky scientists supposedly photographed it, but photos are easily faked. This was just an attempt to control us.

Who would you believe? Would you be willing to take a chance that the asteroid would miss, or that it was fake?

We are currently dealing with a slow motion asteroid called Covid 19. It is killing tens of thousands of people. It may ultimately kill millions. There are plenty of people out there who think this particular asteroid is a hoax. In fact President Trump called it a hoax. And it is hitting us much harder because here in the US, we failed to do much to prevent it. We failed to scramble the laser jets.

Now imagine that asteroid is climate change. This massive threat has also been branded as a hoax by Trump. Yet experts tell us that large parts of the globe will become uninhabitable due to extreme heat and drought. Many coastal cities, from Miami to Mumbai to New York to Bangkok to Jakarta, will be inundated by the sea. Weather will become more and more unstable and destructive, and tens of millions will die from mega storms, heat, floods, famine, disease, fires and drought. Hundreds of millions will become refugees. This asteroid is no hoax.

Unlike an impending asteroid impact, we have some time to figure out how to prevent climate change. Not a lot, but some, since it does not happen all at once. We know it is happening, and we know why – human-produced carbon dioxide and methane are turning the atmosphere to a giant greenhouse. We even know how to prevent at least some of the worst impacts of climate change.

Shouldn’t we throw everything we have at it? Enlist and employ and trust experts in alternative fuels, drought mitigation, water conservation, weather prediction, population growth, urban planning, reforestation, alternative transportation, etc. Use our massive military might to help. Seek and fund new ideas and solutions. Find large scale ways to reduce our impacts. Double down on reducing our carbon footprint. Do our level best to avert or alleviate what is already an ongoing mega disaster.

Or, we can sit and wait for the asteroid to hit. Believe our lazy and corrupt political leaders. Deny that the asteroid exists, protest because we have to move out of the way, consume as much as possible, and scoff at the scientists. Make fun of the hysterical teenagers. Shop ‘til we drop. What the hell, it’s the end of the world as we know it, but we feel fine.



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Memorial Day 2020 and the Coronavirus

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This year I won’t be attending the annual memorial ceremony in Richard Kemper Memorial Park as I have been wont to do for the better part of a century.   Unfortunately it, along with parades and picnics and similar Memorial Day events everywhere, has been canceled.

Richard Kemper, my uncle, was killed on August 5, 1944  in the Battle of the Hedgerows.  After he was killed my Grandparents, Adolph and Helen Kemper, purchased land adjoining Mamaroneck High School in Mamaroneck, N.Y., placed a monument on the land on which Richard’s name and the names of 97 other men and one woman from the community killed in World War II were engraved, and dedicated it to the school district as a park in their honor.

Then in a dedication ceremony on May 25, 1947 West Point Graduate and Commander of Fort Slocum, Colonel Bernard Lentz said, “In presenting this Park to the people of Mamaroneck you have seen to it that the heroes of yesterday will not be pushed out of our recollection or the recollection of the generations of boys and girls who will be receiving the blessings of liberty in the shape of an American common school education.”

So what would I say if I could stand in the park on May 25, 2020, nearly three quarters of a century later, and speak to the latest generation of those boys and girls?  I would say:

Today is Memorial Day.  Memorial Day means different things to different people.  For some it means the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation.  For others it means a three day weekend marked by picnics and parades.  For still others it means a time to remember loved ones who were killed in the wars we fought and to honor them for their bravery as well as to thank and honor current members of our armed forces for their service.   And then there are those, following the example set by Frederick Douglass, for whom it serves as a time to reflect on the enlightenment values embodied in our founding documents and that we would like to be held by everyone everywhere.

Douglass, an escaped slave, referred to those values in a speech he gave in Arlington National Cemetery on Decoration Day, May 30, 1871.  Decoration Day, a day in which the graves of those killed in the Civil War were decorated with flowers, eventually morphed into Memorial Day.

“We are not here to applaud manly courage, save as it has been displayed in a noble cause,” Douglas said.  And that cause, he made clear, is to create a world in which in the words of our Declaration of Independence everyone is endowed with “certain inalienable rights.”

So what is the war against the corona virus today teaching us about how we can best honor all those who died defending one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?  It is teaching us that wars aren’t likely to end until that one nation is the entire world.   It is teaching us, in other words, that rather than building walls that separate us from our neighbors we should be tearing them down.

Recall President Ronald Reagan’s famous 1987 appeal to Mikhail Gorbachev before the concrete barrier that separated West Berlin from East Berlin.   General Secretary Gorbachev, he said, “if  you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe… tear down this Wall!”

Today, the coronavirus is sending a similar message.   If we seek peace and prosperity we need to join together to fight all the viruses that threaten us including but not limited to the coronavirus, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, poverty, illiteracy, and hunger.

That is the reason the United Nations was formed after World War II and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted.  And that is the reason today we should remind ourselves that we honor our fallen love ones best by dedicating ourselves to creating the just and peaceful world they died fighting for.

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A Memorial Day For Lies?

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So which will it be? Will this disaster spark a shift for the better? Or will the deadly myths white Americans tell ourselves survive Covid-19?

Memorial Day messaging bodes ill.

I want to believe that after the coronavirus crisis, US society will emerge sobered, smarter and more aware of the ways that inequality not only weakens our body politic, but claims real bodies. I want to believe that after 100,000 casualties, we will understand that individualism, like war and white-ism and male-ism and American exceptionalism, offers only leaky protection against disease.

Instead, I’m seeing a whole lot of illusions live on. Like the illusion of American innocence and safety. Today, just weeks after African Americans Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor were brutally killed—one lynched by a mob while jogging in Georgia, the other shot by cops in her home after a long day at work as a Kentucky EMT— David Brooks writes blithely about Covid-19: “This is the first time that a menace has crossed our borders, upended the daily lives of every American and rocked our ancient sense of safety.”

To make it worse, Brooks’ piece is headlined “The First Invasion of America,” as if colonial genocide never occurred.

Are US deaths from coronavirus our generation’s Pearl Harbor? No. As novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen tweeted, that was a sneak attack. “COVID-19 deaths in the USA are mostly self-inflicted by our government’s incompetence.” And all Americans are not in the same boat.

More Americans have died from this coronavirus than died in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War combined. That’s true, and tallying up deaths that way packs a punch, but the majority of the dead in all of those wars were Vietnamese, Afghan and Iraqi. People who never voted or rallied for the war or made money off it.

To use a term from intersectionality scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, these sort of war metaphors “unmatter” non-Americans, just as our reporting on Covid-19 is “unmattering” black and brown lives.

American Memorial Day is most intentionally not Armistice Day—the day in November on which most of the world marks the end of a war that was supposed to end all wars. Instead of memorializing peace, it messes with our minds, manipulating sympathy for veterans to misremember America’s wars and war-mongering. Which is exactly what I’ve always hated about Memorial Day, and it’s what leads me to think that this virus may do more damage to our bodies than to our politics. If only we could have a Memorial Day for lies.

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Grizzlies, Lynx, Bull Trout and Elk on the Chopping Block for Trump’s Idaho Clearcuts

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Canadian lynx. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service.

What would you do if you caught Trump’s Forest Service trying to slip through huge clearcuts and bulldozing roads into an already over-cut area? How about if the Forest Service then denied the potential presence of endangered species the agency is supposed to be keeping from extinction, lied about the existence of a wild and scenic river in the area, and ignored passionate pleas from long-time local citizens to save a few trees for a dwindling elk herd?

It took some digging to expose the many serious problems with the Brebner Flat Project in Idaho’s Panhandle, but our ace attorney smoked out the truth and gave the agency 60 days to correct its egregious errors. But it did not. Faced with yet another forest-ravaging timber sale by the Trump administration, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Clearwater did just what they’re supposed to do – which is sue the rascals in federal court to save grizzly bears, Canada Lynx, and Bull Trout – all of which are on the Endangered Species List.

The Brebner Flats project calls for 1,719 acres of logging — including 1,109 acres of clearcuts, bulldozing in more than six miles of new logging roads, and legitimizing 1.36 miles of illegally-created roads in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest on the south side of the St. Joe Wild and Scenic River Corridor.

Endangered Species, what Endangered Species?

The Forest Service refused to analyze the impact of the logging project on grizzly bears, claiming that “there is no evidence or reason to suspect that grizzly bears are present” in the area. This statement flatly contradicts recent grizzly bear presence documented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, who found multiple grizzly bears have traveled through the vicinity of the project area and last year a grizzly bear den was confirmed a mere 12 miles south of the area. Even Idaho’s 2020 hunting regulations caution that “grizzly bears may be encountered” In Elk Management Zone 7, which is where the project is located.

Since grizzly bears are listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act and the best available science indicates that grizzly bears may be present in the project area, the Forest Service is legally required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the effects of the project on grizzlies, which it has not done.  Clearcuts and roads are known to harm grizzly bears by increasing human access and providing greater sight distances to facilitate poaching grizzlies.  Yet Trump’s Forest Service claims there will be no effect on grizzly bears, based on its refusal to admit that grizzlies are now regularly traveling through northcentral Idaho and even denning there.

Likewise, even though the Fish & Wildlife Service’s species list for the project indicates that lynx may be present in the project area, the Forest Service ignored its legal mandate to consult on the project’s impacts to lynx. This violation is significant because it is well established that clearcutting negatively affects lynx.

Bull trout, like lynx and grizzlies, are on the Endangered Species List for good reasons. Chief among those is the loss of the habitat they require to exist, namely, very cold, clean and connected waterways. Yet the Forest Service failed to analyze the effects of the project on the St. Joe Wild and Scenic River corridor, which is occupied by bull trout, even though clearcutting and bulldozing new logging roads will put tons of sediment into rivers.

According to the September 2018 draft Environmental Assessment, which was not made publicly available: “The hydrology report states that there could be a negative cumulative effect to the stability of Kelley, Siwash and Blue Grouse Creeks. Aquatic habitat has the potential to be negatively affected due to the negative changes to the stream channel. The cumulative effects from the proposed action ‘may affect’ the bull trout population due to the potential for sediment generated in Kelley, Siwash, Theirault and Williams to reach the St. Joe River.” The St. Joe River is a federally-designated Wild and Scenic River as well as Critical Habitat for bull trout. Yet the Forest Service ignored that there was a Wild and Scenic River Corridor in the project area, violating both the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the National Environmental Policy Act to the detriment of bull trout recovery efforts.

Dwindling elk herd with nowhere to hide

The Forest Service also failed to adequately analyze the effects of the proposed clearcutting and bulldozing new logging roads on the declining elk herd in the area, despite studies by wildlife biologists documenting that elk avoid roads because they associate them with hunters and they need hiding over, not more clearcuts.

This particular area has already been so heavily clearcut that local residents opposed the logging project, despite their support for logging in general. As one local wrote: “I’ve hunted up Kelly Creek and the Siwash Peak area every year since 1962. At that time, it was basically a roadless unlogged forest. However, year after year this is what I saw. The elk who were using the land prior the logging might return, but hunters were sitting on these clear cuts and any elk that showed up were shot. I strongly disagree with USFS putting new over 40-acre clear cuts and eliminating the elk security areas.”

Another local resident wrote: “Our family has been hunting and camping in the Kelly Creek/Siwash Peak area for over 50 years. It once was a beautiful area with a thriving elk population. These trails have all been destroyed by clear cut logging as have all the major game trails which were landmarks unto themselves. Why would the Forest Service suggest modifying the Forest Plan to further log 2,000 acres, destroy 300 additional acres of elk habitat and add 17 more clearcuts when the area is already insufficient to restore the herds. And on top of that, intentionally change the regulations to allow you to accomplish such a detrimental plan. Your proposal suggests leaving buffer areas for elk habitat, but what you are doing is taking away the only buffer areas that currently exist.”

These local residents even submitted a map showing existing clearcuts and the proposed new logging.

The map speaks for itself and is shocking. Yet the Forest Service did not disclose or address this map or the concerns of longtime local residents to the public in the Wildlife Report, Environmental Analysis, or Decision document.


In consideration of the clearcutting of dwindling forests, the road-building impacts on endangered species, and the lack of honest scientifically-based analysis, we have little choice but to once again take the Trump administration to court and force it to comply with the law.  If you want to join in this battle for our future and our forests, please contact the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Clearwater, we’d love your help!

Mike Garrity is the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies

Gary Macfarlane is the President of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Ecosystem Defense Director for Friends of the Clearwater.

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Challenges of the Evolving Coronavirus Pandemic

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On May 19, 2020, two notable events occurred in Brazil: for the first time in the country, there were more than a thousand COVID-19 deaths and its president, Jair Bolsonaro, gave an interview via Instagram to the blog website de Magno where he said, laughing, “The one on the right takes chloroquine, the one on the left takes Tubaína”, a brand of soft drinks from the interior of the state of São Paulo. Bolsonaro’s words revealed one of the most marked consequences of the coronavirus infection: the ignorance and insensitivity of numerous politicians worldwide in their response to the pandemic.

It takes some chutzpa by Jadir Bolsonaro and Donald Trump to promote the use of chloroquine and one of its derivatives, hydroxychloroquine, medicines used against malaria, to combat the coronavirus pandemic. They did this against the opinion of their own medical experts, who alerted them on the high risk of taking these medications due to their negative consequences on the heart, since they can even cause death.

These attitudes occurred when Brazil is the country most affected by the coronavirus pandemic worldwide with more than a thousand deaths a day, and the United States has more than 95,000 deaths and more than 1.5 million people infected. They underscore the irresponsible attitudes of many political leaders, who put their personal interests and faulty beliefs before the health and survival of their own citizens.

The coronavirus pandemic, like few other events worldwide, has clearly revealed the best, and the worst of people. The best, because it has shown how, thanks to the heroic work of hundreds of thousands of health workers, millions of people have been saved from dying from a deadly infection. The worst, because leaders like Bolsonaro and Trump, with their refusal to accept the danger of the pandemic, have put millions of citizens at risk.

In the case of President Trump, his conduct is even more worrisome because he has shown the most prejudiced characteristics of his personality. The Trump administration has sealed the border to immigrants and turned away tens of thousands of people. In addition, and this represents a tremendous health risk in recipient countries, many among those who have been sent back to their countries are infected with the coronavirus. Guatemala’s health minister, Hugo Monroy, said, “The United States has become the Wuhan of the Americas.”

Both in Brazil and in the United States, the number of infected people continues to increase rapidly. Sᾶo Pablo, the largest city in the Western Hemisphere, is fast becoming a hot center of the pandemic, and hospitals are already at the height of their capacity of response.

“It’s one body after another, we don’t stop,” says James Alan, a coordinator of gravediggers in Vila Formosa, a gigantic necropolis in São Paulo in an interview by Carlos Meneses Sánchez for the EFE agency. The workload is so great, says Alan, that they often have to perform some burials in the dark, by the light of their cell phones. The situation is so pressing that the Governor of the State of São Paulo declared, “In Brazil we have two types of viruses, the coronavirus and the Bolsonaro virus.”

Another consequence caused by the pandemic is that it has made evident the deficiencies of the countres’ health information systems. This hinders the possibility of having an adequate idea of ​​the breath and progression of the pandemic. This is a particularly serious problem in developing countries whose already poor health systems are overwhelmed by this new situation. In Brazil, public health experts estimate that the actual figures on the pandemic are 15 times higher than those officially released.

Given these circumstances and the great variability of manifestations of the coronavirus, it is impossible to predict what will happen in the coming months, and for how long we will have to deal with the effects of coronavirus infection. To insist that the virus will magically disappear is a fallacy.

The post Challenges of the Evolving Coronavirus Pandemic appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

This Year’s Forest Fire Season Could Be Even Deadlier

Counterpunch Articles -

The world’s forests could soon join the growing list of casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. The fire season is approaching for many. And governments grappling with COVID-19 are rolling back enforcement of environmental protections that are crucial for containing the fires.

COVID-19 makes the effort to reduce forest fires more urgent, not less. This is especially the case as those who are most affected by smoke from the fires — older people, and people with pre-existing heart and lung diseases — are also at higher risk if they contract the virus.

Recognizing how air pollution caused by smoke may increase vulnerability to COVID-19, British Columbia’s Environment Ministry recently banned open burning of vegetative debris in areas at high-risk for wildfires. The Canadian province acted on a recommendation from its Center for Disease Control to reduce excess air pollution. In the U.S., the state of Colorado took similar measures to protect residents.

But they are the exception.

In Brazil, most fires in the Amazon rainforest are intentionally set, often on illegally cleared land, chiefly between June and October. President Jair Bolsonaro’s efforts to weaken environmental enforcement have led to a dramatic increase in deforestation, and last year’s fires concentrated along these newly razed areas, scientists from NASA and the Brazilian space agency concluded. Environmental enforcement has continued to drop during the pandemic, with preliminary estimates of forest loss up by 50 percent in 2020 compared with last year, according to government data.

In Indonesia, rather than relaxing enforcement, the authorities have scrapped regulations that keep illegal logging in check altogether. As of May, exporters will no longer need to obtain licenses verifying that their timber and wood products come from legal sources. The trade minister justified the move as part of a stimulus to boost the timber industry amid the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

It is understandable that some governments might be tempted to reduce enforcement in the midst of the pandemic. But that would be a mistake for several reasons.

For one, curbing deforestation is essential to mitigate climate change, which in the long term threatens to have catastrophic consequences for human life and public health. As illegal logging and fires combine to shrink forests, they degrade ecosystems that play a crucial role as “carbon sinks,” absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming. Moreover, destruction of forests itself releases large quantities of carbon.

Recent studies indicate that deforestation is driving the Amazon rainforest toward an “irreversible tipping point” where it will dry out and degrade into shrubland, releasing massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

In the boreal forests of the northernmost parts of the world, like the Russian taiga, fires are seasonal — but there too, corruption and environmental crime are suspected of amplifying them. As with the Amazon, studies indicate that they might be reaching a tipping point. Absent effective conservation measures, boreal forests could turn into a savannah, and bigger, more frequent fires could cause them to start releasing more carbon than they store, a NASA-funded study found.

In addition to contributing to climate change, forest fires present a more immediate and very grave threat to public health. Every year, the smoke that rises from burning landscapes causes increased heart and lung diseases — health conditions that increase the risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19, as well as thousands of premature deaths among people exposed to the haze.

In Australia, smoke from the bushfires caused more than 400 deaths and 3,000 hospitalizations for cardiovascular and respiratory problems. Brazilian scientists affiliated with the Health Ministry found that, in the areas worst-affected by the fires in 2019, the number of hospitalizations of children with respiratory diseases doubled in May and June, at the very beginning of the fire season, totaling 5,000. Previously, Harvard and Columbia University scientists calculated that haze from Indonesia’s fires in 2015 will result in 100,000 premature deaths across Equatorial Asia.

“There’s evidence that even short term exposure to poor air quality [such as that caused by haze from the fires] could make us vulnerable to respiratory infections,” Dr. Aaron Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Human Rights Watch. Air pollution caused by the fires may lead to more severe symptoms or increased deaths among those with COVID-19, Dr. Bernstein said.

Other governments should follow British Columbia’s and Colorado’s lead and step up their own efforts to contain the coming fire season. Such measures will protect health in the short and long term as we fight COVID-19, future viral respiratory epidemics, and the catastrophic health effects of climate change that are already beginning to be felt.

This article first appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

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Beijing Acts on Hong Kong

Counterpunch Articles -

May 22, 2020. The best, most hopeful day in the life of Hong Kong since its pro forma reunification with China in 1997.

The day Beijing decided to face down its premier Special Administrative Region’s legions of destructive, China-hating subversives — who call themselves “democrats” — and their allies in the Anglo-American Empire. The day real decolonization begins in Hong Kong. And the start of Hong Kong’s second, and true, return to its motherland.

It was the day the National People’s Congress, constitutionally China’s “highest organ of state power,” unfurled a national security law for the HKSAR. Designed specifically to check secession, subversion, foreign meddling and terrorist activity, it will be put to a vote before the NPC wraps up next week. The Congress’s Standing Committee will then work out the details and have it promulgated it by July or August.

It was the lack of such legislation that had allowed the “pan-democrats” and their Anglo-US backers to riddle Hong Kong’s entire civic ecosystem with Sinophobia and disruption. Their most dramatic depredations were the Occupy Central uprising of 2014, the Mongkok riots of 2016 and, of course, the Black Terror color revolution that began last year.

National security legislation is required by Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law. But a bid by SAR authorities in 2003 to comply ended disastrously. Pan-subversives mobilized mass protests that not only derailed the effort but led to the chief executive’s resignation. Since then, no SAR government has dared touch this hottest of potatoes.

That’s a key reason Beijing has acted. According to political insiders, central authorities lost hope that the Hong Kong government was capable of passing Art. 23 in the foreseeable future. And a national security law was clearly and urgently essential for Hong Kong, especially with color revolution still simmering and crucial elections to the legislature in September. Also, Washington seemed set to escalate its multidimensional war on China, and Hong Kong has become a primary arena.

When news of the NPC move broke, it took most by surprise. Twenty-three years of a hands-off policy towards Hong Kong had dulled people’s expectations of dramatic action by Beijing. For months, signs had been that the central government was incrementally tightening its laissez-faire approach. But the decision for the NPC to act was a well-kept secret. An important spur had been the 2 million supportive signatures gathered by patriotic Hong Kong lawmaker Junius Ho and the political group Politihk, headed by activist Innes Tang.

In Hong Kong, the NPC decision immediately set the cat among the “democrat” pigeons. Their political stalwarts tore their hair and foamed at the mouth, denouncing it. For the zillionth time, they solemnly pronounced the death of One Country, Two Systems in Hong Kong. The young & intellectually-challenged among “pro-democracy” blackshirts frantically speculated in their favorite online forums. Hellish visions were conjured of the horrors Communist monsters were about to inflict on them. And rumors flew that the cost of a smuggled passage to Taiwan had risen severalfold.

Donald Trump threatened a “very strong” response, while Mike Pompeo threatened … something. The Eurominions chirped in unison.

But to the majority of Hong Kong’s long-suffering population, all seemed well under heaven.

The post Beijing Acts on Hong Kong appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Saving the Lionhead Wilderness

Counterpunch Articles -

Unnamed lake in Lionhead proposed wilderness looking north to peaks in Lee Metcalf Wilderness. Photo by George Wuerthner.

One of the most outstanding wildlands on the Custer Gallatin National Forest is the 43,759-acre proposed Lionhead Wilderness. The Lionhead lies along the Continental Divide and rises up above  Hebgen Lake near West Yellowstone. The Madison River and Quake Lake on the north, while Targhee Pass on the south and Raynold Pass on the west all delineate the boundaries of this area. It is the southernmost extension of the Madison Range which are sometimes referred to as the Henry’s Lake Mountains.  Part of this roadless area exists on the Targhee National Forest and Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forests.

There is some history associated with the area. Targhee was a Bannock Indian chief. The Bannock tribe along with others like the Nez Perce used his namesake pass as one of the routes traveled to and from the bison killing plains east of the mountains in Montana and Wyoming. Raynold’s Pass is named for Captain William F. Raynolds. Raynolds who was a leader of an Army expedition of the Topographical Engineers across South Dakota, and portions of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana in 1859-60 that was led by famed mountain man Jim Bridger. Henry’s Lake is named for Andrew Henry who co-owned the Rocky Mountain Fur Company which employed Jim Bridger, Jedidiah Smith, the four oldest Sublette brothers, including William and Milton, Jim Beckwourth, Hugh Glass, Thomas Fitzpatrick, David Edward Jackson, Joseph Meek, among other famous mountain men whose names now litter topographical features throughout the West.

Coffin Lake in Lionhead proposed wilderness. Photo by George Wuerthner.

The Lionhead area rises from around 6,000 feet along the Madison River to over 10,611 on Lionhead Peak. The mountains are composed of sedimentary rocks that have been uplifted along several faults. Glaciers have created several lakes and tarns, as well as spectacular cirques. The sedimentary layers are unstable and an entire mountainside gave way during the 1959 earthquake which shook loose tons of rock into the Madison River to create Earthquake Lake.

The Lionhead is characterized primarily by Douglas fir forests at lower elevations with Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, and lodgepole pine at higher elevations. There are extensive aspen groves as well. Numerous meadows break up the forest stands and have spectacular flower blooms in summer.

The vegetation diversity supports all the larger mammals known to exist in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem including grizzly bear, wolves, bighorn sheep, moose, elk, mule deer, and wolverine. Westslope Cutthroat Trout known to occur within 9 miles of stream. The area could also support wild bison if they were ever permitted to roam freely by the Montana Dept of Livestock.

There are 18 miles of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) within the Lionhead proposal and several other trails including Targhee Creek (Idaho side) Sheep Creek and Coffin Lake.

Looking towards Madison Range (Lee Metcalf Wilderness) from Lionhead Proposed Wilderness. Photo by George Wuerthner.

The area has long been proposed for wilderness to protect the critical linkage as a migration corridor for wildlife. Grizzly bear, wolverine, wolves, moose, elk, among other species are known to use the Lionhead as a movement area. It is an important corridor connecting to the Centennial Range and the Continental Divide other large wild areas further west in Central Idaho.

Demonstrating its significance as wildlands, the 1987 Gallatin Forest Plan recommended 22,800 acres as wilderness. This proposed wilderness lies adjacent to additional roadless lands on the Deerlodge Beaverhead NF and Targhee NF that are also proposed for wilderness, making the final size of this area much larger.

One really has to see this as part of the greater whole. With the adjacent lands in the southern Gallatin Range (Porcupine Buffalohorn) and adjacent parts of the Madison Range including the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, but also the Cabin Creek area, the entire area is one of the most critical and important wildlife corridors and habitat in the northern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Wilderness is the gold standard for protection, and the Lionhead, along with these other areas should be designated as wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Threats to this area include proposed logging and new roads along the base of the mountains, as well as increasing mountain biking use of trails (mountain bikes and other mechanical access is not allowed in wilderness areas). Hopefully, the Custer Gallatin National Forest will once again recommend wilderness for this area in its soon to be released forest plan.

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Holy Beaver

Counterpunch Articles -

Holy Beaver

When there’s rain on a plague day
Or plague on a rain day
You really should bring an umbrella, fella
As everything’s closed
And that which may be open you may
Rather not enter — even
With a mask strapped round your face
So don’t go out to Astor Place
Where J.J. Astor skins his castor
That’s beaver to you
Beaver trade’s how he got made
Though most don’t know
That beavers grow for their whole lives
They never reach a terminal size
I don’t know why. Who’s to say?
The DNA?
The Dinah?
In the kitchen — with Longinus? Yes!
Loafing around with his holy cup.
And if that beaver there should sup
From that she’d grow forever
Or nibble some ambrosia
Just a crumb that fell from Zeus’s beard
How long before
She’d grow whale-sized?
How big would she be by
The time she‘d outgrow the planet itself
And dam the streams of cosmic gas
Build galaxies in all of that
Galactic milk (tautology)

And Goldfish, too, I’ve heard
Will grow so
Maybe magic blood of Christ
Splashed on a carp in a basket that night
On Golgotha
And now it’s immortal
But captured by Peter
Is kept in a tub
And’s sliced apart each week
To sell in the market
On Fulton Street
With Alfred Smith
Still terrorized by Oedipus
Killer of kings
And landlords
And reckless drivers
As the holy beaver grows
The cosmos
Captain Kierkegaard
Among the splattered stars opines:
Listen to the voice of God
Like Abraham, when there’s a command
To slaughter someone
You listen —
Eddie Pus, as he’s now known, nods
Watching the flames
And the plagues spread
And the droplets of rain
Bursting on his head like falling bodies
The masks in the street
In the gutters and grass
And other places
Like so many discarded faces
Like leaves on the trees
Of the aftermath

The post Holy Beaver appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

US Interference Gives Beijing Cover To Tighten Its Grip on Hong Kong

AntiWar.com News -

One of the more dangerous symptoms of the Covid-19 pandemic is the ever-increasing tensions between Washington and Beijing. The relationship could be the worst it’s been since President Nixon’s historic trip to China in 1972. This new Cold War is being played out in many theaters, including Hong Kong, which has served as a stage … Continue reading "US Interference Gives Beijing Cover To Tighten Its Grip on Hong Kong"

The post US Interference Gives Beijing Cover To Tighten Its Grip on Hong Kong appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

How To Honor Memorial Day: Stop Sacrificing Troops in Endless Wars

AntiWar.com News -

Another Memorial Day, another holiday filled with politicians rhapsodizing about the valiant sacrifices of courageous military men and women. Freedom isn’t free, we are told, as high officials extol the armed services for protecting Americans’ liberties. It sounds so glorious. Especially eloquent tend to be the chicken hawks and summer patriots who had "other priorities" … Continue reading "How To Honor Memorial Day: Stop Sacrificing Troops in Endless Wars"

The post How To Honor Memorial Day: Stop Sacrificing Troops in Endless Wars appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Trump Brag-Tweets that COVID-19 “Numbers” Are Declining. The Numbers Don’t Say That.

Mother Jones Magazine -

President Donald Trump spent Sunday much the same way he did his Saturday—tweeting conspiracy theories about MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and the threat of mail-in voting. But, strikingly, as the U.S. approaches 100,000 deaths from COVID-19, Trump also issued a blithe announcement that all-things “pandemic” are improving, without bothering to back it up, of course.

Cases, numbers and deaths are going down all over the Country!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2020

In many ways, this tweet is no different than Trump’s other random proclamations of progress, which he has issued from the very start of the pandemic. But the brag seems particularly tone deaf: experts are warning that even as former COVID-19 hotspots like New York City appear to be making progress, there are signs of new outbreaks in rural areas scattered around the country

According to data compiled by the Washington Post, while some moderation of new cases is being reported, numbers have remained fairly flat for the past two weeks, with the seven-day average number of new cases remaining well over 20,000. Yesterday, for instance, there were 22,520 new cases, which is lower than the previous two days, but more than other days in the last two weeks. And according to the Post’s numbers, there were 1,071 new COVID deaths yesterday, which is less than the previous days, but slightly more than the previous Saturday.

“This isn’t contained, and it’s continuing to spread.”

Experts also say those numbers are only telling part of the story. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner who served under Trump and now works with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning and said that the threat from virus has not abated. “We expected cases to go up and hospitalizations to bump up as we reopened, but we need to understand this isn’t contained, and it’s continuing to spread,” Gottlieb said.

Later, he tweeted data showing that after two weeks of moderate decline in numbers, in the past week has revealed a slight uptick.

THREAD: New hospitalizations nationwide have risen slightly over the last week after showing sustained declines for the two preceding weeks. This view below looks at the nation outside of the New York tristate region. pic.twitter.com/H7x30dvEzI

— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) May 24, 2020

Gottlieb was making the case for reopening the country, but safely, to mitigate the risks of new outbreaks.

Hong Kong Protesters Brave Pandemic Fears and Tear Gas to Denounce China’s Big Security Push

Mother Jones Magazine -

Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong turned violent this weekend as large crowds returned to the streets after months of relative calm during the COVID-19 crisis. The latest round comes in the wake of attempts by the mainland Chinese government to push through new security rules for the semi-autonomous region—and wield an increasingly strong hand in repressing dissent.

The implementation of new security laws has been condemned by the U.S. as violating the long-standing agreement to allow the former British territory an unusual amount of political and press freedom, but Chinese president Xi Jinping is thought to be using China’s emergence from the pandemic as an opportunity to reassert control as other countries remain embroiled in fighting the virus. White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Sunday that China risks U.S. sanctions over the new laws.

Large street protests and clashes between pro-democracy student groups and the police were a constant feature of late 2019, but almost entirely stopped when COVID-19 spread to the densely-packed city. Protesters reemerged this week after proposed new security initiatives were introduced as part of Communist Party meetings in Beijing. Overnight, the protests took a particularly violent turn with police firing tear gas and water cannons at the large crowds.

Here is a vivid sampling of photos and videos showing how the protests unfolded:

Hong Kong people on streets once again, fighting against the clampdown of Communist China. #StandWithHongKong #nationalsecuritylaw

Photo source : 報導者 The Reporter pic.twitter.com/rFTAmciLOE

— Denise Ho (HOCC) (@hoccgoomusic) May 24, 2020

Hong Kong police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands protesting against Beijing’s plan to directly impose national-security laws on the city https://t.co/SYtqiYpgUi pic.twitter.com/yjwDobmu58

— Reuters (@Reuters) May 24, 2020

(AFP) Police fired tear gas and water cannon at thousands of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters who gathered Sunday against a controversial security law proposed by China, in the most intense clashes for months.https://t.co/JERb7c4xaf pic.twitter.com/pmDBjzTpjc

— Colin Campbell (@colincampbell) May 24, 2020

Police fire tear gas at Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters opposed to a controversial security law proposed by China last week which is expected to ban treason, subversion and sedition as Beijing warns it will not tolerate dissent https://t.co/V21a7ZZL7q pic.twitter.com/V78t0GXvux

— AFP news agency (@AFP) May 24, 2020

Hong Kong protesters are hit with tear gas amid rising tensions over new China national security law. pic.twitter.com/bsbDzDQnfT

— The Hill (@thehill) May 24, 2020

Police fired tear gas at a major district of Hong Kong in an attempt to disperse the thousands of protesters demonstrating against China's proposed security bill which could threaten freedom in the city.https://t.co/BD1zQhhbqw pic.twitter.com/bBIc6YBDtO

— The Voice of America (@VOANews) May 24, 2020

Kitten Break

Mother Jones Magazine -

Today is crash day, so it’s not likely I’ll be posting much of anything. But yesterday I caught up with our kittens to see how they were doing, so I’ll put them up as a stress reducer for the rest of the day. They are now four months old and not really even kittens anymore, but they’re still adorable.

And if you love kittens, how about showing your love by pitching in a few dollars for our fundraising drive? I’ll have more to say about this later, but for now just click here if your stimulus check is burning a hole in your pocket.

First up is Blackie, in her Vogue fashion shot beautifully framed by red flowers in my mother’s backyard:

Here is Stripey, begging for an award as cutest kitten ever:

And Grayson, who is camera shy and hard to get a good picture of:

Here is mama Meowser under the orange tree:

And finally, as long as I was there, here is Tillamook looking annoyed that I found his hidey hole under the car:

Sunday’s Heart-Wrenching New York Times Cover Marks Almost 100,000 Coronavirus Deaths in the US

Mother Jones Magazine -

The New York Times Sunday front page was given over entirely to a list of names of COVID-19 victims, stretching to two inside pages of the paper—a grim tribute to the the nearly 100,000 Americans who have perished in the months leading up to this Memorial Day weekend. The cover, which eschews graphics and photos for endless type, includes names, ages, towns, and a singular snippet about the life lost, curated by the Times staff from obituaries that ran around the country.

An equally staggering digital version arranges the names in chronological order; names pop up as you scroll further and further—a feat of online presentation that highlights touching personal details amid the immensity of the pandemic. 

The lines from the obituaries produce an almost endless stream of epitaphs dedicated to a diverse array of victims, young and old, from far-flung parts of the country. The lives honored here are both extraordinary by broad standards, and extraordinary to their loved ones:

“Last living woman member of the W.W. II Monuments teams.”

“Loved Jesus, Elvis, Dr. Pepper and her family.”

“Enjoyed trying her luck in casinos.”

“One half of Siegfried & Roy.”

“Go-to person for everybody.”

“Died after being released from ICE detention.”

Times researchers created a list of more than 1,000 obituaries of COVID-19 victims and then a team of editors and graduate student journalists combed through looking for particularly resonant brief descriptions. In a behind-the-scenes piece describing how the project came together, Times staff said that it was the first time in anyone’s memory—at least 40 years—that the front page dropped graphics and photos for a text-only treatment. But, one editor said, the goal was to create something that would stand out over time: “I wanted something that people would look back on in 100 years to understand the toll of what we’re living through.”

A Dollar General Analyst Complained About Store Workers Getting Screwed. He Got Fired.

Mother Jones Magazine -

One day in early March, Rebecca told her manager at a Dollar General store in South Carolina that she was starting to feel sick. She had a fever, some difficulty breathing. At the time, Rebecca recalls, everyone working at the store seemed to have a fever or cough.

Could she stay home and get paid somehow? she asked her boss. Her boss, Rebecca recalls, told her to come into work or file for food stamps.

At that point Dollar General had not announced a paid sick leave policy. In fact, the fast-growing chain of bargain retail stores, which likes to brag that 75 percent of the country lives within five miles of one of its franchises, wasn’t offering employees much of anything. No gloves, no masks, no hazard pay, no raise. Without PPE, “we were making our own hand sanitizer at the store,” Rebecca says. Her ersatz blend mixed aloe vera and rubbing alcohol.

Rebecca—whose name has been changed for fear the company might retaliate—had been working at the store since March 2019, making about $10 an hour. Stay home? “I couldn’t afford it,” she tells Mother Jones. She didn’t like the thought of filing for food stamps while she’s out sick, and she said as much to her boss.

“That’s the Dollar General way,” her manager said, laughing. Later that week, Rebecca returned to work. 

Around that time, Rebecca and a handful of her colleagues began sharing stories over social media. As the pandemic unfolded, they learned a lot about the Dollar General way. They learned that a company focused on expansion—particularly in small, rural areas where even Walmart can’t gain a foothold—is not going to worry overmuch about the health of its lowest workers. They also learned that asking too many questions about such matters can get you fired—as one whistleblower in Dollar General’s corporate office discovered for himself.

On March 16, Daniel Stone began asking the first of too many questions. A market planning analyst in Dollar General’s corporate office near Nashville, Stone was worried that the company’s response to the coronavirus was lacking. He was in a position to know. His job was to analyze locations for new stores. It put him face-to-face with the realities of working in a Dollar General store. He knew population demographics, median income, traffic. He knew the precarity under which employees live. Dollar General now employs 143,000 plus people across 16,300 stores, which are often placed in lower-income, low-population rural areas. “Areas that have like 500 households,” Stone says, where “they’re pricing out general stores.”  

The company’s only public acknowledgment of the coronavirus to that point was to announce a designated shopping hour for seniors. Concerned, Stone emailed Dollar General’s chief people officer, Kathy Reardon, and asked about guaranteed sick leave for those working in the store.

Do you work for Dollar General corporate or in a store? We want to hear your stories (especially if you know anything about the “Blue Zone” model). Email me at jrosenberg@motherjones.com

Stone got a cheery, even heartening response. “You will be proud to know that our practice during this time has been to pay our employees for any missed/scheduled shifts in [our stores] for up to 14 days when they are quarantined for their own illness or to care for a member of their household who is quarantined,” Reardon wrote, according to an email obtained by Mother Jones. If there was a policy in place at the time of her conversation with her manager, Rebecca didn’t know about it and neither, ostensibly, did her boss.

On March 18, Todd Vasos, CEO of Dollar General, sent a similar message to the public, but with an important difference: He said Dollar General offered paid sick leave for “any employee that is forced to remain at home due to a confirmed case” for their “regularly-scheduled hours.” A confirmed case: Did that mean workers needed a positive COVID-19 test result in order to receive sick pay? What if they couldn’t obtain a test in the first place? 

Dollar General did not answer specific questions about the timing of protective measures for this article. But it said in a statement that paid sick leave for employees “impacted by COVID-19” includes those waiting for testing, caring for a family member, or “those who must remain home due to their own diagnosis.” It’s not clear if this is the same policy that Vasos announced on March 18.  

Stone was happy that the company was paying out at least some sick leave. But he began wondering about other problems—and he wondered what was actually happening in stores. Were workers being sent masks? Was there going to be a bump for hazard pay? He peppered management with more questions. And he began organizing private social media channels so he could hear stories on the ground. Eventually, more than 300 people joined, he says.

They told stories about lax safety, about Dollar General’s neglect over the years, which now seemed to be coming home to roost, according to Stone. When Dollar General said on March 24 that it was releasing $35 million in bonuses, he learned on Facebook that workers were struggling financially. One reached out to him directly asking for help.

As Dollar General rolled out protective policies, Stone saw more and more problems. There were the masks sent to each store, for instance. “I will never forget this: They were freaking T-shirts,” says Rebecca, who was a member of the Facebook group. “It was like somebody went into a house and cut up a bunch of shirts and said, ‘Here.’” A photo of a mask also showed up on a subreddit devoted to Dollar General.

A photo of a mask posted to Reddit.
A mask sent to an employee at a New Jersey Dollar General store.

In a New Jersey store, workers were left to take precautions on their own initiative—closing public restrooms, sanitizing counters, not using customer’s reusable bags, putting up handmade signs about one-way aisles. “DG didn’t suggest we do this,” a worker in that store tells Mother Jones. “It’s a joke.”

Dollar General says it did implement social distancing measures, including plexiglass shields for cashiers, by March 23. The company also closed stores early for more cleaning and distributed PPE. On April 30, Dollar General announced another round of bonuses, adding $25 million to the $35 million already put forward.

The company branded its response to the coronavirus: Its mission, it said, was “Serving Others.” But the workers in Stone’s group could only wonder, What about us? After Dollar General announced it was hiring more workers, Rebecca learned of “mandatory” cuts to overtime hours at her store. A franchise might have a small number of workers—under a dozen, say—but managers were expected to find a way to operate even if people were ill. “Back in February and March, when we were all working with fevers and coughs,” Rebecca says, “we couldn’t close the store because it was a skeleton crew. God forbid we close the store!” By hiring more temporary workers, Dollar General could cut back on hours and overtime pay for full-time staff. “One week I got 18 hours,” Rebecca says. “I get my full-time benefits eating up my whole paycheck.”

For Rebecca and her colleague in New Jersey, there’s nothing new about Dollar General being oblivious to the concerns of the people working in its stores. “They have no idea what goes on at store level,” the New Jersey worker tells Mother Jones. “One December, we were without heat for three weeks—so the COVID-19 response is right up the ‘I don’t give a damn’ alley. It’s all about the dollar.” She says the store doesn’t always feel safe. (A recent NBC News report found at least 27 Dollar General workers were injured in violent robberies from January 2019 to January 2020.) Rebecca recalls a manager having to clean up sewage that flooded her store multiple times over weeks. The manager was unwilling even to talk to higher-ups. “Everybody knows it’s a waste of time to reach out to corporate,” she says. “If you complain you’re headed out the door.”

Stone soon learned that lesson. He continued to ask questions of corporate over email, using the stories he was hearing on social media as examples. Eventually, Dollar General had enough. On April 27, the company fired Stone. “It’s come to management’s attention that there’s been some negative emails and posts and other things like that about the company,” Jason Reese, a senior director of market planning at Dollar General, told Stone on a call, with Leslie Allen, the company’s senior director of human resources, on the line. “There’s been some…sounds like bad blood.” 

“I would say that the only bad blood that I have is the current inaction, frankly, towards workers in stores and distribution centers,” Stone replied. “I’m proud to work at this company, and I would like to see it be a leader in the American economy and the zeitgeist and push for higher wages and proper protection.” He referenced the T-shirt masks: “It kind of hurts my heart to see the people on the frontlines subjected to a T-shirt cutout to protect themselves.” 

Listen to audio of Daniel Stone getting fired.


Soon after, Stone filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board. And then he posted about the experience on Twitter.

Last week I was let go from my role at @DollarGeneral corporate. This came after months of organizing my fellow coworkers in stores, at corporate, in distribution centers & more.

Please read and share this thread about why myself & others took action to fight for one other.

— Daniel Stone (@DanielGStone) May 5, 2020

In its statement, Dollar General says “we emphatically deny” that Stone was fired for “any unlawful reason,” adding that the company “has a zero-tolerance policy for unlawful retaliation.”

Already 2020 had been for Stone a “what the hell?” kind of year, he says. “Now during a pandemic I’ve been terminated for organizing workers.” He still struggles to understand the logic of it. “What’s negative about asking for better pay?” 

Dollar General isn’t known for looking kindly on assertive workers. During its expansion, the company cracked down hard on workers organizing for better conditions. Twice in the past five years, the New Jersey worker tells Mother Jones, corporate reps showed up in the store to hold what she understood to be meetings discouraging unionization. “My cashiers felt bullied,” she says. (One thread in the Dollar General subreddit asked, “Why is dollar general so anti union??” The top reply: “Because then they’d have to treat us like actual human beings.”) You won’t hear employees talk about it much in public, though. Workers told Mother Jones they were afraid to speak on the record specifically because they feared harsh blowback from corporate. They said the employee handbook forbade them from speaking with the press. “People are just scared to lose their job,” Stone says. Dollar General did not respond to questions about these policies.

In December 2017, workers at a Dollar General in Auxvasse, Missouri, voted to unionize in a 4-to-2 vote. It was the first store in the chain to unionize. The company challenged the outcome on the basis of complaints from two workers who had voted yes. One claimed that a fellow employee threatened to slash her tires if she voted against the union; another claimed the same employee offered her $100 to vote yes. In February 2020, the union vote was upheld. But it did not matter.

“They sent us a letter about three weeks ago that they are willing to bargain with us,” says David Cook, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, which helped the Missouri employees unionize. In the same letter, he says, the company also informed Stone it was closing the store. “So, they are willing to negotiate a contract for us for a store they’re going to close,” Cook tells Mother Jones, chuckling.

He likens it to what Walmart did when meat cutters organized in a handful of stores. The company shut down meat counters across the country. “Dollar General is copying that playbook to the T—we will fight you all the way, we’re trying to get you to quit, we’ll make you miserable,” Cook says. “And we will even close stores before we recognize your union.” Dollar General did not respond to questions about the union drive in Missouri.

Growth is everything at Dollar General. It will not be deterred from its expansionary goals—not by a union, not by an inquisitive market planning analyst, certainly not by a pandemic. In 2017, a writer for Bloomberg Businessweek described a presentation given by Vasos that included a map “that looks similar to an epidemiological forecast, with yellow and green dots spreading like a pox”—the green ones representing “remaining opportunities.” Each store might not sell the mass quantities of a Walmart, but Dollar General sought to make up via sheer ubiquity what it might lack in same-store sales. The company would be everywhere, selling a little. In 2017, Dollar General had 12,483 stores; it now has 16,300. This hit the company’s goal, as Stone described it to Mother Jones: a thousand new locations a year. 

“Nothing really impacted our expansion,” Stone says. “It was going to expand regardless of the pandemic.” In fact, the COVID-19 crisis may even give the plans a boost. CNN Business thinks that discount chains like Dollar General “stand to thrive” in a pandemic, as shoppers cut back on their spending and focus on household essentials. On Tuesday, Jackson County, Florida approved a new Dollar General to open.

In the past five years, Dollar General has already taken on 35,000 new employees, giving it nearly 150,000, and some 50,000 additional workers are being added during the pandemic. More stores means more workers laboring under the Dollar General way—more workers getting caught up in what Rebecca calls “the contradictions of their policies and their action.” 

“They don’t give a shit what you do. They don’t care what you do,” she says. “They want it done. Cleaned up. Move on.”

Rebecca, in the end, never got tested for the coronavirus. “I still had to come back and work because I didn’t get paid,” she says. “It’s been awful.” She describes the company’s COVID-19 response as a “smack in the face”—not that she expected anything better. By now she knows the Dollar General way.

Trump’s Latest Farm Bailout Is Great—If You’re a Huge Corporate Farmer

Mother Jones Magazine -

Hillary Wilson Kimmel runs PTB Farm with her husband, Worth, outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. They raise hogs, cattle, and sheep on pasture and grow vegetables, all of which they sell through two farmers markets. (Full disclosure: Kimmel is my sister-in-law and former partner on a different farm.) When the coronavirus lockdown hit, the Kimmels made a hasty switch to an online ordering platform with on-farm pickup. So far, despite some technology hiccups, the sales have been fairly close to normal, she said, and the one-time $1,200 stimulus checks she and her husband received helped them pay for the equipment they needed to transition away from the farmers market. 

But she worries about what will happen during the summer and fall, the two seasons they rely on most for their annual income. What will the re-opened farmers markets look like? “Will it be safe for us to set up our stands? Will people come? Can we safely scale up our on-farm pickup?”

Small and medium farms like Kimmel’s—the kind that supply farmers markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA) boxes, and farm-to-table restaurants—have had a wild ride during the COVID-19 crisis. They’ve seen booming demand for their goods even as their normal sales channels close down, forcing them to improvise new ways to meet their customers. In a recent national poll of small-scale farmers commissioned by New York chef Dan Barber, nearly a third of respondents reported they’d face bankruptcy if farmers market and restaurant sales are still way down in August. 

Nearly a third of respondents reported they’d face bankruptcy if farmers market and restaurant sales are still way down in August. 

On May 19, President Donald Trump’s department of agriculture announced a $16 billion fund to deliver direct payments to farmers. The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, as it’s known, is a product of the the CARES Act, passed in April to buffer the economy from the fallout of the coronavirus lockdown. The act dictated that the the funds should go to “agricultural producers impacted by coronavirus,” explicitly including “producers that supply local food systems, including farmers markets, restaurants, and schools.” At a May 19 presentation, USDA secretary Sonny Perdue said the program would deliver payments to “farmers of all sizes.”

But farmers and local-food advocates say the CFAP essentially shuts out small- and mid-sized farms that cater to local markets, which according to USDA research accounts for about $11.8 billion in annual sales. One fundamental problem is the program is designed to partially offset lost sales based on wholesale prices—which makes sense for large farms that move their produce at massive scale through distributors. But the wholesale commodity price is a “lot lower than what farmers get from selling at the farmers markets or to their farm to table restaurants,” said Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. 

Let’s say you’re a farmer who grew a cache of asparagus intended for the farmers market, which closed down for the coronavirus, and you couldn’t find a new way to sell it. The going price at the farmers market is as much as $5 per pound; the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program offers per-pound compensation at the rate of $0.38. As a result of that discrepancy, Hoefner said, the program is “just really isn’t do much at all” for farmers geared to local markets. 

Then there’s the fact that such farms tend to grow multiple crops. Not only would be it be a paperwork headache to apply for loss coverage for a dozen separate crops; but many of the vegetables that are popular in local markets—kale, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, arugula—didn’t make the USDA’s list. 

There’s also a seasonal issue. The Food Assistance program is designed to partially offset lost sales due to COVID-19 from mid-January 2020 to mid-April 2020. That’s a productive time for the mainly industrial-scale ag zones of southern California and central Florida, but for farms in vast swaths of the country, it’s low season. Farmers may be selling the last vestiges of winter crops, but their main focus is planting for the summer season. For these operations, the COVID-19 emergency forced them to retool their marketing channels on the fly, often by hastily rolling out online-ordering systems and contact-free pickups—while at the same time scrambling to keep up with planting schedules, and worrying about what the economic meltdown will do to summer demand.

Trump’s Food Assistance fund does nothing to ease these burdens, said Sanaz Arjomand, federal policy director of the National Young Farmers Coalition. The young and largely first-generation farmers her group advocates for are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus crisis’ shocks, she added. They tend to farm on rented land with equipment they’re still paying for, running operations with low profit margins. The fund is “not a workable solution for early-career farmers hit with such a curveball that nobody could have seen coming,” she said. 

In an April 9 letter to USDA chief Perdue, the Coalition proposed that diversified farms be given grants equal to 25 percent of their normal annual revenue, with payments capped at $25,000; and for farmers who are able to show clear documentation, coverage of 50 percent of losses, with a maximum payment of $100,000. 

Such an income-based program would ease her anxiety and help for prepare for the coming high season, Kimmel saysAn even simpler option, she adds, would be for the federal government to continue paying out monthly $1,200 stimulus checks—a program that would help millions of low- and middle-income people, including small-scale farmers and many of their customers, at a time of spiraling unemployment.

The fund “is absolutely designed for somebody,” Kimmel says, “but that somebody is not me.” 

While the concerns of diversified growers went unheeded in to the rollout of Trump’s Food Assistance fund, Big Ag clearly had the ear of the administration. At his presentation rolling out the program, Trump brought out Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, a large insurance conglomerate and agribusiness lobbying outfit. Duvall heaped praise on Trump, calling him a “friend to the farmer” who “stood behind us during all the difficulties” of the pandemic. 

While farms that supply local markets are essentially blocked from the fund’s benefits, large commodity farms found plenty to like. The plan set maximum payouts at an eye-popping $250,000 per farm, and $750,000 for those that are set up as corporations running multiple entities. As a result, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s Hoefner says, the $16 billion fund will likely flow mainly to growers of  already-highly subsidized crops like soybeans and corn, as will as large producers of hogs, cattle, and other livestock. 

The fund “is absolutely designed for somebody,” Kimmel says, “but that somebody is not me.” 


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