Monday, 6 April 2020

Corona and US Mass Shootings: No Rest for the Wicked

In the US, the immediate impact of Covid-19 seems to be a sharp drop in crime, except for one major category. About twice as many people have died in mass shootings this March as in the same time in previous years.

In March of 2018, there were 10 deaths from mass-shootings. In March of 2019, there were 12 deaths. During this March, under the quarantine conditions of a pandemic, there were 26 mass-shooting fatalities. The number of wounded has also increased this March compared to the last.

The United States has had the most mass shootings of any country, and even in the midst of a pandemic, the rate is not declining.

With Covid-19 impacting social behavior, many forms of crime have ebbed, at least for now. In New York City, the area hardest hit by the outbreak, the number of serious felonies dropped 16.6 percent from March 16 to March 22 compared to the same period in 2019, according to The Wall Street Journal. Burglaries and assaults were each down about 18 percent compared with the previous week.

More @RT.com.

Friday, 3 April 2020

TDS and the Trumpists trying to talk down COVID-19 death toll

As the death toll from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 soars in the U.S. and statistical models predict more than 100,000 to come, conservative media personalities are pushing the ghoulish argument that the fatality statistics are “inflated” because they count people who died with the disease but also had underlying conditions. This is the next frontier in the right's effort to downplay the effect of the coronavirus in order to defend President Donald Trump.

New York City’s Health Department breaks down its data for COVID-19 deaths by identifying how many of the deceased had underlying conditions, how many did not, and how many for whom that information is currently unknown. Some online conspiracy theorists have argued that only the death toll for the tiny fraction of cases without underlying conditions should be considered, a frame subsequently adopted by some right-wing media figures. But as the Daily Dot noted in demolishing this talking point, a large percentage of Americans have at least one of the listed conditions, which include high blood pressure, asthma, and diabetes.

In fact, COVID-19’s death toll is almost certainly being undercounted. The Wall Street Journal analyzed data from Italy and concluded that as the virus stretched the health care system to its breaking point, “many people who die from the virus don’t make it to the hospital and are never tested,” and thus are not included in the official count. By comparing the number of deaths in particular communities to the same period a year ago, the Journal concluded that the true count is “far higher” than the recorded one. Evidence from Spain and anecdotal reports from the United States suggest that the Italian experience is not an anomaly.

But that hasn’t kept leading right-wing media figures, including people from both Fox News’ “opinion” and “news” sides, from pushing the flawed argument that the count is being exaggerated.

“I cannot find anywhere the definition of what it means to die from this virus,” Fox host Mark Levin noted on his BlazeTV show earlier this week. “In other words,” he continued, “if I go into the hospital and I already have a very, very bad heart, and I’m not given a whole lot of time, and then I get this virus, and it puts me over the edge, is that counted as dying from heart failure, heart disease, a heart attack, if you have one, or the virus?” “I don’t know,” he added.

Rush Limbaugh, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Trump and spent much of last month claiming that coronavirus was no different from the common cold, offered a similar argument today. “It’s admittedly speculation,” he claimed, but “what if we are recording a bunch of deaths to coronavirus which really should not be chalked up to coronavirus?” He continued: “People die on this planet every day from a wide variety of things. But because the coronavirus is out there, got everybody paranoid, governments are eager, almost, to chalk up as many deaths to coronavirus as they can because then it furthers the policies they have put in place by virtue of their models.”

Brit Hume, Fox’s senior political analyst and the former lead anchor of the network’s “news” side, was even more adamant. Hume highlighted what he termed a “very informative thread” on Twitter Wednesday evening and used it to argue that “NY's Covid 19 fatality numbers are inflated” because they don’t “distinguish between those who die with the disease and those who die from it.”

The thread Hume cited was written by someone whose Twitter bio identifies him as an “Investor” and “extreme salesman.” The thread describes the New York City statistics as “cooked” and suggests that efforts to control the spread of the virus in Germany and the United Kingdom are using fascist tactics. The author has previously questioned whether the coronavirus is a “leaked bioweapon.”

This wasn’t the first time Hume has credulously promoted contrarian coronavirus takes from people with no relevant experience. Last month, he shared a “smart analysis” a Silicon Valley technologist had posted on Medium claiming that the virus’s threat was relatively low and did not justify efforts by public health officials to close businesses. Medium took the piece down after experts dissected its shoddy statistical analysis, and Hume shared another Twitter thread debunking it after I called attention to his tweet.

Expect this argument to gain increasing credence on Fox and elsewhere in the right-wing media. In an effort to explain away the president’s failure to contain the coronavirus, Trumpists will absurdly declare that the “real” coronavirus death toll is much lower than it is. They will pretend not to see the refrigerator trucks outside hospitals serving as temporary morgues to hold the excess of bodies, or the mass graves under construction as their final resting place.

We saw something similar after Hurricane Maria triggered a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. When the Puerto Rican government raised the official death toll to 2,975, based on estimates from an independent study it had commissioned, Trump claimed that the updated count was fake and an attempt to attack him politically -- and his devoted right-wing media sycophants rushed to take his side.

After their network spent weeks downplaying the danger posed by the coronavirus, Fox personalities are now angrily denying that ever happened. But grappling with the full horror of what is happening would require them to place some amount of blame on the president, and they are desperately searching for ways to avoid that.

MediaMatters.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

‘Criminal blockade’: Cuba outraged as delivery of Covid-19 aid from Alibaba chief aborted ‘at the last minute’ due to US sanctions

Cuba has slammed the US’ “criminal blockade” of the country after the embargo stood in the way of the delivery of Covid-19 test kits and ventilators donated by Chinese e-commerce tycoon Jack Ma.

The criminal blockade of the imperial government violates the human rights of the Cuban people,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel tweeted on Wednesday.

Cuba’s envoy to Beijing, Carlos Miguel Pereira, explained that an American firm was hired to deliver medical goods necessary to fight Covid-19, which were donated by a fund run by Jack Ma, Chinese philanthropist and owner of e-commerce giant Alibaba. However, the firm refused to deliver the shipment “at the last minute,” Pereira said.

Click here!

According to the Xinhua News Agency, the company had specifically worried about the possibility of violating the 1995 US Helms-Burton Act, which strengthened sanctions against Cuba.

Cuba has 212 confirmed Covid-19 cases, with six deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Ma announced last month that his foundation would donate emergency medical supplies to Cuba and 23 other Caribbean and South American nations. The donation was said to include 2 million masks, 400,000 test kits, and 104 ventilators.

The US has maintained a trade embargo against Cuba since 1960.

Source.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Coup plan B! US tells Guaido he may renounce his Venezuela ‘presidency’ claim – but they’ll still support him

US criminal envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams speaks about the new proposal at the State Department, in Washington, March 31, 2020.

The US State Department magnanimously agreed that opposition politician Juan Guaido may not actually be president of Venezuela, but insisted he still has to be part of a transition government if Caracas wants sanctions relief. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put forth a “democratic transition framework” on Tuesday, under which Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro would set up a power-sharing interim government with Guaido, that would arrange for elections in six months to a year.

According to Pompeo, the proposal “protects the interests and equities of all Venezuelan people who desperately seek a resolution to their dire political, economic and humanitarian crisis,” and he urged all sides to “carefully and seriously” consider it.

The US and EU would lift their sanctions against Venezuela – including a ban on oil exports and on Maduro and his colleagues personally – if and when the initiative is “fully implemented,” the State Department said.

Within hours, the government in Caracas rejected the US plan, calling it a “a pseudo-interventionist proposal for a supervised government.

"Venezuela does not accept, nor will it ever accept any tutelage, from any foreign government."
Click here!

Washington and a score of its allies have stubbornly maintained since January 2019 that Guaido is the true president of Venezuela. Tuesday’s proposal is a tacit admission that his claim is void – but that does not mean the US is giving up on its dreams of regime change.

We've made clear all along that Nicolas Maduro will never again govern Venezuela,” Pompeo told reporters, adding that the State Department “worked closely” with Guaido when they put together the proposal, and continue to support him.

I think he's the most popular politician in Venezuela. I think if there were an election held today, he could do incredibly well,” Pompeo said, when asked about Guaido.

In reality, the 36-year-old politician repeatedly failed to muster any decisive support for his claim in Venezuela, despite millions of dollars in US funding, and crushing sanctions targeting Maduro’s government as well as the country in general. Less than a hundred troops answered Guaido’s call for an armed uprising at the end of April 2019.

Read more (RT).

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Neoliberal Agribusiness and Corona virus/COVID-19

He’s [Rob Wallace] got a great book — Big Farms Make Big Flu — that lays out exactly how this happens. And Rob’s been giving very informative interviews on the topic over the last few weeks. One of them was with Marx21, a German lefty journal, where he encapsulates the work he’s been doing. I highly recommend it.

I’ll just quote a few parts:

The real danger of each new outbreak is the failure or—better put—the expedient refusal to grasp that each new Covid-19 is no isolated incident. The increased occurrence of viruses is closely linked to food production and the profitability of multinational corporations. Anyone who aims to understand why viruses are becoming more dangerous must investigate the industrial model of agriculture and, more specifically, livestock production. At present, few governments, and few scientists, are prepared to do so. Quite the contrary.
When the new outbreaks spring up, governments, the media, and even most of the medical establishment are so focused on each separate emergency that they dismiss the structural causes that are driving multiple marginalized pathogens into sudden global celebrity, one after the other.
Who is to blame?
I said industrial agriculture, but there’s a larger scope to it. Capital is spearheading land grabs into the last of primary forest and smallholder-held farmland worldwide. These investments drive the deforestation and development leading to disease emergence. The functional diversity and complexity these huge tracts of land represent are being streamlined in such a way that previously boxed-in pathogens are spilling over into local livestock and human communities. In short, capital centers, places such as London, New York, and Hong Kong, should be considered our primary disease hotspots.
For which diseases is this the case?
There are no capital-free pathogens at this point. Even the most remote are affected, if distally. Ebola, Zika, the coronaviruses, yellow fever again, a variety of avian influenzas, and African swine fever in hog are among the many pathogens making their way out of the most remote hinterlands into peri-urban loops, regional capitals, and ultimately onto the global travel network. From fruit bats in the Congo to killing Miami sunbathers in a few weeks‘ time.
What is the role of multinational companies in this process?
Planet Earth is largely Planet Farm at this point, in both biomass and land used. Agribusiness is aiming to corner the food market. The near-entirety of the neoliberal project is organized around supporting efforts by companies based in the more advanced industrialised countries to steal the land and resources of weaker countries. As a result, many of those new pathogens previously held in check by long-evolved forest ecologies are being sprung free, threatening the whole world.
The capital-led agriculture that replaces more natural ecologies offers the exact means by which pathogens can evolve the most virulent and infectious phenotypes. You couldn’t design a better system to breed deadly diseases.
How so?
Growing genetic monocultures of domestic animals removes whatever immune firebreaks may be available to slow down transmission. Larger population sizes and densities facilitate greater rates of transmission. Such crowded conditions depress immune response. High throughput, a part of any industrial production, provides a continually renewed supply of susceptibles, the fuel for the evolution of virulence. In other words, agribusiness is so focused on profits that selecting for a virus that might kill a billion people is treated as a worthy risk.
As for our xenophobic panic against the coronavirus? According to Rob, that panic should be directed at ourselves. “Capital centers — London, New York, Hong Kong, etc. — finance deforestation and development in capital peripheries around the world,” Rob wrote to me. “Look up Goldman Sachs buying into Chinese farms post-housing crisis. In a way the absurdity of blaming the U.S. for this isn’t that far off the mark once one reads between the lines of the nationalist sparring.”
Anyway, make sure you check out the rest of Rob’s interview here and read his book while you self-isolate. Take care of yourself!
Click here!

Full article (GrayZone).

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Coronavirus pandemic has led to a 900 PERCENT increase of hate speech toward China and Chinese people on Twitter, a new report reveals

The coronavirus outbreak has led to a 900 per cent uptick in hate speech toward China and Chinese people on Twitter, a new report has revealed.

L1ght, a company that specializes in measuring online toxicity, found hashtags such as #Kungflu, #chinesevirus and #communistvirus have become very popular among individuals tweeting about the pandemic.

The findings come as numerous US rights groups, activists and politicians have sounded the alarm about a surge in the number of racist incidents directed at Asian Americans.

L1ght analyzed millions of websites, social networks, teen chatting forums and gaming sites from December 2019 to today, along with images, videos and voice recordings to identify increases in hate speech, cyberbullying and general online toxicity.

[...]

Click here!

'People are spending more and more time on social networks, communication apps, chat rooms and gaming services, and the problems endemic to these platforms -- hate, abuse, toxicity and bullying -- have become accentuated,' the Israel-based company L1ght said in the report.

'According to our data, much of this hate and abuse is being directed towards China and its population, as well as individuals of Asian origin in other parts of the world,' added the startup that uses artificial intelligence to detect harmful content in social networks.

The report states that although there are some uplifting stories being shared online as people confined because of the pandemic first detected in China turn to the Internet, there is also plenty of hate being shared.

'Toxic tweets are using explicit language to accuse Asians of carrying the coronavirus and blaming people of Asian origin as a collective for spreading the virus,' the study found.

Certain media outlets have also been found to encourage backlash against Asians, pointing to a video on Sky news Australia titled 'China willfully inflicted coronavirus upon the world.'

[...]

Along with hate speech running rampant online, bullying and abusive language among children are also on the rise.

L1ght found a 70 percent increase of both between young children and teens.

Internet traffic to prominent hate sites has also increased 200 percent.

Along with using the internet to spread hate, users are also using to share conspiracy theories and misinformation about the deadly disease.

The UK-based charity the Center for Countering Digital Hate has been tracking 50 social media accounts that are peddling health-related misinformation.

These forums promote fake cures, question the risk from the current pandemic and peddle conspiracies suggesting that the virus was man-made for nefarious ends.

According to the center, tech firms like Facebook are not doing enough to combat coronavirus conspiracy theories and other fake information.

The spread of misinformation and fake cures has the potential to undermine efforts to tackle to coronavirus epidemic and could end up costing lives.

'Social media is currently awash with conspiracy theories, fake news, and incorrect medical advice about coronavirus and COVID-19,' said the CCDH's CEO, Imran Ahmed.

'Some of it is produced by extremists seeking to undermine faith in government and experts, some by grifters seeking to sell false cures and some are just sadly misinformed and think they’re doing the right thing by spreading the wrong advice.'

The CCDH — who counters hate and misinformation on a global scale — is presently tracking around 50 social media bodies with a total membership of 800,000 users promoting misleading information about coronavirus, the Telegraph reported. Source:

Daily Mail.

Friday, 27 March 2020

So the "magic money tree" DOES exist after all!

COVID-19: Our Leaders Are Terrified. Not of the Virus — of Us

Governments will try to conceal for a little longer the fact that capitalism is entirely incapable of solving the very crises it has created, writes Jonathan Cook.

You can almost smell the fear-laden sweat oozing from the pores of television broadcasts and social media posts as it finally dawns on our political and media establishments what the coronavirus actually means. And I am not talking about the threat posed to our health.

A worldview that has crowded out all other thinking for nearly two generations is coming crashing down. It has no answers to our current predicament. There is a kind of tragic karma to the fact that so many major countries — meaning major economies — are today run by the very men least equipped ideologically, emotionally and spiritually to deal with the virus.

That is being starkly exposed everywhere in the West, but the U.K. is a particularly revealing case study.

Dragging Their Heels

It emerged at the weekend that Dominic Cummings, the ideological powerhouse behind Britain’s buffoonish Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was pivotal in delaying the U.K. government’s response to the coronavirus — effectively driving Britain on to the Italian (bad) path of contagion rather than the South Korean (good) one.

According to media reports at the weekend, Cummings initially stalled government action, arguing of the coming plague that “if that means some pensioners die, too bad.” That approach explains the dragging of heels for many days, and then days more of dither that is only now coming to a resolution.

Cummings, of course, denies ever making the statement, calling the claim “defamatory.” But let’s dispense with the formalities. Does anybody really – really – believe that that wasn’t the first thought of Cummings and half the cabinet when confronted with an imminent contagion they understood was about to unravel a social and economic theory they have dedicated their entire political careers to turning into a mass cult? An economic theory from which — by happy coincidence — they derive their political power and class privilege.

And sure enough, these hardcore monetarists are already quietly becoming pretend socialists to weather the very first weeks of the crisis. And there are many months more to run.

Austerity Thrown Out

As I predicted in my last post, the U.K. government last week threw out the austerity policies that have been the benchmark of Conservative Party orthodoxy for more than a decade and announced a splurge of spending to save businesses with no business as well as members of the public no longer in a position to earn a living.

Since the 2008 financial crash, the Tories have cut social and welfare spending to the bone, creating a massive underclass in Britain, and have left local authorities penniless and incapable of covering the shortfall. For the past decade, the Conservative government excused its brutalist approach with the mantra that there was no “magic money tree” to help in times of trouble.

The free market, they argued, was the only fiscally responsible path. And in its infinite wisdom, the market had decided that the 1 percent — the millionaires and billionaires who had tanked the economy in that 2008 crash — would get even filthier rich than they were already. Meanwhile, the rest of us would see the siphoning off of our wages and prospects so that the 1 percent could horde yet more wealth on offshore islands where we and the government could never get our hands on it.

“Neoliberalism” became a mystifying term used to reimagine unsustainable late-stage, corporate capitalism not only as a rational and just system but as the only system that did not involve gulags or bread queues.

Not only did British politicians (including most of the Labour parliamentary party) subscribe to it, but so did the entire corporate media, even if the “liberal” Guardian would very occasionally and very ineffectually wring its hands about whether it was time to make this turbo-charged capitalism a little more caring.

Only deluded, dangerous Jeremy Corbyn “cultists” thought different.

Self-Serving Fairytale

But suddenly, it seems, the Tories have found that magic money tree after all. It was there all along and apparently has plenty of low-hanging fruit the rest of us may be allowed to partake from.

One doesn’t need to be a genius like Dominic Cummings to see how politically terrifying this moment is for the Establishment. The story they have been telling us for 40 years or more about harsh economic realities is about to be exposed as a self-serving fairytale. We have been lied to – and soon we are going to grasp that very clearly.

That is why this week the Tory politician Zac Goldsmith, a billionaire’s son who was recently elevated to the House of Lords, described as a “twat” anyone who had the temerity to become a “backseat critic” of Boris Johnson. And it is why the feted “political journalist” Isabel Oakeshott – formerly of The Sunday Times and a regular on BBC Question Time – took to twitter to applaud Mike Hancock and Johnson for their self-sacrifice and dedication to public service in dealing with the virus:

Be ready. Over the coming weeks, more and more journalists are going to sound like North Korea’s press corps, with paeans to “the dear leader” and demands that we trust that he knows best what must be done in our hour of need.

Saved by the Bail-Outs

The political and media class’s current desperation has a substantive cause — and one that should worry us as much as the virus itself.

Twelve years ago, capitalism teetered on the brink of the abyss, its structural flaws exposed for anyone who cared to look. The 2008 crash almost broke the global financial system. It was saved by us, the public. The government delved deep into our pockets and transferred our money to the banks. Or rather the bankers.

We saved the bankers — and the politicians — from their economic incompetence through bail-outs that were again mystified by being named “quantitative easing.”

But we weren’t the ones rewarded. We did not own the banks or get a meaningful stake in them. We did not even get oversight in return for our huge public investment. Once we had saved them, the bankers went right back to enriching themselves and their friends in precisely the same manner that stalled the economy in 2008.

The bail-outs did not fix capitalism, they simply delayed for a while longer its inevitable collapse.

“The story they have been telling us for 40 years or more about harsh economic realities is about to be exposed as a self-serving fairytale.”

Capitalism is still structurally flawed. Its dependence on ever-expanding consumption cannot answer the environmental crises necessarily entailed by such consumption. And economies that are being artificially “grown,” at the same time as resources deplete, ultimately create inflated bubbles of nothingness — bubbles that will soon burst again.

Survival Mode

Indeed, the virus is illustrative of one of those structural flaws — an early warning of the wider environmental emergency, and a reminder that capitalism, by intertwining economic greed with environmental greed, has ensured the two spheres collapse in tandem.

Pandemics like this one are the outcome of our destruction of natural habitats — to grow cattle for burgers, to plant palm trees for cakes and biscuits, to log forests for flat-pack furniture. Animals are being driven into ever closer proximity, forcing diseases to cross the species barrier. And then in a world of low-cost flights, disease finds an easy and rapid transit to every corner of the planet.

The truth is that in a time of collapse, like this decade-long one, capitalism has only “magic money trees” left. The first one, in the late 2000s, was reserved for the banks and the large corporations – the wealth elite that now run our governments as plutocracies.

The second “magic money tree,” needed to deal with what will become the even more disastrous economic toll wrought by the virus, has had to be widened to include us. But make no mistake. The circle of beneficence has been expanded not because capitalism suddenly cares about the homeless and those reliant on food banks. Capitalism is an amoral economic system driven by the accumulation of profit for the owners of capital. And that’s not you or me.

No, capitalism is now in survival mode. That is why Western governments will, for a time, try to “bail out” sections of their publics too, giving back to them some of the communal wealth that has been extracted over many decades. These governments will try to conceal for a little longer the fact that capitalism is entirely incapable of solving the very crises it has created. They will try to buy our continuing deference to a system that has destroyed our planet and our children’s future.

It won’t work indefinitely, as Dominic Cummings knows only too well. Which is why the Johnson government, as well as the Trump administration and their cut-outs in Brazil, Hungary, Israel, India and elsewhere, are in the process of drafting draconian emergency legislation that will have a longer term goal than the immediate one of preventing contagion.

Western governments will conclude that it is time to shore up capitalism’s immune system against their own publics. The risk is that, given the chance, they will begin treating us, not the virus, as the real plague.

Source: Jonathan Cook.