Archive | April 4th, 2020

Saving Journalism Will Require Some New Thinking

by DEAN BAKER

There has been a new wave of despair among journalists in the last couple of weeks as several major news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and McClatchy News Service, announced layoffs and/or pay cuts. The immediate cause is the coronavirus. Pandemics sharply reduce advertising opportunities, but the underlying model is clearly not viable for most news outlets.

There is a limited amount of money that businesses are willing to pay for web ads, which is now by far the largest form of distribution. This is especially the case when Facebook and Google can offer much better targeted advertising. Subscriptions can raise some money, but apart from the New York Times and a few other elite publications, this source of revenue will not go far in supporting the people who produce and edit content.

While the immediate problem of the coronavirus forced shutdown will eventually abate, the longer-term trends in the industry are not going away. Fewer and fewer journalists will be supported through the current model, leaving us ever more poorly served. We clearly need a new model.

A New Approach

Most of the thinking on a new model involves some sort of government subsidy to existing news outlets. This is likely a political non-starter, since it is almost inconceivable that Republicans would support papers like the New York Times or the Washington Post, much less more progressive outlets. Of course, few non-Republicans would be able to stomach tax dollars going to Fox News or some of the other looney outlets on the right.

It is also hard to justify from a moral standpoint. Why should the government entrench the current structure of the media? Maybe at some point in the past people thought that certain news outlets provided valuable content, and that made them profitable (or they just had good marketing), but what is the rationale for locking in this outcome with government dollars?

There is a way around this roadblock. Instead of having the government directly give money to news outlets, we can have the government give individual tax credits to people, who could then support the news outlet(s) of their choice. The model for this already exists: the charitable contribution tax deduction.  (I discuss this in somewhat more detail in chapter 5 of Rigged [it’s free].)

With the charitable tax deduction, the government is effectively picking up the tab for 37 cents of each dollar of a rich person’s contribution to whatever charity they choose. If a rich person decides to give a million dollars to the local symphony, we give them $370,000 back on their taxes. The same is true if they give the money to a museum, or the Church of Scientology.

I picked the last one to make the obvious point that this subsidy is not necessarily going to an organization that many of us would think of as serving the common good. Perhaps we should be bothered by that, but in any case, we have been living for decades with a tax code that provides large subsidies to organizations that many of us would not approve of, without it become a major political issue.

An individual tax credit would work along the same lines as the charitable contribution deduction on income taxes, with some important differences. First, it would be a credit, let’s say $100 per person, that would be fully refundable. This means that every adult in the country would have the right to give $100, regardless of whether they owed taxes or not. This is far more progressive than the charitable contribution deduction, which overwhelming benefits high income people. This is in part because the value is larger for people in higher income tax brackets (it’s worth 37 cents on the dollar for people in the top bracket, versus 12 cents on the dollar for the bulk of the population in the 12 percent tax bracket). Also, only people who itemize can benefit from the deduction, and the vast majority of moderate and middle-income taxpayers do not itemize their deductions.

The second difference would be that it would be used for supporting journalism and other creative work and workers. This could mean writers of both fiction and non-fiction, musicians, moviemakers, and other people doing creative work. The reason for drawing the line broadly is that we don’t want the I.R.S. to be in the business of deciding who is doing journalism and who isn’t. If we draw the lines at creative work, we don’t have to get into arguments about whether a reporter with a political slant is still doing journalism. Also, all creative work has suffered in the Internet age, as it is very difficult to raise revenue from recorded music, videos, and other material when it can be transmitted at a near-zero cost over the web.

There will still be boundary questions, where it can be debated whether work can qualify as “creative,” but this is not likely to be a major problem. After all, someone could try to qualify as a tax-exempt religious institution by creating the “Church for Ripping Off the I.R.S.” Scams do happen, but they are not frequent enough to be a major problem.

We also will need an explicit system of registration, comparable to registering for 501(c) status as a tax-exempt organization. This would mean reporting to the I.R.S. an individual or organization’s status as a creative worker or an organization that supports creative work. It would require reporting what creative work a person claims to do or an organization supports. The I.R.S. would make no evaluation of the quality of the work, just as it does not attempt to evaluate the merits of a religion filing for tax-exempt status. The only issue would be one of fraud, where the I.R.S. could investigate whether a person or organization is actually engaged in doing or supporting the creative work they identified.

The other aspect to filing to be eligible to receive money through the tax credit system would be that the person and/or organization would be denied getting copyright protection for a substantial period of time, say 3-5 years. The logic here is that copyright monopolies are one way the government supports creative work. The tax credit is an alternative mechanism. People are entitled to getting support through whichever mechanism they choose, but not both.

The reason for having a waiting period between getting money through the tax credit system and getting it from copyright protection is to avoid people using the former system to establish a reputation and then cashing in from copyright protection. We do not want the tax credit system to be a farm system for writers, musicians, and other creative workers to work their way through before making it big-time in the copyright-protected system. If people want to start out in the tax credit system, they should likely expect to stay in the system.

The nice aspect of this provision is that it is entirely self-enforcing. Suppose that we have a 5-year ban on copyright protection, that a popular singer tries to get around by securing a copyright for songs recorded three years after their last payments through the tax credit system. Since it would be public record that they had been in the tax credit system three years earlier, anyone could freely copy and transfer the new songs in spite of the singer’s copyright. He would have no recourse, since the copyright was not legally issued. This requires no action from the government; it is simply not enforcing an improperly awarded copyright.[1]

Supporting Journalism and Creative Work in the Tax Credit System

Suppose we went the tax credit system route and chose the $100 level. With roughly 250 million people over age 18, this would imply $25 billion a year to support journalists and other creative workers. At an average annual pay of $100,000 a year, this would support 250,000 journalists and other creative workers. At an average pay of $50,0000, it would support 500,000 creative workers.

I once used this $50,000 figure in a talk and got many creative workers very angry at me, since they felt I was under-valuing their work with this number. There are two important points to remember here. First, many creative workers, such as musicians or writers, do this work part-time. In other words, they have day jobs. For these people, getting $50,000 a year for work they very much value would sound quite good.

The other point is that being in this system does not prevent creative workers from making money through other channels. Musicians could still get paid for live performances or teaching music. Writers could get paid for workshops. In fact, nothing prevents someone from even printing out books (or newspapers) and selling them at a profit. However, without copyright protection, they probably could not hope to make too much money going this route, since a large markup would lead others to enter the market and undercut their price.

From the standpoint of the individual taxpayer this system could be made very simple. Individuals could have the option to make their $100 contribution and then file for their refund on their tax form. They would only have to identify the recipient in the event of an audit. Alternatively, the I.R.S. could provide a number corresponding to every eligible recipient of the tax credit. The person would then indicate which individual(s) and/or organization(s) they wanted to receive their $100. This could be divided among as many recipients as the individual chose.

To benefit from the tax credit system, creative workers and organizations would have to promote themselves as being worthy of people’s contributions. For newspapers and television news outlets, they would have to make a case that they provide especially useful and important news or that they give a political slant that people should find appealing. Writers, musicians, and other creative workers would have to tout the merits of their work. Alternatively, organizations that support particular types of writing or music or other creative work would tout the great work they are currently supporting.

As with the current system, there is no guarantee that everyone who wants to do creative work would be able to find enough backers to support themselves. If not many people value a particular writer’s work or a musician’s music, then they may not be able to make a living under the tax credit system, just as is the case now.

And, there is no guarantee that the Los Angeles Times or any other news outlet would be able to maintain a full staff of reporters and editors under this system. That would depend on them convincing enough people of the merits of their work. That may trouble some people who want to ensure that such news outlets survive, but it is hard to see what case can be made if these outlets can’t convince enough people of the merits of their work.

Obstacles to the Tax Credit System: Politics and Simplicity

I have no illusions about the obstacles to implementing a tax credit system along these lines. A large segment of the political establishment (pretty much the whole Republican party) would be very happy if any sources of information other than Fox News disappeared. They would have zero problem if every newspaper in the country went under. Most of them don’t really care about the fate of other creative workers either. That is an enormous obstacle to any effort to having a new program intended to shore up reporting and boost creative work.

But there is also the obstacle that many people who do support independent reporting can’t get themselves to think beyond the current system. Many continue to believe that what we just need is direct government subsidies to the existing outlets, as though this would be politically feasible or even desirable. Looking to a whole new system is a step too far.

The proposal outlined here probably also suffers from its simplicity. I recall once having an extended exchange with a professor at a major university. I explained several times how the system worked and how it would be determined who would get how much money. He was still insistent that I needed a measure of clicks or some other unit of viewership to determine the money that outlets or individuals received. For some reason, he simply could not understand that people’s contributions were the sole determinant: end of story.

Anyhow, I have never heard a remotely compelling argument as to why a system along the lines I have outlined would not work. I get the political obstacles, but if someone says we don’t have a way of supporting journalism in the Internet Age, they just haven’t done much thinking on the issue.

Notes.

[1] We also would need some rules to prevent simple types of fraud. For example, to prevent two people from trading their credits with each other, we could set a minimum level (say $3000) for someone to be able to get money through the system. People could still scam the system, but it would require a lot of effort for not much payoff.

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‘We Know This Script’: Naomi Klein Warns of ‘Coronavirus Capitalism’ in New Video Detailing Battle Before Us

“We know what Trump’s plan is: a pandemic shock doctrine… But the end of this story hasn’t been written yet.”

byJessica Corbett,

Naomi Klein, author of the 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, takes on "coronavirus capitalism" in a new video from The Intercept. (Image: iStock/GettyImages/With overlay)

Naomi Klein, author of the 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, takes on “coronavirus capitalism” in a new video from The Intercept. (Image: iStock/GettyImages/With overlay)

In a new video from The Intercept, author and activist Naomi Klein explains how the Trump administration and other governments across the globe are “exploiting” the coronavirus outbreak “to push for no-strings-attached corporate bailouts and regulatory rollbacks,” and urges working people worldwide to resist such efforts and demand real support from political leaders during the ongoing crisis.

Klein, author of the 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, notes that President Donald Trump has pushed for a payroll tax cut that could bankrupt Social Security; promised help to major polluters like airlines, cruise companies, and fossil fuel firms that are driving climate disruption; and met with executives of private health insurance companies—in the words of Klein, “the very ones who have made sure that so many Americans cannot afford the care they need.”

Watch:

“Look, we know this script. In 2008, the last time we had a global financial meltdown, the same kinds of bad ideas for no-strings-attached corporate bailouts carried the day, and regular people around the world paid the price,” says Klein. “We know what Trump’s plan is: a pandemic shock doctrine featuring all the most dangerous ideas lying around, from privatizing Social Security to locking down borders to caging even more migrants. Hell, he might even try canceling elections. But the end of this story hasn’t been written yet.”

“Instead of rescuing the dirty industries of the last century, we should be boosting the clean ones that will lead us into safety in the coming century,” Klein says, pointing to the Green New Deal. “If there is one thing history teaches us, it’s that moments of shock are profoundly volatile. We either lose a whole lot of ground, get fleeced by elites, and pay the price for decades, or we win progressive victories that seemed impossible just a few weeks earlier. This is no time to lose our nerve.”

Klein also discussed the COVID-19 pandemic on the Tuesday episode of Intercepted, a podcast hosted by The Intercept co-founder Jeremy Scahill.

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‘Despicable’: Insurance Industry Front Group Ramps Up Propaganda Against Medicare for All Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

“The healthcare industry will fight any threat to its profits with force and gobs of cash, even in the midst of a global pandemic. They cannot be bargained with. And they must be defeated.”

byJake Johnson

“While this is disturbing, it should not be surprising,” advocacy group Medicare for All NOW! said of the insurance industry’s anti-Medicare for All ad blitz. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the United States, laying bare the myriad dysfunctions and inefficiencies of America’s for-profit healthcare system, a powerful insurance industry front group is openly ramping up its campaign against systemic healthcare reforms that experts say would help mitigate the outbreak and guarantee essential care for all.

Forbes Tate Partners, the lobbying firm behind the anti-Medicare for All group Partnership for America’s Health Care Future (PAHCF), tweeted late Monday that while its employees have been working from home since last Friday, “our work on behalf of our strategic partners and clients continues full steam ahead.”

To that end, PAHCF last week launched a Facebook ad blitz against Connecticut’s state public option plan and began laying the groundwork for propaganda efforts in other major states, including New York and California. PAHCF was formed in 2018 by major healthcare industry interests with the goal of squashing growing public support for single-payer.

“While this is disturbing, it should not be surprising,” tweeted Medicare for All NOW!, an advocacy group that is tracking PAHCF’s activities. “The healthcare industry will fight any threat to its profits with force and gobs of cash, even in the midst of a global pandemic. They cannot be bargained with. And they must be defeated.”

Medicare for All NOW!@M4A_NOW

As the coronavirus exposes how ill-equipped the US healthcare system is to handle a major public health emergency, how is the health care industry responding? By quietly launching new propaganda campaigns against any and all proposed reforms around the country. (1/5)

Medicare for All NOW!@M4A_NOWReplying to @M4A_NOW

The industry just recently launched a Connecticut campaign, Connecticut’s Health Care Future, to defeat another state public option plan, which cleared its first legislative hurdle last week. They’ve started running Facebook ads and registered two lobbying firms . (3/5)

View image on Twitter

1105:46 PM – Mar 16, 2020

Former insurance industry executive Wendell Potter, the director Medicare for NOW!, tweeted Monday that “in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, the healthcare industry is quietly spending millions (they got from YOUR premiums and bills) to fight pro-consumer reforms all over the country.”

Ahead of the Democratic presidential primary debate between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe Biden Sunday night—held without an in-person audience due to the coronavirus outbreak—PAHCF published a lengthy memo condemning single-payer and other more incremental proposals like the public option as “one-size-fits-all” plans that would hike taxes on the middle class.

The memo, authored by former Obama administration official Lauren Crawford Shaver, does not mention recent studies showing single-payer would slash U.S. healthcare spending by hundreds of billions of dollars and save tens of thousands of lives each year.

Robert Reich@RBReich

Your #DemDebate reminder that Medicare for All would actually save $450,000,000,000 and prevent 68,000 unnecessary deaths every year.

The only thing standing in our way is the health insurance industry, which profits from the status quo.

The PAHCF memo also does not once mention the coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19, which has infected at least 4,400 people in the United States and killed 86. As Common Dreams reported last week, the insurance industry has pushed back against calls to waive all costs related to coronavirus treatment.

“In the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, the corporate front group for the hospital, pharma, and insurance industries continues to churn out anti-Medicare for All propaganda,” tweeted pro-Sanders group People for Bernie. “Despicable.”

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Ranked-Choice Voting: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

by HOWIE HAWKINS

Photograph Source: Kelley Minars – CC BY 2.0

Climate activist Bill McKibben took to the New Yorker recently to advise me and the Green Party to stand down our presidential campaign and instead work for ranked-choice voting (RCV) so we don’t “spoil” the election for Joe Biden (“Instead of Challenging Joe Biden, Maybe the Green Party Could Help Change Our Democracy,” April 15).

The problem with McKibben’s advice is that the Green Party’s demand for replacing the Electoral College with a ranked-choice national popular vote for president will not even be raised in the presidential campaign if the Greens are not in the race.

If McKibben wants RCV to be an issue in the 2020 presidential election, he should support the Green Party. As a climate activist, he should support the Green Party because we are the only option on the ballot for a full-strength Green New Deal to zero out carbon emissions with 100% clean energy by 2030. RCV is not anywhere on Joe Biden’s agenda. Biden’s “all-of-the-above” energy policy is what McKibben has devoted his life to opposing. If we don’t vote for what we want, how are we ever going to get it?

The Democratic Party has been complaining about the Green Party and trying to keep us off ballots since Ralph Nader ran for president in 2000. Both Republican presidents in the 21st century lost the popular vote when they were first elected. It is the Electoral College, not the Green Party, that installed losers like Donald Trump and George W. Bush in the White House.

The Greens have been offering RCV as a proven nonpartisan solution to the spoiler problem for 20 years. One would think that by now the Democrats would have embraced that reform in order to address the institutional reason why they have lost presidential elections despite winning the popular vote.

In RCV, voters rank their choices in order of preference. For voters, RCV is as easy as 1, 2, 3. If no candidate wins a majority in the first count, the last place candidate is eliminated and their voters’ second choices are allocated to the other candidates’ totals. This “instant runoff” process continues until a candidate receives of a majority of votes.

RCV enables more than two candidates to run without fear of “splitting the vote” among like-minded voters. RCV eliminates the incentive to vote for the “lesser evil” instead of the candidate you support the most. RCV ensures that the winner receives majority support.

RCV elects the most preferred candidate. With our current plurality elections, a candidate can win even when strongly opposed by the majority of voters, which could happen again in 2020. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by nearly 3 million votes. His disapproval ratings have been consistently above 50% throughout his presidency. Yet election analysts have put forth plausible scenarios where Trump could be re-elected by the Electoral College after losing the popular vote by as much as 5 million votes.

RCV discourages negative campaigning. In plurality elections, candidates benefit by attacking their opponents instead of campaigning positively on their own policies and experience. With RCV, candidates must also compete for second choice votes from their opponents’ supporters, which makes negative campaigning counter-productive.

RCV can be used in multi-seat elections to create proportional representation in legislative bodies where each political party is represented in proportion to the voting support they have. RCV for proportional representation in the House of Representatives, state legislatures, and municipal councils would foster a more politically and socially diverse multi-party democracy. The first African American elected to the New York City council, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., was first elected in 1941 when the city used RCV for proportional representation. America’s full social and political diversity would be fairly represented.

McKibben asserts that Nader in 2000 and Jill Stein in 2016 cost the Democrats the presidency. Actually, Democrats, not Nader, provided Bush with his narrow 537 vote victory in the official count Florida. Exit polls found that 308,000 Democrats voted for Bush and only 24,000 Democrats for Nader. Of course, the Supreme Court stopped the recount and awarded the victory to Bush even though Gore won when a media consortium did a thorough recount. In 2016, exit polls show that the Clinton still would have lost without the Stein on the ballot. 61 percent of Stein voters would have not voted had she not been on the ballot, which means the outcome in no state would have changed with Stein off the ballot.

But for the sake of illustration, let’s leave those facts aside and imagine that the Florida in 2000 had used RCV. Gore would have won handily. A Gallup poll asked Nader voters in Florida a week before the election who they would vote for if Nader was not on the ballot. 43 percent chose Gore. 21 percent chose Bush. 38 percent said they would not have voted, voted for others, or did not answer the question. Using RCV, the reallocation of third place finisher Nader’s 97,421 votes to their second choices would have put Gore well ahead of Bush.

23 cities in the US now use RCV. Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Malta, Northern Ireland, and Scotland use RCV. The state of Maine now uses RCV, including for the 2020 presidential election.

A national popular vote for president using RCV will require a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College. Constitutional amendments are not easy to pass. But history shows that when an amendment is an idea embraced by the people, it will be adopted.

The 27th Amendment, the most recent amendment to the US Constitution, was adopted in 1992. It languished for over 200 years as part of the original 12 amendments in James Madison’s Bill of Rights until it became an idea whose time had come. The 27th Amendment prohibits Congress from giving itself a raise during its current term. People became fed up in the 1980s at Congress giving itself raises. Spearheaded by Gregory Watson, a University of Texas college student with no budget or major organization behind him, ratification of the 27th Amendment swept through the states in the 1980s, starting with Maine.

With an unpopular president poised to be re-elected by the anti-democratic Electoral College despite again losing the popular vote, 2020 is the year to make a ranked-choice national popular vote for president a top issue in the presidential campaign. Maine is already there. It is time to make the saying that once described its reputation as a bellwether state in presidential elections—“As Maine goes, so goes the nation”—ring true again with RCV, an idea whose time has come.

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To Help Stem Coronavirus, Lift Sanctions on Iran

Among those in Iran who have been unable to get critical medications have been patients with leukemia, epidermolysis bullosa, epilepsy, and chronic eye injuries from exposure to chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. Now coronavirus is added to that list.

byMedea BenjaminAriel Gold

CODEPINK protests outside the Treasury Department. (Photo: Medea Benjamin)

CODEPINK protests outside the Treasury Department. (Photo: Medea Benjamin)

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is far from the first proof of how intertwined we are as a global community. The climate crisis and the refugee crisis have long been glaring examples that the wars or CO2 emissions on one continent risk the lives and well-being of people on another continent. What coronavirus is providing, however, is a unique opportunity to look specifically at how the intentional damage caused to one country’s healthcare system can make it harder for the entire world to address a pandemic.

The coronavirus started in China in December 2019 and President Donald Trump immediately brushed it off as something limited to China. At the end of January 2020, he banned entry to the United States of people from China but still insisted that the Americans need not worry. It will have “a very good ending for us,” he said, insisting that his administration had the situation “very well under control.”

Despite Trump’s insistence that the medical pandemics can be contained via travel bans and closed borders, the coronavirus knows no borders.

Despite Trump’s insistence that the medical pandemics can be contained via travel bans and closed borders, the coronavirus knows no borders. ByJanuary 20, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand had all reported cases. On January 21, the U.S. confirmed the infection of a 30-year-old Washington State man who had just returned from Wuhan, China.

On February 19, Iran announced two cases of the coronavirus, reporting within hours that both patients had died. By March 13, at the time of this writing, the total number of coronavirus infections in Iran is at least 11,362 and at least 514 people in the country have died. Per capita, it is currently the most heavily infected country in the Middle East and third in the world, after Italy and South Korea.

In the Middle East, coronavirus cases have now been identified in Israel/Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE, Iraq, Lebanon, Omar, and Egypt. If Iran is not able to stem the crisis, the virus will continue to spread throughout the Middle East and beyond.

By the time the coronavirus hit Iran on February 19, the country’s economy, including its healthcare system, had already been devastated by U.S. sanctions. Under the Obama administration, the Iranian economy was given a boost when the Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2015 and the nuclear-related sanctions were lifted. By February 2016, Iran was shipping oil to Europe for the first time in three years. In 2017, foreign direct investment increased by nearly 50% and Iran’s imports expanded by nearly 40% over 2015-2017.

The reimposition of sanctions after the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018 has had a devastating impact on the economy and on the lives of ordinary Iranians. The Iranian currency, the rial, lost 80 percent of its value. Food prices doubled, rents soared, and so did unemployment. The decimation of Iran’s economy, reducing the sale of oil from a high of 2.5 million barrels a day in early 2018 to about 250,000 barrels today, has left the government with scant resources to cover the enormous costs of dealing with direct medical treatment for patients suffering from the coronavirus, as well as supporting workers who are losing their jobs and helping businesses going bankrupt.

Humanitarian aid—food and medicine—was supposed to be exempt from sanctions. But that hasn’t been the case. Shipping and insurance companies have been unwilling  to risk doing business with Iran, and banks have not been able or willing to process payments. This is especially true after September 20, 2019, when the Trump administration sanctioned Iran’s Central Bank, severely restricting the last remaining Iranian financial institution that could engage in foreign exchange transactions involving humanitarian imports.

Even before Iran was unable to procure enough testing kits, respiratory machines, antiviral medicines and other supplies to slow the spread of the coronavirus and save lives, Iranians were having a hard time getting access to life-saving medications. In October 2019, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report citing that “the overbroad and burdensome nature of the US sanctions [on Iran] has led banks and companies around the world to pull back from humanitarian trade with Iran, leaving Iranians who have rare or complicated diseases unable to get the medicine and treatment they require.”

Among those in Iran who have been unable to get critical medications have been patients with leukemia, epidermolysis bullosa, epilepsy, and chronic eye injuries from exposure to chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. Now coronavirus is added to that list.

On February 27, 2020, with over 100 people in Iran having been infected and with a reported 16% mortality rate, the Treasury Department announced that it would waive sanctions for certain humanitarian supplies to go through Iran’s central bank. But it was far too little far too late, as the spread of coronavirus is yet to slow in Iran.

The Iranian government is not without blame. It grossly mishandled the beginning of the outbreak, downplaying the danger, putting out false information, and even arresting individuals who raised alarms. China had acted similarly at the start of the virus there. The same can be said for President Trump, as he initially blamed the virus on Democrats, told people not to practice social distancing, and refused to accept tests offered by the World Health Organization. Today, there are still nowhere near enough tests in the U.S., Trump is refusing to have himself tested despite having been in contact with infected individuals, and he continues to label this a “foreign virus.” Neither China nor the U.S., however, have the compounding problems of sanctions that prevent them from obtaining the necessary medicines, equipment, and other resources to address the crisis. 

It isn’t just Iran that is sanctioned. The U.S. imposes some form of sanctions against 39 countries, affecting over one-third of the world’s population. In addition to Iran, Venezuela is one of the countries most hard hit by U.S. sanctions, including new measures just imposed on March 12

According to President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela does not yet have any coronavirus cases. However, sanctions have contributed to making Venezuela one of the most vulnerable countries in the world. Its healthcare system is in such shambles that many public hospitals often do not have water, electricity, or basic medical supplies and many households have only limited access to basic cleaning supplies such as water and soap. “As of today, it has not reached Venezuela,” President Maduro said on March 12. “But we have to get ready. This is a time for President Donald Trump to lift the sanctions so Venezuela can buy what it needs to face the virus.” 

Likewise, the Iranian government, which is now asking the International Monetary Fund for $5 billion in emergency funding to fight the pandemic, has penned a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling for U.S. sanctions to be lifted.

There are sweeping changes President Trump needs to make to seriously address the coronavirus pandemic at home and abroad. He must stop minimizing the crisis and insisting that people do not need to exercise social distancing. He must stop falsely claiming that testing is available. He must stop catering to the greedy, profit-based healthcare industry. In addition, and no less important, the Trump administration must lift the sanctions on Iran, Venezuela and other countries where ordinary people are suffering. This is not a time to squeeze countries economically because we don’t like their governments. It’s a time to come together, as a global community, to share resources and best practices. If coronavirus is teaching us anything, it’s that we will only defeat this terrible pandemic by working together.

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Trump Failure to Declare Coronavirus National Emergency ‘Beyond Reckless and Irresponsible’

“This is an active and deliberate choice that the president is making.”

byAndrea Germanos,

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus response while flanked by Vice President Mike Pence during a briefing with health insurers at the White House on March 10, 2020.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus response while flanked by Vice President Mike Pence during a briefing with health insurers at the White House on March 10, 2020. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

After President Donald Trump suggested Thursday he may invoke a law known as the Stafford Act to declare the coronavirus pandemic an emergency, one expert said Friday that for Trump not to do so would be “beyond reckless and irresponsible.”

“We have things that I can do, we have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday. “I have it memorized, practically, as to the powers in that act. And if I need to do something, I’ll do it. I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about.”

The president is scheduled to make an address at 3pm Friday in which he may announce that measure to address the crisis.

But thus far Trump has been noncommittal about invoking the 1988 law, which would free up billions in relief funds, and downplayed the threat of the virus in the U.S., stating—to the contrary of health experts—that “we are in really good shape.”

As Reuters reported,

[The Stafford Act] empowers the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist state and local governments during “natural catastrophes” and coordinate the nation’s response.

FEMA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, controls more than $40 billion in federal funding set aside by Congress for disaster relief. FEMA could use that funding to help build medical facilities and transport patients, among other measures.

Politico reported Thursday that Trump “has been wary” of making such a declaration.

But according to disasterologist Dr. Samantha Montano, that inaction is simply “beyond reckless and irresponsible.” She framed the action as “bare minimum, emergency management 101 stuff,” that Trump could take.

Actually… “Is failing” is passive.

This is an active and deliberate choice that the president is making.

He says he understands this process (presumably someone sat him down to watch House of Cards at some point) so USE IT. pic.twitter.com/osv8o5bWxY— Dr. Samantha Montano (@SamLMontano) March 13, 2020

Montano is far from alone in urging Trump to make the declaration to address the pandemic.

In a letter sent Thursday to coronavirus czar Vice President Mike Pence, the American Hospital Association (AHA), the American Nurses Association (ANA), and the American Medical Association (AMA) urged the Trump to “declare the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a disaster or emergency under the Stafford Act or the National Emergencies Act,” which would help “ensure that healthcare services and sufficient healthcare items are available to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

“America’s healthcare system must be there to help communities face an emergency from a natural disaster, a manmade disaster, or a virulent contagious disease,” the heads of the medical groups wrote. “Our members are prepared to do our part to help patients and our communities. This requested action will provide the support we need in our collective mission to support the well-being, health, and safety of patients by allowing flexibility at a time when it is needed most.”

Democratic lawmakers including Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have also urged the president to make the declaration.

On remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, Markey said “Trump’s mismanagement of this crisis” is “unconscionable.”

“The president and his administration have undermined science and our scientists,” he continued, and called for Trump to immediately invoke the Stafford Act to declare an emergency.

The calls for action come as health experts give a grim assessment of the national response to the novel coronavirus. 

“Our response is much, much worse than almost any other country that’s been affected,” Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told NPR Thursday.

It’s “mind-blowing,” he said, adding, “And I don’t understand it.”

Posted in USA, HealthComments Off on Trump Failure to Declare Coronavirus National Emergency ‘Beyond Reckless and Irresponsible’

Trump Regime Scheme to Transition from Democracy to Tyranny in Venezuela

By Stephen Lendman

Global Research,

When WW II ended, fascist tyranny wasn’t defeated.

It was transplanted from Berlin, Tokyo, and Rome to the US — under new management.

Today it’s infinitely more menacing to world peace, stability, equity, justice, and the rule of law because of super-weapons able to destroy planet earth and all its life forms in a matter of days if unleashed full-force.

All nations not bending to Washington’s will at the expense of their sovereign rights are on its target list for regime change — by hot wars, economic wars, financial wars, and other means.

Venezuela is a prime US target because of its world’s large oil reserves, a prize both right wings of its war party covet.

It’s also because of Bolivarian model democracy, an equitable system the US tolerates nowhere, especially not at home.

Its majority hardliners want it replaced with US-controlled and exploited puppet rule.

Everything US regimes threw at Venezuela since Hugo Chavez’s December 1998 election as president failed.

On Tuesday, Pompeo unveiled the latest Trump regime anti-Bolivarian social democracy scheme, fooling no members of Maduro’s government.

It includes a laundry list of demands no responsible leadership anywhere would accept — amounting to unconditional surrender and abandonment of the fundamental rights of all Venezuelans.

On the phony pretext of seeking democratic transition in a nation with the hemisphere’s model system, the scheme is all about replacing it with US-controlled fascist tyranny.

It calls for abolishing the constitutionally established National Constituent Assembly and seating three anti-Bolivarian National Assembly MPs accused of electoral fraud to give opposition lawmakers super-majority control of the body.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled National Assembly actions null and void as long as these members are involved in instituting them.

The Trump regime also demands the following:

Release of prisoners convicted of crimes against the state falsely called “political prisoners.”

Departure of foreign forces from the country “immediately” — meaning Russia’s military presence — part of strategic partnership since 2001, currently involved in providing technical assistance, along with helping to protect Venezuela’s security and sovereign independence.

It also means removal of Cuban doctors, teachers, and other professionals involved in helping Venezuelans.

Replacing Venezuela’s democratic National Electoral Council (CNE) with a pro-Western one.

Establishment of a so-called “Council of State” with US controlled anti-government members sharing power with Bolivarian ones — headed by a “secretary general…who serves as interim president,” replacing Maduro and US-designated puppet Guaido.An Open Letter to the People of the United States from President Nicolas Maduro

“All powers assigned to the president by the Constitution will be vested exclusively in the Council of State.”

The “Council of State appoints a new cabinet.”

A so-called “Truth and Reconciliation Commission is established” to falsely hold Bolivarian officials accountable for US orchestrated crimes against the state and its people.

In “6 – 12 months,” US manipulated elections will be held to assure its control eliminates Bolivarian social democracy.

There’s more but you get the idea. The Trump regime seeks a total makeover of Venezuelan society.

It wants US control replacing governance of, by, and for all Venezuelans equitably — what Bolivarian rule is all about, polar opposite US policies that serve its privileged class exclusively at the expense of most others.

What Pompeo called a “man-made crisis in Venezuela” was made in and enforced by the US — war by other means on its people, aiming to cause maximum pain and suffering, along with wanting Venezuela’s economy crushed.

Below is the full same-day Maduro government response — translated to from Spanish to English:

The “Bolivarian Government reiterates that Venezuela is a free and sovereign country that does not accept tutelage from foreign governments.”

“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has learned through the media of the presentation of a supposed ‘Framework for Democratic Transition’ by the United States Department of State today.”

“In this regard, the Bolivarian Government reiterates that Venezuela is a free, sovereign, independent and democratic country that does not accept, nor will it ever accept, any kind of tutelage from any foreign government.”

“The policy of the United States towards Venezuela has completely lost its way.”

“In one week, it has wandered among constant contradictions,”

“It ranges from extortion and threats against officials of the Bolivarian Government, including rewards for their capture; to the presentation of an outrageous agreement for the installation of a supposedly unconstitutional transitional government, ignoring the democratic will expressed by the Venezuelan people at the polls.”

“The pseudo American proposal confirms that the officials of that country are completely unaware of the Venezuelan legal system and the functioning of its institutions.”

“It is noteworthy, however, that they include the curious decision to remove the seat of the deputy illegally proclaimed as interim president, who was chosen by them in 2019 as the spearhead of their coup strategy and who has complied with the orders given from Washington, through the paths of violence and persistent conspiracy.”

“The actions of the Trump (regime) in the last few days against Venezuela cannot be categorized in any other way: They are miserable.”

“Trying to take geopolitical advantage in the midst of the most dreadful global pandemic can only come from the misery of people without the least sensitivity and social concern, especially considering that the people of the United States are one of the most affected in the world, given the resounding failure of that country’s health system and the erratic, improvised and inhumane handling of the pandemic by its rulers.”

It is precisely the Trump (regime) that must step aside, lifting the unilateral coercive measures that even its own legislators recognize that in practice prevent Venezuela from acquiring humanitarian supplies to confront Covid-19.”

“It is time for them to abandon their failed strategy of changing the government by force in Venezuela, to cease their continuous and obsessive aggression and to concentrate on their serious internal affairs.”

“Neither threats, nor extortion strategies, nor the attempt to impose false agreements will succeed in distracting the attention and energy of President Nicolás Maduro, his government, the Bolivarian National Armed Forces and the Venezuelan State as a whole, in protecting the people of Venezuela in such difficult times for humanity.”

“Venezuela will remain unscathed by any aggression and united in the defense of its sovereignty and independence.”

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12 Ways the US Invasion of Iraq Lives On in Infamy

The most serious consequences of the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq confirm what millions of people around the world warned about 17 years ago.

byMedea Benjamin, Nicolas J.S. Davies

Seventeen years later, the consequences of the Iraq invasion have lived up to the fears of all who opposed it. (Photo: Alisdare Hickson/flickr/cc)While the world is consumed with the terrifying coronavirus pandemic, on March 19 the Trump administration will be marking the 17th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq by ramping up the conflict there. After an Iran-aligned militia allegedly struck a U.S. base near Baghdad on March 11, the U.S. military carried out retaliatory strikes against five of the militia’s weapons factories and announced it is sending two more aircraft carriers to the region, as well as new Patriot missile systems and hundreds more troops to operate them. This contradicts the January vote of the Iraqi Parliament that called for U.S. troops to leave the country. It also goes against the sentiment of most Americans, who think the Iraq war was not worth fighting, and against the campaign promise of Donald Trump to end the endless wars.

Seventeen years ago, the U.S. armed forces attacked and invaded Iraq with a force of over 460,000 troops from all its armed services, supported by 46,000 UK troops, 2,000 from Australia and a few hundred from Poland, Spain, Portugal and Denmark. The “shock and awe” aerial bombardment unleashed 29,200 bombs and missiles on Iraq in the first five weeks of the war.

The U.S. invasion was a crime of aggression under international law, and was actively opposed by people and countries all over the world, including 30 million people who took to the streets in 60 countries on February 15, 2003, to express their horror that this could really be happening at the dawn of the 21st century. American historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who was a speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, compared the U.S. invasion of Iraq to Japan’s preemptive attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and wrote, “Today, it is we Americans who live in infamy.”

Seventeen years later, the consequences of the invasion have lived up to the fears of all who opposed it. Wars and hostilities rage across the region, and divisions over war and peace in the U.S. and Western countries challenge our highly selective view of ourselves as advanced, civilized societies. Here is a look at 12 of the most serious consequences of the U.S. war in Iraq.

1. Millions of Iraqis Killed and Wounded:

Estimates on the number of people killed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq vary widely, but even the most conservative estimates based on fragmentary reporting of minimum confirmed deaths are in the hundreds of thousands. Serious scientific studies estimated that 655,000 Iraqis had died in the first three years of war, and about a million by September 2007. The violence of the U.S. escalation or “surge” continued into 2008, and sporadic conflict continued from 2009 until 2014. Then in its new campaign against Islamic State, the U.S. and its allies bombarded major cities in Iraq and Syria with more than 118,000bombs and the heaviest artillery bombardments since the Vietnam War. They reduced much of Mosul and other Iraqi cities to rubble, and a preliminary Iraqi Kurdish intelligence report found that more than 40,000 civilians were killed in Mosul alone. There are no comprehensive mortality studies for this latest deadly phase of the war. In addition to all the lives lost, even more people have been wounded. The Iraqi government’s Central Statistical Organization says that 2 million Iraqis have been left disabled.

2. Millions More Iraqis Displaced

By 2007, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that nearly 2 million Iraqis had fled the violence and chaos of occupied Iraq, mostly to Jordan and Syria, while another 1.7 million were displaced within the country. The U.S. war on the Islamic State relied even more on bombing and artillery bombardment, destroying even more homes and displacing an astounding 6 million Iraqis from 2014 to 2017. According to the UNHCR, 4.35 million people have returned to their homes as the war on IS has wound down, but many face “destroyed properties, damaged or non-existent infrastructure and the lack of livelihood opportunities and financial resources, which at times [has] led to secondary displacement.” Iraq’s internally displaced children represent “a generation traumatized by violence, deprived of education and opportunities,” according to UN Special Rapporteur Cecilia Jimenez-Damary.

3. Thousands of American, British and Other Foreign Troops Killed and Wounded

While the U.S. military downplays Iraqi casualties, it precisely tracks and publishes its own. As of February 2020, 4,576 U.S. troops and 181 British troops have been killed in Iraq, as well as 142 other foreign occupation troops. Over 93 percent of the foreign occupation troops killed in Iraq have been Americans. In Afghanistan, where the U.S. has had more support from NATO and other allies, only 68 percent of occupation troops killed have been Americans. The greater share of U.S. casualties in Iraq is one of the prices Americans have paid for the unilateral, illegal nature of the U.S. invasion. By the time U.S. forces temporarily withdrew from Iraq in 2011, 32,200 U.S. troops had been wounded. As the U.S. tried to outsource and privatize its occupation, at least 917 civilian contractors and mercenaries were also killed and 10,569 wounded in Iraq, but not all of them were U.S. nationals.

4. Even More Veterans Have Committed Suicide

More than 20 U.S. veterans kill themselves every day—that’s more deaths each year than the total U.S. military deaths in Iraq. Those with the highest rates of suicide are young veterans with combat exposure, who commit suicide at rates “4-10 times higher than their civilian peers.” Why? As Matthew Hoh of Veterans for Peace explains, many veterans “struggle to reintegrate into society,” are ashamed to ask for help, are burdened by what they saw and did in the military, are trained in shooting and own guns, and carry mental and physical wounds that make their lives difficult.

5. Trillions of Dollars Wasted

On March 16, 2003, just days before the U.S. invasion, Vice President Dick Cheney projected that the war would cost the U.S. about $100 billion and that the U.S. involvement would last for two years. Seventeen years on, the costs are still mounting. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated a cost of $2.4 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University’s Linda Bilmes estimated the cost of the Iraq war at more than $3 trillion, “based on conservative assumptions,” in 2008. The UK government spent at least 9 billion pounds in direct costs through 2010. What the U.S. did not spend money on, contrary to what many Americans believe, was to rebuild Iraq, the country our war destroyed.

6. Dysfunctional and Corrupt Iraqi Government

Most of the men (no women!) running Iraq today are still former exiles who flew into Baghdad in 2003 on the heels of the U.S. and British invasion forces. Iraq is finally once again exporting 3.8 million barrels of oil per day and earning $80 billion a year in oil exports, but little of this money trickles down to rebuild destroyed and damaged homes or provide jobs, health care or education for Iraqis, only 36 percent of whom even have jobs. Iraq’s young people have taken to the streets to demand an end to the corrupt post-2003 Iraqi political regime and U.S. and Iranian influence over Iraqi politics. More than 600 protesters were killed by government forces, but the protests forced Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign. Another former Western-based exile, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, the cousin of former U.S.-appointed interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, was chosen to replace him, but he resigned within weeks after the National Assembly failed to approve his cabinet choices. The popular protest movement celebrated Allawi’s resignation, and Abdul Mahdi agreed to remain as prime minister, but only as a “caretaker” to carry out essential functions until new elections can be held. He has called for new elections in December. Until then, Iraq remains in political limbo, still occupied by about 5,000 U.S. troops.

7. Illegal War on Iraq Has Undermined the Rule of International Law

When the U.S. invaded Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council, the first victim was the United Nations Charter, the foundation of peace and international law since World War II, which prohibits the threat or use of force by any country against another. International law only permits military action as a necessary and proportionate defense against an attack or imminent threat. The illegal 2002 Bush doctrine of preemption was universally rejected because it went beyond this narrow principle and claimed an exceptional U.S. right to use unilateral military force “to preempt emerging threats,” undermining the authority of the UN Security Council to decide whether a specific threat requires a military response or not. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general at the time, said the invasion was illegal and would lead to a breakdown in international order, and that is exactly what has happened. When the U.S. trampled the UN Charter, others were bound to follow. Today we are watching Turkey and Israel follow in the U.S.’s footsteps, attacking and invading Syria at will as if it were not even a sovereign country, using the people of Syria as pawns in their political games.

8. Iraq War Lies Corrupted U.S. Democracy

The second victim of the invasion was American democracy. Congress voted for war based on a so-called “summary” of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was nothing of the kind. The Washington Post reported that only six out of 100 senators and a few House members read the actual NIE. The 25-page “summary” that other members of Congress based their votes on was a document produced months earlier “to make the public case for war,” as one of its authors, the CIA’s Paul Pillar, later confessed to PBS Frontline. It contained astounding claims that were nowhere to be found in the real NIE, such as that the CIA knew of 550 sites where Iraq was storing chemical and biological weapons. Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated many of these lies in his shameful performance at the UN Security Council in February 2003, while Bush and Cheney used them in major speeches, including Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address. How is democracy—the rule of the people—even possible if the people we elect to represent us in Congress can be manipulated into voting for a catastrophic war by such a web of lies?

9. Impunity for Systematic War Crimes

Another victim of the invasion of Iraq was the presumption that U.S. presidents and policy are subject to the rule of law. Seventeen years later, most Americans assume that the president can conduct war and assassinate foreign leaders and terrorism suspects as he pleases, with no accountability whatsoever—like a dictator. When President Obama said he wanted to look forward instead of backward, and held no one from the Bush administration accountable for their crimes, it was as if they ceased to be crimes and became normalized as U.S. policy. That includes crimes of aggression against other countries; the mass killing of civilians in U.S. airstrikes and drone strikes; and the unrestricted surveillance of every American’s phone calls, emails, browsing history and opinions. But these are crimes and violations of the U.S. Constitution, and refusing to hold accountable those who committed these crimes has made it easier for them to be repeated.

10. Destruction of the Environment

During the first Gulf War, the U.S. fired 340 tons of warheads and explosives made with depleted uranium, which poisoned the soil and water and led to skyrocketing levels of cancer. In the following decades of “ecocide,” Iraq has been plagued by the burning of dozens of oil wells; the pollution of water sources from the dumping of oil, sewage and chemicals; millions of tons of rubble from destroyed cities and towns; and the burning of huge volumes of military waste in open air “burn pits” during the war.The pollution caused by war is linked to the high levels of congenital birth defects, premature births, miscarriages and cancer (including leukemia) in Iraq. The pollution has also affected U.S. soldiers. “More than 85,000 U.S. Iraq war veterans… have been diagnosed with respiratory and breathing problems, cancers, neurological diseases, depression and emphysema since returning from Iraq,” as the Guardian reports. And parts of Iraq may never recover from the environmental devastation.

11. The U.S.’s Sectarian “Divide and Rule” Policy in Iraq Spawned Havoc Across the Region

In secular 20th-century Iraq, the Sunni minority was more powerful than the Shia majority, but for the most part, the different ethnic groups lived side-by-side in mixed neighborhoods and even intermarried. Friends with mixed Shia/Sunni parents tell us that before the U.S. invasion, they didn’t even know which parent was Shia and which was Sunni. After the invasion, the U.S. empowered a new Shiite ruling class led by former exiles allied with the U.S. and Iran, as well as the Kurds in their semi-autonomous region in the north. The upending of the balance of power and deliberate U.S. “divide and rule” policies led to waves of horrific sectarian violence, including the ethnic cleansing of communities by Interior Ministry death squads under U.S. command. The sectarian divisions the U.S. unleashed in Iraq led to the resurgence of Al Qaeda and the emergence of ISIS, which have wreaked havoc throughout the entire region.

12. The New Cold War Between the U.S. and the Emerging Multilateral World

When President Bush declared his “doctrine of preemption” in 2002, Senator Edward Kennedy called it “a call for 21st century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept.” But the world has so far failed to either persuade the U.S. to change course or to unite in diplomatic opposition to its militarism and imperialism. France and Germany bravely stood with Russia and most of the Global South to oppose the invasion of Iraq in the UN Security Council in 2003. But Western governments embraced Obama’s superficial charm offensive as cover for reinforcing their traditional ties with the U.S. China was busy expanding its peaceful economic development and its role as the economic hub of Asia, while Russia was still rebuilding its economy from the neoliberal chaos and poverty of the 1990s. Neither was ready to actively challenge U.S. aggression until the U.S., NATO and their Arab monarchist allies launched proxy wars against Libya and Syria in 2011. After the fall of Libya, Russia appears to have decided it must either stand up to U.S. regime change operations or eventually fall victim itself.

The economic tides have shifted, a multipolar world is emerging, and the world is hoping against hope that the American people and new American leaders will act to rein in this 21st-century American imperialism before it leads to an even more catastrophic U.S. war with Iran, Russia or China. As Americans, we must hope that the world’s faith in the possibility that we can democratically bring sanity and peace to U.S. policy is not misplaced. A good place to start would be to join the call by the Iraqi Parliament for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

Posted in USA, IraqComments Off on 12 Ways the US Invasion of Iraq Lives On in Infamy

Russia’s Counter-COVID Aid to America, Advances the Case for a New Detente?

By Andrew Korybko

Global Research,

Russia’s urgent dispatch of counter-COVID aid to America was both symbolic and substantial in the sense that it improved the country’s reputation among average Americans which in turn advances Trump’s years-long case for a “New Detente” between these two Great Powers.

From Russia With Love

Observers could be forgiven for not believing it when they first heard the news, but Russia just urgently dispatched counter-COVID aid to America in a real-life scene that seems ripped from the pages of political fiction. Had anyone speculated about this scenario just a few short months ago, practically nobody would have believed them, but World War C is truly turning the world upside down faster than anyone could have expected. This humanitarian assistance was sent after Trump agreed to his Russian counterpart’s proposal during a phone call earlier this week, with President Putin likely offering his country’s aid in order to help the American people caught in the new global epicenter of this crisis and also to show his unwavering solidarity with the US during this time of need just like how he reacted immediately after he found out about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Looking beyond his noble intentions, it’s clear that this move was both symbolic and substantial in the sense that it improved the country’s reputation among average Americans which in turn advances Trump’s years-long case for a “New Detente” between these two Great Powers.

Soft Power…

Regarding the soft power angle, Russia killed several birds with a single stone, though it should always be remembered that it wouldn’t have been able to do this had Trump not approved. The fake news that up to 80% of its earlier aid to Italy was “useless” has now been debunked and all but forgotten after a country much more powerful than the Southern European one (and which arguably exerts a strong degree of hegemonic control over its affairs) accepted President Putin’s similar proposal for humanitarian assistance. Seeing as how the planet is now fighting World War C, this could serve to remind the average American of their country’s wartime alliance with the USSR during World War II against the shared scourge of fascism. Not only could that improve Russia’s overall standing in their eyes following four years of interconnected fake news scandals, but it could also have the effect of getting them to passively agree to any forthcoming moves that Trump might eventually propose related to easing the sanctions regime against that country. While their geopolitical rivalry still undoubtedly exists and probably won’t go away anytime soon (if at all), now is the perfect time for these two to consider the wisdom of more closely cooperating with one another on all fronts.

…And Substance

Their joint struggle against COVID-19 has captivated the world’s attention precisely because of how unexpected it was that Russia of all countries would end up sending humanitarian assistance to America. Trump willingly gave Russia an historically unprecedented soft power victory, but he did so with keen strategic calculations in mind. He’s been facing intense opposition from some of his permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies (“deep state”) over the past few years over his desire to enter into a “New Detente” with Russia, which the author explained more in detail in his August 2019 analysis about how “The ‘New Detente’ Is Proceeding Apace, And China Should Be Very Concerned“. In a nutshell, the US believes that reaching a series of “pragmatic compromises” with Russia over Syria, Ukraine, and other issues could facilitate that country’s rapprochement with the West and thus comparatively lessen its growing strategic dependence on China by default, which Moscow turned to more out of necessity than choice following the sudden commencement of the New Cold War in 2013-2014. The problem, however, is that so-called “Cold Warriors” and other anti-Russian hawks believe that this strategy is fated to fail because they simply don’t trust Moscow.

Defying The “Deep State” (With Saudi Help?)

Therein lays one of the geneses of the Russiagate conspiracy (the other being to discredit Trump’s populist policies at home), but Trump brilliantly realized the mutual benefits of letting President Putin score a soft power victory in order to advance their countries’ shared strategic interests related to the “New Detente”. With Americans now more aware than ever before that Russia isn’t the “dastardly villain” that many of them have been brainwashed by the “deep state” and its surrogates (both in Congress and the Mainstream Media) into believing, they might naturally be more in support of Trump’s original promise to enter into a meaningful rapprochement with the country after Moscow sent them aid that literally saved people’s lives. Before getting to that point, however, Trump and President Putin appear to be on the verge of a “goodwill experiment” to test one another’s true intentions given what the American leader said about his country potentially joining rumored Russian-Saudi oil talks to reverse the recent price crash that devastated the global economy at its most vulnerable moment. Should this initiative succeed and all three countries establish a mechanism (whether formal or informal) to restore the oil price, then the next phase of the “New Detente” might begin shortly after.

Concluding Thoughts

The US and Russia are already in talks on a wide array of issues including energy geopolitics in Europe, NATO, Ukraine, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and North Korea, et al., so it’s only natural for them to finally make some progress on reaching the long-awaited series of “pragmatic compromises” that Trump originally wanted to clinch during the first year of his presidency but was prevented from doing so by his “deep state’s” fake news Russiagate scandals. Now is the perfect time for defying the “deep state” with the support of the American people after they’ve come to suddenly have a much more favorable view of their country’s rival after it urgently dispatched humanitarian assistance to them with Trump’s support in order to help everyone improve their odds of surviving World War C. This soft power “coup” was made possible by Presidents Trump and Putin cooperating in pursuit of their shared interests, but it might (inadvertently in terms of Russian motivations) have the potential to become a strategic “coup” with time if Russia’s eventual rapprochement with the West lessens its growing dependence on China and thus places the People’s Republic in a comparatively more disadvantageous position than before. That’s certainly not Russia’s intent, but few doubt that it’s the US’.

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On the Front Lines of the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Doctor’s View

The virus is exposing inadequacies in health systems all over the world, especially the U.S.’s abysmal health infrastructure. Health workers on the ground continue to provide care during the pandemic despite the severe lack of resources and dangers to their personal health.

byMike Pappas

They aren’t testing a handful of people who might be positive. (Photo: Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

They aren’t testing a handful of people who might be positive. (Photo: Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The coronavirus pandemic is sweeping the globe. There seems to be no way of containing it at this point, and health systems are struggling to keep up. The virus is exposing inadequacies in health systems all over the world, especially the U.S.’s abysmal health infrastructure. Health workers on the ground continue to provide care during the pandemic despite the severe lack of resources and dangers to their personal health.

Coronavirus has officially hit the United States. Throughout the country, there have been anywhere between 1600 and 3600 confirmed cases and 41 deaths. This number is likely a gross underestimate of the actual number of cases, as the U.S. has only tested a small proportion of the population. Meanwhile, top health officials in Ohio estimate 100,000 people could have potentially already been infected with the virus. Researchers at Johns Hopkins estimate there could be between 50,000 and half a million cases in the U.S. at this time, and that number only looks like it will grow. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and top member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, recently stated it’s possible millions could die in the United States. I hope that we do not see things get worse in the U.S., but based on what I personally have seen and what my colleagues report, I cannot help but believe things will get worse than they are now.

Take it from a U.S. physician working on the ground in communities hit by COVID-19: the U.S. is woefully unprepared for this pandemic. During a recent press conference, after being pressed around the limited availability of coronavirus test kits, Dr. Fauci said, “The system does not — is not really geared to what we need right now, what you are asking for. That is a failure.” The U.S. has only been able to test five individuals per million, while South Korea has tested more than 3,500 per million people. This is largely due to the fact that the U.S. declined to use WHO tests used around the rest of the world.

Testing is not the only place where the U.S. is lacking. It has been reported in multiple outlets that there are critical shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) for health providers, ventilators, and ICU beds. These shortages are especially concerning, as they risk overwhelming critical care sectors of the healthcare system. Nurses, physicians, and other healthcare workers on the front lines are speaking out about what they need to provide adequate care, but the system is unable to respond. It appears these cries are falling on deaf ears. The U.S. healthcare system has always been horrid, but this pandemic is serving as a magnifying glass to expose its multiple failures. 

Corona Overwhelming Other Countries

While COVID-19 has hit over 140 countries, we can see the extent to which it can overwhelm a healthcare system by looking at a country like Italy. The Italian healthcare system, which ranks second in quality in the entire world, has been completely overburdened by the virus. It was recently reported that the virus claimed 368 new deaths on Sunday, which was the largest 24 hour increase in the country to date. The country has over 21,000 cases as of today, and physicians on the ground are reporting there are simply too many patients for each of them to receive adequate care. Recently, the Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care (SIAARTI) even published guidelines likening decisions physicians may face to “wartime triage” deciding who lives and who dies. Physicians in Italy are reporting that up to 80 percent of hospital beds in some provinces are occupied by coronavirus patients, and intensive care units are completely overloaded and short of supplies. 

The strain the coronavirus causes on health systems also leads to increased deaths from other illnesses not related to coronavirus. There are stories around the world of patients with various illnesses such as cancer that are turned away from care. Other acute and chronic illnesses do not take a break during viral pandemics such as this. In other parts of the world such as China, the strain is not just leading to deaths of patients, but also medical workers dying from a combination of infection and fatigue.

There is potential for this same tragic dynamic to play out in the U.S., but in an even worse fashion given our disjointed profit-centered model of care. As discussed in a recent analysis published on Statnews.com, the U.S. has about 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people — with a population of around 330 million, 1 million total hospital beds. While the number of patients needing hospitalization vary in reports depending on the country, anywhere from 50 percent (Italy) to 15 percent (China) of patients required hospitalization. Based on the rates of spread in the U.S., even if 10 percent of patients required hospitalization, hospital beds would be filled by May. This is not to mention the drastic drain on supplies that such a rate of infection would put on the U.S. healthcare system. 

Healthcare Workers Already Noticing Shortages

The Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services has been extremely behind on ensuring healthcare workers have the necessary supplies to treat the large number of patients that will be coming to hospitals in the near future. For example, they only recently issued a request for contracts for 500 million face masks to help protect workers against the virus when seeing patients. The proposals for these contracts are not due back until March 18th. Requests for information around available medical gowns, masks, respirators, etc. from the Domestic Strategic National Stockpile’s Office of Resource Management are not even due back until March 24th. These clearly serve as delays in a time of crisis, when delays and shortages mean increased viral transmission, increased spread of illness, and increased death. 

Short supplies of protective masks are hitting hospitals around the country. Staff must often obtain management approval before using N95 masks used to protect against airborne pathogens. In one New York hospital, management advised staff to “reuse” N95 masks with a distributed document saying “N95 masks will be reused by staff until they are soiled, moist, or compromised,” and to obtain a new mask an associate must “request a mask from their supervisor.” Policies such as this one pose great risk of infection for healthcare workers, who would then potentially spread the infection to patients. It doesn’t stop at the special N95 masks, nurses in Chicago are now even reporting they are even running out of regular surgical masks, which is unconscionable in a healthcare setting. I’m part of a discussion group of health care workers; a nurse in New York City recently contacted us, saying, “Ok, so now we get two masks each and that’s it!!! WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON????” That is a great question.

The U.S. has had months to prepare for this pandemic. From the outset, there should have been a mass mobilization of mask production, ventilation production, and PPE (protective personal equipment, e.g., masks, gowns, gloves, face shields, etc.) production. There should have also been a conversion of buildings or building of new sites for ICU beds, but capitalism is showing it is incapable of mobilizing adequately. Around the world, other countries are taking drastic measures to fight the virus. In Spain, they have even decided to even take over private industries that are putting profits over patient lives. In the U.S., we are seeing “requests” and “contracts” for money to be funneled into inefficient for-profit companies that cannot and will not respond fast enough, while the government leaders and media pundits continue to tout the brilliance of “public-private partnerships.”

Confusion from Management

Even the type of mask to be used for COVID-19 patients has been up for debate. Hospital administrations direct staff to use regular surgical masks, eyeshields, and PPE for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases because according to CDC guidelines, N95 masks should only be worn for “aerosol generating procedures.” This concerns many healthcare workers because at least one study in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but yet to be peer reviewed, suggests that the coronavirus can survive in the air, which would necessitate N95 masks. Healthcare workers speculate the laxity in recommendations results from hospital administrations attempting to save the already short supply of N95 masks. 

These issues, along with poor lines of communication resulting from the highly bureaucratized and corporatized U.S. healthcare system, have led to confusion, delays in care, and even some healthcare workers being exposed. As one worker recently shared with me:

I’m an RN in a MICU in New York. We currently have 3 positives on unit. There has been a lot of fear regarding lack of equipment and PPE [protective personal equipment]. Throughout our facility we have found no plans in place for this. The union has been working on demands. One of the things that has been most difficult is the discussion… is it droplet or airborne. Our institution has gone back and forth, provided misinformation about masks and appropriate PPE. Over the last week we have been told re-use masks. Last night they said the rooms no longer need airborne precaution and only droplet/contact precautions needed. Now, at 11am they have placed the rooms back on airborne. 

We are worried they have exposed a lot of us. They aren’t testing a handful of people who might be positive.

Masks (droplet/surgical vs. airborne/respirator) are not the only problem. ICU beds around the country are quickly filling. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently stated that 80 percent of ICU beds in the state are occupied. While hospitals rightfully attempt to make more space on units, administrations have been reported converting units to handle ICU level patients without first ensuring nurses are comfortable or trained to handle the care involved with such patients. As reported, nurses throughout the country are already chronically understaffed due to capitalists continually trying to cut staff as much as possible to lower costs and increase profits. 

Hospital administrations have repeatedly ignored nurses’ calls for safe staffing ratios, which, if instituted, would have made handling a pandemic more tolerable. Now, around the country they are scrambling, putting out calls for retired nurses to return to work to help fill staffing gaps. Capitalists’ consistent push for profits is now coming home to roost, manifesting as staff shortages during this crisis.

All Staff at Risk

And it’s not only nurses being harmed under these poor working conditions. Resident physicians, supervising/attending physicians, medical assistants, technicians, and other front line healthcare staff are also at risk. Patient care associates — these are often the individuals who take vital signs and perform other crucial services — in hospitals in New York City have noted the absence of training in protecting against the virus. One recently stated, “We haven’t gotten any training. The N95 respirators are on lockdown. They can only be used for ‘more serious cases.’”

Resident physicians, who often work 80+ hours per week in the hospitals, are at particular risk. While many residency training programs across the country are now appropriately pulling residents off of “nonessential rotations,” so they can be prepared to respond to the crisis, many working on the front lines are put at risk. As per a resident who recently contacted me:

We have a patient that is being admitted for pneumonia but her story sounds really good for COVID-19. I called the infection control line and they were like “This line is only for attendings only. Call your attending if you want to challenge it.” They’re not doing shit to protect us if I can’t say “I think a patient should be reconsidered for a COVID rule out” and have them seriously discuss it as one.

Decisions such as these put staff on the front lines at risk of contracting and subsequently spreading COVID-19 to other patients and staff. 

COVID-19 Magnifies Capitalism’s Rot in Healthcare System

What is currently unfolding in the U.S. is what happens when you develop a healthcare system predicated around extracting profit from sick bodies — one that continually attempts to drive down costs whenever possible. A system that only reacts to disease instead of preventing disease. Dr. Fauci stated that our “system is not built for this,” but healthcare workers dedicated to treating patients have been condemning this system for years. Our healthcare system has always been a complete disaster, but a pandemic like this just magnifies that fact. We not only need a new healthcare system, but a new economic system that values life over profit. Capitalism will never give us what we need. Hopefully, this wake-up call does not cost too many innocent lives.

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