Archive | April, 2020

Coronavirus Has Made Incarceration a Potential Death Sentence

Prisons should be a priority for supplies, for tests, and for early release of as many inmates as possible, particularly the elderly and the vulnerable.

byJesse Jackson

Prisons and jails are virtual petri dishes for the virus. Social distancing is impossible. Soap and water are often not available. (Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images)

Prisons and jails are virtual petri dishes for the virus. Social distancing is impossible. Soap and water are often not available. (Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP – Getty Images)

This week, the New York Times featured the story of how the coronavirus savaged the Federal Correctional Complex in Oakdale, Louisiana. On March 28, Patrick Jones, 49, serving a 27-year sentence for possession of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute, became the first federal inmate to die of the virus.

Barely three weeks later, seven inmates had died, at least 100 inmates and staff members had been infected, with more than 20 hospitalized — and an entire community terrorized. The prisoners died, unreported, unknown, their bodies essentially owned by the federal government that imprisoned them.

According to corrections officers there, the warden was slow to act, saying that “we live in the South and it’s warm here. We won’t have any problems,” a haunting illustration of the dangers of loose rhetoric and tall tales from the president, amplified on social media.

The horrors of the Andover, New Jersey nursing home — with at least 70 residents dead and dozens more testing positive — has dramatized the vulnerability of the elderly in nursing homes, where over 7,000 have died. Our grossly overpopulated prisons and jails are quickly becoming the next centers to be ravaged by the disease.

Cook County Jail, the largest in the country, is already one of the nation’s largest sources of infections, with more confirmed cases than the USS Theodore Roosevelt or the New Rochelle, New York cluster. Four inmates are dead and 215 have tested positive, as have 191 correctional officers and 34 other sheriff’s office employees. One employee just died.

We know the most about Cook County because Sheriff Tom Dart has been the most open. Many are suffering and dying of COVID-19 because sheriff’s offices around the country have not been very open and are not testing. The jail is overwhelmed. The sheriff and jail workers need more hands on deck. For every shift change, the virus is recycled in the community.

Many inmates are poor, often with health problems—asthma, diabetes, heart conditions, stress — that make them more vulnerable to the virus.

A state prison in Ohio is now the largest reported source of coronavirus infection in the United States. I called President Trump and urged him to make testing, tracing and social distancing a priority for those in jails, nursing homes and prisons. The workers, inmates and communities where the workers live all need help.

In Ohio, 2,300 prisoners in three prisons have tested positive. In prisons and jails across the country, inmates locked up for nonviolent crimes or while awaiting trial, and older, vulnerable inmates near the end of their term, among others, sit in terror, fearful that they face a death sentence.

Prisons and jails are virtual petri dishes for the virus. Social distancing is impossible. Soap and water are often not available.

Correctional officers have no choice but to mix with inmates. Many inmates are poor, often with health problems—asthma, diabetes, heart conditions, stress — that make them more vulnerable to the virus.

Prisons and jails have begun—although far too slowly—to react. Cook County Jail has reduced its population from 10,000 to 4,200, partly because of bail reform, some from courts sentencing fewer nonviolent offenders to prison, some from early release. Soap and disinfectants have been made available. Those with symptoms are isolated from the general population. Visitors and volunteers are not allowed, often at great psychic cost to inmates.

Facilities are cleaned more frequently. In some prisons, inmates have been locked in their cells for 22 hours a day to limit human interactions.

But — as is true for the general population — testing is often not available. Too few are tested too seldom. That puts not only prisoners but corrections officers and their families, and the people they interact with at risk.

Not surprisingly, prison uprisings have begun, as terrorized inmates demand protection and more information. Corrections officers have joined in lawsuits to get adequate protective equipment, information, and testing. Too often, it is too little and too late.

There is no defense. Clearly, at the federal and state level, prison officials should speed the release of nonviolent offenders, of the elderly and the vulnerable. Universal testing is an imperative. Prisoners need more access to soap and water. And both prisoners and corrections officials need protective gear — from masks to gloves — and, most of all, information on how to protect themselves.

Donald Trump informed me that he had made his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the point person on prison reform. The time for aggressive action is long past. Prisons should be made a priority for supplies, for tests, and for early release of as many inmates as possible, particularly the elderly and the vulnerable.

If the pandemic continues to spread through prisons, the toll in lives will soar.

As the pandemic exposes once more, it is a moral outrage that the U.S. locks up more people than any other country, including China. Prisoners are disproportionately poor and people of color, too often victims of institutionalized racism that still puts African American young men at greater risk of being stopped by police, charged, and jailed if convicted.

Even without the virus, that is a disgrace. Now the virus is turning incarceration into a potential death sentence.

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American Carnage: How Donald Trump Is Killing Us

Arrogance and chaos define the federal response to the pandemic. 

by: Pierre Tristam

It took a few days for this latest unpresidential derangement syndrome to seem like it was working itself out, so that by Thursday Bubo-in-Chief was punting the decision back to governors as his transformation of America into the Houston Astrodome circa 2005 pivoted to fresher scapegoats. (Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

It took a few days for this latest unpresidential derangement syndrome to seem like it was working itself out, so that by Thursday Bubo-in-Chief was punting the decision back to governors as his transformation of America into the Houston Astrodome circa 2005 pivoted to fresher scapegoats. (Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

The coronavirus has mutated into ideological variants. Its virulence is now worse than before, this time from our own doing. Fighting it as a united front was battle enough, exhausting and deadly. Fighting it while battling an uprising of premature abnegators undermining, defying and deriding virus-suppression measures will further scuttle what had already been a disastrous national response, with appalling and continuing shortages in tests and personal protective equipment, with the spreading of flawed tests and contradictory messaging, and with nonexistent federal-state-local coordination. As tea party-like danses macabre take to the steps of state capitols to “reopen America” while a president eggs them on, the virus is exploiting a widening gap between science’s warnings and ideology’s flaunting. 

What has already been an unnecessarily large wave of mass deaths will be unnecessarily prolonged, masked by the false comforts of lesser spikes on the back side of an apex that has nothing to do with the virus’ undiminished threat. We are moving from a natural disaster to a man-made one, from statistically unavoidable deaths to deaths willed by indifference, ignorance, selfishness, and the now murderous political calculations of a single man. Every country is facing this pandemic. Only the United States is at war with itself because of that single man taking cleavers and flails to a nation’s lungs. 

The black plague upon us that’s been the Trump administration for 1,200 days went turbo-bubonic a few days ago when Dear Leader junked the 10th Amendment and again mistook the narcissism in his mirror for leadership, declaring himself the ultimate authority on when to reopen America. Who needs facts, science and 35,000 corpses when you have Trump. 

It took a few days for this latest unpresidential derangement syndrome to seem like it was working itself out, so that by Thursday Bubo-in-Chief was punting the decision back to governors as his transformation of America into the Houston Astrodome circa 2005 pivoted to fresher scapegoats: the World Health Organization, China, no doubt Hillary’s emails and Obama’s ancestry in Wuhan’s Islamic neighborhoods when he had room to mutter to himself. 

Or so we thought. No sooner had he had a moment of lucidity, when he not only agreed to let governors call their own shots but issued a set of cautious guidelines on reopening, than, his eyes on the year’s electoral map, he was back to tweeting incendiary calls fomenting uprisings against governors’ stay-home orders in Democratic states (“LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” “LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” and so on). We’ve become so inured to the sleazy treachery, the pandering to mobs, the contempt for statesmanship or anything resembling solidarity in a time of crisis that we shrug this off as so many more symptoms of a presidency we all knew would be pestilential from day one. Why bother with surprise.  

By then Bubo’s latest moronic messaging about how the American economy can magically restart had caused its share of copycat idiocy in a few states and localities, among them one of our own county commissioners emasculating our county administrator into unilaterally lifting a ban on park and trail uses in an alleged “experiment” late last week. The county took that pandering decision despite howls from all three city managers, despite opposition from city police chiefs and the sheriff, despite the opposition of the county health chief, whose facts and science are apparently less valid than a commissioner’s desire to suck the marrow out of Trump’s bubos. Not much later, the all-clear sounded for beaches, too. 

Did I mention that we now have more corpses in a few weeks than we had in three years of war in Korea, when you could at least legitimately blame the Chinese? Well, yes, but how about this bugle call: just 700 or so deaths so far in Florida, and really only two in Flagler, so aren’t we doing swell? Not only should the county reopen its trails and parks. Maybe it can sublet the parks for those funerals that are so difficult to hold these days. Imagine the tourism draw for funerals in Volusia, where deaths have been a bit more problematic. Some of the pavilions at Bing’s Landing are just begging for coffins and eulogies, not to mention the “Focus on Flagler” blather to turn this pandemic to our advantage and get us moving again (as long as the coffins have wheels). 

Arrogance and chaos define the federal response to the pandemic. Too bad some local officials are so eager to replicate it, on Friday going full-bore propagandistic with a press release that literally boasted of increasing Covid-19 testing “significantly” in Flagler without resulting in as significant an increase in positive cases–as if it were some sort of sport or marketing feat. Never mind the traumas and devastation the significantly fewer cases are enduring, never mind those to come or those who died. The county’s numbers, of course, were false. So it goes when a government’s PR machinery is hijacked by backslapping, though for so many weeks there it seemed as if the county had put a premium on soberness and seriousness, to all of our benefit and to the benefit of county-city cohesion. Someone fell off the wagon. 

A cohesive local response was critical because we had three years of catastrophes to know that the federal response couldn’t possibly be anything but cataclysmic in the face of an actual disaster. Even if the president had acted sooner, even if he’d transitioned into Cassandra in January, he walked into this pandemic with the credibility of a flea and the capabilities of a dead rat the flea would have jumped from. Whatever horrors other countries experienced, we’ve become the scourge’s true world champions of avoidable deaths, the federal government reminding us at every turn how much we’re on our own. We get it. 

Of course we want the nation reopened. Our livelihood depends on it, and lockdowns are unsustainable. But it’s not just Trump who’s deluding himself about when and how to re-open America. It won’t be his decision. It won’t be governors’ or superintendents’ decisions, or even the decisions of public health and emergency management directors. It certainly won’t be that of Trump clones playing commissioner on Facebook, especially in counties where not even local governments could stay on the same page more than a few weeks. 

The decision is going to be made by individual Americans in their own time, sometimes at great risk to themselves and others, knowing that while the coronavirus remains a mystery in many respects, living with it is not a mystery. That reality has been mapped out. We now know that no society can “reopen” without massive testing for the virus, massive contact tracing, and massive testing for antibodies. Despite months of crisis, none of that is available. 

In the absence of more testing for the disease or its antibodies–a continuing catastrophe all its own–the choice will be driven by the  needs of millions who can’t afford impositions of idleness (assuming they even have a job to go back to), and it’ll be driven by the luxury of choice for those who still have a choice, or those who contracted and survived the virus, though it’s not yet known if that immunity is dependable or how long it lasts. 

The apex has nothing to do with individual lives. It has to do with pressures on our health care system, and whether it can handle a crunch. The crunch has passed. The virus hasn’t, nor will risks of deaths that have made the coronavirus the leading cause of death in the United States these last weeks. If the calculus is that we’re willing to put up with deaths as long as our healthcare system can handle it, we should say so, because that’s where we’re headed when we talk of “reopening,” also knowing that–drizzles of disingenuous analogies aside–this calculus is nowhere near the lesser disruptions or death rates from the seasonal flu, car crashes, guns, ladders and other risks of daily life. 

So for most Americans the apex of the disease has little to do with any of that. The only curve that matters is a sense of assurance that even accepting a measure of risk, there’s a safety net out there to catch you if things go wrong. But what we keep learning is that the net is an illusion, the way rapid testing is still an illusion, the way unemployment checks have been an illusion for most affected Floridians, the way cohesive public health policy has been an illusion, especially with Bubo-in-Chief declaring his own Mission Accomplished moment from within sight of graves soon to be dug. For most Americans it’s not about recovery from the pandemic but avoidance—avoidance of this “American carnage,” to recall the phrase Trump so carelessly spat in his inaugural address, and that has now become his truest epitaph. 

It’s his carnage now. Most of us would rather it not be ours.

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Warning of ‘Hammer Blow’ From Pandemic, UN Food Agencies Say Coronavirus Could Double Global Levels of Acute Hunger

A new report states 265 million people could face food insecurity by the end of 2020, up from 130 million last year. 

byJulia Conley,

Soacha's Mayor Juan Carlos Saldarriaga, delivers food to the community during the mandatory quarantine to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in Soacha, Colombia on April 15, 2020. Colombia extended its national lock down until April 26 to control spread of COVID-19. (Photo: Leonardo Munoz/VIEWpress via Getty Images)

Soacha’s Mayor Juan Carlos Saldarriaga, delivers food to the community during the mandatory quarantine to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in Soacha, Colombia on April 15, 2020. Colombia extended its national lock down until April 26 to control spread of COVID-19. (Photo: Leonardo Munoz/VIEWpress via Getty Images)

Top food security experts at the United Nations on Tuesday will present to the U.N. Security Council a new report on how the global coronavirus pandemic could double the number of people around the world suffering from acute hunger unless wealthy countries step up humanitarian aid immediately. 

The World Food Program (WFP), the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and a dozen other groups are imploring global policymakers to send $350 million in food aid to the most vulnerable countries on the planet, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, to keep people from starving as the pandemic shuts down economies and makes it more difficult to access food.

“Our utmost responsibility is to protect those who need us the most,” tweeted the WFP ahead of the meeting.

According to the “Global Report on Food Crises,” (pdf) published Tuesday, 265 million people are expected to face food insecurity and hunger by the end of 2020—more than doubling the number from the previous year, when 130 million people worldwide were already chronically hungry.

“It’s critical that commercial trade continues to flow. Hoarding food supplies or putting up trade barriers does not work. Starving your neighbor is not good policy.” 
—Arif Husain, WFP

The new coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, was added to the report’s list of key drivers of hunger, along with violent conflicts, weather extremes, economic shocks, and desert locusts—which were already threatening crops in East Africa before the pandemic began spreading across the globe in January, putting at risk enough food to feed 35,000 people per day. 

Arif Husain, chief economist for WFP, told reporters Tuesday that people in regions that were already experiencing such shocks, as well as displaced people living in refugee camps in countries like South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, and Syria, are among those most at risk for starvation.

“These are the people I’m most worried about,” said Husain. “They did not need COVID-19. Even without it their lives were hanging by a thread. They literally depend on us for their lives. If we cannot get to them for any reason they end up paying the ultimate price. We need to prioritize the people and make sure we’re there. Because if it’s not us, it’s no one else.”

To protect vulnerable populations, the WFP is expected to tell the Security Council, governments must avoid export bans and should begin releasing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, only a quarter of which has been made available so far.

In recent weeks, countries including Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan have suspended exports on certain crops, raising concerns over high food prices in the developing world—and evoking memories of unrest in 2007 and 2008 during the global economic meltdown.

“It’s critical that commercial trade continues to flow,” Husain said. “Hoarding food supplies or putting up trade barriers does not work. Starving your neighbor is not good policy. We have seen this many times in the food and fuel crisis in 2008 and the financial crisis of 2009.”

In addition to limits on exports, people in developing countries face restricted movement which will make harvesting and distributing crops difficult if not impossible and labor shortages as people become ill, which could threaten food production.

The effects of the pandemic, Husain said, amount to a “hammer blow” for millions of people “who can only eat if they earn a wage.”

“We all need to come together to deal with this because if we don’t the cost will be too high—the global cost will be too high: many lost lives and many, many more lost livelihoods,” Husain told the press.

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Trump Orders Big Oil Bailout Just a Day After Historic Price Collapse

‘The Opposite of #PeopleBeforeProfit’: Trump Orders Big Oil Bailout Just a Day After Historic Price Collapse

Calling for Democrats to fight back with plans to transition to clean energy, Naomi Klein declared it is “time to wind down this abusive industry that has always relied on massive public subsidies.”

by: Jessica Corbett,

Flares burning off gas at Belridge Oil Field and hydraulic fracking site, which is the fourth largest oil field in California.

Flares burning off gas at Belridge Oil Field and hydraulic fracking site, which is the fourth largest oil field in California. (Photo: Citizens of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Democratic lawmakers and climate advocates on Tuesday condemned an announcement on Twitter from President Donald Trump that he had directed the U.S. Departments of Energy and the Treasury to make funding available to American oil and gas companies negatively impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump · Apr 21, 2020

We will never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down. I have instructed the Secretary of Energy and Secretary of the Treasury to formulate a plan which will make funds available so that these very important companies and jobs will be secured long into the future!

“This is the opposite of #PeopleBeforeProfit,” the international advocacy group Global Witness tweeted in response to Trump. “This ‘great’ industry already receives billions from the government while costing lives and livelihoods by polluting communities and the global climate. Time to stop propping up Big Oil.”

The president’s order came just a day after the price of U.S. crude oil plummeted to below zero for the first time ever and amid mounting concerns that the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress will continue to ignore demands for a People’s Bailout while providing support to giant climate-wrecking corporations.

As Common Dreams reported Monday, the oil crash—which came on the last day that producers can trade barrels for next month—followed weeks of extensive negotiations among the president, Russia, an Saudi Arabia in which Trump pushed those countries to cut their oil output by up to 15% in order to prop up U.S. prices.

“Called it,” People for Bernie tweeted Tuesday, highlighting a comment from the progressive group on Monday predicting that Republicans would move to bail out the fossil fuel industry following the oil price collapse.

People for Bernie@People4BernieReplying to @realDonaldTrump

Called it …People for Bernie@People4BernieAs oil markets tumble and we’re within *checks clock* 2.5 hours of Republicans promising to bail out the fossil fuel industry, a reminder by @EdMarkey that we’ve been bailing out and the propping up the fossil fuel industry for generations …

CNN noted that while no details were announced in Trump’s tweet, the move to bail out Big Oil could have political implications for the president, who is expected to face off against Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden in this year’s general election.

Dirt-cheap oil is likely to cause hundreds of U.S. oil companies to go bankrupt—especially smaller ones that took on too much debt,” CNN reported. “Countless jobs hang in the balance, including in Texas, a potential battleground state in the November election.”

The potential fossil fuel funding that Trump touted on Twitter Tuesday is part of a broader policy, as Axios outlined:

Trump renewed his push Monday for the government to buy roughly 75 million barrels of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve—or, alternatively, offer part of the SPR as basically a rental storage unit for U.S. companies.

  • “This is a great time to buy oil,” Trump said. Congress has not funded the effort thus far in its coronavirus relief bills.
  • Trump also touted plans to use the SPR as storage space. “We’re going to … either ask for permission to buy it, or we’ll store it,” he said.
  • The Energy Department last week said it’s negotiating with nine companies to store roughly 23 million barrels of oil in the SPR.

“We should be transitioning to renewable energy via a #GreenStimulus, along with a Just Transition for current oil/gas employees,” tweeted Mckayla Wilkes, a progressive primary challenger to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “Instead, Trump is talking about securing the blood-soaked profits of the fossil fuel industry ‘long into the future.’ This is absolutely horrific.”

Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) also responded to the president by calling for a “climate plan” with “more jobs for less pollution.”

Nanette D. Barragán@RepBarragan

Here’s a plan:

Invest in a just transition: Health care, job training & pensions for workers.

Geothermal drilling. Not shale oil drilling.

Offshore wind. Not offshore drilling.

More jobs for less pollution.

A climate plan.
Not a bailout plan. #NoOilBailout #ActOnClimate …

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrumpWe will never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down. I have instructed the Secretary of Energy and Secretary of the Treasury to formulate a plan which will make funds available so that these very important companies and jobs will be secured long into the future!1324:32 PM – Apr 21, 2020

Democratic strategist and columnist Max Burns highlighted how Trump’s Tuesday tweet exemplifies a broader trend of how the president has approached helping corporations versus people impacted by the ongoing global health crisis.

“It really says something that [Trump’s] answer to every problem is taxpayer-funded socialism for the ultra-rich,” Burns wrote. “Hotel chains, industrial farmers, oil companies, cruise lines—but never those most in need.”

Author and climate activist Naomi Klein called on the Democratic Party’s federal leadership to counter with “a sweeping plan to cover the full salaries of fossil fuel workers while they retrain for the clean economy.”

“Time to wind down this abusive industry that has always relied on massive public subsidies,” Klein added. “There will never be another moment like this.”

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‘Oh, Hi, Corruption’: Trump Organization Seeks Rent Relief for DC Hotel From Trump Administration

“Whoever would have imagined this relationship would prove complicated and fraught? Oh, right, the Founders. Who prohibited it. In the Constitution.”

byJessica Corbett,

The Trump International Hotel on its first day of business September 12, 2016, in Washington, D.C.

The Trump International Hotel on its first day of business September 12, 2016, in Washington, D.C. The Trump Organization was granted a 60-year lease to the historic Old Post Office by the federal government before Donald Trump announced his intent to run for president. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

In a revelation Tuesday that swiftly elicited allegations of corruption, the New York Times reported that President Donald Trump’s family business—from which he has refused to divest—is seeking rent relief for his infamous D.C. hotel from his own administration, as the global hotel industry continues to struggle with the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Oh, hi, corruption,” tweeted television writer J. Holtham. Journalist Renee Montagne said she was “not sure whether to laugh or cry.”

“No swamp to drain here, folks. Move along,” remarked Tim Karr of Free Press, referencing one of Trump’s campaign pledges from 2016.

The 263-room Trump International Hotel is operated by the Trump Organization within a federally owned building mere blocks from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. The president’s company negotiated a 60-year lease for the space in 2013 and pays the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) almost $268,000 per month.

Although the Trump Organization announced plans to sell the hotel lease last year, the company’s sales representative Jeffrey Davis confirmed to the Washington Post in late March that sale plans were now on hold because of how the pandemic has affected the commercial real estate industry.

Public Citizen@Public_Citizen

Idk does this seem like a problem to anyone?

View image on Twitter

6258:14 PM – Apr 21, 2020

As the Times reported Tuesday:

The Trump Organization is current on its rent, according to Eric Trump, the president’s son, but he confirmed that the company had opened a conversation about possible delays in future monthly payments.

The younger Mr. Trump said the company was asking the GSA for any relief that it might be granting other federal tenants. The president still owns the company, but his eldest sons run the day-to-day operations.

“Just treat us the same,” Eric Trump said in a statement on Tuesday. “Whatever that may be is fine.”

The newspaper noted that “the Trump Organization was barred by Congress from seeking relief from the $500 billion rescue fund being administered by the Treasury Department, and a Trump Organization executive said on Tuesday that the company had decided not to apply for a federal loan through the Small Business Administration. The company argues that it is seeking only temporary relief from the GSA while the hotel industry globally copes with an extraordinary drop in business.”

Trump’s White House and the GSA didn’t respond to the Times‘ requests for comment.

David Enrich@davidenrich

Exclusive: @realDonaldTrump‘s company wants a break on the rent it owes the federal govt for its DC hotel – exactly the type of conflict of interest that critics have been warning about. with @benprotess @SteveEder @EricLiptonNYT …

The Trump International Hotel in Washington is owned and operated by the president’s family business, but the building belongs to the government.

However, political commentators, journalists, and advocacy groups were quick to weigh in:

Matt Novak@paleofuture

The moment Trump became president he became his own landlord through the GSA, which owns the Old Post Office Building in DC that’s now a Trump Hotel. GSA said it wasn’t a conflict of interest but you’ll never guess what’s happening now… …177:58 PM – Apr 21, 2020

Citizens for Ethics@CREWcrew

President Trump’s signature hotel in the nation’s capital wants a break on its rent. The landlord determining the fate of the request is Trump’s own administration.

If that’s not a conflict of interest, what is? …1,1928:30 PM – Apr 21, 2020

Joyce Alene@JoyceWhiteVance

But, if you’re a small business trying to get a federal loan to pay your employees, forget about it. …1,7487:32 PM – Apr 21, 2020

Critics often pointed to previous arguments that Donald Trump’s continued ownership of the hotel runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s emoluments clause, given that it has been frequented by special interest groups and foreign officials throughout his presidency.

Common Cause@CommonCause

This is what we call a conflict of interest. Also known as corruption or unconstitutional Emoluments violations. …758:00 PM – Apr 21, 2020

Garrett M. Graff@vermontgmg

Whoever would have imagined this relationship would prove complicated and fraught? Oh, right, the Founders. Who prohibited it. In the Constitution. …1998:24 PM – Apr 21, 2020

The Trump Organization hasn’t just sought relief from the GSA during the public health crisis.

“The company has been talking with Deutsche Bank, the president’s largest creditor, about the possibility of postponing payments on its loans from the bank,” according to the Times. “Mr. Trump owes Deutsche Bank more than $300 million on loans connected to the Washington hotel, his Doral golf resort in Florida, and a skyscraper in downtown Chicago.”

In Florida, the Trump Organization in late March sought guidance from Palm Beach County about whether it had to continue making monthly payments on land that the company leases for its 27-hole Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, according to people briefed on the discussions and documents reviewed by the New York Times.

This month, the Trump Organization was about a week late on its monthly lease payment of about $88,000, according to county documents. Company executives are still seeking guidance from Palm Beach County about whether they are expected to keep making lease payments with the golf industry shut down.

Eric Trump confirmed ongoing negotiations with Palm Beach County to the Times and echoed his comments regarding the GSA request. “In Florida, the very county that mandated we close is the very county collecting rent,” he said. “What are they doing for others? Just treat us the same.”

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‘Deliberately Cruel’: Millions of US Citizens Blocked From Stimulus Payments Because They Married Immigrants

“We’re flat broke. We don’t know what’s gonna happen.”

byAndrea Germanos,

People wait in line, six feet apart to socially distance, to get groceries at a pop-up food pantry hosted by Pan Y Cafe in Chelsea, MA on April 14, 2020.

People wait in line, six feet apart to socially distance, to get groceries at a pop-up food pantry hosted by Pan Y Cafe in Chelsea, MA on April 14, 2020. (Photo: Erin Clark/The Boston Globe/Getty Images)

Reporting out Monday shed new light on the fact that millions of U.S. citizens are not eligible to receive coronavirus stimulus checks because of who they married.

This large group, as the Los Angeles Times reported, is made of American citizens who file taxes jointly with a spouse who uses an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number—an identification the IRS issues to workers who don’t have a Social Security Number.

Those with ITINs include those who are undocumented and those who may be in the legalization process.

The block means that not only will the adult in the mixed status home not be eligible for their $1,200 check but the household itself will also not receive a $500 per child payment that was part of the CARES Act, bringing further economic woes to taxpayers as the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic continues.

There is one exception. The citizen is not prevented from receiving the one-time payment if one spouse serves in the U.S. military.

“It’s a deliberately cruel carve-out,” Manar Waheed, senior legislative and advocacy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the LA Times. “In creating an exception for military families, they very, very deliberately left all of these other people out of the cash rebate.”

The Dallas Morning News also drew attention to the issue last week, and included comment from Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute, who said “over 10 million people are affected” by the exclusion.

Christina Segundo, a U.S. citizen and mother of four whose husband uses an ITIN, talked to the Texas outlet about what the lack of the stimulus check means for her family. She stopped working at her UPS job over fears of getting her family infected with COVID-19. Her husband is still working but has seen his hours cut in recent weeks by more than half.

“We’re flat broke,” Segundo said. “We don’t know what’s gonna happen.”

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Could Hamas’s Haniyeh steer a course to Palestinian freedom?

Ismail Haniyeh
By Stuart Littlewood

A leadership change in Hamas offers a glimmer of hope for Gazans, and possibly all Palestinians, stuck in that Holy Land hell.

At least, that how I view the news that Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh appears to have thrown his hat in the ring for chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau, a position held by Khaled Meshaal since 1996. To that end Haniyeh is reported to have left the Gaza Strip for the Muslim pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia and may remain abroad until the election. The position of Hamas chief requires residency outside the Palestinian territories to allow free movement and cut the risk of assassination by Israel.

Degrees galore

Many Hamas leaders have had a tough upbringing in refugee camps and done time in Israeli jails or exile. But they have overcome. Haniyeh is a product of the refugee camp and was a leading figure in the student movement before graduating from the Islamic University and entering politics. Arrested three times by the Israelis, they deported him to South Lebanon in 1992. He became director of the office of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, a co-founder and the spiritual leader of Hamas who was assassinated by the Israelis in 2004.

Looking through the list of Hamas ministers after their election victory in 2006, I noticed that many had professional qualifications and were better equipped for office than their Western counterparts. Writing about this in 2009 I remarked that Hamas’s foreign minister, hardliner Mahmoud al-Zahar, brought up in Egypt, was a surgeon and headed the nursing department at the Islamic University. He was deported along with Haniyeh to South Lebanon. Targeted for assassination, Al-Zahar’s home was bombed in 2003 by an Israeli F-16, murdering his eldest son and seriously injuring his wife. In 2008 an Israeli air raid killed a second son.

Dr Basem Naim, the health minister, had a degree in medicine from Germany and a PhD in surgery. The minister of national economy had a degree in civil engineering. The deputy prime minister and education minister was Dean of Islamic Studies and Law at Al-Najah University and had a PhD in Middle East Studies from Manchester University. The finance minister had a PhD from Iowa University.

There was even a minister for women’s affairs, a mother of seven with a PhD in Islamic Law. The minister of public works had a degree in civil engineering from Alabama University. The minister of culture graduated from teacher training college in Ramallah and held a master’s in Islamic Law. The minister of planning held a PhD in urban planning from the University of Pennsylvania and was a visiting professor at several US universities. The minister of agriculture had a PhD in Environment and Water from Manchester University and was a fellow of the American Society for Science Advancement.

So, Hamas clearly has a pool of talent that might have governed wisely and peacefully had they been given the chance after winning free and fair election in 2006. But the pro-Israel alliance went flat out to thwart this fledgling Arab democracy and crush it.

Rewriting the charter would be smart

Hamas’s popularity stems largely from its social, educational and healthcare programmes. Armed resistance to Israel’s illegal occupation is of course its right. Meaningful negotiations, it says, will come only after Israel withdraws behind its internationally-recognised 1967 borders, as required by international law and United Nations resolutions. The land of Palestine is regarded as an Islamic waqf (trust) consecrated for future Muslim generations. It cannot be negotiated away by political leaders. Hamas therefore rejects peace moves that involve more territorial concessions.

In his 20 years as Hamas’s political chief, and 40 years in exile, it is hard to see what Meshaal has actually achieved for the Palestinian people. He seems to speak only to other Arabs and not Western politicians and activists, although in 2008 he met with US President Jimmy Carter and reached agreement that Hamas would accept the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip subject to it being ratified by the Palestinian people in a referendum. But even Carter couldn’t bring that one off.

…the [Hamas] charter is no worse than the outrageous mission statements of Israel’s political parties and racist laws. But why descend to their level?

Meshaal should long ago have rewritten the Hamas charter, especially where it says: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” Admittedly, it doesn’t state that a Hamas government is sworn to destroy Israel, but it includes a hadith (reported saying of the Prophet Muhammad) about killing Jews hiding behind rocks. Such reports handed down from the 8th or 9th century cannot be taken seriously today. And yes, the charter was written well before Hamas had pretensions to government. Nevertheless, inflammatory language has no place in any mission statement of a modern ruling administration hoping to succeed in diplomacy. Hamas’s continued failure to remove it does it no credit and makes it easy for Israel and its allies to dismiss an otherwise legitimate resistance movement as terrorists.

Having said that, the charter is no worse than the outrageous mission statements of Israel’s political parties and racist laws. But why descend to their level? And while the regime in Tel Aviv continues, with impunity, to obliterate Palestine to clear the way for a Greater Israel, Western leaders require Hamas to disarm, renounce violence and accept Israel’s right to exist.

Palestinians of course elected Hamas to uphold their own rights to freedom and self-defence. And as Omar Abdul Razek, Hamas’s finance minister, said when interviewed by Aljazeera in May 2006:

Which Israel would you want me to recognise? Is it Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates? Israel with the occupied Golan Heights? Israel with East Jerusalem? Israel with the settlements? I challenge you to tell me where Israel’s borders lie.
[Interviewer] …the 1967 borders.
[Razek] Does Israel recognise the 1967 borders? Can you tell me of one Israeli government that ever voiced willingness to withdraw to the 1967 borders?

So, is it reasonable to expect Hamas to renounce violence against a foreign power that violently occupies the Palestinians’ homeland, bulldozes their houses at gun-point, uproots their beautiful olive groves at gun-point, sets up hundreds of armed checkpoints to disrupt normal life, batters down villagers’ front doors in the dead of night at gun-point, builds an illegal “separation” wall to annex their lands, steals their water and isolate their communities, and blockades exports and imports to cause economic ruin?

Topping the terrorist league

The Palestinians had no history of violence until their country was partitioned by the UN and overrun by a brutal intruder whose greed is never satisfied. Demands for Palestinians to cease their terror campaign cannot be taken seriously unless linked to demands for Israel to do the same.

Israel’s demolition of thousands of Palestinian homes for so-called administrative and planning reasons, the wholesale destruction of businesses and infrastructure, the excessive violence against non-combatants, the abductions, imprisonments and assassinations, and especially the programme of blitzkriegs on Gaza slaughtering thousands, including many hundreds of children, wounding or maiming tens of thousands and reducing the whole place to rubble – none of these crimes can be justified on grounds of defence or security. They are so disproportionate as to constitute grave violations of human rights and possibly war crimes; and they add up to terrorism even in Netanyahu’s language. His book, Terrorism: How the West Can Win, defines terror as the “deliberate and systematic murder, maiming and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends”.

In an interview with Jennifer Byrne in February 2002, Netanyahu spectacularly shot himself in the foot again: “Terrorism is defined by one thing and one thing alone: the nature of the act. It is the deliberate, systematic assault on civilians that defines terrorism.”

Hamas must do better

The burden of leadership in Gaza has fallen not on Meshaal but Haniyeh who has operated under the constant bombardment and other horrors inflicted by Israel on that overcrowded strip of land. In 2006, within days of being elected, he offered long-term peace if Israel recognised Palestine as an independent state on 1967 borders. Previously, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which officially represents all Palestinians, had “recognised” Israel without requiring any reciprocity by Israel. The Oslo accords were supposed to end the occupation and give Palestinians independence, but all they got was “more settlements, more occupation, more roadblocks, more poverty and more repression”.

We are Palestinians first, and Christians and Muslims second. We face a common enemy together. (Ismail Haniyeh, 2007)

Hamas’s win at the polls was not only unexpected, it was highly inconvenient to Israel’s plans and the West’s designs on the Middle East. Obstruction was their immediate response. And when Hamas finally ejected bad losers Fatah from Gaza to secure their right to rule at least that tiny coastal enclave, the blockade was cruelly tightened.

In late 2007 I was lucky enough to be with a small group that met Ismail Haniyeh and some of his senior colleagues in Gaza City. It was useful to have such a close-up view of the man in those early days of Gaza’s siege, which has now lasted 10 years (and still counting) while the international community stands idly by. Ordinary men would have crumbled. But not these Palestinians. They are forged in the white heat of resolute resistance.

At the other end of Palestine’s political spectrum, in the West Bank, sits wobbly Mahmoud Abbas, boss of Fatah, whose term as president of the Palestinian National Authority (and now the nebulous state of Palestine) officially ended in 2009. His election in the first place was farcical and probably illegal, and he has overstayed his welcome by seven years, his backside super-glued to the presidential throne. Elections have just been postponed, thanks most probably to backroom deals preventing Abbas losing his grip and thus his position as the West’s useful idiot. Let us not forget that the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory (the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the Old City) is also under permanent blockade: nothing and no-one can come or go unless Israel says so, and the people are caged within Israel’s evil Matrix of Control and subject to arrest and imprisonment without trial. Abbas’s people do much of Israel’s dirty work.

Palestinians have truth and justice on their side. Their story must be told with greater energy, amplification and persuasion.

Meshaal’s successor needs to do a much, much better job. Why do I feel optimistic at the prospect of Haniyeh taking charge and roaming free? He struck me as an approachable man and not without charm, yet a hard-boiled patriot; also a moderate in Islamic terms and respectful of the Christian community in Hamas’s midst. After our meeting he told the cameras: “We are Palestinians first, and Christians and Muslims second. We face a common enemy together.”

He has a reputation for being pragmatic. If that’s the case, he will waste no time in turning Hamas’s charter into a document fit for purpose in the 21st century. He might go further with reform and open proper communication channels to the West. Palestinians have truth and justice on their side. Their story must be told with greater energy, amplification and persuasion. Rivals Fatah, who control the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, fail miserably in this duty as in so many others.

How will the West receive Haniyeh if he takes the job? In a saner world he’d most probably be welcomed as a hero into the diplomatic drawing rooms of London, Washington, Paris and Berlin.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, GazaComments Off on Could Hamas’s Haniyeh steer a course to Palestinian freedom?

We Need Healing From Our Oil-Addicted Society


Redwood Forest Defense, Humboldt County, 2020.

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Economic stimulus in response to our pandemic should stop funding fossil fuel companies with bailouts. Instead, we should prioritize welfare to rebuild our society with a sustainable approach to health so that crisis “relief” doesn’t continue to fail the public or exacerbate the existential crises of climate change.

When I think of fossil fuels, I think of the smell of a gas station, getting from point A to point B, my last flight overseas. I also see Appalachian mountaintops exploded for mining, Wet’suwet’en land protectors facing police brutality for resisting pipeline construction, birds stained with toxic B.P. Oil in the Gulf, disproportionate fatalities of people of color who face more pollution due to environmental racism, and fake news promoted by undercover oil lobbyists to hide the atrocities of their “business-as-usual.”

When habitats are degraded by the fossil fuel industry, wildlife are more likely to contaminate humans with novel infectious diseases. Fossil fuel pollution, from extraction and subsequent emissions, weakens our immune systems’ ability to fight illness and increases fatality rates in affected communities. This is the harrowing reality that we all face. We are seeing, now more than ever, that fossil fuels impact every aspect of our lives. Fossil fuels and coronavirus are interrelated existential threats. Abandoning new fossil fuel development will mitigate future pandemics and fight the climate crisis.

A revolutionary Green New Deal was proposed by South Korea’s ruling party to remedy the viral economic slump. In the United States, while the public is flooded with terrifying health-related news and the confusion of unprecedented societal transformation, our House of Representatives has passed economic stimulus packages that ensure the security of fossil fuel corporations with billions of dollars in handouts. The Environmental Protection Agency has rolled back auto-industry pollution regulations that save lives, affecting everyone. Emissions don’t obey borders of any kind. Meanwhile, a few states have quietly criminalized protest tactics used against fossil fuel infrastructure. This is what our democracy looks like.

Big oil companies see billions of dollars in profit every year and are destroying our planet in the process. Phasing out fossil fuels is long overdue. Even in California, a place known for environmental leadership, we are beholden to the oil industry that poisonously endangers our communities and life as we know it. We are one of the leading oil producers in the nation. A coalition of youth climate leaders, #CAYouthVsBigOil, has launched a petition asking Governor Gavin Newsom to prioritize public health over investments in big oil. We urgently need to stop all new fossil fuel projects, to drop existing production, and to roll out setbacks to keep us safe from fossil fuels! To begin to unravel the harm of environmental racism we need to centralize the voices of communities of color in this transition.

The world will likely never be the same. With life distilled to essential services and “business-as-usual” at a halt, I dream that we could rebuild our oil-addicted society in the spirit of long-term healing. Shining out of this fissure in the global economy is an opportunity to uncover a new normal with heartfelt values for the health of our communities. Imagine investments in healthcare, education, community gardens, habitat restoration and energy efficiency.

The pandemic has refocused my attention on the beautiful, chaotic intermingling of our global community, the wild that we are. As we tend to these relationships, we must stay humble to the preciousness of life. Taking care of each other is taking care of the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible.

Posted in USA, HealthComments Off on We Need Healing From Our Oil-Addicted Society

Twenty questions Hamas chief won’t answer

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyah

Palestine’s political class is still the uncommunicative “awkward squad” it’s always been

By Stuart Littlewood

I recently asked Hamas if Ismail Haniyeh would agree to do an email interview. I said I hadn’t seen a recent interview with Mr Haniyeh and thought it would be helpful to readers in the West if they knew more about the man and his hopes for the future.

No reply. So I repeated the request and included the 20 questions, suggesting that these might “provide an opportunity to forge a better understanding and state the case for peace”.

Again no reply.

I’ve had the same problem with the Fatah bunch. Six years ago, at the time of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s much-trumpeted “framework” for more lopsided peace talks between Mahmoud Abbas’s puppet administration and the Israelis, I asked Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestine Liberation Organisation for an interview and sent her some draft questions.

It’s a familiar story with Palestinian politicians – they treat the media, and even friendly journalists and writers, with contempt. Then they wonder why it’s Israel’s narrative that gets broadcast.

She was then (and presumably still is) a member of the PLO Executive Committee and highly articulate. Western activists regard her as a “good egg” and wish they could hear her speak on behalf of Palestinians more often.

I got no reply, and after repeating my request her media assistant asked me make contact again in a few weeks, which I did. But I heard nothing back, not even an acknowledgement. It’s a familiar story with Palestinian politicians – they treat the media, and even friendly journalists and writers, with contempt. Then they wonder why it’s Israel’s narrative that gets broadcast.

So, it is hardly surprising that Palestinians never make progress towards freedom. Indeed, that prospect is more distant than ever, despite having international law and most of world’s public opinion on their side. Losing so heavily, in the circumstances, is a remarkable achievement; so remarkable, you wonder if it’s deliberate. And whether Palestinian resistance is a sham.

I’ve been writing about the Palestinian struggle for 15 years, the same length of time Mahmoud Abbas has been in the driving seat in Palestine. In that long, grinding period I’ve had no help from Palestinian politicians or their bureaucrats. I find them an uncommunicative “awkward squad”, the very opposite of ordinary Palestinian folk who, in my experience, are warm and friendly and helpful. They must be wondering what they’ve done to deserve a political class that’s such crap.

Abbas has been a big noise in Palestinian affairs for decades. In 2003 Arafat appointed him prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Some say the West foisted Abbas on Arafat. A power struggle ensued, and after Arafat’s suspicious death in 2004 Abbas was seen as a natural successor.

Abbas’s term as President of the PNA officially ended in 2009 but the Basic Law allowed him an extension of one year whereupon he was voted into office indefinitely, the sort of thing usually seen in banana republics and often terminating in a bloodbath. He was also chosen as President of the State of Palestine by the PLO’s Central Council.

So, nobody else has had a look-in for 15 years, during which Palestinians have seen a continuous slide downhill while the Israelis’ colonisation and expansion programme goes from strength to strength with annexation of the West Bank imminent. Justice has never been allowed to play a part. Furthermore, Abbas has repeatedly given the Israelis time to cement their ill-gotten gains, readily agreeing to more bogus negotiations arranged by the same dishonest brokers.

And he inexplicably dragged his feet over joining the International Criminal Court.

During his over-long tenure Abbas has failed to unite the Palestinians under a single purposeful voice. On the contrary, he has driven the factions further apart by letting rip the old Fatah-Hamas rivalry. His regime fails to keep the world informed or make proper use of media opportunities.

He is not noted for tactical brilliance and his embassies in the West are lazy, uncommunicative and uncooperative, and behave as if under orders not to “make waves”. I myself was branded “an enemy of Palestine” by the London embassy, an insult I wear as a badge of honour.

Abbas seems to be the darling of the West and of Israel, and the Palestinian Authority under Abbas is frequently accused of collaborating with Israel in its brutal oppression. The Israelis are said to regard him as a strategic asset. They’d hate to lose him.

Hamas is usually blamed for any whiff of corruption but the Palestinian Authority is bursting with it. The confidential Palestine Papers, leaked by AlJazeera in 2011, revealed the shambolic conduct of the so-called peace process and how the Palestinian team allowed the Israelis to walk all over them, with US help. Then in 2015 a damning report by The Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) titled Absolute Power, Total Corruption appeared. According to the commissioner-general, Azmi Shuaibi, “the cancellation of elections and the absence of the Legislative Council led to the president’s monopolising the three powers — legislative, judicial, executive — which has served as fertile soil for some cases of corruption.”

But even this catalogue of misbehaviour failed to hammer the final nail into Abbas’s political coffin. He’s still there, and the Palestinians’ position is dire.

Six years ago Hamas announced it had appointed bright, attractive 23-year-old Isra al Modallal as the media face of the resistance movement. She’d been at college in Bradford, Yorkshire, a part of England where people are noted for blunt speaking and their dry sense of humour. I remember thinking at the time that if Isra brought some of these qualities to Gaza it would stand her, and Hamas, in good stead.  

Her arrival was supposed to be part of a “public transformation” for Hamas that included a new head of media, Ihab Ghussein, who was to “orchestrate a new government website”. So things were looking up, it seemed.

But has anyone here in the West noticed a transformation? And what about Hamas’s media office? Well, I’ve just experienced some of their rudeness.

The “20 Questions” I had put to Haniyeh’s are set out here:

20 Questions for Hamas chief  

1) Well-wishers in the UK pray for Palestinians in Gaza who are facing the COVID-19 menace trapped under Israel’s cruel blockade without the necessary equipment, medication and protection for hospital staff. How bad is the situation with regard to public health in normal circumstances, and what should the international community be doing to help in the present crisis?

2) You were born in a refugee camp yet graduated from the Islamic University of Gaza, a remarkable achievement. How difficult was this for your parents – and for you growing up in those circumstances? What was family life like in those dark days?

3) And how difficult is it for ambitious students studying in Gaza today? Can they attend any of the West Bank universities? Can they leave to find a career abroad; and if the do, can they ever return?

4) After becoming involved in politics you were jailed several times by Israel and deported to southern Lebanon along with other key figures in Hamas such as Mahmoud al-Zahar. This must have been an important time in forming your political outlook. How did this exile prepare you for what followed?

5) You were close to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas. What are the most important lessons you learned from him?

6) Hamas was condemned throughout the West for its Charter, which contained ill-chosen words about Jews. It was a diplomatic suicide note. How has the revised Charter of 2017 been received around the world? And, given the lost ground in the propaganda battle with Israel, why did it take so long – 11 years – to produce a more acceptable document?

7) Winning the 2006 election fair and square provoked great hostility towards Hamas resulting in 14 years of unimaginable misery and hardship for the people of Gaza marginalized and starved by Israel’s blockade. How do you think history will judge the failure of the international community to intervene?

8) You have been targeted for assassination by Israel several times. Did they ever come close to eliminating you.

9) You succeeded Khaled Meshaal as Head of Hamas Politbureau in 2016. Was this a difficult act to follow? And how does your approach to the task differ from Meshaal’s?

10) Have you any regrets about your actions while in control of Gaza? Given the harsh conditions would you have done anything differently?

11) You were reported to have said that a Hamas government was prepared to accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders and to offer the Israelis a long-term truce if they recognised the Palestinians’ national rights, all in accordance with UN resolutions. Is this still your position?

12) The Palestinian cause has lost support in some quarters through endless Fatah-Hamas rivalry and a failure to unite. What is the answer to this?

13) Israel and the US regularly vilify Hamas by labelling it “Iran-backed” and linking it to Hezbollah. How close is your relationship with these two?

14) I met you briefly in Gaza in 2007 when Israel’s blockade was biting deep. Relations between Hamas and the Christian community seemed good at the time. I even heard that some Hamas ministers sent their children to the Catholic school. Is this still the case? And do Christians in Gaza have anything to fear from their Muslim neighbours?

15) Palestinian embassies in the West make no real attempt to compete against pro-Israel propaganda. If Hamas were in government how different would Palestinian diplomacy and media strategy be?

16) If Hamas had been permitted to exercise its democratic right to govern after winning the election in 2006, where would Palestine be today?

17) BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is an increasingly important pillar in Palestine’s struggle for freedom and self-determination. What else would you like sympathisers in the West to do to help the cause?

18) Politicians in the West always talk of a negotiated peace and never of justice and international law. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, apparently quoting Ayatollah Khomeini, was reported saying that “the occupying regime in Jerusalem will vanish from the page of time”. Is that your belief also, or are you resigned to the likelihood that Muslims and Christians of the Holy Land will have to live with the Zionist regime indefinitely?

19) In your younger days you were a rising football star. Do you still follow the game? Israel bombed Gaza’s football stadium in 2006 and again in 2012. It was repaired by FIFA last year. Are you confident that Palestinian football can now move forward and the national team will be allowed to participate at international level without Israeli interference?

20) Following the democratic 2006 election Hamas’s team of ministers seemed, on paper, to be as talented and well-qualified as any running Western governments. If they had been allowed to show what they were made of and the Hamas government had enjoyed the recognition and freedom of movement of goods and people normally expected in an international setting, what would Gaza and the West Bank look like today, 14 years later?

If Haniyeh sees these and wishes to answer, he’s still welcome. But, as with anything political in Palestine, I’m not holding my breath.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, GazaComments Off on Twenty questions Hamas chief won’t answer

Coronavirus Capitalism and “Exceptional” America


Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

As the global coronavirus public health and economic crisis of 2020 approaches the international workers’ day May 1st, let us consider 23 ways in which it is a crisis of and by capital and its class rule profits system:

+1.  The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back. United States capitalism was already on the verge of a major recession before COVID-19 hit.  All the classic signs were there:  absurdly inflated P/E ratios s (an absurdly inflated stock market), massively deb-leveraged corporations, giant consumer and student debt, savage economic inequality (so extreme that the top tenth of the U.S. upper 1 percent had more wealth than the nation’s bottom  percent), tens of millions living just one inadequate  paycheck away from being unable to meet basic living expenses , and more.  If the virus hadn’t broken that camel’s back, something else would have done the job, albeit with a less devastating impact than an epic pandemic.

+2.  Pathogenic Growth Addiction. Thanks to its relentless compulsion to sustain its rate of profit with quantitative expansion and accumulation (“growth”), contemporary jet-, Internet-,and satellite-age capitalism stirs up “zoontic” agro-industrial pathogens and spreads them around the planet in a flick of the historical light-switch.

+3.  No Profit in Proper Public Health Protection. Given the lethal pathogen-stirring and pathogen-spreading nature of 21st Century global capitalism, public health experts and epidemiologists have been warning for years about the coming of the next planetary pandemic and the need to prepare for it.  A critical problem here is capitalism’s inadequate time scale: there’s no short-term profit in storing up unused hospital beds, PPE, respirators, ventilators, and medicine. The American for-profit medical industrial complex has been cutting back beds, space, and medical services in the neoliberal name of “streamlining” for decades.  It has been woefully under-prepared for the foretold crisis.  No surprise: capitalism is about short-term profits, not long-term planning for the common good.

+4. Wage Slavery and Expendable People. Capitalism throws millions out of jobs when it is no longer profitable to employ them. A vast swath of the populace is seen as disposable by capital when profits collapse. At the same time, when profits are damaged by the removal of too many people from workplaces and consumption zones (shopping malls, restaurants, coffee shops, sports stadiums, theaters, hotels, airports, etc.) to stem a pandemic, capital shows its understanding of working-class  people as expendable by pushing for a premature “re-opening of the economy.” Either way, capital’s coronavirus calculation is this: what is the right number and percentage of the population that should die or face serious respiratory decline for profits to stay afloat?  Too many deaths are a problem for capitalism but so are too few deaths!  We should make no mistake: a rapid re-opening will kill masses of American workers: As Mike Davis writes at Labor Notes:

“Sending millions of people back to work without protection or testing would be a death sentence for thousands. Thirty-four million workers are over 55; 10 million of them over 65. Millions more suffer from diabetes, chronic respiratory problems, and so on. Straight from home to work to ICU to morgue…Millions of our ‘essential workers’ face intolerable hazards because of the shortage of protective equipment. It will be weeks, at best, before there will be an adequate supply for medical workers. Workers in warehouses, markets, and fast food have no guarantee of ever receiving masks, unless legislation compels it. If this is a war, Trump’s refusal to use existing laws to federalize the manufacture of masks and ventilators is a war crime” (emphasis added).

+5. Inability to Pause Without a Massive Bailout of the Already Rich. Capitalism is so addicted to constant profit-boosting accumulation that it can’t pause its cancerous and eco-cidal “growth” attachment in the name of public health without requiring giant taxpayer bailouts for its wealthy investor class’s giant corporations and financial institutions – this while offering a relative pittance to the working, lower, and middle class majority.

+6. Failure to Properly Allocate Labor for the Common Good.  As Richard Wolff, a rare Marxist economist who thankfully writes to be read by non-specialists and working-class people, reflects:

“A staggering 20 million U.S. employees have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment benefits during the month before April 15. This is absurd. We the people, the public, will now pay a portion of the wages and salaries their employers no longer do. The unemployed …would be far better off if they all got socially useful jobs as well as most of their former paychecks. The government could be such an employer of last resort: when private capitalists either cannot or will not hire because to do so is not profitable for them…But capitalists almost always oppose public jobs. They fear the competition with private capitalists that state employment might entail. …Society loses as the public pays the workers’ wages and salaries but gets no production of public goods and services in return….Congress’s recently passed law (CARES) plans to stimulate a crashed U.S. capitalism by giving major airlines some $25 billion to pay most of the wages and salaries of roughly 700,000 airline employees for the next six months. This is capitalist absurdity squared. Most of those employees will collect their paychecks but do no airline work because flying will remain too risky for too many over the next six months. One might expect airline employees to be required to do some sort of public service in return for their government paycheck. They might prepare safe workplaces to then produce the tests, masks, ventilators, gloves, etc., needed these days. They might be trained to test; to clean and disinfect workplaces, stores and athletic arenas; to teach using one-on-one social media tutorials; and so on. But no, in capitalist countries (with rare exceptions), private capitalists do not want and thus governments do not pass laws mandating that public sector jobs be required of the unemployed in exchange for their pay. Society loses, but capitalists are mollified.”

+7. Austerity. In its relentless quest to force down the broad social wage and the bargaining power of the working-class, capital exerts regular downward pressure on the governmental social safety net.  This makes multitudes more vulnerable to harm when mass layoffs and other disasters (e.g., hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and pandemics) occur.

+8.  Employment-based Health Insurance (U.S.). In the arch-capitalist United States, bourgeois power is so extreme as to have prevented the elementarily humanistic introduction of universal national health insurance.  Hundreds of millions of Americans absurdly get their health insurance through employment – a truly idiotic linkage which means that many U.S. workers put not only their jobs but their families’ health care at risk by doing or saying anything their bosses don’t like.  When thrown out of employment, workers are often removed from the insurance rolls – no small problem in the middle of a public health crisis!

+9. Anarchic Market Competition, Price Gouging, and the Pandemic as a Medical Profit Opportunity. Capitalism has U.S. states, counties, and local governments perversely bidding against each other for scarce medical supplies states amidst an epic pandemic.  The giant medical need and public desperation created by the capitalogenic coronavirus crisis is a profit opportunity for medical corporations and enterprises, some more credible and legitimate than others. (The ridiculous and vicious U.S. president himself owns shares in a company whose malaria drug he is absurdly recommending as a cure for COVID-19 against the warnings of his own public health officials and medical science.) At the same time, the nation’s reigning, mafia-like for-profit health insurance corporations/syndicate are cashing in handsomely from the suspension of surgeries and other medical services and procedures during the COVID-19 crisis.

+10.  Fiscal Crises of the State(s). Capitalism hitches the fiscal social democratic and public health capacities to the functioning of the privately owned, for-profit economy.  When that economy tanks, so do public revenues and hence the ability of government to protect people against poverty, pollution, pestilence, and other plagues of the profits system. (The state governments that the corrupt fascist oligarch and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is telling to declare bankruptcy will become insolvent without massive federal aid.)

+11.  Monopolization. As in every major capitalist recession and depression, the COVID-19 meltdown is wiping out a vast swath of medium- and smaller-sized businesses and helping big firms swallow up and displace their slighter competition.  With shelter-in-place, COVID-19 is a boon for the absurdly under-taxed Internet e-commerce hegemon Amazon.  According to CNN, “Analysts expect that the company will report a more than 20% increase in sales — to a whopping $73 billion” at the end of April. As CNBC reports:

“Under orders to stay home, millions of Americans have turned to online marketplaces like Amazon to order much-needed essentials like toilet paper, food, hand sanitizer and cold medicine. In lieu of neighborhood supermarkets, consumers are relying on online grocery delivery services like Amazon Fresh, resulting in a cascade of delays and out-of-stock notices amid the unexpected rise in demand. Amazon has hired more than 100,000 new warehouse and delivery workers since March to help manage the surge in orders, and it’s planning to bring on 75,000 more workers…The unprecedented demand has propelled shares of Amazon to fresh highs. The stock hit an all-time high on April 16 and is up more than 28% for the year, compared with an 11% decline for the S&P 500. Investors have flocked to Amazon and other stay-at-home stocks like Netflix and Zoom in recent months, as consumers have come to depend on their services amid the lockdown…. The outlook is brighter than ever for Amazon. But its ascent is occurring against a worrying backdrop of financial turmoil in the retail industry and the broader economy. Brick-and-mortar stores that remain open face vanishing foot traffic, while other retailers across the U.S. have closed stores and furloughed thousands of employees. Smaller or non-essential businesses have also shut their doors and are hoping they’ll be able to stay afloat long enough to reopen. “

+12.  Complex Global Supply Chains. In its long quest for cheap labor and lax social and environmental U.S. and global capital have created vast and complex and competing firm-specific global supply chains that have been badly disturbed by the COVID-19 crisis.  For many firms without the resources of an Amazon or a Wal-Mart the damage is likely beyond repair.

+13.  One World Economy, Many States. The world capitalist system is characterized by a single world economy and yet a multiplicity of nation states.  A global pandemic pits those nation states against each other in the struggle for scarce medical supplies. Humanity is woefully bereft of a single powerful authority to properly coordinate a unified human response to a global crisis. The unequal anarchy of nation states compliments and reinforces the unequal anarchy of the capitalist marketplace.

+14. Offshored Medical Production. In its quest for cheap labor and lax regulations, U.S. and Western capital has shifted much of its pharmaceutical production to China, making the West dangerously dependent on its great Eastern rival (or “frenemy”) for drugs needed to fight COVID-19, including perhaps a vaccine (if one is possible).

+15. Thought and Information Control.  With 90% or more of U.S, print and electronic media owned by just six companies and the Internet under the control of a few tech giants, big capital is able to marginalize serious and honest investigation and reporting on how it has caused the crisis and how it is taking advantage of it.  The analysis presented in this essay (rooted in common historical sense and knowledge) is largely banished from so-called mainstream media, very much like serious consideration of the crimes of the American Empire.

+16.  Mass Social Consumption. Since capital has long moved much of its production to other countries to access cheaper labor and more pliant regulations (to extract more surplus value from the planetary “web of life”, which includes human labor power), consumption makes up 70% of the U.S. economy.  The virus has blown up mass social consumption in restaurants, theaters, hotels, stadiums, and shopping centers, thereby slashing profits and hence employment in a vast swath of the U.S. economy. Because of American capitalism’s heavy dependence on mass social consumption for the realization of surplus value (for profits), some capitalists who are invested in social consumption (that includes the pathological real estate baron Donald Trump) are pressuring the nation’s governors and mayors for a recklessly precipitate “re-opening of America” – a sending back of millions of Americans to unsafe workplaces, shopping centers, theaters, restaurants and the like.

+ 17. Divide and Rule, Multiple Oppressions. Capitalism, the rule of the bourgeois possessing classes over the rest of humanity, depends on racial and ethnic (and other non-class) division within the working-class majority to stave off popular rebellion and revolution. Those who are multiply oppressed by “intersectional” racial, ethnic, sexual, national, religious, and other non-class oppression structures as well as by foundational class hierarchy are particularly vulnerable to economic misery and illnesses.  Pandemics and joblessness concentrate with special intensity and harshness among multiply oppressed and super-exploited people – as in the United States’ Black ghettoes, its disproportionately Black and Latino jails and prisons, and its all- Mexican and Central American migrant detention camps.

+ 18. Core and Periphery. The world capitalist system that has been run through the U.S. Pax Americana since 1945 divides the planet between a minority of wealthy “core states” (the U.S. plus Western Europe and the honorarily white nation of Japan) and a vast majority of relatively impoverished “semi-peripheral” and “periphery” states. The periphery’s assigned, core-structured roles are to provide cheap raw materials and labor power for the dominant core, to serve as a dumping ground for the core’s poisonous waste and inferior products, and to function as a training ground for the core’s military and as a place to test, dump and explode weapons and ordinance manufactured by the core’s predominantly U.S.-based military-industrial-complex. Capitalism’s economic, ecological and epidemiological crises are typically suffered with greatest pain and intensity in the vast nonwhite periphery (formerly known as the Third World,) where giant mega-cites contain vast shantytown slums that are breeding grounds for pandemics. Vast concentrations of people desperately seeking to escape ecological and related economic and political misery and violence in their peripheral homelands are detained in wretched core state migrant detention camps that also breed disease. At the same time, the core’s military superpower, the American capitalist Empire, targets insufficiently obedient states and regions – e.g. Iraq, Serbia, Iran, Venezuela, and Yemen – for devastating attacks and sanctions that increase their vulnerability to pandemics. (The United States and its client state Saudi Arabia have in recent years spread famines and brought the 19th Century disease of cholera back to life in Yemen with bombs, drones, missiles, and artillery – just one especially horrific example). Before it has run its full course, we should expect COVID-19 and the global depression it is sparking to cause its greatest death and misery in “the developing world.”

+ 19. Guns Over Medicine and Healing: The For-Profit Pentagon System. Given its exploitative and imperial nature and the unevenness of power between its constituent regions and states, capitalism long ago birthed a giant taxpayer-financed military-industrial-complex, a giant state-capitalist subsidy to high-tech corporations. The corporate Pentagon System eats up more than half of all federal discretionary spending, sucking money and skills away from the meeting of human and social needs to the manufacture and maintenance of a giant warfare state.

+ 20. Co-Morbidities. In multiple ways, capitalism produces a vast array of personal and public health problems – heart disease, obesity, hyper-tension, depression, anxiety, diabetes, cancer, overcrowding, hunger, malnutrition, poor sanitation, etc. – that that function as “co-morbidities” making millions super-susceptible to infection and death via flus, pneumonia, and pandemics like COVID-19.

+ 21. Mass Incarceration. The more it shreds the social safety net provided by “the left [social and democratic] hand of the state” (Pierre Bourdieu), the more capital relies on the repressive, police- and mass incarcerationist “right hand of the state”  to control its working and lower classes.  Neoliberal U.S. capitalism-imperialism’s vast, globally unmatched archipelago of jails, prisons, black sites, and migrant detention camps is a giant multi-territorial petri dish for the spread of COVID-19 among the disproportionately Black and brown millions kept behind bars (mostly white U.S. prison guards also experience heightened exposure).

+ 22. Mass Trumpian Stupidity. Capitalism is driven to turn much if not most of its populace into clueless, obedient, and one-dimensional workers and consumers devoid of elementary social, historical and natural intelligence.  It relentlessly assaults and undermines critical thinking and serious public education, generating mass ignorance and stupidity in ways that turn millions of people into anti-science dotards.  With a large section of the corporate-managed electorate rendered intellectually feckless,  incapable (often proudly) of grasping basic material and social processes like The Greenhouse Effect and pandemic contagion, it is hard to sustain a real public health policy and to stem fantastic ideas like the notions (advanced by no less of a moron than the current President of the United States) that  global warming and COVID-19 as “Chinese hoaxes” – or that one can cure COVID-19 by injecting disinfectant or taking an unproven drug.

+ 23. Capitalist Inequality Puts Anti-Science Fascist Lunatics in Power. The savage economic inequalities that are written into the inner logic of capitalism put a pandemic-spreading anti-science lunatic, the demented fascistic oligarch named Donald Trump, atop the world’s most powerful nation. In his useful book How Fascism Works, Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley notes that one of contemporary right-wing nationalist authoritarianism’s key taproots is harsh socioeconomic disparity:

“Ever since Plato and Aristotle wrote on the topic, political theorists have known that democracy cannot flourish on soil poisoned by inequality…the resentments bred by such divisions are tempting targets for demagogues…Dramatic inequality poses a mortal danger to the shared reality required for a healthy liberal democracy…[such] inequality breeds delusions that mask reality, undermining the possibility of joint deliberation to sole society’s divisions (pp.76-77, emphasis added)…Under conditions of stark economic inequality, when the benefits of liberal education, and the exposure to diverse cultures and norms are available only to the wealthy fewliberal tolerance can be smoothly represented as elite privilege.  Stark economic inequality creates conditions richly conducive to fascist demagoguery. It is a fantasy to think that liberal democratic norms can flourish under such conditions” (p. 185, emphasis added).

The political culture of pseudo-democratic duplicity and disingenuousness generated by modern capitalist inequality and plutocracy creates space for fascist-style politicians who “appear to be sincere” and “signal authenticity” by “standing for division and conflict without apology.  Such a candidate,” Stanley writes, “might openly side with Christians or Muslims and atheists, or native-born [white] Americans over immigrants, or whites over blacks…They might openly and brazenly lie…[and] signal authenticity by openly and explicitly rejecting what are presumed to be sacrosanct political values….Such politicians,” Stanley argues, come off to many jaded voters as “a breath of fresh air in a political culture that seems dominated by real and imagined hypocrisy.”  Fascist politicos’ “open rejection of democratic values” is “taken as political bravery, as a signal of authenticity.”

That is no small part of how malevolent far-right politicos – many of them dedicated enemies of science in service to the common good (e.g. the malevolent right-wing narcissist and instinctual fascist Trump and Brazil’s monumentally despicable and ecocidal racist Jair Bolsonaro) – have risen to power at home and abroad. The opening is provided by fake-progressive capitalist neo-“liberals” (in the U.S) and neoliberal social democrats and fake “socialists” (in Europe and elsewhere), whose claims to speak on behalf of the popular majority and democracy are repeatedly discredited by their underlying commitment to dominant capitalist social hierarchies. The demented fascist uber-assholes Trump and Bolsonaro, both of whom have acted to increase COVID-19 deaths in their own nations and thus in the world, are outcomes of capitalism in this and other ways.

A Shithole Capitalist Superpower

Trump infamously coined the phrase “shithole country” as an insult for deeply poor African nations and Haiti. He might want to look at the homeland he’s helped poison, with COVID-19 now rising in the “red” (rural, white, and Republican) regions where his fascistic Trumpenvolk hold electoral away. The United States, with just over 4 percent of the world’s population, is home to nearly a third of the planet’s COVID-19 cases. Some European states have a higher per-capita coronavirus death rate, but the shithole Superpower blew the chance to learn from their experience. Under the command of its malignant Stable Genius, the shithole U.S. federal government has no serious plan for mass testing and tracing. Hospitals scramble to secure PPE from dodgy private brokers behind the scenes.

This is not entirely surprising. Thanks to its extreme capitalism and savagely unequal class oppression, the U.S. has consistently scored at the bottom among rich nations in terms of social and public health. Inequality poisons societies on numerous levels.  The most poisoned OECD state by far has long been the U.S., which is too brutally capitalist to protect human beings and other living things to a remotely proper degree.

We must not “return to normalcy” – to ecocidal, savagely unequal, oppressive, authoritarian, and pathogenic capitalism – in the wake of COVID-19 (whenever the virus finally plays out).  The “normalcy” for which many naturally and understandably pine brought us to the current crisis and promises to take us into ever worse catastrophes going forward.  As Istvan Meszaros wrote 19 years ago, “it’s socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky.”

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