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Member since: Sun Jul 1, 2018, 07:25 PM
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Journal Archives

BBC: Coronavirus: US accused of 'piracy' over mask 'confiscation'

The US has been accused of redirecting 200,000 Germany-bound masks for its own use, in a move condemned as "modern piracy".


The local government in Berlin said the shipment of US-made masks was "confiscated" in Bangkok. The FFP2 masks, which were ordered by Berlin's police force, did not reach their destination, it said. Andreas Geisel, Berlin's interior minister, said the masks were presumably diverted to the US.

The US company that makes the masks, 3M, has been prohibited from exporting its medical products to other countries under a Korean-War-era law invoked by President Donald Trump. On Friday, Mr Trump said he was using the Defence Production Act to demand that US firms provide more medical supplies to meet domestic demand.

"We need these items immediately for domestic use. We have to have them," Mr Trump said at the daily Coronavirus Task Force briefing at the White House. Mr Geisel said the diversion of masks from Berlin amounted to an "act of modern piracy", urging the Trump administration to adhere to international trading rules.

"This is not how you deal with transatlantic partners," the minister said. "Even in times of global crisis, there should be no wild-west methods." Mr Geisel's comments echo the sentiments of other European officials, who have complained about the buying and diversion practices of the US.


The WHO Ignores Taiwan. The World Pays the Price. (Taiwan has 24 million people, and only 5 deaths)

Taiwan was more prepared for the coronavirus than any other country, but the WHO puts politics first.


There is an island nation off the southeastern coast of China where public health officials saw the pandemic coming—and took action before China did. Nearly three months after reporting its first confirmed case of Covid-19, this country has only reported 348 positive diagnoses and five deaths. It was one of the earliest countries to be hit and has one of the lowest infection rates. But you wouldn’t know any of this if you got your information from the World Health Organization. The country is Taiwan, which the WHO refuses to recognize as a sovereign state.

Despite early warnings from Taiwanese officials, the organization kept the island cut off from its global information networks. Now, it may be the rest of the world that’s paying the price. For nearly half a century, the People’s Republic of China has effectively blocked Taiwan from joining the WHO. Despite never having exercised authority over the island, the Chinese Communist Party officially considers Taiwan part of its territory, and forces international organizations—including the United Nations and its agencies like the WHO—to affirm its view.

Last weekend, the absurdity of this geopolitical paradox was laid bare in a news broadcast that quickly went viral. In a Skype interview, journalist Yvonne Tong of Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK asked Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO official, if the global health body would reconsider Taiwan’s membership. On Tong’s laptop screen, Aylward’s face twitched. He blinked for several seconds. Then he said he “couldn’t hear the question.” When Tong offered to repeat herself, Aylward cut in: “No, that’s OK, let’s move on to another question then.” “I’m actually curious to talk about Taiwan as well,” said Tong. Aylward’s face disappeared—he had ended the call.

When Tong called back and repeated her question, Aylward replied, “Well, we’ve already talked about China. And when you look across all the different areas of China, they’ve actually all done quite a good job.” He thanked Tong and ended the call again. The surreal exchange lasted all of one minute. But for Taiwanese people, it summed up a lifetime of gaslighting. During this outbreak alone, the WHO has kept changing how it refers to this country of nearly 24 million, going from “Taiwan, China,” to “Taipei” to the newer and bizarre “Taipei and its environs.” It also allowed China to report Taiwan’s coronavirus numbers as part of its own total, instead of reporting Taiwan’s numbers alone—a conflation that created headaches for the smaller nation. Some other countries enacted travel restrictions on Taiwan along with China, despite the former’s drastically lower infection rate.


Taiwan part starts around 19 minutes in


Legal analyst Glenn Kirschner argues that Trump could face prosecution after he leaves office


Deaths from Covid-19 continued to mount this week as the U.S. surpassed 200,000 confirmed cases, more than any other country in the world. Experts increasingly point to President Trump’s willful negligence as a primary cause of the pandemic’s intensity, but MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner takes things a step further, arguing controversially that Trump could be legally liable for coronavirus deaths after he leaves office. He makes the case to Mehdi Hasan on this week’s podcast.

QAnon Coronavirus conspiracy theorists are too nuts even for a zombie-apocalypse movie scenario

A man under the influence of QAnon conspiracy theories about the USNS Mercy's coronavirus mission attempted to ram the ship Tuesday with a locomotive he ran off the tracks.


The people who write zombie-apocalypse screenplays clearly missed out. In all the dozens of movies and TV shows about pandemic-fueled end-of-the-world scenarios, none of them managed to imagine whole subpopulations of characters who believed the zombie disease was actually a “deep state” hoax, a pretense for government enslavement, and rushed out into the streets to join the zombies and attacking efforts to combat them. Because that’s what we have now—not zombies, of course: rather, with thousands dead in a pandemic, there are thousands more who believe it’s all a big conspiracy. And some of them are taking action—the kind that gets even more people killed.

Take the locomotive engineer in Los Angeles who, on Tuesday, intentionally derailed a train near the docking site of the U.S. Naval Ship Mercy, which has been a major focus of the American response to the pandemic on the West Coast, in an attempt to damage the ship. The train engine smashed through concrete barriers at the track’s end, through a chain-link fence, through a couple of empty lots, and then halting about 800 yards away from the ship. As he was being arrested, the man who drove the engine—identified as Eduardo Moreno, 44, of San Pedro—told police: “You only get this chance once. The whole world is watching. … I had to. People don’t know what’s going on here. Now they will.”

The Department of Justice released a statement saying Moreno believed the Mercy “had an alternate purpose related to COVID-19 or a government takeover.” The conspiracy theory at work here is one invented by “QAnon” activists—namely, that the Mercy is actually planning to take its shipful of COVID-19 victims to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Other QAnon theorists have been claiming that the pandemic is a product of a Chinese bioweapon.

Liz Crokin, a QAnon-loving pro-Trump conspiracy theorist, has been in the forefront of the theories about the Mercy. She posted a video on March 26—viewed over 7.2 thousand times—featuring footage from the interior of the USNS Mercy, speculating that the ship “could be used to treat rescued trafficking victims especially since they’re only taking non-COVID-19 patients,” as she wrote on Facebook.


These fuckers are crazier than a rat in a tin shithouse.

A Conspiracy Theory That 5G Is Causing The Coronavirus Is Spreading Alongside The Pandemic

Even actor Woody Harrelson has succumbed to the baseless hoax that cellphone infrastructure is spreading the coronavirus.


A screenshot from the second most-shared anti-5G video on YouTube.

New Agers, right-wingers, and QAnon conspiracy theorists think global elites are using 5G to spread the coronavirus pandemic.

The paranoia about 5G — the industry term for the fifth generation of wireless communications infrastructure — has risen for the last few years, but as the world battles the pandemic, a baseless hoax has spread that the technology that runs cellphones could secretly be causing the outbreak.

On Wednesday, actor Woody Harrelson posted about the conspiracy theory on his Instagram, writing, “a lot of my friends have been talking about the negative effects of 5G.” On Thursday, a 5G tower in Birmingham, England, went up in flames after a local Facebook group was flooded with anti-5G comments. (Local authorities said that it could have possibly been an electrical issue, but are awaiting further information before investigating.)


5G has so far rolled out in about 40 countries worldwide, most notably South Korea and China, but also in dozens of US cities, including Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Before the coronavirus, fears about 5G tended to focus on cancer, the risk of which people feared could be increased from cellphone radiation. The evidence to support such a fear is weak to nonexistent, although meteorologists have worried that the technology could disrupt weather satellite forecasts.

Misinformation falsely claiming the coronavirus is a bioweapon has circulated since English-language reports of the outbreak began circulating in January. Depending on which internet rabbit hole you fall down, the coronavirus was created by the Chinese government, is part of a human depopulation scheme by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, or stemmed from a tainted batch of children’s blood that the world’s celebrities drink to stay young. So perhaps it was somewhat inevitable that these two separate conspiracy theories — that 5G had some evil purpose and that the coronavirus was a bioweapon — would graft themselves onto each other.


German cathedral dusts off relics of St Corona, patron of epidemics


AACHEN, Germany (Reuters) - Germany’s Aachen Cathedral has dug out the relics of little-known Saint Corona, patron saint of resisting epidemics, from its treasure chamber and is polishing up her elaborate shrine to go on show once the coronavirus pandemic has passed. The pandemic, confirmed to have infected nearly half a million people worldwide, including more than 30,000 in Germany, has boosted public interest in the Christian martyr, believed to have been killed by the Romans around 1,800 years ago.

The cathedral had planned even before the coronavirus outbreak to display St Corona’s shrine this summer as part of an exhibition on gold craftsmanship. It is not clear when people will now be able to view the shrine due to tough restrictions on gatherings imposed to help combat the spread of the virus. But experts are painstakingly cleaning the gold, bronze and ivory shrine, which has been hidden from public view for the last 25 years, in preparation for when it can go on display.

“We have brought the shrine out a bit earlier than planned and now we expect more interest due to the virus,” said Aachen Cathedral spokeswoman Daniela Loevenich. Corona is believed to have been only about 16 years old when the Romans killed her, probably in Syria, for professing the Christian faith.

The girl suffered a particularly excruciating death, according to legend. She was tied to two bent palm trees and then torn apart as the trunks were released. “That is a very gruesome story and led to her becoming the patron of lumberjacks,” said Brigitte Falk, head of Aachen Cathedral Treasure Chamber, adding that it was pure chance that she also became a patron saint for resisting epidemics.


2017 snapshot of an Austrian church confirming St. Corona was linked to pandemics.


Pete Buttigieg's Next Move: A PAC Called Win the Era

Donors have been told that the group will support candidates, specifically in down-ballot races, it hopes will become future leaders.


Pete Buttigieg, who rose from obscurity to narrowly win the Iowa caucuses before dropping out of the Democratic presidential primary last month, has taken some of the first steps toward outlining his post-campaign future. Mr. Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., is forming both a political action committee, called Win the Era, and an affiliated nonprofit group, according to people briefed on the plans.

Donors have been told that the PAC will support and endorse candidates who represent generational change, specifically in down-ballot races, in hopes of helping to create a “pipeline” for the party. The groups will also promote issues such as climate change and cybersecurity. A skeletal version of a website that refashions Mr. Buttigieg’s 2020 logo, replacing the word “Pete” with “Win the Era,” is already online, though it has not been advertised. “There is simply too much at stake to retreat to the sidelines now,” the site reads. “Together we can build the era that must come next.”

Mr. Buttigieg, whose second term as mayor ended Jan. 1, is just 38 and seen as one of the rising stars of the Democratic Party. But he also finds himself out of office and with no clear path back to electoral politics in Republican-dominated Indiana. He emerged as one of the surprise fund-raising standouts of the 2020 campaign, raising more than $100 million in a little more than a year. He won over traditional fund-raisers, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, who had bundled huge sums for President Barack Obama, as well as small online contributors. He raised more than $43 million from donors who gave less than $200.

His primary campaign committee ended up with at least $2.8 million in general election funds, according to calculations by the Campaign Finance Institute. Because Mr. Buttigieg did not become the nominee, that money must now be refunded. But Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign is now asking donors to instead redirect the money to seed the PAC, which can accept contributions of up to $5,000 each. “The work of electing a forward-thinking generation of Democratic candidates never ends,” said Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Mr. Buttigieg and a senior adviser to his campaign, when asked about his plans. “Pete will do his part by building and leading the Win the Era PAC as we get closer to the November election.”


Moody's: up to 30% of US mortgages could go into default



Cool, all good.

Coronavirus Shows the Need for D.C. and Puerto Rico Statehood


The coronavirus pandemic has revealed many flaws in America—from a lack of medical equipment in the federal government’s national emergency stockpile to the fact that there’s no universal requirement for employers to offer paid sick leave. It has also reinforced the need to address certain geographic inequities. Case in point: D.C. and Puerto Rico are less equipped to fight the virus than most of the rest of the nation simply because they are not states.

On Friday, President Donald Trump signed into law a $2 trillion stimulus to rescue the economy from the shock of coronavirus, which will provide millions of Americans with direct cash infusions and will allocate billions of dollars in funding to states and municipalities to fight COVID-19. But some parts of the country are getting a lot less help than others. As the Washington Post reported, D.C was intentionally classified as a territory instead of a state, cutting the number of federal dollars the District will receive by more than half. Whereas each state will get $1.25 billion, the bill appropriated $3 billion for D.C. and the five U.S. territories—Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa—to be divided by population. D.C. will ultimately get $500 million in relief, less than half of what it would if it were a state.

“I was enraged by the fact that the District of Columbia was going to be shortchanged,” Senator Chris Van Hollen told the Post, which reported that Democrats tried to classify D.C. as a state in the legislation but that Republicans shut it down as a deal-breaker. This reveals yet another reason why it’s necessary for Democrats to start pushing strenuously for D.C. and Puerto Rico statehood. It’s not just for their own political advantage; as Ben Paviour explained in a 2018 Monthly piece, the party stands to gain a lot by adding four more Democratic senators and several House members. It’s a moral imperative. Without this representation, these areas are grossly neglected, particularly in times of crisis.

D.C. and Puerto Rico don’t have the representatives to lobby for them when it matters. This dynamic was also on display when Congress made decisions about disaster relief for Puerto Rico following its devastating hurricanes and earthquakes. The House and Senate took months to come to a consensus about the amount of aid the territory would receive, leaving the disaster relief unresolved for a dangerous amount of time. Now, with the stimulus (the largest in American history), the District has also seen the financial consequences of being without statehood. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents D.C. as a non-voting member of the House, told the Monthly that this issue never would have occurred if the District had full representation in the House and Senate. “If we had had two senators, this issue would not have come up,” Norton said. “There would have been no notion that any states should have been shortchanged in this way. It’s another indication of why we need D.C. statehood.”


How Hungary's leader, Viktor Orban, gets away with it

He takes near-dictatorial powers, while the EU does nothing


LIKE A BOND villain, Viktor Orban cannot resist revealing his plans. The Hungarian prime minister has never hidden his desire to entrench himself in power. Before taking office in 2010, he remarked ominously: “We have only to win once, but then properly.” True to his word, when handed a big enough majority by Hungarian voters, Mr Orban hollowed out the Hungarian state, rewriting its constitution, purging the country’s courts and nobbling the media. In 2013 he told an interviewer: “In a crisis, you don’t need governance by institutions.” Again, he has followed through. A law enacted on March 30th means Mr Orban can rule by decree—bypassing parliament—until the coronavirus crisis is over. In films the villain is thwarted after revealing his hand. But Mr Orban is up against the European Union, not James Bond, so he succeeds.

No one can say there was no warning. Mr Orban’s career—which has encompassed everything from anti-Soviet liberalism to right-wing nationalism via Christian Democracy—has been dedicated to the accumulation and maintenance of power, rather than the pursuit of principle. Those who knew him well saw what was to come. In 2009 Jozsef Debreczeni, the author of a critical biography, warned: “Once he is in possession of a constitutional majority, he will turn this into an impregnable fortress of power.” A combination of careful strategy, political cunning and a dash of luck have made this prediction come true.

To the frustration of those who have spent the past decade trying to stop him via legal means, Mr Orban is more astute they think. His “reforms” tend to reach the edge of legal acceptability, but no further. If Mr Orban ever does hit a legal obstacle, he surrenders some gains, while keeping the bulk of them. (The Hungarian leader even has a name for this legal waltz: the peacock dance.) Opposition figures, civil-rights monitors and commentators around the globe have denounced the latest move as a big step towards dictatorship. Yet, so far, the European Commission has pledged only to examine it. This mealy-mouthed response stems from the fact that its lawyers see little glaringly wrong with the act as it is composed. On paper, Hungary’s parliament can end the state of emergency if the government oversteps the mark. In practice, this probably would not happen. Mr Orban’s Fidesz party—over which he has had near absolute control for nearly three decades—has two-thirds of the seats in parliament. It is in this gap between legal theory and political reality that Mr Orban thrives.

Luck plays its part in Mr Orban’s success. Hungary is a small country. For EU officials, the erosion of the rule of law in, say, Poland with its 40m citizens matters far more in practice if not principle. Mr Orban has consequently been free to attack the EU institutions that bankroll his country to the tune of 6% of GDP in some years without generating a fatal backlash from Brussels. Hungary slips down the order of business when leaders are busy with other things, such as a pandemic. Mr Orban has also been fortunate in his opponents. In 2006, while Mr Orban sat in opposition, the then Hungarian prime minister was recorded slating his own government. (“Obviously we have been lying our heads off for the past one-and-a-half, two years.”) A mammoth majority for Mr Orban followed. Hungary’s opposition parties have failed to coalesce. When they do manage to rub along, they succeed. Opposition parties won local elections in Budapest last year.

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