News, July 23rd

‘Temporary Basic Income’ could slow COVID surge, provide lifeline for world’s poorest

The immediate introduction of a Temporary Basic Income for the world’s poorest people could slow the current surge in COVID-19 and enable close to three billion people to stay at home, according to a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report released on Thursday.

Temporary Basic Income: Protecting Poor and Vulnerable People in Developing Countries, estimates that it would cost governments upwards of $199 billion per month, to provide what UNDP describes as “a time-bound, guaranteed basic income, to the 2.7 billion people living below or just above the poverty line in 132 developing countries.”

The agency describes it as a “feasible” measure, that is urgently needed, with the pandemic continuing to infect more than 1.5 million per week, particularly in developing countries, where seven out of ten workers make a living through informal markets, and cannot earn money if they are stuck at home.

“Many of the huge numbers of people not covered by social insurance programs are informal workers, low-waged, women and young people, refugees and migrants, and people with disabilities – and they are the ones hardest hit by this crisis”, said UNDP in a press release issued along with the report.

UNDP has carried out assessments on the socio-economic effects of COVID-19 in more than 60 countries since the pandemic began, with data confirming that workers who lack benefits, have no choice but to venture outdoors, putting themselves and their families at risk.

A Temporary Basic Income would give them the means to buy food and pay for health and education expenses, said UNDP.

It is also a realistic fiscal move: a six-month Temporary Basic Income, for example, would require just 12 percent of the total financial response to COVID-19 expected in 2020, said UNDP, which is the equivalent of just one-third of what developing countries owe, in external debt payments through 2020.

“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented social and economic measures. Introducing a Temporary Basic Income for the world’s poorest people has emerged as one option. This might have seemed impossible just a few months ago”, said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.

“Bailouts and recovery plans cannot only focus on big markets and big business. A Temporary Basic Income might enable governments to give people in lockdown a financial lifeline, inject cash back into local economies to help keep small businesses afloat, and slow the devastating spread of COVID-19”, he said.

UNDP said that a Temporary Basic Income should not, however, be viewed as a “silver bullet solution”. Protecting jobs, expanding support to micro, small and medium enterprises, and using digital solutions to identify and access people who are excluded, are all measures that countries can take.

The agency suggests that some countries could pay for the radical measure by repurposing funds they would have used to service their national debt. Developing and emerging economies will spend $3.1 trillion in debt repayment this year, according to official data.

A comprehensive debt standstill for all developing countries, as called for by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, would allow countries to temporarily repurpose these funds into emergency measures.

Several countries have already begun to embrace the concept. The West African State of Togo has distributed over $19.5 million in monthly financial aid to over 12 percent of the population through its cash transfer program, mostly to women who work in the informal sector.

Spain recently approved a monthly budget of €250 million to top up the incomes of 850,000 vulnerable families and 2.3 million individuals, up to a minimum threshold.

UNDP is leading the UN’s socio-economic response to COVID-19 recovery and implementing recovery strategies in countries across the world.

Amid economic slowdown from the pandemic, strategic approach needed for Nepal’s resilient recovery, states new World Bank report

Economic growth is estimated to contract sharply to 2.1% in FY2021 from the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdown, despite efforts by the government to curb the economic fallout from the crisis, states the World Bank’s latest Nepal Development Update. Transitioning the economy from the relief stage through to restructuring and resilient recovery requires a strategic approach to get the country back on a sustainable and inclusive growth path.

As per the report, economic activity in the tourism sector will remain weak and remittances inflows will be moderate. Supply chain disruptions will keep industrial and agricultural production low. Low economic activity and oil prices will also keep imports low and below the pre-crisis levels, leading to a projected narrowing of the current account deficit to 6.5 percent of GDP. Lower imports will continue to limit revenue collection. However, fiscal measures announced as part of the FY2021 budget, including a revision of custom duties, will provide some support to the budget as spending levels on relief and recovery efforts remain elevated. Taken together, the fiscal deficit is projected to marginally decline to 6.6 percent of GDP in FY2021.

While the government has adopted various relief measures to contain the pandemic, reduce the impact on households and provide economic support to the most vulnerable firms, the report highlights the importance of reforms to support a resilient recovery.

“For a resilient recovery and inclusive growth, economic support measures to firms and workers in the informal sector will be important,” said Dr. Kene Ezemenari, World Bank Senior Economist and author of the update. “Incentives to agribusiness-based and forest-based SMEs, with a focus on returnee migrants and youths, could help increase employment and food security. Inclusive growth could be further promoted through entrepreneurship support programs and grants to small and medium enterprises,” she added.

The report outlines four pillars in the areas of health, social support, economic support, and cross-cutting priorities including fiscal sustainability and focus on digital and green economies. This includes measures to strengthen the health system and scale up social protection systems, including the adoption of a social registry to make these systems more resilient against future shocks. Enhanced school sanitation and health protocols including health screening, water and sanitation facilities would be needed to enable a return to schooling for children.

“In the rapidly unfolding global scenario brought by COVID-19, insights from the Nepal Development Update on Nepal’s outlook, challenges and way forward is very helpful. We need to address the crisis with macroeconomic and sectoral policy focused on fiscal sustainability, financial sector stability, a digitally-oriented green economy and resilient public services,” stated Honorable Minister of Finance, Dr. Yuba Raj Khatiwada. “I appreciate the rapid action taken by our development partners including the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, IMF and others for providing us with tangible resources and support to maintain our fiscal balance and accelerate growth and inclusive development.”

Expansionary fiscal and monetary policies will be important in the initial relief stage to support banking sector liquidity and provide relief to households and firms. From restructuring through to resilience, expansionary and monetary policies will help pave the way for strengthening financial sector stability in the long run while also building resilient public services and green growth through sustainable and resilient infrastructure, strengthened solid waste management and air and water pollution control.

Related investments and reforms would be critical to expand coverage of digital services and infrastructure to support e-services and help promote e-commerce. This would also help expand the reach and coverage of mobile banking and digital financial services to underpin development of e-commerce. However, digitization is also limited across the economy. Addressing this will require removal of access restrictions to any under-utilized fiber optic backbone managed by the governments and public utilities and the introduction of appropriate rules to manage conditions of access, capacity allocation, and access pricing. This would also help expand access in rural and remote areas.

“For Nepal to emerge stronger from the crisis, it is important to adapt quickly to the new reality,” stated Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. “We are encouraged to note the early start made by the government with the development of Nepal’s Relief, Restructuring and Resilience plan and are committed to work together with multilateral development banks and development partners in helping the country build back greener and better.”

Biden’s climate plan: tactic to win Sanders supporters or something more?

Democratic candidate Joe Biden recently announced a $2 trillion climate plan to be implemented over four years if he wins the presidential seat. The plan promises a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2050. A more moderate version of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal proposal, the plan eliminates more progressive goals, such as universal healthcare and job guarantees. The Biden plan would need approval by the Senate and House, which after the coming election may or may not be controlled by the Democrats.

Biden’s plan comes as the Trump administration continues to roll back environmental regulations that protect public health and the ecosystem — nearly 100 so far since he took office. While the Trump regime is particularly aggressive in its pro-business, anti-people/planet policies, are we really to believe that Biden is going to lead the charge toward meaningful climate action?

The main focus of the plan is to reinstate Obama-era programs like the Clean Power Plan and fuel efficiency standards with a commitment to clean energy research and development and rejoining the Paris Agreement. These Obama-era policies fell far short of what is needed to reduce the U.S. contribution of greenhouse gas emissions to levels that will avert a runaway scenario.

When you look at what Biden means by “clean energy,” he does not mean solar and wind energy, but is instead referring to nuclear and carbon capture technologies. Nuclear energy has the 3rd highest lifecycle emissions after scrubbed coal-fired plants and natural gas. This is not to mention the catastrophic risk of nuclear reactor failure and waste disposal. And carbon capture technologies actually create more emissions from building the facilities than those facilities can capture.

While campaigning, Biden made it clear that he will not end his support for fracking and recently hired Heather Zichal to help mold his climate plan. Zichal served on the board of the natural gas company Cheniere Energy from 2014 to 2018 — hardly an environmentalist position.

Fracking is incredibly detrimental to the environment, poisoning precious groundwater resources and leaking methane throughout the supply chain from wells to distribution to home appliances. More than 3 million oil and gas wells in the United States leaked nearly 281 kilotons of methane in 2018 alone! This is a major contributor to climate change since methane has 84 times the atmospheric warming potential than carbon dioxide.

The Biden plan also includes a boost in electric vehicle production and infrastructure expansion, as well as road and bridge upgrades, which is a promise to keep the unsustainable car culture firmly in place. All the emissions created in the resource extraction and production process for this mass upscale in EVs will likely cause more pollution than it will ever save.

The plan also commits to address the uneven burden of pollution on communities of color. It seems like Biden is hoping that voters will forget that throughout his career, he has backed policies that directly hurt the Black community — from his pro-segregationist position in his early career to supporting mass incarceration and most recently suggesting that police use less lethal force against Black people by shooting them in the legs instead. Are we really to believe that Biden is now somehow moved to address the long legacy of environmental racism in this country?

Biden has always been in the pocket of Wall Street. As of March, 94 billionaires had donated to his campaign with the majority of support coming from the finance sector — hardly a pro-environment anti-status quo grouping.

The Biden climate plan in the end is just an opportunist ploy by the Democratic Party establishment to win over progressive and younger voters who would have voted for Bernie Sanders. He has absolutely no intention of disrupting business as usual, which must be disrupted if we are to solve the climate crisis.

His climate plan video dutifully follows the establishment line of putting the blame on the Global South for their emissions. He says he will be tough on China when in reality the United States is by far the largest per capita polluter on the planet; China comes in 10th. He overlooks the fact that China is in reality the global leader in investments in wind and solar power both domestically and internationally. And what about the Pentagon? He never mentions the massive emissions from the U.S. military, which is the largest unregulated polluter and the largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet.

How can we address a global ecological crisis without cooperation between nations? The divisive imperialist policies of the U.S. and their European allies must be overturned to build a true global effort to tackle the crisis. International cooperation based on equality of nations is crucial, while considering the disproportionate responsibility of the wealthier nations for causing the crisis and the colonial legacy of underdevelopment imposed on the Global South from centuries of plunder from the North.

To truly meet the challenge of climate change, the current mode of production must also be addressed. The cause and solutions go way beyond just fossil fuels. We simply cannot continue to determine what is produced based on the whims of a handful of billionaires when we live on a planet with finite resources.

To avert our own extinction and that of most other species, we need a socialist planned economy that produces what is needed for society with the capacity of the planet in mind. We need to immediately end fossil fuels and move to wind, water and solar energy, which is technologically possible right now! We need to uproot the destructive unsustainable system of capitalism that puts quarterly profits above the long-term survival of humanity.

Instead of building machines to capture carbon that won’t actually reduce atmospheric CO2 levels in any substantial way, we need to restore the forests and oceans, which are by far the most efficient natural carbon capture and oxygen producing mechanisms in existence. We need to rethink how society functions, living, working, and playing in close proximity, eliminating the need for long unsustainable commutes. We caught a glimpse of the benefits of this while the world was on lockdown from the COVID-19 pandemic this past spring.

This may sound utopian, but what is truly utopian is to think that we can avert climate catastrophe while making profits along the way.

In the absence of a mass sustained broad-based movement for climate action, business as usual will continue. We can see from the uprising for racial justice that protests are a very effective way to win the people’s demands and young people see that capitalism is not working for the vast majority. We need to expand this uprising to demand climate action and to remedy all the ills of capitalism that afflict the working class — most immediately for a comprehensive science-based response to the pandemic, a guaranteed wage for those unemployed by the crisis and universal healthcare.

The impending climate catastrophe makes our task more urgent by the day. We need to uproot the system of capitalism and build a socialist system based on cooperation, sustainability, and restoration of the global ecosystem. We literally need socialism to save ourselves … a system where the workers determine what is produced based on the needs of society in alignment with the life-support systems of the planet rather than a handful of billionaires determining our fate based on what can make them the most profits.

COVID-19 impact: 1.4 million Americans seek jobless aid, first increase since March

The number of laid-off Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week for the first time since the pandemic struck in March, evidence of the deepening economic pain the outbreak is causing to the economy.

The rise in weekly jobless claims to 1.4 million underscores the outsize role the unemployment insurance system is playing among the nation’s safety net programs just when a USD 600 weekly federal aid payment for the jobless is set to expire at the end of this week.

All told, the Labor Department said on Thursday that roughly 32 million people are receiving unemployment benefits, though that figure could include double counting by some states. Some economists say the figure is likely closer to 25 million.

Last week’s pace of unemployment applications the 18th straight week it’s topped 1 million was up from 1.3 million the previous week. Before the pandemic, the number of weekly applications had never exceeded 700,000.

An additional 975,000 applied for jobless aid under a separate program that has made self-employed and gig workers eligible for the first time. That figure isn’t adjusted for seasonal trends, so it’s reported separately.

The resurgence of confirmed viral cases across the country has forced some businesses to close a second time or to impose tighter restrictions on customers in response to state mandates. The resulting pullback in business activity has hindered job growth and likely forced additional layoffs.

The federal government’s USD 600 weekly benefit for laid-off workers which is in addition to whatever jobless aid a state provides is the last major source of economic help from the USD 2 trillion relief package that Congress approved in March. A small business lending program and one-time USD 1,200 payment have largely run their course.

Members of Congress are negotiating another aid package that might extend the USD 600 benefit, though likely at a lower level. Because of the USD 600 weekly federal benefit, roughly two-thirds of the unemployed are receiving more in aid than they earned at their former jobs, research has shown a finding that’s led Republicans to argue that it is discouraging people from returning to work.

Iran Covid-19 deaths surpass 15,000

Iran’s death toll from the novel coronavirus surpassed 15,000, health authorities announced on Thursday, as the country struggles to contain the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak.

“Unfortunately, we lost 221 of our dear compatriots to the Covid-19 disease in the course of the past 24 hours,” health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said on state television.

The fatalities bring the total number of deaths to 15,074 in the Islamic republic.

The country has faced a rise in cases and deaths since the end of June, reporting on Tuesday the highest single-day death toll of 229 since announcing its first cases in February.

Lari urged Iranians to avoid all non-essential travel, enclosed spaces, and large gatherings to help stem the spread of the virus.

She added that an additional 2,621 Covid-19 cases had been confirmed, bringing the total caseload to 284,034.

Iran says indigenous COVID-19 vaccine passes initial tests “successfully”

Iran’s health minister said that a vaccine for the novel coronavirus developed by the Iranian scientists has “successfully” passed the initial tests, Tasnim news agency reported on Thursday.

Saeed Namaki said Iran has achieved a remarkable success in producing the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It has passed the initial tests and we hope to reach promising stages,” said Namaki.

He also said that two local pharmaceutical companies will supply hospitals across the country with Remdesivir, an antiviral drug used for the treatment of COVID-19.

Namaki also expressed Iran’s readiness for cooperation with regional nations in the fight against the disease.

Iran’s confirmed COVID-19 cases has hit 281,413 as of Wednesday, with 14,853 total fatalities so far.

Iran announced its first cases of COVID-19 on Feb. 19.

Iran and China have offered mutual help in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. In mid-February, at the early stage of the coronavirus outbreak in China, Iran lit up the Tehran Azadi (Liberty) Tower to show its solidarity with China and donated 3 million masks to China. In return, China has delivered several shipments of medical supplies to Iran.

On Feb. 29, a five-member Chinese medical team visited Iran for a month-long mission to help Iran fight the pandemic.

Looming crisis prompts ‘Call to Action’

Thunder Valley Community Development Corp. issued a “Call to Action” that urges people to contribute to a matching fund drive by July 24 to aid in the battle against the novel coronavirus Covid-19 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“Our community is extremely vulnerable to a crisis like this,” Executive Director Tatewin Means said in a recorded fundraising plea. “Covid-19 poses a tremendous threat to our people, our traditions, and our future. We need your support.”

Thunder Valley CDC, headquartered in Porcupine, has prepared, and delivered more than 1,600 cleaning kits and countless food boxes across the reservation, Community Engagement Director DeCora Hawk told the Native Sun News Today.

However, more medical, food, and household supplies, as well as money for volunteer deployment and training and other materials, are needed according to the organization.

“Now is the time to donate,” Means said. “Not only will your money go directly to the front lines, but the Seventh Generation Foundation is generously matching your donations.”

Seventh Generation Inc., a Unilever spinoff company marketing certified sustainably produced health and household items, established the foundation to make grants to non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations “that promote and improve environmental conservation, the sustainable use of natural resources, and human health and social welfare.”

The foundation’s mission statement echoes Lakota values, revealing, “We will care today for seven generations of tomorrows by stewarding social and environmental progress in the communities where we live, work and do business through education, environmental conservation, research and advocacy.”

Thunder Valley partnered with the foundation in hopes of receiving up to $50,000 Seventh Generation pledged to provide in funds to double each individual third-party donation.

Some 17 percent of the $100,000 goal created by the partnership had been met with 88 small donations amounting to $17,182, as of July 18.

“Covid-19 is ripping through the world, having a disproportionate impact on communities,” Thunder Valley observed. “Few communities are as vulnerable in the United States as native communities and, among native communities, Pine Ridge Reservation is one of the most at risk in light of this looming crisis.”

Pandemic to cost Australia government $131 billion this year

Australia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic tipped the government’s budget 85.8 billion Australian dollars ($61 billion) into the red in the last fiscal year and will create AU$184 billion ($131 billion) more debt in the current year which would be the nation’s biggest deficit since World War II, treasury figures showed on Thursday.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg revealed Australia’s crumbling economic outlook based on increased government spending to stimulate to economy and declining tax revenue.

The conservative government had forecast in December an AU$5 billion ($3.6 billion) surplus in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2020: the first surplus in 12 years.

” Coronavirus has had a significant impact on the budget bottom line,” Frydenberg said.

“There is significant uncertainty which means that it would not be possible at this point to make credible forecasts and projections beyond what we present to you today,” he added.

Australia has been in a recession throughout calendar 2020, partly due to drought and wildfires that preceded the pandemic. The government has spent AU$289 billion ($206 billion) in pandemic relief measures to save jobs and businesses.

The economy is forecast to grow by 1.5% in the September quarter and 2.5% next year.

The forecasts are based on some optimistic assumptions including that a lockdown in the city of Melbourne will be lifted after six weeks and that international borders will reopen in January.

The government had been scheduled to release in May its economic plans for the current fiscal year which started on July 1. But because of the economic turmoil, the release of that plan was delayed until Oct. 6.

Senate GOP preps Covid relief bill but problems remain over unemployment payments

Senate Republicans plan to roll out a $1 trillion coronavirus relief package Thursday morning, although there remain differences between the White House and GOP leadership on key portions of the measure, especially unemployment assistance.

There will be no payroll tax cut sought by President Donald Trump in the new plan, according to Republican sources. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday also told CNBC that the payroll tax cut won’t be included but said there “could be CARES 5.0.” There will be additional direct payments sent to millions of Americans, with an income cap to limit the cost.

But what Republicans will propose for additional unemployment provisions remains under discussion, said the sources. The current $600-per-week federal jobless benefit runs out in days, and the GOP leadership is discussing a temporary flat payment of additional unemployment benefits.

The White House, however, hasn’t signed onto what is being floated by Hill Republicans yet, and the negotiations on this topic remain fluid, said Republicans familiar with the situation. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Mnuchin are heading back to the Hill Thursday morning.

More than 1.4 million workers filed new claims for unemployment, the federal government announced Thursday morning, putting new pressure on both sides to reach a consensus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is expected to release the outline of the Cares 2 bill — a successor to an earlier relief bill passed by Congress — sometime on Thursday.

The GOP proposal will call for at least $500 billion in new spending, despite strong opposition from some conservative Senate Republicans.

This total covers hundreds of billions for the Health and Human Services Department and Pentagon, farmer, and infrastructure programs. States will get $25 billion to improve coronavirus testing, according to a deal reached Wednesday between Senate appropriators, Mnuchin and Meadows, while tens of billions more will go to the National Institutes of Health, community health centers and other health programs.

The Senate GOP proposal also allocates $105 billion for reopening schools, a top priority for Republicans, with schools that reopen for in-person instruction getting more money.

The Paycheck Protection Program — run by the Small Business Administration — will receive another $90 billion to make loans, including to companies that already received money. There still remains $100 billion of unspent Paycheck Protection Program funds, which will cover the cost of the new effort.

In addition, McConnell is drawing a red line with liability protection. Businesses, schools, and other organizations would receive protection from lawsuits arising from exposure to coronavirus due to reopening. Lawsuits would be moved to federal courts, and plaintiffs would have to show “gross negligence” by employers in order to win.

The GOP proposal comes after days of negotiations between the White House and Senate Republicans over key measures including the payroll tax cut, which most Senate Republicans oppose. McConnell also faces internal divide within his caucus over the $1 trillion price tag.

With Thursday’s expected rollout of the GOP proposal, negotiations with Democrats will now begin in earnest. Meadows and Mnuchin met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) this week.

The two parties, however, remain far apart, with just over two weeks to go until the August recess. Pelosi and Schumer have made the House-passed $3 trillion Heroes Act their starting point and are calling for extension of the boosted unemployment benefits, which Republicans argue provide a disincentive for individuals to go back to work.

Sturgis City Council approves event center; Spearfish names rec center day-care provider

The Sturgis City Council has approved the purchase of a building for a Downtown Event Center on a 6-3 vote.

According to City Manager Daniel Ainslie’s report, the city has been in discussion with the owners of Mr. Al’s building in downtown Sturgis, which has about 11,250 square feet.

Ainslie said during the meeting that this could be used for storage for Music on Main and other downtown events, as well as restrooms, leaving about 9,000 square feet for event space.

He also said the event space could hold up to 600 guests.

“That is a larger venue than what either the community center or the armory currently is, so it would allow for larger events,” Ainslie said.

The total purchase would be $1,270,000 with a $365,000 renovation budget. The revenue sources would come from the City’s Economic Development Loan Fund (25%) and Commercial Banks (75%), according to the report. Ainslie said the city would be able to use rally revenue to make loan payments.

The Council approved an authorization for Ainslie to sign a Department of Justice COPS grant funding for a second resource officer for the Meade School District.

Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater said the officer would be there to assist with bullying and mental health issues within the district.

Spearfish City Council approved Kids Point Daycare and Preschool as the provider for the day care to be set up in the city’s recreation center.

During the meeting, a spokesperson presenting the recommendation said the city received two proposals for the day care center and this one was the “most advantageous.”

“(There’s a) quality program outlined and a proven ability to work somewhere that houses another organization,” the spokesperson said.

Parks and Recreation Director Tyler Ehnes said in June that the recreation center had never provided official childcare before but knew it was a need in the community. It was illustrated even more so during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The combined capacity for childcare at the rec center is about 50 children, depending on how the space is used.

The council unanimously approved the recommended provider.

During the meeting, the council also approved a resolution entering a lease agreement with Homeslide Corporation for portions of Lookout Mountain. A public hearing for the resolution will be at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 3.

Councilors also approved incorporating two 17-foot parcels quitclaimed to the city from Lawrence County.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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