News, July 31st

Aftermath: Trump’s Black Hills trip

When the dust settled from the demonstration against Donald Trump’s reelection campaign stop here at Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, a petition and a follow-up event rose from the civil disobedience action, as foretold.

The petition entitled “Return Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills to the Lakota!” states:

“In 1877, the U.S. federal government unilaterally seized the Black Hills — which contain Mt. Rushmore — from the Sioux, a direct violation of the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868. The treaty language stated that these lands should be reserved for the ‘absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians’.

“In 1980, the Supreme Court agreed that the Black Hills had been unconstitutionally taken. Rather than return the land, the court awarded the tribes a settlement of $120.5 million, equivalent to the value of the land at the time it was stolen.

“But the Sioux have never accepted that payment — now, with interest and increased dollar value, worth more than $2 billion — declaring instead that ‘the Black Hills are not for sale’.

“Today, we call on the federal government to right historical wrongs, and to move our society forward. The United States must return what its own judges admit it has stolen. Return the Black Hills to the Great Sioux Nation. Now is the time.”

These developments marked the words of national non-profit NDN Collective President and CEO Nick Tilsen, who said as he was escorted away from the civil disobedience in handcuffs, “Our people have fought for this land and we will continue to. This won’t be the last.”

Tilsen now faces some 15 years in prison for participating in the demonstration, while the other 19 indigenous and non-indigenous treaty land defenders face misdemeanor charges.

“No police officers have been charged for their assault on innocent land defenders and indigenous people on their own land,” NDN Collective said.

When released after three nights in jail awaiting charges, Tilsen remarked, “As far as I’m concerned, it was a successful demonstration of our voice. We let the world know and reminded the world who the rightful owners of the Black Hills are – the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ.

“We made it clear that the President of the United States was not welcome in our territory, without the free prior and informed consent of our people and of our tribal leaders.”

The July 3 civil disobedience, disrupting traffic on an access route to the campaign event, was “a powerful experience and it instilled pride and hope and courage in myself. I got to see that same thing in all of my people’s eyes that were there,” he said.

“I want to thank the brothers and sisters who made a commitment. And all of you that were listening and following on social media, I want to thank you because we felt that … each and every one of you was there to support us,” he added.

Beyond allies, Tilsen said, “We need people that are going to be accomplices with us in the dismantling of white supremacy. And I ask those who are in the ally column to come over to the accomplice column because we need to do this together. It’s going to take a generation to make this possible, but it’s possible.”

Beyond fighting a system, he said, “We are building a new system and a new world that is just and fair for everybody. And that is our goal here. We want to transform the education system. We want to transform the economic system. We want to transform all these systems of oppression to put the decision-making power back into the hands of the people who that power has been taken from over time.”

The year 2020 is “historic” for the country, he said, citing the ongoing global pandemic, social unrest, and “one of the most important elections in the history of this nation.” He gave a shout out to the Black Lives Matter movement and said, “There is a lot that everybody can do to make a difference in society today.”

In a “message to President Trump and Gov. Kristi Noem,” he stated: “President Trump, you got a little bit of what it tastes like to come to the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ. You are not welcome here. And it was our responsibility, as grassroots people, to stand together, because our tribal leaders had already told you, you aren’t welcome here. Don’t come back here until you get permission from our tribal Leaders to come here.”

He accused Noem of “perpetuating white supremacy and racism,” adding, “There are a lot of people in South Dakota who aren’t standing for it, and it’s not just Indian people. And I ask those accomplices that are out there, throughout the state to speak up, to stand up, to not just sit on the sidelines, … because that’s what it takes to change the reality and to make a better future for our children.”

Recalling his recent incarceration, he noted, “I spent all of my time in praying for my children; that’s because everything I’ve ever done, I’ve done for my kids, for my people and for my land and that’s what this was all about.

“Lastly, I just want to say words of encouragement to all of our incarcerated brothers and sisters. I know, right here in South Dakota, we make up 10 percent of the population and 37 percent of the men that are in prison in South Dakota are native. With women, it’s 51 percent. I was in that jail for three days and I never saw a white person the whole time I was in there, except the people that are guards, and that’s real.

“I saw how our people were treated … and many of those young men and women, they’re lost and they’re just trying to find a way home. So, I want to say to the brothers and sisters that are in these places, keep your spirits up. Those of us that are on the outside, we’re going to keep fighting for you.”

Tilsen concluded, “At the end of the day, this is about the kids. This is about the children. This is about the next generation and making a new path forward for them. “Let’s not get it twisted and get it wrong, we’re not resisting for resistance sake. We’re resisting because we want a better world. A world that works for everybody. And the pathway there is justice and equity, and that will give us an opportunity to really have an impact on society today.”

Americans flocking to New Zealand immigration website in hopes of avoiding coronavirus: report

Thousands of Americans have visited New Zealand’s immigration website hoping to escape and ride out the coronavirus pandemic on the island — with a US citizen visiting the site at a rate of once every 30 seconds last month, new data shows.

More than 250,000 US natives have flocked to the country’s official immigration website to investigate whether they qualify to move to the land of sheep and rugby — which boasts low infection and fatality numbers, according to the New Zealand Herald.

New Zealand has reported just 1,560 confirmed COVID-19 cases and only 22 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Currently, the country has just 23 active cases, all in managed isolation, the Herald reports.

This compares to almost 4.5 million confirmed infections in the US and more than 150,000 deaths.

Last month, 112,800 more Americans visited the Immigration New Zealand site compared with the same time last year — a 160 percent spike, according to data cited by the Herald. This is the equivalent of one US user clicking on the site every 30 seconds, the outlet said.

“Middle class, professional America is saying, ‘Well, where do we go for our own safety and the safety of our families?’” said Paul Spoonley, a demographics expert from Massey University.

He cited a poor public health system and lack of federal leadership in the US amid the pandemic and predicted the number of people immigrating to New Zealand from the states would increase.

As pandemic rages on, world economic recovery looks ever shakier – Poll

The world economic outlook has dimmed again, with still-rising coronavirus infections and the risk of renewed lockdowns increasing the chances that any rebound will reverse course, according to Reuters polls of over 500 economists globally.

Over 17 million people have been infected worldwide by the coronavirus and more than two-thirds of a million people have died. That has forced governments to impose strict lockdown measures to curb the spread of the virus, keeping citizens at home and businesses closed and spurring recessions that aren’t over yet.

Surging cases in the United States, where related deaths have surpassed 150,000, have led several states to reimpose restrictions. Most economists, long-term investors and even Fed Chair Jerome Powell have clearly said the economic outlook depends significantly on the course of the virus.

The Fed has pledged endless stimulus to support the world’s No. 1 economy, which was a major growth engine for the global economy before the pandemic and now risks being the biggest drag, sending the dollar to a two-year low.

With infections also on the rise elsewhere, including in Australia, India, Spain, and Brazil, economists again cut this year’s economic prospects in the July 3-29 polls which show the worst contraction on record for the world economy in 2020.

“We expect the economic reality of the virus to start catching up with businesses across the globe soon,” said Jan Lambregts, global head financial markets research at Rabobank.

“What we need is a vaccine or significant breakthroughs in medicines to decisively reopen our economies and restore business and consumer confidence – but there is no magic wand for the time being.”

Reuters polls since the start of the pandemic follow a pattern: repeated downgrades to the near-term outlook, with economists shifting an expected recovery in the second half of the year to 2021, flattening out an initial V-shaped assumption.

The global economy was expected to shrink 4.0% this year, or by about US$3.4 trillion, roughly equivalent to wiping out the economies of Canada and Australia entirely. That is down from -3.7% predicted in June, the sixth consecutive downgrade to forecasts from 3.1% growth forecast in January.

The world economy is expected to grow 5.3% next year, slightly less than the 5.4% predicted last month. But those expectations are based on the disease being contained, with widespread hopes of a vaccine sometime soon.

But under a worst-case scenario, it will contract 6.5% this year, much worse than the International Monetary Fund’s -4.9% projection, then grow just 2.0% next year.

“Over six months into the crisis, evidence is mounting that the global economy is likely to look lastingly different due to the pandemic,” noted Christian Keller, head of economics research at Barclays.

“Changes have been obvious in the attitude towards monetary and fiscal policy, but they also extend to global trade, supply chains, international travel and geopolitics.”

The economic outlook for the US, Canada, Britain, Japan, and Australia was downgraded and expectations for 2021 growth are modest given the historic downturn expected this year.

Of all of the major economies, the proportion of forecasters who said the US outlook had improved in the last month was, by far, the smallest.

For the euro zone, the outlook for next year onward got a slight boost after the European Union leaders agreed on a stimulus package of US750 billion.

Latin America are mostly still struggling, suffering historic recessions and either facing resurgent infections or still not getting the first round under control.

China, where the virus is reportedly emerged, was expected to recover faster economically than others, even though it still relies heavily on exporting to the rest of the world.

Asked how the recovery outlook had changed over the past month, three-quarters of economists, or 183 of 244, said it had either stayed the same or worsened.

Just over half, 75 of 149, who responded to another question said it would take two or more years for GDP in the economies they cover to reach pre-COVID-19 levels. Sixty expected it would take at least a year or two and the remaining 14 said less than a year.

“Our forecasts point to a world which, by end-2021, has a level of activity that is not just well below its pre-pandemic growth trajectory but, in many cases, still below its end-2019 level,” noted HSBC’s global chief economist Janet Henry.

Aussie COVID-19 vaccine candidate passes first stage of trials

A COVID-19 candidate vaccine developed in South Australia (SA) has cleared the first phase of testing, according to local media’s report.

The Australian reported on Friday that the vaccine developed by Nikolai Petrovsky from Flinders University is the first Australian candidate to pass phase one trials after it was found to be safe and generated an immune response in human subjects.

Dubbed “Covax-19,” the vaccine was administered to 40 volunteers in the first phase of trials. Phase two, which will begin in September, will include up to 500 volunteers.

“We have confirmed that the Covax-19 vaccine can induce ­appropriate antibody responses in human subjects,” said Petrovsky, the founder of biotechnology company Vaxine.

“We now have preliminary safety data showing there were no significant systemic side-effects in any of the subjects.”

“We also have permission to immunize subjects who have ­already had COVID-19 to see if we can further boost their immunity and prevent them getting re-infected.”

Petrovsky said he has offered to dose aged care residents at risk of contracting COVID-19 with his vaccine in Victoria, the hardest-hit state in the country.

“Obviously our vaccine is still under testing, it would have to be done within a clinical trial but there’s no reason you couldn’t enroll people in Victorian nursing homes into the trial and give them the vaccine which would hopefully then protect them,” he said.

“We’re certainly very open to talking to the Victorian government about doing that, which would hopefully have a benefit even if it’s within the context of a clinical trial. We know it’s not going to hurt because we now know that the vaccine is completely safe.”

None of the 40 volunteers in phase one developed significant side-effects or a fever, and if Covax-19 passes phase two, Vaxine would have to enroll up to 50,000 volunteers from around the world for phase three, according to the report.

Bay Area Amazon workers fight for safe working conditions

On Aug. 1, Amazon workers and community supporters in the Bay Area will hold an early-morning car caravan to deliver a petition to the San Leandro Amazon Warehouse. Across the country, Amazon warehouse workers and delivery drivers are organizing for decent pay and better working conditions. Liberation News spoke with Adrienne Williams, a co-founder of Bay Area Amazonians and one of the organizers of Saturday’s action.

Join the caravan on Aug. 1 at 6:30 AM, 1933 Davis St, San Leandro CA 94577.

Liberation News: Can you tell us a little about the action on Saturday and why it’s taking place?

Adrienne Williams: Saturday’s action is a car caravan to deliver a petition to the Amazon warehouse in San Leandro. That warehouse needs to be shut down for cleaning and those employees – all of them – need to be given two weeks off with pay to quarantine.

The hope is that this action is actually leading to a bigger conversation, because this is not the only Amazon warehouse that this is happening in, and it’s not the only company it’s happening in. We know that this is happening to Tesla workers. And the problem is when we have these heavy hitters getting away with this, then smaller businesses see that and go “Oh, if they can get away with it then I can too.” So, if they see that the Jeff Bezos and Elon Musks of the world can just flaunt the law and get away with it, that’s going to trickle down to every business owner and allow them to do the same. We’re just not going to be in a safe situation if every business owner decides that they don’t have to tell their employees when other employees are sick.

LN: Have there been cases of COVID-19 at this warehouse?

AW: What we know is that there have been at least three or four. We’ve been working with a woman who is the official-unofficial COVID tracker of Amazon. She’s an Amazon employee who has taken it upon herself, and, now that people know who she is, more and more employees are reaching out to her when they get updates.

LN: We’d love to hear more about how you got involved with Bay Area Amazonians.

AW: Six months ago, I never would have thought this is what my life would be. I think a lot of people can probably say that. After the schools closed, Amazon’s attitude was: “We don’t care how you find your way through this; we don’t care if you don’t have any money while you homeschool your children: we’re not helping you.”

That really bugged me because we work so hard and it’s not our fault there’s a pandemic. So, after I realized that Amazon doesn’t give a crap, it got me talking to more people and that’s how I met Chris Smalls and a lot of amazing women from that group. Then it turns into this snowball effect where you meet another person and another: this person has this skill, and this person has that skill, and [it] built into this thing that was very organic.

It wasn’t something I expected or set out to do, but it feels so necessary, because what you would hope is that when you go to a manager or a boss or write an open letter to a CEO and say, “Hey here’s this kink in the chain, here’s this place where people are getting hurt or dying, or they’re not being paid what they should be” they would say “OMG that’s terrible, let’s fix that!” What we’re finding is that they actually say, “Shut your mouth or we’ll fire you.”

They’re bullies – and I am so not about being bullied. So, for me, that’s really what put me on this trail. I don’t consider myself an organizer; I don’t consider myself an activist – at the end of the day I joke with my partner that “I’m just a chick that wants healthcare.” I just want to pay for a roof over me and my daughter’s head, and I want some healthcare. I just want to be able to pay my rent and go to the doctor, and that’s really where all of this started.

LN: And Jeff Bezos has raked in billions of dollars just since this pandemic started. And of course, this is the workers at Amazon making this profit for him. Can you talk a little more about what it’s like to work at Amazon? Both in terms of the experience of the delivery drivers and in the warehouses?

AW: Well, he made $13 billion just last Wednesday – just on that day! Part of the problem is that his business model is so convoluted, and everybody’s job is so different from everybody else’s that it’s different for any one person to understand where the issues are. For me as a driver, there are issues that stem from the pandemic: customers don’t wear masks or the vans aren’t sanitized, and I have to wipe down my van, and it’s very difficult to find wipes.

But there’s also major issues not related to the pandemic – what happens when it’s over 100 degrees outside and they still don’t allow you to slow down your route? I literally had to be taken in an ambulance one day because my stops were so close together that I couldn’t get the van to cool down. I have pictures on my phone of how the van will get up to 122 degrees inside the van – and that’s with the AC on. These are safety violations that have nothing to do with COVID. And when I’ve asked a manager, “Do you have a heat illness prevention poster? Do you have any information that can help us with these problems?” they have nothing. They hand us one 12-oz warm water at the beginning of our shifts. I work 8-12 hours, that one warm water is not helping me out a bit.

I think what we’re afraid of right now is that we could get pigeon-holed and [people will think] “oh this is a pandemic issue and once the pandemic is over, they’ll be fine. “But there were people dying at Amazon before COVID! There were people being injured and maimed and threatened and intimidated before COVID. This pandemic has really just exacerbated the issue – and they’ve used it to find ways to intimidate and fire organizers. John, for instance, was passing out unionization flyers, and now they’re using COVID to say “Oh we’re going to suspend him for two months because he wasn’t social distancing properly. “But we know they’re just mad because he’s passing out union flyers!

LN: At the ILWU port shutdown on Juneteenth, you spoke about how workers organizing in places like Amazon and others look to these older radical unions like the ILWU as an inspiration. What lessons do you think there are to be learned for people who are organizing in 2020?

AW: We’re in this new age of organizing – when you look at someone like Jeff Bezos, I really believe he built his business with unions in mind. He purposefully has things set up so workers can’t communicate. He purposefully has drivers so disconnected from warehouse workers that we can’t talk to each other. I believe that he took cues from strong unions like the ILWU and saw how they were able to make such strides and said, “I don’t want that happening around here, so what can I do to make sure that it’s always divided? That my workers can never really communicate?”

What I would really love to be able to emulate about the ILWU is that they seem like they’re more for their people, their workers than a lot of unions…. I know longshoremen, and I look at their lifestyles and see that these people who are happy, they’re well paid, they have good benefits, and they don’t quit! Bosses don’t care about turnover; workers are the ones who care about turnover. When you see an industry where people don’t quit, it’s like, okay, that’s where we need to be. Because Amazon’s turnover [rate] is every 6 months to a year – that’s insane!

LN: Right, there’s no way to build a stable life around a job that you’re going to have to leave in 6 months.

AW: And there’s no way to unionize! Because you get a core group, and then that group quits, and you have to start over. And Jeff Bezos is fine with that! He’s okay with us being disposable because how do you build anything strong if everybody’s always quitting?

LN: This action is taking place in the middle of not just the pandemic but also one of the largest uprisings against racism in recent history. Can you speak a little about the connections between the labor organizing work, the struggle for racial justice, and the struggle against police terror?

AW: Jeff Bezos likes to put out these solidarity statements – if you walk through the Richmond warehouse, there are all these digital screens that say, “We stand in solidarity with Black lives! We stand blah blah blah!” But when I first did my training, the first thing we were told is that if we were attacked on the road we would be fired if we fought back. That doesn’t really seem like solidarity. Women don’t feel safe – especially when our routes are designed in such a way that you give us the rural areas in the middle of nowhere where our phones die in the morning and then give us neighborhoods at night where we don’t feel safe. If you carry pepper spray, you’ll be fired. There’s nothing that says your body has value if you’re going to be fired if you protect it.

Also, all of these Ring [doorbell] cameras that everyone has – you’d be surprised how many people have Ring cameras! – Amazon has agreements with police that they’ll turn those over at any point! Customers don’t even have control over that data and information, because Amazon can just turn big chunks of Ring data over at any time. All day while I’m working, that information can be given to the cops.

When customers put delivery notes that say, “put this in the backyard,” for multiple reasons, I’m not comfortable with that. People are calling the cops on Black men, even in Amazon uniforms, because they’re going into peoples’ backyards. On the flip side, if it’s nighttime, as a woman I don’t feel comfortable going into peoples’ backyards. But when I call Amazon support and say, “It’s 9 PM, the sun is down, I don’t feel comfortable,” I’ve had support tell me straight up, “Well, if they call and complain you’re in trouble.” I’ve had to tell them “Well, if I get murdered, you’re in trouble.”

Jeff Bezos also owns Whole Foods, which is firing employees left and right for wearing pins that say “we stand against racism” or wearing Black Lives Matter masks. Their statements are all for PR, so they don’t lose customers, but there’s no real hard stance against racism. It’s a shame – when you’re the richest company in the world, run by the richest man in the world, you would think you would have a little leeway to take a hard stance.

LN: It’s very stark the way the “diversity” of Amazon breaks down in terms of who’s actually working at different areas of the company

AW: And there’s no path up! There’s no way to move up, I haven’t seen it.

What I see is the managers tend to be young white men, who tend to be fresh out of college. It’s not so much that I mind the white male part, though I would like for there to be some diversity, but I would love for them to have some life experience so they can relate to their employees. When they closed the schools down, I went to an Amazon manager to ask, “Hey, what’s Amazon’s plan for this?” I had a manager laugh in my face and say, “I wish I could choose to take three weeks off and still get paid.” He doesn’t have kids; he doesn’t have enough life experience to understand that this is not a joke. It’s not a choice for me to leave my seven-year-old at home until 11pm – that’s not a choice!

LN: Any advice you’d like to give to anyone who’s reading this article who might be thinking about organizing their workplaces?

AW: If you work at Amazon, or Tesla, or any of these companies where they have these powerful CEOs who they know are doing them wrong – don’t be afraid! There are other people out there who are willing to fight with you! Reach out to somebody that’s doing this work so we can connect you with the right people. The only way we can beat this is if we all start doing it together.

France swelters under heatwave, putting firefighters on alert

Intense heat spread across much of France on Friday ahead of a heavy holiday travel weekend, prompting officials to warn of wildfire risks in exceptionally dry and windy conditions.

Around one-third of the country’s 101 departments were on high alert, with Paris forecast to reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the shade after several cities hit record highs Thursday.

Authorities in the capital-imposed driving restrictions to limit ozone pollution as tens of thousands of Parisiens prepared to flee to cooler climes, according to the nation’s traffic surveillance agency.

“The heatwave requires the state to be vigilant, and everyone to be cautious,” Prime Minister Jean Castex said while visiting with firefighters in Bourg-en-Bresse, southeast France.

Earlier Friday, a dramatic wildfire in the middle of the Atlantic coast resort of Anglet was brought under control after it destroyed nearly a dozen homes and forced around 100 people to evacuate.

The blaze erupted late Thursday in the Chiberta forest park at Anglet in southwest France, whose beaches just north of Biarritz draw surfers from around the world.

It was the latest of several that erupted in southern and central France this week, kicking off the annual fire season which officials warn could be worsened by the drought and dry heat.

“Ninety percent of these fires are caused by humans,” Environment Minister Barbara Pompili told BFM television, asking people to use “common sense.”

Officials also urged families and neighbors to check in on the elderly, and retirement homes are on high alert since air-conditioners are being discouraged over fears they could foster coronavirus contagions.

An increase in Covid-19 cases prompted officials to tighten face mask requirements in several cities this week, with many making them mandatory outdoors despite the heat.

The Meteo France weather agency said that storms could bring relief late Friday in central France. Night temperatures elsewhere are likely to stay high, falling to just 25 Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) in cities like Lyon or Grenoble.

Last year was France’s hottest on record, and Meteo France has warned that global warming could double the number of heatwaves by 2050.

German defense minister: Planned US withdrawal ‘regrettable’

Germany’s defense minister on Friday described the planned withdrawal of some 12,000 U.S. troops from her country as “regrettable,” while suggesting it underlines the need for Europe to do more for its own security.

American defense leaders said Wednesday that the U.S. will bring about 6,400 troops home and shift about 5,600 to other countries in Europe. The decision fulfills President Donald Trump’s announced desire to withdraw troops from Germany, largely because of what he considers its failure to spend enough on defense.

The plan, whose future is uncertain as it requires support and funding from Congress, would leave about 24,000 U.S. troops in Germany.

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer emphasized the need for more European integration in her response early Friday, and said she hopes to use Germany’s current tenure of the European Union’s rotating presidency to help make progress on security and defense policy.

“We are keeping German and European interests in view,” she said in a statement. “The truth is that a good life in Germany and Europe depends more and more on how we ensure our security ourselves.”

She added that, “as far as the regrettable plans to withdraw U.S. troops are concerned,” she will invite the governors of the affected German states after the summer break to discuss how the German military can support their regions.

The German government’s reaction so far to the U.S. decision has been restrained. Still, Rolf Muetzenich, a senior figure in the governing coalition’s junior party, the center-left Social Democrats, suggested that “armaments cooperation will have to be evaluated in a new light.”

Muetzenich, the head of the party’s parliamentary group, told the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung that “capriciousness and pressure” could not be “the basis for working together in partnership.”

His comments drew criticism from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party. Lawmaker Roderich Kiesewetter told news agency dpa that “there is no adequate and affordable replacement so far” in Europe for the U.S. defense industry’s high-tech products. He argued that there also are checks and balances on Trump in the U.S.

Another lawmaker, Henning Otte, said the Social Democrats shouldn’t talk up “further alienation within the alliance.”

Part of the plan announced by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper includes moving the headquarters of U.S. European Command to Mons, Belgium from Stuttgart, Germany. Esper said the Pentagon was also looking into moving U.S. Africa Command out of the German city.

Africa Command said in a statement Friday that it “has been told to plan to move” and has started doing so, though added it would “likely take several months to develop options, consider locations, and come to a decision.”

Africa Command, which was established in Stuttgart in 2008 after being unable to find a location in Africa, said it would “first look at options elsewhere in Europe, but will also consider options in the United States” for its new home.

Hong Kong govt postpones elections by a year, citing coronavirus

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced Friday that the government will postpone highly anticipated legislative elections by one year, citing a worsening coronavirus outbreak in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

The Hong Kong government is invoking an emergency ordinance in delaying the elections. Lam said the government has the support of the Chinese government in making the decision.

The announcement I have to make today is the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in the past seven months, Lam said at a news conference.

We want to ensure fairness and public safety and health and need to make sure the election is held in an open, fair, and impartial manner. This decision is therefore essential, she said.

The postponement is a setback for the pro-democracy opposition, which was hoping to capitalize on disenchantment with the current pro-Beijing majority to make gains.

A group of 22 lawmakers issued a statement ahead of the announcement accusing the government of using the outbreak as an excuse to delay the vote.

Incumbent pro-democracy legislators, who represent 60% of the public’s opinion, collectively oppose the postponement and emphasize the responsibility of the SAR government to make every effort to arrange adequate anti-epidemic measures to hold elections in September as scheduled, the statement said, referring to the territory’s official name, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Otherwise, it is tantamount to uprooting the foundation of the establishment of the SAR. The city of 7.5 million people has had a surge in coronavirus infections since the beginning of July. Hong Kong has recorded 3,273 infections as of Friday, more than double the tally on July 1.

The government has tightened social distancing restrictions, limiting public gatherings to two people, and banned dining-in at restaurants after 6 p.m.

The lead-up to the elections has been closely watched, after a national security law that took effect in late June stipulated that candidates who violated the law would be barred from running.

The new law is seen as Beijing’s attempt to curb dissent in the city, after months of pro-democracy and anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year.

On Thursday, 12 pro-democracy candidates including prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong were disqualified from running for not complying with the city’s mini-constitution or pledging allegiance to the local and national governments.

Beyond any doubt, this is the most scandalous election ever in Hong Kong history, Wong said at a news conference Friday. I wish to emphasize that no reasonable man would think that this election ban is not politically driven. Beijing has staged multiple acts to prevent the opposition bloc from taking the majority in the Hong Kong legislature, he said.

Rotary Club of Rapid City to launch food box in Lakota Homes

The Rotary Club of Rapid City will on Friday present, dedicate and stock a free food distribution point in the Oyate Community Center location of Lakota Homes in North Rapid at 2430 Gnugnuska Drive.

The food box will be available to all residents. Non-perishable items will be donated by Rotary Club members and other community partners.

Since the start of the pandemic in March, the Rapid City Rotary Club has donated more than $15,000 to various community non-profits with the goal of fighting hunger. Local organizations receiving the funds include Rural America Initiatives, the Cornerstone Mission, Feeding South Dakota, and the Women’s and Children’s Shelter.

“Food security is a need and basic human right. Rotary is committed to helping families in Rapid City who have been negatively impacted by the economic devastation caused by layoffs from the COVID-19 crisis,” Dr. Ashok Kumar, President of the Rotary Club, said in a press release.

Participating in the ceremony will be the Dr. Kumar and representatives of the Lakota Homes Board of Directors, Acting Chief of Police Don Hedrick, a City Council representative, and Rotarians. The brief event will start about 2 p.m.

South Africa: COVID-19 pandemic raises the urgency of structural reforms

South Africa responded swiftly to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the sharp drop-in activity adds to long-standing challenges and raises the urgency of structural reforms, according to a new OECD report released today.

In the latest Economic Survey of South Africa, the OECD indicates that the nationwide lockdown enacted in March 2020 reduced activity in mining and industry while bringing the tourism, entertainment, and passenger transport sectors to a near-standstill. Growth has collapsed, unemployment is rising and more will need to be done to strengthen responses to the crisis and ensure that the recovery brings about sustainable and more inclusive development.

The Survey recommends a wide range of measures to improve the quality of and access to health care and support businesses and people. This includes lowering interest rates; providing temporary financial support to households and businesses; and extending financial relief in sectors hard hit by the crisis, particularly if there is a renewed virus outbreak later in the year.

The pandemic adds to South Africa’s long-standing challenges, the Survey says. Under a so-called double-hit scenario, a new outbreak affecting South Africa and its trading partner countries will curtail exports, deepening the recession to -8.2% in 2020, and limiting the recovery in 2021 to GDP growth of just 0.6%. In the single-hit scenario, where a second wave of the virus is avoided, economic activity will still fall by 7½percent in 2020 before picking up progressively to growth of 2½percent in 2021.

Presenting the Survey today, OECD Economics Department Country Studies Director Alvaro Pereira said: “South Africa cannot afford to delay reforms. It is essential to undertake reforms to restore long-run fiscal sustainability and growth, while continuing to support the economy in the short run.”

Macroeconomic and structural policies are needed to put growth on a sound footing going forward. Bold fiscal measures are needed to curb spending pressures and restore fiscal sustainability, including taking steps to reduce the government wage bill and transfers to state-owned enterprises. Structural policy reforms to boost competition, restructure state-owned enterprises, improve the regulatory framework and improve public investment in transport infrastructure, skills and education are also called for.

The pandemic has demonstrated that further action is needed to build an inclusive social protection system. The Survey suggests South Africa consider additional means-tested support for households below the food poverty line, better coverage for informal workers and a gradual increase to the public financing of health care, through a form of public insurance.

The tourism sector was hit hard by the pandemic and resulting containment measures, yet it has good potential to contribute to the economy and future employment growth, the Survey said. Implementation of electronic visa programs for emerging target markets and increasing the number of countries falling under the visa-waiver agreement will boost arrivals, while a reduction of red tape and regulatory burden for entrepreneurs and small enterprises will improve market access. Investments in transport and tourism infrastructure have to be aligned to connect tourists to places.

White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Announces Record Reduction in Poppy Cultivation and Potential Heroin Production in Mexico

The annual United States Government estimate of “Mexican Poppy Cultivation and Heroin Production” found poppy cultivation in Mexico decreased by 27 percent, from 41,800 hectares in 2018 to 30,400 hectares in 2019.  Similarly, potential pure heroin production decreased by 27 percent, from 106 metric tons in 2018 to 78 metric tons in 2019.  This 27 percent decrease in the potential production of heroin marks a milestone by meeting a goal set by the Trump Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy two years early.

“Following two years of record high poppy cultivation, the United States is encouraged by the progress being made to stem heroin production in Mexico,” ONDCP Director Jim Carroll stated. “The 27 percent drop in Mexican poppy cultivation in 2019 is accompanied by a potential drop of 7 percent in heroin deaths in the United States in 2019 according to the recently-released provisional overdose data. President Trump’s leadership in declaring the opioid crisis a Public Health Emergency his first year in office and declaring a National Emergency on our Southern Border in 2019 is saving American lives. The Administration remains concerned by reports of continued methamphetamine and fentanyl production in Mexico, and urges continued collaboration between our nations to ensure the advances made in poppy reduction extend to all illicit substances — for the good of Mexico and for the good of the United States.”

The United States recognizes the efforts by Mexican President Lopez Obrador to prioritize increasing alternative livelihoods for farmers in drug-producing areas through social programs as one of the pillars of his counternarcotic strategy.

Wider Message of Kashmir

AUGUST 5 marks the completion of a year since the infamous steps were taken in parliament to nullify Article 370 of the constitution that provided for special status to the state of Jammu & Kashmir and the damaging legislation which dismembered the state and created two union territories – Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. 

At one stroke, the Hindutva rulers reneged on the promise made to the people of Kashmir at the time of the accession that J&K will be accorded autonomy, resulting in the special status provided in the constitution. To further heap humiliation on the people of J&K, their existence as a state of the Indian Union was extinguished.

The triumphalism with which home minister, Amit Shah, pushed through the illegal constitutional amendment and legislation in parliament was an open display of exuberance on having done away with the only Muslim majority state in India.

On this dark anniversary, we must recall that this dastardly deed was done by converting the state into a vast prison – around 40,000 troops were deployed, a statewide curfew imposed, all communications (including mobile phone and television) cutoff, movement outside houses prohibited and a shutdown of the media.  Leaders and activists of political parties, except the BJP, and other public personalities were arrested, either under the draconian Public Safety Act, or, detained in their houses without written orders.

In this throttling of democracy and democratic rights, the Modi regime set new records.  The internet was shut down for months. Even after a year, Kashmir has only access to 2G network and not 4G like the rest of the country.  The clampdown badly affected the economy and commerce in the state.  With the second lockdown due to the pandemic, the livelihood of farmers and ordinary people has suffered crippling blows. Though some leaders and activists have been released, many remain in jail, or, in detention like Mehbooba Mufti.  Even some of those released from jail continue under house arrest.

The pandemic-lockdown was utilized to push through measures to redesign Jammu & Kashmir as a union territory.  Fresh delimitation of seats for the truncated assembly has been initiated; a new domicile policy has been enforced by which, persons from outside J&K can get domicile status which will enable them to get jobs and buy land. This is the beginning of a project to change the demography of the valley. A media policy has been announced which is nothing but a brazen attempt to intimidate the media and gag journalists.

The attack on J&K, which was initiated a year ago, should not be seen in isolation. It was a precursor to the heightened onslaught on democracy, secularism and federalism initiated during the second stint of the Modi government. The next legislative step after dismantling Jammu & Kashmir as a state was the adoption of the CAA in parliament and the repression let loose against the anti-CAA-NRC protests around the country. The authoritarian regime has been reinforced by the extensive use of the UAPA and sedition law. The use of the Public Safety Act in J&K foreshadowed this. Filing of cases against journalists followed what was done systematically in J&K where two journalists are in jail under the UAPA.

The warning is clear – the secular and democratic forces in the rest of India, the rights of states and secularism will all meet the fate of J&K.

August 5 has been chosen as the date for “bhoomi pujan”, ceremony of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. This date has been chosen deliberately – the demolition of J&K and the building of the temple at the site of the Babri Masjid – are both part of the core agenda of the Hindutva forces.  The prime minister is going to lay the first brick in the foundation ceremony of a religious place of worship, thereby violating the secular principle of the State. Thanks to the judgment of the Supreme Court based on dubious grounds, the building of the temple at Ayodhya has been legitimized. The court, which held the demolition of the mosque “as a serious violation of law”, sanctioned the building of the temple, giving primacy to the faith of the majority.

The same Supreme Court has not found the time to give a verdict on the constitutional amendment and legislation which illegally tempered with Article 370 and dismantled a state. This is another instance of judicial evasion.

The onslaught of the Hindutva forces must be fought back squarely. In the case of J&K, we have seen several secular opposition parties unwilling to take a firm stand that the special status and statehood of J&K should be restored. They seek to reduce the matter to only the release of political prisoners and restoration of democratic rights. This is a compromising stand. The fight for democracy, secularism and federalism requires a clear-cut stand – statehood along with special status for J&K must be restored. Not to do so would further diminish India as a secular democracy.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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