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Dems threaten subpoenas as DeJoy pushes back against attacks

Democrats accused Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Monday of downplaying disruptions to mail delivery that began when he assumed his position in June, threatening to subpoena him for what they say is deliberate withholding of internal decision-making documents.

“How can one person screw this up in just a few weeks?” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.).

The confrontation, during a hearing of the House Oversight Committee, laid bare mounting fury among Democrats for what they say is a deliberate effort by DeJoy and President Donald Trump to disrupt the Postal Service in advance of the November election, when mail-in ballots are expected to surge as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

DeJoy sharply rejected the accusations that he’s taken inappropriate actions. He agreed with Lynch that postal workers deserve praise for risking their health to deliver mail on time, but he insisted that any suggestion he has implemented new policies to drive up delays or disrupt mail deliver are simply “misinformation.”

“The rest of your accusations are actually outrageous,” DeJoy shot back at Lynch.

The exchange was part of a sustained barrage from Democrats on the panel aimed at Trump-appointed Postal Service leaders. DeJoy told the Senate on Friday that any delays caused by changes he carried out upon taking the role were the result of previously implemented policy changes — which he’s now paused until after the election.

Democrats portrayed the 5.5-hour hearing as a crucial milestone in an attempt to protect the sanctity of the Postal Service heading into the election and to get answers — even cutting short their August recess to hastily convene it a month earlier than it was previously scheduled. But the hearing was repeatedly bogged down by technical failures — the result of a large number of lawmakers patching in remotely — and uneven, repetitive questioning, with some lawmakers using their time to upbraid DeJoy without asking questions.

Republicans repeatedly hammered Democrats for passing a $25 billion postal service funding bill on Saturday, two days before hearing from DeJoy.

Democrats said they didn’t need DeJoy’s testimony before passing their bill, worrying that damage has already been done to weaken the Postal Service’s capacity ahead of the November elections. Trump has already indicated he doesn’t support sending new resources to the Postal Service directly because of what he has described without evidence as an attempt by Democrats to rig the election through universal mail-in voting.

The committee’s chair, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), grilled DeJoy over the Postal Service’s decision to withhold a mid-August analysis presented to him about the systemic delays the Postal Service has experienced since July. That document, which the committee received from a whistleblower, was not turned over on Friday, when the panel had asked for recent internal assessment of USPS performance. Maloney said that if the panel doesn’t receive more documents by Wednesday, “you can expect a subpoena.” Later, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez urged Maloney to issue a subpoena if DeJoy doesn’t turn over his personal calendars since he took on the top USPS job.

DeJoy said the analysis document was put together at his request, a reflection of his commitment to addressing delays. “Oddly enough we didn’t have measurement briefings at an executive level before my arrival,” he said.

DeJoy also said that since the August analysis, on-time mail delivery has rebounded. “We’re starting to see a nice recovery,” DeJoy said.

The exchanges between Democrats and DeJoy grew increasingly hostile as the hearing proceeded.

“Is your backup plan to be pardoned like Roger Stone?” charged Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), after grilling DeJoy about whether he orchestrated illegal campaign contributions to Trump — suggestions that DeJoy categorically denied.

“Pitiful,” DeJoy muttered before declining to address Cooper’s question.

“I’m not going to answer these types of questions,” DeJoy said after other questions from Cooper. “Am I the only one in this room that understands we have a $10 billion a year loss?”

Pressed by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) about his contacts with the Trump campaign, DeJoy said he hadn’t talked to campaign officials about the Postal Service but has had conversations with Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Connolly referenced reports that DeJoy told colleagues he had reached out to Trump allies to tamp down their attacks on the Postal Service.

“I have put word around to different people that this is not helpful,” DeJoy acknowledged.

DeJoy also told Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) that he’d be willing to reconnect a slew of unplugged mail sorting machines across the country if Congress sent USPS the funding to do it.

Republicans accused Maloney and Democrats of propagating a “baseless conspiracy” about the Postal Service and rushing to pass legislation before waiting to hear from DeJoy.

“This committee is doing things backwards,” said Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the ranking Republican on the panel, who described concerns about mail delays as worthy of addressing but accused Democrats of whipping of a frenzy.

Appearing virtually, the chair of the U.S. Postal Service’s board Robert Duncan defended the selection of DeJoy — a wealthy supply-chain magnate and prominent GOP donor — as the postmaster general in May, saying the agency’s leaders picked him after a grueling search process that included an intense background check.

The assertion by Duncan teed up an intense clash on Monday with the House Oversight Committee, with Maloney accusing DeJoy of misleading Congress and sabotaging the postal service to support Trump’s political goals.

“When you install someone as Postmaster General after he donates millions of dollars to your campaign,” Maloney said in prepared opening remarks, “when he rushes to make changes without conducting adequate analysis, and when he withholds key information from Congress and doesn’t level with us, then people begin to ask, what in the world is going on?”

Trump continued to assail mail-in voting over the weekend and alleging falsely that mail-in ballot drop boxes are unsecured and prone to tampering, ignoring the fact that submitted ballots are cross-checked in state databases for signatures.

“All the Radical Left Democrats are trying to do with the Post Office hearings is blame the Republicans for the FRAUD that will occur because of the 51 Million Ballots that are being sent to people who have not even requested them. They are setting the table for a BIG MESS!” he tweeted on Monday during the hearing.

Though DeJoy told senators that he has full confidence the Postal Service is equipped for mail-in ballots and is prepared to surge resources to meet the demand, Democrats on the Oversight Committee say they don’t trust his assertions and want to understand how he rose to the position in the first place.

The USPS board of governors selected DeJoy in May, succeeding Postal Service veteran Megan Brennan, who announced her retirement last fall but stayed on through the early months of the pandemic.

Democrats want to understand the role that Trump and Mnuchin played in elevating DeJoy to his position. The committee has found that DeJoy wasn’t one of the names initially offered by search firm Russell Reynolds Associates but rather was introduced into the mix by members of the board of governors themselves.

In his opening remarks, Duncan described the search process, which he said began with one goal: “to identify an aspirational leader, capable of taking the Postal Service to new heights.”

Duncan said two “executive search firms” including Russell Reynolds, provided names of candidates, reviewed their backgrounds, and narrowed the list from 212 qualified candidates to 53. Then the search firms performed a more intense vetting process to whittle the pool to 14, who were interviewed by the board of governors.

The board cut the pool in half and invited seven candidates for a more intensive interview, selecting four finalists, who were subjected to additional background checks and vetting. DeJoy was unanimously selected by the board at the end of that process, Duncan said.

Democrats say DeJoy has not been candid about the scale and timing of delayed mail that has occurred in recent weeks. Though DeJoy suggested he has played a limited role in these processes, Democrats say a new document they obtained shows that the delays worsened sharply in July. DeJoy officially began at USPS on June 15.

“Our entire country is experiencing these delays as a result of Mr. DeJoy’s actions, such as his decision to restrict the number of trips from processing plants to delivery units,” Maloney said.

In his own prepared remarks, DeJoy plans to echo much of what he told the Senate on Friday, defending his selection as postmaster general and insisting his reforms are meant to fix a fiscally dysfunctional agency.

“I embrace the concept of public service as a public trust. I intend to uphold the trust that has been placed in me by the Governors, and in that regard, I have and will continue to abide fully with all of my ethical obligations, despite assertions to the contrary,” DeJoy said. “I have worked closely with ethics officials and have followed their guidance and will continue to do so. I took this job to give back to my country and to hopefully do some good by putting the Postal Service back on a financially sustainable path.”

DeJoy said the coronavirus pandemic is the culprit for many of USPS’ recent challenges, but even amid the crisis, 99.4 percent of deliveries occur as planned.

“Unprecedented conditions over the last six months, however, have contributed to service instability in certain areas of the country that have escalated,” DeJoy said, according to his remarks.

Devastated by pandemic, tourism sector must be rebuilt in a safe, equitable and climate friendly way – UN chief

Tourism is much more than visiting cultural landmarks or swimming in tropical beaches; it is “one of the world’s most important economic sectors”, the UN chief said on Tuesday.

Launching his latest policy brief, on tourism, Secretary-General António Guterres, pointed out that the industry “employs one-in-every-ten people on Earth and provides livelihoods to hundreds of millions more”.

Strong data from the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) shows that 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs are at risk. And the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) forecasts a loss of 1.5 to 2.8 per cent of global GDP.

Describing tourism as an opportunity to experience the world’s cultural and natural riches, bringing people closer to each other, and highlighting our common humanity, Mr. Guterres said: “One might say that tourism is itself one of the wonders of the world”.

Among other things, the brief finds that, due to the unprecedented shutdown of global travel and trade, tourism may be the sector worst affected by the coronavirus.

“It has been so painful to see how tourism has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic”, the UN chief reflected.

Moreover, there are secondary impacts, such as increase in poaching, as people search for other sources of income.

In the first five months of this year, international tourist arrivals have fallen by more than half and around $320 billion in tourism exports were lost, according to the top UN official.

“Many are in the informal economy or in micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, which employ a high proportion of women and young people”, Mr. Guterres continued.

As for women, rural communities, indigenous peoples, and many other historically marginalized populations, “tourism has been a vehicle for integration, empowerment and generating income”, he added.

Tourism is also a key pillar for the conservation of natural and cultural heritage.

“The fall in revenues has led to increased poaching and habitat destruction in and around protected areas, and the closure of many World Heritage Sites has deprived communities of vital livelihoods”, informed the UN chief.

The Secretary-General underscored the importance of rebuilding the tourism sector in a way that is “safe, equitable and climate friendly”.

Noting that transport-related greenhouse gas emissions could “rebound sharply if recovery is not aligned with climate goals”, he stressed that sustainable and responsible travel is imperative to support the millions that depend on tourism for their livelihoods.

Mr. Guterres outlined five priority areas to aid recovery and re-establish an industry that is safe for host communities, workers, and travelers.

His first task is to mitigate the socio-economic impacts of the crisis – particularly women’s employment and economic security.

Secondly, he suggests building resilience across the entire tourism sector.

Maximizing technology throughout the industry, including by promoting innovation and investing in digital skills, is his third priority.

His fourth point is to promote sustainability and green growth in managing the shift towards a resilient, carbon-neutral tourism sector.

And finally, he flags that partnerships must be fostered to responsibly ease and lift travel restrictions in a coordinated manner to restart and transform tourism towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Let us ensure tourism regains its position as a provider of decent jobs, stable incomes and the protection of our cultural and natural heritage”, concluded the Secretary-General.

In addition to these priorities, UNWTO underscored that continued coordination and cooperation at every level is critical.

Emphasizing the guiding principle of “stronger together”, UNWTO’s leadership has warned against the short and long-term consequences of Governments taking unilateral decisions.

“The situation is changing every day”, said UNWTO chief Zurab Pololikashvili. “It is impossible today to make a forecast for the next year”.

While UNWTO too the lead in drafting the brief, 13 other UN agencies, funds or programs have contributed, including the International Labor Organization (ILO), UN Women and the UNCTAD.

Among other things, it found that, due to the unprecedented shutdown of global travel and trade, tourism may be the sector worst affected by COVID-19.

Raging wildfires worsen crisis in California

As of Aug. 24, 650 wildfires are raging across California, with over one million acres burned in just the last nine days. Over 367 fires were sparked in the greater San Francisco Bay Area by more than 11,000 dry lightning strikes that occurred within 72 hours beginning on the night of Aug. 15. Lightning is very rare in this region. A tropical storm over the Pacific collided with a prolonged heatwave causing an unstable atmosphere and the subsequent dry lightning anomaly — all during a drought year when vegetation was prime to ignite.

Increasing numbers of tropical storms, heatwaves and droughts are fueling more intense and frequent wildfires across the globe as climate change unfolds, yet the government has does little to prepare and protect the population for such catastrophic events.

Millions have been forced to breathe polluted air, raising their vulnerability to COVID-19. Around 250,000 people have either been evacuated or are under an evacuation warning. With 350,000 acres burned, the LNU Complex fire spanning Napa and Lake Counties is now the largest active fire in California, with the SNU Complex fire just east of San Jose a close second at over 347,000 acres.

Cal Fire (California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection) has deployed more than 14,000 firefighters, many of whom are just now coming off 72-hour shifts across the state. However, the agency says it needs many more to properly fight the fires.

Normally, California relies on hundreds of prisoners to fight fires alongside Cal Fire personnel. These incarcerated workers make less than $6 a day risking their lives on the front lines but cannot get a job fighting fires when their sentences end. Currently, the majority of these inmate crews have been given early release from prison due to COVID-19 and are no longer employable as firefighters due to felony convictions despite their extensive training. The ongoing punishment of formerly incarcerated people that blocks them from getting even a job in a field that they are highly skilled in is one of many cruel contradictions of the system. This reliance on cheap inmate labor illustrates the nature of capitalism that purposely underfunds vital life-saving public resources like Cal Fire because it does not directly serve the market.

Despite facing fires each year, there has not been a focus on how to properly manage temporarily displaced people in years past. One can only imagine the potential spread of COVID in evacuation centers across California. There is little support given by state and local governments besides providing a physical space — fairgrounds, schools, and so on. During last year’s Kincaid fire, evacuation centers across Sonoma County relied on local businesses and charities to donate food, clothes, and toiletries. 

While it is heartening to see spontaneous mutual aid given by the community, such relief should be provided by the state, especially given the near certainty of wildfires every year. Because such relief is not profitable, it is very low on the list of budgetary priorities. Neoliberal capitalism has driven political priorities away from public programs. And while charities provide some help, they divert focus away from collective political solutions for issues like poverty, climate change and disaster relief. They provide ideological cover for a society that has become utterly incapable of solving such issues.

Given the loss of jobs due to the current pandemic, people’s ability to pay rent is already under threat. According to a recent U.S. Census survey, about half of California households have had their incomes affected by the pandemic, and about 25 percent have little or no confidence in their ability to keep up with their rent or mortgage. Tens of thousands of structures are threatened by the current fires. Given their precarious position, many working-class people are at huge risk of losing what little they have left. 

Each year, the chaos of wildfires exacerbates the housing crisis, and homelessness is a real possibility for many.  In the 2017 Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa, 5 percent of the city’s already scarce housing stock was destroyed. According to a 2018 county survey of the Santa Rosa homeless population, 38 percent of them said that the fires had affected their homes or sleeping area, and 5 percent cited the fires as the primary cause of their homelessness. The most organized response from the city was in the form of police raids, scattering encampments and driving unhoused people out of town.

In California, vacant housing units outnumber the homeless population by thousands. Millions of pounds of food are thrown away while 20 percent of the population is food insecure. Instead of putting more funding into wildfire prevention and halting development of fire-prone wildland areas that puts people at great risk, the state instead scrambles to react to catastrophe every year. If the state of California were its own country, it would be the 5th largest economy in the world, but when it comes to actually preventing destruction and misery resources disappear. This is the nature of capitalism, and this is why capitalism must end.

Rapid City Fleet Farm store opens Friday

Rapid City shoppers will have a new retail mega-store to explore when Fleet Farm officially opens Friday.

The 190,000-square-foot store is at 1001 East Mall Drive, between Lacrosse and North streets. The Rapid City location is the second in South Dakota for the Appleton, Wisc. -based retailer.

General Manager Kelly Agler led a series of media tours of the store Monday morning. Agler said customers will find a broad product assortment including apparel, footwear and accessories for women, men and kids, an extensive pet care line, select pantry items and snacks, toys, sporting goods, hardware, farm, and home items.

Additionally, the Rapid City Fleet Farm store offers automotive services, including oil changes and tire rotations, a gas station, car wash and convenience store.

“We really have a variety of departments and offerings for everyone in the Black Hills,” Agler said. “We see this a huge general store of select specialty departments. It’s pretty much a one-stop shop.”

The sprawling store employs 200 people, bringing economic stimulus to the area, Agler said. The building is stocked with many of the items the outdoors crowd is looking for, she said.

“We appeal to the outdoorsy type, that lifestyle that is prevalent here in the Black Hills,” Agler said. “Our general selection is geared to the Black Hills with hiking, nature, camping, biking, anything for RVs. We sell what the area is seeking.”

The store will open its doors to the public at 7 a.m. Friday. Adler said the first 500 shoppers will receive a free Fleet Farm hat, with more giveaways to come Saturday.

Fleet Farm’s hours will be 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Construction began in January 2019. The Rapid City store is the 47th location for Fleet Farm. Agler said the company is going through a period of growth, with 11 stores opened in the last three years.

“It really is an exciting time for us, and we are happy to be in Rapid City now,” Agler said.

Rescuers find 60 survivors after building collapse in India

Rescuers found one dead body and pulled out nearly 60 survivors from a collapsed residential building in central India, an official said Tuesday.

Workers were still looking for more than 20 people feared trapped in the rubble of the five-story building that collapsed Monday evening, senior official Nidhi Chaudhari said. It occurred in Mahad, about 170 kilometers (105 miles) from India’s financial capital of Mumbai in the central state of Maharashtra.

Dozens of rescuers from the National Disaster Relief Force worked overnight with tools to pry apart the debris, Chaudhari said. Some of the grievously injured extracted from the wreckage were hospitalized, she said.

The building had more than 40 apartments and authorities are yet to ascertain the cause of the collapse. Chaudhari said an investigation was ordered.

A video shared on social media late Monday showed a group of men on top of the collapsed building removing debris by hand while dozens of onlookers watched.

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted that the collapse was tragic and that he was “praying for everyone’s safety.”

Building collapses are common in India during the June-September monsoon season, when heavy rains weaken the foundations of structures that are poorly constructed.

Russia’s COVID-19 cases up 4,696 to 966,189

Russia registered 4,696 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking its total to 966,189, the country’s COVID-19 response center said in a statement Tuesday.

Meanwhile, 120 new deaths were reported, taking the nationwide count to 16,568.

Moscow, the country’s worst-hit region, reported 681 new cases, bringing its tally of infections to 258,430, the response center said.

According to the statement, 779,747 people have recovered so far, including 6,652 over the past day.

As of Monday, 214,519 people were still under medical observation, while over 34.8 million tests have been conducted across the country.

Sequoia Capital, General Atlantic driving Oracle’s TikTok bid: Report

Investment firms General Atlantic and Sequoia Capital are driving Cloud major Oracle’s potential bid for TikTok which is under pressure to divest its US business, The Wall Street Journal reported.

General Atlantic and Sequoia Capital have large stakes in TikTok’s parent ByteDance which is a Chinese unicorn.

These two investment firms are pushing Oracle’s potential bid for TikTok as they are concerned that they might miss out on some actions if Microsoft becomes successful in purchasing TikTok’s business in the US, said the WSJ report on Monday, citing people familiar with the matter.

Microsoft revealed earlier this month its intention to buy TikTok’s services in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

A report in The Financial Times last week said that Oracle was also seriously considering purchasing the app’s operations in these countries.

The pressure on ByteDance to sell TikTok’s US business increased after US President Donald Trump issued an executive order on August 6 effectively threatening a ban on the app next month over national security concerns.

A subsequent executive order issued on August 14 gave TikTok an option to divest its US operation within 90 days.

TikTok filed a lawsuit on Monday challenging the first executive order.

The short video-sharing platform accused the US authorities of stripping the rights of the company without providing any evidence to justify the extreme action.

UK’s Boris Johnson urges parents to send children back to school as experts warn of low coronavirus risk

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is urging British parents to send their children to school next month when schools reopen in full, as the country’s top medical experts have warned that children are more likely to be harmed by keeping them closed.

“It’s absolutely vital that pupils get back into school in September,” Johnson said. “It’s vital for their education, its vital for their welfare, it’s vital for their physical and indeed their mental welfare.”

“So, let’s make sure that all kids, all pupils get back to school at the beginning of September,” he added.

Johnson echoed advice from British medical experts that children were more likely to be harmed by keeping schools closed than reopening, and he said there was a “moral duty” to reopen.

“I think parents are genuinely still a bit worried about their children contracting coronavirus,” he said. “All I can say is the risks are very, very, very small that they’ll even get it but then the risks that they’ll suffer from it badly are very, very, very, very, very small indeed.”

Britain is one of a number of European countries making the decision to reopen schools in full, unlike the “virtual” or “hybrid” learning styles being pushed in many parts of the U.S. Johnson promised that there would be lots of precautions for returning pupils including hand-washing “and all the other disciplines you need to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Johnson was responding to fears from parents concerned that sending their children to school could put them and relatives at risk. His case was bolstered by a joint statement by the chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales that pointed to the “exceptionally low risk” of children dying of the disease.

“Very few, if any, children or teenagers will come to long-term harm from COVID-19 due solely to attending school,’’ the medical officers said.” This has to be set against a certainty of long-term harm to many children and young people from not attending school.’’

Professor Chris Whitty, who is the U.K. and English chief medical officer, told the BBC that there was “overwhelmingly clear evidence that the chances of children dying from COVID are incredibly small” — while warning that the “chances of many children being damaged by not going to school are incredibly clear.”

Whitty said that while there is an increased risk of children passing the virus to adults if people are mixing households, but “it looks as if, and the evidence here is weaker so I want to be clear about, it looks as if there is a lot less transmission from children to adults than from adults to adults.”

The BBC also reported that 10 Downing Street has said it has “no plans” to follow a proposal in Scotland that teenage school children wear face masks at school.

Johnson’s push for reopening has been met with resistance from some teachers’ unions. The Sun reported that The Education Solidarity Network, a left-wing faction in the National Education Union, is planning street protests on Friday across Britain with a list of safety demands such as free PPE and weekly COVID tests.

It also said it wants to be able to close classrooms if local infection rates hit its chosen level.

Britain implemented strict lockdown measures after the virus hit the country, but Johnson was still criticized for not implementing them quickly enough. It has a death toll of more than 41,000.

Johnson has previously called for a “significant return to normality” by Christmas.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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