News, December 12th

Alarm as SKorea records highest ever daily Covid-19 case tally

SEOUL: South Korea on Saturday reported its highest daily number of coronavirus cases so far, with a surge centred on the capital region sparking fears the country could lose control of the spread.

Officials announced 950 new infections after several days reporting numbers ranging from about 500 to 600.

Some 669 were reported in the greater Seoul area on Saturday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, prompting worries about a major outbreak in the densely populated area – home to half the country’s 52 million people.

“This is the last hurdle before the roll-out of vaccines and treatments,” President Moon Jae-in said in a statement, calling the situation “very grave.”

“The government will make utmost efforts using the full administrative power” to bring the spread under control, he added.

An additional 150 testing centres will be set up in areas with heavy movement of people including train stations.

Officials said infections linked to a church and a hospital in the Seoul metropolitan area, as well as private gatherings, drove up the tally of cases.

The spike came despite the government’s tightening of social distancing rules in the capital area earlier this week.

The measures include a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people and spectators at sports events. Cafes can serve only takeaways, while restaurants must close by 9pm, with only deliveries permitted afterwards.

Despite the changes, “people’s movement has not been reduced significantly”, senior KDCA official Lim Sook-young told a news briefing.

“Infections from personal face-to-face meetings have been continuing… Please cancel all such meetings,” she said.

Saturday’s figure takes the total number of domestic recorded cases in the country to more than 36,800.

South Korea endured one of the worst early Covid-19 outbreaks outside mainland China, but brought it broadly under control with its “trace, test and treat” approach.

It never imposed the kind of lockdowns ordered in much of Europe and other parts of the world.

The country has previously been held up as a model of how to combat the pandemic, including by the World Health Organisation.

The public has largely followed social distancing and other rules, such as wearing face masks. – AFP

Child poverty to remain above pre-COVID levels for 5 years in high-income countries

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 11 (Xinhua) — Child poverty is expected to remain above pre-COVID levels for at least five years in high-income countries, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Friday in a report.

Supporting Families and Children Beyond COVID-19: Social Protection in High Income Countries, produced by the UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti, explores how the social and economic impact of the pandemic is likely to affect children; the initial government responses to the crisis; and how future public policies could be optimized to better support children.

The report finds that only 2 percent of government-provided financial relief across OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) and EU (European Union) countries was allocated specifically to support children and families raising children during the first wave of the pandemic.

“The amount of financial relief allocated directly to children and families does not match the severe fallout of the pandemic, nor how long this crisis is expected to impact these countries,” said Gunilla Olsson, director of the UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti.

An historic 10.8 trillion U.S. dollars was spent on COVID-19 responses by high-income countries from February to the end of July 2020, around 90 percent of which was spent on fiscal stimulus packages directed to, or through, business, the report notes.

Although an essential part of the crisis response, business supports will inevitably exclude the most marginalized children and their families in society, meaning the worst off will be hardest hit. “As the second wave of COVID-19 strengthens its grip, a better balance must be sought,” said Olsson.

Around one-third of OECD and EU countries included in the report did not implement any policies specifically aimed at supporting children in their response to the first wave of the pandemic. Among countries that did invest in social protection interventions for children and families – including childcare, school feeding and family allowances – the majority of these only lasted on average three months. The short-term nature of this is completely inadequate to address the projected length of the crisis and child poverty risks in the long run, the report notes.

“We are urging governments to ramp up social protection for children, alongside business supports,” said Olsson. “Stronger family-focused policies must include a combination of unconditional income support for the poorest families, allowances for food, childcare and utilities, rent or mortgage waivers provided for the long-term to set stronger foundations so all children, and their families, can recover from this crisis.”

China flamethrower drone burns wasp nests

A drone has been converted into a flying flamethrower in central China in a fiery campaign to eradicate more than 100 wasp nests.

Blue Sky Rescue, a volunteer group that conducts search and rescue and other emergency work, has teamed up with villagers in Zhong County near the city of Chongqing.

They raised 80,000 yuan ($12,200) to buy a drone and equip it with a gasoline tank and an arm-length nozzle.Videos released by Blue Sky show a recent mission by the six-arm drone. It hovers above a hive as large as a suitcase before swooping down. The drone operator flips the ignition switch, and the drone spits bursts of fire onto the hive.

“The burning ashes of the wasp’s nest gradually peeled off and fell, and the surrounding residents applauded and praised the rescue team,” said an article on a local news app run by state-owned Chongqing TV.

The article quotes a resident thanking Blue Sky for helping the village: “Now we don’t have to worry about being stung by a wasp.”

Blue Sky said it has destroyed 11 hives so far. There are more than 100 to go.

EU leaders reach consensus on 55 pct emissions cut by 2030

Leaders of the European Union (EU) reached an agreement to cut the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by the end of next decade from the 1990 level, European Council President Charles Michel announced on Friday (December 11).

“Europe is the leader in the fight against climate change. We decided to cut our greenhouse gas emissions of at least 55 percent by 2030,” he tweeted early Friday morning.

The member states green-lighted the European Commission’s proposal to toughen the bloc’s medium-term target as part of the long-term goal to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

The deal was reached following late-night talks as part of the leaders’ two-day summit in Brussels. Some member states, especially those which still rely on coal, had been opposing the ambitious plans but finally agreed to support the enhanced goal.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the climate deal while addressing a joint press conference with Michel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel following the European Council meeting on Friday.

“Today’s agreement puts us on a clear path towards climate neutrality in 2050. It gives certainty to investors, to businesses, to public authorities and to citizens. It future-proofs our Union,” she said as she heaped praise on the German Presidency of the EU.

She said the European Green Deal will be the EU’s growth strategy. “All EU countries should benefit from the transition — with economic growth, a cleaner environment and healthier citizens,” she said.

In her annual State of Union speech in September, von der Leyen described the target of 55 percent reduction by 2030 as being “ambitious, achievable, and beneficial for Europe.”

The European Parliament’s environment committee had voted for tougher emissions reductions, calling for an ambitious 60 percent reduction by 2030 rather than the 55 percent proposed by the Commission.

The agreement was reached ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit to be held on Saturday, which will feature world leaders including those from the United Nations, France, Britain, Chile, Italy and China.

Italy’s staggering virus toll poses uncomfortable questions

ROME (AP) — Italy could soon reclaim a record that nobody wants — the most coronavirus deaths in Europe — after the health care system again failed to protect the elderly and government authorities delayed imposing new restrictions.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Italy was the first country in the West to be slammed by COVID-19 and, after suffering a huge wave of death in spring, brought infections under control.

Italy then had the benefit of time and experience heading into the fall resurgence because it trailed Spain, France and Germany in recording big new clusters of infections. Yet the virus spread fast and wide, and Italy has added nearly 29,000 dead since Sept. 1.

“Obviously there needs to be some reflection,” Guido Rasi, former executive director of the European Pharmaceutical Agency, told state TV after Italy reported a pandemic-high record of 993 deaths in one day. “This number of nearly 1,000 dead in 24 hours is much higher than the European average.”

Italy added another 649 victims Saturday, bringing its official total to 64,036. According to the official British goverment total of 64,024, Italy did overtake Britain, though the Johns Hopkins University tally late Saturday still showed Britain leading Europe with 64,123 dead. Both numbers are believed to greatly underestimate the real toll, due to missed infections, limited testing and different counting criteria.

But Italy could still overtake Britain despite having 6 million people fewer than the U.K.’s 66 million, and would trail only the much larger U.S., Brazil, India and Mexico. According to the Hopkins tally, Italy has the most deaths per 100,000 population among the most affected countries.

Public health officials argue that Italy has the world’s second-oldest population after Japan, and the elderly are the most vulnerable to the virus.

The average age of Italian victims has hovered around 80. In addition, 65% of Italy’s COVID-19 dead had three or more other health problems before they tested positive, such as hypertension or diabetes, according to Italy’s Superior Institute of Health.

But that doesn’t explain the whole picture. Germany has a similarly old demographic and yet its death toll is one-third of Italy’s despite its larger population of 83 million. Germany recorded its highest daily number of coronavirus victims Friday — 598 — but has 21,500 dead overall.

Analysts point to Germany’s long-term higher per-capita spending on health care, which has resulted in greater ICU capacity, better testing and tracing capabilities and higher ratios of doctors and nurses to the population. But Germany also imposed an earlier, lighter lockdown this fall and is now poised to tighten it.

“If you can act sooner, even a bit lighter in the measures, they work better than acting harshly a bit later or too late,” said Matteo Villa, research fellow at the Institute for International Political Studies, a Milan-based think tank.

Italy, he said, waited too long after infections started ticking up in September and October to impose restrictions and didn’t reinforce its medical system sufficiently during the summertime lull.

“If you look at France and the U.K., you can see Italy did fare much worse,” he said. “And if you look at a comparable population with similar demographics, which is Germany, Italy did a lot worse.”

With another wave of infections feared to be just around the corner with Christmas visits and the winter flu season, many are wondering how many more will die.

Doctors have blamed systemic problems with Italy’s health care system, especially in hardest-hit Lombardy, for failing to respond adequately. They have cited the growth of private hospitals in Lombardy in recent years at the expense of public ones. Brain drain and bureaucratic obstacles have resulted in fewer doctors going into practice, while general practitioners have complained of a lack of support despite being the backbone of the system.

Nearly 80,000 Italian health care workers have been infected and 255 doctors have died.

“We asked for a lockdown at the start of November because the situation inside hospitals was already difficult,” said Dr. Filippo Anelli, head of the country’s doctors’ association. “We saw that it worked in the spring and allowed us to get out from under COVID. If this had been done, probably today the numbers would be coming down.”

But the Italian government resisted re-imposing a nationwide lockdown this fall, knowing the devastating impact on an economy that was just starting to come back to life after the springtime shutdown.

Instead, on Nov. 3 the government divided the country into three risk zones with varying restrictions. But by then infections had been doubling each week for nearly a month and hospitals were already overwhelmed in Milan and Naples.

Italy also went into the pandemic poorly prepared. It had fewer per capita ICU beds than the average of developed countries. And in recent weeks, investigative news reports have noted that Italy hadn’t updated its influenza pandemic preparedness plan since 2006 — which could help explain its critical shortage of protective equipment early on and its chaotic initial response to the pandemic.

A World Health Organization report, which was posted and then immediately taken down from the WHO website, noted that Italy’s 2006 plan was merely “reconfirmed in 2017” without being updated. The report said the plan was “more theoretical than practical” and that when COVID-19 hit, all hell broke loose.

“Unprepared for such a flood of severely ill patients, the initial reaction of the hospitals was improvised, chaotic and creative,” said the report.

The U.N. health agency said it removed the report because it contained “inaccuracies and inconsistencies,” and then decided not to republish it because it developed other ways to assess countries’ responses.

Italy also ranked 31st — between Indonesia and Poland — in a 2019 survey of 195 countries compiled by the Global Health Security Index assessing abilities to respond to a pandemic or other health care crisis. Italy scored particularly poorly in emergency response, preparedness, and communications with health care workers during a crisis.

Government officials admit they were caught unprepared but have strongly defended their response to the resurgence as scientifically sound and proportional to prevent the economy from collapsing. Domenico Arcuri, the government’s virus commissioner, said Thursday that the November restrictions were flattening Italy’s infection curve.

“Daily infections are coming down, hospital admissions are coming down, the number of people who unfortunately are admitted to intensive care (is) coming down,” Arcuri said.

That is small comfort to Marcella Polla, who announced the death of her 90-year-old aunt on Facebook Dec. 6, saying she caught the virus in a hospital in October after complications following an angioplasty.

“My aunt was tough, made of Trentino fiber,” Polla wrote in explaining the extraordinary photo she posted of her aunt, holding herself up on a set of gymnastics rings this year. “I want to remember her like this, even though the thought of her and so many others dying alone and then being put in a body bag torments me.”

Nearly 150 arrested at Paris protest over security bill

PARIS — Paris police took nearly 150 people into custody at what quickly became a tense and sometimes ill-tempered protest Saturday against proposed security laws, with officers wading into the crowds of several thousand to haul away suspected trouble-makers.

Police targeted protesters they suspected might coalesce together into violent groups like those who vandalized stores and vehicles and attacked officers at previous demonstrations.

The interior minister said police detained 142 people. Long lines of riot officers and police vehicles with blue lights flashing escorted Saturday’s march through rain-slickened streets. They hemmed in protesters, seeking to prevent the flare-up of violence that marked many previous demonstrations.

A police water cannon doused demonstrators at the end of the march, as night fell.

Marchers were protesting against a proposed security law that has sparked successive weekends of demonstrations and against a draft law aimed at combating Islamist radicalism.

The security bill’s most contested measure could make it more difficult to film police officers. It aims to outlaw the publication of images with intent to cause harm to police. Critics fear it could erode media freedom and make it more difficult to expose police brutality. The provision caused such an uproar that the government has decided to rewrite it.

Slogans on placards carried by marchers in Paris said “I will never stop filming” and “Camera equals mutilation?”

There were also protests in other cities. In Lyon, in the southeast, authorities reported five arrests among people they said attacked police and sought to loot shops.

Remarks by World Bank Group President David Malpass at the Climate Ambition Summit 2020

Climate change, poverty and inequality, are defining issues of our age. Increasingly, they work hand-in-hand.

The global poor often suffer the most from climate events – including flooding, droughts and food insecurity. There’s a deep unfairness to this – the poor generally emit less in greenhouse gases, and yet are impacted the most by climate change.

The World Bank Group is the biggest multilateral funder of climate investments in developing countries. We’ve made $83 billion dollars in climate-related investments over the last five years. That’s 26% of Group commitments. Last year saw the largest climate investments in our history.

Over the next five years, we intend to go further, targeting 35% climate co-benefits on average across the World Bank Group.

We will also work to encourage and monitor reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

For IBRD and IDA, we will seek to ensure that 50% of this climate finance supports adaptation and resilience.

We will support Paris alignment by helping developing countries, through our programs, to achieve their NDCs, end their reliance on coal, and transition to lower-carbon, climate-resilient economies.

In our COVID response, we’re targeting $160 billion of investment and policy financing that will help support a green, inclusive and resilient recovery.

It’s very clear – we cannot succeed in helping countries reduce poverty without rising to the challenges of climate change.

Trump’s tweets flagged within an hour

Micro-blogging site Twitter on Saturday flagged a series of tweets posted by US President Donald Trump, who still disputes the outcome of the November 3 election that has projected his Democratic rival Joe Biden as the winner, within a span of an hour.

The tweets said: “So, you’re the President of the US, and you just went through an election where you got more votes than any sitting President in history, by far – and purportedly lost.

“You can’t get ‘standing’ before the Supreme Court, so you ‘intervene’ with wonderful states that, after careful study and consideration, think you got ‘screwed’, something which will hurt them also.

“Many others likewise join the suit but, within a flash, it is thrown out and gone, without even looking at the many reasons it was brought. A rigged election, fight on.”

Twitter flagged the tweets and said: “This claim about election fraud is disputed.”

The micro-blogging site has flagged nearly all tweets by Trump as he continues to keep making “potentially misleading claims” about the outcome of one of the most contentious presidential races in the history of the US.

Just days after the election, Twitter flagged four tweets posted by the President.

A company spokesperson had said then that “in line with our Civic Integrity Policy, and as is standard with this warning, we will significantly restrict engagements on these tweets”.

Even before the election, some tweets of the President about the raging coronavirus pandemic were also flagged.

In October, Twitter disabled sharing options and labelled a tweet by Trump that he was now immune to coronavirus, as it violated the rules against sharing misinformation about the pandemic on the platform.

Biden is projected to win 306 electoral votes, compared with 232 for Trump.

To clinch the White House, a candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes of the 538 in total.

Trump has refused to concede, but dozens of lawsuits challenging the results have been dismissed at the state and federal levels across the country since the hotly-contested election.

UN climate report calls out global elite as cause of the crisis

The UN Emissions Gap Report released on Dec. 9, shows how far off the mark we are for averting complete climate catastrophe. Current global emissions reduction policies have us on track for 3.5 C warming by 2100, which would be catastrophic for life on Earth. An average increase of 1.5 C globally is the line that must not be crossed — with current temperatures at an average of nearly 1 C warming.

The report takes a surprisingly class perspective by pointing out that the one percent richest people on the planet are responsible for emissions equal to that of the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population. This group would need to reduce its carbon footprint 30 fold just to meet the Paris Agreement commitments.

2020 will likely be the hottest year on record following the record breaking hot decade of the 2010s. With unprecedented monsoon rains, wildfires, hurricanes and tropical cyclones, we are witnessing the unraveling of life on Earth as we know it. And let’s not forget the pandemic, which is the result of the changing climate and human encroachment on wildlands, with official reports of nearly 70 million globally contracting the virus and more than a million dead.

Arctic ice loss has accelerated so much that scientists are predicting that a new Arctic climate is emerging — moving from one of snow and ice to one of open water and rain. Similarly, scientists are alarmed by the rapid deterioration of the Antarctica ice sheet. Ice loss triggers a positive feedback loop as open water and land absorb more heat, unlike ice and snow that reflect the sun’s rays — meaning ice loss creates more warming, which accelerates more ice loss, and so on.

A 2015 consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions study of the San Francisco Bay Area — home of Big Tech and the highest concentration of billionaires on the planet — confirms the UN assertion and shows that the areas where the super rich live have by far the highest share of emissions. The study looked at the life-cycle GHG emissions of all products used and consumed within the Bay Area — from production, shipping, use and disposal of those products. This is key in order to assign the appropriate responsibility for emissions, and in turn the crisis that humanity is facing. Instead of pointing the finger at the poorer countries where U.S. corporations have outsourced production to, or poor communities within wealthier nations, tying the emissions back to the source of the highest consumption rates shows a more accurate picture of who truly holds more responsibility for the problem.

The corporate media frames solutions as one of individual behavior change, which really takes the blame off the producers and puts it onto individual lifestyle choices — in essence a mass marketing campaign for “green” products and electric vehicles. This gives the illusion that if we all just fly less, recycle more, and go vegan, the crisis will be averted. While having more environmentally-conscious practices is good, the majority of the population that is just struggling to survive often doesn’t have access to “green” options. This scapegoating of the individual diverts attention away from the true culprit, the capitalist system itself — just 100 companies responsible for 71 percent of emissions since 1988.

What you personally do, doesn’t solve the unsustainability of the production model of capitalism. For instance, the UN report goes on to point out that the dip we have seen in global emissions during the pandemic will not have a positive effect in the long run. The solution goes way beyond driving less for a few months. We need an uprooting of the capitalist production model that is based on the whims of the market rather than sustainable planning.

The very nature of capitalism that allows billionaires to exist by hoarding the wealth created by the exploited working class, is the source of the problem. A system that requires endless growth and ever increasing profits can never be sustainable.

The “one percent” are the ruling class of the world — the ones who truly call the shots — controlling corporations and to a large degree, government policy. These capitalists are always looking for ways to profit off of any situation. Whether an investment is good for humanity and the environment is irrelevant. Making the highest profits possible is the only concern. For instance, Wall Street recently began trading water futures making a basic need for human survival into a cynical betting game. This is a perfect example of “disaster capitalism” and reveals the complete disregard for the survival of our species and a complete disinterest in truly addressing the climate crisis.

There are a few relatively simple actions that could be taken that if implemented on a comprehensive scale could lower global temperatures, increase the water table in drought-plagued areas, and increase biodiversity and ecosystem resilience to the changes underway. Restoring forests, wetlands, and grasslands, along with a shift to regenerative agriculture and an end to fossil fuel use, could stem the unraveling of our climate in just decades. Humanity has the tools to save ourselves, but the “one percent” and the system of capitalism that their police, military, courts and prisons protect, is literally driving us off the cliff.

One glaring omission that the UN climate reports and summits never address is the issue of imperialism. How can we lower global emissions when the imperialists — who are the biggest per capita polluters — consistently block any binding commitments at the climate summits, despite pressure from the Global South? How can we globally work together for our survival when the U.S. and their European allies constantly undermine and reduce to rubble any nation that doesn’t bow to their demands?

For instance, Libya, prior to its destruction in 2011 by the US and NATO, had the highest standard of living on the African continent. Libya had nearly completed the “Great Man-Made River,” the world’s largest irrigation system that was greening the desert, and were creating a Pan-African banking system and currency to bring the continent out of indebtedness to the imperialist-controlled IMF and World Bank. That could have meant true independence for African nations and development based on sustainability. But, the imperialists wreaked total destruction upon Libya, cheered on the lynching of its leader, and bombed the irrigation system, creating a failed state that today has open slave markets trading Black Africans.

We cannot solve the global climate crisis within the current trajectory of world imperialism. We must uproot the system of capitalism and move to a socialist system built on cooperation and sharing of resources. The wealth of the “one percent” must be seized to fund an ecological and social revolution and put the power into the hands of the majority to determine what is needed for the benefit of both people and planet.

We need to organize ourselves across borders, get educated on the issues, and build a mass militant people’s movement to realize this goal. The time to act is now, to seize control of the car — of the production system — before the capitalists drive us off the cliff. We have the power to stem the climate crisis and take an evolutionary leap forward to a socialist society that meets all of our needs for an equitable and abundant future.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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