Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Biden's strategic shift towards China brings us ever closer to war

V.P. Kamala Harris was sent to South China Sea last month to try and push Singapore and Vietnam into an anti-China front. But her offer was rejected by both. 

The new Cold War with China, begun under Trump and now escalating under Biden, once again pushes us closer to the nuclear abyss. How close are we? So close that according to a new book “Peril,” by the Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was so consumed with fear that former President Donald Trump might launch “rogue” conventional or nuclear strikes against China, he acted twice to prevent it. 

Trump's defeat brought hope to many around the world that Biden and the Democrats would break from Trump's anti-China saber-rattling, trade-war policies and shift towards repairing the breach and lowering the temperature. These hopes have grown more desperate during the global pandemic as the growing cold war now includes vaccine wars

Instead, Biden has doubled down on Trump's policies and seems bent on provoking a military confrontation in the South China Sea. 

Here are a few of the repercussions...

North and South Korea are once again firing ballistic missiles hours apart from each other instead of negotiating towards unity as they were doing only a couple of months ago without U.S. involvement. This while South Korea and China were meeting to discuss de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula. You get the picture. 

Then there's this...

In what appears to those in the region to be a white united front against China the US, UK, and Australia are creating a trilateral security partnership which will include helping Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines. 

The initiative, called Aukus, was announced jointly by President Joe Biden and prime ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison, following US briefings which described the agreement as binding the three English-speaking countries together.

Is anyone in these "English-speaking countries" feeling any safer from all this? Me neither. 

Remember, it was Biden who previously referred to Johnson as, "a physical and emotional clone'" of Trump. 

It's all occurring in the wake of Biden's strategic military shift away from the Middle East and towards Cold War. It follows his helter-skelter withdraw and re-positioning of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Biden's main cold-warrior strategist and regime-change specialist, Sec. Anthony Blinken is under the gun here at home, facing withering attacks from left and right over the "chaotic" Afghan retreat.

I'm still wondering though. Has there ever been a smooth withdrawal by an invading army after a major military defeat? Wish we could ask Napoleon or Gen. Creighton Abrams who was sending Nixon upbeat reports on the progress of the war in Vietnam right up 'til the very end. 

The lessons of war are hard to learn. Let's pull the reins in on the warmakers. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

WEEKEND QUOTABLES


Columnist Laura Washington

"My message to Chicago Ald. Jim Gardiner: You are mired in a bottomless pit of misogyny." -- Sun-Times

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez re. Manchin

“In Washington, I usually know my questions of power are getting somewhere when the powerful stop referring to me as ‘Congresswoman’ and start referring to me as ‘young lady’ instead." -- Guardian 

Rev. William Barber re. Manchin

“He is a part of the demolition crew of this democracy.” -- The Sunday Show

Justice Stephen Breyer

“I Don’t Intend to Die on the Court” -- Fox News Sunday 

Dr. Anthony Fauci

"If you want to get on a plane and travel with other people then you should be vaccinated." -- Podcast  

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus 

"Because manufacturers have prioritized or been legally obliged to fulfill bilateral deals with rich countries willing to pay top dollar, low-income countries have been deprived of the tools to protect their people.”

“There has been a lot of talk about vaccine equity,” Tedros added, “but too little action.” -- Truthout

Friday, September 10, 2021

There's No Such Thing as a 'Low-Skilled Worker'


I hate the term, "low-skilled" to describe the millions of workers who have built and maintained this country and who are largely Black, Latino, female, and immigrant.

So-called low-skilled workers tend to be lower-paid, have fewer rights, and have less recourse to unions and other enforcement bodies. For example, foreign-born “low”-skilled workers are typically tied to an employer and cannot leave without invalidating their visa. They have also historically been used as a reserve army of unemployed workers to hold down wages and break strikes. 

Wealthy countries like the U.S. depend on migration and immigration for essential labor and economic stability. Yet when deciding who is allowed to enter the country, most use a simple dichotomy based on educational attainment: “high” and “low” skilled. 

Under the Trump administration and now with Biden and the Democrats in power, closing the southern border and abusing and deporting millions of immigrant workers and their families has led to devastating cuts in available low-paid laborers forcing restaurants and other businesses, eg. in agriculture and food production, that rely on immigrant labor to close once again.

The rhetoric around skills is typically based on a dichotomy between “high” and “low”: “high” being associated with university degrees and “low” with manual labor. But, these characteristics do not come close to describing a person’s comprehensive skill set; they are just the easiest to evaluate based on the standards and prevailing norms of capitalist society. 

The pandemic and the growth of the so-called "gig economy" have exacerbated the divisions between "high" and "low" skilled with the latter being pushed onto the front lines and in harm's way as they deliver the goods and services need to keep a faltering economy on its feet.

Now, as the resurgent pandemic enters a new stage, millions of unemployed workers have come under attack for their unwillingness to forego unemployment insurance to take crappy, dangerous, and low-paying jobs and are being pushed off unemployment insurance and anti-eviction protection as an act of government coercion. 

Last week, Biden oversaw the ending of extended unemployment benefits in an attempt to force workers back on the job. Meanwhile, mega-corporations like Amazon have been forced to raise basic wages above the prevailing minimum in order to maintain their competitive edge, entice workers to work under otherwise intolerable conditions, and undermine union drives. 

Bloomberg reports that much to their chagrin, for the third month in a row, wages for the "low-skilled: have risen faster than for the "high-skilled". In the previous history of the survey, which now goes back almost 25 years, this had only ever happened in two months, in early 2010. Wage growth for the "low-skilled" is also exceeding that for the "high-skilled" by the most on record. 

In this opinion piece, Bloomberg's John Authers warns that this wage growth is potentially bad for inflation. 

"Wage growth for the lowest skilled is the fastest since August 2008 (not coincidentally, the month before the Lehman bankruptcy), and that could easily lead to higher prices." 

"More interestingly still," writes Authers, "it does suggest a shift in the balance of power between labor and capital. This isn’t as yet a deep-seated or well-established trend, of course. But if it continues it could rattle a lot of assumptions, and alleviate a lot of social tension."

Authers fails to mention that while millions of people struggled to make ends meet during the pandemic, many of the companies hit hardest in 2020 showered their executives with riches. Chief executives of big companies now make, on average, 320 times as much as their typical worker, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Billionaire Jeff Bezos managed to add $13,000,000,000 to his wealth in a single day during a pandemic?

No, this widening wealth gap won't "alleviate social tension". Rather, it should provide new rich opportunities for struggling labor unions to expand their shrinking base by organizing the unorganized so-called "low-skilled". 

*Also, see Teri Gerstein's piece in the New York Times: "Other People’s Rotten Jobs Are Bad for Them. And for You." 

Monday, September 6, 2021

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

Jamie Contreras, secretary-treasurer of the SEIU 
 “We’re not anywhere near done. People still need help. ... For millions of people nothing has changed from a year and a half ago.” -- Covid safety net cut

Rebecca Solnit

If the US defends its democracy, such as it is, and protects the voting rights of all eligible adults, the right will continue to be a shrinking minority. -- Guardian

The Former Guy

...expressed disappointment about receiving a low number of votes from Jews. 

"Look what I did with the embassy in Jerusalem and what I did with so many other things. Israel has never had a better friend, and yet I got 25% of the [Jewish] vote." -- Business Insider

Joanna Klonsky

It’s been quite a week to be a woman in this world. -- Twitter

Friday, September 3, 2021

Pandemic schooling spaces

Mike Klonsky pic.

Driving down Lake Street on the city's west side Monday, I stopped to take a look at the former Dett Elementary School. Dett was one of the 49 schools closed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2013 for "underutilization" after its population dropped precipitously. Instead of being re-purposed, now, eight years later, the building still sits boarded-up and graffitied, a costly, dangerous blight on the neighborhood. 

Back in 2016, there was a plan to turn Dett into a center for women and girls or an artist incubator but potential buyers for the building backed out. So CPS was stuck with it. Neighborhood students were instead assigned to nearby Herbert or enrolled in charter schools.  

Today students are back in school in Chicago with classrooms packed to overcapacity. Many schools are overcrowded with some kindergarten classrooms stuffed with more than 30 children, a horrifying thought in the middle of this deadly pandemic when there's not yet a vaccine available for young children. 

The lack of available classroom space forced the board to roll back its distancing requirement from six feet to three feet "wherever possible" with unmasked kids often eating together, shoulder-to-shoulder in school lunchrooms. In the high schools, we're seeing images of students, many unvaxed, packed together in crowded hallways between classes.

I can't even imagine being a short-handed teacher, trying to keep up with 32 or so kinders, keeping them masked and at least three feet apart, all the while trying to do some great teaching. And yet, like so many heroic doctors, nurses, and front-line medical staff, teachers are giving it their best shots. But I doubt this mode is sustainable.

CPS is operating in crisis mode in a churning sea of divisive state politics, racial segregation and inequities, all exacerbated by the resurgent Delta variant.

Schooling in a pandemic and preparation for post-pandemic schooling offers a chance for school planners and educators to take a more holistic approach and to try and undo the damage done by the mass closing of schools a decade ago. 

The idea that we still have boarded-up school buildings and schools in some neighborhoods with excess classroom space, while in others, students are dangerously jammed together, is mind-boggling. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

QUOTABLES: Biden's Bible

Abdul Matin Azizi, a neighbor who saw the attack. Azizi, 20, said the explosion occurred as the family returned home Sunday afternoon around 4:30 p.m. Azizi said he ran next door to help and found a gruesome scene, the air thick with smoke. “The bodies were covered in blood and shrapnel, and some of the dead children were still inside the car,” he said. -- Washington Post

Biden's Bible

 “Those who have served through the ages have drawn inspiration from the Book of Isaiah. When the Lord says, ‘who shall I send, who shall go for us?’ The American military has been answering for a long time, ‘Here I am, Lord. Send me.’” -- Speech to the Nation

Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia Prof

The sad truth is that the American political class and mass media hold the people of poorer nations in contempt, even as they intervene relentlessly and recklessly in those countries. Of course, much of America’s elite hold America’s own poor in similar contempt. -- Market Watch

Dr. Anthony Fauci

"I believe that mandating vaccines for children to appear in school is a good idea."
"This is not something new. We have mandates in many places in schools, particularly public schools, that if in fact you want a child to come in -- we've done this for decades and decades requiring (vaccines for) polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis," he said. "So this would not be something new, requiring vaccinations for children to come to school." -- CNN

Seth Meyers

 “I mean, how does this shit keep getting dumber and dumber? First it was hydroxychloroquine, then it was bleach, powerful lights, now it’s horse dewormer? I’m honestly terrified to imagine what’s next. One day we’re gonna wake up and Brian Kilmeade’s gonna be telling people you can cure COVID by eating kibble and sleeping in a bed of kitty litter.” -- Late Night

Friday, August 27, 2021

SEIU Healthcare IL supports vax requirement for healthcare and ed workers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 27, 2021

Contact: Catherine Murrell, 312-523-3882 

The following was released by SEIU Healthcare Illinois President Greg Kelley on Gov. Pritzker’s recent announcement of Vaccination Requirements for Healthcare and Educational Workers:

SEIU Healthcare Illinois continues to maintain our ongoing efforts to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of our 90,000 members. We are committed to promoting every measure available in protecting not only our members but our entire community, from the life-threatening impacts of the COVID-19 virus. As a result, we are in support of Gov. Pritzker’s recent announcement of the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for healthcare and educational workers.

As a union of healthcare and childcare workers, we understand how critical it is to ensure that our members are working in safe environments, while also protecting our most vulnerable populations.

In addition to our support of vaccinations and scheduled testing, it is our expectation to partner with employers to foster a collaborative approach in providing resources that enable workers to be vaccinated without negative economic impacts. These resources would include comprehensive educational programs which include channels for employee communication regarding the implementation of the vaccination. 

We are dedicated to working with employers to help respond to worker needs as we combat this devastating disease.  

# # #

Thursday, August 26, 2021

What does F.O.P. stand for?

“We’re in America, goddamn it." -- FOP Lodge #7 Prez John Catanzara

Chicago's Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has no business calling itself a union. As a matter of fact, they don't. Early FOP founders decided to not use the term "union" because of the anti-union sentiment of the time. 

FOP's fascist potentate John Catanzara is nothing but a Trump-loving racist petty criminal who's been outspoken in defense of the Jan. 6th MAGA Capitol rioters and who recently was suspended from the CPD and charged with filing false police reports. 

Cantazara has from the start, been on a crusade against the city's two top Black female elected officials, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and States Attorney Kim Foxx over their attempts to implement federal court-mandated police reform.

Lightfoot unfortunately has been forced to negotiate with the FOP on issues of abusive, racist, and violent police behavior which shouldn't be a matter of collective bargaining at all. 

For more on that, see my brother Fred's Sun-Times commentary, "I’m a union guy, and I oppose police union contracts that cover up abuse."

But as we enter the next mayoral campaign season, the FOP has refocused its right-wing wedge-issue polemics to target the mayor's vaccine mandate for all city employees. Yesterday, Cantanzara laid bare his thuggy nature by launching this anti-mayor, anti-vax tirade. 

“We’re in America, goddamn it. We don’t want to be forced to do anything. Period. This ain’t Nazi f***ing Germany, [where they say], ‘Step into the f***ing showers. The pills won’t hurt you.’ What the f***?” he told the newspaper. [Sun-Times]

This trash needs no rebuttal. The Mayor's response (below) is adequate. My blog feels dirty as it is for even printing it. 

At times I've referred to the FOP as Fascists on Patrol. I'm switching now to Friends of Pandemic. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

How far we've come


Remembering Trump's lost armada.

It was just three years ago that Trump was threatening "fire and fury" against North Korea and boasting to N.K President Kim Jong-Un, "My button is bigger than yours". He had Pentagon on a nuclear war footing and the U.S. "lost armada"  sailing into Korean waters.

 

See how far we've come.

Yesterday, it was V.P. Kamala ("Don't come") Harris, fresh off the Afghan withdrawal debacle, standing on a U.S. combat ship at the Changi naval base in Singapore warning China to end its "incursions" into the South China Sea. 

”Take a look at the map and tell me who's the one making "incursions"?

To borrow a line from Carlos Martinez (@agent_of_change): "Whoever said Americans don't understand irony?"

Advancing our interests...Sounding more and more like an old-line imperialist, Harris proclaimed, “It is also imperative that as we address developments in one region, we continue to advance our interests in other regions, including this region."

Monday, August 23, 2021

Why WHO wants us to forego booster shots


BUDAPEST, Aug 23 (Reuters) - WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday that COVID-19 booster shots should be delayed and priority should be given to raising vaccination rates in countries where only 1% or 2% of the population has been inoculated.
If vaccination rates are not raised globally, stronger variants of the coronavirus could develop and vaccines intended as booster shots should be donated to countries where people have not received their first or second doses, he said during a visit to Budapest. 
"In addition, there is a debate about whether booster shots are effective at all," Ghebreyesus told a news conference with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto.  

While I agree with the WHO director's call for making (demanding) vaccine distribution to where the need is greatest a priority, I'm having a hard time understanding his organization's anti-booster strategy. The problem facing us doesn't seem to be a global vaccine shortage so much as a politicized pandemic and entrenched systems of racial capitalism (imperialism) and vaccine apartheid which have sharpened the division between oppressed and oppressor nations. 

In this country, for example, there is a vaccine surplus. Yet millions here remain unvaxed, either due to lack of access to affordable medical care or due to the effectiveness of anti-vax propaganda and fear-mongering on the part of right-wing media. Even with this surplus, only limited supplies of the vaccine are being made available to low-income countries. 

The giant pharmaceutical companies and other vaccine profiteers are reaping billions in superprofits by keeping vaccine costs high and maintaining patents on vaccine production.  Global vaccine distribution has also become politized and weaponized in the new cold war aimed at containing China.  

The cost of vaccinating the world against COVID-19 could be at least five times cheaper if pharmaceutical companies weren’t profiteering from their monopolies on COVID-19 vaccines.

 Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are charging governments as much as $41 billion above the estimated cost of production. Colombia, for example, has potentially overpaid by as much as $375 million for its doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, in comparison to the estimated cost price.

Vaccine inequity remains the world’s biggest obstacle to ending this pandemic and global economic recovery. But Ghebreyesus seems to be assuming that if people here and in Europe agree to forego booster shots, their dose will then be shipped to a needy person in Uganda or Nicaragua. 

In fairness to Ghebreyesus, he includes in his call, this addendum:

Those whose immune system is compromised should get a booster shot, though they represent only small percentage of the population.

It's actually about 3% of the population in the U.S. But depending on the life span of current vaccines, booster shots may soon be required for everyone.  

As for the current effectiveness of booster shots, I will leave that one to the scientists and medical professionals. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Emerson Poll: Perception vs. Reality


Crime is once again the hot-button issue here in Chicago and in cities across the country. Yesterday's funeral following the killing of Chicago police officer Ella French has understandably amplified the anger, fears, and frustrations many feel about violent crime. 

At the same time, a poll was released showing crime to be the overwhelmingly top concern of Chicagoans, dwarfing worries about the spiking covid pandemic, the reopening of schools, and every other issue. But let's take a deeper look and see if there's a gap between that perception and reality. 

What's wrong with this statement?
A WGN-TV/Emerson College poll of Chicago residents found that crime is on the rise, with 62% saying there is more crime now in Chicago than there was a year ago. Twenty-four percent (24%) feel that the amount of crime has stayed the same, and 14% feel that there is less crime today.
Well, for one thing, you can't determine whether or not a city's crime rate is going up or down by taking a poll. Polls like Emerson may give us a sense of people's changing perceptions of crime, or the favorability or unfavorability of certain politicians, but those most often depend on how questions are asked, who's being asked, and who's doing the asking. 

Case in point: Chicago crime isn't really on the rise , although it's completely understandable why so many feel that it is, given local media's attention paid to daily crime reports. While crime rates have been falling steadily over the past two decades, homicides so far this year have risen. 
An NBC News analysis of Chicago Police Department data going back 20 years shows that overall, violent crime continued its slow decline during the pandemic. When all categories of violent crime are added together, the total declined by 46 percent over 20 years and held steady between the first half of both 2019 and 2021.
There's some  research showing  that public demand drives coverage of bad news — that people have a “negativity bias.” But I think it's the other way around, with the media driving the bias. 

It's not that I doubt the veracity of the poll itself. I don't. I just think that polling and news groups tend to overstate the significance of their results and blur the distinction between perception and reality. Polls shape and influence perceptions as well as measuring them. That's something we've all come to recognize in the last few national elections. 

According to the Emerson poll, crime, and especially violent crime, is the number-one concern of Chicagoans. 
Respondents were asked what the number one issue facing Chicago today is. A plurality of residents (44%) feel that crime is the number one issue facing the city.... Compared to the WGN-TV/Emerson poll in June, crime has risen six points as a top issue, from 38% to 44%.

What happened in the city in June and July to cause a six-point jump in perception is not clear from WGN's report. I would guess that it's the daily coverage of the recent wave of horrifying carjackings or the terrible rise in summertime gun violence that has put all of us on edge lately. 

While crime dominates popular concern, all other issues were below 12%: Covid-19 (12%), education/schools (8%), jobs (8%), police reform (7%), healthcare (7%), housing (5%), and homelessness (2%). Six percent (6%) of respondents said something else. 

The widening poverty gap isn't on the list of concerns offered in the poll, although homelessness is and ranks at the very bottom. There's no connection made by the pollsters between this widening gap and crime or contextualizing crime in the way questions are asked. There were no questions either, regarding the easy flow of illegal guns into the city.

Many people around the country perceive Chicago as the number-one crime city in America. But the actual numbers paint quite a different picture. Trump repeatedly criticized Chicago, saying it was “worse than Afghanistan.” I myself engaged in similar hyperbole a few years ago, referring to Chicago as "Chiraq" a la Spike Lee, just to make a point. But it turns out that our city hasn't even made the top-30 list when it comes to urban crime rates. 

A recent New York Times quiz revealed some common misperceptions about crime trends, the most widely held of which involved Chicago. Readers were asked to rank Chicago nationally in murder rate. The options were first, third, fifth, or seventh. Most picked “first,” and only 8 percent chose the right answer (seventh).

I was also a little surprised to learn that even with Chicago students about to return to school in a matter of days in the midst of a surging pandemic, only 8% had education/schools at the top of their list of concerns. In fact, the surging pandemic only made the top of the concern list for 12% of Chicagoans. Is that because Chicago is doing so much better than other big cities in containment? I don't have an answer on that one.

Another surprising (to me) result showed a majority (70%) of respondents having at least a somewhat positive opinion of the Chicago Police Department, while 23% have a somewhat or very negative opinion, and 7% are unsure. 

I'm only surprised at how that perception has changed since its low point, following the police murders of Laquan McDonald in 2014. The fallout from that killing and the political cover-up that following drove then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel from office. Polls at the time showed: "nearly two-thirds of African-American voters in the city said they didn’t trust him, and half of all likely voters thought the mayor should resign. The Emerson poll shows concerns about police reform now dropping into single-digit. 

Not surprising was a strong majority (70%) indicating support for a reinstatement of an indoor mask mandate in Chicago, with 21% opposed and 9% unsure. Such a mandate goes into effect citywide, tomorrow. 

Finally, the poll shows that Chicagoans appear pretty evenly split on Mayor Lightfoot's performance so far, with 46% disapproval and 43% approval. While her approval ratings are down about 20% from a year ago, I'm surprised that they're as high as they are, given the divisive nature of current politics, extremely negative City Hall press coverage, and an unrelenting hate campaign organized by both FOP and CTU leaders who have never gotten past Lightfoot's defeat of their candidate in the last election. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

QUOTABLES


Yes, ‘I Am Legend,’ the 2007 movie about zombie vampires, is now a part of the vaccine conversation. 
As of Wednesday, more than 166 million Americans have been fully vaccinated. The zombie count, however, remains at zero. -- Washington Post
Stephen Collison, CNN
At the same time, Biden was doing exactly what most Americans, exhausted by long years of foreign quagmires and confused as to why US troops were still in Afghanistan 20 years after 9/11, wanted. There was no national support for escalating the war. -- Biden's botched Afghan exit  

Taliban Spokesperson, Suhail Shaheen 

...told the BBC Sunday that the militants want a "peaceful" transition. -- CNBC

‘Saigon on Steroids’: The Desperate Rush to Flee Afghanistan,” by WSJ’s Yaroslav Trofimov, Dion Nissenbaum, and Margherita Stancati 
"The lucky few were already inside, crowded onto the last patch of government territory that hadn’t fallen to the Taliban. Outside, as thousands of civilians surged to break through the perimeter of Hamid Karzai International Airport, security forces fired gunshots into the air to force them back." -- Wall Street Journal

“Corporate America grows impatient on Biden’s China trade review,” by Gavin Bade

“Nearly eight months into his presidency, America’s largest corporations are voicing frustration that Biden has not rolled back any of former President Donald Trump’s major tariffs, particularly the duties on $350 billion worth of Chinese imports." -- Politico

NYT’s Elizabeth Harris

“Blackout,” by the right-wing media personality Candace Owens, has sold 480,000 copies across formats since it was published last fall by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. “American Marxism,” by the best-selling author Mark R. Levin, which devotes a chapter to critical race theory, sold 400,000 books in just its first week on the market last month. -- New York Times


Sunday, August 15, 2021

Cold Warriors called it the 'China Virus' but let's look at the numbers


Trump and the Republicans called it the "China Virus" or "Kung Flu." Pretty racist and disgusting. Biden and the Democrats are not much better. They continue to play Trump's blame-China game rather than move forward on international cooperation in the war against COVID and its emerging variants.

But a look at current data compiled by Johns Hopkins University along with national public health agencies shows that  China is playing more of a leading role in the world when it comes to containing the spread of the virus while the U.S. remains the principal driver of covid as the Delta strain becomes dominant.  

Currently, it's the US, India, and Brazil that have the highest number of confirmed cases, followed by Russia, France, the UK, and Turkey. The U.S. with more than 36 million cases and over 616,000 deaths has the highest total number of cases, deaths, and death rates in the world. 

The U.S. is now averaging about 650 deaths a day, increasing more than 80 percent from two weeks ago and going past the 600 mark on Saturday for the first time in three months.

Compare that with China, which has four times the population of the U.S., but has had a tiny fraction (106,000) of cases and has suffered fewer than 5,000 deaths so far, according to the researchers at Johns Hopkins. 

In other words, there's a lot U.S. health experts and policymakers could learn from China when it comes to fighting the pandemic. At the top of the list is China's national healthcare system. In the U.S. more than 30 million people have no health insurance. 

But scientific cooperation between the world's two leading economic powers is being hindered by Cold War propagandizing, tariff wars and back-and-forth sanctioning. The biggest losers in all this are the poorest of the world's countries suffering from severe vaccine inequality. 

It's not the lack of vaccines that are the problem. The world's richest countries have a surplus while many countries have close to none. The U.S. has two times the number of vaccines than the number of people. Yet there are states with test positivity rates over 50 percent. 

The continuing yellow-peril demagoguery coming out of the White House and State Dept. has done great harm to efforts to close the great vaccine gap or promote international cooperation, while raising the economic and political barriers between the two countries and bringing them closer to unfathomable war. It has also led to an uptick in the growing wave of anti-Asian violence here in the U.S. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Yes, to vax and mask mandates. Randi flips for the better.

Randi Weingarten says it's a 'personal matter.'

"In order for everyone to feel safe and welcome in their workplaces, vaccinations must be negotiated between employers and workers, not coerced.
 -- Randi Weingarten, Statement July 26th

"Since 1850 we’ve dealt with vaccines in schools, it’s not a new thing to have vaccines in schools. And I think that, on a personal matter, as a matter of personal conscience, I think that we need to be working with our employers – not opposing them – on vaccine mandates." -- AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten, Meet the Press (Aug. 8th)

It didn't take very long for AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten to walk back her opposition to vaccine mandates. RW claims her new position is a "personal matter," a "matter of personal conscience." I'm not sure what that means in this context. Is she not speaking for her union? I guess we'll find out soon enough. 

But I'll go out on a limb here and say the real reasons for the shift are fairly obvious. 

~Most teachers and parents want their children to return to school safely. The only way to ensure that is to have all adults and as many children as possible vaccinated and masked. The teachers unions misread community sentiment.

~Hours before his death, AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka made clear his support for vaccine mandates. To have the teacher unions appear to be bucking Trumka on this would be divisive and damaging to the entire labor movement.

~At a time when the Biden White House is weighing vaccine mandates for businesses and the federal workforce, there's no way AFT leaders can allow themselves to be seen as oppositional. I'm pretty sure that Joe Biden and Education Sec. Miguel Cardona applied some screws where needed.  

~Weingarten's initial opposition to mandates would have put her in step with the most reactionary Republican governors in the nation, like Abbott of Texas and DeSantis of Florida.  Both have threatened to punish any school or district that mandated masking or vaxing. DeSantis has even refused to mandate masks and has blocked school districts from requiring them, despite his state leading the nation in pediatric hospitalizations.

There are even more good reasons to explain the union's shift, but I will stop there. I'm just happy for her change of heart on this regardless of what's driving it.

I'm hoping it will get some of our local Chicago union leaders, like AFSCME's Roberta Lynch, who's still opposing mandates, to rethink their positions. Then there's the CTU leadership, who's remaining quiet on the issue. 

**********

With schools set to open in days, the delta variant has brought the danger to young children into sharp relief. In Tennessee, for example, the variant is spreading quickly in children--so quickly, in fact, that the state's health department projects that children's hospitals in TN will be completely full by the end of next week. 

Two children died from COVID-19 over the weekend in Memphis. and children age 10 and under now account for more than 10% of all new coronavirus infections, one of the highest rates of any point during the pandemic. 

The Resistance... Austin, TX school Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde announced that the district will require face masks, defying Gov. Abbott's executive orders banning ​​mask mandates. Entities that defy Abbott's orders face fines of $1,000, but it's unclear if school districts could face multiple fines for violating the order. Abbott's office didn't clarify how the order would be enforced, but in a statement Tuesday it mentioned possible legal action, promising the governor would work with the Texas attorney general to fight "for the rights and freedoms of all Texans." 

IL Gov. Pritzker is moving right ahead with vaccine mandates for many state employees including state prison staff. Last week he announced vaccinations would be required for all state employees who work in highly populated facilities. That includes officers in prisons operated by the Department of Corrections and Juvenile Justice. Republicans immediately filed a lawsuit and the FOP went ballistic. 

Becky Pringle, president of the largest U.S. teachers' union, the National Education Association (NEA), is still hanging on to the old line. I guess she didn't get the memo about personal conscience. She told the NYT last week that any vaccine mandate should be "negotiated at the local level." But it's not clear what there is to negotiate when both sides have the same interests.

There's also no legal platform for such negotiations and with the clock on school openings ticking, there's no time left to bargain. 

Right-wing and neo-fascist media fear-mongers, including populist shockcasters like anti-gay bigot Joe Rogan, have made vax mandates their fave key wedge issue in hopes of driving white, male listeners to the polls next year to restore a MAGA congressional majority.

Rogan, who calls himself a liberal when it's convenient, claims that mandated masks and vaccine passports are driving the country one step closer to "dictatorship." What a fool! 

Monday, August 9, 2021

WEEKEND QUOTABLES: Weingarten on vaccine mandates

TOKYO (AP) — Nagasaki on Monday marked the 76th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of the Japanese city with its mayor urging Japan, the United States, and Russia to do more to eliminate nuclear weapons. In his speech at the Nagasaki Peace Park, Mayor Tomihisa Taue urged Japan’s government to take the lead in creating a nuclear-free zone in Northeast Asia rather than staying under the U.S. nuclear umbrella — a reference to the U.S. promise to use its own nuclear weapons to defend allies without them. 


Education Sec. Miguel Cardona
“We're clearly at a fork in the road in this country. Cardona said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “You're either going to help students be in school in-person and be safe, or the decisions you make will hurt students." -- CBS' Face the Nation

AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten 

...said Sunday that she wants the union to support mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for teachers. This would be a change in policy, as the AFT currently favors vaccination being a voluntary choice. 

"Since 1850 we’ve dealt with vaccines in schools, it’s not a new thing to have vaccines in schools. And I think that, on a personal matter, as a matter of personal conscience, I think that we need to be working with our employers – not opposing them – on vaccine mandates." -- NBC's Meet the Press

  Scot Ward, president of FOP Lodge 263

“We are not opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine, we are opposed to being forced to take it.” -- Capitol Fax [WTF?]

Andrew French, brother of slain Chicago cop Ella French

 ...said “even before she joined the force,” his sister was a big proponent of therapy or social services over more jail time. He said she wanted to see people get the help they needed, more “than throwing people in jail. -- Chicago Tribune

IL Gov. Pritzker imposing mandatory vaccinations for state employees

“They run the risk of carrying the virus into work with them, and then it’s the residents who are ending up seriously sick hospitalized or worse,” Pritzker said. “It’s a breach of safety. It’s fundamentally wrong, and in Illinois, it’s going to stop.” -- WBEZ
Mokoto Rich on Tokyo Olympics
The fact that the Games went ahead during the pandemic despite strong public opposition in Japan showed the undemocratic principles that underpin the organization. -- New York Times

Monday, August 2, 2021

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

 

Willie Nelson headlines protest against anti-voting legislation in Texas

Lloyd Green 

QAnon is their creed, Trump is their Caesar and Gladiator remains the movie for our time. -- Guardian

Dr. Anthony Fauci 

...says unvaccinated Americans are "propagating this outbreak...But the issue is, if you're going to be part of the transmission chain to someone else, then your decision is impacting someone else. It's not only impacting you. And you've got to think about it, that you are a member of society and you have a responsibility." -- Face The Nation

Willie Nelson 

"It is important that we ensure the right for EVERY American to vote and vote safely...

...Laws making it more difficult for people to vote is un-American and are intended to punish poor people, people of color, the elderly, and disabled - why? If you can't win playing by the rules, then it's you and your platform — not everyone else's ability to vote."  -- At Poor People's Campaign March in Austin, TX.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Congressional Whack-a-Mole in hard times


Against the backdrop of the Jan. 6 riot and with Delta sweeping the unvaxed part of the country, voting rights under attack, and millions threatened with eviction, House leaders are keeping busy playing Whack-a-Mole with each other. 

MAGA Party House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy threatened (jokingly?) to bop House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the noggin with the speaker's gavel during a glitzy fundraising dinner in Tennessee on Saturday night.

A war of words between the two party leaders escalated when McCarthy joined other Republicans in vehemently protesting a mask mandate the Capitol physician reimposed and Pelosi supported.

McCarthy went on to say that, should the GOP manage to flip the House in 2022 and if he were to become the speaker, he would find it difficult to resist hitting Pelosi with the speaker's gavel.
"It will be hard not to hit her with it but I will bang it down," McCarthy said.

I call this bipartisan foreplay.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Privatization news: China delivers a blow to it's own ed profiteers

I doubt it. 

U.S. companies have raked in billions of dollars in super-profits, especially during the pandemic, from a burgeoning, privatized global ed-tech and remote-learning sector. Now they are turning apprehensive eyes towards China. 

This week China announced a sweeping overhaul of its $100 billion education tech sector, barring companies that teach the school curriculum from making profits, raising capital, or going public. Companies and institutions that teach the school curriculum must now go non-profit. 

Bloomberg reports:

The new regulations threaten to obliterate the outsized growth that made stock market darlings of TAL Education Group, New Oriental Education & Technology Group and Gaotu Techedu Inc. They could also put the market largely out of reach of global investors. Education technology had emerged as one of the hottest investment plays in China in recent years, attracting billions from the likes of Tiger Global Management, Temasek Holdings Pte, and SoftBank Group Corp.

Like the proverbial butterfly effect, China's latest anti-privatization moves have sent tremors down Wall Street with losses in Chinese tech and education stocks now exceeding $1 trillion since February. 

The new policies stem from a deeper backlash against the industry. Chinese educators say that excessive tutoring "torments youths, burdens parents with expensive fees, and exacerbates inequalities in society."  The out-of-school education industry has been “severely hijacked by capital,” according to a separate article posted on the site of the Ministry of Education. 

They say the new regulations are focused on compulsory subjects, meaning critical material like math, science, and history. Classes for art or music mostly would not fall under the new restrictions.

What impact all this will have on China's heavy reliance on standardized testing is unclear. 

Also unclear is what impact this will have on current U.S. ed policies which are increasingly tilted towards the privatization of public education, school vouchers, privately-run charters, remote learning, and standardization. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Cops in schools revisited and a good compromise on community oversight


“By shifting the conversation towards more holistic approaches to safety, we believe that the new plans will enable schools to use strategies that are more proactive and supportive in keeping our students safe.”
--Jadine Chou, CPS’ chief of safety and security.

I'm glad CPS, the City Council, and the mayor opted to allow Local School Councils (LSCs) to have a say over keeping cops in their schools or using meager discretionary funds to pay for alternative security options. 

Yesterday, more than 30 Chicago high schools voted to redirect money spent on uniformed police officers towards alternative behavioral and mental health supports a year after intense student-led protests put a microscope on the role of cops in public schools.

The votes will shift about $2 million from policing to restorative justice programs, with a total of 31 high schools choosing to remove at least one of the two officers typically stationed inside their buildings. 

In this case, those school communities made the right decision. But more importantly, it was their decision.

This should reaffirm our support for LSCs, a democratic reform we fought for and won more than 30 years ago, and my long-held belief that most basic decisions about the conduct and content of schooling should be made locally by teachers, parents, and students. In Chicago, top-down reform imposed on schools by the board, the mayor, state legislators, or the aldermen, has always been a failure. 

Austerity -- It's shameful that this choice, like most others within our public school system, had to be made primarily on the basis of austerity rather than on principle or best practices.

A WIN FOR COMMUNITY OVERSIGHT

Yesterday, another good decision regarding community control of the police was made by city political leaders. Mayor Lightfoot and a City Council majority came together at long last on a police oversight ordinance that establishes a seven-member Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability. 

The City Council voted 36-13 to pass the ordinance. The compromise represented a defeat for the FOP and the pro-FOP caucus of aldermen who want less, not more community oversight of CPD. They included no-voters: Brian Hopkins (2nd); Anthony Beale (9th); Patrick Daley Thompson (11th); Marty Quinn (13th); Edward Burke (14th); Matt O’Shea (19th); Silvana Tabares (23rd); Ariel Reboyras (30th); Nick Sposato (38th); Samantha Nugent (39th); Anthony Napolitano (41st); Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Jim Gardiner (45th).

While it's a far cry from the original CPAC proposal demanded by some left activist groups, both the mayor and many of her die-hard council opponents are cheering the compromise.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), a strong advocate for civilian oversight, said “democracy is messy” for good reason. Ordinary people need to have “great involvement” at all levels.

“There’s a disconnect between police and our communities as it relates to solving crimes. In order for us to get back to that, we have to get the community involved. This takes a strong step with re-engaging, resetting our relationships between the community and the police,” Sawyer said.

And listen to the leader of the anti-Lightfoot caucus from day-one, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th): 

“Sometimes, we were at odds. But we came together because we knew that our city had to get something right ... to ensure that people in every single community feel safe. That they are safe. No one should be afraid of violence — whether by another citizen or by those tasked to protect and serve them." 

Lightfoot called the debate “one for the ages” and made passing reference to the contentious negotiations that set the stage for the compromise. 

“We’ve come a long way. We’ve had some stumbles. We’ve had some disagreements. But because of the hard work [of so many], we are on the precipice of making history,” the mayor said.

A little over-the-top? Maybe. But I'll take it for now.  

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The imperial mind of David Brooks

"America, disillusioned with itself, is now withdrawing." -- David Brooks

Brooks is an unreconstructed imperialist, an anti-China cold warrior who still envisions America as the last and only great white hope to save our admittedly "flawed and error-prone" democracy from the advances of the dark and evil forces around the globe.

In his July 15th NYT opinion piece, The American Identity Crisis, Brooks objects to Biden's apparent retreat from Afghanistan where this country has fought its longest, seemingly eternal war at the cost of trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. I say apparent because the U.S. will continue to back the regime with drones based in neighboring countries and will supply it with armaments and aircraft as well as maintaining contracted fighters in-country.

The withdrawal of all U.S. troops by Sept. 1st is actually more of a strategic repositioning targeting China than a withdrawal. As Biden himself put it in his July 8th speech:

We are developing a counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on any direct threats to the United States in the region, and act quickly and decisively if needed.

And we also need to focus on shoring up America’s core strengths to meet the strategic competition with China and other nations that is really going to determine — determine our future. 

About 241,000 people have been killed in the Afghanistan and Pakistan war zone since 2001. More than 71,000 of those killed have been civilians. If official accounts are to be accepted, the war has killed more people last month than in any other month since 2001, when the United States and NATO troops invaded the country.

But for Brooks, this cost in treasure and human life is apparently a small price to pay for his imagined military defeat of the Taliban and defense of the corrupt U.S. puppet regime in Kabul. 

He blames the withdrawal of the last remaining U.S. troops, begun by Trump and reportedly completed by Biden, on "the American left" who he claims has "lost confidence" in American manifest destiny and has forsaken the country's identity as the military enforcer of liberal-democratic values in resistant countries. 

He writes:

I guess what befuddles me most is the behavior of the American left. I get why Donald Trump and other American authoritarians would be ambivalent about America’s role in the world. They were always suspicious of the progressive package that America has helped to promote.

But every day I see progressives defending women’s rights, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and racial justice at home and yet championing a foreign policy that cedes power to the Taliban, Hamas and other reactionary forces abroad.
Brooks is actually more MAGA than Trump. He longs for the days when the threat and use of unrivaled U.S. military power were enough to impose regime change on resistant peoples and countries. But as the past half-century of failed U.S. military adventures, from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan have shown, those days are numbered. 

Footnote: As I'm writing this, Reuters is reporting that Taliban officials and Afghan politicians met in Qatar on Saturday amid calls for peace by both sides following continued fighting in the region. 

I'm still hoping against hope that a bloody civil war can be averted once all foreign troops leave the country and that the Afghani people will finally be able to determine their own destiny. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

CPAC QUOTABLES

Donald Trump
“If it’s bad, I say it’s fake. If it’s good, I say that’s the most accurate poll ever.” -- Forbes.

Pastor James Altman 

...said in a morning prayer “let us realize our health is in the name of The Lord, who actually did make Heaven and Earth,” adding, “that’s all the science we need to know.” -- Newsweek

Sidebar ~  Altman has been canned as pastor of St. James the Less, a Catholic church on La Crosse’s north side after he delivered a slew of political messaging and misinformation that has caused pushback from his congregation. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci

“It’s horrifying. They’re cheering about someone saying that it’s a good thing for people not to try and save their lives,” Dr. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said of the crowd cheering for low vaccination rates. “I just don’t get that, and I don’t think anybody who’s thinking clearly can get that." -- CNN 

Greg Sargent

 These days, the right-wing culture war is perhaps better described with three Vs: vaccine derangement, validation of white racial innocence, and valorization of insurrectionists. -- WaPo 



Monday, July 12, 2021

CRITICAL RACE THEORY QUOTABLES

WH Press Secretary Psaki: "Kids should learn not just the good, but also the challenging in our history." -- Twitter

Nikole Hannah-Jones

’“At some point when you have proven yourself and fought your way into institutions that were not built for you . . . you have to decide that you are done forcing yourself in.” -- Statement on her decision to decline tenure at UNC

White House press secretary Jen Psaki 

...acknowledged during a briefing on Friday that the U.S. is still plagued by “systemic racism” and it is “responsible” to teach about it in schools as part of critical race theory. -- Press briefing

Paul Butler, Georgetown Law School professor

Sometimes, helping majority-White spaces be less racist and more inclusive feels transformative. Other times, it feels like an intellectual version of my great-grandfather’s job; he cleaned outhouses — i.e., shoveling White people’s excrement.  -- Washington Post

AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten 

"Mark my words: Our union will defend any member who gets in trouble for teaching honest history. Teaching the truth is not radical or wrong." -- Address at the union's TEACH conference.

Donald Trump

 "With the help of everyone here today, we will defeat the radical left, the socialists, Marxists, and the critical race theorists." -- CPAC Conference

Monday, July 5, 2021

INDEPENDENCE DAY QUOTABLES


Dorian Warren, the president of Community Change, a D.C.-based social justice organization

What Is Post-Trump Patriotism? ~ I thought of Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech “What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July?” It is a searing indictment of the hard truths of our history, of plunder, of enslavement, of a range of exploitative and unjust actions at the highest levels. At the same time, I’m a black person in America so I have no choice but to fight for the promise of America. -- Capital & Main

Dr. Gyan Pathak

Vaccination against COVID-19 suffers from inequality and sluggishness nationalism, competition, and charity retreat and make room for internationalism, cooperation and solidarity, the world will be propelled towards an unprecedented tragedy in the history of mankind. -- National Herald of India

Robert P. Jones, author of “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity” 

It’s time to exorcise the ahistorical notion of white Christian supremacy and innocence. Patriotism is not the purview of those who see a white Christian America as the divinely ordained end of human achievement. We can no longer sustain its mythical vision of God and country where white Christians are always heroes, inheriting and defending America as their own divinely ordained promised land. -- RNS

 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

McQueary is leaving the Tribune. Good riddance.


The people hired to take on corporate salvation projects have to have "Mussolini-like powers to execute and implement." -- Tribune editorial

Goodbye and good riddance to Tribune editorial page editor, Kristen McQueary who's leaving here  without a buyout. I guess when they know you're leaving anyway, there's no point in offering you early retirement. 

Her departure comes after the Trib has already been gutted under the new management of Alden Global Capital, a New York hedge fund. Alden has done the same to about 200 other newspapers across the country including The Denver Post, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Boston Herald, The Mercury News of San Jose, the East Bay Times, The Orange County Register, and the Orlando Sentinel. 

 In March 2018, Margaret Sullivan, the media columnist for The Washington Post, called Alden "one of the most ruthless of the corporate strip-miners seemingly intent on destroying local journalism.

So far, more than 40 Trib journos and staffers have left the paper. 

While I feel terrible for those who have lost their jobs and possibly their careers because of the Alden takeover, forgive me for shedding no tears over the loss of McQueary. She's always been a Chicago basher and especially hateful of its public schools. She and John Kass have long occupied the far-right corner at the right-wing Tribune. 

In a racist 2015 rant, reflecting back on Hurrican Katrina, McQueary wrote: 

I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops. That's what it took to hit the reset button in New Orleans. Chaos. Tragedy. Heartbreak.

Educators especially will recall similar thoughts on the part of then-Sec. of Ed Arne Ducan who anticipated McQuary in 2010.

I spent a lot of time in New Orleans, and this is a tough thing to say, but let me be really honest. I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. 

The idea is that cities like Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans are beyond repair and that a natural disaster, or a man-made one, is the only hope for a "rebirth."

In fairness, I should point out that in the face of public outrage, McQuary (like Duncan) did offer an apology. Well, it wasn't really an apology but rather an explanation.

I wrote what I did not out of lack of empathy, or racism, but out of long-standing frustration with Chicago’s poorly managed finances. 

Whenever one has to explain that they are not really spewing racism, that it's only a metaphor...well, you know the rest. 

Keep in mind, her devasting paen to disaster capitalism came only weeks after her Trib editorial calling for a Mussolini-type dictator to run the Chicago school system. 

Final note... It's disquieting to read over-the-top, gushing farewells to McQueary coming from a few long-entrenched Chicago white media aristocracts.