Despite last week's agreement by Saudi Arabia and Russia to end their price war, the oil market remains in free-fall amid the virtual shut-down of the world economy by the COVID-19 pandemic. The price of the main US oil benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, fell on April 20 to $30 below zero—the first time oil prices have ever turned negative. This means anyone trying to sell a barrel would have to actually pay a buyer. The global industry output of 100 million barrels a day would appear to be on borrowed time. (NYT)
Speaking April 14 at COVIDCon, an online Oslo Freedom Forum event presented by the Human Rights Foundation, exiled Chinese dissident Yang Jianli of the DC-based Citizen Power Initiatives for China charged that the death toll for Wuhan, the city where the COVID-19 outbreak began, was massively under-counted by authorities. In a talk entitled "The Chinese Communist Party: Savior or Culprit?," Yang portrayed a far-reaching cover-up by the Beijing regime. Citing his monitoring of social media, Yang said that as Xi Jinping visited Wuhan on March 10, "endless Wuhan residents pleaded for help online, saying hospitals were overflowing and their family members were turned away and left to die at home. Nobody knows how many people died before managing to get to hospitals."
It's certainly an irony that with police-state measures mounting worldwide to enforce lockdowns and contain COVID-19, Trump is now claiming sweeping executive power to lift lockdowns in the US in spite of the pandemic. Asserting his prerogative to override state governors and order economies open again, Trump stated April 13: "When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total." After requisite media outcry, he later reiterated this assertion on Twitter. (NYT, The Guardian) The response in media and the Twittersphere has been to call this out as blatantly unconstitutional. While it is, of course, necessary to point out the illegitimacy of Trump's pretended power-grab, it is also side-stepping the real threat here: of the pandemic being exploited to declare an actual "state of exception" in which constitutional restraints are suspended altogether—perhaps permanently.
As nations across the globe remain under lockdown, more sweeping powers are being assumed by governments in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing demands for relief from poor barrios running out of resources under his lockdown orders, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to shoot protesters in the streets. Particularly naming the popular organization Kadamay as planning protests, Duterte said April 1: "Remember, you leftists: You are not the government. Do not go around causing trouble and riots because I will order you detained until this COVID [outbreak ends]. I will not hesitate. My orders are to the police and military...that if there is trouble... shoot them dead. Do you understand? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I'll send you to the grave." (Rappler)
Ten days into a national "quarantine" declared in Bolivia, protesters are taking to the streets to demand food in working-class districts of cities across the country—in defiance of lockdown orders. Residents are calling for either greater flexibility in the lockdown, which has paralyzed the economy, or food distribution in their barrios. Street protests have been reported in El Alto, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Tarija, Trinidad and Riberalta. The government of interim leader Jeanine Áñez has pledged one-time payments of $60 for elders, the disabled, pregnant women and others with special needs. Her supporters on social media are portraying the protests as fomented by the ousted Movement Toward Socialism (MAS).
With whole nations under lockdown, sweeping powers are being assumed by governments across the world in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary's parliament on March 30 voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree, without a set time limit. While the emergency legislation remains in place, all elections are suspended, as are several government regulations including (ironically) some concerned with protecting public health. Individuals who spread what is deemed false or distorted information may face up to five years in prison. Other measures include up to three years in prison for anyone who disregards quarantine orders. (Jurist, Politico)
Already depressed oil prices are now plummeting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Global oil consumption is said to be in "free-fall," and predicted to lead to the largest "annual contraction in history." Bloomberg reports that oil traders fear that demand "may contract by the most ever this year, easily outstripping the loss of almost 1 million barrels a day during the great recession in 2009 and even surpassing the 2.65 million barrels registered in 1980, when the world economy crashed after the second oil crisis." (OilChange)
Nine years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II.