In Episode 50 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes frightening advances toward a fascist world order amid the COVID-19 crisis. With police-state measures being imposed worldwide, Donald Trump is claiming "total" executive power and threatening to "adjourn" Congress. That he is doing so in the name of lifting rather than enforcing the lockdown is certainly an irony, but either way it represents exploitation of the crisis for a power-grab. Even under a best-case scenario of a post-pandemic return to "normality," it will be in the context of an unprecedented totalizing surveillance state.
A powerful storm that ripped across four Pacific Island nations this week raises an uncomfortable question for humanitarians on coronavirus lockdown: how do you respond to a disaster during a global pandemic? Cyclone Harold—the first Category-5 storm to make landfall in the Pacific since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic in March—tore through parts of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tonga. The storm swept 27 people on a ferry overboard in the Solomon Islands; parts of Vanuatu's northern islands saw extensive damage; some 6,000 people were evacuated in parts of Fiji; and Tonga's 'Eua Island was "devastated," the government said.
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)
The French-backed military campaign against Islamist militants in Niger is claiming victories against the insurgency that has mounted in the country since 2015. Niger's Defense Ministry said in a statement Feb. 20 that over the past month, "120 terrorists have been neutralized," a presumed euphemism for killed. The statement said there had been no losses among Nigerien or French troops, and that vehicles and bomb-making equipment had been seized. The operation has centered on the Tillabéri region near the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, where a state of emergency has been in place for two years.
Following a bitter campaign dominated by "fake news" generated from China and punctuated by sexist personal attacks on President Tsai Ing-wen, the incumbent was re-elected in the Jan. 11 race, overwhelmingly defeating her main challenger, Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT). Tsai, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), received 8.17 million votes, or some 57% of the total, to Han's 5.52 million votes, or 39%. A third candidate, James Soong of the People First Party (PFP), garnered 608,590 votes, or 4.26%. Tsai's total was the highest ever recorded for any candidate in a presidential election in Taiwan.
Nearly half a million demonstrators gathered in Madrid as the UN Climate Change Conference (officially COP25) opened in the Spanish city more than two weeks ago, with young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg the star of the show at a Dec. 6 mass rally. But despite being the longest climate summit yet, ending Dec. 15 after being extended two days, the affair ultimately amounted to little. Nearly 27,000 delegates came together with the supposed aim of finalizing the "rulebook" of the Paris Agreement, which is to officially take effect in 2020—settling rules for carbon markets and other mechanisms for international cooperation under Article 6 of the deal. But, unable to agree on terms for Article 6, delegates finally invoked "Rule 16" of the UN climate process—allowing them to put off the critical decisions for another year. This means there will have been no progress when COP26 is convened in Glasgow in November 2020. UN Secretary General António Guterres tweeted that he was "disappointed" with the results of COP25, and that "the international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis." (CarbonBrief, BBC News, BBC News)
"Who is James Bay?" That's the frequent reaction from New Yorkers when it is brought up—despite the fact that James Bay is not a "who" but a "where," and a large portion of New York City's electricity comes from there. In Episode 44 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes on Mayor Bill de Blasio's so-called "Green New Deal," and how maybe it isn't so green after all. The mayor's plan is centered on new purchases of what is billed as "zero-emission Canadian hydro-electricity." But supplying this power is predicated on expansion of the massive James Bay hydro-electric complex in Quebec's far north, which has already taken a grave toll on the region's ecology, and threatens the cultural survival of its indigenous peoples, the Cree and Inuit. And it isn't even really "zero-emission." Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Political violence has declined in South Sudan since last year's power-sharing accord, but sporadic ethnic violence persists. The UN peacekeeping mission deployed Nepalese blue helmets this week to Western Lakes State after fighting between the Gak and Manuer communities left 79 people dead and more than 100 injured. "Inter-communal violence continues to have devastating consequences in South Sudan," said James Reynolds, head of delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross. The new violence comes as almost one million South Sudanese have been affected by flooding that has submerged communities, caused substantial crop losses, and threatened to reverse some of the humanitarian gains made during a year-long ceasefire.